Gardens of New York and New England

We were very luck to be given a talk by Mr Chris Chadwell on the Gardens of New York and New England.

He began by introducing himself as a modern day plant hunter/conservationist and because of his expertise in Himalayan flora, he has been asked by The North America Rock Garden Society (NARGS) to speak to the various NARGS Chapters all over the US about his expeditions and plant finds.

His illustrated talk showed members some gardens, both public and private, that he visited whilst a guest of the New England & New York Chapter.

In the UK a rock garden tends to be for small, alpine plants, planted among rocks or scree to resemble the conditions found on mountain slopes, whereas in the US a rock garden is a rocky garden – so much larger plants were seen, some of these gardens resembled herbaceous borders!

The climate on the eastern seaboard is one of extremes and so many of the smaller, more recognisable alpine plants are kept in glasshouses to protect them – both from the cold and heat!

As a guest he experienced “behind the scenes” visits to the breeding and germination areas in the New York Botanical Gardens. A tip he passed on was to write the seeds’ details in permanent ink on the actual plant pot – labels tend to get lost, moved or fade.

Suffolk Wildlife: Birds, Butterflies, Wild flowers and Orchids

Members were lucky to receive a talk from Mr Alex Bass, a Wildlife Tour Guide who, using a series of slides, told members about the various protected areas found in Suffolk around Minsmere, Dunwich Heath, The Blyth Estuary and the Suffolk Brecklands.

The 1,000-hectare site at Minsmere is the largest and has been managed by the RSPB since 1947 when it purchased the land from the Ogilvie Family for £240,000.

The reserve has areas of reed bed (the largest in England and formally where the peat was dug), lowland heath (where 3 types of heather grows alongside gorse), acid grassland (where a carpet of red sheep sorrel can be found in summer), wet grassland where yellow irises and the southern marsh orchid can be found), shingle and dune (home to the yellow horned poppy, stonecrop and sea kale) and the woodland area.

Maintaining the “health” of the reserve is essential and the rivers flowing into the reed beds are controlled by sluices. Sluices also help to keep the seawater away from the freshwater reed beds. Living in a similar habitat in Poland, Konik horses have been introduced to roam and graze the area, thus controlling the reeds and allowing areas of open water for other species.  Rare and endangered birds, plants and insects can be seen from the many paths that transverse the reserve and from the purpose-built viewing hides and areas.

The symbol of the RSPB is The Avocet which started its recolonisation of Britain a month after the reserve was purchased.  Its successful breeding heralded the arrival of more endangered species finding a “safe home” and thriving over the years.

The east-coast location and range of habitats makes the reserve a major site for “stop-overs” – migrating birds heading north and south; butterflies coming from as far afield as Morocco; or as a safe haven in times of bad weather when “unusual visitors” have bird watchers rushing to see them.

The American mink has now been eradicated from the area and several native species of small mammals have been reintroduced and are now thriving – all helping with the biodiversity.

Mr Bass also spoke about the history of the area – from it being mentioned in the Doomsday Book, to peat cutting in the middle ages, its monastic connections to being in the front line in WW2.  A photograph taken in the woodland area showed rows of poplar trees – these are the remnants of the trees grown by Bryant & May and used for matchsticks.

In recent years Minsmere has welcomed the BBC’s Spring and Autumn Watch Teams.  The starling murmurations highlighted in the programme are now a popular event for visitors.

The nature reserve, its habitats and wildlife, are all protected under UK law as a part of the Minsmere–Walberswick Special Protection Area. The heaths and marshes are Areas of Conservation and sites of Special Scientific Interest. The site is also included in the areas covered by the Suffolk Coast and Heaths as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is also part of the Suffolk Heritage Coast.

For birdwatchers, gardeners, ramblers and family outings this unspoilt area of Suffolk has something for everyone – including some recommended pubs!

Self-Sufficiency Throughout The Year

After searching for over three years, our guest speaker, Maike Windhorst, finally found a house with a three acre garden located between Wickford and Billericay, that would allow her to garden organically with the aim of becoming self-sufficient.

