Heyford Gardening Club – February/March 2021

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In February the Garden Club would normally be looking forward to our forthcoming programme of meetings and events, but this year it isn’t yet clear when we will be able to resume any sort of activity. Our AGM is due to be held on the 8th February but will have to be be a virtual meeting.

The zoom talk given by Philip Aubury in December apparently went well (though for some reason I found myself locked out) and we may have to explore the possibility for further talks in this format.

The late winter is generally not a time for much activity in the garden, as the weather is often too wet or cold for working outside, so it’s a good time to review the previous year and think of lessons for the coming year. Despite (or perhaps because of) the hot dry spells we had last year many vegetables did as well as, and sometimes better than, usual in particular brassicas seemed to be of particularly good quality, and my leeks were unfazed by the drought. Courgettes and squashes love hot weather if they have plenty of water, and so do tomatoes. I noticed some phenomenal crops of sweet corn, though not on my plot. Annual flowers seemed to keep on flowering for much longer than I would have expected. We planted some raspberry plants last spring, but the dry weather was too much for them and despite constant watering they all died. We have now replaced them with plants this autumn which should give them time to produce good roots before the dry weather comes. Will this year be a repeat? This is the challenge that gardeners face; you have to be ready for almost anything in the way of weather each year.

Although the weather is cold and wet at the moment, there are already snowdrops in flower and if there is a mild day the Sarcococca or Christmas box, which is already full of flower, will scent the whole garden with a spicy aroma. In a few weeks time as the weather warms the gardens will be full of flowers again, and hopefully full of bees too.

Things to do in February
1. Prune late flowering clematis down to strong shoots at the base of the plant.
2. Sow broad beans and sweet peas.

Things to do in March
1. plant early potatoes, onion sets and summer bulbs
2. top dress containers and pots with fresh compost

Mark Newstead

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Heyford Gardening Club – December 2020

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I can tentatively announce that we hope to have a talk via Zoom from Philip Aubrey on “Ponds and Water Features” on the 7th December. This is the third attempt at getting a talk from Philip, the previous occasions being sabotaged by travel problems and the first lockdown. We hope that this will be third time lucky! Full details will be announced in due course.

Autumn Pleasures
This autumn so far has been rather soggy but the lack of cold weather has meant that many plants are still performing in November; we have a red dahlia full of flower, our raspberries are producing an occasional handful of fruit and the Eleagnus x ebbingei and the winter flowering viburnums are filling the garden with scent. I sowed some calendula seeds in August with a view to having them flowering in the spring but they grew so well that they began flowering at the end of September and are still in full swing.

Last year our winter jasmine produced no flowers at all despite a healthy amount of growth, and I suspected our horde of sparrows of having eaten the buds. However this year we are getting a show of flower so perhaps they were innocent. On the negative side I am seeing a lot of greenfly about the garden as the weather is mild but there are fewer predators around.

The joys of of being untidy
On my allotment I have a bucket which I use to steep comfrey leaves to make plant feed. When I came to remove the rotted leaves I discovered several maggots with long tails living there. These are “rat tailed maggots”, the larvae of one of the larger species of hoverfly. The “tails” of these grubs act as snorkels as they live in stagnant water where there is no oxygen. As these flies are useful pollinators I replaced the decaying vegetation and will have to wait until spring for my fertiliser. On another occasion I was splitting a log, part of which was decaying only to discover a very large grub in a hole in the wood. This looks to me very much like the larva of the stag beetle, a creature which is becoming rare because so little wood is allowed just to rot away naturally. Hopefully this particular grub will be able to eat its way further into the log which I left for it.

Things to do in December and January
Just take time to think about the past year and its successes and failures and use that to make plans for the coming year.

Don’t forget to take advantage of any good weather to look at the garden and see
how the shoots and buds will be already presaging the coming spring.

Mark Newstead

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Heyford Gardening Club – November 2020

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Please note that Garden Club activities have had to be suspended until further notice.

One of the perils of being a disorganised gardener is the tendency to buy plants on impulse without little or no consideration of what to do with them. The aftermath of a visit to a nursery usually results in wandering round the garden with a plant and trowel in hand wondering where to plant this new acquisition. Having crammed it into a tiny space in the border that is often the last that is seen of the poor thing until the next year when the label is found in among the foliage.

