Helping the environment, one plant at a time.. (Vija)

On the latest RHS gardening update I have just read that, according to Sally Nex, the more plants you grow the more carbon your garden can store away, which is therefore another way of helping to create a more sustainable environment.

This suits my gardening philosophy just fine!

I am so often tempted at plant fairs to buy another addition for my garden, but often without any clear idea of where the plant will go. (And how wonderful to be able to buy plants at the Chelsea Flower Show this year!) Now the idea of packing yet more in makes me feel positively heroic!

An example of the ‘always room for one more’ school of gardening outside the back door.

A Tour of Avery Hill – by Ali H

Autumn colour is beginning…
 

On Thursday I joined a tour of Avery Hill Park with the Mottingham Horticultural Society, who had extended an invitation to CABAHS members. It was a beautiful, crisp, sunny afternoon and the park looked gorgeous. Our guide John, from the Friends of Avery Hill Park, told us about the history and prehistory of the park before leading us around the extensive area.

The Winter Garden, viewed from the park
 

Some members may be familiar with the Winter Garden, a glasshouse currently undergoing renovation work (therefore closed) and about to pass from the hands of the University of Greenwich back to the local council. I look forward to seeing it after renovation is complete!

Recently cut meadow area and former hedgerow (with dozens of cross country runners!)
 

There are two main areas of the park, historically and now. The more manicured, grassed parkland associated with Avery Hill Mansion (which is currently being converted into a school), and former farmland, with field boundaries and drainage ditches. The Friends are working to make the latter areas more wildlife-friendly by negotiating a meadow-style mowing regime (ie: cutting only twice a year, removing the mowings once seed has dropped, and sowing wildflower seeds) with some mown paths. Even after just a year, it’s possible to see that the range of plant species is extensive. The increase in butterfly numbers and activity in summer 2021 was notable. It is hoped that a general increase in biodiversity will also encourage an increase in bat numbers, which have declined in recent years.

Looking toward Great Stony Acre – field boundary trees and drainage ditch
 

The former field boundaries are still visible, and what would have been hedgerow has grown into rows of trees and scrub, which is excellent for wildlife. A new mixed hedgerow has been planted where one had disappeared, and the drainage ditches have been cleared by volunteers. Another historical feature which lives on through the Friends is the old field names, such as Henley’s Meadow, Little Stony Acre, Grey’s Field and Great Stony Acre. The latter is being planted with native tree species – oak, hornbeam, birch, hawthorn and field maple. Around 1500 trees have been planted over a five year period, and there are plans for a natural drainage pond in the centre as the area is at the bottom of a slope, is mostly heavy clay and becomes very boggy in winter.

Young trees in Great Stony Acre
 

It was a very enjoyable afternoon and I appreciated the chance to visit the Park with a knowledgeable guide.

Looking across Avery Hill Park, late afternoon October 2021

A September visit (Vija)

On a recent visit to Madrid, I called in to the house of Joaquim Sorolla (to my mind, one of the greatest of the Impressionist painters). Like Monet and others, he was one of those artists who loved his garden and, in later life, used it for inspiration and as subject matter. Located in the heart of Madrid, the garden has been created to manage the heat of the city. ‘The garden with its Moorish echoes is the quintessence of the Spanish garden’[1]. It is divided up into three linked but clearly distinguished parts. There is extensive use of aspidistras in huge pots to line balconies and provide focal points around the garden. Roses are grown in pots and situated throughout the garden – the ones I saw in flower were of a cream I associate with ‘Buff Beauty’. And, of course, plenty of pelargoniums in pots, most of which had finished flowering (my visit was in September). If in Madrid, do visit!


[1] Luca de Tena, C. (2021) Museo de Sorolla, Madrid. Ediciones el Viseo.

A View of my Garden is an Excellent Tonic!

Since my recent spinal surgery I have been frustratingly incapacitated. However who would not be cheered-up and consoled by a view like mine? From a prone position on my living room sofa I look out, through a huge glass sliding door, onto a beautiful panorama of colourful flowers. I had worked so hard in spring to prepare the garden knowing that my operation would put me out of action for a while.

Looking from the sofa my eyes encounter the patio first, which is packed with pots of pelargoniums, lilies geraniums, dahlias, fuchsias and a huge hanging basket overflowing with lemon -scented begonias. As I write I lament the denuding of our lemon tree outside the window, which bore 18 ripe, juicy lemons in early summer. I can’t complain, however, as my husband and I have enjoyed the fruits of it’s bounty in the form of 36 gin and tonics on many warm summers evenings!!

Soft grey patio pavers slope down from the patio onto a small lawn, it’s curved edges lined, on every side, with colourful flower beds. Although I have been cursing the snails, which have been devouring most of the annuals that I grew in the spring, they have at least left abundant golden rudbeckia and fluffy blue ageratum which tumble merrily onto the lawn.


It’s a real delight to take a morning stroll (or hobble)around the borders to discover what has come into flower each new day. I have been thrilled with 2 my new Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer ‘ that are in full bloom right now. Hugh and I were so impressed when we spotted them growing on Wisley’s trial beds, that I came home to order them that very evening.

