GQT Follow-up question

As always, we didn’t get around to answering all your questions at our August GQT meeting (I’m very sure they don’t manage to on the radio programme either!). But you may remember that Annie H brought in her strange distorted tomatoes to show everyone. If it had not been for the biblical deluge, I expect we would have had a good discussion about them.

Distorted tomatoes
Annie H’s weird tomatoes!

Annie was undaunted by getting no answers at the meeting, and contacted the RHS directly. She says, “I was informed that the most likely cause was a too high concentration of a contaminated farmyard manure compost in the pots. The farmers spread weedkiller/ pesticide on the field, the grass grows and the cattle dump cowpats which are composted and then bagged up for sale but still contains residues of weedkiller/ pesticide.”

Thank you for this Annie, something for us all to watch out for. It would be interesting to hear from other members if they have had a similar experience.

Kathy

August 2022: Gardeners Question Time

Our annual amateur Gardeners Question Time meeting was once again held in the Peace Garden at Charlton House. Some members will remember last year, when everyone was in thermals and anoraks and it was the coldest August evening for years – ah, not this year we thought, it has been so warm and dry for weeks! Well, best laid plans as they say. Everyone was settled and happily getting in to the swing of questions about the drought. And so of course, the heavens opened!

True to type, we gardeners just picked up our things and decamped to Frilly’s Tea Room for a little break. Thank you to our stalwart committee and helpers who covered things up in the garden (do you know what Doritos and Pringles look like when they are soaked? ugh!). As the thunderstorm carried on, so too did we and the questions continued in the Tea rooms.

GQT in the tea rooms

Thank you to our panel, especially guest panellist Joe Woodcock, for cheerfully answering our questions, and to Charlton House for letting us drip all over their cafe. It was still a very enjoyable evening, but sad that not many members saw the old Pond Garden in the dusk, lit up with solar lights and looking magical.

The committee will be having a think about whether to have next years GQT meeting in the safety of the Old Library!

Kathy A

June 2022: Steve Edney on ‘The Salutation Garden, Tenders and Tropicals’

We were back in the Old Library for an interesting and entertaining talk given by Steve Edney on his work as head gardener at Salutation and subsequent development of his own private garden and nursery. He is also a RHS volunteer trial judge involved in the Nepeta AGM.

Salutation House and garden is located in Sandwich by the River Stour.  Designed  by Edward Lutyens in 1912 as a weekend retreat for the three London-based Farrer brothers. Noted for the outstanding design symmetry between house and garden. Sold in 1945 when the brothers died, the magnificent gardens became  somewhat overgrown and neglected over time. In the 1970’s  Portland Stone was smashed up and laid as crazy paving!

Steve was appointed head gardener in 2005 to oversee the restoration. The owners by then were Steph and Dom of Gogglebox fame. With little interest in the garden apart from being a party space,  they allowed him a somewhat free hand.

An initial task was stripping back an avenue of 50’ Holm trees to almost sticks. Our own Old Pond Garden volunteers were very interested in his idea of topiary using Holm Oaks, given how many we have at Charlton House!

2013 saw the garden devastated by salt water flooding and 1,500 plants, 9 mature trees and hedging were lost. 5 million litres of water became trapped in the lower third of the garden and had to be pumped out. Steve and his team overcame this and in 2019 they went on to win Gold at Chelsea for a winter border, which only cost £157! He followed with his Plant Hunter’s Jungle Camp taking best exhibit in the Floral Marquee at Hampton Court.

Continue reading June 2022: Steve Edney on ‘The Salutation Garden, Tenders and Tropicals’

May 2022: Val Bourne on ‘Butterflies in Gardens’

CABAHS welcomed Val Bourne to speak at our May meeting, sharing her photographs, experience and knowledge of butterflies in the garden. She emphasised that she is not a butterfly expert (but she knows one!), she’s an organic gardener who has spent a lot of time observing butterflies, their habits and preferences – and, sadly, their decline in recent years.

