Meeting 12 November 2019

We were delighted to welcome once again our guest speaker Matthew Biggs, author and broadcaster last night to talk about ‘Secrets of Great Botanists’. The last time we met him he was on the panel of Gardeners Question Time when the Society hosted the broadcast from Park Hall in December 2015.

Matthew chose four leading botanists and plant finders through the centuries to illustrate his talk. First being Leonhart Fuchs who first made his name in botany with the publication of his 1542 De Historia Stirpium (Notable Commentaries on the History of Plants) One of the most beautiful books ever printed due to its exquisite hand coloured drawings. It was also the first time that many species from the New World were featured in Europe for the first time including widespread plants like tomatoes, potatoes, corn and chillies.

He gained a BA at 14 and studied physics, philosophy and medicine in Bavaria. Fuchs first found fame for the fatal English sweating disease using plants including rosemary and various types of gentian. Many years after his death in 1566 the fuchsia was named in memory of him.

When Philibert Commercon joined Louis-Antoine de Bougainville’s 1776 expedition to circumnavigate the world he took Jeanne Baret his housekeeper/lover and botanical assistant with him disguised as his male valet! In those days women were not allowed to travel on these voyages. She therefore became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe and proved herself a resilient and intrepid plant collector and plant hunter  due to her knowledge of medicinal plants. Among her discoveries in the forests of Brazil was the famous Bougainvillea spectabilis. Jeanne Baret has only recently been commemorated through the name of the plant.

William Dampier(1651-1715) on leaving school became apprenticed to a seaman in Weymouth, fought briefly in the Anglo-Dutch War was employed on a Jamaican sugar plantation, traded in dye in Mexico. His pay was so bad he became a pirate raiding through Spanish towns along the coast of Mexico. He made enough money to return to England and marry. Dampier travelled widely across the Pacific, the South China Sea, the coasts of South East Asia. He was the first seventeenth century Englishman to navigate the globe. To capitalise on his now notoriety he published a book ‘A new voyage around the world’ giving a detailed description of the flora and fauna and people he encountered on his travels. In all he circumnavigated the world three times. Collected plants from Australia 71 years before Cook arrived. He was the first to describe Breadfruit in English described the Galapagos turtles before Darwin and produced the first recipe for guacamole!

George Forrest (1873-1932) was a robust, fearless Scotsman who started life working in a chemist shop producing herbarium specimens before moving on to the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. A wealthy Liverpudlian Arthur Bulley was recommended to hire George to collect plants for his garden from the mountains of Yunnan in China. A year into his time in China violence broke out causing him to flee for his life. Over the coming days he avoided capture and certain death by scrambling over precipitous mountainous terrain and wading through water to leave no tracks for his pursuers. Lesser men would not have wanted to ever return to China but Forrest returned 7 times over 28 years mainly to Yunnan province which is so rich in flowers. He introduced over 1,200 new species. Among them were 509 rhododendrons ,over 50 primulas to the excitement of botanists. Most of his letters and artefacts are stored in the archives at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh.

Matthew provided us with a fabulous, stimulating and exciting insight into the intrepid and often swashbuckling world of four of our greatest botanists who pioneered the discovery of thousands of plants we enjoy in our gardens today.


Matthew’s book, RHS ‘The Secrets of Great Botanists’ illustrated with beautiful period botanical watercolours and vibrant photographs is published by Mitchell Beazley and is available in all good book shops at £15.99

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Meeting 10th September 2019

Our first meeting of the Autumn season was a fascinating talk and slideshow presented by Paul Barney of Edulis Nursery in Pangbourne, Berkshire.

Paul’s nursery grows an eclectic range of rare plants including a large selection of unusual and edible plants including alliums, brassicas, gingers, mostly hardy and easy to grow which you won’t find in your local garden centre!

The Nursery supply many top restaurants including Le Manoir with produce also Buckingham Palace.

