We provide a summary of all our meetings for inclusion in the local newspaper - The Bognor Observer.  For reference, a copy of these articles is provided below.  To go directly to a particular month,. please select from the list in the left hand column.

British Alstroemerias and the UK cut flower Industry

Ben Cross runs the Crosslands Flower Nursery is the third generation of his family to grow Alstroemerias in a wholesale nursery in Walberton where he tends more than thirty different varieties of alstroemerias under 3 acres of glass all year round.  On Tuesday 26th September Ben presented an illustrated talk to the meeting of the Felpham and Middleton Horticultural Society.
He introduced the topic by speaking about the roots of his business.  In the 1930s following the Depression his great grandparents, who had been miners, moved to Sussex from the north of England to take up an opportunity under the Land Settlement Association.  This change of lifestyle wasn’t for everyone but with hard work and application the family established a successful small holding, selling produce through the cooperative to be sold at the markets in London.
By the mid-50s the family elected to come out of the cooperative and set up their own nursery in Walberton on land which had previously been used to grow Christmas trees.  Commercial pressures within the horticultural industry caused the family to look for opportunities to specialise, and found that the conditions required to grow Alstroemerias offered many advantages.  The plants are long lasting, require only relatively cool growing conditions, require no artificial lighting and have a long season of flower production.
Ben described in detail, the cycle of growing plants from bed sterilization, through planting, plant care and maintenance to cutting and preparing bunches to selling direct to various outlets. He gave us a fascinating insight into the UK cut flower industry.  Apparently only 2.5% of the flowers that are sold in UK are produced here! Most of the plants are grown much further away in South America, S E Asia etc. where the ambient temperatures mean that a lot more water is used in growing the plants. A huge amount of energy is wasted by the overseas producers in transportation and in keeping the plants marketable by use of chemicals and refrigeration.  Consequently these overseas grown flowers often only last a few days after purchase.
Ben is a passionate advocate of UK grown flowers and summed up their benefits; Use a significantly lower carbon footprint low energy costs, less water usage, reduced waste all of the plant material not sold is composted and recycled), flowers are cut at the optimum time in their development, are fresher giving longer lasting flowers (Ben guarantees his flowers will last for at least 14 days if correctly cared for).  His business helps the local economy, provides opportunities for horticultural apprentices, and importantly he sells his flowers at the same price all year round.  He encouraged the audience to look for his flowers in local florists and other outlets.

How to grow Clematis successfully
Marcus Dancer is a nurseryman that has been in horticulture for all of his working life.  He has his own nursery in Fordingbridge, Hampshire, specialising in the many varieties of Clematis.  On Tuesday 25th July Andy gave a talk to over 90 members and visitors of the society at St Mary’s Centre Felpham. 
Marcus had brought over thirty different clematis with him and used these to show the audience part of the range of clematis that is available.  He gave us an extremely informative talk illuminated by large photographs of each of the plants he described which were passed around the audience to study in detail.
There are many different groups of Clematis including but not limited to; evergreen, alpina, Montana, cirrhosa, Large flowered hybrids, late large flowered hybrids, texensis,  and macropetala.  Marcus described each of these groups in detail with descriptions of many of the individual varieties within each of the groups, the position and type of soil they prefer and, crucially, how deep to plant.  His knowledge of his subject was remarkable, speaking without notes for the whole of the meeting. 
After describing the different groups he went on to explain how to prune the different clematis.  For pruning purposes it is important to know which group the clematis belongs to since pruning at the wrong time or by the wrong amount is likely to severely reduce the flowering of the plant the following year.


Borde Hill Gardens

Andy Stevens is the Head Gardener at Borde Hill Gardens.  On Tuesday 27th June Andy gave this illustrated talk to over 100 members and visitors of the society at St Mary’s Centre Felpham.  The turn-out for the meeting was even more remarkable given the heavy rain that had persisted into the evening.  The audience was not disappointed; Andy’s talk was both informative and entertaining, proving both a history of the gardens, followed by a ‘virtual’ tour of the gardens in their current form.

