Gardening Club Notes – July 2022 – June Harris

Gardening Club Notes July 2022 photo of Alexandra Park hastings

We were again able to enjoy warm summer weather for a most entertaining two-part visit to one of Hastings’ jewels, Alexandra Park.  Firstly, Nick Hennessy, the last remaining Park Ranger – there were seven in the recent past – set some of the changes necessity has brought about in the context of the park’s history, emphasising the continuing relevance of the park for the Hastings of today by detailing some of the evolutionary and revolutionary projects undertaken.  Hastings was developing rapidly from the end of the 18th century and sources of drinking water were becoming an issue.  During the 1850s three reservoirs were built to supply the town, towards the north end of what is now the park, with a plant nursery being established at the southern end bounded by the new Hastings – Ashford railway line.  Over a relatively short period the extent of the park much as it is today, came into being, becoming a major water resource for the town as well as a community park of such high quality and featuring so many Champion trees, that it is now officially designated a Grade II* listed landscape!  More recently Lottery Funding has enabled restoration of the park to be undertaken, which continues, however, recent severe government cuts have forced difficult decisions to be made – staffing cuts have necessitated outsourcing of much of the gardening tasks, the lawn bowls court and tennis courts have been removed and grassed over, as have many of the decorative flower borders.  Nick also highlighted examples of how climate change has created new problems – the notable lack of prolonged winter frosts and snowfall allows fungi, blue algae and other pests and diseases to thrive instead of killing them off, but trees lost to disease are now less able to be replaced – in short today’s focus has to be on maintaining the existing park planting and structures rather than creating new features.  One great positive, however, has been brought about through a bad situation – Nick strongly feels that from something bad can come good – better water quality for sea bathers resulting from an innovative water project within the park.  Once again, as at the park’s inception, issues with the town’s water supplies were discovered.  Seven years ago it was found through sea water quality tests that Hastings’ standard was failing and the problems were traced to long-standing inappropriate and inadequate sewerage installations causing cross-drainage allowing polluted water to reach the sea.  The answer was to aerate water in the park’s ponds and streams and reroute it through specialised floating planted islands and reedbeds, a now well-recognised method of purifying water naturally and sustainably, also very successfully as the sea water quality is now once again meriting the green flag!  Nature, given the right impetus has responded, also rewarding the works with a notable increase in biodiversity within the park.

The second part of our visit was to the Greenhouse Restoration Project, our guide being Linda Pearson.  She told us the greenhouse, a teak and cast-iron structure, was built in 1934 to grow plants for the town’s seafront and public gardens.  This at a time when Hastings was recognised as a very desirable resort with high-end visitor facilities and accommodation.  Fast forward to 2013 when an intrepid group of volunteers literally machete-ed their way into the derelict, completely overgrown structure with an incongruous statue of Prince Albert in the middle of it all!  Restoration of this large-scale and attractive building, all funded by donations, is gradually creating a new and present-day teaching and learning centre, already successful in many of its aims, but with the potential, given the inspirational and infinite vision of Linda and her team, to become a valuable, multi-faceted community asset with the overall aim of enabling all who participate whether as volunteers or students, to benefit in many ways.  Plants remain at the heart of the venture, with volunteers propagating and potting-on from plants donated by the public and local supermarkets, which are then sold at very reasonable prices to the public.

Yet another very successful and enjoyable visit concluded with refreshments in the park’s excellent café.  Next month we will be visiting Pett village gardens – details to follow.  In September we will be back in Pett Village Hall, getting our Autumn schedule off to a great start with a talk by Fergus Garrett, head gardener at Great Dixter.

Gardening Club Notes – June 2022 – June Harris

Last October our speaker was Jay Ashworth, the Ornamental Gardens Manager at Ashburnham Place, near Battle, whose talk focused on the history of the estate and the redesign of the gardens by Lancelot (Capability) Brown.  The estate is now run by the Ashburnham Christian Trust and is a thriving community, theological college and conference centre, but the gardens and their benefits are at the heart of the Trust’s ethos and, with Jay at the helm, continue to evolve, to be managed with a light hand and to follow modern ecological and sustainable principles, with nature and biodiversity at the centre.  This month we visited the estate and were very fortunate to have two tours of the gardens.  On arrival Jay met us in front of the striking orangery, now the restaurant, from where the gardens open out, over the original Italianate formal garden, across an expanse of lawn, dotted with beautiful specimen trees worthy of any arboretum, the lakes to right and left and a distant vista ahead.  The overall design dates from Capability Brown’s redesign in the 1800s, but Jay’s vision, gradually being realised as lack of money and staff allow – from 37 gardeners in its heyday, to 1 today – Jay – is to stay true to the nuts and bolts of Brown’s plan, but bring the planting ethos right up to date to enable the gardens to continue to have seasonal interest and plenty of colour and scent, but in a more environmentally sustainable way.  The walled garden once had large beds with many rose bushes of a single variety, but the roses now nestle within varied perennials, which will return year on year in greater abundance, providing changing seasonal colour, keep weeds at bay and offer food and shelter for bees and other pollinating insects, whilst also being far less labour intensive.  Other areas, for example around the pretty church and graveyard, now support wild flower meadows or prairie planting, where once the grass would have been mown and pristine.   Benches have been placed throughout the grounds to allow visitors to rest and contemplate the many vistas.

Our visit then progressed to the huge walled kitchen garden, half of which has so far been transformed over the last five years, from a barren, compacted wasteland into a thriving organic vegetable garden, based on Charles Dowding’s No-Dig principles, which briefly involve initially clearing the ground of weeds, covering it with cardboard as a weed suppressant, then very thick compost on top, which is then planted.  The ecosystems in the soil substructure, there since time immemorial, are thereby left undisturbed and nature is enabled to work to improve the ground over time and provide the plants with the necessary nutrients, while the mulch keeps weeds from taking over, so no fertiliser or weedkiller needed.  This method is also much less labour intensive than traditional digging methods, so a small volunteer workforce can manage where once many gardeners were employed. Nick Heasman, along with his wife Anna, is the force behind this and we were all very fortunate to benefit from his inspiring delivery as he explained the principles of No Dig while we could clearly see the results before us. One telling statement is that there are more living organisms in one teaspoon of soil than there are people on the planet”!  The garden produce has a low carbon footprint too – it supplies the Orangery restaurant!

We were very fortunate to visit on a lovely sunny day and, the tours over, we enjoyed some social time in the Orangery over tea and cake.  Our next visit, on Tuesday at 2.00 p.m. on July 12th is to Alexandra Park, details nearer the time by email.

Gardening Club Notes – May 2022 – June Harris

Our first visit of the year was successful and enjoyable, despite the dull, chilly weather! About 30 members went to Bateman’s, Rudyard Kipling’s family home near Burwash and those who have been before appreciated the changes and upgrades made in recent years.  The lovely 17th century stone-built house sits so well in the landscape, a large but comfortable property, surrounded by its gardens.  The grounds are very well kept nowadays, with a number of gardeners busily working as we wandered round.  The vegetable and fruit garden has been extended and was full of healthy new plants, quite the envy of some of our group!  The ”no-dig” method is now employed, which entails leaving the soil’s substructure and its ecosystem intact and adding deep mulches to the surface, which will be gradually incorporated renewing and enriching the ground.  A long border against an attractive boundary wall was full of pretty spring planting and newly planted cherry and crab apple trees.  The pond is yet to peak, but lily pads are starting to appear and there was water hyacinth in abundance to appreciate.  There were also some huge borders planted with wallflowers giving off a delicious perfume.  The walk past the lily pond and down to the mill through flowering meadows is very pleasant indeed and the National Trust have made a good job of renovating and conserving the mill itself.  There are also designated walks around the wider estate those wishing to explore further can follow.  The set-up at Bateman’s seems to work well.  The house is naturally the focal point of any visit and is largely unchanged since the Kipling family lived there.  The very personable guides told us the family had so appreciated the age of the house that they sought in furnishing and modernising it to be as sympathetic as possible to its great age even then and sourced Jacobean furniture, kept all the panelling and even leather wallcoverings and introduced “modern” improvements such as bathrooms as unobtrusively as they could, in order to preserve the house’s heritage.  Many artefacts, artworks and, of course, books, as well as the study Rudyard Kipling wrote in, untouched since his death, create a sense that he has just popped out for a minute.  The house tour finishes in the shop, which is a short walk from the tearooms, where we all assembled to enjoy some excellent refreshments and socialise – we even had the benefit of some sunshine at last!

Our next visit will be to Ashburnham Place, near Battle, on Tuesday June 14th – details to follow.  This will be a follow-up to the talk Jay Ashworth gave us in October and she will be there to show us round.

Gardening Club Notes – April 2022 – June Harris

We welcomed Christine Bartlett for this month’s meeting, a long-time collector of orchids, chair for many years of the SE Orchid Society and a qualified orchid judge.  Her talk focused on Beginner Orchids, with the emphasis on their care.  Christine began by giving us a brief history of how orchids first came to this country and their transition from plants only for the rich to being widely available and affordable for all.  In 1818 William Swainson, a naturalist, travelled abroad to collect plant specimens.  He unwittingly brought an orchid back, seeing the plant as useful for packing round his other plants to protect them on the journey.  William Cattley, a botanist and colleague of Swainson’s, grew the plant on and identified it as an orchid, later named after him, Cattleya Labiata.  The 19th century was a huge time for Plant Hunters – intrepid men sent abroad by the rich to find and bring back new plant species – dangerous work, many did not return.  The then Duke of Devonshire began his orchid collection in 1833, sending his own staff off to find specimens.  An orchid plant at that time would cost the equivalent of £20-25,000 – it was definitely a rich man’s hobby.  Despite the cost there were enough people wanting them that Orchidmania, just as centuries before, Tulipmania, fuelled demand, but supply remained an issue, in the hands of collectors and plant hunters.

It was not straightforward to propagate orchids as the seed was as tiny as a grain of pepper and contained no nutrients to help it into growth.  It also took time for the necessary growing conditions to be understood, so progress was slow.  In 1854 some plant nurseries began to have success in hybridising orchids, the first step towards creating greater numbers of available plants.  The whole process was still very labour intensive and expensive, then went into a great decline due to labour shortages caused by the First World War.  It wasn’t until around 1960 that orchid growing saw a rebirth with the discovery of plant cloning.  Once a quality hybrid was created it could then be cloned, so plants were then available in much greater numbers and prices came down dramatically.  In the wild, however, new varieties are still being identified today, but growers are now protected from the exploitation they suffered in the early days.

Christine turned then to the practical care of orchids.  The aim is to replicate natural growing conditions.  Different varieties, and there are 20-25,000 of them, require different conditions for successful growth, some like more light than others, some need warmer temperatures than others, etc.  Christine gave us some specific tips she herself has learned through experience.  She believes it is best to repot an orchid as soon as it is bought, to remove the ball of matter encasing the root, since this can remain soggy and cause the plant to die.  Repotting straightaway will also ensure the plant is pest free – often commercial plants can be infested.  It is important never to allow water to settle in the crown, or centre of the plant, as this will cause it to rot and die.  Similarly, overwatering should be avoided and she explained that the visible roots, which are actually like cotton thread, but are encased in a velvety covering called velamen, are a silvery grey when dry, but green when wet.  Check regularly for pests as they are better dealt with before they’ve had a chance to become too established!  Christine finished a most interesting, informative and entertaining evening, with some very useful practical demonstrations of repotting, explaining as she went about root trimming and the type of medium to use, with tips too on feeding the plants.

