• Insects may bug us, but try to be less emotional

    Thursday, July 9, 2020 - 14:36

    By Victoria Plum

    Every year the gorgeous Solomon’s seal in my garden produces flowers; it is elegant and statuesque.

    Later the leaves become skeletal and it is only this year that I found the culprits: caterpillars (see photo) busy destroying them.

    Some time ago I would have quickly squashed them between my fingers, but now my perspective has changed and I have not used any poisons, for pests or plants, for years.

    I now know that the caterpillars on the Solomon’s seal are a sawfly, probably specific to that plant. So why would I kill them? The plant will continue to grow and flower next year.

    A pest seldom destroys its host plant completely because if it does then its progeny have no food the following year. Does it matter to me that the leaves get eaten?

    I now understand it is far more important that my garden is as full as possible of insects. Each kind has evolved to fill a niche, and each consumes and is consumed in turn.

    I don’t even stand on snails or slugs any more. Did you know that many slugs only consume damaged or fallen leaves?

    We seem to have emotional tolerance for certain creatures: we like ladybirds, we don’t like earwigs; we like bees, we don’t like wasps; we like butterflies, we don’t like moths; we are totally irrational. In fact, we are prejudiced against many insects for no reason at all.

    Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a cure for moles in your garden, put a marshmallow down the hole.

    It takes 18 months to get rid of the moles apparently, but I think we need to do research on this, so I look forward to your results, though not just yet.

    I don’t usually have mole problems as my garden is surrounded by others and in a village situation, but I know some of you adjoin farmland and are often plagued by these creatures.

    Reepham & District Gardening Club will hold an online meeting on Tuesday 21 July, 7.30 pm for a 7.45 start. Even I managed to access the meeting last time, so I’m sure you can too. Check the website for more information.

    There will be a talk from the urban peregrine project officer of the Hawk and Owl Trust, Sculthorpe Moor. We had a lecture on this subject last year, which was extremely interesting, and this will be an update on the Norwich Peregrine Project.

  • The best manure is the farmer’s boot

    Wednesday, June 10, 2020 - 18:36

    By Victoria Plum

    It took me a while to understand the saying “the best manure is the farmer’s boot”.

    Does this mean he has been in the pigpen and the adherent properties of excrement to the rubber of his boots allow him to quietly spread manure on his fields? Well no, of course not.

    What it means (and I will explain just in case it’s not obvious to you as it wasn’t obvious to me) is that the most important task in being a farmer (or a gardener) is to know what is happening on the land, and then take appropriate action as soon as possible, using intuition and experience to assess the state of the soil, crops and animals, and therefore ensuring the best outcome.

    With the current situation I certainly have been able to do this on my small plot by just keeping an eye on everything. I think I have got more enjoyment from it, too.

    It is impossible to quantify the fantastic growth of all I see, but after much-needed rain this week everything seems to have grown overnight.

    I have been tempted to sit outside with my camera just to record the amazing hasty changes in some plants. I have an aloe, Norfolk-grown and hardy (so far), which had a flower last year, and is now throwing up a flower spike. Could four inches a day be an exaggeration?

    I have never been any good at staggered sowing or planning floral succession in the garden, and tend to rely (as Beth Chatto used to amplify) on foliage for interest.

    I think it was Barry Gayton, (the Reepham & District Gardening Club visited his Desert World Gardens at Brandon some years ago) who said the same thing: the leaves and plant patterns are there all year, or all season, yet the flowers for only a short time. So if I get any flowers at all, I count them as a bonus.

    Keep in touch with the gardening club with an online meeting on Tuesday 16 June. Same time as usual, but at your house. For more details click HERE

  • ‘Granny’s bonnet’ is a classic cottage garden plant

    Tuesday, May 12, 2020 - 18:03

    By Victoria Plum

    I once found wild blue aquilegia growing near Cawston, on land managed by the Forestry Commission. A representative to whom I spoke told me it would be the rarest plant I would ever find – and he was right.

    It’s not there anymore, destroyed I expect by forestry operations. I don’t think it could have been a garden escape because of its (secret) location.

    The wild plant is very pretty, but it does hybridise easily. My old neighbour gave me some from her garden many years ago; they were just like the wild ones, but pink, and of course had simple flowers (I flirted with the exotic long-spurred hybrids with their artificial-looking colour combinations years ago when I was young, but now much prefer the more natural sorts) and she called them “granny’s hoods” or “granny’s bonnets”.

