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