Tilehurst Horticultural Association 

Talk Reviews 2014 / 2015

30th April 2015

Paul Cumbleton - A Miscellany of Tips, Tricks & Technology 

The last talk of the season was given by Paul Cumbleton to a packed hall of members and guests. Paul’s subject was ‘A Miscellany of Tips, Tricks and Technology", and covered such things as growing in Seramis, drainage, water quality, light levels, temperatures for dormant bulbs and sowing depth of bulb seeds.

Seramis is clay fired into pellets and is a growing medium in its own right, although it does not have any nutrients, so needs a liquid feed at different strengths, depending on the growth stage.  Seramis is quite expensive but a good alternative is cat litter, either Tesco’s Low Dust Lightweight Cat Litter, which is clay granules, or Sophisticat Pink.  Bulb seeds grown in Seramis matured one year earlier than those grown in the usual growing mediums.

Aeration is needed in compost so that the water drains through and allows the roots to take in oxygen to power growth.  Too much water and the roots cannot get oxygen, which will make the plant wilt, just as it does with too little water.  Too much airspace and the water will go straight through the pot, and too little the water will not drain.  It is recommended that 30% of grit is used in the compost to achieve the correct drainage. 

It is an old wives’ tale that crocks are required in the bottom of a pot.  This hinders drainage and helps to keep the pot waterlogged. 

Some plants are sensitive to what is in the water so it is a good idea to check the strength of the fertiliser in the water when feeding plants, using a conductivity meter. Fertiliser in rainwater gives 1700u but an Orchid, for example, needs only 200u.

Light levels also play a major role in the health of a plant.  The light level in a living room is approximately 500 lux, outside in shade 5000 lux, weak winter sunshine 50,000 but full sun in summer is 100,000 lux.  So the right plant for the right place will save any losses due to too little or too much light.

Dormant bulbs need a constant cool temperature so need to be planted fairly deep to keep the sun off to stop the bulbs baking.  
Some bulb seeds create the new bulb at the top of the root and some at the bottom of the root.  Some will pull themselves down in the pot to the right level. The seeds for plump round bulbs, such as Crocus and Narcissus, need to be set at the bottom of the pot. Surface sowing is required for Fritillaria, Tulipa and Erythronium.  If in doubt sow at the top of the pot and the bulb will find its’ own level.

A very interesting evening and perhaps we shall give up the habit of a lifetime and stop putting crocks/grit in the bottom of our pots! 

26th March 2015

Ray Broughton - Seasonal Work in the Fruit and Vegetable Garden  

Ray Broughton paid us a return visit on 26th March and once again delivered a talk full of interesting facts and intriguing processes!  We are all now conversant with the cleaning powers of tomato ketchup on secateurs, and the extraordinary effect that the fat from the top of full cream milk has on aphids. 

New this time were Ray’s recipe for nettle feed, the need to give sulphate of potash to your fruit bushes on Christmas Eve, the fact that your raised beds need be no more than 20 cm deep, the use of malt vinegar to stop carrot root fly, leafless peas……the list is endless.

All were delivered with Ray’s usual charm and patience (as we went over the nettle feed recipe for the third time!)  Tips were useful and money saving – rabbit bedding is a cheap source of organic barley straw and an effective method of growing tomatoes, potato fertiliser is also good for brassicas and leeks.  And did you know that powder fertiliser takes 5 – 6 weeks before it is fully absorbed, whereas the plant receives the benefits of liquid feed within 3 hours?  Or that strawberries need lots of watering for a week at the beginning of May for a good crop?

In addition on this evening we had a side demonstration on carrot growing for Show by Claire O’Brien with an added bonus of seed sharing. Of further interest was the table of donated gardening books for sale.

The audience went away with a wealth of information and no excuse for not producing crops as good as those in Ray’s slides for our Summer Show this year! 

29th January 2015

Mike McGibbon - Unusual Herbaceous Plants 

Mike McGibbon started his talk by giving a brief synopsis of his career.  Following 15 years at the old Grovelands garden centre, he went into business with a colleague selling barbeques and garden furniture, first at Ladds Garden Centre and then at Hare Hatch Sheeplands.  Eventually, however, the lure of the plants proved too much and Mike took up a position as a business manager at HHS garden centre, taking in an RHS course at Burchetts Green along the way.  In addition, he has taken part in Radio Berkshire gardening programmes.