Our next meeting will be our first visit of the year, to Bateman’s, Rudyard Kipling’s home.  Members will receive details by email.


Gardening Club Notes – March 2022 – June Harris

This month’s meeting was a change to the planned schedule due to illness, so we were immensely grateful to Kathrine Lynn for stepping in at, almost literally, the last moment to deliver a talk entitled “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”.  Kathrine is a keen and knowledgeable amateur gardener who gave us a colourful, interesting and very informative insight into the history, production and culture of this lovely spring flower.

Garden Club March 2022 Sultan Suleiman II

Tulips were first known to be cultivated in the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century and their name is thought to derive from the huge bulb shaped headdress, called a Tulipan, worn by Sultan Suleiman II, the ruler at the time.  Tulips came originally from Turkey and China, where the hot dry summers and cold dry winters provided the best conditions for their successful growth – they are not happy in wet, heavy ground where they are likely to rot.  We are accustomed to visiting gardens nowadays, but even in the 15th century tulip gardens were open to the public, who were encouraged to walk among and appreciate the flowers.  An Austrian ambassador of the time, visiting Sultan Suleiman, was given some bulbs, thereby introducing them to Europe and over time Carolus Clusius, a notable botanist, further developed them in Holland in the late 16th century, collecting seed, crossing and hybridising and producing bulbs for sale.  Then, in 1593 the Hortus Botanicus in London was designed and created by Clusius to a plan still recognisable today, in the process firmly establishing tulip growing in this country.  Indeed by 1742 a nurseryman’s catalogue listed 665 tulip varieties!

Many will have heard of “Tulipmania” a period during which even a single tulip bulb could command a fantastic price of 1000 florins at a time when the average annual salary was 150 florins!  It all began when growers exhibited “flaming” tulips, with flowers of one colour marked with what appeared to be a flame pattern in a contrasting colour and they quickly became highly prized as it was wrongly believed they were a very rare hybrid – in fact the markings were due to a virus!  Everyone wanted to obtain these prized bulbs which they believed would make them rich, resulting in what amounted to a gambling frenzy, with prices rising madly as the demand increased and purchases often pledged in promissory notes, until one fateful day, February 3rd 1637, the bulbs at auction did not sell and thereafter prices tumbled with many losing all their money or becoming heavily indebted – Tulipmania was deemed madness and was no more!

Kathrine’s talk was beautifully illustrated with slides of many lovely tulips we can all buy today and photos of the vast Dutch bulb fields, huge rainbow blocks of commercial flowers, carefully husbanded to remove rogue colours or poor specimens from the serried ranks of specific colours.  The bulbs are harvested in July, the flowers being cut off and discarded to enable the goodness to go into the bulb’s development and the plants lifted and dried off.  Nowadays most of the work is done by enormous machines which plant the bulbs embedded in lengths of netting, which at harvest time is then hauled from the ground and rolled up, still with the bulb in place.  In 2017 Dutch growers exported over 2 billion bulbs and 77% of the world’s bulbs come from The Netherlands!

Kathrine offered growing tips for getting the best out of tulips, including planting firm, plump bulbs in November – December up to ten inches deep in prepared ground, using grit for drainage if necessary, or planting in pots if the soil is completely unsuitable, fertilising and watering when planting.  She also showed many slides of different varieties of tulip, some early to flower, others late, explaining that, by choosing carefully, it is possible to have these lovely plants in flower from early April until the end of May. She also dispelled the myth of the ”Black Tulip”!  Despite the name and the strenuous efforts of many growers over the centuries, even the darkest bulbs are shades of purple.

The evening concluded with slides of Keukenhof, the world-renowned stylised tulip and bulb gardens near Amsterdam, which Kathrine has visited many times over the years, where tulips are celebrated so creatively and in their masses from April-May only each year.

Our next meeting, on Tuesday April 12th at 7.30 in the Catherine Holman room at Pett VH, will feature another popular flower, with Christine Bartlett delivering a talk entitled “Orchidmania – History of Orchids.”

Gardening Club Notes – February 2022 – June Harris

Our February meeting included the AGM and payment of member subscriptions and it was very pleasing to have so many renewals from our loyal members and to welcome new members too – very heartening given the continuing pandemic.  We were also very pleased to welcome our speakers for the evening, Ann Novotny, assisted by David Penfold, with a talk entitled “Discovering the World of the Iris.”  Ann lives locally now, but worked as a schoolteacher in London for many years.  Her interest in irises stemmed from her family connections, one of her father’s sisters, Katherine, having married William Rickatson Dykes, the recognised world authority on irises in the 1920s.  William had already written a book, “The Genus Iris”, still today regarded as the definitive book on these beautiful, varied and bold flowers, before meeting Katherine, and she joined him in moving and replanting thousands of plants from his original garden to the new home they bought together.  Tragically William died in a car accident only a couple of years later, but Katherine continued breeding, hybridising, promoting and selling irises, becoming in the process quite renowned in her own right.  Once again tragedy struck when she too died in an accident, this time a train crash as she returned home from the Chelsea Flower Show.

Ann never knew her aunt as she died the year Ann was born, but naturally she was interested in the family story and, having settled in Hastings, she began growing bearded variety irises.  We were shown a photo of “Gudrun”, a tall, stately white iris, flourishing in a pot in its happiest environment, in the sunshine.  Gudrun was a hybrid produced by Katherine Dykes in 1930, for Ann a great privilege to be able to grow in the present day a beautiful iris created by her own aunt.  Ann told us that specifically, bearded irises prefer an open, well-drained and sunny place, with no competition from other types of plants – a perfect illustration of “right plant, right place”.  In time Ann’s small garden became an issue – too little space to grow sufficient plants to do them justice.  An opportunity then came about to plant irises in an area of St. Clement’s churchyard, in between the old gravestones, where they continue to establish and flourish, as the lovely photos we were shown ably illustrated.  Over the years Ann’s connections with William and Katherine Rickatson Dykes, coupled with her own promotion of iris growing have led to her being recognised as something of an expert on the world of bearded irises, even being invited to Sissinghurst to exchange her knowledge with them.  As for William Rickatson Dykes himself, his contribution to the world of irises continues in a highly coveted medal, conceived by the British Iris Society in 1926 in his memory and awarded annually to the hybridiser of the most outstanding new iris variety.  Ann had brought a medal with her, which she passed round for us all to appreciate.

Our next meeting will be on Tuesday March 8th at 7.30 p.m. in the Catherine Holman Room at Pett VH, when Linda Pearson will update us on the refurbishment of the greenhouses at Alexandra Park, which we plan to visit in July.

Gardening Club Notes – January 2022 – June Harris

It was a pleasure to be able to hold our first meeting of the New Year, masks and lateral flow tests notwithstanding!  Our speaker, Colin Page, a local amateur photographer, gave us a delightful and informative insight into the natural landscape we are so fortunate to have all around us.  Colin worked for many years at Harborough Nurseries and describes himself as a plantsman, photographer and naturalist.  He is not professionally trained in photography, but has been a member of the Rye Camera Club for many years, having first become interested on inheriting his grandfather’s camera as a youngster.  The talk, entitled “In Winter’s Light”, illustrated many aspects of nature in autumn and winter, Colin’s favourite time of year.  The focus was on capturing with his camera the play of light on his chosen subjects – he explained that light is the most important facet of photography.  We were treated to many exquisite photos of birds, trees, landscapes, beaches, marshes, plants and gardens, all taken during the winter months.  Colin walks the local routes around Rye, Pett Level, Winchelsea and Brede, throughout the year, often photographing the same scenes in different seasons, capturing along the way the local wildlife scene in general and wonderful shots of resident, visiting and rare, birds.  He showed a lovely close-up of a black headed gull minus its black head, since it turns white in winter – who knew!  There was another amazing picture of waxwings feasting on snow-covered cotoneaster berries – the dead of winter, but so colourful.  Colin ably demonstrated that winter is far from dull.  When the sun is out it can create such wonderful effects on the landscape, throwing the simplest things into relief – fox paw marks glowing in the otherwise shadowy snow – huge trees, with no leaves to muddy the spectacle, their trunks glowing with golden and reddish tones and patterns.  One stunning shot of acer trees in autumn, their leaves afire with intense reds and yellows, was particularly memorable.  Snowy and frosty scenes featured with winter flowering plants and shrubs, daphne, sarcococca, cherry, peeping out through the snow and thick frost shining crystalline on bracken and grasses, creating a textured white carpet.   Colin may say he is an amateur, but his photos demonstrated experience gained over many years alongside a keen eye for colour and composition, an obvious love of the natural world and great skill and delicacy of touch – his talents combining to provide all present with an inspiring and uplifting evening, all the more welcome, being so far removed from these difficult times.

Our next meeting will be on Tuesday 8th February at 7.30 p.m. in the Catherine Holman Room at Pett Village Hall.  Ann Novotny and David Penfold will deliver a talk entitled “Discovering the World of the Iris.”  Annual subscriptions will also be due – £10 for the coming year – new members most welcome.  There will also be a Seed Swap, a new venture to help kick-start the growing year ahead – please bring along any surplus seeds, whether commercial or gathered.   Details will be emailed to existing members nearer the time.

Garden Club Notes – December 2021 – June Harris

Our Christmas Party took place on Friday December 3rd in the main hall at Pett Village Hall, where we welcomed over 40 members to what turned out to be a very successful and fun evening, enjoyed by all who came.  Everyone entered into the spirit, so grateful to be able to socialise (almost) as normal after such a long time.  Many thanks to the committee especially and the many helpers who contributed to the party in so many ways.  We are looking forward now to a full and varied schedule for next year, beginning with the next meeting on Tuesday January 11th at 7.30 in the Catherine Holman Room.  There will be a talk entitled “In Winter’s Light” from Colin Page, a photographer specialising in local scenery. The committee send everyone warm wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy 2022.

Gardening Club Notes – November 2021 – June Harris

This month’s meeting featured a talk on Fungi and Foraging by Geoff Dann from Hastings.  He is a published author on the subject and until recently taught foraging to small groups.  He brought along a variety of fungi to explain and discuss and later identified other fungi photographed by club members.  Geoff told us his interest in fungi had begun as a youngster, but came to the forefront after many years working in computer software, however redundancy brought about a reassessment of his life goals and, since he was often asked to advise on both fungi and foraging, he decided to make it his new career.  During a most informative and interesting talk, amusingly delivered, we learned much about the conditions for the growth of fungi in general and that some of the longstanding folklore surrounding them is little more than myth!  Fungi growth is habitat dependent and symbiotic with trees.  Two spores have to meet to create a plant and the mushroom itself is known as the fruit.  Species include various groups, russulaceae, funnels, boletes, milkcaps and the first one all foragers should learn, the amanitaceae, since the most poisonous fungi – deathcaps and destroying angels – belong to this group!  One of the amanita family, highly prized in Japan and China, is known to have steroid properties and is now grown commercially, an indication of the versatility of the species.  In contrast, most funnels, however, which includes the chanterelle and most boletes, including the cep or penny bun, are edible.  Geoff had brought along a large mushroom from the bolete family with a very thick stem which, when he cut it open along its length, turned immediately and entertainingly, blue!  Among the pictures of fungi from the club members, all taken locally, there turned out to be both edible and inedible examples, some familiar ones included – shaggy inkcap, parasol and field mushrooms.  One, which grew as a flat outcrop on a tree, even had antiseptic properties and is able to be cut and applied as a wound dressing, a further example of the multiple uses of fungi. The talk concluded with questions from members, one of which related to the causes of fairy rings.  Geoff explained that the ring begins in one spot, but gradually increases as the parent plant exhausts the immediate nutrients and casts out searching for more in order to survive.  He said that he had once taken one and a half minutes to walk round one such enormous example!  Geoff then went on to dispel some myths.  He told us that it is not necessarily safe to assume that a mushroom with evidence of an animal having nibbled it must be edible, since some animals have digestive systems designed to nullify toxicity; the term toadstool does not denote a species and is technically meaningless, in fact many European languages have no such distinction, there is simply one word for all fungi – mushrooms; that it is not necessary to cut mushrooms with a knife when harvesting, to pull them does no harm to the plant; both edible and inedible subspecies can be found on the same tree – in short never assume, knowledge and experience are key!

