February 2023 Talk: A Garden Reborn

Ruth Cornett,  the owner of the Eltham Gatehouse situated adjacent to the historic Eltham Palace and part of its history, gave an excellent and informative account of how she has renovated the Gatehouse garden which along with the house was neglected and semi-derelict when she and her husband bought it in 1998.  Having previously lived in a North London flat and from a rural Irish background, she was desperate to have a house and garden and set about renovating and restoring the  garden in 2015. Ruth showed us pictures of before and after.

Eltham Palace is a medieval house with a long history. At one time a Bishop’s Palace and a Tudor hunting lodge, it was bought by members of the American Courtauld family in  1933. They renovated the Palace and added an Art Deco extension, then handing it over to the Royal Army Educational Corps in 1945. Its head resided in the Gatehouse. When the army left in 1992 the Gatehouse was left empty and the garden was abandoned.

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November meeting: Rose Growing made easy – Simon White

Simon White is the President of Norwich Horticultural Society and Sales Manager for the RHS award winning Peter Beales Garden Centre in Attleborough, Norfolk, where he has worked for 41 years.

He gave an entertaining and informative talk on growing roses. He said, if provided with the right conditions, it was not true that roses were difficult to grow. Simon said Beales had the largest collection of roses in the world. They primarily sell bare root roses and many old traditional classic roses. They grow from seed some 250,000  a year in fields rented from a local farmer and he described how they grew them.

He then went on to show how we at home could grow bare root roses:

1.THEY NEED GOOD SOIL PREPARATION: Ideally bare root  roses should be planted from November to March. Good  quality fertiliser,  including horse manure which is at least six month old, should be used. Do not use mushroom manure.

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August 2021: Amateur Gardeners Question Time “GQT”

Our amateur “GQT” was attended by over 50 members and OPG volunteers and was held outside, in the Peace Garden behind Charlton House.  Our president, Sir Nicolas Bevan, introduced the panel experts – guest panellist Joe Woodcock, plus Vija Vilcins and Pat Kane. It was an exceptional meeting.  As Sir Nicolas said, this was the first time members have met face-to-face since the beginning of the pandemic. To celebrate this it was also a social event with wine and nibbles provided – and appreciated!

Questions and Answers

Stella B: I would be grateful for some suggestions for a small or medium sized tree for my back garden. It’s a ’coming along’ garden begun a couple of years ago. There are now 3 apple trees (2 half standards and one espalier), so not another fruit tree. I really need it for some screening (it’s a terrace house) so maybe 12-15ft full grown? Not too wide a spread.


a) Joe: 

i) Although Stella was not keen on fruit trees the crab apple would be a good tree. e.g. Malus ‘Red Sentinel’ with its wonderful golden leaves.

ii) Japanese maples (Acers) e.g. Senkaki with  its yellow leaves in summer and its beautiful golden tints in autumn when its leaves become tinged with pink. Or Acer palmatum ‘Garnet’, a low growing acer.

iii) Rowans such us Sorbus acuparia and Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’,  yellow flowers with superb autumn colour.

iv) The Handkerchief Tree (Davidia involucrata).  But maybe too large if the garden is small.

v) The Fox Glove Tree (Paulownia tomentosa).  Because it grows into a large tree, buy it young and coppice it. It will then grow into a low growing shrub with very large leaves.

b) Pat:

i) The Paper Bark maple ( Acer griseum) and the Snake Bark Maple(Acer capillipes).

ii) Amelanchier lamarkii.

iii) Prunus ‘Snow Showers’ which hangs down.

c) Viya:

i) Amelanchier.

ii) Cornus canadensis.

iii) Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ with burgundy leaf.

Chris B: I was given a Geoff Hamilton rose at the end of May and it flowered beautifully, but there have been very few flowers since then. It is supposed to be a repeat flowerer. Is there anything I can do to encourage more roses?


a) Joe:
It’s a modern shrub rose. If bought in a pot it needs time to establish. The roots need tweaking out before planting and it needs time to acclimatise  to the soil and develop the  energy  for flowering and will very likely  flower better next year  when it has had time to acclimatise. In spring give it a mulch  and feed it with Tomorite.

b) Viya:
Referring to roses in pots she said she had  kept an Emma Hamilton rose in a pot and it needed a regular feed  because the soil gradually lost its nutrients.

