• Two-acre plant lovers’ garden with a large spring-fed pond

    Thursday, October 17, 2019 - 22:13

    By Victoria Plum

    The National Garden Scheme (NGS) raised a fantastic £3.1 million in 2018 for various, usually health-related charities. (I expect many of you know the “Yellow Book”, which lists NGS gardens and dates for the current year.)

    The talk enjoyed by the Reepham & District Gardening Club at Reepham Town Hall on Tuesday 15 October was given by staunch NGS supporter Graham Watts of Dale Farm, Dereham, who opens his garden to the public.

    Having bought the house and two acres in 2007 he and his partner set about making, changing, reimagining and working on the garden.

    The before-and-after photos were interesting and we gasped at the speed with which borders were established and flowering effectively.

    Style-wise, Graham described the borders as “cottage garden with knobs on”. He knows that a tidy lawn enhances the look of the borders; fertile soil and ample water proved to be a boon.

    Grass carp were imported to control the weed growth in the half-acre pond (or do I mean lake?), where they took three years to eat everything apart from the water lilies.

    (I was interested in this as we have put grass carp in our garden pond – a bit smaller, six feet by twelve feet – for the same reason, where I hope they will do a quicker job.)

    A “truth” that Graham mentioned was that “plants don’t read textbooks”, and of course we have all had experience of finding something growing in the most unexpected circumstance, and conversely, preparing the ideal situation for a special plant, which then keels over and dies.

    (I find I have recently become interested in advertisements for remedies for “joint pain” so I am very interested in health-related charities such as those the NGS supports.)

    The next meeting of the Reepham & District Gardening Club is on Tuesday 19 November at 7.45 pm in Reepham Town Hall, Church Street, Reepham, when Hawk Honey of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust will tell us about bees in our garden and what we can do to help them.

    Photos: Graham Watts, Dale Farm, Dereham

  • When to pinch out fuchsias

    Thursday, September 19, 2019 - 19:50

    By Victoria Plum

    One of the lovely traditions for members of the Reepham & District Gardening Club is to be given a small plant in spring – a different sort each year.

    We must look after it as well as we can through the year and then return to show it off at the Summer Show in August, perhaps to win a prize, which is voted on by the membership.

    There is also a booby prize for the worst disaster. (I’ve never been brave enough to bring in the failed corpse – and there have been many.)

    Anyway, I know little of fuchsias, but this year I did know that I would need to pinch out the flowers if they formed too early, to delay flowering until show time. So this I did, but only in an approximate way.

    Now I know, courtesy of Kristopher Harper, who gave the talk at this month’s gardening club meeting, that I needed to consult the “pinching calendar”.

    And no it’s not April 1st; this is true, not a joke. Someone has worked it out so that all you have to do is check the date of your required event and then pinch the buds out until the date shows you when to stop to ensure maximum flowers.

    In answer to members’ troubles about the numerous fuchsia plant deaths, we learnt that you might find it best to use tap water for young plants, as water from water-butts could be polluted or stagnant, and cause rotting.

    Fuchsias also don’t like a change in the sort of compost when you repot. Beware of bark-based compost as it might not be completely decomposed; this can also have an adverse effect on root growth.

    If using plastic pots choose those with grooves at the bottom in addition to holes, as these are designed to ensure roots do not stand waterlogged on the bench. (I had always wondered why some were made that way.)

    And when re-potting (only into a slightly larger size pot) place the smaller pot (with the plant to be re-potted still in it) into the larger, new pot.

    Fill the new pot with compost, firming sides down with a cane. Then remove the original pot, thus leaving a pot-shaped indent, remove the smaller pot from the roots and carefully place the plant into this custom-made hole.

    This way delicate roots do not need to be disturbed, and you don’t need to firm down, or risk damaging, the root ball – just let the water do it for you when you water it in, and the delicate roots will find an easy route into the new compost.

    And for consistent results fertilise at each watering, but only at ¼-strength.

    The next meeting of the Reepham & District Gardening Club is on Tuesday 15 October at 7.45 pm in Reepham Town Hall, Church Street, Reepham, where we look forward to “The Making of a Garden” by Graham Watts, owner of Dale Farm, Dereham.

    It’s also the Autumn Bag Sale, so please bring any spare plants for sale, only 50p to members.

  • Green project outlined at flourishing summer garden show

    Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - 21:04

    By Victoria Plum

    Another diverting evening, the Summer Show of Reepham & District Gardening Club, was enjoyed by about 40 members, who filled the town hall on Tuesday 20 August.

    We took our entries – flowers, fruit, vegetables and the gardening club fuchsia – and loaded the tables. The democratic process ensured interactive judging by all who were there.

