A Relaxing Garden Task (Vija)

A friend of mine, quite keen on gardening, but a recent convert to properly growing due to the current situation, recently sent me a photograph of some seedlings she had received via mail order and which she had pricked out into trays. She was very proud of herself! For some reason, pricking out of seedlings I find one of the most relaxing gardening tasks. I am sure that this will differ from person to person, but there is something about the orderliness of this basic task which I find very rewarding. It also has a clearly defined beginning and end and does not require huge amounts of effort.

Some gardening jobs such as cutting back buddleia or reducing the size of an overgrown phormium can seem overwhelming  by comparison. At the moment I am looking at a fig (Brown Turkey) which began life in a pot and was then moved into the part of my garden where I grow salad vegetables. It has taken off here and is clearly in its element. However, it is really getting much too big and is a complete bully, threatening to overwhelm everything else. It needs to come out. I have also realised why they do so well at the roadsides in Italy and France: there is a network of roots that stretches out well beyond the plant itself , creating a dense mat just below the surface of the soil and making it difficult for anything else to survive. While I consider precisely how I am going to remove the fig, I opt to prick out more seedlings…

“Tomatoes and Cyclamen” was painted in 1935 by Eric Ravilious.

Tomatoes and Cyclamen Ravilious

Like the pricking out of seedlings and potting on, this painting of arrayed pots in a greenhouse brings immense satisfaction. The beauty and neatness remind me of the greenhouses at West Dean.  It is something I will never achieve and can only aspire to!

What gardening tasks do you find most relaxing? Let us know! cabahshortisoc@gmail.com

CABAHS Medal-winning Chelsea Experiences (Kathy A)

As a volunteer at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, I was expecting to be revelling in the uncrowded gardens at Press Day today, prior to going to work in the very crowded gardens later in the week. Very sad. But as I have time on my hands, I have looked into some of CABAHS history at the Show.

On 18th May 1987, CABAHS won a Grenfell Silver Gilt medal at that year’s show, for a window box display. In those days a lot of the Affiliated Horticultural Societies entered exhibits, as the Chelsea grounds were not so pressed for space or so prohibitively expensive. Here is our winning entry (thank you to Joyce and Jane for these photos).

In 1990, CABAHS won a Bronze medal in the hanging basket category. Then in 1991, we really went to town! With the help of sponsors, the Society entered the “City or Town Courtyard Garden” category. The brief was “An interpretation of plants to consider in the lifestyle conditions for the occupants of a property situated in a City or Town, with limited space”. The space given was 14ft x 11ft (4.3m x 3.4m). So here is the Plan:

191Courtyard Design

Here are pictures of the build process. Can you imagine the huge organisation that must have gone on behind the scenes, for our small amateur group! Marshalls (which is still in business) supplied the paving and seats. Members supplied a lot of the plants and organised the collection and transport.

391Courtyard 3

And the finished result:

591Chelsea Courtyard Final

Here are some members (Win Hayne on the left and Marjorie Perkins) relaxing in the garden while the visitors queue around them.

991Courtyard ladies sitting

We were featured on the BBC coverage, Alan Titchmarsh looks very young! He said there were 29 show gardens that year, and marvelled at the idea that some of them cost nearly £65,000.  Those were the days. The presenter for the small gardens was Anne Gregg. She complimented our design for getting a veg bed and herbs into the space, as well as the scented geraniums display.

791Chelsea Courtyard Queue

891Chelsea Courtyard Medal

We even got a mention in Amateur Gardening magazine.

999Courtyard Magazine

CABAHS entered the Courtyard Gardens again in 1992 and won a Bronze medal, and won a Silver in 1994 for its Windowbox and Hanging basket display.

I hope you enjoy this week’s TV coverage of the last decade of Chelsea, and look forward with fingers crossed to next year’s “real” show.

A Neglected Patch (Sharon)