Our next meeting will be the Members’ Christmas Social on Friday December 3rd at 7.30 in the Main Hall at Pett Village Hall, please note the date change!

Garden Club Notes – October 2021 – June Harris

We were again fortunate to welcome many existing and one new member to this month’s meeting – it’s great to be able to return (almost) to normal, to enjoy an interesting and entertaining talk and to socialise with friends.  Jay Ashworth, the Ornamental Gardens Manager at Ashburnham Place, near Battle, was our speaker and the subject was the changes over time to the gardens, the central focus being the work Lancelot (Capability) Brown undertook for the owners around 250 years ago, in redesigning the gardens and land around the house.  By the time Brown became involved this vast estate of thousands of acres had already been in the Ashburnham family for centuries, having been gifted following the events of 1066.  The family wealth derived in part from the iron and coal industries and successive generations spent lavishly on the latest fashions both within the vast main house and on the gardens and surroundings.  Before Capability Brown’s redesign the gardens followed the then fashionable trend of order and control over nature; straight avenues criss-crossed the woodland; box parterres and formal ornamental planting all demonstrated the skill of the owner and the gardeners in subjugating nature to their will.

During his lifetime Capability Brown (1716-1783) is believed to have worked on around 260 gardens, many of them the vast estates of the landed gentry.  By the time he became involved at Ashburnham in 1767 his style and professionalism was famous throughout the country – if you had wealth to flaunt there was no better way than to have your gardens transformed by him in this latest fashionable style.  Brown’s landscapes turned the ideal of control over nature on its head, working with rather than against nature, whilst being clever in that they are still, nevertheless, controlled and contrived landscapes.  The plans for the work at Ashburnham, detailed on a map an astonishing 6ft x 4ft, survive to this day in the archives of the Ashburnham family and the actual work took about 4 years!

A major part of his new design was the creation almost from scratch of the Broadwater and Front Water lakes, formed from the strips of fields which lay between the gardens in front of the house and the woodland.  A favourite motif of his, based on a loose letter S, was incorporated to allow the lakes to appear to have always been part of the landscape, to meander apparently naturally creating mystery by being seemingly endless – the observer cannot see the end due to the curves.  Brown incorporated complex engineering within the practical aspects of the build to future-proof the lakes against flooding under any circumstances, the system surviving to the present day, testament to his abilities on all fronts.  Brown disliked formal ornamental gardens so these were replaced with a sweep of grass up to the main house.  He resited the drive to its current approach and opened up rides and views around the lakes from the woodland.  He completed his by now famous open parkland design with many carefully sited specimen trees, carefully sited to create areas of interest across the parkland and beside the water and highlighted different areas with small buildings, a temple, a grotto, etc.  His also is the seven acre walled kitchen garden which continues to supply the current estate and the local area with produce.

The Ashburnham estate passed out of the immediate family in the 1950s, on the sudden death of the then owner.  The vast art and furniture collections were auctioned off to pay death duties, much of the land was sold off or retained by the family, with the remainder, including the by now almost tumbledown house passing to a somewhat astonished clergyman, John Bickersteth.  He had long cherished a vague idea of creating a retreat, a place of quiet and contemplation for those in need of a break from difficult times in their lives.  He began to see a possibility for the house and remaining 220 acres of gardens, to realise his idea and from this was created the present Ashburnham Christian Trust, a thriving community and theological college and conference centre.  The gardens today, with Jay at the helm, continue to evolve, to be managed with a light hand and to follow modern ecological and sustainable principles, with nature and its needs at heart.  There are rose gardens, a wisteria walk, a walled ornamental garden with flowering plants, also meadow, naturalistic and prairie planting geared to biodiversity into the future.  Benches have been placed throughout the grounds to allow visitors to rest and contemplate the many vistas and scenery.  The Gardening Club is hoping to visit the gardens next year for a guided tour, but in the meantime the Trust’s cafe, the Orangery, is open all year round to visitors.

Our next meeting will be on Tuesday 9th November when our speaker will be Geoff Dann from Hastings explaining Fungi and Fungi Foraging.

Gardening Club – September 2021 – June Harris

It was with a sense of relief we resumed our autumn schedule in the Catherine Holman Room at Pett Village Hall – eighteen months into the pandemic and mindful of the toll it has taken on us all, it was very positive to be able to return to a form of near normality and welcome our first speaker in such a long time.  Susan Scrivens is a returning speaker, her earlier talk on the discovery of a rare orchid/foxglove in her own garden having thoroughly entertained us, we were delighted to be able to welcome her back to relate her experiences on a very different topic – The Rise and Fall of a Beekeeper.

Sue and her husband John bought a house with a garden that included an orchard, but Sue noticed quite soon that there were no bees.  At a party soon after, having had a glass or two of wine, she apparently told a number of people she wanted to keep bees, but how could she get some?   In the days following the party, several people rang and offered bees or information about them, much to her amazement as she hadn’t realised she’d mentioned it to so many people!  Before very long she was standing on a ladder in full regalia, encouraging a swarm into a cardboard box, then introducing it into a makeshift hive constructed from odd bits left over from someone’s former beekeeping days!  The next day she was very pleased the bees were still there until a beekeeping acquaintance came round and told her she had put the hive together the wrong way and trapped them!  This swarm decamped after two days and the next one she heard of was beside the construction site for the M20 and all the workmen downed tools to watch her capture the bees!  From this unpromising start Sue then took us all along with her through the years following as she gained understanding of the life of a honey bee, grew in experience and confidence in all aspects of beekeeping and won many high-level prizes for her honey along the way.  She began with local contests and progressed to the National Honey Show, coming second! Sadly one day she was stung once too many times and had a bad allergic reaction, so ending her time as a beekeeper, hence the title of the talk.  Sue illustrated her talk with relevant slides and explained in a most informative and engaging way many details of both the bees and honey production, finishing with tips on which types of flowers and plants we can all grow in our gardens to provide the nectar and pollen needed by all bees for their continuing survival.  Sue’s talk was very well received by the large number of members we were delighted to welcome back and we look forward to enjoying the rest of the year’s schedule.

Our next meeting will be at 7.30 p.m. on Tuesday 12th October, in the Catherine Holman Room at Pett Village Hall.  The speaker will be Jay Ashworth with an illustrated talk on the history of Ashburnham Place where she works, with specific reference to the work of Capability Brown.

Gardening Club – August 2021 – June Harris

This month we held our Annual Plant Sale and Summer Social outdoors, blessed for once with lovely weather!  A high proportion of our membership were able to come along, many of whom contributed to a vast selection of plants for everyone to choose from, donating to the club funds for their purchases.  We all then settled down to the serious business of the evening – catching up with one another over drinks and snacks!  The evening was a great success, during which we were also very pleased to welcome some new members.

The social was by way of announcing the resumption of the club’s schedule for 2021 and collecting membership subscriptions for the rest of this year, since we were obviously unable to run the club as normal until recently.  Subscriptions can still be paid at the next meeting, at 7.30 p.m. on Tuesday 14th September, in the Catherine Holman Room at Pett Village Hall.  The speaker will be Sue Scrivens, whom some will remember for her very entertaining talk on a rare orchid foxglove she discovered in her own garden.  This time the talk is entitled “The Rise and Fall of a Beekeeper”, detailing her experiences, so should be entertaining!  Talks for the rest of the year will be on Ashburnham Place and Fungi, with the Christmas Social in December.

We are busy putting together next year’s schedule with a varied programme of Speakers and Visits, from Sussex Trugs to Bateman’s, so if you are wondering whether you would enjoy the Gardening Club, why not come along in September as a visitor for £3, maybe join for the rest of the year, then start again in January?  If you require any further information, please use the contact details in the Parish Magazine.


Gardening Club – July 2021 – June Harris

Our second visit of 2021 was to Borde Hill Garden, just outside Haywards Heath.  The house and garden are privately owned, but affiliated to the RHS, the garden only being open to the public.  The current members of the Clarke family are the fourth generation, the Elizabethan house having been bought in 1893, from which time the gardens, part of 200 acres of parkland, have flourished, been redesigned and extended, to include plants brought to this country by the Great Plant Hunters, 73 Champion trees and many rare shrubs, the entire considered sufficiently important that the gardens are Grade II* listed!

We began our visit with a social get together – about twenty members were there and we  chatted and had a catch-up over a picnic.  It was great to meet again before we all dispersed to find out what the gardens had to offer.  Some of our members are actually regular and very knowledgeable visitors to Borde Hill and headed off to pursue their own agenda.  Many of us were first timers, however, but there are so many different elements to the grounds that a single visit can be only a taster and we focused mainly on the different flower gardens in the vicinity of the house.  The general design divides the space into distinct “rooms”, concentrating specific styles of planting or design themes into manageable spaces.  This being July, the Rose Garden was abundant, the air deliciously scented and, with the sun favouring us at times, very redolent of the English summer!  The Italian Garden, with its formal layout featuring a large rectangular pond, clipped box hedging, urns and statuary, is lovely and very tranquil. The Midsummer Border, a long walk off which some of the other gardens are accessed, was abundant and colourful.  Currently the gardens are also home to many and various statues and sculptures, either standing as statement pieces in open spaces or nestled among the planting and shrubbery, several becoming talking points among us all, with some quite coveted!

Some of the much older parts of the gardens remain, the Old Potting Sheds, for example, and the Victorian greenhouses.  All that remains of the potting sheds are a number of low walls, but they have been incorporated as architectural features, interspersed with judicious planting, into a very pleasing and calm space with a timeless feel.  As we walked from one area to another we found ourselves overlooking the Ouse valley with the amazing railway viaduct – yet another feature of the gardens being the great vistas over the scenic Sussex countryside.  At different times of the year each area of these vast gardens comes into its own, bluebells in the woods in spring, rhododendrons and azaleas in May, with autumn colour bringing the many trees into focus as the winter nears.  Borde Hill is a Garden for All Seasons – well worth repeat visits to fully appreciate all it has to offer.

Our final outdoor meeting of this year, on August 10th, will be our Annual Plant Sale and Social, details of which, once finalised, will be emailed to members.  At this time we will be taking subscriptions for the rest of the year and we look forward to welcoming new members too.

Gardening Club Report – June Harris.                       June 2021

It was an uplifting experience for us all as many members of the gardening club met up again for the first time since March last year, just before the world changed so disastrously.  We were finally able to go ahead with our planned visit, arranged in 2019 for the 2020 schedule, to professional garden designer Kristina Clode’s own garden at Waterworks Cottages in Brede.  Kristina and her family moved into their house about thirteen years ago, but began work in earnest on the garden ten years ago when, with plant machinery on hand for their house extension, they could divert the diggers to the property’s land.  Kristina told us the garden was one steep slope, from the front gate to the back garden boundary, so the first job was to “move the mountain”, levelling and evening up the ground, digging out the pond, zoning and creating different areas and generally turning an unusable plot into the foundations for the artistic and colourful garden it is today.

