Talk,Tour & Tea @ Luton Hoo Walled Garden

On a glorious sunny afternoon our group enjoyed a very interesting and informative colourful slide presentation on the history of the Estate of Luton Hoo through the ages until the present day. Originally designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in 1763 as a unique 5 acre octagonal walled garden for the then owner the 3rd Earl of Bute.

The Estate then passed through 2 more family groups, the Leighs in the 19th century  and the Wehners and Philips in the 20th century. Sadly the walled garden fell into decline from the 1980’s but is now going through a great restoration aided by around 150 dedicated local volunteers.

Many areas within the garden are undergoing continuous maintenance with plots being weeded and brought back to life with vegetable crops (pumpkins,sweetcorn, beans, courgettes) sown together with many shrubs and plants of yesteryear discovered from old plans through diligent research by a dedicated team of volunteers.

Several propagation greenhouses have been renovated and now  growing melons (in netting) courgettes and cucumbers. The long conservatory has a series of grape vines on one side and a wall of figs along the wall. Behind the wall are a series of rooms for tool cleaning and storage, a room for mushroom growing and washing of vegetables ready for service in the mansion’s kitchens. Cut flowers were also supplied to the house each day, the responsibility of the head gardener who was also responsible for the arrangements too!

15 to 17 under gardeners were employed and all lived together in a house on the estate overlooked by the head gardener’s own house who kept an eye on them for any misbehaviour! Especially as the dairy maids lived close by in a another house. The under gardeners were responsible for the upkeep of their own standard apparel. Boots highly polished were inspected by the head gardener every morning before work commenced at 7.00am. Training at Luton Hoo was a very prestigious posting as it was regarded as second only to Kew which would greatly enhance their future careers.

Our group were also able to view inside the dairy which is under restoration. The large marble slab in the centre of the room was recently used as a morgue in the recent film, Bleak House!

The Walled Garden is open to the public every Wednesday throughout the summer until 26 September between 10.30am-4.00pm. There is a £5.00 entry fee. Current produce grown in the garden is on sale, also honey and honeycomb from the Estate’s own bee hives.

For those who have never visited it really is a worthwhile outing. Those that have not visited  in recent times will be amazed by the progress that has been made over the last few years.  Click to see photos

To complete all the renovations a sum of 8 million pounds is thought to be the amount needed!  Lottery winners are very welcome to apply here!

For further information visit:

…and Volunteers always welcome!

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Meeting 8th May 2018

Around 70 members and guests attended the Talk on a very warm evening given by Barry Gayton the well known East Anglian retired Head Gardener who shared his life long love of gardening with ‘bulbs, corms and tubers for all seasons’ accompanied by a colourful slide show.

Barry told us that when he was 7 years old he was asked by his parents what he wanted for Christmas. Most children of that age would have wanted a train set but Barry asked for a glass house! His parents duly obliged and that was the start of his life long love of gardening. From the age of 8 onwards he was able to start supplying his local nursery with plants!

Leaving school he went to horticultural college, cycling 25 miles each way each day.

Barry’s garden is set in an acre and a half on the Norfolk/Suffolk border and contains over 50,000 cacti and shrubs all grafted or from cuttings.

He demonstrated that bulbs have a single upward shoot, corms are solid with no scales and tubers like potatoes have several shoots from all angles.

This year has been the strangest since Barry can remember inasmuch as the very hot bursts of spring weather has caused many spring flowering bulbs to go over so quickly.

It is important to leave the stems for several weeks after flowering so all the energy can return to the bulb to guarantee flowering the following year. At this time it is very important to feed the plants. Dead heading too if you have the time!

Squirrels are very fond of breakfasting on bulbs especially crocuses so a good tip is to put a layer of wire mesh under the surface of the soil which will stop any interference. Also small plants like irises can be protected by a layer of small stones (not shingle) which will also protect them from sudden downpours.

Barry’s garden has evolved over 38 years and with his constant devotion and plant expertise provides year round colour a feat he can be justly proud.

..and lastly another top tip for the really keen gardener, the best time to remove the lily beetle is around 3.30 in the morning when they can be easily found and disposed of…..!



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Meeting 13 March 2018

An eventful and entertaining meeting held at Roundwood Park School! Our guest speaker Joe Sharman of Monksilver Nurseries was seriously delayed on his journey from Cambridge due to many major road closures!

As our Chairman was away on holiday, committee member Glyn Goodwin improvised splendidly for an hour with a series of entertaining asides including several jokes from the recently departed Ken Dodd’s joke book!

