Ashdon Gardening Club

2011 to 2012 Season Meetings of the Ashdon Gardening Club

The Gardening Club hosted a talk by Andrew Sankey "A brief History of an English Garden"

The meeting started at 7.45 p.m with Questions and Answers, and was followed by a talk by Andrew Sankey at 8.00 p.m.

Questions asked were:

Q: I had clematis climbing around the archway into my garden but the arch has collapsed. I want to save the clematis so should I cut it down and if so, should it be cut near the root or further up and when should I do this?

A: Since it is a late flowering clematis it should only be cut back to 18 inches and should be done in February.

Q: Should Hellibore leaves be cut yet.

A: Leaves should be cut on the 1st November for Christmas flowering Hellibores.


At the start of his talk Andrew Sankey explained that rather than a "brief" hostory, it was more of a gallop, and so it was. An even shorter resume of his talk follows.

The Celts tended to be farmers only so the first gardeners were the Romans. He used the archaelogical explorations at Fishburne Roman Palace in Sussex as the basis for his introduction to the Roman style of gardening based on the enclosed area as a planted meeting place. Lavender and box but not flowers would have been used there. Topiary was an important feature. Rose fields would have been seen outside villas.

Benedictine monks took this idea stage further in the 6th century and grew vegetables and herbs in raised beds within the cloistered walls. Orchards, vineyards and nutteries were planted outside.

By the 13th century all English castle gardens were enclosed and the gardens were usually the domain of the queen or senior lady of the nobility. They included raised medicinal herb beds, a few vegetables and a shady grassed area was introduced.

Competition with the French resulted in the creation of knot gardens with intricate symmetrical designs of raised beds which were to be viewed from above. Hampton Court is one of the most famous examples of such gardens.

Water features were an important aspect of Elizabethan gardens but large gardens reached their zinith in about 1690 and during William and Mary's reign they had become simple, small and rectangular rather than square with clipped evergreens and lots of pots.

The landscape movement which followed came in three phases and was led in turn by William Kent, Capability Brown and Humphrey Repton, all with very different ideas. The further introduction of flowers from around the world was a step leading to the 1810-1840 Gardenesque which was aimed at the middle class. Lawnmowers had been invented and bedding was becoming a feature.

William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll advocated informality and the latter was particularly noted for her colour blended garden schemes. Vita Sackville-West and others followed in their footsteps but since then there has been little coherence or consistency in design. Fashion dictates and designs come and go but at the heart of them lies the development of years of ideas.

Unfortunately the precis above fails to carry the enthusiasm and humour with which Andrew Sankey delivers his talk which was listened to with a lot of interest and frequent bouts of laughter.

The Gardening Club hosted a talk by Rodney Tibbs on 17th November - Cambridge Colleges and their Gardens

The meeting started at 7.45 p.m with Questions and Answers, and was followed by a talk by Mike Thurlow at 8.00 p.m.

Q: How should I store runner beans which I want to keep for seed?

A: Remove the seeds from the pod and place in a brown paper bag and keep dry.

Q: Is this the right time of year for pruning fruit trees?

A: Although the time of year varies for different types of fruit producers, it is best to leave until Christmas or early in the new year when all the leaves have gone and the sap is rising.

Rodney Tibbs was at one time a motoring correspondent and has written 3 books about the local area. He speaks on a variety of subjects which can be found at Cambridgeshire Association for Local History

He spoke about college gardens which are within walking distance of the Market Square in Cambridge and included some interesting information about some of the characters connected with the colleges. Rodney Tibbs showed us photographs of beautiful courtyards, Fellows gardens, hidden corners, acres of Spring daffodils, walls covered in wisteria, lovely herbaceous borders, not to mention a 17th century swimming pool. Along the way we heard about Thomas Grey's fear of fire and William Pitt's father's lack of faith in his son's power to learn anything. Perhaps the mosta astonishing thing about the college gardens is the vastness of them, most of which is hidden from our view.