Sometimes though a plant manages to survive this treatment; during the early summer last year some shoots were spotted in the border. Since it looked suspiciously like willow herb it was about to be removed, when something about it stayed my hand. The shoot grew and eventually produced a spire of purple flowers. What we had was a variety of Lythrum (purple loosestrife) and an excellent elegant, long flowering plant it has turned out to be. But where and when did we buy it, and which variety is it?

Sometimes disregarding the normal advice can produce unexpected benefits. We were given some seeds of Morning Glory and Black Eyed Susan long after the conventional time for sowing, but I sowed them anyway, and the result has been a fantastic late show of flower. A lesson for the future perhaps, nothing ventured nothing gained?

Autumn is the time when toadstools and mushrooms sprout in dark corners of the garden. This year a group of small fungi of a striking shade of lilac mauve have popped up under one of our shrubs. Apparently these are an edible variety, but they don’t really look like something one should eat, so I shall leave them to the slugs and snails.

As I write, outside the window there is a plant of white flowered honesty which is still blooming six months after it started in the spring; I have never seen anything like that before. It will be interesting to see when it does eventually stop.

Things to do in November
1. Plant tulip bulbs
2. Put grease bands round fruit trees against winter moth
3. Plant bare root trees shrubs and roses
4. Lift and store dahlia and other tender tuberous perennials.

Mark Newstead

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Heyford Gardening Club – October 2020

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Please note that Garden Club activities have had to be suspended until further notice.

Growing Your Own
Saving seeds from the plants in your garden (or other peoples’ gardens if you have permission) can be a good, and cheap, way to fill the garden with veg and flowers. This year as we couldn’t get to garden centres to buy plants or seeds it became essential to use our own collected seed from last year which included cosmos, morning glories, evening primroses, violas, nicotiana and sweet williams. In the past I have saved seed from a particularly interesting tomato variety that we had from the greengrocer and for several years we had crops of deep purple small tomatoes from these, just keeping a few seeds from the crop each year, until eventually I forgot to do it.

The results can sometimes be surprising though; last year I saved seeds from our squashes, one of which was round and green, the other a red pointed variety. This year not only did I have some of each of those but also one which was grey skinned: where did that come from?

Saving the seed needs careful timing, often once it is ripe it is quickly shed. A good method is to gather the stems with ripening pods and put them in a paper bag and hang the bag up somewhere dry so the seed drops into the bag. Fleshy fruits like tomatoes can have the seed squeezed out, rinsed and dried on some paper towel. Once you have separated the seeds they can be put into carefully labelled paper envelopes and kept somewhere cool and dry until time for sowing.

A couple of notes of caution though; if you save the seed from varieties which are labelled as F1, the resulting plants may not resemble the parent generation, and supermarket produce is often from varieties that may not be ideally suited to outdoor cultivation in Britain (but may still be worth a try as long as you aren’t too optimistic).

Things to do in October
1. Continue planting spring bulbs
2. Divide and replant overgrown hardy perennials
3. Collect fallen leaves to make leaf mould
4. Take hardwood cuttings of shrubs and fruit bushes

Mark Newstead

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Heyford Gardening Club – September 2020

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Please note that Garden Club activities have had to be suspended until further Notice.

The year so far
Every year is different but this year has been more different than most. Following on from the conditions I have mentioned before, at the time of writing we have had a heat wave the like of which has not been seen for decades. The garden has stood up surprisingly well to all this, though I must remember next year not to have so many plants in pots to water.

The strange weather has caused some odd behaviour too, an honesty plant grew to 2m in height and still has flowers in mid August. Wild strawberries which really are a weed in the garden have actually produced a usable crop of fruit this year, which don’t seem to appeal to our resident blackbirds. These strawberries have also turned out to be an answer to a problem we had. We have an area of dry shade under some trees which is planted with bulbs and other spring flowers and looked wonderful until June after which it became bare and unsightly. Now ivy and strawberries have covered the ground and are keeping it looking green.

