Meavy Garden Society Meetings 2019


Meavy Garden Society AGM 2019 was held on Monday 18th February 2019


Meavy Garden Society Meeting, 21st October 2019

‘The wonderful world of Orchids’ - Sara Rittershausen

Vice-chairman Brenda Burt began the evening by thanking the Meavy members of the Society who had worked hard to make a success of the inter-garden-society quiz held at Meavy on 8th October.

She then introduced our speaker, the nationally renowned orchid expert Sara Rittershausen from Orchid World at Newton Abbott.

Sara based her talk “The Wonderful World of Orchids” not on slides, nor a power-point show, but on the many flowering plants she had brought with her. She began by explaining that with 30,000 species, orchids are the biggest family of flowering plants on earth. They are found on all continents except Antarctica. Orchids in temperate climates, like Britain, are nearly all terrestrial but the majority of tropical orchids are epiphytic, i.e. growing on trees, but not parasitic. All have the same flower structure of three upper petals, with two lower which form a sort of pouch or lip.

Many have elongated green pseudobulbs which store nutrients and water and new ones are produced each year which then flower. Terrestrial orchids such as the Slipper Orchids do not have these as they don’t need to store water in the same way. The very popular Phalaenopsis (moth orchids) also have no bulbs but have thick leaves and aerial roots.

Sara had arranged the plants on her table according to the three temperature zones that suit them. On the right were cool-zone plants, many of which come from the Himalayas and are typified by the large well-known Cymbidiums that can take night-time temperatures as low as 7 or 8 degrees and like a cool rest period before flowering again. Intermediate zone plants can go down to 12 degrees at night, whilst warm zone plants such as Phalaenopsis need 15 to 18 degrees, and will sulk in the cold.

Epiphytic tropical orchids live in monsoon climates and like a thorough soaking and then to be left for the compost (pure bark is the best) to dry out. Overwatering easily kills the roots and is the greatest risk.

During a Question and Answer session Sara gave hints about staking plants which in their natural surroundings hang from trees, whereas we tend to keep the stems upright. Further advice was given about re-potting, and to cut only the tops of stems when flowers have dropped (particularly Phalaenopsis), as they usually repeat flower.

Orchid flowers are very long lasting and the selection Sara had brought displayed a fascinating range of shape and colour combinations. Some had minute flowers and another with flowers in long tassels. All were for sale at what seemed to be reasonable prices for plants which are always expensive. She invited us to tour her nurseries next year, an invitation we will certainly take up, many members were tempted to buy and a visit next year will provide further opportunity. This was a lively, fascinating and informative well planned talk, which we all much enjoyed.


Meavy Garden Society Meeting, 15th September 2019

‘Alpines and other Perennials from Seed’ - Richard Horswood

Chairperson Annie Inman began the meeting by reporting on the success of the summer show on the 10th August and on the enjoyable excursion to Avenue Cottage Garden at Ashprington near Totnes.

She then introduced our speaker Richard Horswood from the Alpine Garden Society. On this his second visit he spoke on growing alpines and other perennials from seed.

He first highlighted the advantages of growing from seed. There is great satisfaction from it and it is possible to grow large numbers of plants, sometimes rare specimens or even plants that are new to cultivation. Alpine societies operate seed exchanges where seed is much cheaper to acquire than a plant. Wild seed is sometimes available, although there are now many restrictions against its collection. Seed from a named variety may not come true to type but interesting hybrids and varieties may occur. Seeds very seldom transmit pests or diseases.

There are also of course disadvantages. Some seeds need two or even three years to germinate and may need substantial periods of cold to break dormancy. Some seeds may never germinate at all. Seed pots can be difficult to keep weed-free. Delicate seedlings can be difficult to handle and grow on.

As compost, Richard recommended equal volumes of John Innes no. 2 and horticultural grit with one part to seven of vermiculite. Sow the seeds on the surface and cover with a light layer of grit. Fine seeds could be mixed with the grit. Seeds needing light to germinate should be sown on top of the grit. The pots should be named and dated and then left exposed to the elements. Once the seeds have germinated they should be removed to a greenhouse or frames to avoid slugs.

Richard’s own garden is full of plants he has grown from seed and his well-organised and entertaining talk was illustrated with photos of many of them. He had also brought a selection of unusual alpine plants for sale, all of which he had grown from seed. This was an informative talk with plenty of practical advice which was much appreciated by a sizeable audience.


Meavy Garden Society Meeting, 16th July 2019

‘Poisons from the Garden’ - Dr Frances Howard

The Society was pleased to welcome back for a third occasion Dr Frances Howard from Weir Quay who complemented her previous talk on “Medicines in the Garden” with the topic of “Poisons in the Garden”.

