Monthly Meetings

Beneficial Insects in the Garden

Andrew Halstead

Wednesday 12th January

Andrew is retired Principal Entomologist at the RHS and co-author of RHS Pests and Diseases with more than 40 years experience of garden pests and wildlife. Beekeeping is an additional interest.

He gave an excellent talk covering a wide range of beneficial insects, their life cycle and the way they help pollination or kill pests. Each came with clear photos to help recognition.

Andrew has kindly allowed his talk to be recorded, so members who were unable to join this meeting, or those who want to refresh their memories, can see Andrew’s talk here.

Just click on the play icon below.

You will then have to type in the password, which is being sent directly to all members.


“Houseplants – Growing & Origins”
Paul Abbott

Wednesday 8th December

Paul trained  at Cambridge Botanics and RHS Wisley. After working as Senior Gardener at Highdown Gardens near Worthing, he is now Head Gardener at a local private garden.

Benefits of house plants:

  • Can remove harmful air contaminants;
  • Can help control humidity;
  • Take in carbon dioxide & give out oxygen;
  • Reduce absenteeism in offices.

Choosing & buying plants:

  • Garden centre – wide range of plants generally well looked after;
  • Florists – some stock plants now;
  • Markets – small range of plants;
  • Supermarkets – narrow range. Bulk. Lower prices.

What to grow where:

  • Get the temperature right;
  • Various conditions in different places;
  • Window sills – temperature fluctuates, as it does in bathrooms and kitchens;
  • Temperature is more even away from windows;
  • Heat rises;
  • Room aspect & amount of light;
  • Conservatories may offer more choice.

Paul then presented wide range of house plants, mentioning where they originate from and what conditions they prefer. To see these and the books and websites Paul recommended, click here:

Plant list & further information

Jackie Currie

Wednesday 13th October

Jackie holds the National Collection of Alliums, split between her garden and allotment. She gave an engaging and well illustrated talk that showed us that alliums can be more versatile in the garden.

There are over 1,000 species of allium worldwide, of which all but 2 come from the northern hemisphere. They come in a wide variety of sizes and leaf shapes.

Jackie described how, dissatisfied with the poor regrowth of some varieties, she had done a lot of basic research on the growing conditions required for each, tracing the conditions of the place where each originated and speaking to some of the few experts on growing alliums, particularly in Holland.
Growing Alliums in Holland

She concluded that the way to get alliums to flower after the first year could be split into three main ways to treat the plants after flowering:

  1. leave in ground and split every 3 years (as you would for most perennials);
  2. Divide every year (will not flower every year);
  3. Lift every year, dry and “bake” at 24-26°C (e.g. in a greenhouse) for 4 to 6 weeks before replanting.

It is important that any lifting of bulbs is done directly after flowering, as sometimes the bulbs will drop in the ground, making them difficult to find. Some will even track sideways.

Jackie described the main characteristics of a wide range of varieties to use in the garden for flower from March to September, as well as a couple to be avoided.

Details of alliums mentioned

“Wildflower Meadows”
Michael Joseph

Wednesday 8th September

Michael treated the large audience of our first monthly meeting in person for a year and a half to a really excellent talk .

Meadows, the traditional way of making hay to feed livestock in winter, covered large parts of the countryside in 1950; the overwhelming majority have since disappeared, replaced by more intensive pasture where wildflowers just cannot grow.

Michael detailed the benefits of meadows, including their contribution to biodiversity, not only with their wildflowers and the huge number of invertebrates that live in them, but also the larger animals and birds supported by the food chain with the meadow at its base.

Drawing on the experience of the half-acre meadow that he and his wife developed and the many others they have helped create, Michael covered the various aspects of growing and maintaining a wildflower meadow, including the pitfalls to be avoided.

He stressed that a wildflower meadow does not need a large area – someone had even created one in a wheelbarrow.

Click this button for more detailed notes on this talk:
Wildflower meadows

If you couldn’t make the meeting, this very good video, shot in Michael’s own wildflower meadow, covers many aspects of his talk. It is well worthwhile watching, even if you were at the talk:

Wildflower meadow video

“Italy from Seed to Plate”
Paolo Arrigo

Wednesday 14th July

Paolo, MD of Franchi Seeds (UK), Slow Food UK “Person of the Year 2019” and multiple RHS Medal winner, treated us to an enjoyable tour of Italy’s regional vegetable varieties with an insight into the seeds business.
If you could not make the meeting or if you want to recap anything, you can watch another airing of Paolo’s talk on YouTube by clicking here:
“Italy from Seed to Plate”

The coronavirus lockdown created a massive surge in home growing of vegetables, comparable with that of the two world wars. Many seeds ran out as demand reached unimaginable levels: seed just cannot be produced at short notice.

Most of the large seed sellers do not produce their own seed. Franchi does, and specialises in heritage seeds, including endangered varieties.

Will Italian seeds grow here?
Only half the seeds sold in the UK are produced here anyway, the rest grown in countries around the globe, the largest single supplier being China.
There are basically two Italies: the Mediterranean one most people immediately think of, and the Alpine one, which is by far the larger: the Alps and Dolomites across the north of the country and the Apennines stretching all the way down the centre.
Franchi is located in Bergamo at the foothills of the Alps.

