• Gardening in dry conditions

    Wednesday, July 25, 2018 - 09:42

    By Victoria Plum

    I’m thinking about dry conditions. You probably are, too.

    When I lived on a Greek island I planted orange and olive trees where the soil was very poor and conditions generally very dry. Once established these trees would thrive – but getting them established was difficult.

    So I planted the trees as deep as possible with as much water as possible, filled the hole with soil, about three quarters full, and then laid a square of plastic sheeting horizontally, about 18 inches square, with some holes in it around the tree and then filled the hole with the remaining soil. I left the soil a little lower around the tree with a small soil barrier to secure water where I wanted it.

    The holes in the plastic allow water through to the roots below, but the sheet stops excess water loss. The heat of the sun causes condensation on the underside of the plastic layer, so moisture then drops back down to the roots rather than evaporate into the air above.

    The wild mountain garrigue there, of thyme, sage and the wire-netting bush, grows from only a few inches high to perhaps two feet, so you might think these plants are young.

    However, when dynamite blasting of the rock has been done (to create flat areas for building) you can see the exposed roots of such small plants actually go down through fissures in the rock perhaps 20 feet in search of water and sustenance.

    So they are old, perhaps hundreds of years, and will cope with any drought. Perennial plants usually cope with drought better than annuals, and research is being done on the viability of perennial corn crops. What a shock to an English farmer’s system that would be!

    In my garden here I only water plants newly established this season and when the butts are empty I use a hose, but only trickling very slowly at ground level to soak the ground because I don’t want to compact the soil by pounding water onto it.

    A traditional gardeners saying is “a hoeing is as good as a watering”, which just emphasises that air is as important to plants as water.

    And soil quality is crucial. I was at the Eves Hill community market garden (pictured) for two days (mid-July) and there, on soil essentially pitifully poor and impacted, the constant and liberal application of green waste, courtesy of Broadland District Council and keen volunteers, opens the soil for root growth and helps to hold water where the plants need it, so that in this difficult season growth and plant health is surprisingly good.

  • Dearth of morning insect life on gardening club outing

    Wednesday, June 27, 2018 - 17:16

    By Victoria Plum

    A full house of Reepham & District Gardening Club members enjoyed a “performance” by Bryan Thurlow, acting out the life of “The Perennial Mr Potter”, at the June meeting.

    This is the fictional story of a Suffolk lad, born in 1900, who starts life as an ordinary village boy in search of work and who ends up looking after a garden for appreciative employers. The tale was amusing, informative and evocative of a rosy and bucolic idyll.

    Plants were for sale and we tea-ladies found ourselves in the Market Place afterwards (after doing the washing up with a little help from our friends), clasping Salvia turkestanica, a gorgeous, really red geranium and an Abutilon, to plug any gaps in our already overfull gardens.

    The big gardening club trip on 21 June, organised by Celia Else, was to The Place for Plants garden and arboretum in East Bergholt, Suffolk.

    This featured impressive plants for sale, lovely peaceful walks through the well- managed, and well-labelled (we gardeners do like labels), arboretum. (The Victoria sponge was nice and moist.)

    We then went on to Green Island Gardens in Ardleigh, Essex (pictured), where we again strolled through lovely woodland and viewed yet more plants for sale (and yes, we just happened to test the Victoria sponge, which was just as good as the first venue).

    The water gardens here were seething with iridescent and dazzling damselflies, and dragonflies; we even saw a grass snake in the water.

    The current dearth of insect life everywhere is something that constantly grieves and concerns me, so I was interested that I only saw two insects – a shield bug and a hoverfly – plus three butterflies at the East Bergholt arboretum, but many bumblebees, honey bees and a wide variety of insects at Green Island.

    Perhaps it was due to timing as our first visit was between 11 am 1 pm, and our second between 2 and 4 pm. Are insects late risers?

    • Next month we learn about dry gardens on Tuesday 17 July at 7.45 pm in Reepham Town Hall, Church Street, Reepham.


  • Living with Lily (beetles)

    Thursday, May 24, 2018 - 21:41

    By Victoria Plum

    My orange Fritillaria imperialis always seems to be hard struck by lily beetle, though I suspect some leaf damage is slug or snail-related.

    Despite foliage damage the flowers were superb. The distinctive smell seems to attract a variety of insects (flies in particular) to the entire plant, not just to the flowers. My yellow one had no flowers this year: I suspect LB damage under or at ground level.

    My Lilium pyrenaicum (pictured) usually suffers from LB, but being a “good doer” seems to struggle through and flower just the same. This year there is no sign of damage, despite being only a few feet from the Fritillaria.

