*********Please make a note*********

We have changed to Thursdays

From the Chairman

What a torrid time we have had with the weather with three storms here on almost consecutive days.  We had a copper beech down but more of that later.  I hope your gardens and greenhouses have survived and that we can now look forward to a quieter period as spring rapidly arrives.  It seems just a short while ago when I was eagerly waiting for all the snowdrops to appear and now they are all over .  Throughout the garden, plants are starting to show their first growth and I have sown my first seeds of aubergines, peppers and tomatoes.  Don’t forget to sow plenty of seeds and take lots of cuttings for our plant sale on the 7th May.

***Please note programme change***

The trip to the Italian Garden near Newton Abbott has been cancelled for this year and instead we will have a visit to Stonelands House.  Because of this Saul’s talk will be about Stonelands House.

Upcoming meetings

None of our next quarters speakers will be bringing plants so have a look round your garden to see if you have things you could bring to the club plant table.

Thursday 31st March – Saul Walker            Stonelands House

Saul is head gardener at Stonelands in Dawlish.  The house was built in 1817 by John Nash and is Grade II listed.  The 10 acre grounds around the house were originally laid out by Humphrey Repton when it was part of the much larger Luscombe estate. 

Saul studied the 3 year Diploma in Botanical Horticulture at Kew and  has been on the Show management team for both Hampton Court and Chelsea Flower Shows.  As well as being a head gardener, he currently produces the weekly podcast, Talking Heads, with Lucy Chamberlain with whom he also acts as plants expert at BBC Gardeners’ World Live.  He is also on the RHS Tender Ornamental Plant committee.

Thursday 28th April – Tim Ellis                   Perennials

Tim started gardening at the age of 14, and has worked in Horticulture for the last 40 years.

He is a qualified Horticulturalist, Landscape Gardener, Botanist,

Speaker for Horticultural organisations and a keen Environmentalist.

In 1999 he moved from Guildford in Surrey to Launceston in Cornwall to fulfil his ambition to set up his own nursery business.  This started with a bare field and was turned into a Perennial Plant Nursery with a 1 acre Display Garden and also a Tea room.

In the last few years Tim has sold his place in Cornwall and moved to Exeter where he has a smaller garden and grows lots of fruit and vegetables.  In addition he has recently bought an 8 acre Woodland which is being managed for Wildlife and Wildflowers; here he also grows potatoes and fruit trees.

He now works as a Garden Consultant and still does some Landscaping and Professional Pruning work in the Exeter area. His current project is building an Exeter wide community gardening group.

Thursday 26th May – Mish Kennaway        Water in the garden

Mish who owns the Escot Estate, attended Hampshire college of Agriculture and is an expert in aquaculture.  He took over the running of the Estate in 1987.  I particulary liked reading that he set up a water garden and design business called Gentlemen Prefer Ponds.  I know at least one of our members have benefited from his expertise and I’m sure many members have visited Escot Park, near Ottery St Mary.

Report of past meetings

Thursday 27th January Ben Candlin        Wildlife Friendly Gardening

Ben gave us an excellent account of all the features that make a garden wildlife friendly.After an overview of the elements of what should be considered he then gave more information and suggestions, with illustrations, on how to achieve one’s aims.  We had a very useful discussion session at the end of the meeting.

The tubers he brought along of Arisaemas were of great interest to members and Ben had a lot fewer to take home at the end of the meeting.

Thursday 24th February – Claire Hart        Square metre gardening

I need to say little about Claire’s talk because she has sent a summary of what she said below.  It was very well received and prompted many questions. 

Grassroots PR Talks- Square Metre Gardening- Hand Out Notes

  • Developed by American author and TV presenter Mel Bartholomew in the 1970s.
  • A simple way to create easy-to-manage gardens with raised beds that need a minimum of time spent maintaining them.
  • Square metre gardening – growing vegetables in one-metre box frames, edged with timber boards to create raised beds.
  • These are, in turn, divided with a lattice of wooden laths that form a planting grid of nine squares.

The Square Metre Gardening method saves gardeners time, effort, tools, space and water. Schools across the nation and international humanitarian groups around the world are using the Square Metre Gardening method and making inroads against poverty and hunger. The Square Metre Gardening method is estimated to cost 50% less, uses 20% less space, 10% of the water, and only 2% of the work compared to single row gardening. Additional benefits are: virtually no weeds, no digging or rototilling, and no heavy tools are necessary.

Step 1: Build a box

You can use many materials to build your 4’ X 4’ box such as UNTREATED cedar, pine or fir. If treating wood, only treat the outside of the box as to not have contact with the soil. You can even use brick, cement blocks, vinyl or recycled plastic. Be sure to put down weed mat or landscape fabric to prevent weeds from sprouting up through your soil.

Step 2: Fill the box with Mel’s Mix

This tested and proven formula is easy to make at home. Please note: these ingredients will be in equal volumes, not by weight.

• 1/3 Coarse grade Vermiculite (Mel’s preferred medium)

• 1/3 Sphagnum Peat Moss (You can also use Coconut Coir)

• 1/3 Blended Organic Compost (Mel recommends 5 different composts combined for optimal results)

Step 3: Add a grid and start planting!

Grids can be made inexpensively from Venetian blinds, or wood lath sold in home improvement stores. The grid is one of the most important features of a Square Metre Garden. The grid lets you clearly see how to space your seeds/plants and keeps your garden looking neat and organized.

  • Don’t Walk on the Soil: This is now common practice with raised bed gardening but back in the 1970s it was revolutionary to suggest that you wouldn’t need to dig your soil if you didn’t tread on it.
  • Plant in Squares: To keep the planting simple there are no plant spacings to remember. Instead, each square has either 1, 4, 9 or 16 plants in it depending on the size of the plant – easy to position in each square by making a smaller grid in the soil with your fingers. As an exception to this there are a few larger plants that span two squares.  Climbing peas and beans are planted in two mini-rows of 4 per square.
  • If plants need to be spaced 30cm apart, e.g. cauliflower or aubergine, grow one plant in each


  • If they need to be spaced 15cm apart, e.g. lettuce, grow four plants in each square.
  • If 10cm apart, for example parsley or spinach, grow nine.
  • If 8cm apart, e.g. carrots or radish, grow 16.
  • One box will yield a large garden salad for one person each day. Four boxes per person – or one 4 x 1 m box – is the most you’d ever need
  • Grow hardy vegetables that you like.
  • Pick out the things you like and that are easy to grow, then start experimenting.
  • Group together salad vegetables in one box, soup ingredients in another and pizza and pasta favourites in a third box.
  • Or try curry plots and stir-fry plots, all packed with a variety of green leafy vegetables you can pick for months.

Some cooks decide to grow a square metre of gourmet food: in summer, eggplants, chillies, spring onions and a herb or two; in winter, cauliflowers, celery, garlic and cavolo nero (black cabbage/Tuscan Kale).

One of the main principles of square metre gardening is crop rotation – never replant an identical crop in the same square.

A general crop rotation system is legumes (beans, peas); then plant fruiting crops (capsicum, tomatoes); then plant leafy greens (lettuce, spinach); then plant brassicas (cabbage, broccoli); then plant root crops (carrots, radish, beetroot); then start with legumes again.

If you fancy continual harvest of a year-round favourite, plant seeds at regular intervals in each of the nine squares.

Square metre gardening is tailor-made for companion planting. because you have nine squares with nine different plants you have every companion plant you could imagine.

Because of plant density there are fewer weeds in a square metre garden.

If you need help designing your vegetable garden, try Vegetable Garden Planner (for PC & Mac) or for your mobile or tablet device, iPad & iPhone app Garden Plan Pro is available on the App Store

Wall planters – Vertical Gardening

Planting Considerations

When planting up, use good quality compost and add in slow-release fertiliser granules.  Water retaining gel crystals are also useful, although not strictly vital with some of the above systems. Think about the final height of the plants you want to grow.  Certain vining plants like peas and cucumbers can be planted and trained up a trellis, with little intervention from us.