The vegetables and varieties that Paolo covered can all be found in the
Franchi Seed Catalogue
Here are just some of his comments:

Read more

Tomatoes –
San Marzano
: thin skinned and fleshy – used for tinning;
Principe Borghese: the variety used for sun-drying;
Cuor di Bue (Ox Heart): large, fleshy, from the region of Liguria.
Spinach – to avoid bolting, grow spinach in the spring, Swiss chard in the summer and spinach again in the autumn.
Lamb’s lettuce, also known as corn salad and mâche, is hardy and can be cropped throughout the year, just needing some protection (a layer of fleece) in the coldest weather.
Fennel: sow June/July/August for autumn harvest to avoid bolting.
Borlotti beans: grown for fully grown beans – more practical to preserve them by freezing rather than drying.
Courgette: pick the male flower in the morning (not the one on the end of the courgette) for cooking, either stuffed or just fried in a light tempura batter.

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“Growing Old Fashioned Flowers”
David Standing

Wednesday 9th June, 7.30 pm on Zoom

David was Head Gardener at Gilbert White’s house in Selbourne, where he spent well over 30 years. Initially he had been engaged as one man, two days a week, to cover 30 acres.

Subsequently David devoted a great deal of time and effort trying to develop the gardens into something that pioneering naturalist Gilbert White would have been growing in the eighteenth century.

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Although there were no planting plans, David was able to track down numerous plants from references in Gilbert White’s writings. This was a very time consuming exercise before the advent of the internet

Even in the case of many plants that sound familiar, those that we grow today are more highly bred versions of the plants that Gilbert White would have known. Other plants have simply gone out of fashion, such as Kiss Me over the Garden Gate (Persicaria orientalis) and Jack-in-the-Green primulas. So even having identified the right plants, finding seed to grow them was often problematic. David recommended Chiltern Seeds as offering a wide range of difficult-to-find seeds.

Recreating gardens that Gilbert White would have recognised was the work of many years. David took it in stages: annuals, then herbaceous perennials, then shrubs and also herbs, all very much on a trial & error basis. For instance, rosebay willowherb really thrived, but this prolific self-seeder threatened to take over and had to be removed, not without difficulty.

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David had also provided in advance a comprehensive plant list, which made his presentation easier to follow.

“The Rock Garden at Wisley”
Trevor Wiltshire

Wednesday 12th May

An excellent talk based on Trevor’s 13 years as Superintendent of the rock garden at RHS Wisley.
He showed some of its history and development, including views into the ingenious engineering literally hidden within, particularly the planning and execution of the new Japanese-inspired waterfall, a focal point of the rock garden.

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Trevor’s engineering background were essential to this major project, which included building a new temporary road to bring a giant crane to the heart of the rock garden to put 3-4 tonne blocks of sandstone in position. He had managed to find these in Skelmersdale, to match the existing stone of the rock garden, as the original quarry in East Grinstead had long since closed.

His presentation covered not only the rock garden itself but the ponds and channels at its base, as well as the alpine houses, covering both display and propagation: deep sand plunge beds to provide the best environment for the alpines in their terracotta pots; external walls built of tufa to provide a natural setting for the plants.

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Trevor had provided a plant list – a great help in following his descriptions of the plants and how to grow them.

He has a passion for cyclamen, for which he is international registrar; he has also written his own extensive review of the species:
“Cyclamen, by Trevor Wiltshire”.

For those interested in taking this further he recommended
The Cyclamen Society

and also the website

“Around the World in 74 Days”
Brian Wickenden

Wednesday 14th April

Brian gave us a whistle-stop tour of the exotic plants and locations of numerous regions of the world. It was amazing that so many were included in one evening’s talk: Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Caribbean, Brazil, Hawaii, both islands of New Zealand, a tour of Australia, not to forget Brian’s personal favourite, the Cook Islands.
A relaxing view of the botanic delights of many far-flung places, all from the comfort of our own homes!

“New Plants – the Future for your Garden”
Graham Spencer
Wednesday 10th March

Since 2003 Graham has been working closely through his own company Plants for Europe with breeders & growers throughout Europe and beyond, basically taking new cultivars from breeding through plant variety rights and growing to market introduction.
His very clear presentation gave us an insight into the various stages of this process and the factors that influence them.
Where new plants come from

Graham used the examples of many plants introduced by Plants for Europe to illustrate these points.
List of plants

We’ll now be looking at new plants in garden centres in a different light.

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Whilst Graham works with breeders from as far afield as the USA and Australia, it was remarkable to see how many successful breeders there are close to us in West Sussex.

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“Alstroemeria & other UK Cut Flowers”
Ben Cross
Wednesday 10th February

Ben is a fourth generation grower at Crosslands Nursery, Walberton and used Zoom to give his talk live from one of the glasshouses full of alstroemeria. As well as explaining the commercial production of alstroemeria, he gave a lot of useful advice for growing them in the garden – for details, see the notes.

Ben is very active in promoting British cut flowers; he gave us insights into the advantages for both the environment and flower quality, of locally grown flowers, compared with those imported from distant lands that have taken over the UK market.

Notes from Ben’s talk

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