• A hot visit to Burghley House

    Saturday, June 18, 2022 - 13:29

    By Victoria Plum

    A coach full of keen Reepham & District Gardening Club members enjoyed a terrific, though very hot, day at Burghley House.

    The special feature was a guided tour from Joe Whitehead, head gardener there for just over four years.

    He explained the Capability Brown landscape, recent changes and plans for the future, and how the expansion of outdoor attractions have become an important economic necessity for “Treasure Houses”. (Burghley House is part of the independent Treasure Houses heritage consortium, of which Holkham Hall is also a member.)

    Above: Joe Whitehead describing the red, white and blue planting for the Platinum Jubilee weekend at Burghley House. Below: One of the features in the Garden of Surprises at Burghley House. Photos: Tina Sutton

    Food and clothing are all labelled with their country of origin. Even growing plants now have “passports”. However, not so our supermarket flowers or those on the garage forecourt.

    Did you know that many of these are grown in Africa, using scarce water supplies, sprayed with gases to prolong shelf life, flown to the Netherlands and then driven here?

    Obviously, they cannot be as fresh as locally grown flowers; think about the resources wasted.

    At last month’s meeting of the Reepham gardening club, Gabi Read of Gabriel’s Garden at Gissing gave us a dynamic view into her world of growing cut flowers for her floristry business.

    She has developed labour-saving techniques to help her make the most of the specially chosen seeds she grows and propagates, and her acre seems to be a hub where a wealth of flowers and foliage are grown to provide material throughout the year.

    She runs courses and holds open garden days; volunteers are welcome, as are foreign students who come to exchange their labour in return for practical growing knowledge.

    Organic methods and no-chemical growing are important to her, and she has learnt to “sit tight” when an aphid invasion happens, because she has the experience to know that predators will soon come in to feast on the nuisance creatures. The flowers certainly looked lovely.

    Gabi belongs to a membership association called Flowers from the Farm, which champions British seasonal cut flowers, where you can find local growers/florists who are also passionate about what they do and sell wonderful fresh, local flowers.

    Nearby, at Edgefield, Ellie Frost of Norfolk Flower Farm has just started a new venture to supply locally grown fresh flowers.

    Meanwhile, Eves Hill Veg Co also has freshly picked flowers for sale. This community market garden has just moved to Aylsham and if you’d like an extra dose of sunshine have a look at the website. (You can still order super fresh veg for delivery close to your home).

    British Flowers Rock! was started by the delightful Ben Cross of Crosslands Flower Nursery in Sussex.

    He works from the family farm, which has been run for four generations, and started when his great-grandfather was given settlement land in the 1930s by the government.

    He grows only alstroemeria in huge greenhouses and sells by post. These flowers are a low-impact crop, do not need heat, use little water and last well as a cut flower with many colours available. They are some of my favourites.

    I’m looking forward to the Reepham & District Gardening Club talk on Tuesday 21 June at 7.45 pm in Reepham Town Hall by Rosemary Ward on “A Year in the Market Garden”.

  • Garden chemicals are poisoning our planet

    Monday, May 16, 2022 - 20:09

    By Victoria Plum

    The sun shone on the Reepham & District Gardening Club committee as they staunchly set out the stall selling a gorgeous and interesting range of plants for sale in Reepham Market Place.

    This annual event is always well patronised. I came home with well-grown cosmos daisies, a Venus flytrap, an unusual white scented hosta and some other bits and pieces. What a variety for a plantaholic!


    Reepham & District Gardening Club annual plant sale, May 2022. Photos: Tina Sutton


    Our next meeting features Gabriel Read telling us about “A Year in the Cut Flower Garden” on Tuesday 17 May at 7.45 pm in Reepham Town Hall as usual, when membership cards will be available with all the coming year’s meetings with speakers listed.

    I dined with friends recently who are intelligent, politically aware – friends who are not eco-warriors but try to be eco-friendly and do the right green stuff, try not to buy plastic, they shop locally, enjoy grass-fed meat (not too much though), drive an eco-car and so on.

    Over the evening we set the world to rights, sorted out Ukraine, Mr Putin, Mr Johnson, local bus routes, farmers, education and immigration, and then our host said, “Tomorrow I’m going to spray off my daughter’s garden.” “Don’t do it,” I said. “I have to,” he said, “it’s got too bad.”