After studying the various methods of crop rotation, her first attempt, using raised beds was unsuccessful – after being undisturbed for many years the slugs and snails thoroughly enjoyed the banquet that was being grown for them – the framework of the raised beds gave them plenty of hiding holes!

So still continuing with the 4 crop rotation plan, the vegetable patch was converted to rows. Single rows at first then altered to three rows per section. A path was then introduced between the different sections.

Still studying new methods and ideas, she introduced edges to the the path row with planks joined together across the row with a “U” shaped brace. Rather than taking vegetables back to the kitchen to clean up or taking spent greenery to a compost bin, this “waste” is put straight into the area of the path ready to be covered and new crops planted into this enriched soil at the next rotation.

Then to ensure the land was always being used “quick crops” such as Lettuces, Onions, Radishes etc. were introduced.

A section of vegetables picked from her garden that day was brought along to show members the variety of crops that can be grown. She now sells her vegetables, and when in season fruit and home made apple juice, at the weekly Farmers Market in Danbury.

An extra piece of advice was given, always start with a small area and then slowly increase the growing plot. Keep the unproductive areas under grass, the clipping of which can be put into the “path compost” areas. Constant mowing will either kill or weaken most weeds making it easier to bring under production when you are ready.

Pin Me To The Wall & Do What You Want With Me

Now did we get your attention?

This was the intriguing title of a talk given to the Mountfitchet Garden Club by Andrew Mikolajski who entertained members with his knowledge of climbers and wall shrubs.

He gave a wealth of ideas and hints on where to position the plants, how to prune them, easy methods of attaching the plants to the walls and how to train the plants to ensure they show off their flowers were explained with great enthusiasm.

Using a series of slides, members were shown some large houses, which are open to the public, where plants have, over the years been trained to cover the buildings and garden walls.

York Gate House, near Leeds in Yorkshire, is a good example of how a pyracantha can be trained to cover a house. To reach this standard, he joked, requires patience and a lot of staff !

However by using “tricks” like pig wire gardeners are able to attach the plants and train them easily in a domestic-sized garden.

Although considered Out of Season, a visit to gardens in the winter will often show the framework and pruning methods used to achieve the summer displays. A lively Q&A session followed the talk.

What Do I Do with this Space?

This was the subject of our September speaker, Mr Darren Lerigo.

Whatever your age, everyone enjoys their personal space, and in a garden you can enjoy creating and making this space your very own.
Using a series of slides from around the world, members were shown the different “spaces” and how the individuals’ needs have been met. For example, in northern Scandinavia where they have nine months of darkness and snow followed by 24hrs of sunshine, a greenhouse was swathed in flowers of orange, red and yellow – a splash of colour.


In contrast, very little greenery was found in the Zen garden in Japan where the raked lines of stones gave the monks tranquillity and contemplativeness away from the bustle of life. A new housing estate, where the small dividing strip between drives, was transformed into a wild garden as the owner missed greenery.

Contrasting in size, even the Taj Mahal, built as a place of remembrance, was originally sited in a garden full of herbs, vegetables, flowers and trees–although in Colonial days this productive garden was been replaced with lawn. An unkempt, dismal yew hedge along a footpath between a church and its churchyard was cut back and trimmed into “odd” topiary shapes bringing a smile to passers-by. What one person thinks is marvellous another may not – eg. a £70,000 treehouse built in an oak tree for his children which was never played in as they preferred playing in the long grass under the adjacent Indian Bean Tree!.


Climate, soil type and the amount of time and money available all determines what your “personal space” will be like.


His talk concluded, enjoy your own, very personal space!


Date for your Diary:

Tuesday, October 2nd – all four RHS Gardens are taking part in the “Free Entry Day”.


Hyde Hall near Rettenden is the closest to the village, slightly further away is Wisley in Surrey on the A3.

