There are no meetings planned until January 2021.  Even this will be under review by your committee as we go through the winter.   In 2021 our meeting night will change from Tuesday to the last Thursday of the month based on the email responses I received (see below).   As we will not be meeting this year the committee agreed that we would have a Zoom AGM.  Apologies for those not online but a summary will be in the December newsletter.  Please let me know if you think you will be able to join this meeting.  Details will be sent out later.

Committee matters

The committee met in August to discuss the future of the club.  The following are some of the things they have been addressing.

  1. It has been difficult to plan the future meetings of the club until a) we knew when the hall would be available to use, b) what the guidance is from the government for clubs to meet, c) whether a second spike occurs when children go back to school and d) what happens over the winter with flu added to coronavirus.  We have only just heard that the church hall is now available.  The committee decided we would delay meeting until January 2021 at the earliest when all these things will hopefully become clearer.

At the same time we were approached by the church to see if we might be willing to meet on another night.  They had been approached by a group who wished to use the hall almost immediately every Tuesday.  The church has had to pay maintenance costs and repairs for the hall over the last 6 months without any income and so are very keen to start bringing in money, hence their approach to us.  I sent an email out to members for their opinions.  Apologises to those not on email but I needed a quick response.  Thank you to those who responded.  No-one objected to a change and Thursday was the one day which was free for everyone.  So, it was decided to make this change and help out the church.

  • We discussed the finances of the club.  Members will be aware that the club has made significant losses over the last 2 years.  We have one year’s reserve in the NS&I account.  To cover the cost of the next year membership fees would need to be theoretically £30.  In 2019 membership agreed that an increase to £20 was acceptable and therefore we will ask members to pay £5 for 2021, carrying the £15 membership fee paid last year to 2021.  The shortfall will need to be made up mainly with plant sales, especially by attending fetes.  It is hoped membership will support this by raising some plants and also offering to give an hour on a stall.  Of course, donations are always welcome!
  • As mentioned above we will be holding a zoom AGM.  This will be held on Tuesday 24th November at 8pm.  It will be a short meeting to receive the chairman and treasurer’s reports and the election of officers and committee.   Gerry will send out last year’s minutes and the agenda before the meeting to all.  Please let Mike know if you hope to join the AGM.  It is very simple by clicking on a link I will send by email closer to the time.  If you want more details or would like to practise let Mike know.  Again, apologies to those not online.

If you have any comments or queries please contact Gerry our secretary.

The Hidden Life of Trees – Peter Wohlleben (William Collins 2017, Amazon £6.99)

This is a remarkable book with some amazing facts and claims.   There were times when I asked myself ‘Can this really be true?  Do I really think this is possible?’  For example, can trees really ‘talk’ to each other?  Do older trees look after the younger trees?  If a tree is sick, do other trees support it?  Can a tree under attack from a pest warn other trees of the dangers?  The answers in this book to all these questions is an emphatic Yes! 

Peter Wohlleben manages a forest in the Eifel mountains of Germany and what he presents is based on his own experience and observations from his work, backed up by the research of others.  The examples he gives are mostly from what he has observed among the spruce and beech trees he walks among each day.  As he describes the different attributes of trees he does have a tendency towards anthropomormphism.  This doesn’t detract from the extraordinary facts that are presented.  Peter reports on research from the University of Bonn where Frantisek Baluska thinks that brain-like structures reside in the root tips.  This is highly controversial, as is the idea that plants have emotions or memory.  I knew about the network of fungal hyphae which connect trees and provide a channel for the transfer of nutrients and stimuli but I hadn’t thought that this system might allow trees to look after one another.  There are many other thought-provoking facts and theories that are presented in this book which might challenge you in your future relationship with trees. You might even think twice before cutting a branch from a tree in future!


