Monthly Meetings

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‘The Arts and Crafts Movement and its Gardens’
Stephen Harmer
Wednesday 10th April

Many people have commented on the transformation of the gardens at Tonbridge School. They lift the spirits, and those responsible for this are the Head Gardener, Stephen Harmer and his team. Stephen has a master’s degree in Garden History and teaches at RHS Wisley.

His favourite subject is the History of the Arts and Crafts garden, and he has incorporated some of their principles in his gardening at Tonbridge.

Stephen will discuss how the Arts and Crafts garden movement came about, introduce us to some of the people who influenced it and tell us about what caused its sudden demise.


‘Designing Small Gardens’
Annie Guilfoyle
Wednesday 13th March

The Spring Flower Competition was held before the meeting.

Award-winning garden designer Annie Guilfoyle combines a successful consultancy, Creative Landscapes, with lecturing and writing on the subject.
She has a long association with West Dean College, where she organises all the garden courses and teaches some of them; she also teaches garden design at Great Dixter.
Internationally, Annie lectures and runs garden design courses in several Europe locations and in the USA.

She imparted this knowledge and experience in an excellent presentation, full of useful information delivered in an appealing way.
The following notes do not do the talk justice, only capturing some of the points Annie made.

She considered the small garden as perhaps the most challenging for a designer, compared to a large area and unlimited budget. The features of a small garden can be used in many settings; indeed, many large gardens are a compilation of smaller ones: e.g. Sissinghurst and, to some extent, Great Dixter.

One theme that Annie mentioned repeatedly in her talk was offsetting main features, such as patios, steps, decking, at an angle of 45o to the perimeter of the garden. This gives the garden an impression of being larger, as the eye is drawn to the longest, diagonal, length. Also, it gives larger spaces for planting, compared to a narrow border surrounding, say, a patio that is not offset.
It has the additional benefit that the eye is not taken directly to the other end of the garden, making it appear more complex and larger.

She showed several gardens that she had designed as examples, including:

  • East Molesey, Surrey
  • Kew This garden measures just 4m x 4m. Evergreens. Decking set at 45o.
  • Arundel – again hard landscaping set at 45o, giving deeper spaces for planting.
  • Hove This garden shows an example of another theme that Annie mentioned several times: reuse what is already there – in this case an underused swimming pool repurposed as a pond, with the decking giving it a curved edge to dissimulate its origins.
    Reusing what is already there saves the cost of a great deal of material and of bringing it in or taking it out, as well as being ecologically more sustainable.
    This garden also has a gate with the start of gravel path leading into the border and, by implication, to another part of the garden, whereas, in fact, it doesn’t lead anywhere. The gate is left slightly open – always more inviting.

Water features are important in any garden, no matter how small. Their sound adds another, relaxing, dimension that can distract from noise coming from outside.They also bring in wildlife.

In small garden, you can remove lower foliage from a large garden shrub, so that it looks like a small tree, in proportion to the garden.

Use climbing plants to add another dimension and to extend the flowering period when growing through earlier flowering shrubs.

Korean lilac Syringa meyeri is exceptionally fragrant and its size makes it particularly well suited to small gardens.

Use more specialised nurseries for access to a wider choice of plants, mentioning in particular:

Colour :
In a small garden go for muted colours, as they will make it feel larger.
Using bright colours will make the space appear even smaller.

Shade plants:
Annie mentioned, amongst others Gillenia and ferns, which she considers much underrated.

Use dark foliage plants to set off lighter colours.

Bulbs – excellent for small gardens, as they will make their appearance through other planting and once flowered will then disappear again.

Showing just how small gardening can get, Annie introduced something with many potential sites in our area: pot hole gardening

‘Revive Your Garden’
Nick Bailey

Wednesday 14th February
Boxgrove Village Hall

This special LHS event welcomed Gardeners’ World presenter Nick Bailey to speak on a subject that many of us could benefit from.
The audience of 100 was captivated by Nick’s masterly presentation of a great deal of very useful information leavened with  anecdotes and humour.

The talk and the ensuing questions were followed by a delicious afternoon tea.

The Sussex Snowdrop Trust Chairman and Co-Founder, Diana Levantine, gave a short description of the trust and its wonderful work as a unique charity providing ‘Nursing Care at Home’ for local children who have a life-threatening or terminal illness.
The proceeds of the bumper raffle were donated to The Sussex Snowdrop Trust. Many thanks to all those who donated prizes.

Nick’s eloquent and well illustrated talk went through the aspects to be considered when planning to revamp a garden, starting from what you have to work with: the plots, its size and aspect, the soil and other possible limitations, existing planting.