    The quiz challenged our brains; the raffle caused the usual excitement (I won a pretty little “pink”); as of course did the wine, punch, crisps and peanuts.

    Alvan and Tony’s energetic Auction of Produce ensured ferocious bidding, and put a little more money in the kitty.

    The highlight of the evening was a talk by teacher Matt Willer and keen student Lilly Dollman about the Allotment Project at Reepham High School.

    This initiative using 2½ acres of ground at the school teaches far more than the obvious gardening skills.

    The foresight and energy of Matt and his volunteers, both school and community-based, has in just 4½ years established polytunnels, a rainwater harvesting system, wildflowers, raised beds, bees, a pond, a library, an orchard, woodland, a sustainable learning zone and more.

    The big view of this project shows an awareness of mental well-being, the necessity to live sustainably and upcycle, in conjunction with growing, using and selling produce.

    They seek to set a good example and change the planet for the better – and have fun doing it. The project can only work because of help willingly given.

    So if you have any time, energy or skills to offer, then visit the allotment, either in person or via www.thepapillonproject.com, which is aimed at encouraging allotmenteering, and of course its many, many benefits, in other schools.

    How notable that we have two significant green-growing initiatives on our doorstep: Eves Hill Veg Co at Booton as well as the above-mentioned Allotment Project and the three Reepham allotment sites, now well established and flourishing!

    Join us next month on Tuesday 17 September at 7.45 pm in Reepham Town Hall to hear about “Fuchsia Care and Maintenance”. We could have done with that talk earlier this year to help us make our gardening club fuchsias flourish!

  • Living with the enemy

    Monday, July 22, 2019 - 21:44

    By Victoria Plum

    Another fascinating talk at the Reepham & District Gardening Club in July, this time all about moles. The humorous and informative talk was by Louise Chapman, the lady mole catcher, who has found her perfect niche in life.

    Moles are considered a pest. I have trapped them from my fields in the past because the turned-up soil makes a perfect seedbed for weeds to grow and spoil the grassy sward for my horses.

    Interestingly, the current thinking about horses is that they are browsers, so that perfect green field we used to aim for does not provide the perfect diet for equines. The variety of herbage thus encouraged could now be considered desirable.

    If moles were in my garden I might feel differently, but my attitude now is very much live and let live. I have even stopped treading on snails: I only water the garden when really necessary, so slugs and snails, though present, are not there in nuisance proportions.

    Lily beetle is, however, a problem, as left to their own devices all leaves will be stripped and a vile mess ensues. To negotiate this I have purposely positioned lilies to grow where I frequently walk past, so as the beetles are conveniently bright red I just cast my eye over the plants, and then squash or slice them with my specially sharpened finger nails. There is some damage, but it is minimal. I don’t wish to stop growing my gorgeous lilies just because some leaves get holes.

    I have Japanese knotweed. I had to attack the clumps with an axe when first at this garden, and whatever I do or did some shoots still come up, but I just pull them up and it does not spread now. I cannot eradicate it, but it is under control.

    Bindweed (pictured below) thrives in one corner of my garden; the roots are like spaghetti. I have tried to dig it out – no chance! I have tried using nasty chemicals, resulting in only a temporary respite, not a permanent solution. In fact it looks gorgeous rambling over the fence and provides an extremely rich insect habitat, and pretty white flowers.

    Bindweed is not a real nuisance; I just pull it away from vulnerable plants. And the truth is that although it thrives in that one corner of the garden, like the Japanese knotweed, it has not spread, so why worry and stress about it?

    When bindweed dies off in the autumn it looks ghastly so I pull it off and clear the binds. It seems that many people have a “blind spot” and  real unwarranted hatred when it comes to certain pests, and are keen to reach for an drastic solution, just out of habit.

    I prefer to be resigned to what I really can do little to change, and to negotiate with all the users of my garden.

    My gardening club fuchsia, though not big, is covered with flowers. Bring yours to the summer show on Tuesday 20 August, details on the website. I wonder if there will be a quiz?

  • Gardening club takes road trip to Essex

    Saturday, June 22, 2019 - 18:13

    By Victoria Plum

    The big Reepham & District Gardening Club trip for the year necessitated getting our passports stamped as we travelled first to East Bergholt in Suffolk, where we made a welcome stop at The Place for Plants.

    There is a garden to visit here, but some of us were keener on looking at the many specialist plants in the sales area (conveniently near the café where, as specialists, we tried the cake). The quality, and varieties, of plants was impressive, and the care with which they were tended was impressive too. I even bought two.

    Above: Our favourite bit of The Place for Plants.