Pat K: I’ve got scale insects on the trunk of my Viburnum bodnantense Dawn. It’s planted in a pot as no room in the garden. The best way to get rid of it without any chemicals, please?


a) Joe:
Using cotton buds with methylated spirit, and squish them! Systemic fertilisers have been mostly withdrawn nowadays. Ants may form nearby which harvest them, but they are harmless.

b) Viya:
She said she has used a fingernail scrub. A labour of love. But they didn’t come back.

Carolyn H: My clematis (several varieties) are covered in black fly this year. The flowers are also being eaten. Are these two problems related? Is it a particular problem this year? How can I prevent it happening in future. Three questions actually!


a) Joe:
He said that his clematis were the best they have ever been this year! But the black fly problem may be due to the weather conditions this year. Use a hosepipe to wash them off or squash them with your fingers. If you use chemicals use a fatty acid one not a systemic . They may have been eaten by slugs and snails. Well known ways of getting rid of these include using egg shells, beer traps and   wool. Also there is the book ‘50 ways to Kill a Slug’ by Sarah Ford.

b) Pat:
Go out at night with a torch and pick them off.

Kathy A: Do you have any suggestions or rules for how to space perennial plants out in a herbaceous border? I always start off ok but by about now everything looks squashed and lots of fighting for space going on. I was always told not to leave bare soil between plants as then you get weeds, but I don’t seem to be able to find that happy medium.


a) Joe: I do the same. I suggest you cut back the thuggish plants in summer and make space for others. If it is a new border plant in odd numbers e.g. 3, 5, 7 etc. Fergus Garrett at Great Dixter has produced a video showing how to space out plants.

Melanie A:  I would appreciate some suggestions for plants to go in a shared space. This is the scenario: our houses are fortunate to share a fairly large open space for which the householders are jointly responsible. We keep maintenance costs to the minimum by doing much of the work ourselves. Some of the trees planted many years ago by some householders help shield us from the horrors beyond, but they cast a lot of shadows. It would be great to have some thoughts  on how to put some items of interest in this space, something that can’t be mistaken for lawn by enthusiastic mowers.


a) Joe:
In shaded areas plant Mahonia, Camellia, Elaeagnus and in damp shade ferns e.g Dryopteris wallichiana and Dryopteris filix-mas. Also plant in groups: Epimedium , Pachysandra terminalis, Pulmonaria  ‘Sisinghurst White’. Foxgloves (Digitalis) and Japanese anemones(e.g.Honore Joubert) to show up in the shade. Spring bulbs like Tulip Red Riding Hood and Tete-a-tete.

b) Viya:
Miscanthus which initially only needs minimal watering just to get it going. Also Nandina domestica and Hydrangea ‘Vanilla Phrase’.

Angela B: Have you any suggestions for getting rid of pond duck weed?


a) Joe: You can never get rid of duck weed. But use waders and a metal rake to clear it. Do leave it on the side for a day so that any organisms in it that need to live  in the pond can return to it. Also, if new, place your pond near a bit of shade. Put in oxygenators and pond plants that will help maintain a balance such as irises and marsh marigolds(Caltha palustris). Try to maintain at least one third cover with lilies and marginals. Also a fountain would be useful.

Anne R:  I have a Sorbus (Rowan)  which I think is Sorbus ulleungenis ‘Olympic Flame’.  It’s about 8 years old and still quite small and every year some of its growth dies back. It’s in a north-by-northwest  garden, so it gets some sun, on heavy clay but well drained. Am I doing something wrong or is it the wrong tree for the space. I know I’m not the only person with a die-back problem I saw a Sorbus in Greenwich Park recently with the same problem.