Then to the essential decisions: what you want from your garden: –
‘Form follows function’ (Corbusier).
What of the existing planting can be rejuvenated.
How to use pruning to help achieve this.
How can it be enhanced by additional planting.
How to get rid of really troublesome weeds.
And very much more.

Click this Points & Plants link to see more details of what Nick mentioned in his talk.

Nick’s excellent talk, rounded off by a lovely afternoon tea with home made cake, made for a very enjoyable and instructive afternoon.

‘Clematis through the Seasons’
Everett Leeds
Wednesday 10th January

Everett has had an interest in clematis for over forty years. Member of the International Clematis Society and founder member of the British Clematis Society (Chairman four times), he has co-written two books on clematis.

His knowledge and enthusiasm were evident in the talk that was very well received by a large gathering of members.

The native Clematis vitalba (Old Man’s Beard) was the only clematis known in England until the reign of Elizabeth I, when Clematis viticella was introduced from southern Europe.
Other European clematis were then introduced: C. recta, herbaceous, not a climber, with small white flowers, and C. integrifolia, again herbaceous, not a climber, from the alpine region.
It was not until the 19th century that plant hunters introduced species from China, C. patens and C. lanuginosa that brought larger flowers and new colours.
In the late 1850s Jackman’s nursery, Woking, bred C. jackmanii, which had a much larger flower size than any previous clematis.
A hybridisation race then ensued.
Ca. 1900 clematis wilt appeared.
C. texensis was introduced just before 1900 from Texas, bringing red tulip-like flowers.

Propagation from cuttings

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The basics of taking the cutting can be seen here, although Everett made the following points:
Before putting the cuttings into the pot, put them in a plastic bag with some systemic fungicide, to allow the leaves to take up the fungicide and help protect the cutting from fungal attack.
He puts the cuttings up to their necks around the edge of a pot filled with pure perlite.
This then goes into a propagator, or failing that, is covered with a clear plastic bags secured with a rubber band around the pot.
He sprays the cuttings with weak systemic fungicide once a week.
After 5-8 weeks the root system should have developed – this can be checked by feeling the resistance when pulling lightly on the cutting.
The cutting can now be potted on, in John Innes No 3 with a handful of grit, into a pot which is only just large enough for the roots; if the pot is too large, the roots will tend to rot.
Keep damp and pot on when the roots fill the pot.
It is best to keep the new plant in a pot until it can be planted out the following spring.

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When training up trees that are still alive, plant clematis away from the tree, to the north, and train it up against the trunk with a cane.

Feeding – Everett recommended that clematis be fed with rose fertiliser.


Including those from all the following groups:

Early season species:

Early large-flowered clematis:

Can be affected by clematis wilt which can affect all the plant or just parts of it. Cut off all affected parts and dispose of in bin.
It is recommended to plant deep, so that the part of the plant in the soil may escape wilt.
If the plant does not recover it can be replaced with another clematis in the same place – there is not the same problem as there is with replacing roses.

With their large blooms, they are susceptible to damage by wind and rain, so they are best planted in a sheltered location. Also, they do not like too much direct sunlight, so plant in east-, west- or even north-facing locations, but not in south-facing.
There are about 4,000 cultivars.

Late flowering clematis:

Prune hard to about 1 foot in February.

Herbaceous Group:

Bushy, non-climbing, grow to a height of 0.75 – 1.25 m.
At end of season cut down to 20 cm ready for winter.

Herbaceous clematis do not like too high temperatures, so when planting in containers, insulate the inside of the container, e.g. with bubblewrap; must be watered at least once a week.

‘Creating Movement whilst Frozen Still’
Ben Pope

Wednesday 13th December

With 25 years of horticultural experience, Ben has spent the past 15 years as head gardener of a private estate near Midhurst, maintaining the large garden to a very high standard, whilst growing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers, featured in Gardeners’ World. In addition, Ben teaches at West Dean College and the Chelsea Physic Garden.

A large number of members braved the winter evening to hear an excellent talk, well presented and illustrated. Ben suggested that, rather than ‘putting the garden to bed’, we use structure and winter colour to create movement by visual effects.

Views, Shapes, Surfaces, Spaces:
Create a visual path around garden – the eye moves more slowly and calmly along curved edges, whereas it will follow straight lines more rapidly.
Using different types of surface will also slow the eye down as it moves from one to another.
He showed how this calming effect can also be achieved with rounded and undulating tops to box hedging. The junction of two main paths was softened with an invitation to linger by having the four corners of the hedging rounded, rather than ending in straight angles.
Clipped plants such as lavender can form domes under frost or snow. Beech, yew, bare branches and Garria, with hanging tassels, all provide contrasting shapes and colour.