Frances explained that flowering plants were developing way back in the Cretaceous period, alongside the insects which pollinated them and whose larvae often consumed plant leaves.  Hence plants evolved poisons as a protection from this, some are now so toxic that bees cannot fertilise them.

Frances gave the advice that if it was thought someone, especially a child, had eaten a poison; make them sick if they have not already done so; and take them to Derriford Hospital which has a poisons database.  Many poisons cause nausea and vomiting, slowed breathing and heartbeat, and eventually death.

She decided to concentrate her talk on a few very poisonous plants for each season of the year, beginning with Spring.  Daphne Mezereum has beautifully scented flowers but its berries can kill.  The berries of Cuckoo Pint or Lords and Ladies are red, they taste sweetish but cause a burning sensation in the mouth.  Lily of the Valley does not produce many berries but these are quite poisonous.  Laburnum seeds are seriously poisonous but this is so well known now that nobody has been poisoned since 1947.

Summer poisonous plants include Deadly Nightshade, of which only three berries can cause death.  There are also two types of Hemlock, one of which was used to execute the Greek philosopher Socrates in 5th century Athens.  One of the most dangerous plants is Oleander which is increasingly popular as a patio plant; the consumption of only one leaf can cause death within 24 hours.  Datura is another popular but very toxic exotic shrub. Hydrangea is also poisonous, containing cyanide, so it is unwise to burn it on a bonfire. Plum and apricot kernels also contain cyanide, as do apple pips (in small quantities) but at least there is an antidote.

In Autumn, the popular foliage plant, Castor Oil Plant (Ricinus Communis) has highly toxic cells containing the poison Ricin.  Yew berries contain poison not in the pink flesh, which is eaten by birds, but in the seed itself. Horses are very vulnerable to yew leaves but these are now used in cancer treatments.  Privet and Spindle both have poisonous berries.

Winter’s Christmas-Time puts Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe berries within reach of children who should not eat them.  Mistletoe is also very poisonous to dogs.  Some people are susceptible to the juice of Poinsettias, which are a species of Euphorbia.  The berries of Christmas Cherry, a member of the Nightshade family, are also very poisonous.

This was an informative, fascinating if slightly macabre talk which gave the enthusiastic audience plenty of “Food for thought”.


Meavy Garden Society Meeting, 19th June 2019

A description of the gardens and plants of Rosemoor - Jonathan Webster, Head Gardener at RHS Rosemoor  

The Society was fortunate this month to secure as its speaker Jonathan Webster, curator of the RHS gardens at Rosemoor.  This was particularly opportune as a coach excursion to Rosemoor was planned for only a couple of days later.  (See Visit to RHS Rosemoor)

Jonathan’s talk was entitled “The Seasonal Delights of a Plant Lover’s Garden”, but in fact he also spent some time talking of the history and development of the garden.  The house and garden were gifted to the RHS by Lady Anne Palmer in 1988, together with additional pasture land on the other side of the A3124 which thus now bisects the gardens.  The soil is heavy acid loam but the abundant rainfall means that plants grow well.

The pasture land was laid out by the RHS in a series of square formal gardens enclosed by clipped yew hedges.  There are a winter garden, two rose gardens, a foliage garden, and the spectacular hot garden which is a mass of reds, yellows and purple in high summer.  As a counterbalance to this a cool garden is being developed, with rills and pools of water and white and blue plantings.  Further along is the natural-looking lake, which dates only from 1988, and the cottage and vegetable gardens.

A tunnel leads under the road to the house, and its original garden which is very different from the new – it is full of winding paths and informal planting.  Particularly noteworthy are the stone garden, a terrace with a pool and walls which date from the 1930s, and the tropical garden with bananas and Canna lilies.  A large arboretum is also being developed.

Jonathan interspersed his historical review with pictures of some of his favourite plants throughout the seasons.  In the spring there are sheets of naturalized miniature narcissi. Later there are magnolias and a significant collection of flowering cherries.  High summer sees the magnificence of herbaceous plants, particularly in the hot garden.  In the autumn there is leaf colour, especially from acers, liquidambers, and the numerous miscanthus and other grasses.  Winter highlights beautiful bark, particularly of Acer Griseum in the winter garden.

Thus ended a beautifully illustrated and informative talk, received enthusiastically by the members.


Meavy Garden Society Meeting, 20th May 2019

‘Growing and Showing of Dahlias’ - Cyril Watkins, from Redruth (Chairman, Cornish Dahlia Society, Vice President, National Dahlia Society)

Our Chairman, Annie Inman, began by thanking member Christine Dudgeon for hosting the annual social evening, in her beautifully kept and planted garden; we were also pleased to enjoy sunny weather for the occasion.

