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

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’

OPG Diary – May/June

It’s been a while since there was an update on the walled gardens, it’s been busy! The Volunteers are going strong, and the Old Pond Garden is looking particularly wonderful.

Old Pond Garden 26 May
Old Pond Garden 26 May 2022

The Long Border started to run away with us, but is getting under control and looking incredibly full and interesting, even if it doesn’t quite have that “designer” look yet! We are waiting for the quote for works to the vandalised iron gates and hoping to create step-free access to the gardens.

We are continuing to point out a “Star Plant” each week. The latest is Silene armeria ‘Electra’, or Garden Catchfly. The Catchfly group of plants exude a sticky brown substance on their stems, just below the flowerhead, where insects get stuck. Have a closer look next time you pass by!

Silene armeria Electra
Silene armeria ‘Electra’

New ideas: we have started a “What’s in Flower” display in Frilly’s café, to entice visitors to come into the garden and see the flowers in situ. Also an Information table in the gardens (when we are there) showing a bit of the background and pointing out the plants coming into flower that week. Looking for more volunteers to do this, if anyone is interested? It’s a sitting-down job!

What's in Flower - display
What’s in Flower? Examples from the garden.

Kathy was very pleased to be awarded a Certificate of Recognition from the Volunteer Centre Greenwich/ RBG, although she considers that the recognition is for all the volunteers, not just her! Terry accepted the award on her behalf from the Mayor of Greenwich. Thank you to the Trust for nominating us, we do feel appreciated.

And here are some more recent photos from the gardens this month:

April blog Euphorbia 2

I know we have had posts on euphorbias already, but these plants are such a delight in the month of April that I am adding yet more. The little Euphorbia Chameleon, below, self -seeds happily, but in such a delicate and restrained way that it is welcome everywhere I find it. In addition to this, it politely dies back and allows summer flowering plants to take over.

 Euphorbia Chameleon

The Euphorbia below (amygdaloides purpurea) is a stunning contrast with the lime green flower head and the stems which are an intense dark red. It has seeded itself in the gravel path and I’m not entirely sure where it comes from.

 Euphorbia Amygdaloides Purpurea

In Euphorbia, flowers occur in a head, called the cyathium. Each male or female flower in the cyathium head has only its essential sexual part, in males the stamen and in females the pistil.  The flowers do not have sepals, petals or nectar to attract pollinators, although other nonflower parts of the plant have an appearance and nectar glands with similar roles. Euphorbias are the only plants known to have this kind of flower head. It should also be noted that, when the stems are cut, they exude a thick white substance which is extremely irritating to skin.

And, of course, there is the magnificent Euphorbia Mellifera (Honey Spurge) which rightfully deserves its common name and is a delight to be near at this time of year when the scent fills the air. Every garden should have one – it keeps its shape well or can be cut back. Mine originally came from the garden of Jillian Smith, CABAHS ex-Chair, who many remember fondly. Jillian, if you are reading this – thank you!

 Euphorbia Mellifera (Honey Spurge)

Vija

OPG Diary Late March 2022

Charlton House gardens in Spring Sunshine
Old Pond Garden in Spring sunshine

The blocks of Epimedium look stunning at the moment, the flowers show up beautifully – it was worth cutting back the old leaves at the beginning of the month. New green leaves are just coming through, with lovely red markings.

Lots of the existing shrubs are coming into flower now, especially in the Peace Garden.

All Hail to the Volunteers! (Literally in this case, as our session was abandoned due to hail!)

March blog

Euphorbia myrsinites

Spurred by Kathy’s post on Euphorbia in the Old Pond Garden I have taken this photo of E. myrsinites which sits outside my back door all year round. As Kathy points out, Euphorbia are a large and adaptable genus and at this time of year are a real treat. I have found they do particularly well in my gardening conditions and now have several varieties.

In my front garden (such as it is) Euphorbia characias s. wulfenii is usefully seeding itself in a way which looks like I have planted it deliberately, but is actually nothing to do with me at all.

Euphorbia characias s. wulfenii
Euphorbia characias s. wulfenii

Vija

OPG Diary March 2022

Winter is over, swing in to Spring! The garden is waking up slowly, with Euphorbia amygdaloides robbiae showing signs of becoming a Star Plant. It’s rosettes of zingy lime green are unfurling and it really shines out in the sun.

These simple, unsophisticated plants, which rarely receive the recognition they deserve for all their efforts in growing and flowering, year in, year out, without asking for any help from anyone or anything, are among many unsung heroes of the gardening world.

Also showing off, Cornus mas or Cornelian Cherry in the Peace Garden, and lungwort, borage, rosemary, to name just a few.

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.

Glass flowers

Have you ever heard of the Harvard Museum’s collection of glass flowers? This is a huge collection of over 4,300 flowers from some 780 species. The models were made because one of the professors wanted life-like models for teaching botany, and only paper mache or wax models were available at the time. Could you ever guess this picture shows a glass model of apple blossom?

apple_blossom_detail_exhibit_page_01

The website has a wonderful video about the collection, look for the Exhibit video ‘Harvard restores its famous glass flowers’.