 The current gardens were started and developed by Colonel Stephenson Robert Clarke, who bought the Tudor property and estate in 1893. Although a military man, Colonel Clarke had attained  a double first in Agricultural sciences and was a keen sponsor and supporter of plant hunters.  The magnificent range of Magnolias, Rhododendrons, Azaleas and the unusual trees, some unique, that are to be seen at Borde Hill owe their presence to the work of the plant hunters and the experimental work of Colonel Clarke who, with the knowledge he had obtained from his studies was able to identify the most likely suitable locations, within the estate, to place the plants raised from seed and develop the 200 acres of parkland.  The estate boasts 83 ‘Champion’ trees and represents the largest private collection of such trees in the UK.  A champion tree is defined as the largest known tree of a particular species, by height or girth.

For over 100 years the Garden has evolved with seasonal colour and interest to complement the original plantings of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and magnolias.

Andy’s photographs illustrated the diversity of styles and planting that are to be seen at the gardens, from the formal rose garden to the recent Italian Garden and midsummer border.   He left us with a desire to visit the gardens either for the first time, or for those that have visited previously, to visit again, to see the recent additions and changes at the gardens which are constantly evolving,  to see the gardens at a different season.  Alternatively, take a walk through the extensive woodlands and see some of the magnificent trees.


Growing Herbs

On Tuesday 23rd May, Martin Jarvis, who runs the Culberry Nursery, Angmerring, gave a practical talk on growing herbs to an audience of over 70 members and visitors.

 Culberry Nursery, which is family-owned, supplies herbs, both culinary and medicinal, direct to the public via Farmers’ Markets, Bairds and Manor Nursery.  The nursery is also open to the public. The nursery was started by his parents in 1948 as a market garden.  Martin’s career has included growing bedding plants at Manor Nursery to supply local Councils.

This specialist nursey is an example of a local success story, having increased its turnover year on year.  Martin and his team propagate most of the plants that they sell, only buying in a small number of plants from other local producers when demand outstrips supply.

Martin had brought with him a huge variety of herbs, both familiar and unusual, which he described in some detail explaining some of the history as well as the uses of each of the herbs.  His knowledge of herbs seems encyclopaedic.  Many of the familiar herbs, mint, thyme, sage, have a large number of less well known varieties each with its own characteristics and horticultural needs.  The audience was captivated by the depth and diversity of knowledge that Martin had of his subject.

(No report available)

Tales from the Potting Shed

Jean Griffin was the guest speaker at the meeting of the Felpham and Middleton Horticultural Society, held on Tuesday 28th March.  Jean is a regular guest on the BBC Sussex gardening programme, ‘Dig It’.   She has spent all her life working in both the Amenity and Commercial sections of the horticultural industry, with the past 20 years working in Horticultural Education, and teaches people from all age groups and varying abilities.  Jean enjoys helping others by passing on her gardening experiences and is a judge for the 'Britain in Bloom' Campaign.
The audience of 100  members and guests were treated to an entertaining evening of gardening advice and amusing tales taken from Jean’s experience in broadcasting and travels around the world. She devoted the first part of the evening to advice around dealing with problems that most gardeners encounter, from how to hold and use a spade without putting too much strain on your back, to the perennial issue of eliminating or at least reducing the damage caused by slugs.  One particularly useful tip was to use wool (available as pellets) around susceptible plants in pots.
Later, Jean recounted a number of humorous stories relating to her recent visit to New Zealand and Australia.  One particular tale involving open topped buses, hailstorms and a large lady from USA - too long to retell here - had the audience in stitches!!

Beth Chatto’s Garden - Her Plants and Me

On Tuesday 28th, Steve Austin, gave an illustrated talk to members of the Felpham & Middleton Horticultural Society drawing from the experience that he gained as a summer seasonal worker at Beth Chatto’s garden near Colchester, Essex.

Steve trained at Wittle College where he gained his National Diploma and more recently obtained his 1st Class Masters with the Royal Horticultural Society. It was during his training at Wittle College that the opportunity arose to gain ‘hands-on’ experience working in Beth Chatto’s gardens for the summer seasons.  He worked for 8 years at Hilliers under Andy MacIndoe. He is now an international horticulture consultant.