Light and reflections:
Be aware of light and how it moves around garden.
Side lighting from low sun in winter and long shadows cast on the lawn can create attractive effects.
Using reflections from water or mirrors adds depth to the view.

Repetition and perspective:
Repetition of shapes and colours can provide interest and a sense of perspective.
Create the impression of greater distance by gradually reducing the width of a path.
Box balls of diminishing sizes, again using false perspective to give an impression of distance.

Just some of the plants that Ben suggested for the winter garden, either to add structure and movement, or colour, especially the bulbs heralding the end of winter:

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Monarda stands well until February
Aster umbellatus
Phlomis – will last throughout winter
Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ – glows in sunlight
Garrya elliptica
Miscanthus nepalensis
Miscanthus sinensis – Golden colour in winter sun

  • C. hederifolium: after ending flowering early in winter, its foliage will then continue to look good.
  • C. coum: flowers later in winter.
  • Do not grow these two types of cyclamen together, as C. hederifolium will completely take over.

Hyacinths – useful for colour and scent at the end of winter.
Species tulips, e.g. Tulipa turkestanica
Scilla bifolia e.g. Peter Nijssen
Eryngium – leave flower heads standing through winter.
End of winter – Pulmonaria

Trees and shrubs
Hamamellis ‘Aphrodite’
Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’
Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’
Sarcococca for scent
Colourful stems:

Rubus (white stemmed bramble), Salix (willow), Cornus (dogwood) – all require hand pruning right back, as only the new season’s stems will have the best colour.
Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’ is not so robust, so only take down a proportion of the stems each year.

Deciduous grasses – cut back mid/end February to let new shoots come through.
Evergreen grasses – just comb them through to get rid of dead growth at the end of winter e.g. Pheasant’s tail grass (Stipa arundinacea), Stipa tenuissima and Carex.

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‘Garden Tips from the Head Gardener’
Mark Saunders

Wednesday 11th October

Preceded by the Autumn Flower Competition

Mark has been Head Gardener at Fittleworth House for 26 years now, and this was his 5th visit to LHS.
This time his talk gave pieces of useful advice covering a wide range of problems in the garden.

His first tip was that it is essential to ensure that secateurs are really sharp – they should be able to cut cleanly through the card of a breakfast cereal packet.
If they are not sharp enough they will also crush a stem when they are cutting it, damaging the adjacent cells, leaving those that remain on the plant prey to disease, causing die-back.
For those who might not have a very strong grip for the conventional one, he demonstrated ratchet secateurs, which grasp the item being cut firmly between the individual grasps until the item is cut through.
Anvil secateurs are more difficult to use effectively as both sides of the blade need to be sharpened properly.
He also demonstrated the Max Tapener, ideal for quickly and securely fixing the stems of climbing plants to their support.

Yoga was his second tip to recommend to maintain fitness of the gardeners’ body with the passing years.

The importance of compost
Mark could not stress this enough – even a small garden should devote a space for composting.
The great advantage of compost is that it is full of life, including mycorrhizal fungi that helps plants access nutrients in the soil. It can be used to supercharge borders and beds.
He warned against “hot-boxing”. The high temperatures of “hot-boxing” will kill off all the life that is so essential in compost. “Hot-boxed” compost should only be used for seed trays and pots, where you actually need an inert growing medium.

Poor cropping fruit trees can be given shock treatment by removal of a large branch.

Weeds. Mark ran through some candidates for the title of the worst weed:

  • Ground elder – in fact, if grown where it can be contained, produces very attractive flowers;
  • Bindweed – again, can produce a profusion of flowers;
  • Mare’s tail – can look good in flower arrangements;
  • Creeping thistle – this is the worst weed according to Mark! Impossible to remove all the spreading roots and the smallest part left behind will give rise to new growth. It will take several years to get rid of it and the spines make the work particularly irritating.

Organisation is key
Firstly in the garden shed:
Mark showed a photo of his, with a massive amount of clean pots, sorted by size and ready to use; all the other essentials in their right place, leaving a clear potting bench.
Then in the garden itself:
it is essential to create a planting plan that can be worked to.

Winter vegetables should be grown all adjacent to each other, so that the rest of vegetable patch can more easily be prepared for the spring.

Group pots together so they shield each other from sun, reducing need for watering.

Avoid leaving bare patches of soil. The more the soil is covered with plants, the less the need for watering.

Dry garden – plants with small leaves or silvery foliage that don’t lose moisture easily.

Winter garden
Sarcococca confusa – should be planted by door, so that fragrance can be appreciated.
Edgeworthia – again useful for its fragrant winter flowers.

