Greenfingers - December 2019

It’s early November, and the rain and wet ground is preventing some of the tender plants from being lifted and stored for the winter by this fair weather gardener. But between showers, I’ve managed to sweep up a few leaves and top up the bird feeders, and during the showers and long dark evenings, catch up on the odd book or magazine.

I came across an article about cloud pruning (Niwaki) of evergreen shrubs aimed at providing some structure to the garden during winter. This technique originated in Japan and has become more popular recently, offering a slightly alternative type of topiary. It can be very effective in producing elegant forms, and is best applied to small leaved varieties with interesting branch formations, such as box, yew, pine, Japanese holly, (ilex crenata) and Japanese privet, (Lingustrum Japonicum), amongst others.

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The Plights of the Hedgehog

Have you been fortunate enough to see – or hear - a hedgehog in your garden this year? When we moved to Gloucestershire over 20 years ago, we would often hear the noise of hedgehogs at night. Today, sadly, the hedgehogs no longer visit our garden and I wonder why? Hopefully, we will gain an insight into the problems faced by these remarkable creatures from John Crowther who will talk about ‘the Plight of the Hedgehog’ at our next meeting on Tuesday 17th December. We meet at 2.15 for a 2.30 pm start, at the Hub, Tobacconist Road and after the talk, we will enjoy some seasonal refreshments.

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Greenfingers - November 2019

Whilst perched up a ladder with loppers, reducing the size of the crab apple tree, (pruning would imply some method or plan), a grey shape sped over my left shoulder and disappeared through the gap between the two holly trees in the hedge. I glimpsed it for less than half a second, swift, silent and stealthy, a sparrowhawk in hunting mode.

We also reduced the bay tree to a sensible size, and sorted the compost heaps. But had time for tea outside, making the most of the last warm days of summer at the end of September. A humming bird hawk moth was also making the most of the salvia flowers, which have recovered nicely from the dead-heading it received during August. Watching the moth delicately extract nectar from the flower, it’s clear that it doesn’t do much pollinating.

Many of the roses seemed to be infested with caterpillars this summer, which was unusual. And rather than spray, I had hoped that the birds might eat them, but no such luck. However, I expect they will enjoy the holly berries, which are looking great at the moment, but will be much thinner by Christmas.

With the winter on its way, it’s time to lift any tender plants and store them in a greenhouse or shed with some frost protection. Generally, it’s the combination of cold and wet that plants struggle with, so a cloche over those left outside would protect against the worst of the weather. Greenfingers1119

The pots of lilies have been emptied into a wheelbarrow to extract the bulbs and ensure they are clean from lily beetle grubs before repotting in fresh compost. Other tasks are to apply grease bands around the trunks of fruit trees, rake fallen leaves from the lawn and tidy the herbaceous border, though some dead stems could be left for over-wintering insects.

Dusk on the 28th November offers the interesting spectacle of Venus, Jupiter and a 2 day old moon in close alignment, but they will be close to the horizon, setting not long after the sun.

Pete Smith

Greenfingers - October 2019

A flight of swallows was spotted on the telegraph wires down Well Hill earlier in September, preparing for their long journey south.

The ‘hot bed’ inspired by the one at RHS Rosemoor and established in the front garden a few years ago has done well this summer, with a range of dark leaved plants setting off the deep reds of dahlias, cannas and crocosmia Lucifer. Several varieties of day lilies together with persicaria, rudbeckia, burnet (sanguisorba), yellow bishop dahlias and a few grasses plus some ground cover make for a full bed with plenty of texture and interest. Lobelia was included in the original layout, but it hasn’t survived the sharp drainage and slugs. I’ll lift the dahlias and cannas before the first frosts and overwinter them in the garage in the tomato pots using the old compost that the toma- toes were grown in. The crocosmia will be thinned along with several herba- ceous perennials from the other beds which will be split.

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Greenfingers - September 2019

The crab apple tree is bowed down almost to the grass with the weight of fruit, and it’s never looked so voluptuous, with its ripe, pink, chunky apples. I can eat only so much crab apple jelly, so the search is on for new recipes.

The sweet peas have also been excellent this year, giving us and the neigh- bours some beautiful blushes of fragrance. I do feed and water them regularly, and remove many side shoots and any old flower heads. I’ve also finally pruned back the vines, which had become very overgrown.

The main flower bed has also become somewhat overgrown during the summer, partly through us being away, so not keeping on top of dead-heading and cutting back, and partly because the plants have become too large, and are competing for space and light. Over the next month or two, many of these will be lifted, split and re-sited. The pond will also need attention this autumn, as the lilies are tending to completely cover the surface. Always a challenging task, as the roots become entangled in a single mass making it difficult to remove. Autumn is a time to enjoy the variety of fungi that may be around, though this bracket fungus photo was taken in April.

Harvest the products of your hard work over the year, and prepared hyacinths for Christmas flowering should be planted before the end of September.

