ZOOM Talk 13 October 2020

Matthew Biggs ‘Dig for victory, was it successful?’

Our second Zoom evening was an informative look back to the second world war and how through hardship and necessity the people of Britain coped to feed themselves during the six years of devastation from 1939 to 1945.

The phrase ‘Dig for victory’ first appeared in the London Evening Standard in September 1939 and was coined by a young left of centre journalist by the name of Michael Foot who later became the leader of the Labour Party!

The German onslaught deliberately caused enormous damage to target Britain’s food supplies as so much of our basic supplies of fruit and vegetables were imported from overseas.

For example 287,000 tons of bananas were imported in 1939 but by 1942 there were none due to the success of German operations sinking merchant ship tonnage.

Huge shortages of supplies led to severe rationing and the Government had to quickly organise a massive propaganda exercise to encourage the British population to grow as much food as possible. It sought the help of the RHS and Allotment societies to help produce and publish countless booklets and leaflets to educate and inform people. Not easy given the shortage of seeds and during the War no weather forecasts were published.

Matthew showed us an amazing number of these items from his personal archive and his extensive research including a best seller ‘Cloches Versus Hitler’ written by Charles Wyse-Gardner….possibly not his real name!

Old photographs of allotments created on tube station platforms, a circular allotment dug into a circular bomb crater, a large vegetable garden in the moat of the Tower of London to list just a few!

Sales of spades and wheelbarrows took off in the early years.

To help nurture the planting when manure was scarce, additives including soot (plentiful in coal burning days) wood ash, guano and raw sewage were recommended. It was said many allotments in and around London had a particularly pungent air!

The Germans even went to great lengths to wreck the efforts of growers and destroy crops by the Luftwaffe dropping cardboard boxes of pests on allotments in Kent.

Was it all worth it? The answer has to be Yes, thanks to the great ingenuity and hard work by so many to feed the nation during the darkest days of the second world war.

The next ZOOM evening will take place on Tuesday 10 November at 8.00pm with Matthew Malde the medal winning garden designer who will talk about ‘A designer journey to Chelsea’ It will follow the AGM at 7.45pm.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Annual General Meeting 2020

This will be held prior to the November 10 Talk online via ZOOM at 7.45pm.

All relevant information will be mailed electronically to all members in late October.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Changes to October-December 2020 Talks

Harpenden Gardening Society’s   remaining Talks for 2020 will now take place online via ZOOM.

The first of these on Tuesday October 13 is a change to the published programme will see a return of one of our most popular speakers, Matthew Biggs a Gardeners Question Time panellist and prolific author. His talk is entitled “Dig for Victory, was it successful” Sure to be an amusing and informative experience.

Tuesday November 10 brings the celebrated Chelsea medal winner Manoj Malde who will highlight ‘A designer’s journey to Chelsea’

Our last meeting of the year on Tuesday December 1 will feature the author and TV Editor Geoff Hodge who will talk about winter colours in the garden….beating the winter blues.

Members will receive the Zoom link to view the presentations prior to each talk.

Non members can join the Society (annual fee £12.00) and participate in all events by contacting our Treasurer Doug Knowles at douglasknowles@talktalk.net


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Talk: 8 September Janet Buist via ZOOM

Due to the current restrictions for large gatherings our first Talk in the Autumn season by our guest speakerJanet Buist, a retired nursery owner ,was via ZOOM. Over 40 members tuned in to  hear Janet share her keen interest and extensive knowledge on the ‘wonderful world of salvias’

Amazingly in 1975 there were only 8 known species of salvias. Today there are over 1,300 species!

Pioneering work by Pat Vlasto in Dorset and Christine Yeo (who has published two informative books) and others increased the range and popularity of species spectacularly in the last few decades. The National Collection of salvias is now held at the Kingston Maurwad Gardens near Dorchester.

William Dyson of the Great Comp Gardens in Kent  (Society members visited a couple of years ago) also has an extensive collection of salvias

The foremost website for salvias can be found at robinssalvias.com

Why have salvias become so popular? Flower power! Range of colours: Blues, reds,yellows, soft apricot and even black! Fragrant leaves.Attractive for bees, some steal the nectar!

Janet explained she lists them into five groups:

Hardy herbaceous: Can withstand winters. Plant in spring in well drained soil and cut back in winter.

Hardy evergreen: Mostly come from the Mediterranean. The leaves of salvia fruticosa can be infused in hot water and drunk as a refreshing tea. Plant in spring and ideally in full sun.

Half hardy: Salvia Patens with large gentian blue flowers and Salvia Cambridge Blue varieties can be treated like dahlias. Cut down in winter and mulch and cover with a cloche to keep roots dry.

Tender evergreen: Mostly derive from the new world. Salvia confertiflora with pink flowers and Salvia oxyphora (discovered in Bolivia) with coral red flame petals are particular favourites. Need to be sheltered from wind and need a frost free home over winter.

Shrubby: Most popular of all, for their long flowering. Varieties include Red Velvet, Cream, Icing Sugar, Orange Door, Cherry Lips, So Cool Pale Blue to name but a few. Plant out in May in well drained soil, sunny or sheltered position. Pruning in late July (the Hampton hack!) will ensure continuous flowering.

Salvias need protection from several pests and diseases. Notably whitefly and the capsid bug. Botrytis in over wintering plants in the green house can happen so it is best to maintain good greenhouse hygiene and allow fresh air to circulate.

