May 2021 – Joe Beale on the Changing management of Blackheath, Greenwich & Charlton

Our May talk on Zoom was presented by local naturalist Joe Beale. He discussed the changing management of the local area, including Charlton Park, Greenwich and Blackheath and the impact this is having on local plants as well as lichens and animals.

He discussed the approach to take to habitat management – that there were lots of things worth fighting for. He discussed the need to carry out research and ecological surveys, the need for a conservation action plan and to take conservation action appropriate to the conservation site. Also the necessity to work in collaboration with local residents, communities, landowners, specialists and the local council. He commended the support given by Greenwich Parks and Open Spaces and its willingness to assist.

Joe began by showing a photograph  of the Vanbrugh Pits in 1983 when vegetation there was scarce, but rich in bio-diversity, and now, when it is  dense with brambles and Holm Oak which are killing off the flora and fauna. He  pointed to the need for  pursuing in management a middle path there, including getting rid of the Holm Oak, Cherry and Turkey Oak (as well as the dogs mess!).

Key diverse wild life plants in this area he suggested  were species that needed low nutrient soil e.g. blackthorn plantain and  lichens such as Cetraria aculeata and Chaldonia furcata. He said 29 types of butterfly had been found on the Greenwich Park side of Blackheath in 2010 which was about half of the UK total and 173 species of bees and wasps.

Also found in acid grassland and sandy soil are sheeps sorrel (Rumex acetosella), birds foot (Ornithopus perpusillus), spurry (Spergularia rubra ) and lichen (Cetraria aculeata).

Blackheath and the Greenwich Park side of it is well known for plants and clovers which thrive on soil of of low nutrient value.   Such as hare’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense),  knotted clover (Trifolium striatum), woolly clover (Trifolium tomentosum,)  and clustered clover ( Trifolium glomeratum).

Wildlife included gorse( Ulex europaeus) for the whinchat birds,  ragwort visited by 43 bees and wasps, the  burnet and  cinnabar moths and  small copper butterflies.

Joe said sympathetic mowing was crucial in particular the need to remove the hay to promote biodiversity as it was nutrient rich.  Always have wildness at heart.  Leave the edges of sites, leave verges and banks and mow in rotation.  Expose earth and  deadwood. Consider the food, plants, shelter, nesting and breeding needs of key wildlife.

He described the increase in biodiversity in verges in Blackheath since it has had relaxed mowing as well as Charlton’s Maryon Park. He also referred  to the Wildlife Meadow which is being constructed in Charlton  Park. The policy there of not sowing wild flowers, just digging the area over and seeing  what grows. He  pointed out the value of cemeteries in promoting biodiversity. He mentioned that cemeteries such as Charlton cemetery are expected to be neat and tidy, but, in fact are bustling with wild life and like Charlton they should have an area left to encourage biodiversity.

To help promote and encourage more biodiversity Greenwich Park has also taken a more relaxed approach to mowing and is allowing grass to grow in some areas as well as setting up biodiversity friendly habitats.  This policy has been incorporated into its  multimillion pound Heritage funded renovation programme.  Many CABAHS members are already keen promoters of biodiversity and wildlife. Hopefully Joe’s  enthusiastic talk  will encourage the rest to consider  the needs of biodiversity and wildlife in their own gardens.


Joe Beale is a naturalist who, in addition to carrying out surveys of local wildlife, giving talks and writing, also offers guided walks. He is across social media platforms with an active Twitter account, updating people on what to see in our area.

April 2021 – Adam Pascoe on creating a garden for all seasons

Our recent Zoom talk featured Adam Pasco, horticultural journalist and editor of Gardeners World magazine for many years, who provided ten tips and ideas on how to create a garden for all seasons that would provide garden interest and colour throughout the year. He used as a backdrop and example his own beautiful back garden in Peterborough which he had created over the last 30 years.  A garden that we amateur gardeners could relate to and achieve.