Growing vegetables
The real reason for growing your own vegetables is the taste.
A wide variety of shapes and colours of tomatoes can be grown – for flavour, Mark mentioned specifically ‘Sungold‘ and ‘Green Zebra‘.
Mark emphasised the advantages of sowing vegetables in modular seed trays. In this way the seed can be started off in optimal conditions, without the risk of the seedlings being eaten by slugs as soon as they appear.
Avoid using trays with very small modules, as the seedlings can then dry out very quickly. Even if they are saved before they die off, this set back can continue to affect them in the later stages of their life and make them more prone to bolting.
The healthy plants can then be planted out with the right spacing at the right time. The best times for planting out are March, April and May, and then September and October.
Mark strongly advocated growing onions from seed, rather than sets.

Statement plants: (just a few of the plants Mark mentioned)

  • Ricinus, the castor oil plant, with the warning that all parts of it are highly poisonous;
  • Euphorbia melifera;
  • Acers

Mark considers that the best hedging plant is yew. It grows relatively quickly and can be easily shaped. Together with beech, it is one of the two hedging plants that when cut back severely into the old wood will still produce new growth.
In spite of problems with box moth, Mark is persevering with box hedging. He finds that spraying it 4 times a year with ‘Xen Tari’ controls the box moth.

These can be used very effectively to give colourful displays complementing perennials and shrubs, including filling in whilst these are developing.

Fittleworth House is featured in the December issue of ‘The English Garden’.

‘Late Summer Flowers’
Marina Christopher

Wednesday 13th September

Marina’s experience as a nurseryman covers almost 40 years. She runs Phoenix Perennial Plants near Alton, which supplies some of the top garden designers with unusual plants for the Chelsea Flower Show that have won ‘Best in Show’ several times!

She held the interest of a large gathering of members with her wide knowledge and ease of presentation, illustrating her talk by showing the plants themselves and large pictures of the flowers.

Marina suggested that, in view of changing climatic conditions, it made sense to consider plants that thrive in areas whose conditions are similar to what we seem to be moving to, such as the prairies of North America.

As well as plants, she is particularly interested in the roles played by insects in the garden. The honey bee is just one of 250 different bees active during the day; at night the moths take over, with about 1,200 species of macro-moths and another 1,200 of micro-moths in the UK.
She stressed the need to give pollinators something to feed on throughout the year. Bumble bees are out and about in winter when it is not too cold and need a source of food through the fairly lean time from November to February.

Late summer flowers help build up insects for the winter, not only pollinators, but also predators, such as ladybirds, lacewings etc. This has been a continuing focal point for Marina: she published a book “Late Summer Flowers” in 2006. She is in the process of rewriting this, to take into account the wider choice of plants now available.

An interesting tip was to cut clumps of tall plants, such as phlox and early-flowering asters, short at the front, medium in the middle and leaving the back tall. This, with regular dead-heading, should prolong the flowering season.

A further way of achieving this would be to sow from seed later than normal, but before mid June, for example Gaura and hardy salvias. However, perennials sown late in this way will produce flowers late in the first year, but in subsequent years will revert to their normal flowering time.

Click here for details of the
plants mentioned by Marina in her talk.

Marina also found ready buyers for her plants and sundries that she brought for sale.

‘Through the Seasons at Kew Gardens and Wakehurst’
Sarah Oldridge
Wednesday 14th June

Sarah, Adult Education Co-ordinator at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, for over 20 years, gave us a very interesting and well presented introduction to both Kew and its West Sussex location, Wakehurst Place. Here are some notes on just some of the areas she covered:

The original Kew garden was founded in 1759 by Princess Augusta, mother of George III. He inherited it in 1772 and joined it to his royal estate in Richmond – the two gardens were joined, but that is why they are still known as Kew Gardens, in the plural. It was not an ideal site for botanical gardens soil made up of alluvial deposit, bordering on and draining into the river Thames; and very flat – any raised ground today is entirely man-made.

Construction of the iconic Great Pagoda started in 1761. The dragon at each corner of the octagonal roof of each storey, which had been removed, were reintroduced and the original colours of the pagoda restore.

The Palm House was built 1844-48 and extensively refurbished 1980-81. The magnificent long double herbaceous borders leading to the Palm house were first established in 1848.

The Temperate House was built in 1862.

The Princess of Wales Conservatory, built in 1987, covers ten different climatic zones, each computer controlled for temperature and humidity.

The Queen’s Garden is dedicated exclusively to plants and styles of the 17th Century.

The organic Georgian kitchen garden supplies Kew’s restaurants.