The roses and clematis have been particularly good this summer, and we have been pleased with some knapweed plants that we introduced that have flowered for weeks on end and attracted a vast number of bees, butterflies and hoverflies. One type of bee we have seen a lot of this year is the leaf cutter. These have a more qualified welcome as they remove neat sections from rose leaves to line their nests, always choosing the most precious varieties. The community orchard looked as if it might produce a small crop this year enough for a tasting at least, but none of the pears set in the end and sadly most of the apples eventually dropped, probably due to the spring drought. The only tree to bear anything at all is our damson, and these look to be ripening very early. However as the trees mature they should become more resilient to the vicissitudes of the climate, we shouldn’t expect too much from them at this early stage.

Things to do in September
1. Start planting spring bulbs
2. Collect seed from annuals and perennials to sow later
3. Sow seed of hardy annuals and hardy veg for early flower and crops next year

Mark Newstead

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Heyford Gardening Club – July & August 2020

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Please note that Garden Club activities have had to be suspended until further notice.

Weather
I may have mentioned the weather in previous articles, but it has been extreme this year. At time of writing after weeks with no rain we have had some heavy downpours, but the soil still looks parched. There is more rain in the forecast, so we hope this may help refresh our gardens as I for one am tired of lugging watering cans around and summer has hardly started.

The dry spring has had its benefits though, I have had very little damage from slugs this year, and might even see flowers on my one delphinium! The floral display seems to have been exceptional too, the spring flowers were excellent and long lasting and the summer flowers look to be as good, roses and clematis and various shrubs being laden with flowers. This might be a result of last years dry summer. If we get a bit of rain now we might even have a good crop of soft fruit.

Fruity Disasters
A number of people have told me that they have had a disappointing crop of strawberries this year which is almost certainly due to the frosts which happened just as the plants were flowering. I managed to cover my small bed with some glass, a bit laborious but we have had some strawberries as a result.

We would have had more had we not decided to reorganise some of the strawberry beds in March. Because of the dry spring those plants have mostly shrivelled up now and will have to be discarded. I also planted some raspberries this spring and they too struggled manfully but have now succumbed to the drought. I shall always plant fruit in the autumn in future.

Orange
Looking round our garden I noticed how many orange flowers we have. There are people who won’t have orange in their gardens. Because it is the complementary of green, the colour of most foliage, orange flowers will always assert themselves, but I couldn’t be without poppies and marigolds in our garden (but I do have reservations about orange roses; they don’t look right to me).

This year has proved challenging in other ways too; it has proved difficult getting supplies as garden centres were closed for a while, and recently many have run out of compost. I had to curtail plans to plant up more pots containers, but in view of the watering burden that may have been a sensible move in the end.

Lilies
I have discovered that lilies are one of the easiest plants to grow in pots; they seem able to put up with all sorts of weather, and if you can avoid the lily beetle, don’t suffer from many other pests or diseases. I have 3 pots of regal lilies in the garden at the present time with nearly one hundred buds between them. All they require is regular watering and a fortnightly splash of seaweed fertiliser.

Things to do in July
1. Clear blanket weed from ponds and top up if necessary
2. Look out for clematis wilt
3. Deadhead bedding plants and perennials to keep the display going

Mark Newstead

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For more information visit the Heyford Gardening Club & Allotments page

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Heyford Gardening Club – June 2020

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Please note that Garden Club activities have had to be suspended until further notice.

Spring (continued)
The weather has gone from unusual to downright weird; April has been the driest for decades, and one week after the hottest April day on record we had sharp frosts killing off all the tender vegetables that unwary gardeners had planted out having been misled by the warm sunshine. Northamptonshire has a particularly difficult climate for gardening, being so far from the sea it heats up and cools down very quickly producing frequent late spring frosts which can be quite severe, even in the beginning of June. I had to cover my strawberries with glass overnight as they were in full flower, but the glass had to be removed promptly the next morning or the bright sunshine would have boiled the plants alive.

Speaking of weather, I have got the impression that in recent years the amount of wind we get has increased considerably. Wind is (or was) something expected in the autumn winter and early spring, but otherwise only during storms. We now seem to have strong winds blowing frequently during warm weather making the soil even drier. It makes sense therefore for gardens to have some sort of windbreak; hedges and shrubs being better than solid fences and walls because they slow the wind down where solid features cause turbulent air in their lee.

