Christmas Wreath Workshop

Christmas Wreath Workshop

Paul Ingleton tells us how a group of members made beautiful Christmas wreaths to decorate their houses.

On this occasion a group of Hardy Planters took to the indoors for a change – a good job too, ‘because the weather outside was dreadful’ (excuse the misquote). We were there to construct our own Christmas wreath under the expert guidance and leadership of Simone Wilson.

The first thing we had to do was to make the basic ring to stick things on. A long table was created and, into the middle of that, was thrown what looked like half a forest floor of sphagnum moss. Don’t worry folks! We were assured that it was sustainably sourced from some Scottish loch-side. This was used to thickly cover a copper wire ring and we were shown how the professionals do this and, thus made our own versions with varying degrees of success.

Once our moss rings were approved as being adequate, another heap of material was put into the middle of the table. Our very professional leader had brought a large bag of assorted plant material, and the ‘students’ had also brought stuff from their own gardens. I have no problems cutting large quantities of a very attractive, very rampant, crinkly-leaved ivy and my bush of Ilex aquifolium ‘Ferox Argentea’ (hedgehog holly to you and me) needed pruning anyway, so in it went with all the rest. Other members contributed their own attractive foliage to give a very varied selection with, ‘Can I have some of…’ being called across the table quite a lot. We were also encouraged to keep replenishing our teas and coffees and cakes and biscuits that were so thoughtfully provided. Thanks to Ali Crayford for coordinating and providing these essential items. 

We were shown how to construct small bunches of foliage and then to wire them on to build up a very convincing wreath. It’s similar to making a herbaceous border in that, throughout, you use odd numbers of threes, fives, etc, of sprigs of foliage to make the ‘natural’ look. After this came the fun bit. ‘Teacher’ had brought boxes of all the extras needed to tart up the basic foliage. Dried slices of orange, lime, lotus seed heads (plain or gold-sprayed), cinnamon sticks, baubles and various other treasures were in these boxes, and we were invited to take whatever we wanted to decorate the foliage. It was really useful to be shown how to wire and fix these. Each type needed a slightly different way of doing to get the best result. Again, these were applied asymmetrically in odd numbers.

The final choice to be made was did we want a ribbon bow (of course!) and what colour/type of ribbon did we want? Some chose tasteful ribbons, or natural hessian-looking ones – I went for the blowsy Christmas red and gold in a large size. No subtlety for me! Come the end of the morning, we had all produced very professional-looking Christmas wreaths that we were all proud to display and which, I’m sure, have enhanced our front doors over the festive season. As I write now, mine, complete with blowsy bow, is still on the front door and will remain so until the traditional take-down of decorations on Twelfth Night.

Paul Ingleton

Christmas Party

Christmas Party

Members celebrated the start of the festive season at their Christmas Party. Read Jenny Gibb’s report on a plant-filled and very jolly event.


Nearly 30 members gathered at Tunstall Village Hall for our annual festive social event. We started the day with coffee and biscuits and lots of conversation, before settling down to two very informative and enjoyable talks.

Jeanette Lerwill gave us a fascinating insight into beekeeping and the secrets of honeybees, which kept the audience enthralled and prompted lots of questions at the end – always the sign of an interesting talk. Colin Moat then entertained us with the saga of the Kent Group’s exhibit at RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2015. (Our chairman Robert Lines had been due to speak, but was unable to attend due to a family emergency, so many thanks to Colin for stepping into the breach, and to Cindy Moat for her emergency drive down with the laptop!) Those present who had been involved with the stand enjoyed reminiscing, and the rest of us marvelled at their enthusiasm and hard work.

The first mock-up in March 2015

The final breakdown! The end of the show in May

The Kent Group stand in its wonderful glory

A splendid buffet lunch followed, with extra intrigue courtesy of Colin’s table quiz, which prompted lively discussion amongst the diners – not least in struggling to recall the names of all of Santa’s reindeer! Karin Proudfoot had set up a display of entries to the photographic competition, and invited us to look through them during lunch and vote for our favourite.

After lunch, Colin revealed the quiz answers, and Ginny Oakes gave a ‘guided tour’ of the impressive array of plants on the display table, many of which she had provided. Karin concluded events by announcing the winning photograph, which went to our chairman Robert, for his lovely picture of a peacock butterfly on pink echinacea.

Lots of hard work made the day a success, so many thanks are due – to the committee and kitchen helpers for sorting out food and drink, and doing mammoth amounts of washing-up; to Jeanette, Colin and Ginny for their excellent talks and quiz; to Karin for organising the photo competition; and to everyone who came to the party, for their lovely food offerings and their help in clearing up at the end of the afternoon.