1) CHOOSE PLANTS WITH STRUCTURE AND FORM: Adam suggested as examples, the Wedding Cake Tree – Cornus controversa variegata,  Hydrangea paniculata, Cardoon – Cynara cardunculus.

2) PICK PLANTS THAT HAVE A LONG SEASON OF INTEREST: He suggested putting the perennial Spanish Dagger – Yucca Gloriosa variegata in a large pot and  surrounding it with annual bedding plants which could be changed each  season.

3) USE PLANTS AND COMBINATIONS FOR CONTINUITY OF COLOUR: For example Phlomis russeliana (AGM) and Nepeta racemosa.

4) ADD FEATURES AND FOCAL POINTS: He gave examples such as seated areas with benches, painted wooden fences, paths, arches and  water features. He gave East Rushton Old Vicarage garden, Barnsdale Gardens, and Old Wallerton Hall as examples.

5) CREATE STUNNING SEASONAL DISPLAYS: So that you have a display in each season.  He gave the red border at Hidcote as an example of a summer display.

6) ADD VALUE ACROSS ALL SEASONS: Also design your garden so that it looks good all the year round. Focus on one area that looks good for one season. Adam suggested Camellia ‘Garden Glory’ Feb – March,  dwarf Rhododendron ‘Snipe’ Feb – March, Camellia ‘Contribution’ Mid March-April, Skimmia x confusa ‘Kew Green’ (AGM) – April, Lithodora ‘Heavenly Blue’ – Spring through summer, Azalea ‘Sheila’ – May, Rhododendron ‘Yakushimanum’ – May, Rhododendrum ‘Surrey Heath’ – May, Kalmia latifolia -Early June, Clematis ‘Oh La La’, Boulevard Series, Hydrangea -Summer into Autumn, Taxus baccata ‘Standishi’ (AGM) -Year round, Tibetan Cherry Prunus serrula.

7) EXCITE THE SENSES: He suggested sensory plants such as Nemesia ‘Wisley Vanilla’ and  Lilium  ‘Pink Romance’.

8) GROW SOMETHING DIFFERENT: He suggested Sophora ‘Sun King’ (AGM),  Hollyleaf Sweetspire, Itea ilicifolia (AGM), Phygelius ‘Moonraker’  and Ptilotus ‘Joey’ for a sunny patio pot.

9) PLANTS THAT ATTRACT WILDLIFE: He suggested Alstromeria initicancha ‘Sunshine’ and Cotoneaster horizontalis for berries.


EARLY SPRING:   Plant Narcissus ‘Tete- a- Tete’, Camellia x Williamsii ‘Saint Ewe’ (AGM) and  Summer Snowflake ‘Leucojum aestivum (AGM) with Brunnera Jack  Frost (AGM).

MID SPRING:  Star Magnolia  – Magnolia stellata,  ornamental fruit and trees e.g   Self fertile Pear ‘Concorde’ (AGM), Epimedium x Perralchicum ‘Frohnleiten’.

LATE SPRING:  Rhododendron ‘Yakushimanum’ (AGM), Perennial Wallflower Erysimum ‘Bowle’s Mauve’, Clematis koreana ‘Amber’.

EARLY SUMMER: Roses including ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ and ‘The One and Only’, Allium ‘Globemaster’ (AGM). Annual climbers e.g. Sweet Peas, Thungbergia alata ‘Superstar Orange’, Spanish Flag – ‘Ipomoea lobata’, Cup and Saucer Vine –  Cobaea scandens.

MID SUMMER: Astranta major ‘Roma’ (AGM), Echinacea magnus, Lavender Fathead ‘Pretty Polly’, ‘Willow Vale’, L. Viridis.

LATE SUMMER: Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ (AGM), Rudbeckia ‘Goldstrum’ (AGM), Sedum Thundercloud’, ‘Purple Emperor’ (AGM), ‘Rose Carpet’, Sedum takesimense ‘Atlantis’.

FOLIAGE FAVOURITES THROUGHOUT THE SEASONS: Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’ (AGM), Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ (AGM), Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ (AGM), Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’,  Physocarpus ‘Diabolo’ (AGM), Elder – Sambucus ‘Black Lace’ (AGM), Viola ‘Heartthrob’, Acer palmatum ‘Seiryu’.