Rhubarb
The weather has had a peculiar effect on our rhubarb, normally the easiest of vegetables/fruit to grow. In February and March it was producing the best crop I can remember, but since the cold wind we had in early April the pickings have been meagre to say the least. I have only managed enough for two jars of jam and a few desserts.

Don’t do this at home…
I recently read about the benefits of biochar, which is finely divided charcoal, as a soil conditioner. Apparently this can provide a source of fertility particularly for light soils. Not wanting to pay out large sums of money for the commercial product I decided to make my own from lumpwood barbecue charcoal. This turned out to be a bad idea; charcoal lumps are surprisingly difficult to break down and produce large quantities of fine dust which gets everywhere so a dust mask is essential. After a couple of hours of hard labour I looked like a coal miner after a shift down the pit. After all that I hope that this stuff lives up to its billing!

Runner beans
Whilst preparing an area on the allotment for planting recently I came across a large fleshy root which was producing some healthy green shoots. This wasn’t immediately familiar until I recalled that this was last year’s bean row. Obviously I had left a root in the ground and it had survived the winter. Runner beans are in fact perennial plants and it would be possible to treat them like dahlias and keep the roots over winter to plant out in the spring. But since they are so easy to grow from seed it’s hardly worth the effort.

Things to do in June
1. Prune early flowering shrubs
2. Plant out tender bedding plants and vegetables
3. Stake tall plants against wind.

Mark Newstead

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For more information visit the Heyford Gardening Club & Allotments page

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Heyford Gardening Club – May 2020

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Please note that Garden Club activities have had to be suspended until further notice.

Spring
This has been a strange spring as normally we would be busy going to garden centres and nurseries for plants and materials, and visiting various gardens for ideas or just pleasure, but this year, like everybody else we have been confined to our own patch. Some compensation has been derived from the fact that the display of flowers this spring has been particularly good and with little rough weather it has lasted for weeks. Our garden is also tidier than it has been for many years as we’ve had few other diversions.

Unsprouting broccoli
In the past I sometimes had a broccoli plant that failed to produce sprouts in the spring but went on to grow for a further year before performing as it should. This year however the whole row are looking stubbornly unproductive. I wonder if this is due to the mild winter not giving the clue to start bud formation?

A rose by many other names
After nearly sixty years of gardening I am still amazed at how much I still have to learn. A couple of years ago we visited the Chelsea Physic Garden, and saw a magnificent red flowered rose growing up one of the walls. we took note of the name which was Bengal Crimson. On return home I searched catalogues and reference books but could find no trace of this plant.

Last year during a visit to the nursery at Coton Manor we noticed some plants for sale with the name Bengal Beauty. These had the same large red flowers but the description on the label said it grew to three feet (one metre)whereas the specimen at Chelsea was at least five metres high. Was it the same variety? When we walked a little further we found the same rose growing against a wall where it was considerably taller than me.

Further research has revealed that this rose can be found labelled as Rosa sanguinea, Bengal Rose, and Rosa odorata as well as the names noted above. In each case the description is of a small bush. It is a china rose and these by nature can produce flowers in almost any month, our plant even though small had produced flowers right until November, and then started again in March. The flowers are possibly not to everyone’s taste though, as they are single and rather floppy looking.

The moral of this story is that you can’t always rely on the descriptions of plants in books or catalogues, a lot depends on where and how they are grown.

Honey Fungus
A part of our garden is infested with honey fungus, and from time to time another plant succumbs to the infection. Recently we noticed that a climbing rose has begun to look rather peaky and we are afraid we may lose it. All will not be lost however as this plant is one of those that roots when the tips of the shoots touch the ground and so we have some new plants in parts of the garden unaffected by the fungus. Some plants do seem to be immune to infection, hazels, damsons, holly and an osmanthus shrub all still appear quite healthy as are all the herbaceous plants and bulbs.

The advice for dealing with honey fungus is to remove all plants and soil from the affected area and bring in new topsoil. As this would be impractical we shall have to learn to live with the problem. Obviously it would not be a good area to plant anything expensive or precious.

Lemon verbena
We have a venerable plant of lemon verbena grown in a tub. This as well as looking good supplies us with lemon flavoured leaves for use in drinks and salads etc. These plants are not totally winter hardy but just need shelter from the worst of the weather. It is easy to take cuttings but I discovered that these would be killed by cold in the winter even though the main plant was unaffected. So if you buy a small plant of lemon verbena from a nursery in would be wise to keep it in a frost free place during the first winter.

