Monthly Meetings

“Houseplants – Growing & Origins”
Paul Abbott

Wednesday 8th December

Paul has been interested in plants and gardening after planting seeds with his grandfather as a child. He trained initially at Capel Manor College, then Cambridge Botanics and Wisley.

After working as the Senior Gardener looking after a unique plant collection at Highdown Gardens near Worthing, Paul is now Head Gardener at a local private garden.


Jackie Currie

Wednesday 13th October
Lavant Memorial Hall

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:

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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


Wed 24th November

“Happy Birthday Hortitalk !”

This latest informal Zoom meeting marked a year since our first Hortitalk.

Chairman, Mike Kingsford, after lighting the candle on the birthday cake, set the ball rolling with a selection of photos from the past year’s Hortitalks, followed by some newly submitted ones:

Not surprisingly, no-one could remember the name of the New Zealand Christmas tree, the first question in the quiz that started our first Hortitalk:- Pohutakawa!

In looking back to Mike’s glorious tree peony, ‘Itoh’ peonies were mentioned, hybrids between the tree and herbaceous peonies that combine the good points of both. They are expensive, but Lesley is tempted, so watch this space.

One of the remarkable plants was the tomato ‘Red Alert’ – early ripening and continuing to produce a prolific crop.

Frank’s Mandevilla was a revelation to others who had struggled with yellowing and dropping leaves. His advice was not to try growing it around a frame but to allow it to grow upright, clipping back shoots to keep it in shape. Propagation is easy: cut off a side shoot, dip the end in rooting compound and pot it up.

The photos of yucca and osteospermum at West Wittering showed how mild of this late autumn is, although osteospermum can be more hardy than widely thought.

There will be no Hortitalk in December – the next one will be held on 26th January.


Wednesday 27th October

Chairman, Mike Kingsford, kicked off our latest informal meeting on Zoom with some photos from members.

The Glory of Autumn was exemplified by some photos of Winkworth Arboretum, where acers were showing their bright autumn colours, although other trees were only just beginning to turn.

From members’ own gardens, there was the foliage of a parrotia turning a glorious gold.

Dahlias were showing their resilience – determined to keep on blooming in spite of the weather.

Kaffir lilies (previously known as Schizostylis, but now renamed Hesperantha) were again providing a bright display without having received any particular attention. Although said to prefer damp conditions, these were in a dry part of the garden.

As every year, the Nerines had suddenly appeared with their glowing blooms.

Looking forward to the new season, there was a November-flowering camellia , as well as a spring-flowering rhododendron ‘Timothy James’, fooled by the remarkably mild weather.

Alternatives to box were discussed, including Euonymus ‘Jean Hugues’ (this was the one shown in the previous Friday’s Gardeners’ World) and also Ilex crenata.

In light of the up-coming COP 26 it was suggested that sustainable gardening would be a good topic for the website,starting with pollinator friendly plants. Notes on Darren Lerigo’s January talk “Helping the Honey Bee” are already available on the website, but it was agreed they would be given more prominence and something more comprehensive would be considered.

Mike ended by encouraging all members to come to the AGM.


Wednesday 29th September

This informal members’ Zoom get-together  started with photos from their gardens:

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Lesley submitted photos of a mystery plant, a readily spreading ground cover spilling out from the flower bed into the gravel path. Throughout the summer it had very many more pink flower heads than seen in the late September photos. This was readily identified as Phuopsis stylosa (Caucasian crosswort). It was also reported to take well in gaps in stone walls. It is easy to grow and propagate, so look out for it at next May’s Annual Flower Show.

Mike’s very large-leaved quick-growing plant was more of a puzzle, but was subsequently identified as a Paulownia (foxglove tree). It quickly grows into a large tree, but only starts bearing foxglove-like flowers after quite some years.

There was some discussion of October’s Autumn Flower Competition and of interesting gardens visited: several in Cornwall, of which Trebah excelled, nearer to home, Sussex Prairie Garden and right on our doorstep West Dean Gardens where there is a lot of new planting underway.

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Wednesday 28th July

Most of the discussion concerned the up-coming Annual Flower Show,

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with Chairman, Mike Kingsford, encouraging members to set the example by entering things in the Show.