I listened to Professor Dale Sanders talking on The Life Scientific on Radio 4 (available on BBC Sounds, 18th August).  He is the Director of the John Innes Centre, the independent centre for research and training in plant and microbial science.  He talked about ion channels and the role of calcium in cell communication.  He has shown in his research that the movement of calcium ions between cells is important in how a plant responds to a stimulus.  As a biochemist this is something I can understand.  It is not too difficult to see how this could act at a local level.  So, if I chop off the end of a root with my spade this might stimulate the production of other roots.  But working out how a pest attack on a tree can lead to a specific stimulus that triggers neighbouring trees to increase toxin levels to ward off a similar attack is another level of complexity completely. 

Phytolacca acinosa (Indian pokeweed)

This is a plant which I grew from seed 2 years ago.  Last year it produced leaves but no flowers but this year it has produced flowerheads as well.  The flowers are white followed by a seed head covered in what looks like small blackberries.  It has grown to about 0.5 metres although it will grow to a metre tall.  I am assuming this is Indian Pokeweed and not American Pokeweed that grows to 2-5m!   It is in a very dry area under the Holm oaks which might stunt its growth and will probably do better if moved to a damper area.  The light green leaves really stand out although they and the berries are reported to be highly toxic.  It is herbaceous and will tolerate temperatures down to       -10C.  It is native to India, China and Japan and the Chinese seem to be doing quite a lot research on it.

I first saw this plant at Poppy Cottage Garden on the Roseland Peninsula, Cornwall and thought it would be fun to grow.  Seed became available through the Hardy Plant Society seed distribution so I thought I would give it a go.  I don’t know how long lived it is but at least 2 years so far.

Double tier propagator

David Evans has kindly donated a double height electric propagator to the club.  It comes with all the electrical connections.  He has suggested that if anyone would like it, they could give a donation to the club.  The top level is removable so that a shallower form can be created for say seeds and seedlings and the taller version for cuttings.  You will find a similar version on Amazon.  It measures 21inches square x 15inches high (53.5cmx 38cm).

If anyone is interested please let me know as it is currently in my shed.

Future meetings

Peter Cantrill has agreed to come and talk to the club in February.  Following is an interview I did with him recently discussing the effect coronavirus and the lockdown has had on his business.

Interview with Peter Cantrill

*What was your first thought when lockdown for 3 months was first announced?

Shocked but then I thought it might be nice to have a quieter life because March and April are always manic.  I decided to carry on as normal employing my helper, Tom, to do planting up etc.  I was busy initially with email and phone enquiries as people were nervous about coming to the nursery.  Later landscapers started emailing their orders, picking them up at an agreed time when I was ready. I also delivered larger orders.  All this could be done keeping social distancing.  Once people found I was open, life got busier and busier.  They still wanted plants so that they could enjoy their garden during lockdown.  By the end of April things were pretty much back to normal.

*Did you have fears for the future of your business?

Not at all, apart from having a reduced income.  As garden centres and the Donkey Sanctuary were closed, I lost those orders but I knew my plants would keep and can be potted on and used at a later date.  The people I felt sorry for were those selling early bedding plants.

*Did you have a problem with getting supplies?

I was concerned about a large order from Holland being held up at the port but it got through successfully.  Another big order from Howard Nurseries in East Anglia was cancelled by them when they locked down.  Most nurseries in this country shut down although West Kington in the Cotswolds stayed open.

*Did you plan to make changes to your business like going online?

I didn’t want to do online and get involved in all the packaging and posting. 

*Over the last months how has your business been affected?

Things were crazy at the end of May and June as garden centres opened and were desperate for plants.  One company sent a van and asked me to fill it up with anything I could spare.  Local people found me as they wandered the streets exercising and it was nice to meet them.  I’m sure some of them will be back.  Gardeners were also desperate for compost.  Getting specific plants for landscapers became very difficult because the larger nurseries rapidly sold their stock.

*What are your expectations for the rest of the year?

I don’t anticipate any problems as autumn plants should be readily available as they are prepared over the summer and demand should be much as usual.

*Have you made any special plans for next year?