Photograph of the FSC's Butterfly ID chart

As a starting point, Val recommended a book and a tool: ‘The Philips Guide to Butterflies’ and the Field Studies Council’s butterfly identification chart. Butterfly Conservation also provide a range of identification guides online. Photographs of a wide range of species – 24 different ones have been spotted in the Spring Cottage garden – showed us the beauty of even the smallest, brownest examples!

Val explained how useful even a small meadow area is for many species, how some species rely on quite a narrow range of plants for nectar, and how the timing of a butterfly lifecycle is intrinsically linked to the lifecycle of their food plants. She stated that climate change – causing plants to flower at different times – is demonstrably messing up this synchronisation, so as gardeners it’s important to grow a wide range of butterfly-friendly plants to try to mitigate that situation.

Some examples of butterfly-friendly plants, and the butterflies that particularly need or enjoy them:

Continue reading May 2022: Val Bourne on ‘Butterflies in Gardens’

February 2022: Melanie Aspey on the Rothschild Legacy in Horticulture

The talk was given by Melanie Aspey, a CABAHS member who has been the Rothschild archivist for 28 years. Providing photographs and documentation from the Rothschild archives, she said the Rothschilds are best known for banking, their art collections, philanthropy and wine, but many of them have also had  a keen  interest in horticulture reaching back to Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812), the founder of the dynasty, who lived in the Frankfurt Jewish Ghetto.

After the defeat of Napoleon, thanks to their support for the allies, the Rothschild family was able to lobby for the retention of the right for the Jewish Community to buy real estate outside the ghetto. Mayer Amschel’s son, Amschel, considered that building a house would be too ostentatious, but a garden would better serve their needs. Instead he established a garden which he subsequently opened to visitors and for charitable purposes. He spent vast sums on plants, some of which (and Melanie showed one of the plant sale receipts from the archives) he imported from England. Later taken over by the Nazis and bombed by the allies, the garden fell into disrepair but parts have recently been renovated.

Continue reading February 2022: Melanie Aspey on the Rothschild Legacy in Horticulture

January 2022: Anne Barnard on Dahlias

Anne Barnard from Rose Cottage Plants nursery in Essex has many years experience of and is a specialist in growing dahlias, as well as exhibiting widely including at RHS shows. Dahlias, which originate in Mexico and Central America, come in a wide variety of colours from pastel to rich reds and mahogany.

Anne described how planting dahlias in summer beds can transform them and suggested how to choose and use them to best effect. Anne said they provide an outlet for personal creativity, style and artistic expression. She used her own garden, field displays in Holland and Chenies Manor as illustrations.

Dahlias had gone out of fashion, but in recent years there had been a revival of interest in them.  Their rich colours were particularly attractive and ‘jewel’ gardens had become common.  Many new and more popular and often exotic looking varieties had been developed. Many originate in Holland and she visited several important and influential growers. She said after bulbs, tulips and alliums have flowered by June/July,  gardens begin to look tired and dahlias wide variety and rich colours give life to the garden and make a good display right up to the first frosts.

Anne went on to describe a wide variety of dahlias:

Continue reading January 2022: Anne Barnard on Dahlias

October 2021: Dr Mark Spencer on ‘Murder Most Florid’

The guest speaker for October was Dr Mark Spencer who gave a fascinating glimpse into his experience of working as a forensic botanist. It became clear that forensic botanists are a rare find throughout the UK and the world.

He explained that from being brought up within a rural farming background in Warwickshire, he studied at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. However he realised he did not want to pursue horticulture as a job and moved onto studying Botany culminating in a Doctorate looking at the evolution of fungi. While working at the Natural History Museum where he had become an expert on various aspects of botany, he was approached by a Police department asking whether he could help work out how long a body had been in a canal.

He has now worked alongside numerous police forces and an array of other experts such as soil scientists, experts in the study of pollen and forensic entomologists (study of insects) to assist in missing person searches, assessing how long human remains had been in-situ and linking suspects to crime scenes.