One of our members Gillian Whitbread boldly stepped in to the breach with a masterclass on one of her favourite flowers the snowdrop currently giving some colour in this grey winter month.

Still awaiting the arrival of our guest speaker (who was continually updating us on his progress!) an impromptu question and answer session was developed by Glyn involving members and guests. How to stop squirrels eating bulbs provided an entertaining range of answers from mothballs to airguns.

Two members gave suggestions to the perennial problem of killing moss was well received. A propriety brand ‘Mo Bacta’ and Ferrous Sulphate were recommended and are available from local garden centres.

At last Joe Sharman arrived and after some calming down and cups of tea he gave us a masterclass on the huge varieties of hellebores available backed up with a colourful slide show.

Basically there are two distinct types, stems and stemless with the latter having leaves at ground level. The stem variety are all evergreen and grow profusely on sloping ground.

Hellebores niger have black roots and thrive in an acid soil and come in a range of colours from red/white/pink and green.

The range of hellebores has grown significantly over the last few decades thanks to leading breeders like Helen Ballard who have perfected the art of creating the subtle colours and hues of hellebores we see today.

Hellebores are unique to their area. Those grown in Harpenden will have unique characteristics as will those grown in nearby Batford or Wheathampstead.

Members were able to purchase a whole range of spring plants including snowdrops, daffodils and of course many different species of very healthy looking hellebores which hopefully made Joe’s arduous journey worthwhile.

For further advice and information visit the website:

or visit: Monksilver Nursery, Oakington Road, Cottenham,Cambridge, CB24 8TW


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Meeting Tuesday 13 February 2018

On a cold and wet evening,the first meeting of 2018 attracted a good number (60-70) of members and guests to listen to our guest speaker, Thomas Stone the former Head Gardener of Mottisfont Abbey Gardens which members visited on an organised Society outing last year.

Thomas came to talk about ‘Hardy Geraniums and their uses’.

Geraniums (not to be confused with pelargoniums) are a truly global brand, found originally in the Americas, Europe, Middle East, Far East and Australasia.

Incredibly there are over 600 species of geraniums. Fortunately Thomas assured the audience he would not be covering all of them during the next 60 minutes!

With a series of stunning slides giving great clarity and fine detail he ran through many of his favourites as well as some ‘enemies’!

From asphodeloides that flower all summer long that are tough plants and can grow in full sun or shade to machrozzhizums with ‘apple scented’ leaves that need dryer conditions. Himalayense (no prizes for guessing where they originate!) grow to 8 inches in height but not only take over a border but will take over the garden if not checked. You have been warned!

Nigricans originally discovered in New Zealand grow to only 2 inches in height, give a beautiful display with their dark red leaves and delicate white flowers.

These are just a few examples from the talk but you can get in touch with Thomas via;

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Talk 14 November

Given the traffic gridlock in Harpenden caused by the closure of the M1 motorway and further problems in the High Street, a surprising number of members and guests made it albeit a little later than normal to enjoy our guest speaker Andrew Sankey talk entitled ‘Six of the best! (he admitted to being a teacher in earlier years!)

With a colourful series of slides he featured his 6 favourite lesser known gardens in the UK.

The Dorothy Clive Garden. The garden was created in the 1940’s by Colonel Harry Clive for the pleasure and enjoyment of his wife Dorothy. Originally a disused gravel pit, the garden was transformed into a woodland garden for Dorothy who was suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

There are plenty of landscape features including a woodland garden and waterfall, displaying a large collection of rhododendrons and azaleas, a hillside pool and a spectacular 30 metre long laburnum arch.

Powis Castle, a paradise in Wales dating back to the 17th century. The world class Italianate  terraced gardens blasted from solid rock display a theatrical mix of sophisticated borders with colourful planting, amazing topiary of the massive yew trees forming a cloud effect soaring over 30 feet in height above the terraces.

As you wander along the terraces you can experience the wonderful panoramic views of the Welsh countryside for mile upon mile.

Chatsworth, famous for it’s rich history, historic waterworks including the 300 year old cascade fountain, the willow tree fountain and the amazing gravity fed fountain, plus the spectacular 6 acre rock garden created by Head Gardener Joseph Paxton the most innovative garden designer of his era.

In addition there are 5 miles of walks, rare trees, shrubs, streams and ponds to discover.

Knightshayes Court a country estate on a grand gothic scale. The formal and woodland gardens contain one of the finest and most varied plant collections in the country. Over 1200 plant species are unique to Kingshayes. A walled kitchen garden is packed with fruit and vegetables used in the onsite Stables restaurant. Out in the parkland there are woodland walks and acres of tenanted farmland- home to the Exmoor long haul sheep.