Next Meeting:
Wednesday, October 3rd – Subject: Suffolk Wildlife: Birds, Butterflies, Wild flower and Orchids around Minsmere,
Dunwich Heath, The Blyth Estuary and the Suffolk Brecklands.


Meetings are held at The Day Centre adjacent to the car park at the top of Chapel Hill. Doors open 7.30pm for an 8pm start with refreshments available prior to meeting start. Visitors are always welcome to our meetings.

Change to August Meeting

Due to a family illness the scheduled visit to Chrishall Garden on Wednesday 1st August has been CANCELLED.

We are of course saddened by the news, and wish them a quick recovery

Instead we have managed to secure Clare Kneen from Saffron Walden, who will give members a talk at the Day Centre. Further details to follow.

If possible, we we try and arrange another garden visit to Chrishall in the future.

Club News for March 2017

For the first meeting of 2017, the Club invited Clare and Gary Matthews to talk about the on-going restoration of Easton Lodge’s gardens by The Gardens of Easton Lodge Preservation Trust.

After a brief history of the Lodge and its past owners, especially Darling Daisy, the Countess of Warwick, members were told about how the estate had evolved from a hunting lodge park to a Grade II listed garden. In 1902, Harold Peto redesigned the gardens for the Countess – with a ‘free hand and unlimited budget’.

The land around the house was transformed and became a series of skilfully-linked gardens. After years of neglect, the Trust and its team of helpers are slowly bringing these gardens back to their full glory and members were shown ‘before and after’ photographs – the most dramatic being after the donation of 100 tons of gravel!

The current project is the 1.9 acre walled garden which is slowly being ‘tamed’. The gardens are only open on specific Public Open Days throughout the spring and summer (see The owners of Warwick Lodge are very supportive to the Trust and open their adjoining parkland for visitors on these days so that they can appreciate how the estate looked in its heyday. To encourage more visitors, refreshments are available at Daisy’s Tea Room and there is a dedicated children’s area for the younger visitors.

Club News for February 2017

“Where did that come from?” was the theme of Julie Pollard’s evening of flower arranging.


Every display was accompanied by a brief history of the subject it portrayed, as well as personal memories, anecdotes and general hints on displaying the flowers. The subjects were varied and ranged from Ice Cream to Christmas via John Tradescant!!


Using her years of experience in the retail industry, members were also shown how to gift wrap awkward shaped parcels and how to hand tie a bouquet of flowers.


The members’ Green Bowl Photographic Competition was won by Monica Dudley’s Summer Flower Meadow at Ickleton House. 2nd place was Paul Embleton and 3rd place was Pat Allen. The subject of the competition was My ‘highlight’ from a garden visit – anything from a vista to a bench. Congratulations to all.

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October 2016

Mrs Sue Robinson, our September speaker, gave a talk on “The Gardens of Gertrude Jekyll & Edwin Lutyens.

Members were given “a photographic tour” around some of the many gardens that these two experts, one in horticulture and the other in architecture, influenced over the decades they worked together.

As we visited each garden, the ‘trademarks’ of their styles were pointed out – the overflowing herbaceous borders in hot or cool colours; the varying levels in the garden incorporating water; semi-circular steps leading to balustraded terraces; the Lutyens style garden bench; the various building fabrics used in the garden for paths, patios and similarly on each building to emphasise doors and features; the tall chimneys; windows with small panes of glass strategically placed to take advantage of the vistas – their skills complimented each other and they became the “dream team” of house and garden design in the early 20th Century.

Gertrude Jekyll provided garden designs or planned plantings for 400+ gardens, of which almost half were created as a collaboration with Lutyens. Many of the meticulous plans that Gertrude Jekyll produced have been preserved and although over time numerous gardens have been lost the National Trust, English Heritage and some of the larger private houses are now using these plans to restore their gardens to the how they were initially envisaged.

Her skill and passion for gardening was recognised by the RHS and she was awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour in 1897 and the Veitch Memorial Medal in 1929.