Fascinated by the great nineteenth century plant hunter Frank Kingdon Ward, Paul has travelled far and wide throughout  India, Burma (now Myanamar) China and South America in his search for rare and exotic plants.

In Paul’s talk he concentrated on a visit to Northern India where he explored the mountainous and lush forests retracing the earlier journey of Frank Kingdon Ward’s quest to find the ‘wild tea’ plantations.

Living roughly and with a team of local sherpas Paul found an amazing range of edible plants which are eaten every day by the local population. Their daily diet contains very many more and a greater variety of vegetables than diets in the West.

The colourful slideshow featured an array of unusual plants most of which have never been seen in the West. The evergreen  sausage vine so called as it’s fruit looks just like a string of sausages but has a taste between melon and a pineapple! Chilli guavas and the Nagar chilli which is the hottest. The allium hookeri whose attractive creamy flowers are also edible and used in bhajis as a substitute for onions. The bees love the flowers.

Many peppers are grown including the lemon pepper very similar to sechuan pepper commonly used in Asian cooking.

In Naga land in Northern India where English is widely spoken (due to the early English Christian missionaries) they have a novel way of growing cabbages. They insert stalks into the gaps in walls which keeps them clear of flooding whilst enhancing the appearance of the walls!

For further information on these incredible edibles contact Paul via his website or

The next Harpenden Gardening Society meeting will be on Tuesday 8th October (8.00pm at Roundwood Park School) featuring a talk on ‘Death in the Garden’ about poisonous plants by the well known Horticulturalist Author and Historian Michael Brown.

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Meeting May 14 2019

Timothy Walker the well known Botanist and of late the Director of the Oxford Botanical Garden returned to us once again to deliver a hugely entertaining and informative talk on ‘how to be a successful 21st Gardener’ !

Soil….the UK has the best … can improve it but not change it! Starting afresh on a new garden, 3 spits deep is the way to get rid of all weeds to ensure a sterile plot. Best to shred compost so it degrades equally and keep wet to improve the soil. On a winters morning when you see the compost steaming you know you have done your job well!

Plants…..there are 70,000 in the UK to choose from. If you are unsuccessful growing a particular plant give up as it for some reason does not work in your garden!

British native plants….honeysuckle, hawthorns, viburnums ..all good for encouraging British native wildlife.

Raise new plants in loam based compost. From next year peat will no longer be available.

New plants should be watered (rain water not tap water) in thoroughly . This will ensure the roots grow downwards where the soil is always moist. Once planted Timothy never ever waters plants again even in the driest of conditions.

Given the changing climate and weather conditions many species are blooming earlier. Snowdrops are flowering 21 days earlier than in 2004.

It is now even more important that children become the new gardeners in the 21st century considering the changes taking place. They are ideally suited given they are the right height to trim lavender hedges and plant flowers and vegetables!

The next meeting after the Summer break will be on 10 September when our guest speaker is Paul Barney from Edulis Nursery who will be discussing ‘unusual edibles’ and will be bringing plants for sale.


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Meeting 9 April 2019

Graham Austin of Home Farm Plants in Bovingdon was our guest speaker for the third meeting of 2019. Graham’s talk was entitled ‘Success with Delphiniums’ and provided a master class on the propagation and growing and showing of Delphiniums.  His nursery grows everything from seed, nothing is brought in.

The majority of garden centres sell ‘Pacific Giant’ delphiniums originally bred in California. This species are annual and do not survive in cold conditions.

Only Elatum delphiniums will thrive for many years given the right growing conditions. They are good and hardy and are not affected by colder weather but they must be given good drainage.

The hard crown must be cut to take cuttings and should be thinned to no more than 3 shoots shoots in the first year. Feeding after thinning is important to ensure good growth. To deter slugs sharp sand in generous quantities should be heaped around each plant. Plants less than 12 inches high should  be staked early with 3 canes around each plant. Organic slug pellets can still be used but sprinkled around the plant but not to use too many. Nematodes mixed with water and compressed wool are other options.

