March 2019

So spring has officially arrived!  Now it’s a mad rush to get our gardens ready for all the planting and sowing we will be doing this quarter.  At least we will be able to work longer in the garden as the days get longer.  But do spend time enjoying the spring blossom and flowers. 

Upcoming meetings Tuesday 26th March      

Sue Minter – The Healing Garden

Sue is a semi-retired professional horticulturalist and a past president of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture.  She has a wide and varied experience in horticulture having held several prestigious posts.  She was supervisor of the Palm House at Kew in the 1980s, curator of the Chelsea Physic Garden in the 1990s and finally horticultural director of the Eden Project.

Sue is also a trained historian and has written several books including on Kew and the Chelsea Physic Garden and in 2005 The Healing Garden was published.   This is obviously a long term specialist interest of hers as she wrote on the same subject in 1993.

Tuesday 30th April    Lorna Howell – Lukesland Gardens

Lukesland and Gardens was bought by the Howell family in 1930 and the gardens are now managed by Lorna and her husband, John.  Lukesland Gardens was described in the Good Gardens Guide as ‘one of the finest gardens of its type in the South West’, and offers the visitor 24 acres of flowering shrubs, rare trees and wild flowers.  Last year Lorna’s mother received the Dartmoor Society Award for the excellence of the gardens. We look forward to hearing how Lorna manages to run such a large and beautiful estate.

Tuesday 28th May    Visit to Lukesland Gardens

I took the photo on the right in April 2016 and you can see the views are stunning.  At that time magnolias and rhododendrons were in flower.  Although in May the peak of the rhododendron flowering will be over it will be the turn of the azaleas.  And when you have walked your feet off you can all relax in the refurbished tearooms. 

Other upcoming events in 2019

March 23rd                   AGS South West Alpine Show, RHS Rosemoor, 10am-4pm

All entries have to be notified before Thursday 21st March. Viewing after 12 noon. Plants and garden items, tea and cakes for sale.

March 23rd                   Budleigh Spring Show

April 5th – 7th               Daffodil Festival , All Saints, Morleigh, Totnes, TQ9 7JN

Fri & Sat open 11am-7pm; Sun 11am – 5pm.

A wide variety of daffodils grown in pots and troughs on display in the church.  Refreshments available. Profits to the church and Marie Curie.

May 3rd/4th                 Toby Buckland’s Garden Festival, Powerderham Castle

Tickets are now available for this event.  Let’s hope the weather is much kinder than last year!  Joe Swift is the celebratory gardener on Friday and Frances Tophill on Saturday.

May 10th                     Behind the scenes at Kew    Prof Sir Ghillean Prance                       

7.30pm Temple Methodist Church, Fore Street, Budleigh EX9 6NG.         

Professor Prance was former Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.  He will take listeners on a journey behind the scenes as well as presenting important research.  Tickets are £8 in advance, purchased from ‘Cards are too-‘, 3 High Street, Budleigh Salterton. or £10 on the door.  Money raised from this event will go to the Budleigh Syrian Community Partnership (Sir Ghillian is father of one of the Trustees of the Partnership), which is working hard to fund a Syrian refugee family making a new home here.  This process is under UN rules and supported by DCC.

May 29th                     An afternoon with Chris Beardshaw          3pm-4.30pm Rosemoor

It is worth booking early if you are interested in going. I have heard Chris speak on several occasions and he is always excellent.  Cost is £12.50 for members and £17.50 for non-members of the RHS.  There’s still plenty of tickets left but you will be at least half way back.

June 16th                    HPS Summer Plant Fair

10.30am to 3.30pm at Burrow Farm Gardens, Dalwood Axminster EX13 7ET

Many plant stalls selling choice plants.  £1 entry which is taken off the £8 entrance fee to the 13 acre gardens.  The gardens have their own plant sales area, tea room and gift shop which you can access without going into the gardens.  Note that we will have a trip to Burrow Farm Gardens next year when we can have a guided tour.  This will cost £7.

June 22nd & 23rd        Axe Vale Show, Axminster               10am – 5.30pm

August 18th                Open Garden for the NGS

Little Ash Bungalow, Fenny Bridges, Honiton EX14 3BL

October 10th               My Devon Garden – Anne Swithinbank    7.30pm

This talk is arranged by the Topsham Allotments and Gardens Society and will be held in Matthews Hall.  Cost is £5 members, non-members £6 in advance and £7 on the day.  Wine and other refreshments will be available to purchase.  I will try and find out where to get advance tickets.

Book Review

Nick Bailey – Revive your garden (How to bring your outdoor space back to life); 2018

Nick Bailey is one of my favourite gardeners on Gardeners’ World.  Whenever he has presented a project, he has always given clear explanations of what he is doing and why he has taken a particular approach.  It is not surprising then that his new book, published last year, mirrors these attributes.