    (Incidentally, she called goldfinches “King Harrys”; I think this old name arose because the markings look so regal, and not unlike the general effect of the broad gold chain and ornate costume worn by Henry XIII in well-known paintings, such as the Holbein copy in Blickling Hall.)

    So I have been interested to see the variance in colour and size of aquilegia flowers evident in my garden this year with no help from me whatsoever. I just leave them to grow and pull them out if they are in the wrong place.

    I have Japanese knotweed (below) growing in my garden – I did not plant it. It is virtually impossible to eradicate. I control it by pulling up every bit I see when only a few inches high, perhaps six shoots a year.

    But I have recently found Japanese knotweed growing in the carpark on Cawston Heath. The only way it could have got there is by someone dumping garden waste.

    Please be vigilant and dispose of terrible weeds like this responsibly, because just like bindweed and ground elder, this plant grows from just the smallest bit of root.

    Photos: Tina Sutton

  • Resilient gardening: reducing dependence on external inputs

    Thursday, April 16, 2020 - 08:40

    By Victoria Plum

    It rained every day through the winter and now it hasn’t rained for two weeks. My seeds and transplants need water; in fact, everything in the garden is very dry.

    To help new plants settle in I usually arrange a little moat and bank around them to ensure water goes where most needed because water is so precious.

    I hate to waste it, and once plants are established I don’t expect to water them. They need to be resilient and look after themselves; they don’t get pampering in this garden!

    And this brings into question something I have been thinking about lately, which is our continued quest for the exotic and new in our gardens.

    A number of pests and diseases have come here as a result of globalisation and our desire for the unusual.

    These incomers often require expensive composts, fertilisers, heat and conditions that use up our precious environmental resources. (Do you remember that this is what we were concerned about before the latest troubles?)

    During the winter I move away the saucers and put wine corks under my outdoor pots so that they don’t stand damp and rot.

    This April I have changed the corks for big saucers again so that when pots are watered, by me or preferably the rain, water will sit and be sucked up to do the most good and will not go to waste.

    I have noticed that when a plant in a pot gets very dry and is watered, the water just runs straight through and away, lost and wasted, so these saucers are crucial.

    Seedlings are all in pots in trays to save water. I use recycled plastic supermarket trays, which, being rectangular, work well with square pots.

    Seeds ready labelled. Photo: Tina Sutton

    Labels (also crucial as I used to think I would remember what was what, but of course I don’t) are made from strips of white plastic cut from milk bottles or other plastic containers.

    I know plant labels are cheap to buy, but they come in on ships from China, can that be right?

    And as for the lily beetle, I despaired of growing lilies any more, but my strategy now is to grow them by a path, making it easy for me to check every sunny day (no point checking on a dull or rainy day as they are fair-weather creatures) and therefore control the damage they do.

    I know I cannot get rid of them completely. I have dispatched 16 this week. My finger nails are red!

    Fritillary flowering beautifully this year, despite the lily beetle. Photo: Tina Sutton

  • Plants want to grow, just give them the chance

    Friday, March 20, 2020 - 20:32

    By Victoria Plum

    Lots of time for gardening now! And as I work in the garden, where I try to be a tactful gardener, and with the words of a well-known gardener ringing in my ears (“plants want to grow, just give them the chance”), there is much to see.

    For instance, a handsome Euphorbia has set seed in the most unlikely place right at the roots of a big, contorted hazel (pictured below).

    This is just the place where I would never choose to put a plant because of the lack of root space, moisture and light – everything a plant needs – and yet a seed lodged there and is growing happily.

    If I had tried to set an established plant in this place I don’t think it would have survived.

    All the time I notice the effects of microclimates and try to learn from what happens naturally.

    I like miniature gardens. Now I’m getting interested in bonsai. I’m going to grow my own. Watch this space.

    Keep in touch via the Reepham & District Gardening Club website; you will see the next two meetings are cancelled.

    The annual plant sale (note the change of date to Saturday 16 May) should happen, but please check the website.

    Please pot up your extra plants, and if the sale is postponed then your plants will be in superb condition by next year! There is always high demand for well-grown, interesting plants.