Some favourite named delphiniums available from the nursery are as follows:

Blue Nile, a true blue variety.

Sandpiper Floret , white

Cassius can grow to 8 ft.

Bruce, purple 6-8ft

Butterball, cream

Darling Sue, white 4-5ft

Vanessa Mae blue and stripey

Elizabeth Cook, white ‘rosebud’

Ruby wedding new exciting cranberry colour

Boadicea new variety 5-6 ft

For further information contact Graham on 07773 798068 or via the website:

The next meeting of the Society at Roundwood Park School will be on 14 May when one of our favourite and popular speakers, Timothy Walker the Botanist and Author, will talk about ‘How to be a 21st Century Gardener’

We look forward to welcoming members and visitors then.

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Meeting 12 March 2019

Patricia Fox of Aralia  Design based in Sawbridgeworth was our guest speaker this evening.

Her talk centred on small garden designs and what NOT to do!

Examples of her work using a selection of her recent innovative designs took us on a tour of a series of high end properties in London including Knightsbridge and Regents Park.  Chelsea Creek on the River Thames too!

The roof terrace gardens were quite stunning. Using an array of dramatic glass art, creative lighting, striking pergolas and bespoke garden furniture blending in to the space available. Unlikely the items could  be purcased in B&Q or Homebase!

With several ‘before and after’ shots , many small spaces were long and narrow but with careful design and judicious planting schemes and landscaping created a totally different and pleasing look.

In small spaces it is important to blur the edges to make the garden seem larger than it actually is. Fences must be hidden with  hedging, climbers or trees. It is important when using different materials like tiles, stones, planters or wooden frames to maintain the same colour palette throughout.

Bright flowers , reds/orange /yellow should be placed nearer to the house and less vibrant paler colours should be planted further away to create  spaciousness.

Aralia have won many awards for innovative and creative gardens from small urban gardens, modern contemporary gardens as well as traditional gardens in the country.

For further information (and you don’t have to own a penthouse with a roof terrace!) contact : info or telephone 01279 721461

The next meeting of the Society is on the 9th of April when Graham Austin of Home Farm Plants will be talking about delphiniums. He will be bringing along plants for sale.


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Meeting 12 February 2019

The Society’s first meeting of the year got off to a spectacular and colourful start with our Guest Speaker, the Broadcaster Howard Drury.

Howard, a veteran of 611 episodes over 11 years of Central TV’s popular ‘Gardening Time’ programme as researcher and presenter held members and guests in awe with his masterful presentation and stunning slide show accompanied by music!

Howard’s talk encompassed a whole range of excellent gardening tips and advice honed over many years of gardening trial and error working with Nurseries and plant growers, often at variance with established RHS guidance! Gardening is not an exact science!

Too many of the hundreds of his gardening tips to list here but here are a few  worth recording for posterity!

When growing orchids it is important that roots can see daylight. In their natural habitat orchids are fertilised by parrot droppings which the rains then wash  around the plants. Given we have few parrots available in the UK, special orchid fertilisers mimic nature’s way!

To preserve and extend alstromerias flowering season stalks should be pulled out and never cut.

New species of dwarf buddlias are increasing in popularity as they are sterile and do not reproduce seedlings and they are very attractive to bees. As are all cone and single flowers as opposed to newer varieties of double flowers which make it difficult for bees to pollinate.

Composting around roses in the winter months helps to delay black spot reappearing on new leaf growth.

Howard never uses a rotavator as he believes it destroys the structure of the soil.

Looking to the future the rapid development in battery technology will mean petrol engines in gardening equipment will be redundant in 5 years time which will make life easier for all especially the more mature gardener!

A new moss treatment developed in Belgium will be launched later this year which Howard has already witnessed does actually kills moss within the hour!