Several members of The Society had also enjoyed a visit to Champernowne Nursery on 11th May by kind invitation of Mr Peter Argles and many had been delighted with their purchases.

Annie then introduced our speaker Cyril Watkins from Redruth. He is Chairman of the Cornish Dahlia Society and Vice President of the National Dahlia Society, and the ‘Growing and Showing of Dahlias’ was the subject of his talk.

Cyril began with a practical demonstration of taking cuttings. He had brought a box of sprouting tubers and showed how to cut a shoot just above the tuber below a pair of leaves. These are then removed and the cutting dipped in rooting powder, before being put in a pot of moist compost. The cutting is then kept moist and should root within about a week at this time of year. Cyril also gave advice on stopping or pinching out the stems to create a more branching plant. Garden dahlias should be stopped only once, but show plants may be stopped twice. After stopping, it normally takes a plant about six weeks to flower.

Next Cyril introduced the various types of dahlia. He advised against the giants for ordinary garden display. Ideal for gardens are decorative, water–lily and collarette types. Beautiful photos of magnificent show blooms illustrated this part of the talk.

Cyril also discussed dahlia problems caused by aphid, black-fly and red spider damage, as well as more serious fungal diseases such as rust, smut and the stem rot, sclerotina. For winter care, Cyril recommended leaving the tubers in the ground, protected by a mulch, but on heavy soils they should be taken up.

Cyril breeds dahlias and takes around 1500 cuttings each year. He had brought with him rooted cuttings of his own and other varieties, some of which are quite rare. The members were keen to buy many of these and were grateful to hear such an informative talk by a nationally acknowledged expert.


Meavy Garden Society Meeting, 15th April 2019

‘Easy Unusual Plants you can grow’ - Mike Stephens

Our scheduled speaker on the growing of vegetables was indisposed and the Society was most fortunate that Mike Stephens, from Liskeard, was able to spring into the gap with only two hours’ notice. Mike has been a successful speaker with us before and this time produced another excellent talk on “Easy Unusual Plants you can grow”.

Mike expressed the opinion that many people found endless gardening chores boring and he was going to recommend plants that were easy to grow and easy to find, especially in the days of internet shopping. He recommended turning to private growers and nurseries, as garden centres offer more or less the same plants the length and breadth of the land. He divided his talk into four sections: trees and shrubs, perennials, vegetables and indoor plants, especially succulents.

Of trees, he showed that fairly recent Australian discovery, the Wollermi Pine. It is still not cheap but so widely available nowadays that he has even seen it at Trago. A favourite shrub of his is Daphne Bholiua, which can fill a garden with scent from January to March. Less well known is the willow Salix Graclistyla which has black catkins, and the Japanese form ‘Mount Aso’ which has pink powder puff catkins; both are easy to propagate. Perhaps better known to the audience were the Chilean lantern tree, Crinodendron hookerianum, and Embotherium Coccineum lanceolatum, the Chilean Fire Tree, also Eucryphia nymanensis with its beautiful white flowers in summer. Finally, he praised the autumn-flowering Camellia sasanqua, which flowers through November, December and on into January.

With perennials, particularly unusual were the Chinese Chrysosplenium macrophyllum which has interesting foliage and spreads by means of strawberry-like runners, and the Himalayan Ypsilandra Thibetica with white flower spikes in February. Amongst biennials, giant Echium Pininana was very striking. Dwarf sunflowers are cheap and easy and there is now a sterile multi-coloured variety “Sunbelievable” which is reproduced by cuttings, and flowers forever. There are unusual Fuchsias too. Microphylla is hardy with tiny leaves and flowers, while Procumbens, from New Zealand, is a creeper and has strange multi-coloured flowers.

Of vegetables, Mike mentioned all the different coloured tomatoes, carrots and beetroot now available, and wondered why so few people grow salad leaves, which are easy and cheap, especially Rocket, Land Cress and the mustard greens Mizuma. Welsh and tree onions are seldom seen. Amongst herbs, he recommended Lovage which does grow big but is very versatile.

With indoor plants, Mike concentrated on succulents, which are newly fashionable. He showed many forms of Echeveria with attractive leaves and warned against overwatering, especially in winter.

This was a highly informative talk so it is impossible to mention all the plants he covered; it was very well illustrated and delivered in a lively and humorous manner. We were enthusiastic and doubly grateful that he stepped in at such short notice.



Meavy Garden Society Meetings 2018

Meavy Garden Society Meetings 2017

Meavy Garden Society Meetings 2016

Meavy Garden Society Meetings 2015

Meavy Garden Society Meetings 2014