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.
Plant of the Year at the 2019 Chelsea Flower Show was this unassuming but rather pretty Sedum ‘Atlantis’.
Kathy had a great week volunteering at the Show, and was able to have a quick word with Nick Bailey as he was passing by and remind him he is coming to talk to CABAHS for our November meeting. I don’t suppose it was top of his To Do list that day but he was very kind about it!
I expect everyone has been following the BBC coverage of Chelsea – but they didn’t cover very many of the trade stands and some had really fabulous planting. Here’s a pic to give you all “Urn Envy”…