From the lane, a path leads from the gate through the front garden which comprises a lovely wildflower meadow, full of summer colour.  When successful these can be so enchanting, bucolic and nostalgic, belying the considerable amount of blood, sweat and tears expended to achieve the final aim!  Kristina told us she began with a standard wildflower seed mix for clay soil, to which she has added over the years many more species.  As is often advised, the successful cultivation of yellow rattle is the key to a healthy and varied meadow as Kristina herself discovered.  In the early days it often appeared, disappointingly however, that some plants were missing, but the following year, up they popped!  The pretty purple and lilac orchids we also have here in Pett, were a particular concern as they appeared to have been unsuccessful, but then one year, there they were and they have settled and multiplied since.  Kristina has consulted Fergus from Great Dixter on occasions regarding issues with the meadow, but his response is always reassuring, basically, don’t worry, be patient and they will appear – and they do!  Nowadays this most successful meadow has a long succession of interest from fritillaries in spring to wild carrots in the autumn, with the balance of plants also changing each year as nature dictates.

The garden continues down the side of the house, where there is a small courtyard area with simple wooden bench seating and a fire pit, called by the family, The Fire Circle.  High hornbeam hedging, already there when they moved in, but overgrown and spindly, now tamed and layered, surrounds it and creates a secluded and self-contained social space, handy for the house.  From here the garden then opens out at the back of the house, where a sizeable lawn is surrounded by luxuriant flower and shrub borders, specimen trees, and a separate prolific vegetable garden with two greenhouses containing tender plants.

Kristina had also very kindly arranged for us to visit another, this time naturally wild meadow, back in the village.  The view from this meadow and adjacent house and garden is stunning – literally visible (just) across the Brede valley is Fairlight Church!  To the east a similar view reaches right across, with Icklesham to the right and Rye Bay straight ahead – breathtaking scenery!

Our visit to Brede concluded very sociably as we all adjourned to the Red Lion pub for lunch.  We ate in the pretty garden, enjoying the food, company and summer sunshine – it felt good to be able to socialise (almost) as normal and we were all grateful for the opportunity.  We will be visiting Borde Hill gardens in July – details will be sent out by email to all members in due course, plus, advance notice that in August we will be holding our annual plant sale fundraiser and social in the village, so this is a plea to nurture seedlings and divide perennials to donate!


Gardening Club Report – March 2020 – by June Harris

Our March meeting centred on a most informative talk from our visiting speaker, Dr Sue Turner, on “The Social History of the Potato”, which focused on many aspects of this “humble” vegetable. Its origins go back 8-10,000 years to wild potatoes, many varieties of which were discovered over time by settlers and peoples in Central and South America, principally The Andes, where growing conditions allowed it to exist. The wild potato is bitter and can be poisonous, but since those early days evolution and human intervention have gradually created the much loved vegetable we all now take for granted.

One famous myth Sue dispelled for us is that Sir Walter Raleigh introduced the potato to this country – in fact it was brought over from the Americas around 1570 by the Spanish Conquistadors, along with tomatoes, peppers and chillies, all part of the same botanical family. Its introduction was not universally successful, Spaniards spurning it until t h e g o v e r n m e n t , u s i n g re v e r s e psychology, banned it for the masses, stating it was a luxury item only appropriate for the aristocracy – then everybody wanted it! Similarly, others against its introduction in the 17th century said it caused consumption, scrofula, rickets and leprosy! The opposite is actually true, the potato having a high nutritional value, including vitamin content, which would prevent rickets and promote healthy growth.

Sue explained that the Irish population was generally far healthier than that of other comparable European countries in the early 19th century, but its downfall in the Irish Potato Famine of the mid 1840s came about due to the reliance on a single potato variety, the Lumper, and the flatbed growing method employed universally, which literally laid the crops open to any infection. The potato blight arrived in Belgium on 24th June 1845, in a s i n g l e i n f e c t e d c o n s i g n m e n t originating in Mexico. By October of that year the disease had spread rapidly throughout Europe including Ireland, where the Lumper, being essentially m o n o c u l t u r e , w a s p a r t i c u l a r l y susceptible. Since the Irish people relied almost entirely on the potato as their main food, unlike other countries where a greater variety of vegetables formed the staple diet, the impact was catastrophic, 2 million of the then population of 8 million perishing as a direct consequence. Since those dark days, through c o n t i n u o u s s c i e n t i fi c b r e e d i n g programmes, the potato has evolved to be adaptable to different climactic conditions and more resistant to pests and diseases.

This most versatile vegetable has many forms today – potato flour in South America; a basis for alcoholic drinks such as legal vodka and illegal poteen…; starch in such diverse forms as wallpaper paste and a research product within the pharmaceutical industry. In its best known form, as a much-loved foodstuff, familiar varieties with different properties abound – the Cara, best for baked potatoes – Charlotte, a firm salad potato – the very early, much valued Jersey Royal – actually a company name and not the varietal name, that being International Kidney. Arguably most importantly, however, the potato’s universal popularity is assured and future proofed through potato crisps and McDonald’s fries.

Gardening Club Report – February 2020 – by Sandy Andrews

The garden club held their AGM in February.

Afterwards we were pleased to welcome Edward Barham, owner of Hole Park which the club visited in May 2019, to hear more about both house and garden. Edward’s great grandfather acquired the estate in 1911, during a time when land was difficult to sell and was cheap. The original dwelling, a farmhouse with a gentleman’s residence built on to the front, was replaced by an imposing Edwardian building.

After surviving the trenches himself, but losing his eldest son in the first world war, Edward’s great grandfather retired to his land and, inspired by Gertrude Jekyll’s ideas, created the garden from nothing. During the second world war the house was used as a barracks and afterwards it lay empty and neglected, until Edward’s father made the enlightened decision to redevelop the house along the lines of the original gentleman’s residence, making a much smaller building about a quarter of the size. It is now a private family home.Set in the beautiful Wealden landscape, in over 200 acres of parkland, the garden covers 16 acres. In addition, an ancient semi-natural wood, one that has been managed by humans for centuries for timber and other industries, is a big attraction for visitors due to its springtime quilt of English bluebells. Edward inherited a rather dated garden including a dark avenue of trees which obscured the view of the surrounding parkland. Now, opposite the house, formally clipped evergreens are a reminder of the formal beds that used to be there, and the avenue has been felled, opening up a wide expanse of gentle grassy slopes that lead the eye to the view beyond. This aim of connecting the garden outward, to the wider landscape, where once it looked inward, is a chief feature of its design. There are smaller enclosed gardens within the garden, one of which, once devoted to roses, is now a circular lawn surrounded by generous herbaceous borders. In the wisteria garden a tall agapanthus, Hole Park Blue with, as its name suggests, large, deep blue flowers, takes over from the wisteria late in the season. There is a small, coolly planted sundial garden. Wild orchids flourish in the flower meadows, and elsewhere, azaleas and rhododendrons do well on the acid clay soils of the Weald. Later, Japanese azaleas display their wonderful autumn colour.


As well as opening every day in spring and on limited days in the summer and autumn, special events are hosted. These include the Wealden Time’s’ Summer Fair; Proms concerts, and a Napoleonic re-enactment. Many thanks to Edward Barham for a lively and entertaining talk.


Gardening Club Report – January 2020 – by Sandy Andrews

With rain rattling against the windows and wind roaring around the village hall the garden club met for its first meeting of the new year, when Katherine Lynn asked us to think about ‘who’s been sleeping in my bed.’

Katherine, a retired teacher and enthusiastic amateur gardener, as well as an entertaining and knowledgeable speaker, said Mrs Popple was in hers, amongst others. Carl Linnaeus, an eighteenth century Swedish naturalist, devised the scientific system we use to name plants today. Very simply, he gave plants two names: the genus and the species. The third name, the cultivar, describes the specific characteristics of a plant that has been derived from the native plant. So Mrs Popple turns out to be a Fuchsia magellanica. But why was a fuchsia named for a person? Clarence Elliott, of The Six Hills Nursery in Stevenage, was at a tennis party at his neighbour’s house where a purple and red fuchsia grew around the court. He collected cuttings, cultivated it and gave it his neighbour’s name. Katherine became fascinated by the little stories that often lie behind a cultivar’s name. Gertrude Jekyll, for instance, has many plants named after her, including a rose and a vinca minor. She was a plant collector as well as a nursery woman and garden designer and often worked in collaboration with the architect Edwin Lutyens.

Joseph Banks inherited a large fortune at an early age which enabled him to devote his life to botany and to accompany Cook as chief naturalist on board the Endeavour. He eventually became president of the Royal Society and many plants are named Banks in honour of him, including a yellow rambler Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’. Among too many to recount there is Chinese Wilson who has a Magnolia wilsnonii. Robert Fortune with Rhododendron fortuneii. Edward Bowles with a golden sedge and a viola. Nora Barlow with an aquilegia. Miss Bateman with a clematis. Lionel Fortescue with a mahonia. Joseph Rock with a sorbus, and everyone has heard of George Russell lupins. Ellen Ann Wilmott’s story is worth looking up and too long to tell here but her aptly named silvery grey Eryngium giganticum, Miss Willmott’s ghost, is said to have popped up after she had paid a visit to other people’s gardens.

The Leonard Messel magnolia is named after Colonel Leonard Messel who inherited the Nyman’s estate in Handcross, now owned by the National Trust. He and his wife Maud created the beautiful gardens there. Constance Spry was the first rose to be released by David Austen. Named for an unconventional florist who used hedgerow flowers, decorative kale and leek seed heads in her displays, she arranged the flowers at Westminster Abbey for the coronation of Elizabeth ll. So who is in your beds? Could Lathyrus odoratus Alan Titchmarsh be there this year, or is the hardy geranium Johnson’s blue aleady tucked in? Have a look and discover the stories behind the names.

Next meeting is the AGM at 07.05, when subscriptions will be collected. New members are always welcome. This will be followed by a talk from Edward Barham of Hole Park whose extensive and beautiful gardens we have visited. 


Gardening Club Report – December – by Sandy Andrews

The garden club’s December meeting was the customary festive get-together, with a pub-style quiz on a gardening theme, and much fun was had by all. This rounded off another successful year with talks ranging from the dilemmas faced when reinstating gardens at some of the smaller National Trust properties, to the challenges of gardening by the sea. They included sessions on scent, colour, meadows, wildflowers and on pioneering plant collectors.

Outings were made to Hole Park, Godinton and Penshurst Place. The annual ramble around the village to see members’ gardens is always a favourite event, satisfying our curiosity and finishing with a summer social. The most memorable visit was to Rye Harbour when, in horizontal wind and rain, a surprisingly large group were guided around the ever-changing nature reserve.

Thanks to everyone who has helped us out in any way over the year and to all of you for coming to the meetings.

Best wishes for a merry Christmas and a happy New Year from the committee.

Next Meeting: Tuesday 14 January, Village Hall. ‘Who’s been sleeping in my Bed’, A talk by Katherine Lynn.


Gardening Club Report – November – by June Harris

Our speaker for the November meeting was Steven Moore, owner of Rapkyns Nursery at Broad Oak near Heathfield.  He gave us a little of the history of the nursery to begin with, explaining that from a young child he had been fascinated by plants, had gradually taken over his parents’ garden, had a Saturday job at a nursery while still at school, then trained at Hadlow before taking a job at a Garden Centre.  All the while he looked to the future when he might open his own nursery and grow the plants he loved.  Happily, an uncle who was a farmer gave him a corner of a field and the dream began to become reality at last in 1992.  Since those early days of carrying water to the site in buckets in his car and finally growing the plants he wanted, the nursery has expanded into a very successful business.

