Tree Recognition Challenge – Solved

Abelia triflora

The Tree Recognition Challenge has been met by the RHS, courtesy of Edwina Robarts who contacted them when all else had failed.  This is the verdict:

Dear Mrs Robarts,

Thank you for your enquiry to the Royal Horticultural Society’s Members’ Advisory Service.

Our Botanist Dawn Edwards says the additional photograph showing the leaves you sent for identification appears to be an Abeliaprobably A. triflora, although I would expect this species to have five sepals and this is not clear in the image.

I haven’t managed to find a good image matching up the stems but a google image search for Abelia biflora shows images with similar stems to those shown in the first photographs.

I am sorry for the confusion but plant identification from photographs is difficult unless we are supplied with good clear images of the whole plant as well as detailed images of the flowers, fruit and leaves as well as details of where the plant is growing and its size.

I hope this information is helpful.

Yours sincerely,

Trish George

Assistant Horticultural Advisor

When Edwina sent me this email, I googled images of Abelia triflora and, although I couldn’t find any pictures of the zig-zag joins to the bark, I discovered the stems are apparently used to make walking sticks, which would indicate that they were decorative.  The images of A. triflora’s leaves that I’ve found are very accurate, matching the long, leathery leaves in our photo, and the wisps that remain when the flower-petals fall are just like those we’ve seen.  In conclusion, our mystery is solved.  Many thanks, Edwina.

More information here:

Marion Jay

Great Start to the New Season

The first meeting of the Autumn kicked off with a fascinating talk by Troy Scott-Smith from Bodnant Garden in Wales. He took us through the various restoration projects at Bodnant, which have cost millions to carry out, including moving 3,000 tonnes of silt from one of the lakes. The works will ensure the future of the gardens for the next hundred years or so. He also brought some plants to sell which proved popular. Photos of the meeting are shown below.

The next members meeting is on 3rd Nov and is the AGM and Members Afternoon. Guests are always welcome on the door. The AGM includes:

  • A quiz organised by Anne Godfrey
  • A short presentation on this new website by Bill Hodgson

Great Dixter Plant Fair Saturday October 6th and Sunday October 7th

Some time ago I had an email from Linda Jones who used to be part of the Wisley Trials, with news of the Great Dixter Plant Fair.  How could I forget Linda? She has great organisational skills – well done Fergus for recruiting her to the Dixter fund raising efforts.  I did not wish to go on my own so asked Anne Godfrey to join me, with Linda’s agreement.  At 7am on the Saturday, Anne arrived with her van loaded with just enough room for my duvet, cut flowers, display boards, and a box of plants. We had a good journey down and arrived in good time to find ourselves on a sloping field which was slippery – would the van get stuck?  All unloaded and thankfully the van moved, we were pitch no 13 ‘Judy National Collection’ and 14 for ‘Anne Daisy Roots’, with the portaloos behind!  Wow, was there a lot of interest in Anne’s stall, they broke off buying to hear my talk which went well.  By the end of the day Anne had sold half of her stock – well done.

There was a two hour lull from the close of the Fair until the evening meal cooked by Fergus so we were free to wander all around the gardens.  The meal was very well done in the barn with all seated on straw bales.  Anne had our bedding in a wheelbarrow parked outside.  At the end of the evening we set off in the pitch black; holding a torch, I followed Anne and wheelbarrow to where I knew not down a long farm track, at which point I decided I was too old for this!  The student accommodation was wonderful, all new rooms with ensuite bathroom.  Blissful hot shower and bed.  The students who gave up their room were not so lucky, one slept in the barn.

The next day the sun shone again and all went well.  Anne finished with just over two boxes of plants left to illustrate her talk.  I gave the plants I brought with me to Fergus himself so perhaps if he likes them they may end up in the garden.  We finished at 4pm and with the van quickly loaded, off we went again, the empty trolleys rattling in the back.

A wonderful weekend, and thank you Anne for doing the driving.

Judy Barker

Member featured in Homes & Gardens Magazine

Herts HPS member Adriaan de Baat’s garden appears in this month’s Homes and Gardens Magazine, in a double page feature entitled ‘Design Secrets’ with photographs by Marianne Majerus (, Marianne was winner of the prestigious competition International Garden Photographer Of The Year 2010, you can see her winning entry here:

HHPS Twitter Account

To keep up with the times, the Herts HPS Group now has a Twitter account, linked to this website. I believe we are the first and only HPS group (including National HPS) to have a Twitter account, a world first no less.

By having a Twitter account, a wider audience of readers might find and visit our website.  Each time a news item is published on our website, a corresponding ‘tweet’ is also automatically posted, with the title of the news item and a link back to this website.  Should Twitter users be searching for gardening information, or have chosen to ‘follow’ our Twitter account, they will see our tweet and know to visit our site.

To see the account, click here:, you can see see who the account follows and the profile information.