Aubretia, Curled Parsley, Wild Rocket, French lavender, Potentilla Nepalensis, Thyme Silver Posie, Chard “Bulls Blood”, Stipa Tenuissima, Sweet Pea Garndifloar, salad Lettuce Leaves, Agyranthem Crested Yellow, Bronze Fennel, Chervil, Helianthemum Ben Ledi, Salad Lettuce Leaves, Space for a Tumbling Tomato, Prostrate Rosemary, Sweet Pea, Erysimum Bowles mauve, Parsley, Marjoram, Dianthus Doris, White Arabis Caucasica “Whitecap”


Micro-Greens on a window sill.

Radish, Coriander, Broccoli Spinach, Rocket, Mustard, Beetroot, Fennell, Mizuna , Basil.  Micro mizuna is another speedy grower that’s ideal for adding a flash of green and a hint of pepper to salads and Asian dishes such as stir fries. Growing peppery micro-rocketleaves is a good way to avoid the problem of flea beetle that can affect the adult plants. Use to add a peppery kick to salads.

Days to harvest: seven.  Highly flavoured, mico-basil is easier to grow than the adult plant, which can be prone to rot and powdery mildew. It’s delicious scattered over a tomato and mozzarella salad. Look out for purple varieties for extra colour. Micro-fennelavoids the tendency of adult plants to bolt, but has all the aniseed intensity you need. Scatter over fish or stir through pasta or a risotto.

  Dwarf Mulberry- Charlotte Russe and Prickle free dwarf Raspberry- Yummy- Suttons Seeds and Dobies 
FIGO Connectors to make a frame for a net or sheeting- cold frame

In summary –  with prices the way they are and an increasing demand for better tasting veg, variety, and known provenance, and just plain enjoyment, there has never been a better reason to get growing!

Claire Hart Tel 07825 077791

Book Review

Entangled Life           Merlin Sheldrake       Vintage Publishing    £8.79 Pbk Amazon

Back in the autumn 2020 newsletter I wrote about a book entitled The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, where the author talked about the communication between trees via fungi in the soil.  He shared some of the observations he had made of the support of weak trees by larger trees and how trees warned each other about pest attacks.

Entangled Life also talks about the Wood Wide Web, as it has become known, but takes things many steps further along the path of fungal communication and dominance.  The author has studied fungal networks since his PhD at Cambridge on underground fungal networks in tropical forests in Panama.  Fungi are smart – like the truffle fungus that produces an aroma which is irresistible to pigs and some dogs.  They are also lethal – like the zombie fungus that invades the carpenter ant and then controls its brain.  All this is in order to spread its spores efficiently.  He discusses the problems fungi have when the hyphae of one fungus encounters those of another fungus and how they seem to solve these potentially threatening situations.  Sheldrake also discusses how plants and their fungal partners can influence plant flavour or their attractiveness to bees or even the number of berries per plant.  This book is full of amazing facts about fungi and their communication with each other and the world around them.  They also hold the record for the largest living organism in the world, a honey fungus, Armillaria ostoyae, which covers 965 hectares.  The book is packed with wonderful descriptions of fungi and their hosts and is definitely worth reading.  By the way, don’t forget they also live inside of you.  Perhaps they’re controlling our brains!

Others also think this is a wonderful book.  It has been nominated for a host of prizes and was selected as Book of the Year in The Times, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Times, New Statesman and Time.  It has been translated into twenty languages so no excuse not to read it!

Places to visit

Fursdon House, Cadbury, Exeter EX5 5JS:

Fursdon House, gardens and tearooms are situated on the A3072 just beyond Bickleigh on the way to Crediton.

The 4-acre rural hillside gardens at Fursdon blend into rolling parkland and on into the countryside with views over the Exe valley and beyond to Dartmoor.  Rising behind the house are terraces of roses, herbs and perennials in mixed traditional and contemporary planting, contained by ancient cob walls and hedges.  The Vine Pavilion and thatched Round House are great places to sit and admire the view and listen to the birds.  The Meadow Garden, originally planted nearly 200 years ago, in memory of Harriet Fursdon, is now a woodland walk leading to a pond.  As in the main garden, wild life is actively encouraged with particular types of planting and management.