The book comprises 9 chapters, Understand; Prune; Eradicate and Invigorate; Shape Up; Edit and Move; Layer Up; Refresh; Wow and Restore Structures.   Each chapter has clear instructions, is well illustrated and is divided up into sections with specific examples.  For instance, the first chapter has 6 sections.  One is on pests and diseases which discusses the common types and how to manage them.  This chapter finishes with Identifying existing plants and how to manage them in which Nick goes through the most common shrubs, trees, perennials and bulbs found in our gardens and gives their size, what they give to the garden (Interest) and what you can do with the plant to make it garden worthy.  This first chapter is very much ‘consider your garden first before you do anything else’.  All the following chapters are equally practical.  The hardback copy has transparent paper over the case studies which some readers have found very useful in making their own plans.  Not only is the book easy to read but could be another reference book on your bookshelf.

The hardback is 224 pages long and costs £13.55.  The Kindle edition obviously can’t have transparent or tracing paper over case studies and is, perhaps, why it costs only £3.99.  Several Amazon reviewers commented on the usefulness of this.  So far there are 27 reviews all but one giving the book 5 or 4 stars.  The one dissenting voice comes from an experienced gardener of 2 acres.  This person does admit that the topic of this book has not been covered before, but objects to some of the advice given and feels some is misleading.  I would agree that a professional gardener, who reads more advanced publications, might find this book does not have a lot to offer but for the amateur gardener, or for someone who has taken on a new garden, this book could be invaluable.

Mike Wheeler

Stachyurus praecox

The RHS describes this shrub as follows, ‘open shrub with purplish-red shoots, drooping spikes of pale greenish-yellow flowers open in late winter and early spring, before pointed deep green leaves appear’.

I first came across this rare, unusual and delightful early spring flowering shrub in the large enclosed walled garden at the rear of Dolforgan Court some twenty odd years ago.  This part of the garden is owned by one flat.  I am, or should say have been, in charge of the communal garden.  I am no longer physically capable of doing much but still get consulted.

It took me some time to identify it and then I discovered that Fred, the gardener who had his garden and sold produce from it, about half way through East Budleigh’s main road, had two for sale so I, of course, promptly bought one.  When I took a twig with flowers on it to show one of the lecturers at Bicton College, she said she had never seen it before.  I subsequently found out from Fred that there are two or three specimens growing in the grounds of Bicton House.  He had spent most of his working life there and had managed to propagate them.  I have tried but never succeeded.

I now own a second one but it flowers slightly later and is probably a different sub-species; S chinensis.

Isabel Brown.

Ed’s notes – This plant grows to an eventual height and width of 3m and is said to prefer slightly acid soil in sun or partial shade.  It is available from all the major nurseries.  I suggest the best deal is from the RHS who are selling a plant in a 3L pot for £24.99 reduced from £34.99.  You can get it cheaper but only in a 9cm pot.  The photo is of a twig that Isabel brought with her article.

I am very grateful to Isabel for her contribution.  Now she has shown the way, perhaps other members would like to submit a gardening article.

News Items

New leaf – is part of the Devon Partnership NHS Trust’s vocational rehabilitation service.  It provides therapy, training and supported employment to adults living with a mental health condition who are working towards paid employment now and in the future. One area of activity is the Hillcrest Growers which was established in 1990.  Based on a 35 acre site, it produces plants for the public and private sector.  People are encouraged to become part of the experienced horticultural team where they will have the opportunity to learn and develop many transferable skills, including general nursery work, propagation, potting and planting, retail skills, using machinery and delivery. Hillcrest Growers provides opportunities to carry out various grounds-maintenance tasks such as hedge trimming, grass cutting and strimming. People are taught to use different machinery in a safe and effective way. In addition to in-house certificates of competence, there may also be the possibility of obtaining a recognized qualification in horticulture (City and Guilds Diploma), through a local college.  They may be found at Farm House Rise, Exminster, EX6 8AB. 

NB I have heard that they deal mostly with bedding plants.  I will give you more information when I have visited.

The secret life of plants: Ten new species found this year.

Plants that are new to science are still being described, at a rate of about 2000 a year.  Scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, discovered and named more than 100 new plants in 2018.  Their list of the top new plants includes carnivorous pitcher plants, exotic orchids and climbers with untapped medicinal powers. A few examples are given below.

Prof Aiah Lebbie discovered an unusual plant clinging to rocks near a waterfall in Sierra Leone.  He sent a specimen to Kew where it was identified as a new species.  The plant Lebbiea Grandiflora was named after him.  It is believed that fish feed on the plant, strengthening the health of the ecosystem.  The plant was found in an area under threat from mining and hydro-electric projects, and it may be extinct in a few years.