    I was shocked that intelligent, aware people, with children and grandchildren waiting to inherit the Earth, still think it’s ok to add yet more poisons to our planet.

    Rachel Carson wrote the seminal warning book Silent Spring in 1962. Have we learnt so little in 60 years?

    And I also noted while shopping at Woodgate Nursery in Aylsham (where BTW if you are a Reepham Gardening Club member you can claim 10% discount) there were plenty of large containers of Roundup for sale.

    It will only be government action that can save us from ourselves and our casual habits.

    Brown fields and brown verges are evidence I have seen today of the profligate use of herbicides.

    Mark Cocker in Crow Country mentions the “chemical-drenched monocultures” of the agricultural clay lands from Norwich down to Suffolk.

    To combat this on our very small garden scale we are all engaging with “No Mow May”, leaving our lawns uncut to encourage the invertebrates upon which many animal lives depend.

    But what is the point if the “go to” remedy for any ill is the easy way, just take the cap off a bottle?

  • Gardening club returns to 'PC world'

    Wednesday, April 20, 2022 - 18:06

    By Victoria Plum

    A dynamic AGM for the Reepham & District Gardening Club marked a real sense of return to the world we knew PC (pre-Covid).

    The popular annual plant sale is planned for 14 May, a Saturday as always, but if you have plants for sale (I have some, just extra bits of plants that I don’t have room for or have too many of) please take them to the Bircham Centre, suitably labelled for sale, on the evening of Friday 13 May from 6–7 pm.

    Already a gardening club trip is planned to Burghley House near Lincoln for Thursday 16 June (mark your diary now).

    Joe Whitehead, who used to be head gardener at Salle and who now holds the same position at Burghley House, will give a guided tour in the afternoon.

    I’m looking forward to this as it’s always fascinating to have a plant expert tell you the secrets of a place, revealing so much more than you gain from just being a casual observer.

    The enthusiastic and vivacious Ellen Mary gave us a stimulating talk on “Plants and Nature for Well-being” at this month’s gardening club meeting.

    She acknowledged that, since we were all gardeners, we probably understood this already, but she gave facts to back up the benefits she explained.

    Some of the members were convinced by her enthusiasm for dandelions; some were not. You have to admire the tenacity of weeds, she said.

    She extolled the virtues of gardening with no gloves, contact with the soil and its many organisms being regenerative for our well-being, as is going barefoot in the garden. Oh, yes, and it is OK to hug trees.

    The next gardening club meeting is at 7.45 pm on Tuesday 17 May in Reepham Town Hall, Church Street, Reepham, when Gabriel Read will talk about the organic flowers she grows for floristry in “A Year in the Cut Flower Garden”.

    I look forward to this event, too, since obviously I like flowers in my garden, but always count them a bonus.

    I can never quite manage that effect of colours planted together for special effect or gorgeous colour harmonies or an attractive succession through the seasons to ensure colour in the garden or colour in the house. If it happens for me, it is usually through sheer chance.

    What made me understand that it really didn’t matter and was nothing to worry about was something the late Beth Chatto said.

    She was keen on foliage because the foliage leaf patterns and colours are there for a long period of the year while flowers are fleeting.

    Therefore I tend to concentrate on interesting and varied leaves in my garden and variations in texture.


    This nameless shrub, a gift, has been gorgeous for weeks as its leaves unfurled. Photo: Tina Sutton


    This ornamental rhubarb shows colour for months as it grows through the season. Photo: Tina Sutton


    Variegated honesty shows very pretty leaves, almost from the moment it emerges, and takes on a ghostly look in the evenings as the summer progresses because of the luminosity of the foliage. Photo: Tina Sutton

  • Spreading the message about the benefits of wilding

    Friday, March 18, 2022 - 09:47

    By Victoria Plum

    I’m told that the frantic boiling of extra kettles marked the March meeting of the Reepham & District Gardening Club, successfully held in St Michael’s because of work under way at the town hall, when a magnificent 45 people turned out to hear Bob Coutts’ engaging talk on gardening for spring.

    He is the retired head gardener at Somerleyton Hall in Suffolk, and if Covid had not prevented me from attending I would have liked to ask him his view on the current exciting changes on that vast estate.