    We drove on to Hyde Hall in Essex, which is our nearest Royal Horticultural Society garden. As you might expect everything there is done to exemplary standards: plants well labelled, pruned and cared for, and few weeds in sight.

    The variety of planting and garden style was fascinating and effective. I was particularly intrigued by the Global Growth Vegetable Garden, which is what it says. There were plants growing there I had heard of but had no idea, until my visit, of what they actually looked like.

    Above: Reepham & District Gardening Club outings organiser Celia Else (centre) with keen garden visitors.


    As it was late when we returned to Reepham, we enjoyed a really good Chinese takeaway from the Happy House in Back Street.

    I noticed that the plastic containers they use are recyclable (although I will reuse them anyway) and made in the UK, so they don’t have to travel all the way from China in a shipping container. Hooray!

    The June meeting of Reepham & District Gardening Club featured Tony Goode, an alpine specialist, who shared his enthusiasm for these tiny plants that grow in microclimates. His message was that however short of time or space, alpines will reward us because they need little care and maintenance.

    Join us for our next meeting on Tuesday 6 July in Reepham Town Hall, Church Street, Reepham, when “Lady Molecatcher” Louise Chapman will tell us about catching moles.

    I will be listening carefully, as I too have expertise in this.

  • The truth about the yellow peril

    Wednesday, May 29, 2019 - 10:21

    By Victoria Plum

    Ragwort, that pretty yellow-flowered weed (we know a weed is just a wildflower in the wrong place), is hated and vilified for its poisonous nature.

    Horse people pull it up (I’ve done it and it’s horrid, hard work), but I have now learnt that this strategy is wrong.

    Harm to horses from ragwort is due to bad husbandry – overgrazing – rather than the nature of the plant.

    Seeds that germinate readily, and remain viable for 14 years, ensure a constant supply of lovely yellow flowers, valuable through a long, late summer season and sole host for the cinnabar moth, seven micro-moths, 12 fly species and seven beetles.

    It provides a major nectar source for at least 30 species of solitary bee, 18 species of solitary wasp and 50 insect parasites: in total 177 species of insects use common ragwort for pollen or nectar.

    It is indigenous to this country, and the impetus to eradicate it is irrational.

    Do we rid our gardens and landscape of daffodils, privet, yew, foxgloves, cuckoo-pint, bryony (both black and white), bracken, spindle and laburnum, and many more of course, all of which are poisonous? Let alone the foreign exotica we readily foster in our houses, gardens and conservatories.

    The fact is that nature is far more complex than our capacity to understand it; we ignore it at our peril.

    Most of the specific details given above were found in Isabella Tree’s fascinating book, Wilding. Fail to read it at your peril!

  • Don’t throw the plastic out with the bathwater

    Thursday, April 25, 2019 - 21:04

    By Victoria Plum

    Plastic bags are like gold dust. I recently took a plant in a pot to a friend and meanly kept the carrier bag, whereas in the past I would have left it with the recipient.

    Plastic bags are also useful. I can cart plants in the car in them and not have them leak water and soil everywhere.

    I can keep salad stuff fresh and moist in the fridge and I can climate control seedlings on my window sill.

    My collection of plastic trays is years old, and enables me to control, and be economical with, the amount of water I use for seedlings and plants, both indoors and out.

    I cut plastic milk bottles into strips for plant labels, writing on them with a fibre-tip pen. No fancy slate plant labels for me such as those sold for a substantial price in certain large stately-home shops locally.

    And where does the slate come from? Is it hewn by hippies in Cornwall or Wales, tied up with homespun string made from the hair of passing hares, packed by hand and transported by bicycle?

    Or is it sliced from the despoiled Chinese countryside by very poorly paid peasants, and then transported by a container ship from China (how many miles?) just to make our gardens look “designer planned”? (I do try not to be cynical.)

    So really what I mean to say is that plastic has its uses. I try to use as little as possible and not to waste it. But I would be stuck without it.

  • Plants grown locally really are the best plants for your garden

    Friday, March 22, 2019 - 10:17

    By Victoria Plum

    The speaker at the next meeting of the thriving Reepham & District Gardening Club at 7.30 pm on Tuesday 16 April in Reepham Town Hall will be Joe Whitehead, head gardener at Burghley House in Stamford, Lincolnshire, who used to work at the Salle Park Estate and is always full of useful good gardening information.

    This meeting is also the AGM – a necessary but painless evil, at least for us members who only have to sit, listen and second the motions.

    The March talk was from Lucy Skinner from Woottens of Wenhaston, Suffolk, who gave us detailed and specific information on the iris genus, one for every month.

    Seventy five per cent of her plants are grown on site, a fact which has made me look more closely at gardening centre stock at other venues while out garden shopping the other day.