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Beyond the alstroemeria, Geranium ‘Rozanne’ never fails to impress with masses of rich blue flowers from June to October. They create an excellent foil for rudbeckia and blue spires of Perovskia beyond.  I’m so proud to have grown 6 different colours of Phlox this year. My latest addition, called Phlox ‘Blue Paradise’ is an incredible purplish blue. It’s just  wonderful!

Towering flame orange Tithonia ( Mexican Sunflowers) Cosmos Purity, Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ and evening primrose all add excitement and height at the back of the borders. Fortunately each bed is so jam-packed that there is not much room for weeds!

The only problem is…it’s snail & slug heaven! I have been shocked to find that this year’s snails must be a super-breed with jaws strong enough to eat through the hairy tough stems of sunflowers( all of them!!)

A tantalising glimpse of a brick-paved area and vegetable patch can be seen through an arch beyond the lawn. Today Hugh re-potted his banana tree and it can now be seen waving it’s huge leaves behind the bird bath in the middle of the brick circle. I can just about glimpse the scarlet flowers on the runner bean canes in our miniature veg plot on the far side of the brick circle, reminding me to ask Hugh to keep picking the veg for dinner each day. The enormous cucumbers( Swing F1) have been a real surprise this year. I grew them up a vertical support for them just before going into hospital and so many have grown in a few weeks just from one plant in one pot!

Well, I could carry on like this for ever. I haven’t even mentioned my new shade border with 4 newly purchased, remarkable clematis. ( the best has turned out to be one called Pernille) My enthusiasm for my garden never wanes! Unfortunately the same cannot be said of my stamina which is being curtailed by too many painkillers currently.

Although I could not join  you all in Charlton House garden for the first real live meeting since Covid struck, I will be thinking of you all and hoping that the evening goes well.

Recovery from my op can take months but I am determined to bounce back in record time so wish me luck. Anyway how could I fail to recover quickly when I can see the biggest incentive outside my window?

Viv P, August 2021

Supporting Plants

Supporting plants in a timely manner has been one of members’ New Year’s resolutions on more than one occasion. I remember one reading: to support plants before they fall over!

But how to do it in a way that is both attractive and unobtrusive? In addition to which, you have to find the right materials. I have long been an admirer of the ‘birch halos’ used by Sarah Raven and at Great Dixter, for example, but had never attempted to create one.

This year I managed to find myself a pile of birch twigs and, inspired by the clear instructions in Arthur Parkinson’s book The Flower Yard, I had a go.

As you can see from the Antirrhinums, although not quite on the same level of skill, my efforts  are doing the job and don’t look too bad!

I wonder what other attractive supports members have found for themselves?

Vija, August 2021

Bankers and Biodiversity

The City of London might not be the first place that you would look to understand how nature conservancy developed in this country.  The Wildlife Trusts, the umbrella organisation for local groups that care for their environment, makes it clear that they owe their existence to the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves, for which Charles Rothschild, a partner in the merchant bank of N M Rothschild & Sons, was the catalyst.

I thought about him during Joe Beale’s excellent talk on Zoom to the CABAHS meeting on 17 May.  Members learned a lot about biodiversity in the area of Greenwich Park, Blackheath and Charlton.  We also learned how important it is for people to work together.  Joe didn’t just mean small groups of concerned individuals, although those are crucial.  He meant engaging with local councils and other bodies to make sure everyone’s interests and concerns are understood.   

“Worthy of Preservation” – responses to Charles’s questionaires

This is what Charles Rothschild did.  He sent out questionnaires to local natural history societies, asking for nominations for sites that could be nature reserves:  sites that were ‘worthy of preservation’.  On the basis of these returns, the newly-created Society for the Protection of Nature Reserves published a list – Rothschild’s List – and sought government intervention to protect the sites.  Here is the list, published in 1915.     

https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/about-us/rothschilds-list

Joe also brought home the importance of keeping records over time so that measurements of improvement and, sadly, deterioration have value.  In the link above The Wildlife Trusts also presents an analysis of the condition of Rothschild’s Reserves, 100 years on.   

This document features a pie chart of habitats, 2% of which are pavements.  I wonder if our very own Terry might well be responsible for some of that, based on what he told us he was up to at the end of his road! 

Charles Rothschild was an extraordinary man by any measure of means.  His collection of fleas, now the national collection of fleas in the Natural History Museum, was lovingly catalogued by his daughter, Miriam, who was herself a powerful advocate for nature, advising the Prince of Wales on the creation of his garden at Highgrove.

One of his fans is sports- and nature-writer Simon Barnes, whose book, Prophet and Loss: Time and the Rothschild List is available on Kindle for only £2.37.  If members were to buy the book (profits to The Wildlife Trusts) they could buy a cake from the WI at the CABAHS community day at Charlton House on 30 May and still have change from a fiver! 

Melanie      

Here we go gathering Slugs in May..

