We only went to make the tea – but ended up doing so much more.

The Woodland and Shade Group held their AGM in Harrietsham last weekend. When they arranged the event they asked if there were any Kent Group members who would be willing to go and help by serving drinks throughout the day. Anne Smith and I knew that there might be members coming from around the country and thought it would be nice to go along to welcome them to Kent. Those planning the event kept in communication with us and arrangements were made. We arrived bright and early to make preparations and put the kettle on ready to welcome members with a nice cup of tea. There was also time for a quick preview of the plants the speaker, Keith Wiley, had brought for sale. I have a very dry garden so managed to resist the plants that demand a lot of moisture but did succumb to the temptation of an epimedium – of which more later – and, I think, the only plant on the whole table which had ‘Sun and drainage’ on its label, Origanum calcaratum.

We served tea, coffee and biscuits and then, with everything in the kitchen neat and tidy, we were invited to join the meeting. The AGM went ahead in an impressively informal yet business-like way and there was discussion on a number of topics, notably, next year’s AGM and lecture. Anne and I had both thought we might join this Group and the jolly atmosphere of the meeting and news of next year’s event, which involves Bob Brown and being sent to Coventry, confirmed our decision.

The speaker, Keith Wiley of Wildside in Devon, then took to the floor to talk about erythroniums. Anyone who has heard Keith speak and/or visited Wildside will know what a treat this was. A whizz through the many species, with photos of plants in the wild and in cultivation also included many references to his trips to America, to ideas he gathered from seeing plants in the wild and to how he wants to grow them in his garden. Nature doesn’t use a tape measure and neither does he. He then went on to show us hybrids, some of which he has raised, named and put into cultivation.

Erythronium californicum ‘White Beauty’

As well as erythroniums he mentioned many other woodland plants that he adds to the mix and how he goes about giving them the conditions they need. This includes making vast quantities of leaf mould in builders’ bags – the huge ones used to deliver sand and ballast and the like to building sites. As always with a speaker as good as Keith one gets inspired and I began to think that, with a little more effort, I might be able to grow some of these plants. I know I will never be able to grow the very choicest ones but maybe some of the stronger ones might be able to cope with my conditions with a bit more help – and some builders’ bags.

It was then time for the Rare Plant Auction and, while Anne and I put the kettles on again, members bid on a variety of plants. The successful bidders looked very pleased with their unusual purchases. Everyone had brought a packed lunch and sat around in groups to chat whilst they ate.

Daphne genkwa.

Hosta – cultivar unknown

Convallaria majalis and C.m. ‘Variegata’

Rhododendron ponticum ‘Cheiranthifolium’

They then all left to visit a nearby garden and, once again, we were invited along. Here we saw some of the plants Keith had mentioned in his talk – trillium, disporum and cypripedium, to name just a few. I also noticed some other shade lovers: a hosta, which is, I know, very well known and in a lot of gardens, but looking stunning with its fresh, new, puckered leaves; and lily of the valley in three forms, plain green leaved, variegated and pink-flowered. A small shrub caused a great deal of discussion. It was a species of Daphne, I think, but I didn’t catch the name. I now believe it to be Daphne genkwa. We also came across a most unusual rhododendron, which at first glance reminded us of the foliage of Choisya dewitteana ‘Aztec Pearl’. The label told us it was Rhododendron ponticum ‘Cheiranthifolium’. “With flowers like a wallflower”, someone suggested. “I’m not so sure”, said another, “cheir  is Greek for hand and anthos Greek for a flower”. We couldn’t quite see how that would work so decided it needed looking into. A much smaller plant also took my attention – Iris ‘Invicta Garnet’. Luckily, after Sue Marshall’s talk in April, I was able to tell our visitors that it was a Kentish iris.

But the plant that stopped everyone in their tracks was Deutzia ‘Dark Eyes’. Just coming into flower and with lots of buds still to open it fills the gap between early spring-flowering trees and shrubs and the wealth of summer flowers still to come – and it was gorgeous.

However, there’s no rest for the wicked and we had to get back to the hall to make the tea and cut up the cake. The weather had turned very cold and there was a biting wind up on the downs so when everyone returned they were perished and in need of hot tea and delicious homemade cake. Everyone mucked in with the clearing up and it was soon time to say goodbye and make our way home.

But I had more work to do so it was out with the books and on with the computer.

  • Origanum calcaratum – when I first saw it I assumed the name meant that it liked lime, quite a reasonable assumption as they are plants of rocky limestone areas. But no, that’s calcareus. Calcaratus means spurred. I’ll let you know where they are if and when I find them.
  • Daphne – if anyone knows the name of the daphne we saw, let me know and I’ll put it in. I have now been reliably informed by a very knowledgeable Kent member who grows a lot of daphnes that it is Daphne genkwa.
  • Cheiranthifolium – everyone was correct. The Greek for hand and flower was right and some people suggest the name Cheiranthus was given to the wallflower because of the custom of carrying the flowers in the hand as a bouquet. Cheiranthifolium means with leaves like a wallflower, the name of which has now been changed from Cheiranthus to Erysimum!
  • How to join the Shade and Woodland Group – I went to the relevant page on the national HPS website here to find details of membership. I found all sorts of interesting information about activities, plant exchange, seed distribution and Shade Monthly, which is the e-newsletter sent to all members of the Shade and Woodland Plants Group and then available on the HPS Blogs page three months later. How could I resist having a delve?
  • Epimediums – I noticed there was a Special Epimedium Edition, which, as I’d just bought one, sounded very interesting. In it are four excellent articles written by people who really know their stuff and I look forward to a better understanding of the genus when I’ve read them. From there I found the website of one of the National Collection holders, Roger Hammond, and found photos and a description of the epimedium I had bought, the very well named E. ‘Arctic Wings’, along with enough information to keep you happy for a long time.
  • Who knew? – as you might imagine, by now, it was getting a bit late but I just thought I’d take a look at one of the other newsletters and chose October 2016. A few lines down one sentence jumped out at me, “I managed to acquire x Mukgenia ‘Flame’, a new hybrid between Mukdenia and Bergenia.” What? How did I miss this? Did everyone else know? I really like bergenias so am looking forward to finding out all about this new plant – well, new to me at least. Mukgenia – what a name!
  • Woodland in Kent – scrolling down I came across a very interesting article by Wilma Keighley, a Kent member that I’d been speaking to just hours earlier, explaining how she is trying to grow woodland plants in very dry conditions.
  • And lastly – further down again and another plant new to me, Leucostrum japonicum ‘Golden Angel’. The photo and description make it sound very good and, for me, the silver one sounds even better. Something else to find out about.

What a day! I offered to make the tea and ended up listening to an inspiring lecture, seeing lots of lovely plants, learning some Greek and some Latin, deciding to join the Shade and Woodland Group, reading some interesting information on plants I’d like to have and how to grow them, finding out about a plant I never even knew existed and, of course, having a great time.

Many thanks for hours of fun!

if you like what you see and you live in or near Kent

why not come and join us Find Out More