Tilehurst Horticultural Association 

Talk Reviews 2016 / 2017

27th April 2017   Heather Skinner     National Garden Scheme

Members of the THA were treated to a most interesting illustrated talk about the National Garden Scheme by Heather Skinner, the Berkshire County Organiser.  She described how, in 1859, William Rathbone, who lived near Liverpool, employed a nurse to care for his ailing wife and this led to the formation of the Queen’s Nursing Institute, which in turn led to District Nursing.  In 1927 Elsie Wagg organised the very first year of open gardens to raise money to support the Institute.  Over 600 gardens were involved, almost exclusively in private estates such as Hatfield House.  The entry fee was one shilling and an amazing £8000 was raised, a small fortune at today’s rate.  One of the early sponsors was the Automobile Association and this accounts for the yellow which is such a prominent feature of their advertising.

As the years progressed, smaller gardens were included and now even tiny gardens such as the RISC roof-top garden in London Street are open, usually as part of a group.  All gardens are carefully inspected before they are accepted for viewing and some even though beautiful are regretfully turned down due to factors such as inadequate parking facilities.  Heather showed us several slides of local gardens which have taken part.

Last year 42 gardens in Berkshire were open and these brought in a remarkable £62,221 which contributed to the £2.7 million raised in England and Wales. (Scotland has its own scheme). Of the money raised only 18p of every £1 goes on administration and advertising and the rest is distributed primarily to nursing charities such as Macmillan Cancer Support and Marie Curie although smaller amounts go to charities such as Parkinson’s UK and the MS Society.

In conclusion, THA members are urged to support the scheme by having afternoons enjoying delightful gardens perhaps with a delicious cake and a cup of tea and return with new ideas and plants.


30th March 2017             Geoff Hawkins            

Growing Vegetables in a Small Garden 

On Thursday, March 27th, members enjoyed a stimulating talk by Geoff Hawkins, a retired head-gardener of a large estate near Alton. Geoff first explained that it would be impossible to be self-sufficient without having a very large plot of land but even in the smallest garden it is still possible to grow delicious crops with the knowledge that they are organic and can be eaten really fresh. Crops can be sown in containers ranging from tin cans to carrier bags and stacked car tyres.

A short but amusing diversion was the derivation of the old-fashioned measurements such as rods, poles and perches still used for allotments. How many of us remember that a furlong was originally a “furrow-long”?

He recommended that where possible after first digging and thoroughly removing all weeds the soils should thereafter either be mulched with compost when fallow and then rely on worms to do the rest of the work or be sown with green manure and this dug in well before sowing the vegetables. Liming will help to reduce club-root on brassicas but should be avoided when planting potatoes as it may cause scabbing.

A handy tip was to have a length of pipe welded to the top of one’s spade’s blade to reduce the wear on footwear.

He reminded us to grow only those vegetables that we like. Not everyone likes radishes! Also do not grow more than you can eat but rather grow successively to maintain a steady supply. Whilst purchased frozen peas are so good he maintained that it is still worth growing mangetout for flavour.

Some crops such as beetroot and onions are best started in cells in the greenhouse. Carrots and parsnips can each be mixed with moist vermiculite and incubated to promote germination and then be sown in drills.

Recommended varieties were All Year Round for cauliflower, Hispi or Pixie for cabbage and gladiator for parsnip. The latter has been bred to be sweet without the need for frost.


26th January 2017             Gill Franklin           The Apple Orchard

On Thursday, January 26th, members were treated to a talk on apples by Gill Franklin. Gill was the owner of Cross Lanes Fruit Farm at Mapledurham from 1978 until August 2015, when the farm, with much regret, was sold and the Farm Shop closed.  60 varieties of apples, plums and pears were grown at the farm.  Many have enjoyed an afternoon at her orchard picking apples in autumn or buying her delicious apple juice or have met her at local farmers markets.  Alas she has now retired and her orchard is no more.

She described how only the sour crab-apple was native to Britain before the Romans arrived bringing with them up to 20 varieties.  The dessert apple is believed to have come from Asia to Europe either along the trade routes or by birds.  Orchards were largely confined to ecclesiastical establishments but the industry received a boost when Henry VIII brought 400 cultivars to Kent.  By selective breeding there are now apples to suit a wide variety of soils and climatic conditions.  One challenging environment is salt-laden air but now there are varieties such as Sweet Merlin bred to grow in Cornwall.

The Victorian aristocracy competed to produce new varieties and in 1886 at a conference in Chiswick over 2500 varieties were on display.

Propagation is mostly carried out by grafting to obtain exact duplicates.  The trees are self-sterile and therefore require cross-pollination from another tree.  When pollination occurs the resulting fruit is the pip and not the flesh surrounding it, which remains true to the flavour and texture of the tree bearing the blossom.  Fruit breeding is a long term project as it takes at least 3 years before a seedling bears fruit and 3 to 4 generations before it can be declared true.  For example it took 20 years for the Gala apple to be bred in New Zealand.