Wakehurst Place, a large estate around a Tudor sandstone mansion, has been leased by Kew for 99 years from the National Trust. The walled garden is located near house.

The estate includes the Loder Valley nature reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest. This is currently closed whilst major work to counter ash dieback is being carried out.

The Millennium Seed Bank currently houses about 2 billion seeds kept at -20°C, with ample space for future seed storage.

The Iris Dell is named after its plantings of Iris ensata, the Japanese water iris.

In December both Kew and Wakehurst are lit up with decorative lighting.

Take a more detailed look at both gardens on the Kew Gardens website

‘Drought Tolerant Plants’
Steve Edney

Wednesday 12th April

Steve serves on the RHS Herbaceous committee and won a Gold medal at Chelsea Flower Show in 2019. He gave us an excellent talk which was greatly enjoyed by the large number of members (and visitors) who came to the meeting. He was a very knowledgeable and entertaining speaker who has been a dedicated horticulturalist since leaving school. He had a variety of jobs culminating in his appointment as Head Gardener at The Salutation, a home with 3.5 acres of walled gardens which subsequently became a hotel but then went into administration with all the staff being made redundant. Steve together with his partner, Louise Dowle, then set up the No Name Nursery in Sandwich.

The site – which is off-grid – is intended to be as low maintenance and sustainable as possible, with minimum watering. Its location on the East Kent coast has some of the highest sunshine hours and lowest rainfall in the country, similar to South Sudan and Jerusalem. Last year, they only watered three times!

Steve talked about many different plants and left a list of those recommended for drought conditions: click here. They also brought a number of plants from the nursery which were eagerly purchased by members of the audience.

Steve Edney holds four national collections of plants and spoke about what is involved and how one qualifies for this role which was very interesting.

‘Arundel Castle Gardens’
Martin Duncan
Wednesday 8th March

Preceded by the Spring Flower Competition

As well as studying Commercial Horticulture and Landscape Construction and Design, Martin has built up a wealth of experience both in the UK and abroad, which he ran through to start his talk.

Starting from the Inire Game Reserve in his native Zimbabwe
Jordan – Head Gardener and then Garden Designer for King Hussein.
Audley End – originally designed by Capability Brown.
France: Chateau de Sully in Burgundy.
Botanical Gardens and Parks, Bermuda.
Martin was awarded the Kew Guild Medal in 2018.

He is Head Gardener and Designer of Arundel Castle Gardens and gave a brief description of the many different types of garden there (listed here with a few notes of some of his comments):

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Rose garden
Soak bare root roses for 8 hours before planting.
Don’t put bonemeal together with mycorrhiza as they negate each other.
A small amount of Epsom Salts around the base of each rose helps reduce blackspot.

White garden
He has taken out the low box hedges that previously surrounded the beds so that flowers can arch over paths.
He particularly recommended the Fan flower (Scaevola)

Collector Earl’s Garden – now 15 years old.

The bulb labyrinth
The first of its kind anywhere, made of 14,000 tulip bulbs together with white narcissus ‘Thalia‘.

Throughout the gardens they plant 120,000 – 150,000 bulbs a year, of which 70,000 are new tulips bulbs.

English herbaceous borders
25-26 different alliums.
Yew is very versatile – very easy to shape.

Cut flower garden
Featuring many varieties of Dahlias, among a wide selection of flowers.

Organic Kitchen Garden
Split into 4 beds for rotation.
Grow onions and carrots together, 3 rows of each alternating – the carrot fly doesn’t like the smell of onions and the onion fly doesn’t like the smell of carrots.

Vine house – still the original from 1853.

New Tropical Garden
Trachycarpus fortunei – a very reliable palm as it is hardy down to minus 17oC. There are many other tropical plants, particularly Ensete bananas and Cannas – there is even a paw-paw..

Stumps of yew, oak and sweet chestnut used, as these do not rot.

Wildflower Garden
Uses annual varieties, as these can be sown in normal soil.
Perennial varieties would need very poor soil. Yellow rattle should be sown in November as it needs the cold to germinate.
The seed that they use is ‘Classic Mix’ from Victoria Wildflowers.
Phacelia – a real magnet for bees.

Sump Garden
A new project that has transformed a very wet part of the gardens into 3 ponds with many water and bog plants. The design has been enhanced by two small buildings of traditional wood construction with thatched roofs.

In general, grass is not mown very much – instead paths are just cut through it, allowing the grass to grow and wild flowers with it.

The Tulip Festival
The peak time for viewing this year should be 18-24th April

On Sunday 23rd April there will also be the Spring Plant Fair, with specialist growers and nurseries from across the south.

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