    The owner – Hugh Crossley, 4th Baron Somerleyton – is instigating the WildEast initiative to encourage anyone to become involved by allowing both small and large areas of land to be left for nature. These could be gardens, schools, parks, stations or odd corners of difficult-to-manage land.

    He sees that land has become overmanaged with tidiness and order continuously pushing back nature.

    The aim of WildEast is to allow 20% of East Anglia to be “wilded” in this way – this is in addition to the huge plans for rewilding and regenerating a large part of the Somerleyton Estate.

    There is a mass of information online about this project – we are so lucky to have Somerleyton and Wild Ken Hill on our East Anglian doorstep.

    Meanwhile, in my garden, I have adopted a friend’s habit of seed spreading.

    When tidying up, if I find a seed head of something I like, I crush it gently in my hand and scatter widely. That way the seed has a chance of landing somewhere it will be happy and thrive.

    I have tried for several years (with several packets of seed) to ensure that Nigella (Love-in-a-Mist) becomes naturalised in my garden – unsuccessfully until this year, and I am pleased to say I now have many self-sown seedlings.

    I will pot up a few of these, along with other bonus plants from my garden, ready for the gardening club plant sale in May.

    Self-sown Nigella seedlings in my garden. Photo: Tina Sutton

    Next month, on Tuesday 19 April, sees the club’s annual general meeting at Reepham Town Hall at 7.30 pm, followed at 7.45 pm by Ellen Mary, who will tell us about “Plants and Nature for Wellbeing”, which should prove interesting, even though I think we already know that plants and nature help our physical and mental well-being.

  • How to grow your own ‘tiny forest’

    Tuesday, February 15, 2022 - 16:45

    By Victoria Plum

    There is a Chinese proverb about planting trees. The Chinese say the best time to plant is 50 years ago, and the second best time is now. Can anyone argue with that?

    There is now a new impetus to plant forests – “tiny forests”, which, unbelievably, only need be the size of a tennis court.

    Pioneered by Dr Akira Miyawaki, they just require improved ground (loosened soil and humus), indigenous trees and close planting.

    A variety of heights of actual saplings and a variety in their growth pattern and height is important, too. Close planting means that weed competition is quickly shaded out.

    Care by watering, weeding and protection is only needed for about the first two years because the rapid growth means the trees soon create a micro-system and become self-supporting.

    I know from observations in my small garden how quickly and efficiently nature will create tiny micro-worlds where plants that are happy together will thrive together if given a chance by a thoughtful guardian and so I am convinced that this system works.

    Astonishingly, three of these tiny forests are to be planted in Norfolk – at Fakenham, North Walsham and Sheringham.

    About 30 years ago I won a tree in a National Trust raffle at Felbrigg Hall. I got very excited at the prospect of bringing it home and employing a digger to make the right size hole in my garden, but of course that didn’t happen.

    In fact, the tree had to be planted, by me, in the park at Felbrigg where I do go and check up on it occasionally and it is quite big now.

    I chose a beech tree and interestingly it had been grown by the National Trust from beech mast from their own trees that have been established at Felbrigg for hundreds of years.

    This ensures the sapling is happy with the local environment, and the mutual symbiotic association between local fungus and plant will be established, thereby aiding health and growth.

    So you can see that it would be ideal for your tiny forest if you could acquire locally grown saplings, rather than the usual imports from the Netherlands.

    I believe this well-thought-out approach is an important and constructive step forward, and a much more useful concept than the “greenwash” of a few, newly planted random trees.

    Pictured above is the beech tree I planted at Felbrigg Hall about 30 years ago, positioned to take the place of the fallen beech to the right, a casualty of the 1987 gales. The sapling was about 18 inches high when planted. Photo: Tina Sutton

  • The decline and rise of market gardens

    Sunday, January 16, 2022 - 10:09

    By Victoria Plum

    I used to grow vegetables. In fact, one year we didn’t have to buy any veg at all for a whole season.

    I don’t do it now. I trust other people to grow for me, so from May to December I buy from Eves Hill Veg Co (just in process of moving premises, but not far away, to Aylsham) and from Brett’s in Aylsham, who grow a large amount of produce themselves, and farm shops or the garden gate.

    Time was that on the edge of every town or city there were market gardens from where produce would be taken to market regularly in the town or city.

    Because houses are more profitable than cabbages, this land got swallowed up with housing for growing populations.