The Gardening Club hosted a talk by Robin Carsberg "Container and Patio Gardening"

The meeting started at 7.45 p.m. Robin is well known in Ashdon for his Annual Show judging skills and has visited us before as a speaker. The last time he told us "what the judges were looking for" in shows.

This evening he not only told us what the judges would look for in exhibited containers and baskets but gave us a lot of inforation about the best way in which to display containers and baskets whilst they are in our gardens or in fact anywhere. In his first sentence Robin stated that "everyone can have a container - it doesn't matter where you live." All a container needs is to be able to hold soil, provide drainage, and have enough room to accommodate the plants you wish to grow (bearing in mind that plants will grow larger). The type of container can be made of anything including recycled household item or old shoes.

In his "Dos and Don't" list Robin advised against dark or black containers which can become too hot in summer, the need to consider the weight and location in case it has to be moved, the display colour which looks best when co-ordinated with the colour of the pot, and the background where the container will be situated. He highlighted this last point be showing slides of red or dark plants against similar coloured backgrounds and light plants against pale backgrounds.

Most plants are suitable for growing in pots and many can be mixed and matched. The list included cacti and succulents, alpines and water plants. Bulbs can be planted in different levels starting with winter ones near the top and later flowering bulbs further down. Photographs illustrated the use of plants along the edges of steps and the use of differnt levels to disply plants to their best advantage.

On a practical note he said that plants in containers need more maintenance than others growing in the garden. The composition of the soil is preferable if a heavier container type compost is mixed with an all purpose type. Plants should be watered twice a day in hot weather and a diluted liquid feed used every other watering. Self watering systems are ideal but granules can be used. To help with the watering a plastic saucer can be placed in the bottom of the pot when first planted. This will ensure that a reservoir of water remains.

Robin's talk was liberally sprinkled with photographs showing good and bad examples of planted containers and baskets and gave us all a lot to think about.

The Gardening Club hosted a talk by Graham Pavey on 15th March on "Mistakes Gardeners Make"

Graham Pavey Design

The meeting started at 7.45 p.m with Questions and Answers, and was followed by a talk by Graham Pavey, a garden designer who has written 6 books on garden design subjects. He also gives talks on behalf of the Royal Horticultural Society and lectures extensively on garden design subjects. He and his team offer innovative services to people which consist of a garden manual, a personal garden trainer, garden assessment and report and construction training.

As expected the evening was very lively. Graham illustrated mistakes via slides and used some to contrast with good design. He started by talking about the Chelsea Flower Show which inspires too many viewers to believe that they can create copies in their own gardens. Consequently they use many of the wrong plants in the wrong place, jam too many into one spot and use inappropriate materials in the unplanted areas. He showed us how too little practical thought often goes into design like narrow paths, uneven steps, and use of the wrong type of bricks in walls. Gardeners are frequently unaware of the affect that planting certain plants will have. Graham's slides showed dwarf conifers that had spread too far along the ground, creepers that had taken over windows in buildings, and wildflower areas that looked very unpretty. We all took away some useful advice and information from his observations.

For more information access Graham Pavey's web site .

The Gardening Club hosted a talk by Nigel Start on 19th April on "Self sufficiency in your garden"

Philip Marchant's garden

The meeting started at 7.45 p.m with Questions and Answers as usual, and was followed with a talk by Nigel Start who has had many years of experience of self sufficiency and speaking about it.

Before he commenced his talk we received a question about getting rid of green insects (possibly aphids) on clematis. Soapy water was claimed by several people present to remove them.

Nigel talked a little about the start of his interest in gardening then took us through a presentation occasionally illustrated by slides which showed that self sufficiency began in Medieval times and was broadened by key moments such as the introduction of the potato, the Industrial Revolution and the Allotments and Leisure Gardens Act of 1908. Today the economic conditions make self sufficiency an attractive proposition but there is also pleasure and satisfaction to be gained plus fresh, flavoursome food and the convenience of having it to hand. Gardening also provides healthy exercise.