EARLY AUTUMN: Perennial Sunflower – Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ (AGM), Aster x Frikarti ‘Monch’ (AGM), Japanese Anemones ‘Pretty Lady Susan’ ‘Honore Joubert’ (AGM), Prinz Heinrich ‘Pamina’ (AGM) and ‘September Charm’ (AGM).

MID AUTUMN: Autumn colour-  Stag’s Horn Sumach –   Rhus typhina, ‘Kashmir’, Rowan – Sorbus ‘Cashmiriana’ (AGM).

LATE AUTUMN: Crab Apple – Malus ‘Red Sentinel’ (AGM), Skimmia japonica ‘Pabella’ (female for berries).

EARLY WINTER: Silver Birch – Betula ‘Silver Shadow’ (AGM).

EVERGREEN FORM AND COLOUR FOR ALL SEASONS: Japanese Sedge – Carex ‘Evergold’, Helleborus argutifolius (AGM), Skimmia ‘Kew Green’ (AGM) (male), Chamaecyparis ‘Boulevard’ (AGM), Choiysia ‘Aztec Pearl’ (AGM), Choisya ternate ‘Sundance’ (AGM),  Hebe ‘Margaret’ (AGM), Evergreen Fern – Soft Shield Fern Polytsichum setiferum (AGM).

MID WINTER: Mahonia x Media ‘Winter Sun’ (AGM), Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ (AGM), Winter Aconite – Eranthis Hyemalis (AGM),

LATE WINTER: Crocus ‘Tricolor’ (AGM), Snowdrop – Galanthus nivalis (AGM).

Finally, Adam suggested garden jobs for April: it is a good time to transplant and split Agapanthas. Also he recommended buying seeping hosepipes, and that timers could be attached to taps. A time too for testing old seeds to see if they are worth using. Take a few, soak in water overnight, dry them and cover them with cling film. Check after a couple of days to see how many  have germinated.


Adam Pasco launched the BBC Gardeners’ World magazine in 1991 and edited it for 22 years, he currently edits the Waitrose magazine, and has worked alongside gardening icons Geoff Hamilton, Geoffrey Smith and Alan Titchmarsh; he also lectures, is a renowned photographer and runs his own media company,

March 2021 – David Marsh on ‘Elephants in the Garden’

At our recent Zoom talk, Dr David Marsh, a garden historian, gave a detailed account of the history of elephants in gardens focusing primarily on menageries  and then on large scale mechanical  elephants. His interest in elephants was stimulated by a visit to a café at the grade I listed Chiswick House and gardens where he noticed a coaster had an elephant depicted on it.

The earliest mention of a menagerie in the UK is in 1199 in the grounds of Woodstock Manor situated on the site of the present day Blenheim Palace.

The monarchs over the centuries were very keen on menageries and  elephants. Elephants were often given as gifts. Henry 111 was given an elephant  in 1255  by the French King which cost £24.14s.3p to feed over a period of 9 months. A colossal sum at the time. So too were Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. James I was especially attracted to menageries.  He was given one by the King of Spain.

Henry VIII set up a  menagerie in the Tower of London where an area was set aside for it.  Over the centuries the menagerie became a tourist attraction. A viewing platform was erected in 1597.  The animals were  sometimes baited to entertain tourists. In the 18th century the  entrance fee was 3p, or if you could not afford it a cat or dog to feed to the lions.

Elephants over the centuries were often fed and housed inappropriately. One was fed wine. Not surprisingly some did not live very long. Henry VIII’s elephant only lived 2 years.

By the mid eighteen century menageries became must have features found in many country estates. There were estimated to be as many as 40 at one point. Though rare that they had elephants. One well known elephant was Sadi who was given to the Duke of Devonshire at Chiswick House by the Marquis of Hastings of India fame as a present.  He even introduced her to the Russian Czar. The animals in menageries  became increasingly varied and exotic. A reflection of  the expanding British empire overseas.

