Enlightened and Bemused

Eranthis hyemalis cilicica group
Eranthis hyemalis cilicica group

This weekend I went to my first meeting of a well established group of the Hardy Plant Society.  As I said in my last post I had heard how good the group was from a number of plants people some of whom travelled quite a way to attend the meeting.  I concluded it must be a good group and worth a go.

Unlike many groups, HPS and otherwise, this group has a day long meeting which initially put me off.  I work full time so weekends are precious and giving up a Saturday, albeit it once a month, seemed a big thing.  However, given it is February and the weather isn’t being conducive to gardening I thought this would be a good time to give it a go.

The hall was full when I arrived and there was a real buzz.  I had been warned that many members had been attending for a long time, some of them 30 odd years and so it might seem cliquey but they weren’t really.  I quickly learnt about the seed swap, location of the tea and coffee and the plant sales as well as the library!

The number of well used notebooks that appeared at the start of the morning session told me I was amongst serious plants people. The session was led by Bob Brown, a member of the group and owner of Cotswold Garden Flowers.  It was essentially a discussion based around various plants and stems that members had bought in.  I found the whole thing fascinating since Bob was really acting as facilitator and it quickly became clear that there were many very knowledgeable plantsmen and nursery owners in the group.  From considering a very nice Primula vulgaris, the conversation went on to the best time to divide primulas (consensus September) to whether you should cut a plant’s roots when you plant or divide it.  Many of the plant growers were adamant that you should and Bob conceded that given the quality of their plants then maybe it was something he should consider although he looked a little pale at the idea.  Timing of dividing Irises was also raised and the consensus was July-August for the majority of varieties as this is when they put down roots.  A wonderful stem of Abeliophylly distichum (White Forsythia) was produced. This is a plant that has recently crept to the top of my want list.  However, the discussion soon highlighted that it was a troublesome plant to grow well  and wasn’t that appealing when in leaf. in fact the stem in front of us was actually one of the best examples members had seen.  I think I shall rethink my idea of getting an Abeliophylly – maybe a Daphne instead.

In the afternoon there was a talk by Timothy Walker, the Director of the Oxford Botanic Garden.  I have been to a workshop by him before so I knew it would be a lively and entertaining talk and indeed it was.  We travelled around the world looking at the plants that can be grown outside in the UK and where they originated from.  A number of plants went on my ‘to investigate’ list including Chinese Foxglove.  I also learnt that the trumpet (corona) part of a daffodil or narcissus was actually part of the stamen which was really fascinating. However, I was left somewhat bemused to learn that the approach I had taken to siting plants was potentially flawed.  I had read or was told that if you found out where in the world a plant originated from then it would help you find the right environment for it in your garden.  During the talk there were a number of plants which grew in a certain location but needed almost the opposite in the UK.  The one that sticks with me is the Melianthus major which comes from South Africa and likes drainage ditches – here in the UK this does not mean planting it in a bog garden but a warm gravel bed!!  So not only do you have to consider the situation they grow in the wild but also the climate and how that might equate to a UK climate which really isn’t that simple at all.  Interestingly of the three Melianthus I grew from seed two years ago the one planted in the warmest and driest situation is doing the best.

I came home with my head buzzing, not with planting schemes or design idea as when I visit a garden, but with just how much I don’t know.  As I said to another lady I thought I was fairly knowledgeable, not in a big-headed way, but I thought I wasn’t bad but after the morning discussion I concluded I am only at the start.  Kindly she said she had felt the same at her first meeting.

It was also apparent that some members came for the  morning discussion, some for the afternoon talk and some for both so I can be flexible depending on other commitments which is excellent.  I will definitely be attending for the discussions as much as I can and tapping into that wonderful and generous source of knowledge and experience.

Oh and I did buy the plant in the photograph – well it would be rude not to buy something wouldn’t it

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17 Comments Add yours

  1. Trimming roots. I’ve never really been clear why. The only time I did it was when planting a vine – and it died.

  2. rogerbrook says:

    Wow, what a first meeting! Bob Brown, he’s fantastic. And Tim Walker. A friend recently attended one of his lectures and described it as one of the best he had heard. And might I immodestly add he was a student of mine at Askham Bryan! He was a wonderful influence on his course!