The Garden and Tea Room are open on Bank Holidays and Wednesday and Thursday afternoons from Easter Monday through April to September from 2-5pm.  Entry is £6.  There are also tours of the house, and group visits can be arranged.  Please see the website www.fursdon.co.uk or tel 01392 860 860

From the web

Climate change and feeding the world

Helping farmers and societies adapt to climate change will be one of the major challenges of the 21st century.  Our crops and where we grow them will change, whether we like it or not.  Feeding the poorer countries of the world is already a challenge which becomes greater with the changing climate.  Scientists at Kew have studied the potential of enset (Ensete ventricosum) to feed large populations of people in Africa.

The picture shows an enset plant growing in Kew’s temperate house.  Enset is a wild African banana relative.  However, the wild enset is bitter and unpalatable but the domesticated form is grown as a crop in Ethiopia feeding about a fifth of the entire population; 20 million people!  The plant can reach 10 metres tall and just 15 plants can feed a person for a whole year.  The fruit of the enset, shown in the picture below on the right, is not edible but the entire stem and corm are processed to extract starch which is fermented and used to make porridge and bread.  The Kew scientists propose that enset could be grown more widely as a crop in sub-Saharan Africa.  The plant has flexible harvest times, stores well, and is relatively drought and disease tolerant.  This combination of attributes has earned the plant the name ‘the tree against hunger’.

Although the study has been looking at food security in Africa, we can of course grow enset in this country although it won’t withstand our winters – yet. 

Storms Dudley and Eunice hit Exmouth

I hope you were spared any major damage from these storms.  I remember the Great Storm of 1987 because I was out running along the Embankment the day before and was amazed to hear about all the trees that had been brought down that night.  But I had never been up close and personal with any falling tree until this year.  The first we heard that we had a problem was when a neighbour sent a What’sApp to say that a tree had come down in front of his garden.  We were very fortunate as the tree has fallen towards the south remaining mostly in our garden and across the lane as you can see.  We managed to clear the lane with the help of a neighbour with a small chain saw and were even more fortunate when the tree surgeons were able to come within 2 hours to chop the tree up into manageable logs, slicing through the main trunk like a hot knife through butter.

 This was great entertainment for our grandsons who had arrived the afternoon before.  We try and keep them amused!  Why did the tree fall?  It had fungal rot at ground level and easily snapped at that point.  I had noticed bracket fungus near the bottom of the tree but had not appreciated the meaning of it.  A lesson for us all.

Rhubarb & custard cake

Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4.  Butter and line a 23cm loose-bottomed cake tin.


400g / 14oz rhubarb cut into pieces & 50g / 2oz sugar, roasted for 20 mins, drained, cooled.

250g butter; 250g golden caster sugar; 250g self-raising flour; ½ tsp baking powder; 4 eggs;

1 tsp vanilla extract; 150g pot ready-made custard (not the chilled kind; eg Ambrosia);


Reserve 3 tbsp of the custard in a bowl.  Beat the rest of the custard with the butter, flour, baking powder, eggs, vanilla and sugar until creamy and smooth.  Spoon one-third of the mix into the  tin, add some of the rhubarb, repeat twice.  Dot the reserved custard over the top.  Bake for 40 mins until risen and golden, then cover with foil and bake for 15-20 mins more.

Can dredge with icing sugar when cool or drizzle the rhubarb juice over

Dairy Dates

Mar 26            Alpine Garden Society Show, RHS Rosemoor, 10am – 4pm

Mar 26            Somerset HPS Plant Fair, Yeo Valley Garden, 10am – 3pm, booking essential

Apr 2-3            Cornwall Garden Society Spring Flower Show, Wadebridge

Apr 17            Spring Plant Fair,  Burrow Farm Gardens, 10am – 3pm

Apr 23-24       National Rhododendron Show, RHS Rosemoor, Sat 11.30-4pm; Sun 10-4pm

Apr 29-30       Toby Buckland’s Garden Festival, Powderham Castle

May 7-8          Plant Heritage Spring Plant Fair, RHS Rosemoor, 10am – 3pm

May 26            An Afternoon with Alys Fowler, RHS Rosemoor, tickets required

July 3              Devon HPS Plant Fair at Burrow Farm Gardens, 10am – 3pm

Aug 19-21       RHS Rosemoor Flower Show

Comments, contributions and complaints to the editor

Mike Wheeler, The Old Dairy, Old Bystock Drive, Bystock, Exmouth, EX8 5EQ. Email: mjad@the2wheelers.plus.com