    I wonder now whether it is the weather that makes the difference. While the pupating LB stage likes to be moist, under ground level the adult beetle (a native of warmer climes, not Britain, so is an “incomer” as we call those “from away” round here; in Cornwall they call them “blow-ins”, a useful term for invasive insects) seems to like warmth and sun.

    So if the weather is hot and still, as it was when the Fritillaria flowered, this encourages the beetle activity, but the cooler weather (as we had in early May) seems to inhibit the hatch, so none to be seen on the L. pyrenaicum yet.

    I was so impressed by a friend’s lovely pots of lilies that I allowed myself to be seduced by the catalogue pictures and now have pots of various lilies in front and back gardens.

    Will they survive the onslaught of LB when it comes, as come it will? My only remedy is to frequently check the plants (crushing beetles between fingernails) and it is this constant vigilance that has led me to my observations regarding weather conditions.

    I have placed the new lilies by doors and paths in frequent use and so, as an optimistic gardener, I hope to beat the beetle damage by strategy, though of course I know I can never eradicate them.

    P.S. Has anyone actually seen any bats use the new “bat corridor” bridges over the new NDR or even over the old ones on the A11 at Elveden?

  • Secrets of orchids unveiled

    Thursday, April 19, 2018 - 16:58

    By Victoria Plum

    A well-attended annual general meeting at the Reepham & District Gardening Club this week included a diverting and hugely informative talk on wild orchids, (53 in this country) by Simon Harrop, who with his wife Anne runs Natural Surroundings at Bayfield near Holt.

    This nature reserve, plant purveyor and good café can supply you with the unusual shrub, alder buckthorn, which we learned at last month’s talk on butterflies will attract the pretty brimstones, which are about just now.

    The complex life of orchids was first investigated by Charles Darwin and, although much research has followed, there are still some mysteries to be unfolded.

    Locally, you might see the greater butterfly-orchid at Foxley Wood, the rare fen orchid on the Broads, the early marsh orchid at Holme, creeping lady’s tresses at Holkham and Wells-next-the-Sea amongst the pines, the marsh helleborine at Beeston Common and the rare (only two or three sites in this country) military orchid at Barton Mills (the Rex Graham Reserve, usually open in late May).

    Looking through my old notes I was reminded of a tip from another speaker, some years ago, to dissolve three grains of potassium permanganate in the watering can with which you water your newly sown seedlings as this will prevent mildew and moulds forming. (It will not prevent weeds though!)

    Saturday 12 May sees the annual gardening club plant sale in Reepham Market Place and the next meeting on 15 May will feature a talk on “History Beneath your Feet”: items of archaeological interest you might find in your garden. A fascinating talk I have much enjoyed in the past.

    Off I go now on my lily beetle patrol. Something is making mincemeat of my Fritillaria. Is it just the lily beetle or is something else attracted by these luscious leaves? Any observations? Please let me know.

  • Admirable ways to help to preserve butterflies

    Friday, March 23, 2018 - 20:44

    By Victoria Plum

    The county recorder for butterflies, Andy Brazil, gave the talk at the Reepham & District Gardening Club meeting this month.

    Butterfly Conservation has now been going for 50 years; you can join and give real help to preserve butterflies.

    Research is done, of course, but interestingly quite low-tech “citizen surveys” by members provide valuable ongoing information, and have done so for a number of years.

    We know that butterfly numbers have dropped by 52% since 1975, and that habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, pesticides, land management changes and climate change are to blame.

    As gardeners we can seek to provide sheltered, and not too tidy, insect-friendly gardens and the “simple” flowers that provide nectar for them.

    To tidy or not, and how much to do, is my yearly dilemma. I am not a tidy gardener instinctively, but I have learned that the environment I want to create needs a bit of judicial organisation – otherwise the wrong things swamp the right things. So I try to use a guiding hand to govern my garden rather than an iron fist.

    The fashion for leaving seed -heads and tall stems for winter interest, rather than having a huge tidy up in the autumn to “put the garden to bed” for the winter is advantageous, of course, as those stalks and seed-heads provide shelter for overwintering caterpillars and insects.

    If you use the old stalks to bundle up and position at different heights about the garden you don’t need to provide expensive fabricated posh “insect hotels” (imported from China with attendant environmental damage owing to unthinking manufacture and sea pollution, not that I am on my hobby-horse here).

    Pollution from vehicles has the knock-on effect of producing nitrates that over-fertilise grass swards, pushing out wildflowers, which are crucial to many butterflies.

    So please stop using your car (but actually I really need mine so I will continue driving).

    Meanwhile, I have signed the 38 Degrees Save the Bees online petition, which has succeeded in banning neonicotinoids for use in agriculture.

    But I have some pesticides in the shed from my local outdoor superstore containing all those “banned-for-agriculture” chemicals, so I will continue to use them to improve my plants and lawn.