  3. Sandra Jonas says:

    Helen, I have always found the most knowledgeable people are the most modest and so eager to share. So glad you found this wonderful group.

  4. Anna B says:

    Sounds like a very interesting meeting! I’m hoping to go along to a few things like this, hopefully I will be able to get my way through it with my enthusiasm because my knowledge definitely wouldn’t get me through such technical conversations! I tend to learn best by experimenting. Thanks for letting us in on your experience of the meeting : )

  5. jgp says:

    Sounds really fascinating – what a great way to spend a winter day. I think knowledge of plants and gardening is very contextual. I don’t feel I know that much, but some of my friends call me an encylopedia. But that’s because they don’t know that much in comparison, so I appear knowledgeable, even though I’m often overwhelmed by how much I don’t know!

    Really enjoyed reading this. Reminded me I should make more effort to get to talks and enjoy the plant knowledge of others. Thanks for sharing.

  6. kininvie says:

    Some fascinating observations in this post, Helen, especially those about climatic considerations – to which, of course, must be added altitude, if you try to grow mountain plants at low levels but high latitudes, as I do. Dividing Irises in August? Mine would require a bulldozer at that time of year, and spring – before their new roots have got a grip – is the only possibility.

  7. VP says:

    I can understand your bemusement – I often come away from garden talks (never mind proper workshops!) feeling I should have started all of this at least 30 years ago. When Bob Brown came to talk, he was barking out questions at us all the time, so I can imagine him being a very good facilitator.

    This looks like the perfect opportunity to learn. You sound like you had a thoroughly enjoyable day and I think perhaps you may have found your natural ‘habitat’ amongst like-minded, knowledgeable and interesting people 🙂

  8. hillwards says:

    Sounds like another really interesting day – and you brought home a fine memento as well as your notes!

  9. djdfr says:

    A great opportunity to attend these meetings.

    Cutting roots-maybe it depends on the plant and what condition it is in. I trim leek roots right back when transplanting for example but wouldn’t think of doing that to a primrose.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi djdfr
      I agree I think plants with fiborous roots would be Ok for this treatment as presumably it encourages them to make more roots

  10. Leilani says:

    What a lovely flower! I am about to take part in a Master Gardening course and I just know I will come home buzzing like you did. SO much to know. BTW, the States has something called “Earth Kind”. Any plant that is earth kind is specifically adapted to certain regions. Sounds like you have something similar there. (Though I can’t imagine what wouldn’t grow in England!)

  11. Pleasant participants, new information, good speakers, and you came home with a new plant – sounds like a perfect day. I had been so-so on my Abeliophyllum distichum until I had a year when it was a white cloud. It also has a great scent – and it’s not forsythia yellow. It was a little worse for wear when it was run over by a car two years ago (corner garden & elderly gentleman confusing brakes for accelerator) and has come back beautifully. Maybe if I could grow as many plants as you can in England, I’d think differently, but this is one tough, early-to-bloom woody plant, that will always have a spot in my garden.

  12. What an interesting group…I am anxiously awaiting to see my winter aconite

  13. I love attending meetings like the one you described. I am always amazed by the information I have gathered and how much I don’t know. I am excited for days after such an experience. I was interested in your mention of Chinese Foxglove. I am a Zone 8 gardener and I am exploring the plant as an option for my garden. I have had difficulty in sourcing it.

  14. Cathy says:

    I nearly missed this post, Helen, and only found it when I was clearing out my inbox (my plan to keep to only one page of emails before I declutter is starting to fall short!). Really interesting to hear about your day and glad it wasn’t too overwhelming. I really look forward to Bob Brown’s articles in Which? Gardening, as I love his writing style – seems like he is a good speaker too!

  15. I love how enthusiastic this meeting made you; it’s a sign that it’s definitely time well spent! After all, you can think of it as “personal pampering” – something we should all be allowed from time to time – and it seems like you really came away energised and rearing to go!

    (Also, I love winter aconites… My garden would feel incomplete without them!)

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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