Steve presented a brief history of the development of Beth Chatto’s garden, explaining that the site presented many difficulties for starting a garden including low annual rainfall. Beth, a keen plants woman had married her husband Andrew in 1943.  He had a lifelong interest in the origins of plants, and when they built their house on wasteland, part of the family fruit farm, it was a combination of knowledge and his influence that lead to the development of the world famous gardens that can be visited today.

Steve took us on a ‘virtual tour’ of the gardens, starting with the renowned Gravel Garden, explaining the use of structural elements like Choisya Aztec Pearl, Cistus Silver Pink  Artemesia Valerie Finnis  and Genista Porlock  which Beth calls her ‘old men’ and punctuates the beds with ‘full-stops’  using plants like Cistus Little miss Sunshine.  All of these plants are ideally suited to the hot, dry conditions.  Steve explained that this area was formerly used as a carpark and is never watered. The ‘tour ‘ continued in similar vein with illustrations of the Water garden, where extensive planting of slug-resistant Hostas, Pimpinella, Astrantia major and Primula bulleyana have been used.  In the Woodland garden the natural feel of the garden has been enhance by careful use of informal paths and use of damp shade loving plants like Brunnera and Tiarella. The well-illustrated talk was followed by a short Q and A session.

Over 100 members and guests enjoyed this lively and informative first meeting of the 2017 season. 


October Meeting - Orchids

Orchids was the subject for the meeting held 25th October, when the speaker, Laurence Hobbs gave an entertaining  talk and practical demonstration on the care of these popular plants.
Laurence is a commercial grower of orchids, which have held his fascination for over 35 years, he has a nursery near East Grinstead which he has run for over 25 years, the nursery is now one of only two in this country.
The packed audience was treated to a detailed talk on the history of Orchids in this country, the wide distribution of the species throughout the world – there are over 20,000 known species with plants native in virtually every country, including the Arctic Circle! The most exotic species come from the area between the tropics of Capricorn and Cancer.  They have been cultivated in the UK since the early 19th century.  At its peak, in the first half of 20th century there were nearly 30 specialist nurseries in the UK but this declined in the 70’s and 80’s following huge investment by some EU countries.
The most popular orchids, with which people are familiar are Phalaenopsis (the moth orchid) and Laurence went into detail about the care of these plants giving practical demonstrations of re-potting (including the growing medium to be used), dealing with aerial roots, position (light), temperature, watering and feeding regime that provide optimum conditions for plants which may flower continuously for up to six months or longer.
After the interval Laurence gave demonstrations on the care of other popular orchid species, including Dendrobium, Odontoglossum/Cambria hybrids, Cattleyas and finally Vandas.  Each of these requires different conditions of light and temperature to make the most of their beautiful and exotic flowers but common to nearly all is the watering regime. Back to top

September Meeting - Growing Sweet Peas for Pleasure and Exhibition

On Tuesday 27th September over 80 members, visitors and guests of the Felpham and Middleton Horticultural Society were treated to a comprehensive talk by Jim MacDonald on Growing Sweet Peas for Pleasure and Exhibition.  Jim has been growing Sweet Peas for over 50 years. He is a member of The National Sweet Pea Society and was a member of the RHS Trials team for Sweet Peas at Wisley.  Trials at Wisley have now finished and Jim is now heading up the National Sweet Pea Society trials that are currently undertaken at Sparsholt College (Hampshire) and Askham Bryan (Yorkshire).
Jim’s talk, which was illustrated by lots of excellent photographs, covered all aspects of cultivation of sweet peas from ground preparation, germination of seed, planting, staking and tying and continuing care throughout the growing season.  He then went on to describe how to select and present the blooms for exhibition with photographs showing magnificent displays at various national shows where he has won many prizes.   Jim’s wife, Mary, has a particular interest in using sweet peas in flower arrangements and we were treated to several pictures of magnificent arrangements in which sweet peas were the principal component.  Jim is also accomplished in floral arrangement and he showed us the beautiful arrangement he had produced to give to his wife on their Ruby Wedding anniversary.
One of the highlights of Jim’s career was at a national show at Windsor, when he was privileged to accompany the Queen Mother, who was well into her 90’s, around the show.  He was struck by her stamina and interest which was demonstrated by the number and range of questions she asked, some of which Jim struggled to answer!

