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

Greenfingers - March 2019

The mulch in the compost heap is ready to spread around the roses and shrubs, and currently supports only a few weeds. However, in the past, within a couple of weeks of putting it on the garden, the mulch has been thick with weed seedlings. I’m reminded of poppies, which do not germinate unless the soil is turned over, exposing the seeds to light. So, does it make sense to mulch the roses at night? Watch this space!

I can see the logic in this approach, but I struggle with the lunar planting calendar. In researching this, it appears that in trying to put a scientific slant on the technique, tidal effects on the water table are suggested as instrumental in producing healthier crops when planted at the correct time – and although I’ve never tried it, I’m not convinced.

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Greenfingers - February 2019

The Stroud Potato Day is on Saturday 2nd Feb in the Farmers Market, which is a good opportunity to chat about chitting with experts and try a few different varieties.

Birds0219The list of birds seen to land in the garden during the year was slightly disappointing, compared to 2017 when a pheasant and buzzard joined the list, and especially when the 2018 penguin was ruled offside. However, 2019 has started well, with a visit from a pheasant early in January.

Wisteria should be pruned and deciduous grasses cut back. Evergreen grasses can be tidied up by removing old or damaged leaves. The old leaves should be removed from Hellebores, the better to see the flowers, and many perennials and bulbs such as snowdrops may be propagated by lifting and splitting the root ball or bulb mass. Some plants can be propagated from root cuttings at this time of year, such as Phlox, Papaver, Acanthus and Verbascum. Last year, the moth caterpillars turned many leaves of the mullein to lace, but a drenching of garlic liquor seemed to limit the spread.

Overwintering tubers and bulbs can be watered and brought into the light and into early spring growth.Sweet peas can be sown and kept in a cool greenhouse or coldframe, and any summer flowering lily bulbs which have overwintered in pots should be checked for grubs before encouraging into growth.

On the 19th February the moon will be at perigee (when it is closest to the earth), with a full moon 7 hours later, which will look larger and brighter than usual, occupying an angular diameter of 33.28arcmin when full versus the average 31.07arcmin. (The sun is ~32arcmin).

Pete Smith

Greenfingers - January 2019

The Christmas hyacinths are all shooting, but look a tad under-developed. They are in the light but cool greenhouse at present, as I hesitate to bring  them into the warmer house until they are a bit further on. Other indoor plants can suffer during the winter, with the low light levels, so consider moving them to a windowsill or porch, but try to minimise the watering and temperature variations.

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