Things to do in May
1. Divide clumps of spring bulbs
2. Check for bird’s nests before cutting hedges
3. take softwood cuttings of shrubs and herbaceous plants.

Mark Newstead

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For more information visit the Heyford Gardening Club & Allotments page

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Heyford Gardening Club – April 2020

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Our March meeting featured a talk by Andrew and Anita Thorp who have a nursery specialising in snowdrops. They have a thousand varieties of this popular bulb, some varieties of which command eye watering prices! Andrew gave us an explanation of the “chipping” method of propagating snowdrops and narcissi. Anita also showed us some of the plants that flower at the same time as snowdrops and can complement them. We also held our annual daffodil and narcissus show which this year attracted a good display of blossoms.

The large flowered section was won by Pauline Litchfield, Anne Haynes came second and Pauline Guglielmi third.

Chris West won the small flowered section, John Dunkley and Val Jackson tied for joint second place, but there was no award for third place.

The bi colour section was won by Pauline Guglielmi, John Tapsell came second , and Rosemary Dunkley and Chris West tied for third place.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak we are suspending meetings for the time being. Hopefully we shall be able to resume our programme before too long.

At the present moment we have a lovely display of bulbs and other spring flowering plants in flower in pots about the garden. It is often a temptation to try and continue this display through the summer, but the memory of last year when I seemed to spend most mornings heaving watering cans around has put me off. I shall try to stick to the minimum number of potted items this year; some succulent plants that don’t mind drought, a few lilies that I find are amazingly tolerant and don’t do well in the garden due to the lily beetle (growing in pots and repotting each spring gets rid of any over wintering pupae). Pelargoniums are also less demanding of water so I may keep a few of those. Last year I bought a blue convolvulus from Coton Manor which produced a wonderful show without much attention, and that has made it through this last mild winter so I shall keep that going as long as possible. If I can resist temptation, I may save myself a great deal of work this summer, but then I say that every year.

Things to do in April
1. Sow hardy flowers, vegetables and herbs
2. Feed roses and shrubs
3. Keep an eye out for late frosts

Mark Newstead

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For more information visit the Heyford Gardening Club & Allotments page

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Heyford Gardening Club – March 2020

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Our February meeting featured the welcome return of Liz Taylor of the Woodland Trust who explained the different types of natural woodland to be found in Britain and their associated flora. She also demonstrated how to tell apart the two types of oak to be found here (sessile oaks have stalked leaves; pedunculate oaks have stalked acorns).

We also held our annual arts and crafts show, which again highlighted the range of talent amongst our members.

The photograph section was won by Mike Langrish, Tom Dodd came second and Tony Clewett third.

Philip Reeve won the visual art section with an exquisite miniature painting of a heron, Jean Spokes’ cross-stitch took second place and I managed a third place.

The craft section was won by Mary Newstead with an embroidered bag, Chris West got second with a quilted wreath, and Lynn Ashbee took third with her cupcake quilt.

Our next meeting will be on the 9th March when we will have a talk on snowdrops from Anita Thorp. The evening will also feature the annual daffodil and narcissus show (assuming that there are still daffodils in our gardens by then!).

I am writing this article whilst the second storm in two weeks is lashing the trees. We have already had a very wet winter although there has been little frost so far. Snowdrops are already over and daffodils are fully out and I notice buds nearly bursting on our lilac. This leaves a dilemma, if the season is so advanced, should I get on sowing seeds now to get an early start, or are we likely to get cold weather in the weeks to come? The soil is so wet now that, even without further rain, it will take a while to dry out so perhaps it would be wise to wait a while.

Speaking of plants in pots, I planted some anemone corms in pans in the greenhouse in the autumn, but some creature has been digging in the pans and nipping the developing buds off, I’m not sure whether this is due to mice or renegade sparrows, but it’s all very frustrating.

Things to do in March
1. Top dress container grown plants with fresh compost
2. Prune roses
3. Lift and divide crowded perennials.

Mark Newstead

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For more information visit the Heyford Gardening Club & Allotments page

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