Retirement four years ago. Time stretched, or I thought it would. The bottom of my garden was an area where rubble collected, unwanted household items had been left and bonfires lit. It was in desperate need of a clear up and a change of use although to what I had no ideas. Nettles and weeds thrived and tall trees belonging to neighbours and the MOD who own the land at the back ensured there was shade for most of the day apart from an hour or so. One year on it remained untouched as there proved too many fun things to do.
A visit to the Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden in Surrey spurred me on to make a start.
SC Hannah Peschar
Much of this magical woodland garden is in shade and shuttlecock ferns were in abundance. I loved their structure and vibrant green. I had not grown ferns before and felt that they at least may like my shady patch. The hard work began.
Picking up the obvious rubbish, carrying it up the garden, through the house, up a steep flight of stairs, into the car, onto the recycling centre – halcyon days! – was just the beginning. When I dug into the ground, I realised there were layers of broken bricks and glass underneath. It was heavy labour and took weeks to clear. The reverse journey, but now from the garden centre, brought in bags of compost, rotted horse manure and chipped bark.
I had no particular vision of the final outcome but by now just wanted to plant something. Half of the area had been dug over. Ferns along with a few other shade tolerant plants such as astrantia and hardy geraniums were planted.
SC Garden 1
By June 2018 I had dug up the remaining rubble and added more plants – foxgloves, aquilegia, thalictrum delavayi to give height and the nettles were left for butterfly eggs. Other wildflower/ plants that had found there way in and settled were allowed to remain as good for pollinators. I now have a large clump of greater stitchwort (also known as gentlemans shirt buttons – love that name) and cow parsley. Hellebores were put in later that year.
SC Garden 2
Bronze fennel was planted last year which grew to such a height it needed staking. I found an obelisk which does the trick. As the area is fairly bare in early spring, I had put in loads of aconite bulbs. None of these survived as the local squirrels found them irresistible. A few English bluebells and snowdrops did grow and more will be planted in Autumn.
Time stretches now. I sit and enjoy watching bees, early butterflies, neighbouring cats, toads, ignoring the gaping holes where the fox has squashed the gentlemens’ shirt buttons and hoping the hedgehog recently spotted in a garden two doors away will wander into mine.
SC Garden 5

SC Garden Hogg

Malmaison, the first Great Rose Garden (Kathy)

As we are coming up to “rose” season, with the early ones already coming out, I have been reading a bit about the history of the Rose Garden.  As everyone is taught at school, Josephine married Napoleon and became Empress of France. But did you know that she was much more than that for gardeners – she was also the Queen of Roses. She had a dream to create the greatest rose garden ever made, to collect a specimen of every single rose species and every rose variety growing anywhere in the world at that time.

To contemplate such a task today with all the miracles of modern travel and communications would be a vast operation. To have undertaken such a scheme at the beginning of the 19th century was like reaching for the stars. No aeroplanes, no telephones, no fast ships, no Google!  Just war-torn France locked in a mighty struggle with the rest of Europe.

Yet she succeeded, and on the outskirts of Paris the world’s first great rose garden was created, and was called Malmaison.

Malmaison Josephine

Josephine gathered around her some of the great botanists of the time, to source the plants, and engaged Pierre-Joseph Redoutė to record the roses for posterity. After divorce from Napoleon in 1810, she moved permanently to Malmaison and devoted herself to her plants.

Malmaison contained about 250 different types of roses. If you could go back in time to 1810, you might have been disappointed, as you would have seen none of the vibrant colours, the repeat flowering and compact bushes of a modern rose garden. They would have been large, spreading bushes with a single flush of flowers each year. There would have been Gallica roses, the classic red rose, also tough Rugosa roses, Blood roses from China and Virginia roses from America. The finest would haMalmaison roseve been the Damask roses, but nearly all would have been white, pink and red.

There were just one or two dull yellow or dark orange roses from Persia – and these were the ones which were eventually to produce most of our modern colourful varieties.

Malmaison gardens are no more, they were destroyed in the Prussian War in 1870. They live on in the paintings of Redoutė and in his volumes of Les Roses.


Gardening for Health (Vija)

Monty Don has always been a keen exponent of the health benefits of gardening, in particular its effect on the not so quiet mind. I have recently read that some hospitals have introduced ‘secret gardens’ where patients recovering from the Coronovirus are taken for periods every day, even in drizzling rain, for the beneficial effects. And, of course, this week it is Gardens and Health Week, sponsored by the NGS with Rachel de Thame as its Ambassador. The NGS website has various links to the personal stories of people for whom gardens have played a vital role in their recovery.

Also recently published is Sue Stuart-Smith’s (wife of the garden designer Tom Stuart-Smith) book, ‘The Well Gardened Mind: Rediscovering Nature in the Modern World’, in which she points out the pleasures of growing and nurturing things and argues for a ‘greening’ of all of our lives.

V May blog 1

Despite exhortations to sit and enjoy our gardens, I think keen gardeners often don’t do that! But this spring there has been one thing that has brought me joy every time I look at it! In the autumn I bought a collection of ‘ tulips for a window box’. When it came to planting them, I decided the window box was too small, so I jammed  them all into a pot. The three varieties are absolute beauties and even now they are fading are still immensely lovely.


I rarely sit outside,  but I am greeted by them every morning when I have breakfast.

V May blog 2

At the end of my garden I have a Clematis ‘Freckles’ which flowered constantly through the winter. However, I only saw this when I ventured further down the garden. I have resolved to plant something which gives me such pleasure closer to the house where I can see it even in inclement weather. In these unusual and difficult times, let us take pleasure where we can.

The tulips are Double Early and Double Lates: Anthracite, Copper Image and Dream Touch.