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July Meeting  - A Head Gardeners' Year at Fittleworth House

There was a different format for the July meeting not only because there was a fuchsia competition to be judged but also due to unforeseen circumstances the speaker for that evening was unable to attend and, truly, at the eleventh hour Mark Saunders, Head Gardener at Fittleworth House, stepped into the breach.  He started the evening by relating how at around 6 pm he was in a queue at Sainsbury having shopped to cook dinner for his wife who was working late when our Chairman rang to ask if he could get  to our meeting for 7.30 pm!  Of course he had once said that if the Society was ever in need of a speaker due to a cancellation to just call but he surely expected more notice than an hour and a half!
Mark went on to give us a very interesting talk on “A Head Gardeners’ Year at Fittleworth House’.  Each month was covered giving details of how the garden changed, the jobs that had to be  done and how to do them.  Members learned how the two long herbaceous borders had been cleared to allow the removal of that insidious weed, convolvulus, and with the help of excellent slides how each stage of the new borders had emerged, from perennials grown on site, to the final glorious effect of the borders alive with colour.
Fittleworth House also raises vegetables and what vegetables they were, specially the onions almost too big for their pots.
At the end of his talk and before a lively question and answer session, the fuchsia competition results were announced and of the 36 plug plants provided by the Society and purchased by members wishing to take part on a first come first served basis, 24 returned to the judging table.  It was no surprise to the Committee to see how interested our members were in the differences in growth and who was gong to be the winner.  Sue Abbot took first place and received a large and beautiful specialist fuchsia and second and third prizes went to Sue Moon and Yvonne Coleman.
Despite the change in subject it was evident from the applause given at the end how much members and visitors had enjoyed the evening.
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June - Gardens Open

It had been decided to make the opening time for the gardens earlier this year and a good thing too as the afternoon started well but by 4 pm it was raining cats and dogs!  This did not stop the intrepid and a visit to some of the stunning gardens made by members was a treat.  From small to large and everything in between it was clear that Felpham & Middleton Horticultural Society members love their gardens.  The get-together at the end of the afternoon was spent inside avoiding the still pouring rain but was a great time to chat and for members to get to know one another over some nibbles and a welcome drink.  This is a bi-annual event in June and we are already looking forward to the next one in 2018.
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May Meeting - Growing and Showing Fuchsias

On Tuesday 24th May Derek Dexter visited Felpham and Middleton Horticultural Society to give a talk on growing and showing fuchsias.  Derek is almost self-taught having caught the fuchsia bug by accident.  He maintains a full-time job yet still manages to fit in growing fuchsias and as a member of the Woking Horticultural Society enters competitions at local and national level.  He has won many trophies including a silver-gilt medal at The Hampton Court Flower Show and the London Show lists him as 23rd in the top 70 growers in the country.
The evening was sprinkled with fun whilst he imparted his knowledge and experiences from  taking cuttings to producing a prolifically flower-covered plant.  He passed around examples of how small a cutting can be and still produce a great plant and in his local club the record is over 60 healthy cuttings in one 5 inch pot, a seemingly unbelievable achievement until you see the size of the cuttings, which are minute.  After his demonstrations and with the help of slides he showed how he kept his cuttings alive during winter with the help of a poly tunnel and fleece inside his large greenhouse thereby cutting down the need for heating.  There was advice on the fuchsia gall mite and how to save the plant and also combat other problems.  He had advice on when and how best to cut back and treat both indoor and hardy fuchsias for overwintering and how to promote growth potting on.  Some of his tips included cutting off the bottom third of roots  when repotting, growing cuttings in plastic bottles, using spaghnum moss as water retaining material in compost and even using tomato sauce to remove sticky residue from secateurs!   Perhaps one of his more unusual tips was his method of training plants to trail by attaching pegs to a leaf to bend the branch.  Turning a fuchsia into a standard plant was covered also how to produce a large rounded plant by selective pruning.
Derek kindly also donated cuttings in a bottle and a hanging basket for the raffle and the plants he bought for sale were quickly snapped up.  Derek’s knowledge was impressive and his enthusiasm contagious and members had a most enjoyable evening. 