I think everyone who came enjoyed themselves, and we particularly hope that those who came to the party for the first time will want to come again next year. Best wishes for 2020 to all our HPS Kent members.

Jenny Gibb

If you’d like to see more about the amazing Chelsea exhibit go to the Chelsea page and then click on the Chelsea Blog for a blow by-blow account. Even if you’ve seen it before it really is worth another look.

Ginny Oakes

The Winter Garden

The Winter Garden

Jeanette Lerwill reports on our meeting in November 2019 when Val Bourne talked about The Winter Garden.


It’s always good to have a talk from a fellow HPS member, and a very longstanding one at that. Val joined the HPS in 1970, initially to take advantage of free seeds for a garden she was creating; her Yorkshire roots made her thrifty so free seeds were very welcome. She has made many friends through the organisation and, despite being hard of hearing since birth, she became a teacher, garden writer and all round garden guru.

A move in 2004 from Hook Norton to Spring Cottage, Cold Aston, in the Cotswolds, with its one-third of an acre of garden meant a change of soil and weather conditions. A harsh climate makes it cold, windy and wet – already this winter they have had 2 inches of snow and it’s only November.

Val described her style as ‘shoehorn gardening’, tending to be totally overplanted and containing too many flowers! This is something I think most of us can identify with when you love plants. The garden is also organic and she describes it as a ‘living jigsaw’ (also the title of her latest book).

Val mentioned the importance of seasonal light in the Northern Hemisphere, which backlights grasses and tall perennials. The perception of colour also changes in softer light, and low sun picks up detail, making her in love with her garden and particularly keen to maximise these natural enhancements. Unlike many gardeners, who try to provide year round interest all around the garden, Val has borders that peak in each of the four seasons.

In the garden generally Val uses few trees, there is a woodland area at the bottom of the garden which she feels, if she were planning the garden now, she would move to the top due to the poor drainage at the bottom of the slope. Trees are needed to add scale, shelter and shade. She particularly likes Betula ermanii ‘Grayswood Hill’ with its pinkish bark, which is underplanted with ophiopogon, cyclamen and eranthis. To add structure to the winter garden there are colourful stems of Rubus thibetanus, Salix alba ‘Britzensis’ (which are both pollarded), Cornus alba and C. sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’. This last cornus is not cut to ground like C. alba but is trimmed by around a third each year. Evergreen shrubs such as box are also used, and are topiarised into balls and chickens. These were all grown from cuttings, and a tip Val passed on was to use four or five cuttings to make a box ball as they fill out much more quickly, although she suggested using only one for a pyramid. Val also believes that box pyramids are less susceptible to blight than box balls, possibly due to wind movement, blowing away the spores. Although there are evergreen shrubs for structure, with sarcococca and skimmia in containers, Val admits to not having progressed to conifers yet! Evergreen ferns such as Polystichum setiferum (Divisilobum Group) ‘Herrenhausen’ and polypodium are used to introduce texture in part shaded areas. For early scent she recommends Lonicera x purpusii.

As the site slopes away the spring garden is sited at bottom of the garden. Hellebores, purchased from her good friend John Massey, include some of Rodney Davey’s ‘ladies’, namely Helleborus ‘Anna’s Red’, H. ’Molly’s White’ and H. ’Penny’s Pink’. Snowdrops are a great love, but not the expensive rare ones; she is particularly keen on the Greatorex doubles with mostly Shakespearean names, and the pixie hat-shaped Galanthus ‘South Hayes’ which she finds easy. Other favourites are G. ‘Viridapice’, G. ‘Augustus’ and G. ‘Blewbury Tart’. The spring garden is also home to winter aconites, Cyclamen coum and Narcissus ‘Cedric Morris’, which can flower as early as mid-November. Iris unguicularis are not far behind, and a particular recommendation is I. u. ‘Walter Butt’, which has large flowers and, if picked in bud, will open in the warmth when brought inside. Another particular favourite of the spring garden is Pulmonaria ‘Diana Clare’, which was introduced by Bob Brown and named after his wife. 

Iris unguicularis

Galanthus plicatus Augustus’

In the south-facing summer border Val grows oriental poppies, with Papaver orientale ‘Karine’ being a particular favourite, although most of her stock was lost due to mildew. She then went on to describe her autumn planting, which is around the edge of the garden and includes grasses, such as Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferner Osten’ and Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, along with Kniphofia rooperi and perovskia, which surprised her by its ability to cope with the harsh conditions. However, grasses such as pennisetum and also penstemons do not seem able to cope, due to the high rainfall.