Pond Life (Kathy A)

There is something very soothing to the soul to live near water, and if you can’t get a sea view in London then at least you can sit by a pond. (By this I mean a wildlife pond, not some unnatural Koi fishpond, you won’t get much wildlife around that!)  I grew up with a mother who was a primary school teacher and every Spring we had to go frog spawn hunting so that she could teach the cycle of life to a new generation of pupils. It’s actually a rather horrid lesson, when you think of the thousands of tadpoles and how many actually make it to Froghood. Everything eats tadpoles! I used to spend my days trying to save them from newts and blackbirds etc., only to find they did something stupid like sunbathe on a lily leaf until they frizzled up.

Pond Tadpoles

Hooking duckweed etc out of my pond was a lengthy process as I had to help each little black blob back into the water. I have great respect for Gardeners World and Monty, but he’s absolutely wrong when he says to just “leave the weeds on the side of the pond for a while and the creatures will crawl back in”. They jolly well don’t, and you go back to find these poor little Ramshorn snails and water slaters gasping away on the bank, or worse, idiotically crawling away  from the pond. The only things that seem to be able to wriggle back in are leeches and diving beetle larvae (– which also eat tadpoles…).


Anyway, I am now older and wiser, or perhaps just have better things to do. We have so many toads and frogs that come back to our 30 year old pond every year that it has dawned on me nature carries on working without needing my help. I do still net the pond at mating time when the Heron and Crows come down for party snacks, and I don’t mow near the pond in July when the froglets are leaving to make their way in the Big Wide World, after one traumatic year.. It seems to work!

Apparently 1 in 7 of us now have a garden pond, which act as a network for wildlife since so many agricultural ones have gone. Our recent survey of CABAHS members showed that 32% have a pond, so we are much better than the average! Apparently in 1890 there were 1.25 million ponds in the UK, a mix of natural ponds and dew ponds created by farmers for livestock. About 70% of those have been lost or are polluted with fertiliser and pesticide run-off. Or salty runoff from de-icing the roads. So garden wildlife ponds are increasingly important, not to mention a whole lot of fun!

Here are some pictures of mine, trying to turn itself into a bog garden at this time of year, but very full of life.


Long Live Lily-of-the-Valley! (by MelanieA)

I realise that Lily of the Valley is not everyone’s cup of tea but these little flowers and I have history:  quite a bit of history in fact. Lily_of_the_Valley_2020

My photograph doesn’t show them at their best (ahem) which causes me a pang of guilt and a determination to look after them a little better.  Experienced CABAHS gardeners will perhaps find it a little eccentric of me to “look after” what many consider to be nothing more than a weed.

The new shoots you can see in this picture sit in their pot outside my door in south east London, but I have known them (or maybe their great grandparents) since 1968, when they made the journey from my grandmother’s house in Stanley Road to our house in Hollingworth Street, Oldham. I am astonished to find that Google Maps thinks that distance is 60 yards.  I would have put it at far less!

My dad was born in the house in Stanley Road in 1924.  He and my mother had moved to Hollingworth Street after they were married in 1951.  Neither house had a garden; just a small, and rather dark, backyard.  In 1968 his mother died.  The house was sold, the contents dispersed but my mother rescued the plant pot of Lily of the Valley, the single item of colour in my grandmother’s backyard, installing it as the single item of colour in our own backyard.  So it remained for many years. A bit of the rim of the pot came away in a particularly harsh winter but my dad stuck it back together and the pot lives on still.

With my mother’s encouragement I became almost as excited as she did when the first shoots of the Lily of the Valley started to appear, letting us know it was Spring.  And their perfume!  Nothing can ever match it for me. lily-of-the-valley

When I left home my mother began to accumulate more pots of plants for the backyard, so that in time it became almost impossible to see the bare flagstones in the summer.   If I concentrate now I can hear my dad grumble about these pots and see my mother wink and say, “He thinks they’re great, really!”

I’d quite forgotten about the Lily of the Valley until I moved into my own house.  In 1988 the clump was divided and I became owner of a half-share of the inheritance.  They stayed in their pot, a plastic one this time, and came with me on two house moves.  Some of their offspring have found a home in Ireland, some in Scotland.  They’re now well-travelled!

These days I think about them a lot.  I wonder how old any of the individual plants are.  I wonder too where my grandmother acquired them from in the first place.  It pleases me to think that I can trace them back for 50 years at least.

Shortly after my mother died I was in Vienna one Spring.   At every station on the underground system there were tiny, impromptu flower stalls with just one thing to sell:  small bunches of Lily of the Valley, which infused the entire station, so it seemed, with their heavenly perfume.

I discovered then that in some countries Lily of the Valley is traditionally given as a May Day gift.  Happy May Day, everyone! 

Lily of the valley pot