Joe: The rooting of Sorbus is vulnerable to extremes of environmental conditions. It doesn’t like heavy wet soil in winter and cracked soil in summer. Take a garden fork and lift and reduce compaction around the roots. Waggle the fork in the roots (“terra vent”). Mulch in winter. Monitor the tree and cut out dead wood.


Malmaison, the first great rose garden

As we are coming up to “rose” season, with the early ones already coming out, I have been reading a bit about the history of the Rose Garden.  As everyone is taught at school, Josephine married Napoleon and became Empress of France. But did you know that she was much more than that for gardeners – she was also the Queen of Roses. She had a dream to create the greatest rose garden ever made, to collect a specimen of every single rose species and every rose variety growing anywhere in the world at that time.

To contemplate such a task today with all the miracles of modern travel and communications would be a vast operation. To have undertaken such a scheme at the beginning of the 19th century was like reaching for the stars. No aeroplanes, no telephones, no fast ships, no Google!  Just war-torn France locked in a mighty struggle with the rest of Europe.

Yet she succeeded, and on the outskirts of Paris the world’s first great rose garden was created, and was called Malmaison.

Malmaison Josephine

Josephine gathered around her some of the great botanists of the time, to source the plants, and engaged Pierre-Joseph Redoutė to record the roses for posterity. After divorce from Napoleon in 1810, she moved permanently to Malmaison and devoted herself to her plants.

Malmaison contained about 250 different types of roses. If you could go back in time to 1810, you might have been disappointed, as you would have seen none of the vibrant colours, the repeat flowering and compact bushes of a modern rose garden. They would have been large, spreading bushes with a single flush of flowers each year. There would have been Gallica roses, the classic red rose, also tough Rugosa roses, Blood roses from China and Virginia roses from America. The finest would haMalmaison roseve been the Damask roses, but nearly all would have been white, pink and red.

There were just one or two dull yellow or dark orange roses from Persia – and these were the ones which were eventually to produce most of our modern colourful varieties.

Malmaison gardens are no more, they were destroyed in the Prussian War in 1870. They live on in the paintings of Redoutė and in his volumes of Les Roses.



Successes, disappointments and surprises in a North-facing courtyard garden over 30 years 

First of all, the soil had to be brought in to create my garden out of a concrete yard – it was a mixture of all sorts from subsoil to clay to leaf mould and anything else that kind guests gave me to get it going. The garden is full of colour now. There are two camellias, ‘Lady Clare’ and ‘Lady Vansittart’, a Berberis darwinii, a Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’, violets and a windowsill vibrant with pots of pink and white cyclamen.

There are two big pots of tulips in bloom, a large Viburnum carlesii in a barrel, covered in white scented flowers and a Skimmia in full bud, a mauve and a red Erysimum, plus other plants and shrubs that will bloom later in the year. I have a really lovely white and green Hydrangea covered in new leaves and a newly established Arum Lily alongside it.

There are four Roses : ‘Iceberg’, ‘Salmon Leap’, ‘Brother Cadfael’ and ‘Compassion’ – the biggest surprise of them all. This had become so rampant and unmanageable that I had my  grandson dig it up – but, lo and behold, eight weeks later there it was, back again, healthy and with all the shoots showing 5 leaves (not 7) so it is the original rose not the rootstock.

Four roses

Two hanging baskets of pink trailing geraniums have survived the winter, so I’ve pruned them back and fed them to encourage a new display later on.

One of the biggest disappointments was a white star Magnolia which just sulked and wouldn’t bloom and then died. Also Choisya ternata which bloomed prolifically for ten years has sadly now died. Many climbers such as honeysuckle and Rosa banksiae became invasive, smothering nearby shrubs, so had to be removed.

I’m really fortunate to have so many things doing well and the garden is just the right size for me to manage. It will become even more welcoming from now on as the sun slowly comes over the rooftops and creeps across the yard. Time to get the folding chairs out and enjoy a cuppa and a quiet read… perhaps even a snooze.

Frances P