  • How to bring 'ghost' ponds back to life

    Sunday, February 23, 2020 - 09:49

    By Victoria Plum

    The February meeting of the Reepham & District Gardening Club enjoyed a hugely entertaining talk by Dr Carl Sayer, starting with his childhood fishing experiences at Bodham, near Holt, which inspired his lifetime “affaire” with the Crucian carp and its environment.

    This (possibly) indigenous fish is yet another species threatened by mankind's thoughtless dominion over the land, here and in Europe, and so Dr Sayer has spearheaded the Norfolk Ponds Project.

    Field ponds and pits used to give a good home to Crucian carp, but water degradation has resulted in a much diminished number of fish.

    In a world of gloom, the ray of energy and sunshine engendered by Dr Sayer (my new hero – I gave him an extra cup of tea) described many typical Norfolk field ponds (often originally marl pits) like those I have often seen: dark, overhung with willow and alder scrub with black water and no signs of life – nothing vital at all.

    Above: A recently restored pond near Baconsthorpe. Photo: Norfolk Ponds Project

    Since the 1970s and 1980s these pits and ponds have not been maintained; they have been filled with hedge debris, rubbish and often ploughed in and over for convenience of cultivation, sometimes leaving “ghost ponds”, just an indent to hint at what lies below.

    However, graphs, charts and before-and-after photographs soon proved the point that by removing the trees, from the south side in particular, and digging out the accumulated mud, light is allowed on the scene and then nature can soon take charge.

    Seeds and organisms perhaps a hundred and fifty years old regenerate and very quickly invertebrates, amphibians, varied flora and fauna will fill the area.

    For a small footprint area this type of environment has vast potential to offer a vibrant capsule of wildlife and build an invaluable mosaic to aid the recovery of many species in the countryside.

    There is plenty of information online: search for Norfolk Ponds Project if you have a pond you think could be rescued or if you have time and energy to help.

    I would like to thank the keen kitchen helpers, too; many hands do make light work of the washing up.

    Note the new date for annual plant sale in Reepham Market Place: Saturday 16 May from 8.30 am until sold out. Please propagate and pot up plants now if you can, as last year there were some disappointed customers because the stall sold out early.

  • Asian hornet invasion threat to honey bees

    Monday, January 27, 2020 - 18:51

    By Victoria Plum

    They used to say that a hornet sting could kill a horse. I don’t think this is true, although of course you wouldn’t want to be stung by anything if you could avoid it.

    It is true, however, that several stings can be extremely dangerous, but here is a further danger alert, and it concerns the invasive Asian hornet, Vespa velutina.

    Already found in France and Spain, and now spreading far and wide, it is essential that we keep our eyes open because this foreign invader has a voracious and indiscriminate appetite for our bees and many of our beneficial insects.

    Some have been caught and eradicated in this country, spotted initially by gardeners (we must be as observant lot!).

    Search online and report sightings to alertnonnative@ceh.ac.uk. Please notify; do not kill the hornets, as experts will come and seek out the nest and destroy it, which is, if you think about it, the best strategy.

    Image: Defra

    Asian hornets are slightly smaller than our natives – and noticeable because they look dark. They have a black abdomen (only the fourth segment is yellow) and yellow legs, whereas our natives look more wasp-like with mostly a yellow abdomen and dark legs.

    Reepham & District Gardening Club member Alvan Parker told us about this current threat to his beloved bees. What would we do without bees and without honey?

    The talk for January at the gardening club was by Tamara Bridge, and focused on her gardening career, design business and how she was led to the exciting challenge of creating several sponsored show gardens for Chelsea.

    Her charm and enthusiasm carried us all along as she explained how time and again she made the impossible happen. She clearly relishes thinking all round a problem and bringing together experts who pool their resources to make a really creative team.

    I have very little interest in Chelsea show gardens, but I found Tamara’s story inspiring – and myself wishing I had the energy to start a new career.

    Next month, Reepham & District Gardening Club will have Dr Carl Sayer of University College London to talk about the restoration of ponds and lakes in Norfolk. This will be held on Tuesday 18 February at 7.45 pm in Reepham Town Hall, Church Street, Reepham.

  • Creating harmony in the garden

    Wednesday, December 18, 2019 - 07:50

    By Victoria Plum

    The Reepham & District Gardening Club Christmas party was a fun event, a chance to chat – in fact the chairperson almost had difficulty keeping order!