As a forensic botanist, Dr Mark Spencer looks for useful evidence using his knowledge of the rhythm, structure and behaviour of plants within their eco-systems. This can range from observation and interpretation of how vegetation is growing at a scene being investigated, to a microscopic identification of fragments of foliage found on clothing, to looking at the stomach contents and understanding the botany within a person’s digestive tract.

He explained how the roots of plants can help provide understanding of how long ago human activity occurred at the scene. Brambles (Rubus fruticosis) can be very useful tools for estimating how long bodies had been lying in woodlands or hedgerows through the knowledge of how they grow at different stages, when they send out side shoots and number of stems produced. I have a feeling that my walks through Oxleas Woods, which are full of brambles, will never be quite the same again!

Sharon


Dr Mark Spencer is an experienced and internationally respected botanist. His expertise covers many disciplines including forensic botany, the plants of North-west Europe, invasive species and the history of botanical science. He works globally as a writer, public speaker and television presenter and has appeared on BBC Radio 4’s The Infinite Monkey Cage. He is also Hon. Botany Curator of the Linnean Society of London. Dr Spencer’s website gives a detailed description of his range of expertise.

July 2021: Dusty Gedge on roof gardens

Dusty Gedge was welcomed to the meeting. Dusty is a professional photographer and green structure and nature conservationist.  He is President of the European Federation of Green Roof and Wall Associations.  He said he was pleased to talk to CABAHS as he was local, Lewisham and Blackheath based, and had done a lot of work in the area. He said he is not a gardener but is involved in plants and soil.

Dusty made the point that green roofs and roof gardens have a local history, firstly showing a photograph of  the 1997-built sustainable green roof  on the now demolished Sainsburys on the Peninsular, followed by  one  of the 2019-built IKEA roof garden. In fact, Greenwich and Lewisham have the second and third most green roofs in London. Nowadays in England, including the City of London, it is planning policy that all tall buildings should have green roofs.

Dusty said that nowadays green roofs are becoming numerous. He showed photographs of a wide variety of them from Europe and the UK. From roofs in parts of Europe where traditionally turf and sedums were used to  modern schemes, including nearer to home  such as the roof garden at the National Theatre.  He said there were 4 types of green roof (intensive, semi-intensive, biodiverse and extensive) and discussed the environment, conditions and maintenance needed for the various types to flourish.

Green roofs and roof gardens are taking soil and plants into the cities.  He referred to ‘plumbing with plants’ using soil and vegetation as they store water, helping to ameliorate floods. They also help in heatwaves and the green space they provide fosters health, wellbeing and social cohesion.

He discussed two projects, the Museum of Home and Design which balances diversity with formal garden design using mediterranean and native plants and then IKEA with its four different sections. He said he would be happy next year to take CABAHS members on a tour of IKEA’s roof garden.

Afterwards, Dusty took questions and was asked by a member (who is also a surveyor) about infrastructure needed to support the roof and prevent leaks. He agreed that is an issue and said there were many structural strategies existing to prevent this happening.  Another asked what would be the effect of wind on tall buildings. Dusty pointed out that the roofs of tall buildings were generally less windy than at ground level due to the funnel effect. He also reassured members that he collects local wildflower seeds in a sustainable way.

Angela


Dusty Gedge is a green infrastructure professional, public speaker, photographer, nature conservationist and social media influencer. He is President of the European Federation of Green Roof and Wall Associations and a recognised international speaker on green roofs, green infrastructure and biodiversity.

Dusty gave several links to useful websites and a podcast, below. He said members are welcome to contact him for advice.

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/audio/2015/nov/14/podcast-green-roof-sow-grow-repeat-gardening

http://www.growingontheedge.net/viewtopic.php?p=103296

https://greenrooftraining.com/shed-green-roof-wa/

June 2021: Graham Dear on managing Greenwich Park and the impact of Covid-19

Graham Dear was welcomed to our meeting. He said he was pleased to talk to some fellow gardeners, though he hadn’t gardened himself for many years, as he had moved from being Manager of Greenwich Park to heading up the Greenwich Park Revealed Project (GPRP).  This is a 4-year project aimed at revealing, restoring, protecting and sharing the park’s unique heritage now and for future generations.