    It is obvious that most garden centres buy in the majority of stock. In general terms don’t you think that plants grown locally should fare better in your own garden? She had interesting, healthy and unusual plants for sale, too.

    The raffle was full of excitement, as raffles always are, even though I didn’t win anything because someone gave me the “wrong” tickets.

    Members were also given “their” plant. This year it is Fuchsia Marbeller Flying Scotsman. The picture looks very pretty, with large pink and white blooms.

    The object of this exercise is to nurture your plant – only a tiny plug plant just now – and return with the enormous and flower-covered example to the Summer Show in August with the chance of winning a prize.

    The big garden club outing was announced and it will be to RHS Garden Hyde Hall in Chelmsford, Essex, on Thursday 20 June.

    As you tidy your garden please keep a lookout for extras, spares, seedlings and any plant you don’t need and bring it for sale to the plant sale, which will be held on Saturday 11 May in Market Place, Reepham, from 8.30 am.

    Gardeners of necessity look to the future, but I wonder if those sad souls amongst you who have dishwashers at home and unfortunately might have forgotten the ancient skill of “washing up” might enjoy the opportunity to reminisce about it, while relearning this almost lost art.

    Come to the kitchen after any meeting and clean tea towels and free tuition can be given.

  • The return of nature to a Sussex farm

    Monday, February 18, 2019 - 17:30

    By Victoria Plum

    I have been reading a truly fascinating book: Wilding by Isabella Tree. If you have any interest in the whole wheel of biodiversity you really need to read this: 300 pages of beautifully written information and research challenging much of our historic, and contemporary, thinking about all land management.

    It is the story of Knepp, 3,500-acre estate in Sussex. Standard farming methods meant that the farms and estate were making no money because of the type of land and the state of the soil.

    Drastic times called for drastic measures, and the estate has now been ring-fenced and turned over to nature, with free-ranging deer, ponies, cattle and boar.

    A situation has been set up to allow nature to flourish – and flourish is what it is doing with astonishing vigour.

    The concept of “wilding” or “rewilding” means you allow nature to do what it will, allowing the natural push and pull of all life forms.

    This is very different from the “reserves” with which we are familiar, which are usually set up with the aim of preserving something rare, like large blue butterflies or bitterns, often at the expense of something else.

    There is so much to say about the processes and intelligence in this book that I cannot hope to say more here in this tiny space. Please just read the book! It is not a scolding publication, but one full of positivity and hope.

    I mentioned my Echinacea-growing efforts last month. I bought compost and so I know the two specks of green I see today are Echinacea seedlings, with more to follow I hope, and not chickweed, which they would have been had the compost been my own.

    I have not been forced to delve into the pots to see if there is any sign of the seed, to check whether it has rotted, in a similar way to a school friend who thought her sailfin mollies (tropical fish) so pretty that she kept getting them out of the water to look at their pretty scales. They died.

  • Time to turn over a new leaf, but with a pinch of salt

    Friday, January 18, 2019 - 16:42

    By Victoria Plum

    I am turning over a new leaf: one of my New Year resolutions is to be a better gardener.

    In the past I have allowed my houseplants to be covered in dust, hoping that the instruction “thrives on neglect” is true, but they don’t seem to be self-dusting.

    Why is that? In recent years I have come to regard houseplants as a bit like animals in zoos: they are kept wrongly and therefore stunted and just about surviving, but not living well, as they would be in their proper place.

    Plants in the garden? Well, I reckon if they can’t look after themselves they are a dead loss, and if they die then so be it.

    Having said that, I did water newly planted items last summer (you might remember it was hot and dry over a long period) and my tree peony (12-years old and eight-feet tall) tore at my heartstrings when it wilted, so I relented and watered that too.

    The newly planted items I have just mentioned were Echinacea (pictured), bought as plug plants. This is a plant I particularly like (attractive, good for insects, long-lasting flowers), but have not had great success with, despite planting on piles of imported grit (my soil being good, but heavy-ish).

    I have bought at least five in the past 10 years and when I look for them, they are mysteriously absent.

    Researching online I find it isn’t just me; it happens to other people too. The answer is to take the category “perennial” with a pinch of salt: treat Echinacea as an annual, and if some survive and thrive another year then that is a bonus.

    So I have bought and planted seeds on my windowsill (turfing out the dusty, stalky poinsettia, rank hyacinths and dead amaryllis), since a good early start is necessary to get to flowering the same year.

    So I now resolve to water and feed all plants regularly (carefully looking after my Echinacea) and I might even try reading the instructions on the seed packets!

    I also have an empty – and carefully washed – Viakal spray bottle, filled with water, which emits a very fine spray to keep my indoor ferns moist and happy.