Emerging Hosta Patriot, with Hosta Undulata

On Sunday I picked 22 slugs off my small hostas. ( Just to reassure readers, I don’t do this regularly – I do have other things to do!). With the advent of damper weather they are really starting to show themselves. For those who love growing hostas, slugs and snails are probably the biggest pests and even the giants like Sum and Substance and Big Daddy are not always immune to their predations. Growing in a coarse medium, or using environmentally friendly slug pellets, doesn’t necessarily solve the problem because slugs are smarter than you think. If necessary they will abseil down a neighbouring plant to get at the leaves of your hosta, so anything at ground level will not always stop them.

Preparatory products have been, rightly, removed from the market as they have proved toxic. A garlic wash has long been recommended as an alternative and I have used this myself in the past.

When I recently bought some new hostas (those of you who know my garden might wonder why I need any more, but I justified the purchase on the basis that one was a replacement for Dancing Mouse and the other was a gift) the recipe for a garlic wash was included with the plants, which I thought I would share with you. Please see below.

Vija, May 2021

Musing on Poisonous Practices

In his book The Flower Yard, Arthur Parkinson writes lovingly about his grandmother Min and her gardening practices, typical, he writes, of an older generation of gardeners. He describes the kinds of plots tended by Min and her neighbours and how ‘there was no acceptance of insect life, as proved by the cupboard of death in the garage, its shelves packed with poison, weed killers and bug spray’[1].

My Mother’s death bequeathed to me not only her gardening tools, but a similar shelf’s worth of gardening aids. I have very vivid memories of the shed she and my Father had in their garden, the tools neatly lined up and clean, sweet jars ready for pickled vegetables, saved seed in envelopes and plant labels ready to be re-used. But alongside all this were also the toxins.

And it is not only a younger generation of gardeners who believe in far more environmentally friendly gardening practices. In a recent online talk given by Fergus Garrett, he argued that ‘gardening and ecology have to come closer together’ and devoted one whole lecture to how gardening at Great Dixter has become much more sustainable in recent years and delighting in the huge quantity of species that the gardens are home to.

Driving somewhere in the 1970s meant cleaning the windscreen and headlights of bugs on arrival home. That no longer happens and is a sure indication of how much insect life has been destroyed in a very short space of time.

Vija, April 2021


[1] Parkinson, A. The Flower Yard (2021) Kyle Books p.119.

Is today the day?

I have had a worrying time recently, and have bored my husband half to death with my constant observations along the lines of “I wonder if one has arrived yet?” and “Perhaps today is the day”.

As we are awaiting the appearance of our first grandchild, you might think that’s the reason for my anxiety? Well of course that’s very important, but in fact the problem has been that for the first time in 30 years, the toads have not arrived in our pond.

I have been pondering (ha! pond-ering) whether it is the new fence that has stopped them or whether I have been too tidy in the shrubbery and whether I should not have got rid of the overgrown irises at the pond edges. To try to make amends, I have crawled along the new fence and created nice deep tunnels underneath (to the interest of my two terriers and the annoyance of my husband, who has no engineering knowledge and thinks this will weaken his expensive fence).

My neighbours on the other side have known me for a long time, so they have already assured me they will put any lost toads they find through the hole by our shed so they can find their way home.

Toads can travel up to 2 km to come back to the pond they grew up in to spawn, so imagine how many fences and what obstacles we humans put in their way on that journey? They live about 10-12 years, so in theory you should get more coming back each year.  I am afraid my little band has been dwindling in recent years, and I worry that the new fence may just make them give up and change their permanent address to a pond down the road.

Luckily, I am able to tell you that today there has been movement in the pond! It’s not heaving, like Monty’s pond on Gardeners World, but there are definitely a few happy toads in there, making their “chirrup” noises and sounding pleased (relieved?) to be home. No spawn yet, but I expect a happy ending to this story, any day now.

Kathy, March 2021

What’s in a name?

Two years ago my daughter bought me a houseplant which she had seen in a shop, but which she had not got a name for. It also didn’t look like anything I had seen before. Despite its rather delicate appearance, through the heat of summer 2020 it did extremely well in a south facing room, even much better than I had expected, but I was still no closer to identifying it.

Then, recently, while trawling through some photos of houseplants, I came across one of my plant!  It is called Asparagus Falcatus. Described thus: ‘Often known by the name, Sicklethorn, Asparagus falcatus is a variety of asparagus fern. It is a robust creeper, which is covered with thorns. The roots of this plant form swollen tubers that resemble sweet potatoes. This South African plant climbs rapidly by means of the sharp spines on its stems and is often used in that country as an impenetrable barrier.

Having finally identified the plant, the name now puzzled me. It looks nothing like asparagus and I wondered how it had acquired the designation. 

And now, in March, I find a shoot has come up from the compost. It is brown and quite thin and whippy, with what look like small thorns the length of the stem, but which are not in fact spiky at all. What’s more, the tip looks very much like asparagus!

So there I have it: Asparagus falcatus is named for this tender stem which looks like an asparagus spear and which has ‘thorns’ along its length – ‘falcatus’ means sickle shaped or hooked.

Vija, March 2021