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AKS Garden Club Meeting 25.10.22

In Safe Hands a talk by Stuart Dixon:

On 25 October 2022, Stuart Dixon treated the Garden Club to a fascinating talk. Stuart is an Horticultural lecturer, writer and broadcaster who has worked with some of the ‘greats’ of English Gardening. He last spoke to the group in 2019 when he told us about New Zealand gardens. This time he gave us a whirlwind tour of the gardens of some less well-known National Trust houses he has visited over the years.

His first stop was Blickling Hall in Norfolk. Here, as well as inviting gardens, Stuart had found a roomfull of gardening books for sale (though this may not exist now). There are both formal and informalgardens, though Stuart’s preference is always for the informal. The first plant he highlighted was Rudbeckia which is the original ‘Black-eyed Susan’ though that name has now been given to Thunbergia. Like many of the plants Stuart discussed, Rudbeckia is a perennial with a long flowering period. It is not particularly invasive but will spread so can be divided every few years.

The next highlight was Helenium, which is another long-lived plant that will flower from July to September/October (depending on weather). It comes in many shades of orange, red and yellowwith a tendency to revert to yellow over time, though this can be refreshed by lifting and improving the soil before replanting. It likes a light soil and benefit from frequent deadheading. One of its common names is Sneezeweed because at one time the dried leaves were used as snuff.

Moving through a formal topiary garden, Stuart then took us to the old walled vegetable garden which is now full of herbaceous plants. He noted that every plant was clearly labeled and recommended taking a notebook with you when visiting any garden so you can note down your favourites. One plant he picked out from the herbaceous border was the Penstemon which again comes in many different variations. Although they die back in the Winter, Stuart advised not to cut back the dead foliage until March as this protects the new growth developing at the base of the plant. Varieties recommended by Stuart included ‘Sour Grapes’ and the ‘Pensham’ series which are prolific flowers. He specifically mentioned ‘Beech Park’ which is a variety he grows in his own garden thanks to a gift from Geoff Hamilton some years ago.

Another popular perennial found at Blickling is Echinacea which is hardy down to -10/-12 degrees and is believed to boost the immune system and aid recovery from conditions such as the common cold, and Stuart also mentioned the beautiful Wisteria and Agapanthus which were grown in pots.

Moving on to Hidcote, in the Cotswolds, Stuart was particularly appreciative of the way the planting blended in and complemented the Cotswold Stone of the buildings. The garden was created by Major Lawrence Johnson who divided it into a series of areas each with a distinctive character. Some of the plants specifically mentioned by Stuart were the Dahlias which had been ‘spot planted’
as focal points in the mixed borders of grasses and shrubs; he particularly mentioned ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, ‘Bishop of Cambridge’ and ‘Arabian Night’. Most people are unaware that it is possible to eat dahlia tubers, though Stuart did not recommend the flavour.

Other noted plants were ‘Monada’ (a short-lived perennial which can be infused to make a tea); ‘Scabiosa Miss Wilmot’ (named after a lady gardener of the 1920s who had a fierce reputation) and ‘Anemones’.

Stuart’s third garden was Snowshill Manor, also in the Cotswolds. Plants noted in particular were a scented Phlox ‘Magnificence’, and the collection of David Austen roses: ‘Falstaff’, ‘Molyneux’ (a gold rose bred for the centenary of Wolverhampton Wanderers), ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ and ‘Fairy Rose’.

Next came Coughton Court, in Warwickshire, a Tudor house where many of the Gunpowder Plotters were arrested. Here Stuart discussed ‘borrowed’ views, i.e. rather than enclosing a garden by high hedges and trees, he advocated opening up garden boundaries to the surrounding countryside to enhance their beauty and enlarge the vista, which is done very effectively at Coughton. Again the
informal planting was much appreciated and plants to note included Delphiniums ‘Sunny Skies’, ‘Galahad’, ‘Cancan’, ‘Fenella’, ‘Pandora’ and ‘Lucia Sahin’.

Finally, we visited St Michael’s Mount which is a sub-tropical garden just off the Cornish coast. Plants here included Agapanthus, Aloe, Bottle Brush, Magnolia ‘Ashei’ (flowers reach 12-15 inches across and a strong perfume), and Brugmansia (poisonous with hallucinogenic nectar).

Overall, the conclusion was that the high standards maintained by National Trust gardens make them beautiful, informative and well-worth visiting, and above all they are 'In Safe Hands’.

After the talk, there was the usual raffle for four prizes: two trays of pansies, a set of plant markers
and a collection of seeds.

Next Meetings:
Tuesday 15 th November: Robin Hood Theatre. AGM followed by a review of the Club’s activities and
events over the last year.
Monday 19 th December: Christmas Dinner at The Fox (tbc)
Tuesday 17 th January: Robin Hood Theatre. Me and My Gardens or How I became a Gardener. Judith
Mills. Focusing on the development of her garden in Home Farm Close, Kelham
Everyone is welcome.