Our next Talk is scheduled for 13 October when our guest speaker will be Bryan Hewitt the Head Gardener at Myddleton House.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Due to the coronavirus pandemic we have reluctantly had to cancel the next two meetings scheduled for 14 April and  12 May. We hope to resume the schedule of Autumn meetings commencing 8 September.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Meeting Tuesday 11 February 2020

Despite high winds and an icy February chill, a full house attended the first meeting of the year. The speaker was Dr Ian Bedford an entomologist whose talk was ‘All you’ll ever need to know about slugs!’

What an  absolutely, interesting, fascinating and amusing talk, accompanied by a superb colour slide and video presentation, it was.

Surprisingly not all slugs devour your garden plants!

Slugs are hermaphrodites and evolved from snails around 500 million years ago. There are 5000 species worldwide and are essential for the ecosystem. 40 species are established in Britain. Slugs have brains and tentacles and can regenerate if cut. They thrive in damp conditions, producing slime which aids movement, offers a defence against predators and attracts mates. They will lay 2000 eggs in a lifetime. Mainly nocturnal, they feed on plants by rasping and ripping with their radula, a long tongue like proboscis.

Red and black slugs are good for gardens as they thrive under compost heaps.

Greyfield are surface slugs which can devour flowers and vegetables.

Yellow slugs eat mould, moss, lichen and are partial to pet food!

The most invasive slugs which can grow up to 6 inches long do most damage are the Spanish slugs. They are particularly attracted to yellow flowers especially fields of rape seed. They also eat other snails and dead mice. Fortunately they cannot cope with winter and die.

There are three ways to try and reduce the slug population in gardens.

Naturally. Frogs, toads, centipedes, snakes, toads and nematodes, hedgehogs all enjoy a good meal of slugs!

Physically Barriers of egg shells, copper, seaweed, salt, beer traps.

Chemically Do not use Metaldehyde as this will kill other wildlife especially hedgehogs. Ferric Phosphate is recommended as this is not harmful to other wildlife.

Drowning slugs should be done in a bucket of soapy water as this will restrict their escape. Bleach must be used afterwards to kill off any parasites which the slugs will have consumed. Again any slug remains must not be left on open ground as any household pets could be infected by the parasites.

For those interested, The RHS are recruiting slug spotters across Britain to take part in the largest garden study in 70 years. The RHS is calling on people to assist in a PHD study aimed at identifying species currently active in Britain, their abundance and what attracts them into gardens. The survey can found at rhs.org.uk/slugsurvey

The next meeting will be on Tuesday 10 March at 8.00pm when our guest speaker will be David Coop of Elsoms Seeds who will talk about ‘How to choose the right compost’


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Catherine Horwood on Beth Chatto

Beth was the inspiration behind the ‘right plant,right place’ ethos that lies at the heart of modern gardening. Some years before her death in May 2018,aged 94,Beth authorised Catharine Horwood to write her biography. Beth Chatto: A life with plants includes extracts from Beth’s notebooks and diaries bringing Beth’s own distinctive and much loved voice into the book.

Catharine Horwood is giving a talk at the Hertfordshire Hardy Plant Society meeting on Saturday 4th January at 2.00pm at the Memorial Hall, Marford Road, Wheathampstead,AL4 8AY

Entrance fee for visitors £5.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Meeting 3 December

For our last meeting of 2019, the Society welcomed Chris Bryant the Retail Manager of Ayletts Nursery to talk about some of the most popular selling plants during the pre Christmas period. His talk included some useful tips on ensuring plants thrive indoors during the winter season.

Some top sellers include Japanese and Indian varieties of azaleas . The Indian varieties are not hardy. Azaleas need constant watering. Ideally rainwater. Fast growing in a warmer atmosphere.

Ayletts grow over 4,500 Poinsettias each year for Christmas purchases. It is important for the plants to be wrapped before leaving the shop (Ayletts do this but not in many other outlets) as they will not fare well in a sudden drop in temperature. Indoors must not be placed near radiators and no drafts.

Peace Lillies can be grown successfully in darker areas and can clean the air, Particularly good for an office environment.

Indoor Jasmine is very popular with their fragrancy and masses of white flowers. Can be cut back by a third in July to encourage more flowers.

Palms are easy to maintain and should be turned when watered. A short spray is ideal to stop the tips going brown.

African Violets can cope with neglect! Blue varieties are stronger than white or pink varieties. To propagate just cut the leaves and place in water and watch the roots grow. Easy!

Ayletts grow over 3,500 cyclamen each year. Need to be kept in a cool environment. Not so good in modern centrally heated modern houses. Water from underneath and take care the corms if too wet are subject to rotting.

Orchids have grown in popularity over the years as they are now grown in large numbers in the UK. Feed via the leaves. When flowering is finished the stems should be cut above a leaf node but not too far down the plant.

Christmas Cactus prefer a shady place and it is important not to change the position of the plant. They can be put outside when temperatures rise but again place in a shady place.


Lastly this year the amaryllis bulbs can now be bought with an amaryllis printed Christmas jumper….hurry while stocks last!

Ayletts have been in business for 66 years and for those that don’t know it the sat nav reference is AL2 1DH, Telephone 01727 822255. http://www.ayletttnurseries.co.uk


The next meeting of the Harpenden Gardening Society is on Tuesday 11 February when our guest speaker will be Dr Ian Bedford who will tell us everything we need to know about SLUGS !

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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  www.edulis.co.uk or edulisnursery@gmail.com

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment