Our March meeting involved a kaleidoscopic slide show accompanying Nick Dobson's talk on “Summer Sizzlers”.
Using photos from in his own garden Members were shown the wide variety of flowers from all over the world that can be grown in flower borders, in pots, in window boxes and in hanging baskets to give a visual feast of hot colours that will brighten up the summer months. As well as flowers, shrubs and fruit can add colour too.
“Wow Factor” bulbs and plants should be planted in pots and placed in flowerbeds - once past their best, these pots can be replaced with other plants thus extending the season of colour. After flowering potted bulbs can then be dried out and stored ready for the next season.
Tips were given on propagation, feeding plants and colour combinations.
The talk ended with slides of places to visit around the country where colourful flower beds can be seen – two were local; the Cliff Gardens in Southend and the seafront gardens in Clacton on Sea.
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.
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!
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.
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.