Tomatoes are even now being  grown underground in the Middle East using LED lighting providing a pink glow 24/7. The futures bright, the futures pink but the tomatoes are still red when ripe!

To find out more of Howard’s gardening tips and ideas visit his website :

The next meeting of the Society is Tuesday March 12 when Garden Designer Patricia Fox will talk about creating drama and structure in the small garden (What NOT to do!)





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Meeting 4 December 2018

Our Guest Speaker this evening was Graham Spencer whose Talk was entitled ‘The Future Of Your Garden’.

His company (Plants For Europe Ltd) which he has been running for over 20 years links Breeders to Growers and has been responsible for the development and introduction of many new species, constantly striving to improve plant quality and increased variety for gardeners in the UK and Europe.

The company works with breeders across the globe from Newfoundland to Australia and is heavily involved in the marketing of new plants which are often launched to the gardening public at the well supported RHS Shows as at Chelsea, Malvern and the like.

Plant sales in the UK are becoming more popular via the big supermarkets. Waitrose in particular have made great strides in recent years. The biggest cost for growers is the cost of transport which is reflected in the retail price. Interestingly B&Q realised with their fleet of large lorries delivering daily from their depots to their stores  making  a detour to collect plants from their growers they could save the growers costs. Therefore reducing the cost to the B&Q customer. A ‘USP’ (unique selling point!) which has greatly increased sales.

A list of new plants featured in Graham’s talk from Arugas to Spireas will follow shortly. Further information can be found on

New Plants – The Future For Your Garden – a talk by Graham Spencer

  • Ajuga Black Scallop BINBLASCA
  • Ajuga Sugar Plum BINSUGPLU
  • Brachyglottis Walberton’s® Silver Dormouse WALBRACH
  • Digitalis Walberton’s® Goldcrest WALDIGONE
  • Eryngium zabelii Neptune’s Gold – Best New Perennial at Grower Awards 2015
  • Erysimum Walberton’s® Fragrant Star WALFRASTAR
  • Erysimum Walberton’s® Fragrant Sunshine WALFRASUN
  • Euphorbia martinii Ascot Rainbow – RHS Award of Garden Merit
  • Euphorbia characias Glacier Blue
  • Geum Totally Tangerine – a “Chelsea hero”
  • Helleborus Walberton’s® Ivory Prince WALHELIVOR
  • Helleborus Walberton’s® Rosemary WALHERO
  • Hibiscus Walberton’s® Rose Moon WALHIROSMO
  • Lavandula intermedia Heavenly Angel DOWPHANGEL
  • Lavandula intermedia Heavenly Night DOWPHNIGHT
  • Lavandula intermedia Heavenly Scent DOWPHSCNT
  • Lavandula pedunculata Fairy Wings® Blush
  • Lavandula pedunculata Fairy Wings® Pink
  • Lavandula pedunculata Fairy Wings® Purple
  • Nemesia Amelie FLEURAME
  • Nemesia Framboise FLEURFRAM
  • Nemesia Myrtille FLEURMYR
  • Nemesia Wisley Vanilla
  • Nemesia Berries and Cream FLEURBAC
  • Nemesia Berrie White FLEURBW
  • Nemesia Raspberries and Cream FLEURRAS
  • Nepeta grandiflora Summer Magic – winner ISU Plant Award 2016
  • Pennisetum advena Chelsea
  • Philadelphus Starbright
  • Pyracantha Golden Paradise
  • Rehmannia Walberton’s® Magic Dragon WALREMADRA
  • Ranunculus Rococo® series
  • Salvia Ember’s Wish SAL0101
  • Salvia Love and Wishes SERENDIP6 – many awards incl. Best New Bedding Plant, Grower Awards 2016
  • Salvia Wendy’s Wish
  • Salvia Kisses and Wishes
  • Spiraea Walberton’s® Magic Carpet WALBUMA – RHS Award of Garden Merit

Useful websites:

CIOPORA (organisation for breeders of ornamental plants) –


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