Initially rhododendrons and camellias were the mainstay, but shrubs, then perennials were added, all grown from seed or propagated from cuttings – none are imported, which prevents diseases being spread as can happen when infected plants are brought into the country and sold nationwide.  Thus, gardeners can be sure any purchase from Rapkyn’s will not cause problems as they are ensured a healthy plant.

Steven, ably assisted by his wife Morag, had brought many lovely plants with him which provided the mainstay for the talk, each one illustrating the theme of both scent and colour in the garden at any time of year.  Steven’s knowledge of his plants is understandable given he specialises in growing his favourites, however he described the attributes of each of them and answered our questions at the same time in an entertaining and humorous way, which added greatly to our enjoyment of the evening.   We were all delighted to see so many plants in flower given the time of year, others with rich autumn foliage colour, many evergreen, so many also new to us!  The plants were all for sale at very reasonable prices and many of us went home laden!  Yet more work for us in our gardens, to find the right home for our new purchases, but a lasting memento of a most enjoyable evening.

Our next meeting, on Tuesday 10th December, will be the Christmas Party, details of which will be sent out nearer the time. 


Gardening Club Report – October – by Sandy Andrews

From ‘Barnet to Seaford’ was the topic of Geoff Stonebanks’s talk to the Garden Club in October. Geoff lived in London for thirty years, seventeen of them in Barnet, working as a caterer and senior manager for Royal Mail, before retiring to Seaford in 2004. In Barnet he had a delightful courtyard garden of 20ft by 40ft, professionally designed, which he enjoyed maintaining in his leisure time. Much of it was in pots and hanging baskets which he took with him to Seaford. The shock of moving from a small sheltered inner city garden to a sloping site exposed to strong salt-laden winds caused most of them to die in the first year.

Geoff began on the new garden in earnest in 2007, this time designing it and doing the work himself. Digging up lawn, opening vistas, screening, and laying winding paths, he made nine smaller gardens within the overall plot, which measures just 100ft by 40ft, establishing small terraces for tables and chairs and creating the illusion of a much bigger space. He then filled it with exuberant planting and pots full of colour and texture. Decorative dividers, arches and plant supports, as well as his eye-arresting collection of objects, provide additional interest throughout the garden. These are taken up and stored during winter then put out into different positions the following spring. The use of pots means faded plants can be swapped and colour and texture adjusted throughout the season. Plants include a magenta Buddleia ‘Buzz’, a compact form attractive to bees and butterflies; Acanthus mollis, a robust perennial often described as architectural; Lilies, for their diversity and extended season; Phormiums, for their colourful and distinctive sword-like leaves; Cordylines, again for their foliage which looks tropical; Aloe striatula, a hardy, exotic looking plant with tall spikes of yellow flowers; Verbascum olympicum, for its tall candelabra of yellow flowers; a pink Physostegia ‘Bouquet Rose’, for its late-season flowering; Limonium latifolium, which forms low mounds of green leaves with tiny pale- blue flowers; Verbena Polaris, another mound forming plant with pale lilac flowers; Phlomis fruticosa, a small evergreen shrub with yellow hooded flowers; a gunnera in a pot; and a white bottle brush which needs heavy protection during winter. From the shingled beach garden at the front of the house there are views towards the sea.

Geoff first opened to the public in 2009 for Seaford in Bloom, then In 2011 he opened as part of a local group showing for the National Garden Scheme. In 2016 the garden was a finalist in the ‘Small Spaces’ category of the BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine Garden of the Year competition. Since then it has featured in a variety of other magazines including ‘Coast’ and on South East News. He can seat up to forty people on open days, serves them tea and his own home-made cakes on vintage china and raises money for a variety of charities including Macmillan.

Next meeting: Tuesday 12 November when Steven Moore will talk about ‘Colours and Scents for all Seasons’. 7.30 Village Hall.


Gardening Club Report – September – by Sandy Andrews

September saw the return of the Garden Club to the village hall for the autumn/winter season when we welcomed Dr John Feltwell who talked about meadows and wildflowers.

Dr Feltwell is a zoologist and botanist, his speciality being plants and insects. He has written over forty books on conservation, including Meadows, a History and Natural History. There are about two thousand wildflowers; they are fussy about where they put their roots and are are easily lost. In the wild their survival tends to be cyclical. A storm blows down trees and a space is cleared, a glade, where sunlight can penetrate and wildflowers can germinate and grow. Eventually small saplings become tall trees blocking out the sun and the wildflowers die until another storm creates another glade. When we first started deliberately to clear the woodland we created glades. Over time these expanded into meadows and our countryside was once rich with a diversity of wild grasses and flowers. But as more and more land was devoted to intense cultivation so these meadows were lost: 97% since the 1940s. Now they cling on at the edges of crop fields and on steep slopes where machinery cannot reach, and without them the wide variety of wildlife they supported struggles to survive.

Miriam Rothschild was an early champion of wildflower meadows. An eminent zoolologist and naturalist with eight honorary doctorates, she valued natural habitats for their bio-diversity and campaigned for wildflowers to be reintroduced into meadows and gardens. In 1982 she met with Prince Charles, and at Highgrove he subsequently planted ten hectares with seed containing one hundred and twenty different species native to Gloucestershire. Christopher Lloyd, another advocate, extended the wildflower meadows which were first established at Great Dixter by his mother Daisy in 1912. He transformed his father’s putting lawn from a lifeless sward into a habitat that attracted and harboured insects and spiders. In the South East the High Weald in general is a special environment and East Sussex has more ancient woodland than any other county. Marden Meadows in Kent, an SSSI, is a thousand years old and one of the best examples of an unimproved hay meadow. Green-winged orchids appear in May, followed by daises and vetches amongst wild grasses. Orchids grow on the South Downs.

A surprising new habitat, one Dr Feltwell has been instrumental in developing, is found in solar farms where wildflowers flourish underneath the panels. Bio-diverse meadows are essential for spiders, small mammals, birds, butterflies, bees and all manner of other insects, including crickets, now rare here. These in turn are essential for our own survival. The best way to make one is by stripping off the turf and topsoil, and removing weeds before sowing your seed mix in the autumn. The other method involves raking the lawn to reveal patches of soil, then sowing yellow rattle in autumn to reduce the grasses’ vigour and waiting to see what comes up. The best time to mow is in September. The wildflower patch, bank or meadow you grow will be beneficial.

The next meeting is on October 8 at 7.30 pm, when Geoff Stonebanks will talk about the driftwood garden.


Gardening Club Report – August – by Sandy Andrews

August 14 and horizontal rain blown on an unrelenting wind greeted a resolute group of the Garden Club, assembling at Rye Harbour for a guided tour of the nature reserve, making it feel more like autumn than summer. It is some years now since the remaining farmland here was acquired, the top soil scraped back to the shingle underneath and channels dug to allow inundation at high tide. The site is now one of the most important conservation areas in Britain and we are lucky enough to have it on our doorstep. Even the poor weather could not diminish the beauty of the place.

A measure of its importance and success is the new discovery centre being built, with accessibility at the heart of its design. The floor level is at waist height to avoid the floods that occur sometimes at spring tides, when the marsh fills with water and looks like a wide estuary. Inside it will be all on one level with spectacular views across the reserve. Accessibility is important to the way the entire reserve is being developed and walkers cyclists bird watchers and dog owners are all accommodated. There are fenced-off grassland areas outside, in which groups can look for wildlife and sit on log circles for storytelling. Treasure hunts are held on the beach.

Good drainage is necessary to the development of the saltmarsh, and wildlife enjoys the dry periods during ebb tides. Despite having no chicks this year, due to the cold spring and to predation, Avocets have been so successful in previous seasons that they have now outgrown the available habitat and work is underway to increase this. However predation does play an important role in the reserve. Ravens are doing very well and are nesting in Camber Castle, on the cliffs at Fairlight and at Dungeness. There are forty-six pairs of nesting Oyster Catchers. A flock of Knot had just flown in from Greenland to join other birds that use the reserve as a staging post on their way to Africa. Altogether there are one hundred species of birds here and some of them are rare to Sussex.

The upper salt marsh is at the boundary between land which is regularly flooded and land which may flood once in every five years. Here a host of plants grow, some of them rare, including wild parsnip, artemesia and sea wormwood. Marsh samphire grows in the lower marsh which floods at every tide. A new plant, sea lavender ‘Rottingdean’ a native of Sicily, was probably deliberately planted and is now invasive, displacing the rarer sea heath. But it is good for insects! An illustration of the dilemmas facing conservationists. Similarly, invasive species such as bramble and sea buckthorn have to be controlled. Thanks to Barry Yates for his engaging and informative walk.

Afterwards we all went to the New Beach Club for an excellent fish and chip supper.

Next meeting: Tuesday September 10 at the village hall when John Feltwell will talk about meadows and wildflowers.


Gardening Club Report – July – by Sandy Andrews

There are two garden club outings to report this month.

At the end of June we revisited Godinton. Two years ago we toured the beautiful and extensive gardens, but there is a rather fine house attached so this time we opted to see that. Godinton is a handsome brick-built manor, possibly dating back to 1165, a date which appears on a stained glass window. Restoration work was carried out in 1448, and again in 1620-28, when an extension was added to form a symmetrical Dutch facade. The rooms display over 600 years of history and under expert guidance, and because of the lack of roped off areas, you can can get close to the collections of fine porcelain, paintings and furniture. Fortunately there have only been two main owners during its history and both have preserved the heritage, including a stunning Medieval hall, the White Room with a plaster ceiling designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield, and an impressive Jacobean staircase which has heraldic beasts on its newel posts. It is really worth visiting. Afterwards we were free to ramble round the grounds which include a huge walled garden, an elegant Italianate garden, wild areas, topiary, and a grand formal pool and statues. But I’ve described these gardens before.

July’s visit was to Penshurst Place, one of the county’s oldest family-owned estates, dating back to 1341, where we had a gentle tour of this quintessentially English garden. It is divided into avenues, terraces and rooms full of the scent of roses, lavender and honeysuckle. Yew hedges and original mellow walls provide shelter. A white garden, where greenhouses stood and which was once used as a space to dry laundry or where the garden’s rubbish was burnt, is now a contemplative, silvery-grey poetic corner. There is a stage garden with a grass auditorium. Magnolias are grown in a dip because they dislike frost. Berberis, clipped to show its red tips, forms low hedging around formal beds. A long magnificent blue and yellow border is overlooked by Tortoise Terrace, named because tortoise races were held there. In the Heraldic Garden, columns display the colours of the families who are associated with the house. Here, boxedged knots are filled with lavender and sage. A sculpture of The Archer is flanked by a large topiary bear and a porcupine (the family crest). Peonies are displayed in a border 100 metres long. There are pools throughout the garden. The largest and most elegant has a jet of water at its centre. No matter where you stand in the garden there are beautiful vistas of house and garden, and of the surrounding landscape of the High Weald. We also looked inside the house which has numerous impressive rooms and a magnificent great hall. Highly recommended. Our next visit is to Rye Nature Reserve on Wednesday August 14 at 2.00pm. Details to follow.


Gardening Club Report – May – by Sandy Andrews

Two apologies to garden club members this month. The first is for the lack of an article both last month and this. Last month as you may remember,we had to cancel our planned village garden visits due to bad weather. We did get to see them a couple of days later and they showed a glorious amount of colour and interest relatively early in the season. Thanks to everyone who made us welcome. Unfortunately our May visit to Hole Park takes place after the deadline for the Parish News so there will not be a report.

