Easter bunnies arrived early this year at Charlton House & Gardens. On the Sunday before Easter, ten vegetable loving bunnies hid themselves along with their favourite vegetables in the flower beds of the Gardens and were ready to be found by young visitors to this joint CABAHS & RGHT event. The morning’s chilly weather did not seem to deter the children who all enthusiastically scoured the Old Pond Garden and the Peace Garden.
Once they had found all ten and identified each bunny’s favourite vegetable they were encouraged to sow some radish seeds as part of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Big Seed Sow https://www.rhs.org.uk/get-involved/big-seed-sow . They could also learn about ‘the Secret Life of the Pea’ and choose some seeds to take home with them. Some even made their own origami seed packets. Fingers crossed we have set some of our visitors on the joyous path to becoming a life-long gardener!
Thankfully the weather was kind: dry with even a spell or two of sunshine during the afternoon. The real live bunnies brought along by Juli were an extra special attraction! By 3 o’clock, around 180 trails had been completed with donations earning a sizeable sum for Charlton House & Gardens. Our Plant Sale also proved an attractive draw and took over £200.
Here is an update on what Jason and the Gardenauts have been getting up to in the gardens since my last post. Apologies it’s rather long, we’ve been doing lots!
December turned the gardens into a winter wonderland, and caused us to miss a few days volunteering, but gave some great photo opportunities. The prolonged cold period hit a few of the more tender shrubs quite hard and we lost some big favourites like the Teucrium.
January was about cutting back, the ivy in particular. The old walls cannot take the weight of the ivy so we are taking it off in stages and being careful of wildlife. Our efforts revealed the top of the doorway for the first time in some years!
We have removed the palms from the front lawn beds and the beds will be re-designed this summer. The Palms were planted as part of an annual bedding scheme years ago and never envisaged to get as tall as they have. The Tete-a Tete daffodils have all been lifted and will go in the woodland glade next year. The Summerhouse has had a good weed and tidy-up, as has the Mulberry. Snowdrops and Hellebores popped up in the OPG woodland side.
In February, we discovered our regular feline visitor is called Casper and he lives in Canberra Road but clearly considers the gardens his playground.
At the beginning of the Covid19 pandemic, with a new garden inherited from someone who had focused on gardening with concrete and weed suppressing membrane, I took advantage of the RHS Members’ Seed Scheme. I selected 15 packets of seed from their list of varieties collected from RHS Gardens, including annuals, herbaceous perennials and rare shrubs, and I paid my £10. Some were more successful than others but I was sufficiently encouraged to try it again this year. You have until the end of February to join this year’s scheme….
As a former allotmenteer, I’m used to growing plants from seeds. Over the years, I developed preferences for unusual varieties and for seeds that are open pollinated (non-hybrid) so you can collect and sow your own seed in future years. How should I choose flower seeds and which seed suppliers should I use? I came across a recent article in Gardens Illustrated about seed suppliers. This reassured me by referring to some of the suppliers I have used for vegetable seeds but shows what a massive choice there is, for both flower and vegetable seeds.
Must be careful not to let the seedlings get out of control!!
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.
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.
One of the things I like best about RHS Wisley is how useful it is – beautiful to walk around, pleasant to visit, but also how just being there can answer a multitude of gardening questions: ‘Will this plant survive outside?’‘Just how big can an Indian Bean Tree get?’ or ‘How best can I display alpine plants in my small garden?’
But one of the most useful parts of RHS Wisley helps to answer a question that has become louder and more frequent with every passing year, especially here in the South East:
‘What can I use to replace my ravaged box hedges?’
On Wednesday 11 May, a coachload of CABAHS members went on a much anticipated trip to RHS Wisley. This was my first experience of a CABAHS coach trip and it was brilliantly organised by Anna (thank you Anna!).
After experiencing dry weather for weeks, the forecast was for rain mid-afternoon, so it felt important to pack as much in as possible before the rain started. Several members had signed up for a tour with a Wisley volunteer, but as the tours started, so did the rain – several hours earlier than forecast! We were, however, undeterred.
CABAHS Committee member Paula, reminds us that even the smallest urban garden can attract and help wildlife. She suggests you can select a small space in a patch of lawn to sow wild flowers as well as well-known plants. Plants such as Echinacea, Foxgloves, Hollyhocks and Lavender – there is a huge choice to pick from, or how about letting the grass grow and think of the time you will save in not mowing! It will attract insects, bees and who knows what else will show up. Check out the RHS tips for creating a wildlife garden
Has your ‘wild bit’ attracted any unusual wildlife? Let us know!
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:
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!
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.
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.