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April Meeting - Better Garden Composition

On the evening of Tuesday 26 April Patricia Elkington came to speak to the Felpham and Middleton Horticultural Society about Better Garden Composition involving the placement of colours within the garden to promote a harmonious result.  She started with the colour wheel showing the combinations that work best together and produced slides giving both sides of the argument; that is not only the gardens that got it right but also some that did not.
Along the way she gave us the names of the plants that placed together gave a relaxing and delightful combination and gave examples of the way ornaments and focal points within the garden could also enhance the end result.  Among the gardens that got it right of course were many of the great gardens such as Sissinghurst, The Vyne and Beth Chatto’s but being discreet she declined to name the ones that got it wrong!  Among the slides were some of her own garden which has been opened for the National Garden Scheme for many years which included some where even there things had gone wrong but she had an amazing solution – if you don’t like it ….. take it out!  However, she also showed us those ‘happy’ combinations where nature does it all buy  itself.  To round off the evening she had a great many plants with her that the Society members were able to buy and we almost cleaned her out.  Altogether an informative and entertaining evening for us all.

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March Meeting - A-Z of Garden Tips
On Tuesday 22nd March, Mark Saunders, head gardener at Fittleworth House gave an illustrated talk to members of the Felpham & Middleton Horticultural Society.  Mark has been a Professional gardener since 1982, having managed gardens in Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire and Hertfordshire.  He is also a keen photographer with success in both the Royal Horticultural Society's Photographic competition and the International Photographer of the Year competition.
Over 100 members and guests were entertained by Mark who gave us informative but light-hearted tips for the gardener for each letter of the alphabet from A(annuals) even managing appropriate tips for  the tricky letters e.g. J(Jekyll – Gertrude the famous garden designer who left her mark on over 400 gardens in UK) X (xerophytes – plants that need very little water) and Y(yoga – the exercises are very good to strengthen the core muscles and prevent back pain.
Mark was very keen to share S(sharp tools, particularly secateurs, important to avoid bruising the plant when cutting and reducing die-back), I(insects – very important for pollination and he encouraged us to grow nectar rich plants to attract the pollinating insects)  In a similar vein, U (Urtica dioica) or stinging nettles not to everyone’s taste but which Mark would like us to try to find some space for since they provide the habitat for many butterflies.
Finally we reached Z and Mark considered that following some of his tips would encourage us to have better gardens and a Zest for life!!  The talk was illustrated by many of Mark’s own, stunning photographs and was followed by a lively question and answer session.
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February Meeting
- Ground Cover

On Tuesday 23rd February, Geoff Hawkins gave an illustrated talk to members of the Felpham & Middleton Horticultural Society.  Geoff is a Gardening Consultant, Horticultural Speaker and Broadcaster.
In January 2012 he retired as head gardener from the private estate of Mill Court near Alton, Hampshire where he had worked since 1977 as head gardener running a small estate of 30 acres. working in greenhouses, vegetable and fruit gardens, herbaceous and shrub borders as well as looking after the trees, ponds and natural features on the estate.
Over 100 members attended this first meeting of the 2016 programme and were rewarded with an extremely interesting and enthusiastic talk.  Initially Geoff discussed the purpose of ground cover ( to suppress weeds), and went on to describe different options, from bark chippings to plastic sheeting, leafmould and lawn clippings to stone chippings and commenting on the pros and cons of each.
Of course, the principle ground cover that members wanted to learn about was the use of different plants and planting combinations and here Geoff excelled, providing illustrations of over seventy different plants that might be considered to provide ground cover.  Some were familiar, and as Geoff said these are often accompanied by their own problems – ground cover plants may themselves be a bit thuggish and need to be managed.  Vinca, Viola and Soleirolia soleirolii (mind-your-own-business) might fall into this category.  Illustrations of many other plants and plantings were shown, too many to describe here.  The main message was to look for and identify plants that provide sufficient density of foliage to suppress weeds.  Geraniums, Bergenia, Hellebores, Origanum some ferns, and several Junipers were amongst the many plants that were suggested.

Overall the talk provided some really useful pointers and some unusual suggestions on the perennial problem of natural weed suppression with attractive plantings.
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