The second apology is for a mix-up with dates. Our visit to Godinton will be on Wednesday 26 June and not Monday 24 as stated in the garden club schedule. Those of you who were on our last trip to the gardens know how beautiful and extensive they are. But there is also a house that is worth seeing, so for this visit we have booked a tour which starts at 1.00pm. After that there will be an opportunity to stroll around the gardens at your leisure. Cream teas are available.

The cost of the house and garden visit is £10 per person. Cream teas are £5.50. If you need a lift please contact a committee member. Meet in the car park at 12.30pm when we will collect the entry fee.


Gardening Club Report – April Meeting – by Sandy Andrews

April can be the cruellest month. The garden club was due to make its annual visit to some of our members gardens, but after a morning and early afternoon of relentless rain we had to call it off. Towards evening the rain stopped and was replaced by a chill wind. Everywhere was dank. Not optimum conditions for viewing gardens. So the visits were reconvened for the following week in the hope of better weather and ten extra minutes of daylight. But this will be too late for the Parish Magazine. We would like to thank everyone who agreed to open their garden and we are are sorry we had to cancel at the last minute.

May’s meeting is a guided tour of Hole Park, Thursday 16th May, starting at 2.00 pm.


Gardening Club Report – March Meeting – by June Harris

This month we welcomed Nick Onslow, an entomologist specialising in dung beetles – as one does – who delivered an entertaining, amusing and most informative talk entitled “The Collectors – Eccentrics and Plain Crazy”.  As a small boy Nick himself collected all sorts of weird and wonderful items, fascinating to a young, enquiring mind, storing his finds, carefully labelled, in his father’s old tobacco tins!  This then led to a continuing adulthood interest in the notable collectors over time.  Using a series of slides he began by introducing us to the origins of collecting in general, explaining who collected, why they did so and how collections continue to inform scientific research.  The first documented collection was that of Ferrante Imperato in Naples in 1599, described at the time as a Cabinet of Curiosities, a massive and eclectic collection of objets d’arts, animals, insects and more, filling a vast “cabinet”, in fact a room, not just a large cupboard!  Collectors had various motives, scientists for study, merchants and dealers for profit, even status seekers, literally showing off their “finds” to raise their social profile.

Over time many museum collections, including those at the Natural History Museum in London, have been donated at random by sailors, hunters, explorers and wealthy “gentlemen travellers”, such as those who took the Grand Tour.   The Museum now has over 80 million items in 5 distinct collections, a small fraction on display, the rest behind the scenes in what are called “working collections”, which researchers private and professional can access to further their knowledge in their chosen field.  Nick explained that the collections of complete specimens, which are preserved whole in spirit, can excite controversy in these times of heightened opposition to animal cruelty.  Without these specimens, however, correct identification cannot be assured, photographs never being sufficiently detailed.  Also, continuing additions to existing collections have relevance for charting the timeline of species, identification of sub species, monitoring of health and changes in distribution, all assisting and informing the continuing management and conservation of species.

Nick then mentioned some of the best-known collectors of the last two centuries, Charles Darwin being probably the best-known name amongst them – his collection of barnacles amongst those housed in the Natural History Museum.  Nick’s focus, however, bearing in mind the talk’s title, was to showcase the lesser known and the more eccentric, for example, although it is often assumed collectors were all wealthy people, Mary Anning from Lyme Regis, now famously part of the Jurassic Coast in Dorset, countered all the conventions of birth, wealth and connections, being of modest origins, her father a shopkeeper.  He, however, had amassed a considerable fossil collection, which she then took over and added to.  It was then bought by an expert, who recognised its scientific value and wanted to enable the collection to be accessed by a wider and more knowledgeable audience.  Through his connections he sold it on for its true value, but gave back the profit to Mary so she would have the monetary benefit.

At the opposite end of the social scale came the Rothschild family, of banking fame.  Several were collectors, including Walter, whose collection of birds’ skins, birds’ eggs, butterflies, beetles, mammals, reptiles and fishes is the largest zoological collection ever amassed by a private individual.  Miriam Rothschild reputedly had no interest whatever in banking, but would occasionally do her duty as she saw it and visit the bank, wearing muddy wellington boots to compliment her flowery dress!  Her true passion was collecting fleas – her studies of which resulted in her being accredited with identifying the mechanism by which fleas jump!   Another eccentric collector, Francis Buckland, who often fed some of his collected animals to his family, gave his children dead crocodiles as hobbyhorses and had two pet monkeys, which were given beer to drink during the week and port on Sundays!  He also once identified the presence of bat urine on a church floor by licking it!

In conclusion Nick alluded to the fact that many of the collectors had great adventures in pursuit of their passion, but were also often led into all sorts of close shaves with natives and wild animals, not to mention disease, such that a number met a grisly end!

Our April meeting will comprise members’ spring gardens and include the plant sale – full details to be advised nearer the date.


Gardening Club Report – February Meeting – by Sandy Andrews

After holding its annual AGM the garden club held its first question and answer session.

James Mears, gardener at Fairlight Hall, was our guest expert. He began by telling us about how they had to move the Fairlight bees to a temporary home. Bees, apparently, if they are close to horses, bananas or things which are blue get stressed. At one stage they were close to all three, hence the move.

Answering a variety of questions he told us:

  • ~  Apple trees should be pruned in December and January during cold weather. Uprightgrowth can be cut right out. They can be hard pruned in alternate years but no more than a third of the tree should be cut off. Breastwood is cut from espaliered trees to keep them close to the support. For stand-alone trees one of the aims is to allow air to circulate in the middle of the tree. Stone fruit trees are pruned before the weather gets too cold. Prune to a bud and sterilise secateurs between trees.
  • ~  Where brambles have taken hold among rose roots it is best to dig out the rose, remove all the bramble roots along with any other weeds and replant the rose. The height of the plant would need to be reduced to help the roots recover.
  • ~  It is best to plant potato tubers as your own seeds are not guaranteed to come true. Obviously tomatoes produce edible fruits on the leafy part of the plant and potatoes develop underground. The small tomato-like growths that appear above ground on potato plants should not be eaten.
  • ~  Clay soil is particularly difficult in times of heat and drought due to it shrinking and setting hard. Irrigation doesn’t help. It is best to improve heavy clay with grit and manure. Plants in pots have to be watered twice a day. Sheltered gardens and raised beds are especially exposed to extra heat and evaporation. Water is essential for mobilising calcium. Water at 10.00 – 11.00 am and use sun warmed water so plant stems don’t split.
  • ~  Blueberries like an acid soil but not clay. Prune them like current bushes, keeping them really bushy.
  • ~  The details of sowing onion and shallot seeds, root vegetables and Brussels sprouts are too detailed and lengthy to be written here. If anyone would like reminding we have notes.
  • ~  Peonies like a light soil so add grit to clay. They are hungry plants so feed with seaweedor fish, blood and bone. Liming an acid soil helps.
  • ~  Moss in lawn should be raked out. It can be used for baskets and cuttings. There may be aan organic treatment that won’t kill worms and I’m looking out for it.
  • ~  When forcing rhubarb put compost, manure or half rotted straw around the crown to create heat before covering it with a pot and putting more on top of that. Only force every threeyears otherwise the plant will be weakened.
  • ~  Supermarket bargains may be best kept in a pot and potted on for a year or two beforebeing planted out.
  • ~  Chilli plants like stress!
  • ~  There seems to be some anecdotal evidence that bare root roses do better than pot grownones.I hope these notes will be useful. Our next meeting is on Tuesday March 12 at 7.30 when our speaker will be Nick Onslow talking about the plant collectors.

Gardening Club Report – January Meeting – by Sandy Andrews

One day last summer Ian and I visited Lamb House in Rye, newly opened to the public after the tenancy had expired.

Walking around the garden it was obvious it was being cared for by fresh hands. Back inside the house we chatted to a room guide who told us the garden was being redeveloped and that the gardener responsible also looked after Smallhythe Place near Tenterden and Stoneacre near Maidstone. We knew, if we could contact the person responsible, that it would make a fascinating talk. And so, on a cold January evening, the garden club turned out to hear Guy Pullen, senior gardener for these three properties in the National Trust’s Sissinghurst portfolio, tell the story.

Anyone who has visited Lamb House will have noticed it has a relatively large garden in a part of the town where buildings are crowded together and gardens tend to be courtyard sized. A mediaeval road runs through the middle of it and there are places where a spade will only go into the earth for about six inches. The Lambs probably demolished property, to provide themselves with a house and garden that reflected their status in the town. A volunteer historian is looking into the garden’s history and this will inform future plans. For the moment good plants have been reclaimed, and overgrown trees and shrubs have been cropped to create viewpoints. In the vegetable garden, surrounding walls and free draining soil make a good growing space. During its redevelopment some plants, including a horseradish, were saved and replanted. The courtyard garden, which had been the private garden of the tenants, is now open as the café garden. Sheltered and sunny it is the perfect place to take coffee and cake in the shade of leafy trees.

The rose garden at Smallhythe Place was there in Ellen Terry’s time. There are pictures of it which are helping in its restoration. Plenty of leaf mould and compost are being used to enrich the tired soil. Here the planting of crab apples also dates back to Ellen Terry’s time. Roses are particularly important in the garden, they run up the walls of the house and some of them are very old. There is an orchard and a nuttery where many grass snakes and small lizards live. There are old lichens and rare apple trees. Swallows nest in the café. The National Trust used to hold a beer festival at Smallhythe Place, early in September. The grounds and the barn theatre made a perfect setting.

Of the three gardens, Stoneacre seems to be the most established with some beautiful planting and is often described as a little gem. There is also a meadow and an orchard. Fergus Garret was one of the gardeners here. The house is currently tenanted but is partially open to visitors along with the garden. I’ve concentrated on the gardens but of course, the houses attached to them have interesting histories, all are worth a visit and all of them have cafés. Enjoy. Next meeting: Tuesday February 12, will be the AGM and subscription renewal, followed by a question and answer session with James, of Fairlight Hall fame, in the chair.


Gardening Club Report – November Meeting – by Sandy Andrews

Everyone at the November meeting will remember Melanie Gibson-Barton’s excellent talk on The Parks and Gardens of Flanders.

Melanie kindly offered to provide her own note. It was a pleasure to listen and to watch the slides without having to scribble my own. This is it:

Melanie presented a wide-ranging talk appealing to garden lovers and walkers – and arm-chair gardeners! Originally commissioned to provide a gardening group with ideas of places to visit in Belgium, Melanie’s talk shows that Belgium is a tiny country of two halves: Wallonia in the South and Flanders in the North. Melanie assured us that, although her talk only highlighted the Parks and Gardens of Flanders, we would see a wide variety of gardening related sights to view in this seemingly tiny area. Indeed, we visited the hidden city gardens, the National Botanical Garden, renowned orchards, the royal greenhouses, a lost medieval village, traces of the first World War and a corner of Japan in Flanders. Melanie explained that the Flemish have a very distinctive style of gardening which derives from their culture and popular exercise initiatives. The colourfully illustrated talk, delivered with enthusiasm, gave plenty ideas for parks and gardens to visit across Flanders including Bruges, Antwerp, Brussels and Limburg.

The Parks and Gardens of Flanders talk fits within a suite of talks by Melanie about the history and culture of Belgium based on Melanie’s personal knowledge of the Belgium built up through splitting her time between living in Kent and living in Bruges, Belgium.