Graham said the pandemic had had a profound impact on Greenwich Park and the way it is managed. From March 2020 all recreational activities and events in all the Royal Parks ground to a halt, which resulted in an overall revenue loss of £20million, some 50 percent of annual spend. In Greenwich, the Pavilion Café, boating lake, tennis courts and even the rose garden had to be closed as its gates needed pushing and touching. There was no income from bandstand concerts, filming or car park fees or catering. The park was also unable to get insurance to cover events in 2021.

It had a particularly devastating impact on the GPRP which originally had had a £10m budget allocated to it.  £4.5m was funded by the Heritage Fund which had already begun to be implemented. Graham said he was faced with the challenge of making economies due to the loss of park revenue. He aimed to save £2m, so the GPRP budget has been cut to £8m. The cuts included the Nursery Yard reorganisation and the Sustainable Learning Centre.

Not all was bad though. Closing the through road and avenues was beneficial to pedestrians. Although the park no longer had tourists, there was a massive increase in local visitors to the park – who often arrived by bike or on foot – and used it for exercise and recreation.

Rubbish overflowing in Greenwich Park

Rubbish was an issue but the staff coped well with the challenge and more bins are now a feature of the park!

Visitors were naturally more spaced out because of social distancing needs. An informal poll showed they were much younger as well.  Ethnic diversity also increased by 5 percent.

Graham then went on to discuss the revised plans they had for the park and showed a range of slides to illustrate the programme. He said the GPRP had now begun again.

  1. They plan to preserve, renovate and manage the avenues of trees which have been decimated by diseases, pests and squirrel damage. The horse chestnuts are riddled with bleeding canker and the sweet chestnuts by ink stain disease.
  2. The area around the grand ascent giant steps and parterre banks is to be renovated. Recreating a series of grass steps on the hill leading to the Royal Observatory following the original 17th century design.
  3. The viewing space in front of the area around the statue of General Wolfe is to be increased and opened up. A café will open in the space behind.
  4. The Old Wilderness and deer park community facilities will be enhanced including a new classroom. The deer herd is to be sent on holiday to Richmond Park for 2 years.
  5. Vanbrugh Yard: The area in the SE corner of the park is to be reorganised.  There will be a cafe aimed at taking pressure off the Pavilion Café. The boundaries of nursery yard, will be shifted and opened up to the public.  It will feature a new glass house, kitchen garden, wildlife orchard, volunteer room and public toilet facilities.
  6. The seating in One Tree Hill will be improved.
  7. Car parking at the pedestrian entrance at Blackheath Gate will be removed and the pedestrian entrance will be improved.
  8. The Victorian bandstand is to be improved and a power supply for community events installed.
  9. The wildlife habitat is to be increased and mowing will use a meadow cut rather than an amenities regime.
  10. The Victorian drinking fountains to be reinstated.
  11. Two self-seeded mature trees are to be removed from Flamstead House to improve the view.

Finally, he discussed the park’s engagement with the wider community, including training schemes that were being introduced  such as three year apprentices  and  cultural events such  as the Tramshed and dance. Graham then answered members questions, and was thanked for such an interesting talk.

Angela


Graham Dear is Manager for Greenwich Park. His management has overseen Greenwich Park Revealed, ‘an exciting multi million pound project to conserve and to enhance Greenwich Park’s historic and natural heritage, putting the community at its very heart’.

Afternoon tea at the Garrison Church, Woolwich

Members who came to this event on 5 June 2021 were treated to an interesting talk from Tim Barnes about the history of the Church, and the plans for the future, including a Commonwealth Garden designed by Chelsea gold medal winner Juliet Sargeant. We also saw the crypt and the beautiful mosaics. The award-winning gates feature three flowers of remembrance, the poppy, the forget-me-not (Germany) and the cornflower (France).