    We took food; punch and nibbles were provided. If you have never attended please keep it in your mind for next year as it is always a relaxed and enjoyable time to get to know other members in this sociable club.

    There was entertainment, too, and one of the items really struck a chord with me. It featured a dialogue (fictional, I assume) between God and St Francis, the patron saint for animals and the environment.

    God looks down on the earth and is puzzled by the sight of many green squares. “Where are all the flowers I organised for the little insects and creatures?” says God.

    St Francis responds that the green squares are grass that gardeners choose to keep cut to a low height, fertilise and then cut again.

    Mystified, God asks “Why? Perhaps they feed animals with the cuttings?”

    “No, the waste is thrown away.”

    God is puzzled. But as the weather heats up, God suggests, the rate of growth slows and so the chore of cutting would not be necessary?

    Then St Francis explains that people get out the hose and water the grass, so it grows, and, guess what, they have to keep cutting it. God is puzzled by this.

    (I wonder how St Francis would explain the garden centres to God. What would God think of the shelves of poisons we buy and the plastic ephemera from China, the biggest polluter of the environment, when all we really need are plants and pots – and a bit of common sense.)

    I was also reminded of an image shown to us last month by Hawk Honey, the bee expert from the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. This featured a bird’s-eye view of a green square of grass versus a bird’s-eye view of a meadow of flowers.

    He made the point that the green square was no good to bees: they need flowering plants. It is not difficult to understand. The grass provides no sustenance or shelter; the flowering plants, of course, provide both.

    We can all make a difference because our many small plots collectively amount to thousands of acres of God’s green earth.

    Don’t let our generation be the one that thoughtlessly poisoned everything in our keenness to over tidy and control nature rather than live in harmony with it.

    The next meeting of the Reepham & District Gardening Club is on Tuesday 21 January at 7.45 pm in Reepham Town Hall, Church Street, Reepham, when Tamara Bridge will tell us about designing and building a garden at Chelsea.

    If you think the above photograph of grass is boring, then sympathise with the tiny creatures who have nowhere else to live and feed. – VP

  • All we are saying is give bees a chance

    Friday, November 22, 2019 - 20:33

    By Victoria Plum

    Did you know that one drop of spot-on flea or tick formula or wormer for your dog or cat is sufficient to kill a thousand bees?

    We learned many further frightening facts from Hawk Honey (yes, really) of Suffolk Wildlife Trust during his fascinating, far-reaching and informative talk about bees at this week’s meeting of the Reepham & District Gardening Club, but particularly about solitary bees and their parlous position at present.

    Agriculture, pesticides (we know that neonicotinoids are banned for farmers, but unbelievably you and I can still buy garden products with similar powerful constituents in any garden centre), nitrates, habitat loss and climate change all cause subtle and comprehensive problems for every creature, but in particular our 250 species of solitary bee.

    My book of the year, Wilding by Isabella Tree, is, I believe, required reading for anyone with the remotest interest in the “BioWeb”.

    We are now well used to the concept of the internet, so just transpose that to the fantastically complex idea of connectivity and inter-dependence in nature – and that is the BioWeb.

    Mrs Tree and Mr Honey both mourn the loss of scrub, and the emphasis on “tidiness” in both land management and garden.

    Super-efficient farming machinery and garden gadgets make it easy to tidy, and the tidier everywhere mean fewer places for all our tiny creatures to live.

    Scrub and coppice used to be economically important for the generation of twigs and material for domestic basket-making, but the advent and cheap availability of plastic products has meant that scrub has lost its value and was therefore got rid of.

    What scrub used to provide was the perfectly protected nursery for many insects and seedlings. The repercussions are obvious.

    So why not leave the leaves lying in your garden? I have raked mine off the grass and onto the borders. This is an easy thing to do to start helping nature.

    Sharpen your pencil for the quiz (it’s not obligatory though) at the Reepham & District Gardening Club Christmas party on Tuesday 10 December at 7 pm in Reepham Town Hall, Church Street, Reepham.

    Pictured: My Clematis cirrhosa in spring. Now, in November, it is already putting out young leaves and buds, and will flower through the winter and spring, providing pretty flowers and nectar for ages – with no effort from me. – VP

  • 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