This year there will be no need write entry cards by hand. Not only will Margaret Rhodes pre-print the class name and number on all the cards, but will also print the entrants’ names and numbers on labels to be stuck on the appropriate entry cards. She does not envisage needing additional help for this. Mike asked that entry forms be subitted as soon as possible, rather thah just befor the cut-off time, to help Margaret spread our the workload.

It was pointed out that there is no provision in the Show Schedule for biennials. However, it was clarified that hollyhocks, which prompted this query, are a short-lived perennial.

Concern was expressed about running Class 50, most fragrant rose, in the traditional way, with all the visitors smelling the roses as they arrive. It was agreed that this year Tom Brown would be asked to decide the winner, rather than the popular vote.
Robert Newman offered to make a perspex screen to stop visitors instinctively trying to smell the roses.

Two marquees will be erected on the green adjacent to the Green Room: one, with open sides, for refreshments and the other for any overspill of exhibits. If not required for exhibits, this also would be left open-sided for refreshments.

A recommendation that masks be worn inside the Hall was agreed.

As all washing up will be done in the dish washe, rather than by hand, Liz Hewitt asked for help in handling the heavy trays of crockery; Robert Newman and Mike Kingsford volunteered.

There was general support amongst the members participating for a continuation of Hortitalks after a break in August.

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Wednesday 23rd June

As usual, we started with photos from members’ gardens that set off a lot of discussion: (click any to enlarge)

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Sweet peas: Mike Kingsford shared some photos of his sweet peas – Roger Parsons seed sown in Rootrainers in October and grown on in a quite harsh regime.
For intensity of fragrance he particularly recommended ‘Lady Nicholson’ and maroon / violet bicolour ‘Matucana’.

Allium christophii: often grown as a single “lollypop”, it looks really glorious in this mass of about 20 plants, self-seeded from the few bulbs that were planted here.

Erodium manescavii: flowers continuously from spring to frost – very easy to grow and propagate.

‘Kathleen Harrop’: introduced in 1919, a softer pink sport of Bourbon rose ‘Zéphirine Drouin’, introduced some 50 years earlier; both share the same characteristics: thornless, very fragrant and repeat-flowering. Said to be more resistant to disease if planted out of full sun.

Cacti: Mike stimulated the orange one into flowering by drenching it with water when it was very dry.

Foxgloves:The second photo shows not only the bumblebee disappearing into the flower, but also, to the right of the foxglove, the yellow pendant flowers of Chilean box Vestia foetida. Usually hardy enough for our climate, this winter strong cold winds had killed of the top of the plant. However, the base of the plant survived, sending up these new branches.

Tomato: Mike showed his first ripe tomato of the season – ‘Red Alert’, a bush variety producing an abundance of cherry tomatoes, grown from seed sown at the beginning of January in a propagator by Frank Bartlett.

Oxalis: several members had were growing pink flowered varieties. However, a warning was given about Oxalis cornucalata – its pretty tiny bright yellow flowers set in purplish shamrock-shaped leaves belie its thuggish nature.

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Wednesday 26th May

Started with a wide range of photos from members’ gardens – here are some:
click on any to enlarge

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They prompted a lot of discussion: plants flourishing in spite of April and May’s extreme weather, those struggling or lagging behind and those just going their own way. Several recognised the growing acceptance of self-seeders in their garden, especially at this time of year: hellebores, forget-me-nots (blue, white & pink) and “wild” flowers, such as buttercups and campions, red, white & bladder.

The new foliage of the Acer ‘Brilliantissimum‘ was quite striking: opening as a coppery pink, then turning gold, before turning towards green.

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Wednesday 28th April

This informal Zoom meeting opened with photos from members’ gardens.

Click any photo to enlarge

Discussions covered many aspects of the garden, before focussing on the plight of Crocus tommasinianus.

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It is nigh impossible to source this delicate early crocus (rather than derivatives such as ‘Ruby Giant‘), as its propagation is too labour intensive to be commercially viable. However, one member offered bulbs and seeds that had built up in her garden, prompting a lot of interest.

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Wednesday 24th March

Chairman, Mike Kingsford, presented the Spring Flower Competition results and also photos from members’ gardens, some of which are shown below. Click any to enlarge

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As part of a wide-ranging discussion about the garden at the moment, most people agreed that it was a good year for camellias, as evidenced by several photos. An incidence of poor flowering in pots may have been due to them getting too dry last summer. The compost should be kept moist to avoid inhibiting bud development in late summer.

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