Tilehurst Horticultural Association 

Talk Reviews 2017 / 2018

26th April 2018  Linda Petrons 

Gardens for Children’s Hospices

Having worked for charities for about 15 years, Linda is currently Head of Fundraising and Communications for the Greenfingers Charity. 

Linda explained how the charity raise money to provide gardens for various children's hospices, and all that is involved in the design and build of gardens for children’s hospices.   The gardens are designed with input from the staff at each hospice, and aim to be a therapeutic and social space for children, families and carers alike.  

A local beneficiary was Helen & Douglas House at Oxford, for whom the charity installed a Kaleidoscope Garden where children could get colourful stimulation whatever the weather.  

Two big corporate supporters are River Island, who raised £26,000 in 2016 through the sale of garden gnomes, and Kew Green Hotels who nominated Greenfingers to benefit from staff fundraising from 2016.   

The charity received an extra donation on the night, as the proceeds from the raffle and the sale of home-made cakes was given to them.  


29th March 2018  Lou Nicholls  Heritage Vegetables

On Thursday March 29th we welcomed Lou Nicholls to the THA, to speak on “Heritage Vegetables”. 

Lou introduced the talk by explaining what makes a “heritage” vegetable, generally old cultivars of vegetables which are not commercially grown and not tested and approved and cannot therefore be sold.  She shared her background, having worked for Garden Organic and having involvement in the Heritage Seed Library.  Members of the HSL can receive 6 packets of heritage seeds per year and can become “seed guardians”, helping to ensure the supply of the seeds our forefathers would have known for future generations.  They have successfully re-introduced vegetables with weird and wonderful sounding names, such as Bulls Blood (beetroot), Boothby’s Blond (cucumber) and the Orange Banana (tomato). 

Lou gave us a potted history of seed saving, taking us back to pre-medieval times when vegetable seeds would have been saved from year to year.  The “little ice age” from 1300 – 1700 meant that crop failures led to starvation.  Imports of vegetables began in medieval times, with cucumbers dating from the 1300s and potatoes from the 1500s.  In the Elizabethan age, there was greater international movement of seeds as well as the breeding of local varieties.  Today’s mass produced vegetables are no older than the 1700s, when seed companies introduced the varieties of today. 

Lou explained the measures that are needed to ensure that breeding remains true to type, including isolation for “outbreeders” to avoid cross-pollination.  

Trained at Pershore, Lou’s previous experience also includes periods at Sissinghurst and at Hole Park and she is currently Head Gardener at Ulting Wick in Essex, which opens its gardens to the public under the National Gardens Scheme and to private groups by appointment.


25th January 2018  Claire Brown  Herbs for the Table

Claire managed Garden Centres, including RHS Wisley, for many years and ran her own gardening and design business before deciding to grow and sell cut flowers to Florists and the public.  At the January meeting, with her 21 years of experience in horticulture, Claire gave members a really interesting talk on both the cultivation and the use of herbs. 

Apart from their culinary use, herbs can add structure and colour to borders where they attract butterflies or scented varieties can be incorporated into wedding bouquets.  Some have medicinal properties, for example oregano for sore throats, and yet another use is in companion planting such as putting chives next to carrots to deter carrot flies.

In general, herbs prefer a sunny, poor, free-draining soil.  If necessary this could be achieved in a container. Parsley, chives and some mints go well in hanging baskets.  Claire recommended planting herbs as close to the kitchen door as possible to encourage their use and to “treat them mean” by frequent hard cutting. She stressed that chives lose much of their flavour after flowering and are best cut at 10cm height.

Her five “essential” herbs were:  
  • Parsley - a biennial which should be frequently picked and never allowed to flower.
  • Sage - which flowers in May but is too dry for flower arrangements
  • Thyme - where the “common leaf” variety has a milder flavour
  • Chives - an essential ingredient in “mixed herbs”.
  • Rosemary - which should not be cut back too hard. She recommends Miss Jessopps Upright, which is good to grow in a hedge.

Claire keeps 9 varieties of mint with Apple Mint being an early one. Moroccan, Pineapple, Basil and Chocolate mints are all good to infuse for teas.

Among other herbs mentioned were bay which is so useful but requires plenty of room, lemon verbena which is good in biscuits and “Calypso” which is the first cut-and-come-again variety of coriander. 

Claire welcomes enquiries and may be contacted via  


30th November 2017  John Negus  Tulips and Much More

Members enjoyed an entertaining evening on Thursday, 30th November, when John Negus regaled us with tales of his visits to the Keukenhof Gardens in Holland, together with an interactive challenge in which he pitted the bulb knowledge of Team A against that of Team B!

John, a popular gardening writer, broadcaster and lecturer, presented slides showing the full range of bulbs for all seasons, from tiny snowdrops, winter aconites and tubergenia, through daffodils, frittilaria and ranunculi to the giant gladioli, agapanthus and extra tall Asiatic lilies.  He kept the audience on their toes, testing their knowledge and memory, explaining all the while the best conditions and partners for the bulbs he was describing so eloquently.

The second half of the evening was devoted to tulips, which were brought to Europe in the 16th century from Turkey and South West Asia.  So prized were they that at one time a ton of tulips was valued at 100,000 guilder, when the going rate for butter was 100 guilder.  John’s impressive slides of the Keukenhof Gardens brought home the scale and colour of the planting, as he explained how grass and tulip and muscari beds interchange each year, creating visual illusions for the visitors. 

26th October 2017   Jan Lambourn  Soft Fruits

Around 50 members of the THA were treated to a masterclass in Soft Fruit growing when Jan Lambourn gave her talk.  Jan explained that she had started her horticultural career when she was 40 and after 8 years at RHS Wisley working in the Fruit Department, is now Deputy Head Gardener at the Cotswold Wildlife Park at Burford.

Jan started her talk by explaining the importance of planning ahead.  Consideration needs to be given to the space available, the time you have to tend to the plants, budget restrictions, and whether equipment such as cordons & netting needs to be bought.  Once you have decided what you want to grow and considered the varieties available, site preparation is vital with good drainage being key.  When buying, Jan recommended that you should try not to impulse-buy, but should seek out disease and pest resistant varieties, looking for the RHS Award of Garden Merit sign of quality, and should buy bare-rooted where possible.

She then discussed the care and pruning of individual fruits, covering blackcurrants and jostaberries, a blackcurrant / gooseberry cross, redcurrants and gooseberries, raspberries and hybrid crosses, then strawberries.  Finally Jan brought in the advantages of cordons and espaliers. 

All in all, we came away with a wealth of information which should enable us to produce superior fruits for display at our THA Summer Show! 

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