Next year is of some concern because of Brexit and how the transport of plants to the UK will be affected.  Some plants like Kirengeshoma and Smilacina racemosa are just not available in this country.  But until then we carry on as normal.

Nature and mental and physical health

We should all be aware now that gardens, gardening and getting out enjoying nature are all good for our health, both mental and physical.  During the pandemic even more people have come to realise and experience this.  Some GP surgeries are now prescribing gardening as a therapy to cope with stress and anxiety.  The two articles below come from the magazine of Butterfly Conservation that Noel has loaned me.

Butterflies on the Mind

Butterfly Conservation joined up with Devon Partnership NHS Trust from 2017 to 2019 to develop practical courses for people with experience of mental health difficulties, which were delivered through the Trust’s Devon Recovery Learning Community programme.  The three-part course was open also to friends and families.

Participants were welcomed to the meadows of Langaford Farm on Dartmoor.  The sessions followed the life cycle of the Marsh Fritillary and offered an introduction to butterfly and moth ecology and identification.  People had lots of opportunities to get involved in butterfly and moth conservation, enabling them to play a part in nature’s recovery too.  By learning about their beautiful surroundings and the wildlife around them the participants were able to reconnect with nature.  This is something that is increasingly recognised as vital for mental and physical well-being.

Some people on the course later said they were intending to slow down and take more notice of their surroundings.  Others were encouraged to search for volunteering opportunities with conservation groups while a few said they would share their new knowledge with others.  \It occurred to me that we could say exactly the same thing  about working in our gardens and allotments; slowing down, wanting to observe wildlife more, being involved in helping nature and happy to share with others. 

Accessible gardening

In the same magazine Kate Bradbury wrote an article entitled ‘Gardens are a balm for our mental and physical health’.  Kate is an award-winning garden writer specialising in wildlife gardening having written several books on the topic.  In the article she talks about making gardening accessible to the elderly, disabled and the sick.  The following are her suggestions.

  1. Use raised beds

These are great for people who use wheelchairs or are unable to kneel down.

  • Tabletop garden

A brilliant way to easily distract children to become fascinated by the magic of growing things.

  • Add slopes and seating

Incorporate slopes instead of steps to ensure easy access; add seating so that people can rest.

  • Cut down on maintenance

Choose low-maintenance plants that can be enjoyed without needing lots of strenuous work

  • Think about fragrances

Grow fragrant plants and flowers to make your garden an olfactory fest for those with visual issues.

Raised table planters and manger troughs, which sit nicely on a small patio, would also be ideal for people in wheelchairs and who are unable to bend.  Make sure paths are solid, sound and wide enough for wheelchair use as well.  I quite like the resin bonded material that is now available.

Open Gardens

Laura Robertson, Community Fundraiser for Children’s Hospice South West has contacted me about an Open Garden event they are holding when they are looking for people to open their gardens to raise money for Children’s Hospice South West. She writes:

‘I thought I would share details of our Open Garden event later this month, in case any of your members might like to get involved.

During the week of 12-20 September, we are asking the local community and our fantastic supporters to open their beautiful gardens to friends and family in aid of Children’s Hospice South West. We know that during lockdown, gardens, patios & balconies became a haven for many across the region and somewhere to escape the daily stresses and strains.  Simply open your garden to visitors and ask for a donation to enter. Alternatively, if you would prefer to offer free entry, you could still fundraise by offering a cream tea or refreshments for visitors to enjoy once inside.

The wonderful gardens at Little Bridge House Hospice are a firm favourite with our children all year round. They enjoy hours of fun with their family, playing with sensory and water features, specifically designed to be accessible for all.

For more information (including social distancing guidance) and to register your garden, please visit our website or phone 01271 325270.

Comments, contributions and complaints to the editor

Mike Wheeler, The Old Dairy, Old Bystock Drive, Bystock, Exmouth, EX8 5EQ

All contributions and complains to the editor, Mike Wheeler at