The show schedules including entry forms are available around the town for the gardening club show on 14th September. Please note that nuts and nut products are not allowed in the school, so bear this in mind when preparing your exhibits.

A conjunction between the moon and Jupiter occurs on 6th September, and the autumn equinox is on 23rd September.

Pete Smith

The Lady Chapel Altar’s journey to Paris and installation in an excellent new home. 

A precarious start! Mind the Wedding Dresses!
Altar1 Altar2
It took seven builders to move it during the reordering This time it's 8 good men and true
Altar3 Altar4
Team work and success
Altar5 Altar6

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End of Term School Reports

Many of us, like me, used to await our school report with mixed feelings. However it is my experience that little consideration is handed out to those who write the reports. Different schools have different traditions about report writing and the advent of parents’ evenings, when parents meet their child’s teachers, has, to some extent, added to, but not devalued, reports.

At Sherborne, an all boys boarding school of 650 13 to 18 year olds, where I was Headmaster for 12 years, the tradition was that each boy would receive a termly written report from all those who taught them and these would then be passed on to the 9 Housemasters who would fill gaps and comment on the boy’s extra-curricular activities. In order to discourage mundane comments like “he could do better” and “reasonable progress has been made”, I used to run a competition that reflected the humour and possibilities of report writing. I posted about 10 anonymous extracts on the Common Room notice board and the first colleague to guess the correct author of each of these snippets received a bottle of wine.

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Greenfingers - July 2019

I don’t think I’ve seen the Park and the common looking as splendid as it did this spring, with the buttercups, trees and sunshine providing a lovely setting. The main task for the next month or two is to enjoy the garden, or someone else’s. Take your time to smell the scents, listen to the birds and leaves, taste the produce and experience the colours and textures. Ignore the weeds for a few hours.

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Greenfingers - June 2019

Camellia0619I came across a Camellia in the garden of a relative recently. She already has 2 plants, but this one appears to be a present from the birds, and has a fine columnar form with neat, prolific flowers, as in the photo. So I shall be looking to take a few cuttings next time I visit.

Last year’s tomatoes had evidence of both splitting and blossom end rot, which was probably due to the hot weather and the watering regime. The tomatoes are grown inpots, with fresh compost, so they tend to be generally pest and disease-free. The pots stand on gravel, and a tray under each pot may well help to maintain a more even level of humidity both in the pot and in the surrounding atmosphere, so I’ll give it a go.

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The Story of our Palm Crosses

Father Alan Talbot was an Anglican priest who served six year in Masasi, in the mid 1960’s. In 1965 he started a palm cross project. Here in his own words is how it all started.

I was sent by the Bishop to a place called Namakambale. I tended to receive mail about once a month and on one occasion I received a copy of the Church Times and read that they were finding it hard to get Palm Crosses for Palm Sunday in England. Church suppliers were purchasing palm leaves from Spain and having the leaves plaited into crosses in England as a cot- tage industry. This was proving very expensive.

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Greenfingers - May 2019


The photo was taken in early April in the greenhouse, walled garden, Helmsley, N. Yorkshire. It wasn’t just the seedlings popping up, or the splendid labelling, but I thought the layout of the tools looked great too. It was also warm.

As the likelihood of a late frost recedes, seedlings and tender tubers such as dahlias and canna can be hardened off and planted out. Most of our beds are now reasonably weed-free, having spent some effort on these over the last 2 months. This included digging out lots of small allium and celandine plants, and taking them to the recycling centre. Putting them on the compost heap in previous years has probably aided their spread.

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Greenfingers - April 2019

The fine weather at the end of February was a tonic, especially when reflect- ed against de-frosted memories of March 2018 to really appreciate the contrast. As it was a good week to make a start, I raked a great deal of moss from the lawn, and having made space in the compost heaps, added the moss mixed with several shredded cardboard boxes.

We spotted small tortoiseshell, peacock and red admiral butterflies, and lots of honey bees and bumblebees at the end of February, and were pleased that they were taking advantage of some nectar-producing flowers; such as Hellebores, Pulmonaria, Primula, Daphne, Sarcococca, snowdrops, crocus and early daffodil. The contorted hazel also has flowers and catkins.

BlueTit0419I noted a recent article which confirmed the positive impact of planting marigolds alongside tomato plants, to distract white- fly from the crop. I tend to give the vblue tits a chance to eat the greenfly on the roses, and the same applies to broad and run- ner beans, with ladybirds and their larvae moving from one to the other as the season pro- gresses, clearing the pests as thdey go.

April is a busy month in the gar- den, with longer and warmer days encouraging growth, espe- cially weeds. So keep on top of them early and they become easier to control later.

Sweet pea seeds are germinating as I write this, so I shall be digging a trench with a good deal of compost for their growing site in the next few days. They tend to grow leggy if left under cover for too long. Cuttings of hardy perennials from last autumn are generally looking healthy, so they will be able to go out soon; Penstemon, Heuchera, and Nepeta. I also need to check the latest batch of yew cuttings, as last year’s didn’t do well in the dry summer.

Pete Smith