    I strongly believe that those market garden skills need to be rekindled and land made available to growers to make locally grown, fresh vegetables readily available in towns and cities.

    The Eves Hill community market garden offers growers’ traineeships, as does the Landworkers’ Alliance, which works “for a future where producers can work with dignity to earn a decent living, and everyone can access local, healthy and affordable food, fuel and fibre”.

    Can there be anything more important than the availability of good fresh food?

    It is astonishing how much produce can be grown on a small acreage. As all allottmenteers know, and you must notice as I do, the pockets of land that big farm machinery cannot access that are left fallow but could well be cultivated on a small scale by market gardeners.

    Reepham & District Gardening Club has its regular meeting on 18 January but this will now be on Zoom.

    The speaker will be the entertaining Nancy Stevens whose subject is “Spectacular, Surreal, Surprising” – gardening in space, underwater and world wars with some glorious plants and trees.

    Check the gardening club website for more information. There is help available if you haven’t zoomed before – it’s very easy when you know how!

    A reminder that summer will come again. Photo: Tina Sutton

  • What’s a worm worth?

    Monday, December 13, 2021 - 20:02

    By Victoria Plum

    My neighbour said to me, did you know that if you leave leaves and garden bits on the border the worms will drag them down into the ground?

    Well I have always known this. I think I was born knowing this and I bet you were born knowing this too. How does anyone grow up not knowing this?

    We have several sorts of earthworms in Great Britain and they each have, like all creatures in nature, very specific work to do. They mine the soil in different ways to ensure fertility and drainage and aeration.

    Those greenkeepers who “keep” bowling greens use vermicides to eliminate worms because their casts spoil the flatness of the green and therefore spoil the game.

    Charles Darwin did much research into worms and over a 30-year period discovered that worm casts and the action of worms stabilised a steeply sloping stony slope, so much so that what had been unsafe to ride his horse over eventually became stable enough over which to actually gallop.

    He put worms on his piano and found they were sensitive to vibrations and experimented with paper “leaves” to monitor worm activity.

    I have often found leaves half stuck in the ground – clear evidence of worm work. The message is that if we look after our worms they will look after us.

    Above: Worms in my wormery. Photo: Tina Sutton

    As I drove through Taverham recently, there they were, the inhabitants, raking up leaves, ready to go in the brown bin.

    I used to do this, I admit, but now I treat leaves like the gold dust they are and rake them onto the borders to blanket and protect the ground and the myriad invisible creatures that I now know we depend on.

    On these miserable winter days it’s worth spending some time googling. Via the Wild Ken Hill (as seen on Autumn Watch) website, I found Andy Cato of Wildfarmed.

    He says that although we might feel as individuals there is little we can do about climate change, if we exercise sensible choices each time we sit down to eat, which we all do three times a day, we really can engineer change.

    Keep in touch with the Reepham & District Gardening Club via the website. Sadly there is now no Christmas social this year, but interesting meetings are already planned for the New Year.

  • Healthy soil is important

    Monday, November 22, 2021 - 18:14

    By Victoria Plum

    I bought a packet of (A for anemone,) Anemone Blanda Blue and a packet of (C for Chionodoxa) Glory of the Snow from Johnny Walker who talked on the A to Z of Bulbs at the November meeting of Reepham & District Gardening Club.

    I noticed that all the packaging for these bulbs, of which he brought loads for us to buy, is recyclable – how sensible that is.

    I have learned to look for the symbol on all packaging, and interestingly the compostable tubs of Ronaldo ice cream (made in Norwich) have decayed well in my compost bin, as have the salad bags from Eves Hill Veg Co and the picnic kit from Castle Rising nursery.

    Above: Ronaldo ice cream tubs and compostable items, including “plastic”, at the top of the bin, ready to rot. Photo: Tina Sutton

    My big, double-skinned, plastic hot bin is now working well, and I have been emptying it in mid-November.

    The compost is a bit on the wet side, but I put that down to all the grass cuttings this wet year, although I have added plenty of torn-up corrugated card as a dry component.

    Bought compost is sieved and so a more uniform, dry and easy-to-handle product results.

    I don’t think you need a photo of the compost I have been moving from the bottom of the unit – I am sure you can imagine it.