Melanie has been giving talks for several years to history groups, church groups, Women’s Institutes, and retirement social groups such as CSMA and PROBUS and tells us she has the privilege of meeting new audiences to entertain and inform every day. Her current range of talks can be viewed at

Melanie Gibson-Barton BSc (Hons)

A reminder that this year’s Christmas party is on
Tuesday 11 December at 7.30pm in the Catherine Holman room.


Gardening Club Report – October Meeting – by June Harris

Our speaker for the October meeting was Robin Hutt, club member and fellow villager, but also a professional plant photographer and it was in this guise that she presented a beautifully illustrated talk on Photography in the Garden.

The talk was neatly divided into two sections, beginning with advice on how regular and timely photographing of your garden can help in so many ways.  Firstly, a record of your garden throughout the year can assist greatly with future planning and as an aide memoire, helping to highlight when plants are at their best, showcasing those which bloom for a very short time, peonies come to mind as an example, and secondly, identifying areas where work is needed.  To assist in this Robin recommended taking the same scene at different times of the year.  Taking shots viewed from above the garden, from an upstairs window for example, is very useful with general planning since the whole garden is seen at once, helping to identify problem areas or clarify where plants, paths or features might best be sited. Moving on to taking better quality and, therefore, more artistic photos, Robin began by explaining the importance of the quality of light.  Low-level light, early in the morning or at sunset, serves to enhance the scene creating atmosphere and throwing the plants into relief, whereas bright sunlight gives too much contrast and is harsh.

Next, the technical composition of any photo can be achieved by understanding how the eye views or frames a scene, that is, in thirds, roughly two thirds land to one third sky.  In order to create depth and perspective paths and streams will “lead” the eye into the frame creating almost a 3D effect and more of a sense of “being in” the picture.  In addition, a balanced and cohesive photo should include repetition of shapes, colours and forms, for example clumps of the same flowers, trees or features.  A more interesting photo will also include contrasts, loose prairie-style planting with sharp-edged buildings for example, and, if there’s an interesting sky available, use it!

The second part of the talk allowed us all an insight into the techniques Robin employs in her chosen area of expertise, that which many of us have seen in her exhibitions, specific plant photography.  To begin with, again Robin emphasised the rule that the eye views in threes, so a balanced flower photo should include three flowers, verbena bonariensis  is a good one to start with since the stems tend to support three flower clusters.  Next, a low depth of field will throw the chosen plants into relief and fade out the background to become atmosphere, so the plant is centre stage with no competition.  Further, a low light with low exposure really brings out the colour.  In addition, to again create interest in the photo, a variety of techniques can be employed, e.g. photographing the plant from an unexpected angle, the underside if that is interesting, or really close-up which can create an abstract shot.  Even a vase of mixed flowers can also create a very interesting photo, since the composition may be of plants not generally seen together in nature.

This was a most interesting and informative talk, beautifully illustrated with a carefully curated selection of Robin’s photos, many of her own garden and plants, well known to most of us present, as well as other gardens she has visited, most notably that of Piet Oudolf.  This all made for an enjoyable and entertaining evening for a very appreciative audience.

Our guest speaker for the 13 November 2018 meeting in the Village Hall at 19:30 will be Melanie Gibson-Barton with a colourfully illustrated talk entitled “Parks and Gardens of Flanders“.

Gardening Club Report – September Meeting – by Sandy Andrews

September saw the garden club’s return to the village hall for their winter schedule, beginning with members’ evening. This is a chance for individuals to talk, for five or ten minutes, about their pet passions.

Mike Marsh began by showing slides of some of the interesting plants he worked with at Kew. The Princess of Wales conservatory is the newest and largest glass house on site. Victoria cruziana grows in the tropical pools. Its leaves are two metres in diameter and take two days to fully open. The underside of the leaf inspired Paxton’s design for the crystal Palace. Rhizaphora mangle is a mangrove that grows in the coastal regions of the tropics and sub tropics. Ariel roots help to stabilise it in the muddy intertidal zones of its native habitat. Thunbergia mysorensis, another tropical plant, is an evergreen climber that throws out long, trailing stems of buds and beautiful flowers, forming living curtains.

Libby Rothwell talked about the pros and cons of opening your garden. The hard work and doubts about it not being good enough, the fears that someone might fall, the weather related worries, are rewarded by visitors who share your passion and by raising money for a good cause. A show garden must have quality, character and to be able to sustain someone’s interest for half-an- hour. Libby has opened her garden for St. Michael’s Hospice and for the National Garden Scheme. The Hospice spends £13,000 a day on care so is very worth supporting. The NGS is the big league player, assisting a variety of charities and raising up to £3m annually. For example, in our village alone, four gardens opened for two days for the NGS in June, raising a total of £7,090. And there are plans for six village gardens to open in 2019 for St Michael’s hospice.

While on holiday at Lanzarote Bob and June Harris visited the famous cactus garden in the north of the island. Developed under the guidance of César Manrique, a highly influential Island artist, an old quarry was transformed into a sheltered space for plants of all shapes and sizes and from all over the world. Bob shared his photos with us. Not being good at plant nomenclature, he claimed, he invented four nick-names for some of the cacti and invited us to spot them. We had to watch for owl eyes, meerkats, rotten bananas and the slugs. I think we all got the slugs.

David Penfold closed the evening with photos of our summer outings. We visited Pashley Manor for the tulip festival during unseasonably hot weather. Although some of the tulips looked scorched there were plenty of colourful beds to photograph, along with sculptures and the house’s decorative chimney pots. Herstmonceux Castle provides an impressive backdrop to its extensive grounds. An avenue of ancient trees with gnarled roots is very photogenic, along with hosta leaves, lily flowers, the sundials in their dedicated garden, a pretty folly, a moat and a group of intensely red acers. Finally, from Wakehurst, photos of too many beautiful flowers to list, some very fine trees and a tree fern. The notable sculptures here are made from willow, including giant bees on long wands.

Members’ evening seems set to become an annual fixture in our programme.

Next meeting: A talk by Robin Hutt on Photography Art. Village Hall Tuesday 9th October, at 7.30pm

Gardening Club Report – August Meeting – by June Harris

Our last summer visit for this year was to Wakehurst Kew, near Haywards Heath, which has over 500 acres of ornamental gardens, woodlands and a nature reserve and is also home to the Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild seed conservation bank in the world. Wakehurst Place mansion was built in 1590, but the gardens were more fully developed from the beginning of the 20th century when Gerald Loder purchased the estate and began redesigning and planting the gardens using his collection of preserved wild seeds, a tradition which forms the backbone of the Millenium Seed Bank today. Sir Henry Price succeeded Loder and continued to nurture Loder’s plantings until the estate was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1965, with the gardens now being managed by Kew Gardens.

We began our visit with a guided tour of the garden areas closest to the mansion – the “hot” border adjacent to the house with its dramatic dahlias; the walled garden with beautiful borders packed with softly colourful perennial and herbaceous flowering plants; thence to the newly created Winter garden, with emphasis on those plants, including dogwood and Jacquemontii birch, which glow on dull winter days. As we progressed through a series of garden areas, highlighting specific planting from the temperate forests and gardens of the world, our guide John pointed out trees and plants of special interest or rarity, including Emmenopterys Henryii, originating in China and having only flowered twice before, in 1987 and 2010, but which is now flowering magnificently with its large, pendant panicles of fragrant cream coloured flowers. John also explained how drastic for the gardens was the storm of 1987, which decimated whole swathes of planting. New ideas for showcasing international planting resulted as the gardens were restructured following the devastation, including the Southern Hemisphere garden featuring many plants from South Africa and New Zealand and test bed sections including the new Kyrgystan Trial Bed, literally bringing to life the seeds from the Millennium Bank, allowing germination, propagation and preservation going forward of many species, for example the Maidenhair tree, now endangered or extinct in the wild.

Wakehurst is also home to the National collections of birch, skimmia, nothofagus and hypericum, the many examples of which can be viewed as visitors follow the structured walks through the glades and woodlands. The most informative tour having introduced us to a smaller portion of the available areas for exploration, we were then free to wander the many acres at will and investigate more of the vast resources therein for us to enjoy at our leisure. Whilst some went down to the reed beds others walked through the well signposted trails. The seed bank was of particular interest with its well laid out informative exhibits and displays highlighting their work and the reasons behind it. Wakehurst is certainly a multi-dimensional garden offering great interest and variety to the visitor. Notable times to visit include the rhododendrons in late spring, the autumn colours and the Christmas lights, featuring the country’s tallest Christmas tree, planted in 1890.

Our next meeting will be the Members Evening on Tuesday 11 September in the village hall at 19:30. All members are welcome to give an informal talk on their gardening experiences, good and bad, throughout the year/s. Many thanks to those who have already offered 5 min talks, however, the more the merrier!


Gardening Club Report – July Meeting – by June Harris

Our July meeting comprised visits to Members’ Gardens in Pett. This is usually a popular and well-attended event, but this year’s numbers surpassed all previous occasions!

We were grateful for a calm, sunny and warm evening, without the oppressive heat we have endured lately, all the better to enjoy the gardens. We began at Brenda Kirkham’s on Chick Hill, which has a splendid west-facing view towards Fairlight and the sea, perfect on such an evening. Brenda has rescued a badly overgrown garden full of bramble thickets and it is hard to imagine how bad it must have been, viewing as we did the immaculate and colourful borders, lawns and well chosen trees and shrubs. We then progressed to Jane Sweaney and Sara Dunn’s garden, its standard rectangular shape cleverly disguised in an S-shaped design, with meandering lawn, deep colourful borders and attractive sinuous path, all leading the eye down from the house to the distant view towards Rye Bay.

We then went on to Paul and Pauline Stapley’s large, mature and stylish garden, which many of us have marvelled over before and which continues to delight. They have created over the years many routes traversing the garden, all lined with well thought out, colourful and differentiated planting. The many areas include rose walks, a white garden, ponds and water features, a productive garden, a pretty summerhouse and several attractive seating and dining areas, all a tribute to their continuing hard work. The evening concluded at Sandy and Ian Andrews’ garden, with its lovely courtyard, enclosed by a wisteria and rose covered wall, where we all relaxed with drinks and nibbles and discussed the gardens we had all enjoyed so much. It truly was a special evening and we extend our sincere thanks to the gardens’ owners for their hard work and dedication.

Next month’s meeting will be a trip to Wakehurst Kew on Tuesday 14 August 2018. We will meet there at 12:00 and the plan is to start our visit with a tour, more details to follow nearer the date.


Gardening Club Report – June Meeting – by Sandy Andrews

On a chilly overcast June day the garden club gathered outside Herstmonceux Castle, unsure what to expect.

What followed was a delightful afternoon spent rambling around beautiful gardens under the expert guidance of Head Gardener Jackie, assisted by Tom, one of her team. We heard about the fascinating history of the castle, how this impressive, red-brick, mid-fifteenth century family home, the largest private residence in England at the time, was restored from ivy covered ruins first by Colonel Claude Lowther in 1910 and later, in 1933, by Sir Paul Latham. It is surrounded by 600 acres of land. In 1946 it became home to the Royal Greenwich Observatory then in 1993 the castle was purchased by Drs Alfred and Isabel Bader who donated to it to Queen’s University of Canada for use as a centre of international education.

The castle faces south and here two arms of a moat are flooded. The western approach is lined with sweet chestnuts, some of which are three hundred years old, gnarled and twisted survivors of the original chestnut walk. The north facade has a dry moat and faces a huge walled garden which, in Elizabethan times, would have grown vegetables, herbs and contained an orchard. In the early 1900s when the walls were restored, the fashion was for herbaceous planting, hence the giant borders that are still there today, their depth allowing for generous clumps of flowers that give swathes of colour throughout the summer into Autumn. I noted a lovely orange eremurus near some blue delphiniums, a grouping of frothy pinkish tiarella with bronze heuchera, and beds of feathery cosmos.