To help plants which require somewhat drier conditions, Val places rocks around plantings of salvias and Stipa tenuissima. The rocks reflect heat up on to the plants.

Little mention of colour was made during her talk, although Val believes red to be of particular value in the winter garden and seems to ‘pull’ all other colours together. Malus x robusta ‘Red Sentinel’ and the hips of roses being favourites.

It was very interesting to hear first-hand the experiences of such a knowledgeable hardy planter, gardening in what sound like quite inhospitable circumstances.

Jeanette Lerwill

Late Summer Colour

Late Summer Colour

A report by Robert Lines on our meeting in October 2019 when Derry Watkins spoke on ‘Late Summer Colour’ 

A fine and dry afternoon displaying some good autumn colour provided an appropriate backdrop to Derry’s talk. She started by saying that although the arrival of spring rightly galvanises all keen gardeners into action, the potential downside is that gardens that bloom in April, May or June can become rather drab by the summer. As summer is a great time to be in and to enjoy the garden, her message was to make sure it was colourful! To this end, Derry professed a liking for plants that bloom from June onwards and into autumn. As illustration, she devoted her talk to the attributes of about 60 plants taken from her garden.

I have to say that I was impressed by her wide selection and sharp slides but unfortunately space limits a description of them all, so I have picked a number of plants that particularly appealed to me.

Heptacodium miconioides, a favourite tree of Derry’s. Elegant drooping leaves and fragrant white flowers certainly catch the attention, but after petal fall at first frosts the calyxes remain and turn gradually to burgundy. Furthermore, in winter some of the young branches turn red and, as a bonus, scarlet berries are occasionally produced. See image above.
Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Album’ (to 5ft). Described as a handsome self-supporting plant that has elegant white spires of flowers in midsummer, then dark seed heads that last through the winter.
Romneya coulteri or California Tree Poppy (to 5ft) with large white flowers in July and August. It likes poor soil but is prone to flop! Can be invasive once established and resents root disturbance.
Phlox paniculata ‘Blue Paradise’. Derry commented that this was her favourite phlox – fragrant blue lilac flowers that really stand out in the evening light, flowering from July to September.
Thalictrum delavayi ‘Splendide’. Clouds of purple flowers on burgundy stems from a lacy mass of green foliage. July, 4-5ft.
Selinum wallichianum. Blooms in late summer with large white umbels and purple flushed leaves, to 4ft.
Hesperantha (formerly Schizostylis) coccinea ‘Major’ (crimson flag lily). A great plant for the autumn producing large red flowers on stiff stems. Likes sunny positions in moist soil.
Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’. Rich blue flowers in branched panicles from early to mid-autumn, 4ft. Derry pointed out that, like the phlox, the flowers really glow in the low autumn light.
Crocosmia paniculata ‘Cally Sword’. Grown for its form and foliage with huge pleated leaves and heads of orange flowers, 5ft. Good for a mid-border location.
Amsonia illustris. The light blue flowers in open panicles are produced in late spring and early summer, but its real beauty is revealed in the autumn, when the leaves turn to gold.
Hylotelephium (formerly Sedum) ‘Red Cauli’. Magnificent raspberry-red flowers on arching purple-red stems in late summer, attractive purple-grey foliage. Height 1ft, spread 2ft. What’s not to like!

Although Derry focused on late summer colour, she did mention some plants that provide interest during the winter months:

Corydalis temulifolia ‘Chocolate Stars’. Derry’s favourite winter foliage plant – green summer leaves turn chocolatey then red in spring, while striking dusty-violet flowers appear from February to May. Good in any aspect.
Arum italicum subsp. italicum ’Marmoratum’. Dormant in the summer, but from September produces up to 18inch-long spear-shaped, mid-green, cream-veined leaves that last all winter. White spathes emerge in the spring, followed by red berries if planted in a sunny position.

This was an engaging talk, much appreciated by the audience, and supported with a great range of plants for sale from Derry’s nursery.

Chapel House

Chapel House

A report by Paul Verrall on our garden visit in September to Chapel House in Ramsgate. (more…)

Woods Ley

Woods Ley

A report by Peter Jacob on our garden visit in September to Woods Ley in Ash. (more…)

Norton Court

Norton Court

A report by Geraldine Fish on our garden visit in August to Norton Court in Teynham. (more…)

The Ridings

The Ridings

A report by Paul Ingleton on our garden visit in July to The Ridings in Chestfield. (more…)