There are more than 150 species of pitcher plant in the world.  The new discovery Nepenthes biak, only grows on the small island of Biak, off the coast of Indonesian New Guinea.  It too is under the threat of extinction because it is dug up regularly to sell to tourists.  Pitcher plants, known as Nepenthes, have a number of potential uses in medicine which have yet to be fully explored.

Oreocharis tribracteata, a brand new species, was seen growing in a rainforest in Guinea, West Africa.  In the spring it has shocking pink flowers. 

A new plant called Kindia gangan is a member of the coffee family.  Kew scientists spotted it growing on sandstone cliffs near the town of Kindia in Guinea, West Africa. Extracts of the plant suggest it may have medicinal applications, perhaps even anti-cancer properties.

It’s exciting that new plants are being discovered but they are unlikely to be in a garden centre close to you in the near future.  And talking about medicinal plants………

Moringa oleifera – a plant for health

As a clinical research scientist, I still get editors of scientific

publications inviting me to submit my latest research even though my last publication was in 2013, a year after I stopped doing any NHS work.  The latest email is from Canada and of the papers they have recently published, one is on the use of Moringa oleifera as an anti-hypertensive.  Moringa is a deciduous, fast growing tree to 8m-10m.  It is also known as the drumstick tree, the horseradish tree or the benzoil tree.  India is the main producer of moringa although the plant is also grown in Central and Southern America, Africa and SE Asia. Intrigued, I looked up Moringa and found it is plant reported to have a wide range of health benefits.  Some of its benefits include improves skin (recommended by Vogue), supports brain health (don’t we all need that), releases energy, reduces tiredness and fatigue, fights inflammation, enhances wound healing, etc, etc.

Leaves, seed pods (drumsticks), seed and roots are all edible.  The leaves are said to be the most nutritious. The benefits appear to be based on what the product contains rather than on clear scientific evidence.  It is suggested you can have it as a tea, mix it in with your smoothies, or sprinkle it on salads, soups and other foods.  It is available from Holland & Barrett and other UK companies selling herbal preparations.  Ann told me she saw it advertised in the current edition of Good Housekeeping so it must be good!

Food for the Future; Food for Thought

In 2002 Sir David Attenborough said ‘I have no doubt that the fundamental problem the planet faces is the enormous increase in the population.  You see it over-running everywhere.  Places that were very remote when I was there 50 years ago are now over-run’.  And as far back as 1960 Isaac Asimov wrote ‘If the earth’s population continues to double every 50 years then by 2550AD it will have increased 3000 fold and by 2800AD it would reach 630,000 billion!  Our planet would have standing room only……’ 

We are aware there is always a need to build more houses due to increased demand.  Currently there about 66 million people in Britain and this will be approaching 70 million in about 10 years.  An extra 750,00 places will be needed in England by 2025 due to the growth in population.  Many of these facts we hear about on radio and TV.  What we hear less about is the problem of feeding the growing population of the world.  This is one reason why there is so much research going into genetically modified food crops to produce plants that are bigger and more productive, providing more food per acre, more disease resistance, so fewer crops are lost, and are capable of growing in harsher environments so more land is food producing.

At the beginning of this year American scientists reported they had genetically modified tobacco plants which resulted in a 40% greater growth of the plants.  They have managed this by overcoming natural restrictions in the process of photosynthesis that limit crop productivity.  Natural photosynthesis produces sugars that fuel the plant’s growth, but the process also produces toxins that limit the growth potential of plants.  By shortcutting this process the limitations of the toxins are overcome leading to bigger plants.  The researchers are now hoping to use the same technique to boost the yield of soybean, rice, potato and tomato plants.  There is still a lot of resistance to genetically modified crops but with the increase in population and the demand for more food to feed the world we may find that we have no choice but to accept genetically modified crops as the only way to meet future needs.  Of course, you will still be able to grow your own non-modified plants in your own garden!

(This research is being funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture and the UK’s Department of International Development.)

Previous meetings

January 29th               Jo Hynes – Cyclamen

This was a master class in growing, propagating and caring for cyclamen in the garden.  We learnt that we could have cyclamen in flower in our garden every month of the year although some might have to be grown in the greenhouse.  Holding the National Collection of cyclamen, Jo knows the plants intimately and we were fortunate to have had her come and share her knowledge and experience.

February 26th            Nick Wray – Microclimates in the garden

Nick showed the different habitats in which plants grow and went on to show that our gardens can produce similar habitats which will favour certain plants.  He said the soil, rainfall and aspect of the garden have significant effects on which plants we might choose. This was an excellent lecture which encouraged us to get to know our gardens better and consider more carefully the plants we do and might grow.

Comments, complaints and contributions to the ed. Mike Wheeler;; The Old Dairy, Old Bystock Drive, Exmouth, EX8 5EQ