By the early 19th century menageries had also become commercial enterprises.  The Exeter Exchange was set up in the Strand near Somerset House in 1815. One elephant there, Chunee was taught tricks. She was hired out to theatres, but eventually had to be killed as  she  became too dangerous.

The early nineteenth century was the heyday and also the swansong of menageries. The tide turned on Chunee’s death and a more  humane and educational approach was introduced during the 19th century.  George IV  had a menagerie set up at Windsor using  a more enlightened approach.

In 1826 the Linnean Society spear headed by its members,  Sir Joseph Banks, Humphry Davy and the Stamford Raffles founded the present day London Zoo in Regents Park  where the animals were provided with more spacious accommodation within beautiful gardens. In the 1830s William 1V closed the Tower menagerie and its animals were moved to Regents Park. It did not have an elephant so the new zoo quickly bought two.

The Exeter Menagerie was moved to a site in the Walworth Rd by its owner Edward Cross. He situated it in a large beautifully designed and laid out garden. It became a major tourist attraction.

Dr Marsh then moved on to mechanical elephants They were first mentioned by Jules Verne in 1880 and started to be manufactured at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Frank Smith and then in the 1940s and  50s, Frank Stuart , developed and manufactured  and sold world wide large scale mechanical elephants.  They became major tourist attractions. They were also used for advertising purposes, including by Chipperfields Circus.  One in Australia called Nellie played a central part in the  annual Adelaide   Christmas Parade. One huge automaton in Nante took 20-30 passengers  and shot  water from its trunk.  Some still exist. One is in the Bewley Motor  Museum. One was even sold on Ebay in 2011 for £1,600.   Another featured in Jeremy Clarkson’s Top Gear!

Dr David Marsh is a garden historian, lecturer and writer, as well as a trustee of the Gardens Trust, a charity dedicated to the conservation of our historic parks, gardens and designed landscapes. He is an expert on garden history and co-convener of the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes seminars at Institute of Historical Research, London University. A brief introduction to his talks can be found at and he also writes a weekly blog for the Gardens Trust.

February 2021: Dr Catherine Horwood on Beth Chatto

Many of us who are avid and long-time fans of Beth Chatto’s garden and her Unusual Plants Nursery will always remember that she won 10 consecutive Gold Medals at the Chelsea flower show.  
Her legacy is a garden she created which is unlike any other in the UK and abroad: it is unique.

Dr Catherine Horwood, Beth Chatto’s authorised biographer, introduced Beth Chatto to members and guests via last Monday evening’s Zoom meeting.

The talk was about Beth Chatto’s personal life and the influences that led to the garden’s creation. We learned that she happily gardened alongside her parents and had her own garden patch of cottage garden flowers. And we know that her hobby as a flower arranger as a young woman hugely influenced her interest in plant forms, textures and colours.

Dr Horwood described Beth Chatto as ‘tough’ and ‘steely’, and she must have been extremely determined from a young age, as she trained as a teacher during WW2, instead of taking the usual route of joining the Forces.  An advantageous marriage to a fruit farmer, Andrew Chatto, with a life-long interest in plant ecology, set the stage for the purchase of land at Elmstead Market and the garden that followed.

But why did Beth Chatto design the garden the way she did?  We know she was influenced by the terrain and various soil conditions, in addition to a natural spring at the lower level. How did her design of a ‘necklace of ponds’ separated by very  narrow water channels come about?   We know she was influenced by her friend and mentor, Cedric Morris in those early days and Beth Chatto acknowledges the huge debt to her husband at the start of her book, ‘The Dry Garden’, in which she states: “Without Andrew neither my garden nor a book would have been possible”.



Dr Catherine Horwood is an English journalist, author and social historian who has written extensively on horticulture and garden design and is the authorised biographer of Beth Chatto. A keen gardener for over thirty years, Catherine has created three gardens that have been open through the National Gardens Scheme and was for many years an organiser for the NGS. Her Facebook page gives you links to her other work on women gardeners, growing houseplants and you can check out her blog on growing vegetables. Her book on Beth Chatto won European Garden Book of the Year in 2020.