Hestercombe Gardens a unique garden spanning three centuries of garden design. Set in 50 acres includes a Georgian shrubbery, a Georgian formal garden, a Georgian landscape garden and an Edwardian formal garden all offering  a different experience as you explore Hestercombe. A spectacular Great Cascade is the centrepiece of the landscape garden. Two ponds, the Box pond and the Pear pond make tranquil places to rest and enjoy the views. The formal garden houses the Dutch garden and the impressive Orangery.

If Shrewsbury was used as a centre point, the Dorothy Clive garden, Powis Castle and the Garden of the year winner Hodnet Hall Gardens,(recorded in the Domesday Book with its series of attractive lakes and waterfalls are all within easy reach.

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Talk 10th October

The Society is indebted to Chris Thorne of Aylett Nurseries for stepping in as our guest speaker at the very last minute as our scheduled speaker unfortunately had to cancel at short notice due to unforeseen circumstances.

Chris, the Retail Manager of Ayletts for the last 16 years, provided a very informative talk on the huge range of garden care products currently on sale at the popular St Albans Garden Centre.

His top tip was ALWAYS read the small print on the label as this will help you compare products. Many brands are packaged in different colours with different wording and different pricing. Often the contents are identical!

Gardeners looking to get the most out of their plants like bigger flowers, more colour, more leaf growth there is a growing and diverse range of fertilisers to choose from.

Plants need three basic types of food. Nitrogen which helps shoots and leaves to grow, Phosphorous which encourages roots and Potassium, important for fruits and flowers. A general purpose fertiliser like Growmore will contain  equal amounts of the above nutrients and can be used on all parts of the garden. These nutrients can be bought separately and are known as ‘straight’ fertilisers.

Fertilisers are sold in different formulations. Liquids that are quick acting but granules can be slower in their action. Miracle Gro for example is a controlled release fertiliser releasing food over many weeks.

Then there are specialist fertilisers like Tomorite which is high in potash which encourages flowers to form resulting in more fruit. Also useful in hanging baskets where flower production is essential.

Mycorrhizal funghi (been around 400 million years!) has grown in usage in recent years, heavily promoted by Monty Don on Gardeners World and endorsed by the RHS. The fungus colonize roots forming a biological link between the root and the soil. The fungus in the soil absorbs water and nutrients and accelerates healthy root growth.

Nematodes now can be bought in packs which are important in the decomposition of organic material and recycling of nutrients in soil.

Ayletts produce over 40 leaflets to help gardeners get the possible advice and are freely available online or from the nursery. Ayletts have a large, knowledgable staff who are on hand to answer any questions gardeners may have again online or on site.

Last top tip from Chris was if you are buying winter pansies in the next few weeks only by plants in flower. If they are not they will not produce flowers until the Spring.


For further information, help or advice contact:

Aylett Nurseries (south of St Albans on the A414….. Sat Nav AL2 1DH)

01727 822255




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12th September 2017 Meeting

Paul Green of Greens Leaves Nursery in Gloucestershire was our guest speaker at the first meeting in our autumn series of talks at Roundwood Park School.

The nursery set up in 1994 specialises in rare and unusual plants sourced from all around the world for growing in the UK.

Paul brought along a huge range of plants to showcase and illustrate his talk…..many of which were eagerly snapped up by members and guests following his highly interesting and informative presentation.

The specimens ranged from masses of foliage plants, ornamental grasses, sedges and colourful perennials.

One of Paul’s favourite plants is the Corokia, an evergreen shrub, otherwise known as the wire netting bush. Originating in New Zealand the plant has a mass of contorted stems with tiny leaves and is ideal for tubs. Paul is gathering many of the different varieties of Crokia and is hoping his range will become a National Collection.

Another fascinating plant featured was the Australian Mint Bush which has a scented foliage and is loved by bumble bees particularly in early summer.

The hardiness of plants has a new rating system which is being introduced by garden centres and nurserymen. From H1-H7 with 7 being the most hardy and 1 being the least hardy. However the USA have the rating in reverse which could lead to confusion!

Given many plants are subject to attack from slugs and snails, Paul recommended the use of Ferric Phosphate as an effective treatment. It is harmless to wildlife but beware of robins who devour it with apparently no ill effects!

To purchase any of the fabulous range of rare and unusual plants or download the plant catalogue visit the website:




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