Size doesn't seem to matter when growing vegetables although the larger plot can include fruit trees and more storage and composting space. Balconies and window boxes can be used equally well however for growing vegetables. The essentials are plenty of light, adequate moisture, nutrient rich soil or growing medium, shelter or warmth and good soil culture from cultivation.

Nigel emphasized the need to feed the soil either with well rotted animal manures, home made composts, commercial compost or with artificial fertilizers. He recommended chopping weeds with the lawnmower to add to compost which should be covered with a plastic sheet and turned twice to speed the process. He also advocated the use of crop rotation. In his case he also rotates his chickens along with the vegetables since they help with providing manure and will also eat any waste that is left from the crop. Four or five crop rotations work well and will help to protect plants from pests and diseases.

We received advice on other ways of avoiding pests and diseases (encouragement of hedgehogs is highly recommended), the best time to water plants, storage of produce and fruit growing. Finally Nigel described the properties of the hazel, although the audience was a little doubtful about ever seeing any hazelnuts due to the prevalence of squirrels.

The 2012 Annual General Meeting was held on 24th May

The minutes of the previous AGM on 27th May 2010 were agreed to and apologies were received. The Chairman's report was read out, a copy of which follows later. The Treasurer also provided a report. All members of the Committee were re-elected and the officers remain in place.

Once the business of the AGM closed members were advised of a proposed visit to a garden in Hundon on Sunday 24th June and a members and guests only barbecue to be held in July. Speakers for the meetings were discussed and suggestions for future speakers were welcomed. Rob Elston provided us with information about the possible purchase of an apple press which could not only be used by the Gardening Club but could involve the local school and be used by village members.

We then considered the future of our annual show which is usually held in August. The 2012 Show will have the same format as that in previous years with classes in vegetables, fruit, cut flowers, container grown plants, flower arrangements, crafts, cookery and a children's section. Because some of the classes are very poorly supported we may consider a members only show which would be restricted to vegetables, fruit and flowers and which could take place during the September Gardening Club meeting. There were no disagreements or further comments made during the AGM.

Four members had been asked to form a "Gardeners' Question Time" panel and were put on the spot answering queries from members and looking at specimens of ailing plants. They were also asked to provide topical tips.

It was an extremely enjoyable evening and we were provided with wine and nibbles.

Chairman's report

I am pleased to report another successful year for Ashdon Gardening Club both financially and socially.

We have had 6 speaker meetings kindly organised by Rob Elston ranging from Hostas and Container Plants to Self Sufficiency and Garden Design.  I am assured by Rob that we shall have an equally eclectic selection in the forthcoming year.

We have enjoyed 2 social events – the Wine and Cheese party in January and the Barbeque in July.  Thanks to Janet and Mike Elsey for organising the catering at tonight’s AGM and at the January Social, and thanks to all the committee for their help at both events.

There were 2 outside visits, one to a delightful house and garden near Dunmow  the name of which I now cannot remember and a walk around Members gardens in the village.  Thanks to Lisa, Hilary and other members of the committee for organising that.

The Plant sale was its usual success and thanks to all of you for your plants.  It contributes a great deal to our finances as does the monthly raffle organised by Marion Wrigley.

The website run by Gillian Brooker continues to be a valuable tool in attracting and communicating with members so thank you Gillian and thank you also for your work on the Handbook.

This will be the last year that we organise the Ashdon Show so I would like to see a bumper crop of entries particularly in the members section for which we shall be distributing the plants this evening.  Richard will talk about what we intend to do to replace the show later in the evening after the AGM.

Finally I would like to thank you all for your support during the year particularly as, when I came to write these notes, I realised I had missed half of the meetings and other members of the committee had stood in for me.  My personal thanks to them.

Philip Marchant

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Last updated 30/08/2012.