January 2021: Graham Blunt on exotic plants

Graham began his talk by pointing out the impact of leaving the European Union on the movement of plants. He then went on to discuss a range of plants, using the categories of desert, jungle and Mediterranean as classifications.

Plantbase Nursery in East Sussex
Plantbase Nursery in East Sussex
(image credit: Plantbase/Graham Blunt)

His talk was peppered with anecdotes, often drawn from his own experience. One which appealed to many was the Sonchus fructicosus, a plant which he described as a ‘dandelion on steroids’. The seed had apparently stuck to Graham’s trousers when he was travelling and came home to England with him. He had gone on to cultivate it and recommended it as an excellent mid-storey jungle plant, which is significantly hardy.

The talk was full of useful tips, for example, that cannas and ginger plants need to be planted into soil that is warm, it is not just the top of the plant that needs to be in sun.

A number of  members asked questions and expressed an interest in visiting the nursery, which also offers some of its plants by mail order.

Graham Blunt runs Plantbase, a unique nursery in East Sussex specialising in unusual plants.

March 2020 – Russell Bowes on ‘Dig For Victory’

As we had quite a small turnout on Monday (understandably!) I thought you might like to know a little about Russell’s great talk. Russell started his talk with some facts, such as that when war broke out in 1939, nearly 80% of Britain’s food was imported. Imports were by ship and German blockades threatened supplies almost immediately.

A “Dig for Victory” campaign was started and people were urged to use any spare land to grow vegetables – this included parks, golf clubs and even the moat at the Tower of London:

Tower of London allotments

The campaign featured lots of posters, this one was interesting because as Russell pointed out, the man is using the wrong foot. In fact the photo was taken using a mannequin’s dummy leg!

Dig for Vic poster

Much of the campaign’s success, which was overseen by the Ministry of Agriculture, was thanks to the Royal Horticultural Society’s role in teaching men and women across the country how to grow vegetables year round.

Another way of increasing food production was down to the War Agricultural Executive committees which were formed in Autumn 1939 and given expansive powers over farmers and landowners in the United Kingdom. After performing surveys of rural land in their county, each Committee was given the power to serve orders to farmers “requiring work to be done, or, in cases of default, to take possession of the land”. Committees could decide, on a farmer’s behalf, which crops should be planted in which fields, so as to best increase the production of foodstuffs in their areas.

Russell told us about the Womens Land Army too. This started in WW1 but was re-established shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, in June 1939. It was finally disbanded in 1950. At its peak in 1943 over 80,000 women worked as ‘land girls’. They came from a wide range of backgrounds including towns and cities as well as the countryside.

He included lots of anecdotes about how dedicated the girls were, telling a story about one girl who turned up late with plaster in her hair, and asked the farmer not to mark her as late because she got there as soon as she could. Her house had been bombed that night! Another walked miles through waist-high snow to get to her farm and then apologised for being late.

Russell told us that one of the most missed vegetables was the humble onion. As they were nearly all grown in France, there were shortages immediately. One time, the post office received a parcel of onions where the address label was missing, so it went to lost property. They had 38 people turn up to claim it was theirs!

There were children’s campaigns too. Doctor Carrot popularised the myth that carrots could make you see in the dark.

Dr Carrot

We also heard about Cecil Middleton, who was really the first “celebrity gardener” on radio. He broadcast in Britain during the 30’s and 40’s, especially in relation to the “Dig for Victory” campaign. He was very knowledgeable but his programme went out on Sunday afternoons, and he had a soothing voice, so his main claim to fame was that he sent people to sleep after their Sunday lunch!

We thanked Russell for his entertaining talk and asked him to judge the Show Table and call the raffle. (We should really have had a loo roll as a raffle prize..!) It was a good evening, especially as we are going to have a bit of a break in meetings now. Take care everyone, stay well!

Russell Bowes is a freelance garden historian, garden tour guide and researcher.