Croquet was once played on the lawn, most famously by Stephen Hawking, in 1961, when he was a student. At the top, a flight of steps leads to a rose garden where seven sundials are displayed amongst the beds. Other sculptures are placed throughout the gardens. Beyond the wall, in typical Wealden style, is a series of smaller garden rooms divided by hedges. The first is named for Shakespeare and is planted with some of the trees, shrubs and flowers that are found in his work. Sheltered to one side by yew and on another by fragrant elaeagnus, it formerly held a swimming pool but is now used for Classes. The next is dedicated to butterflies, with rectangular beds full of nepeta, lavender, honeysuckle, kniphofia, geranium and perovskia. The central focal point here is a delicate metal arbour, with four surprisingly comfortable tractor seats beneath it. A shadier planting of azaleas and rhododendrons leads to a paved area of sunny raised beds, where clipped buxus and medicinal and culinary herbs are grown. From here a short walk takes you to the magic garden, past a hedgerow over which a couple of acers glow vividly crimson, But once you are inside the grove and their leaves are overhead they become green with only a hint of red and in their shade foxgloves and ferns thrive. Outside the wall, to the north east, a path mown through a wildflower meadow leads to a folly which has a lovely small walled garden and steps up to a deck that overlooks a lake. There are a further 300 acres of dog-friendly walkable woodland.

Next event: Tuesday July 10, Pett Gardening Club’s open gardens. Details to follow.

Gardening Club Report – May Meeting – by Sandy Andrews

On a very warm day at the beginning of May the Pett Garden Club visited the Tulip Festival at Pashley Manor.

We were guided by the Head Gardener, Keith Boylett, who has worked there for 23 years, and who gave us a brief history of the estate before showing us round the tulip displays. The house, on the borders of Kent and East Sussex, dates from 1550 and is a Grade1 listed timber-framed building that was extended in 1720, giving it two handsome facades. It is a private family home. The eleven-acre garden is open to the public. The Festival is held in late April and early May each year. Over 40,000 tulip bulbs are planted and at the end of the festival they are lifted and given away. In typical Wealden style the garden is divided into different rooms and the tulips are displayed, in a variety of colour-themes, throughout them. Old walls, hedges, and espaliered pear trees enclose the spaces, providing warmth and shelter. Keith told us they plant the bulbs four inches deep to make them easier to lift but advised us to plant them six inches deep at home, if we intended to leave them in the ground.

He said the switchback of unseasonably cold and hot days had caused problems in the spring garden. The cold especially, had delayed flowering, resulting in many plants blossoming at the same time rather than in succession, and for a shorter period than usual. The hot spells had not helped as spring flowers in our climate do not cope well with high temperatures. Nevertheless there were tulips to be seen, the deep red groups seeming to survive the difficult weather conditions best. There were cool plantings of cream, yellows and whites, warmer borders of pink and white, and orange and yellows, through to fiery shows of orange, reds and purples. They included double forms and single lily-shaped blooms. Lawns and fields provided a vivid emerald backdrop and the wisteria, on the rear facade of the house by the café terrace, was fully out and fragrant. Sculptures provided additional interest in every part of the garden and on such a warm day, the elegant swimming pool looked inviting.

Next visit: June 12 at 2.00pm, Herstmonceux Castle Gardens. Details to follow.


Gardening Club Report – April Meeting – by Sandy Andrews

In April, The Garden Club’s talk was given by Mary Dawson and Christine Mbaye of the Bohemia Walled Garden Association. This Victorian garden is in the heart of Summerfields Wood, a nature reserve off Bohemia Road, and is the subject of an extensive restoration project run by volunteers. Within the wider woodland there is an ice house and a Roman style bath, both grade 2 listed. I first visited the wood with a writer’s group, shortly after I moved here. We were contributing site-specific poems, which would then be displayed in the relevant part of the wood, for a Coastal Currents event. This first trip was for us to explore the areas we wanted to write about. The walled garden was a new project then. I’m not sure we were even allowed inside. I remember its general state of dilapidation, the heras fencing, and thinking it looked like a project that was doomed to fail. Originally, the garden was part of the estate that belonged to Bohemia House, owned by the Brisco family from 1831 to 1901. Sadly, in 1972, the Borough Council demolished the house and the garden became an overgrown ruin. During the great storm of 1987 part of its wall were smashed by uprooted trees. In 2008, in an attempt to save it, the BHWG was formed and the land leased to them by the council. What they have achieved in that time is little short of a miracle. Tasked with restoring the garden for use by the local community, in 2010 the first vegetables and other plants were put in and by 2011 the garden was unrecognisable with a lawn laid and flower beds established. Now, where impenetrable brambles and saplings grew, along with nettles and ivy, there are colourful borders around the perimeter, an educational area, a shelter, a willow arbour, a tool shed, individual plots of variable size to hire, a lawn and a waterless toilet. They worked hard to obtain the grants that made it all possible, and run events for schools and families as part of their remit. The garden has charitable status and costs about £1500 a year to run. A grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund was awarded in 2016 to provide improved access and signage, and for the clearing and rebuilding of the missing wall. If you would like to pay them a visit the garden is open from 10.00 to 12.00 most Wednesdays and Sundays, from March to November, and there are four fund raising events during that time. The open day, linked with Hastings Chelsea Fringe, is on May 20 from 11.00 to 1.00. The Victorian themed heritage open day, linked to Marianne North, a Victorian biologist and botanical painter from Hastings, is on September 16 from 11.00 to 3.00. The celebration day Heritage Lottery Fund, featuring traditional skills, is on October 21 from 11.00 to 3.00, and pumpkin carving and pumpkin soup day is on October 28 from 11.00 to 1.00.


Gardening Club Report – March Meeting – by June Harris

Our March speaker was Jacqueline Rose, who is a member of the Sussex Botanical Recording Society, whose main activity is the continuous recording of Sussex Flora over the centuries. The society has recently published a book based on these records, entitled ‘The Flora of Sussex”, which Jacqueline’s own recordings have contributed to. She showed us a series of excellent quality slides of Sussex wild plant discoveries, taken mostly by herself during her regular and repeat visits to known haunts over the last year or so. As all gardeners are aware, the conditions required for a plant to thrive are many and varied, from damp and shady to chalk downland, thin poor soil to the roots of trees, each, however, crucial to the establishment of each one, so Jacqueline’s visits encompass these differentiated environments where they exist locally. Some of the slides she showed us revealed the continuing presence of plants of particular interest to us in the Hastings area. One such is the “toothwort”, a parasitic plant, which grows on tree roots and has been recorded in Alexandra Park since the 19th century but is rare throughout Sussex. Near to Pett, on the site of the old Broomgrove Power Station in Ore, the rare lesser centaury has been recorded, along with other more common centauries. The “bird’s nest orchid”, which will be familiar to many locally, is present in Hastings Country Park, along with five other wild orchid species. A ground clearance programme is ongoing on the Firehills, to clear the rampant gorse and restore the lowland heathland to enable flora historically recorded there hopefully to re-establish. Recent visits have revealed signs that the heathland is developing well and showing promise, with heathers, dwarf gorse and common dodder all sighted. Visitors to Fairlight Churchyard in September can enjoy the pretty, scented white flowers of Himalayan Knotweed, which, although not native, has naturalised there, while at Camber Sands, sea holly, hitherto only recorded at the golf course, has now been spotted on the dunes, a new siting in this environment. Recordings of plants over the centuries show many changes in location of some plants, initial appearances of others and, sadly, many losses. An example would be the “goosefoot”, always rare in Sussex, but present in the Seven Sisters area, which is becoming increasingly scarce. Changes over time, including coastal development and changes in farming practice have combined to steadily reduce the overall number of species recorded, another documented ill-effect of human intervention and the industrialisation of the rural and coastal landscape we perhaps do not value enough.


Gardening Club Report – February Meeting – by June Harris

Our speaker this month was Anna Locke, who is a fully qualified permaculture designer and teacher. She runs regular workshops at Rock House, Hastings on various permaculture topics and also offers consultancy visits to individual clients or groups, to advise on how best to design plots using permaculture principles.

In a very informative talk she explained that “permaculture,” a contraction
of permanent agriculture, came about as a reaction against the “industrial”
methods of agriculture of the post war period, with its widespread use of pesticides and conversion to vast prairie-style monoculture. It is a solution based approach that goes beyond the more simplistic concept of the sustainability of agricultural practices, moving instead towards a more holistic and long-term approach towards ecological repair and regeneration using sound ethics and principles, not just in agriculture, but including, for example, solar power and wind farming.

Permaculture is not simply a quick-fix solution to improving one’s soil, but is a framework for a much more wide-ranging change in attitude to all aspects of our daily lives brought about through a re-engagement with nature. In practice it has a low impact on the environment, but helps us get the most out of our resources, the while improving yields through a greater understanding of the dynamics of nature. Anna went on to explain how we might apply the principles to our own gardens through appropriate design and management based on the concept of healthy soil = healthy plants = healthy people, an approach which, in the wider context, enables the regeneration of soil, which provides the groundwork for benefits to land, communities, the economy, and the wider environment.


Gardening Club Report – January Meeting– by Sandy Andrews

James Mellors, whom some of you will remember from our visit to Fairlight Hall, began the garden club’s New Year with a talk about kitchen gardens.

James was not always a gardener. He trained in Scotland and worked at Doddington Hall in Lincolnshire before moving to his present post at Fairlight. Both these places have large kitchen gardens run on organic principles, and offered James the opportunity to pursue one of his main horticultural interests: how to work a productive garden without using chemicals. Doddington has two acres, with glass houses. Left uncultivated after the war, it was redeveloped and reopened in 2007 with the help of a Lottery grant. Fairlight Hall’s entire estate is Soil Association Certified, and the walled kitchen garden is extensive. James talked to us about rotation, companion planting, green manure, sacrificial planting and the no-dig strategy, all of which reduce pollution, benefit the soil and encourage diversity by helping to preserve bees and other insects. These methods are also important for food sovereignty. This, James explained, is different from food security as it is a system that puts people and the environment at its heart, rather than the profits of the agrochemical industry.

Planting different vegetable groups in rotation helps to prevent disease and soil degradation, and is beneficial to soil microorganisms. Both Doddington and Fairlight practice a six year rotation. Planning helps gardeners to get as much out of the ground as possible before the condition of the soil declines. Some plants grow better together and can repel pests, help regulate water and rot, and increase productivity. Chives will get rid of carrot fly, for example. Companion planting is not straightforward. Some plants will have negative effects when placed next to others, but there are plenty of planting charts available online. James recommends the use of green manures. These are fast growing plants sown directly into bare soil. They help to suppress weeds and when turned back in, return nutrients to the soil and improve its structure. Examples are Phacelia, mustard and crimson clover. Some are highly colourful and decorative. Choose the right one for your needs and growing conditions.

The no-dig method is better for your back as well as the soil. Rather than repeatedly digging your plot you mulch! mulch! mulch! The method is based on pre-industrial farming techniques and does not damage worms or insects but protects life in the soil, including mycorrihiza. Weeds are not brought to the surface and the use of thick mulches increases moisture retention in the soil. Finally, sacrificial plants, as their name suggests, are those that are planted to attract pests away from the crops under cultivation. Many thanks to James for an enjoyable, and informative evening.