Apple trees are now pruned to remain short and compact for easier picking and to be able to grow more varieties in an orchard.

Gill gave us handy tips on pruning such as to never reduce a tree by more than a third and how to loop the leader back so as to weaken its growth and encourage fruiting. Shoots need to be at least 2 years old for fruit buds to form and as Bramleys are “tip-bearers” their tips must not be taken off.  One last piece of advice was to not to pick the fruit too early as the flavour develops whilst on the tree.

24th November 2016          Derek Leary  Photography in the Garden

Members of the Tilehurst Horticultural Association enjoyed an evening with Derek Leary when he told us how he became interested in photography and gave us tips on how to take better photographs.

As a lad, Derek spent his school holidays with his grandparents who lived in the country near Thame and it was here that his love for the countryside and gardening grew. However it was music that was to become his profession both as an entertainer with the guitar and teaching it. When he was married he came to live for several years in Tilehurst in Overdown Road and to have an allotment in Oak Tree Road. During this time he joined the Tilehurst Photographic Society which met at one time in the Village Hall. He subsequently moved to Goring where he is an active member of their gardening club.

Using a digital projector Derek showed us shots of his earliest cameras which included a “Box Brownie” and an SLR Praktica. Eventually he was converted to digital photography with its advantages of being able to take several shots of a subject and then to select the best and delete all the others. Digital photographs can also be readily edited using a computer program such as Photoshop although Derek recommended Google Picasso as a somewhat easier alternative.

Nowadays the background to a flower can be softened digitally whereas with earlier cameras one might have to place nylon stocking with a small hole cut in it over the lens. One tip was to use a small bean bag as a substitute for a cumbersome tripod and another was to insert a piece of cardboard behind the subject so as to eliminate a distracting background. Other suggestions were to look right into the centre of flowers such as tulips to see wonderful designs and to photograph through perhaps an arch so as to reduce large areas of green. Raindrops or frost on foliage or petals can bring an extra dimension. Light is usually at its best either early in the morning or towards the end of the day. 

The evening concluded with a delightful sequence of flower pictures accompanied by restful music. 


Evidence of Derek's skill at producing home-made beer during his time in Tilehurst! 

27th October 2016 Marcus Dancer          Clematis

Nearly 60 members of the Association were treated to a master class on clematis during the opening session of this season’s talks.  Marcus brought 30 years of experience of running a nursery near Fordingbridge where he specialises mainly in clematis.  

He described how the various clematis could be placed into several groups and how a clematis could be found to suit soils ranging from chalky to sandy to clay. They can all be grown in containers if of at least 18”diameter filled with either John Innes No 3 or alternatively 2 parts soil to 1 part compost. In both cases plenty of grit should added. Only certain varieties need to be planted at a lower depth than it was originally grown. Regular feeding is important, preferably by using a slow release fertiliser.

Good drainage is essential for all types but plants should be well watered. Failure to do so can result in them going into premature dormancy and perhaps being thought to have died.

Evergreen clematis. These can flower in either spring or winter and typically grow to about 10ft. Examples are Early Sensation which has fine foliage and a white flower, Fragrant Oberon and Freckles which can flower for 6 months through the winter.

Montanas. Well-known for their rampant growth they will suit any soil and prefer a sunny or semi-shaded position.

Large-flowered hybrids. The most well-known clematis. They flower in spring and late summer and should be buried 3”deep to avoid wilt. A well-known example is Nellie Moser. Particularly striking is Te Kinawa with its deep blue flowers.

Texensis hybrids. These are suitable for all soils, have tulip-shaped flowers and flower all summer. Some can be very effective when allowed to scramble through borders. An example is Princess Kate with purple-centred white flowers.

Viticella Hybrids. These very popular and extremely hardy hybrids have somewhat smaller flowers and are resistant to wilt. They suit all soils, grow to 8 to 15ft, will scramble through trees and flower from June to September. These also should be planted deep.

Tangutica. These grow to 8 to 15ft and are summer flowering with nodding tulip shaped flowers, mostly shades of yellow. Good on chalk. Their seed-heads are particularly attractive.

Herbaceous. Some grow to only 2½ft whereas others such as the heracleifolia grow up to 8ft. Generally flowering July through to September, they die down in the autumn. Frequently heavy-scented such as Cassandra which is a beautiful gentian-blue. They can be divided in March.

Alpinus Macropetula. Extremely tough and suitable for any aspect. They have fully double flowers and grow to 8ft and look well when allowed to cascade.


Group 1. Montanas, Evergreen, alpines and Macropetula.Do not prune unless out of hand and then only back to 10ft.

Group 2. All large-flowered hybrids.Prune January to March back to the first green bud

Group 3. All others.These will have had smaller summer flowers on their current year’s growth. Prune hard to 6” in the following January to March.

Marcus does not do mail order but sells either from local farmers markets, lectures or from home by appointment. He may be contacted either by phone (01425 652747) or via www.clematisplants.co.uk

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