    Soil health is vital. I used to think of soil as something inert that just stopped the plants from falling over, but an understanding of the various worms and invertebrates that work it (work being the operative word) is fascinating.

    My understanding now is that if I look after the soil by adding humus then it will look after my plants – and if they are healthy, they will be resilient and grow well. Hence the compost.

    The next gardening club meeting is on Tuesday 14 December, earlier than the usual meetings, at 7 pm.

    We usually all bring a plate to share but to avoid too much moving round the room, for Covid safety the committee ask you to please bring your own snacks. Further information will be on the website in due course.

    There will also be a brief presentation by Thomas Courtauld, Deputy Lieutenant for Norfolk, on the Queen’s Green Canopy. This is a commemorative tree planting initiative to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee next year, which I’m sure will be of great interest.

    Oh, yes – and there will be a quiz. Hooray!

  • In search of orchids

    Saturday, October 23, 2021 - 15:45

    By Victoria Plum

    Oh, my goodness. Forty members of Reepham & District Gardening Club gathered in the town hall for the October meeting.

    It was almost like old times: Jeff Johnson trying to make the sound system work and us trying to remember where the coffee was, but with the doors open to ensure airflow and chairs well-spaced.

    Robin McDonald gave us a talk on various gardens she had visited in her search for orchids. She is an orchid purist and not a fan of the ubiquitous hybrid orchids for sale in supermarkets.

    I’m afraid I rather like them. They are much prettier than the bowl of tiny, rare orchids (worth £50) that looked like a clump of grass which she brought for us to see.

    Incidentally, Anne and Simon Harrap have written an excellent guide to British and Irish orchids (Orchids of Britain and Ireland: A Field and Site Guide).

    Simon gave our talk last month on British alpine plants and he has previously talked to us on orchids, a truly fascinating group of plants with the strangest characteristics and habits. I also have his Flowers of the Norfolk Broads, an excellent local guide.

    The club’s autumn bag sale was full of lush plants. I vowed not to go home with anything (garden rather full), but somehow a passionflower, lychnis, Chinese money plant, tradescantia, verbena and lots of gorgeous apples found their way into my bag – so hard to resist when you find something good.

    Photo: Tina Sutton

    Refreshments were served (there was homemade cake) and how pleasant it was to stand around and chat about our gardens, what has done well this year, what has failed and our plans for next year. We have missed the social side of the club.

    Catch up with other gardening club members on Tuesday 16 November when Johnny Walkers will talk about “The A-Z of Bulbs” in Reepham Town Hall at 7.45 pm.

  • Gardening club’s first ‘live’ meeting after lockdown

    Sunday, September 26, 2021 - 17:49

    By Victoria Plum

    Hooray! Reepham & District Gardening Club held its first “live” meeting this month when about 30 masked members met at Reepham Town Hall, suitably spaced out.

    We listened to Simon Harrap from Natural Surroundings at Bayfield (who is fascinated by all plants, he told me) describe the life and habitat of British alpine plants.

    He explained this small but fascinating world using his own photographs, so fortunately we don’t have to climb mountains and get wet knees searching the high places ourselves.

    One of these, a tiny rush, was viviparous. I have always been fascinated by plants with this characteristic, and I have an unusual fern and a succulent, both viviparous, which means they reproduce via tiny plantlets attached to the parent plant. These fall to the ground to grow without the necessity for seeds.

    While tidying the garden (not too tidy, please note) I picked up a dead stem from my gorgeous orange fritillarias and, finding it heavy, I looked inside to find a handsome, big, orange slug, with two little friends, and some woodlice and earwigs that had wandered off in the time it took me to get my camera. Obviously, I put it back in the garden.

    Most slugs eat decaying matter of all sorts, helping to recycle litter on the soil surface. They are your friends, as are wasps, so please think twice before you go into extermination mode.

    I have enjoyed wonderfully statuesque globe artichokes in my garden this year. Everything has grown tall and vast, and these are no exception. The stems are huge.

    When I cut them down, I will bundle up short sections of stem to position in the garden to give homes for wildlife. It will be interesting to see what chooses to overwinter in them.

    Don’t discard any spare plants you find this autumn. Bring them in a carrier bag to next month’s garden club meeting where they will be sold. Labels and details are a help. I will bring some Crocosmia “Lucifer” (below), which have performed magnificently this year.