    And did you know that the Red Admiral butterfly used to be known as the Red Admirable, and it was only during Nelson’s fame that over a period of 10 years the name gradually morphed to what we now know?

  • Sensible and common sense advice on pruning

    Wednesday, February 21, 2018 - 20:39

    By Victoria Plum

    Reepham & District Gardening Club’s meeting last night was packed: more chairs and then more chairs had to be set out as about 50 keen members and visitors poured through the Reepham Town Hall doors for the February meeting and talk by Bob Coutts on pruning. We almost ran out of homemade cake!

    Such sensible and common sense advice, gleaned from many years as a head gardener, was absorbed by all.

    For instance, always use secateurs or a knife big enough for the task. Perhaps you, like me, are too lazy to go to the shed for the loppers and struggle with everyday secateurs on something that is too big.

    This will do your tools no good, but more importantly if you make a ragged, tatty cut you could allow disease to take hold and hamper hasty healing. Keep your secateurs sharp, use a fine file or stone – and use it frequently.

    Invest in long-reach pruners or loppers because those of a “certain age” are safer on ground level with a pole than risking toppling off a ladder or teetering on steps.

    Keep the label on your clematis as the different varieties require different pruning to ensure best flowering (who can remember what they planted last year, let alone the year before?). What gardener can disagree with any of this advice?

    There was even a queue to help with the washing up (well almost); many thanks to those who braved the kitchen.

    The next meeting on 20 March is Andy Brazil on butterflies; check the website for further information.

    Two Gardening Club trips are planned. One to the local and wonderful East Ruston Old Vicarage gardens on 19 April, and the main trip to Green Island Gardens in Ardleigh, Essex, on 21 June. Look out for details and contact Celia Else (01603 308101) to enquire or book. All welcome.

    If it ever stops raining and you can get out in your garden, please remember to pot up any “extras” so they are growing happily for the club’s plant sale on Saturday 12 May.

  • Force of nature creates a community market garden

    Wednesday, February 7, 2018 - 17:14

    By Victoria Plum

    At the end of January I attended an open day at Eves Hill Veg Co, the not-for-profit community market garden just outside Reepham on the Norwich Road in Booton.

    I found several hardy souls amidst the rain and wind and polytunnels in a very exposed position.

    (I used to ride on the high tracks round here and well remember thinking to myself on a wild and windy day that if I needed emergency dental treatment now would be a good time because one side of my face was completely numbed by the wind and weather.)

    Here I met that force of nature, Hannah Claxton, who started this exciting enterprise in April 2016 on a piece of stubble ground, creating a market garden out of nothing.

    This project is for people and the community, and relies on people from the community to supply labour and support. What volunteers gain is expertise and fulfilment, support and comradeship in exchange for their efforts.

    Money raised from the sale of veg boxes, and salads to restaurants, goes into the project, and although keenness and hard work can achieve miracles, sometimes only money will do.

    For example, the first polytunnel, which was principally made using reclaimed materials, proved not man enough to withstand this winter’s wind, so money is needed for a stronger version.

    Some machinery is needed to make the best use of the man-hours available – and money is needed for this.

    Lest you think this project is woolly and airy-fairy, please think again. Innovative, radical and well-thought-out methods are employed.

    For instance, produce is assessed by the square metre and weighed to monitor productivity and profitability.

    Although this is farming on a small scale, large-scale farmers could learn lots from the modern and clear-thinking approaches employed here.

    Another important task for Eves Hill Veg Co is to facilitate entry to farming for young people. To this end a “100 Club” has been started to raise money for an apprenticeship scheme.

    And from June you can order your own veg box to bring locally grown, fresh veg to your kitchen. Look out for the open days and check out the new website.

  • Some lateral thinking required to create a Norfolk garden

    Saturday, December 9, 2017 - 16:41

    By Victoria Plum

    The Reepham & District Gardening Club recently enjoyed a fascinating talk from Barbara Somerville about her dream of creating a garden completely from scratch.

    This was an interesting challenge and something we gardeners dream of but rarely are able to do.

    While her working life (as an academic in biology) was at Cambridge, Barbara found her required plot at Oxburgh, Norfolk.

    Only when she delved deep did she discover the plot was an old sandpit and the sand was windblown and would not hold water or nutrients.

    Her remedy was to buy in tons of washed-off soil waste from a sugar beet factory – varied, and valued, because it came from many farms benefitting from a variety of soil types.

    She had to build artificial enclosures or pits to fill with useful soil just to make anything grow.

    Marauding cattle, oblivious to hedges, did not help her plans, and the rabbits were unwitting design consultants because their presence demanded specific strategies to exclude them.