Mike’s talk was an entertaining mixture of interesting and sometimes odd facts about herbaceous plants, together with advice in response to questions from the audience. We learnt a basic description of a herbaceous plant having a non-woody stem which dies down in the winter; some of these are annuals, some biennials and some perennials; some are bulbs and some are evergreens; some are tiny, such as cyclamen and some huge, such as the world’s largest herb, the banana! Indeed, some, such as the potato, are vegetables.  By now, our basic definition was tinged with many grey areas!

Mike also brought along some interesting examples of herbaceous plants, including three different types of euphorbia, the biggest flowering family of plants in the world, and some new hellebores which have upturned flower faces.

https://twitter.com/Barkwater                      www.harehatchsheeplands.co.uk

27th November 2014  

Michael Keith-Lucas - Trees   

The second meeting of our Talks series was attended by approximately 50 members, who listened with interest to Michael Keith-Lucas talking about the history of Trees and our woodland heritage.

The earliest trees, going back many millions of years, were micropods and there is a selection of these at Victoria Park in Glasgow.  The Gingko was a very early tree and is father to the conifers we know today.  The earliest flowering plants were magnolias and water lilies.  These early flowering plants grew in the tropics and pushed the conifers that were there out to the temperate zones.  There are different species of conifers in the Northern and Southern hemispheres.  The flowering plants also moved into the Northern and Southern hemispheres, again with different species in each location.  The oldest known trees are the Bristlecone Pines, which are only found in the White Mountains, California.

Most of the trees in the UK came from the west and arrived when the country was still attached to mainland Europe.  The first tree to arrive was the birch, followed by pine, elm, oak, lime and elder.  Ancient woodlands are at least 400 years old but most are much older. These woods were and still are managed by coppicing and felling, which opens up the woodland area letting in more light and allowing new growth.  The beech woods in the Chilterns were grown for the furniture industry, which thrived in High Wycombe, with the "bodgers" making chairs with turned spindles of beech.

Yew is a symbol of everlasting life and the oldest tree can be found in the ruins of St. Mary’s Priory, Runnymede.  This tree is over 5000 years old and it is thought that the Magna Carta may have been signed by King John under this tree. 

A great many species of trees of are in trouble.  We have already lost the Elm; now the Ash and Oak are under pressure from disease, together with the Horse Chestnut which, although it will not die, is being weakened by the leaf miner. Many of these diseases are being brought into the UK on plant stock from the continent.

Suggested trees for the future are Mediterranean ones, such as olive and cork oak, as these are more able to deal with drought.  Whilst eucalyptus will survive drought, it is not recommended as it draws too much water from other plants.   

‘Trees’ was an interesting subject and it must have been very difficult to condense such a wide topic into one evening’s talk. 

Maren Talbot - Growing Orchids at Home
30th October 2014

Maren Talbot set out to give us a whistle-stop introduction to the world of orchids and she certainly achieved that!  With some beautiful pictures of only a small selection of the 25,000 species and 120,000 hybrids in existence, she portrayed the largest family of flowering plants, examples of which are found everywhere in the world except Antartica.

In their natural habitat, orchids grow on trees, in the ground and in rocks.  Maren explained how it is necessary to know where an orchid species originates from in order to understand its requirements, in terms of temperature, light, humidity, moisture, compost, feeding, airflow and seasonal attributes.  She went on to describe the requirements for the main species, from Phalaenopsis, which are popular because they are easy to grow, through Paphiopedilum (ladies’ slippers), Cattleya (old fashioned, popular in Victorian times), to native orchids.  Maren, at her nursery, Heritage Orchids, specialises in Pleiones, Cypripediums and Hardy Orchids.

In the second part of her talk, Maren showed us how to re-pot an orchid, and displayed a ruthless streak as she almost stripped an orchid of its roots.  She addressed the problem plants which had been brought in by the audience with humour & one lucky member went home with 7 plants from the 1 she had brought in.  In addition to the bark compost, however, her tools also included bleach, methylated spirit, lemon juice, horticultural soap and cinnamon, all of which have their uses.

This was an interesting talk for the start of the 2014 autumn season, peppered with Maren’s quirky sense of humour and practical tips.


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