    So rabbit fencing was incorporated and buried horizontally just below the turf and only a few inches deep, and out about six inches from the fence.

    This is apparently is enough to deter them because when they feel the wire with their noses they are easily deterred. (I always thought rabbit fencing had to be about two feet deep.)

    Meanwhile,  the presence of hungry voles demanded yet smaller gauge wire netting to safeguard bulbs, so attractive and clever fencing had to be installed because who wants to enjoy a garden full of wire netting or one that looks like a prison compound?

    Twenty years on and the garden looks beautiful, and it is only when you are told that you understand the colossal amount of sweat and effort, and more to the point, lateral thinking, that has been behind it.

    The creation of this garden was certainly nothing like the easy and whimsical notion of a return from the garden centre with the car full and digging a few holes in perfect weed-free and fertile soil to achieve instant effect.

    A book, Against All Odds: The Story of a Norfolk Garden, by Barbara Sommerville is a quietly witty and charming account of the trials and tribulations of radical garden creation. The gardening club has a copy you can borrow.

    • Don’t forget the Reepham & District Gardening Club Christmas party at 7 pm on Tuesday 12 December in Reepham Town Hall, Church Street, Reepham. This will include a light-hearted talk on the history of Christmas by Simon Partridge of the How Hill Trust. Visitors and new members welcome. For further information, contact: Jeff Johnson 01362 680066 or jeffandcaroljohnson@yahoo.co.uk


  • Pitfalls of nature

    Friday, October 20, 2017 - 16:45

    I recently enjoyed a (free) talk on “Life in the undergrowth, a safari through a typical Norfolk garden” at Bawdeswell Village Hall given by Mark Webster of The Conservation Volunteers, sponsored by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

    He was raising awareness of the less obvious, diminutive dwellers just outside our back door: butterflies, bees, moths, ladybirds, hoverflies, beetles, woodlice, worms, centipedes, millipedes, bats, newts, frogs, reptiles and more.

    What a valuable resource our domestic gardens are, principally because our desire for variety and pretty flowers for an extended period for our own enjoyment also provides a useful, indeed vital, habitat for a wide variety of wildlife.

    It is interesting to set up a pitfall trap: just a small container with smooth sides set in the soil at ground level, which will catch night-time wanderers you wouldn’t see unless you had plenty of time to sit, do nothing and just watch.

    Let them go, of course, when you have identified them, and if you need help with identification then google “iSpot”.

    Also try “Wild About Gardens”, which is an online resource organised by the Royal Horticultural Society and the Wildlife Trusts, and has lots of practical, tried and tested information to help you make wild visitors to your garden comfortable and more likely to linger.

    Yet more information can be found on the Buglife website.

    Here are two, easy, practical ways in which you can help these tiny creatures survive and even thrive now: avoid chemicals and provide a watery place in your garden, however small.

    Even a tiny pond made using an old tyre as a base, and PVC or butyl will be quickly inhabited.

    I am frequently shocked by the senseless and unthinking way seemingly intelligent people consider it fair, right and normal to kill any insect impinging on their life.

    This needs to change. We must rethink our attitudes and learn to be amiable and supportive of all the tiny lifeforms, not just the attractive and colourful butterflies and bees, but the inconvenient caterpillars and ugly beetles, slugs and earwigs.

    • At 11.15 am on Friday 10 November at Foxley Wood, Norfolk’s largest ancient woodland, there is a free talk about mosses with Robin Stevenson.

    Victoria Plum

  • Summer show full of capabilities

    Thursday, August 17, 2017 - 19:20

    Reepham and District Gardening Club held its regular Summer Show on Tuesday 15 August. It was well attended as ever and many gardeners were keen to show off their fruit, flowers and vegetables.

    It’s been another unusual year, weather wise, but there was plenty of stiff competition, particularly amongst the tomatoes, beans and soft fruit.

    This year the cup for the Gardening Club plant (a geranium) was awarded to programme organiser Jeff Johnson, who also won the overall cup for winning the most classes.

    This very democratic club has a self-judging policy: members judge each exhibit and then the committee add up the points gained.

    One of the advantages of this system is that each member really needs to look at each exhibit in order to allocate their points, whereas if a formal judge does the work, one only tends to look at the winning item.

    While the committee were sorting out the winners, the members took part in a very testing quiz, which necessitated a tie-breaker question to which luckily our team knew the answer. This was “because he used to talk about the ‘capabilities’ of a landscape”, so perhaps you can guess the question.

    Don’t miss next month’s meeting on 19 September, which looks as if it has a very interesting subject, and also think about which perennial plants you might be dividing up when you tidy your garden, so that you can bring the surplus to sell at the bag sale on 17 October.

    Victoria Plum