Our Twitter account follows a variety of other garden related Twitter accounts including the Herts NGS Twitter account ( run by our committee member Edwina Robarts. By following other Twitter accounts, I hope that they in return might follow our Twitter account, and bring readers to the website, who might be potential members.

For new readers to our site, check out the programme of events, come along as a guest to our meetings or sign up to be a member of the Herts HPS using the Join Us page. The Spring 2012 newsletter is available to non-members (click here: Spring 2012), the latest Autumn 2012 newsletter (redesigned and with some lovely colour photos) is available to members as a PDF download or can be read on the site.

If you have any garden related questions or queries, either use the Forum to get feedback from our members, or get in touch via the Contact page.

Bill Hodgson.

Jekka McVicar visit to Cuffley Horticultural Society

We were contacted via our website by Carol Wilcox from Cuffley HS to let us know that Jekka will be speaking at their group on the 22nd of November. Details of the event are on their website here. The Cuffley HS website home page is here:, Carol apologises in advance for their slight breakage on the home page.

Gardeners World Appearance

The gardens of Herts HPS members Adrian de Baat and Julie Wise are to be featured on Gardener’s World, as one of four short inset films on garden design styles to be screened at the beginning of the Spring 2013 series. The two gardens have been selected to illustrate the naturalistic or ‘prairie’ style of planting.

Joe Swift and a camera crew visited Hertfordshire in late September and spent a day filming at Rustling End and Digswell Road. Julie says it was fascinating listening to Joe talking about the use of gravel in the garden and how readily plants self-seed into it. He observed that gravel allows a cool root-run in summer combined with a protective mulch in winter, and visually offsets grasses particularly well. He also talked about the low-maintenance aspect of naturalistic gardening, and how leaving seedheads over winter provides a valuable food-source for birds and structural interest until the early spring.

Joe Swift does a piece to camera, at Digswell Road.

Adrian and Julie will not be appearing on the programme themselves but the publicity will no doubt be useful when it comes to opening their gardens for the NGS next year. We’ll keep you posted and let you know when the piece is to be aired.

Rustling End Cottage garden illustrates the beauty of the naturalistic style of planting in late Summer

Marion Jay

Plant Hunting, a horticultural hot potato

Noel Kingsbury chaired an event at the London Garden Museum to discuss the impact of the 1992 Rio Convention on Biodiversity, and how this constrains plant hunting expeditions, traditionally a source of new plants for gardeners.

The event proved to be a horticultural hot potato, which you can read about in full at Noel’s blog here.

Visiting Derry Watkins at Special Plants

Special Plants Nursery

With an afternoon spare while staying in Wells, Somerset, early in September, Bill and I decided to visit Special Plants, near Bath.  Tucked away down a single-track lane flanked by tall hedgerows, Derry Watkins’ nursery is deep in the Wiltshire countryside.  Entering via the small gateway, I was immediately struck by the number of unusual plants around me.  A large platform to my right was arranged with a selection of seasonal interest plants, many of which were unfamiliar to me; Hibiscus trionum, an upright annual bearing large, creamy trumpet-shaped flowers with deep chocolate throats, and Trachelium ‘Black Knight’ – lacy, deep violet umbels and dark foliage.  My eye was drawn to the glowing orange-scarlet flowers of Dahlia coccinea, and then ahead a rich purple Nemesia ‘Belmont Blue’.  Beyond, the benches stretched out, packed with a beguiling collection of plants.  Although the nursery space was fairly small, every inch was occupied.  A happy half-hour was spent pottering about, assembling various ‘must-haves’ in a trolley and passing the time of day with Holly, the resident spaniel.

Inside the greenhouse

Seeds for sale

At 2.30, Derry was scheduled to give a talk on seed collection, so Bill and I took the path round leading to the back of the house and joined a small group already gathered around the kitchen table.  The ceiling in this area was high and the windows on both sides extended to the top, making full use of any available daylight.  Tall, potted, cane-stem begonias grew to the full height of the windows, the light filtering through their pendulous clusters of pink flowers.  Through the open door we could see the terraced gravel garden, and the enticing herbaceous borders dropping away from the house.

The terraced gravel garden

View towards the house

Over a cup of tea, Derry began by talking about plants coming true from seed, saying that she didn’t spend time trialling hybrid seedlings to select new strains, but chooses to grow a lot of plants which come true from seed.  On the subject of hybrids and their progeny, Derry used Eschscholzia to illustrate strain-selection; the Eschscholzias in her garden are cream coloured, as that is the only variety which has been left to set seed.  The commonly grown yellow-orange type never breaks through now because the years of selection have isolated one colour strain, exclusively pollinated by local bees.  I pointed out that if a neighbour grew the yellow-orange variety, the bees may well mix the genes.  Derry’s reply was ‘You need to live at least three miles from anyone else!’.  That said, I have been selecting white foxgloves in my own garden for 6-7 years now and I rarely find a purple seedling these days, despite living cheek-by-jowl with purple foxglove growers, so perhaps the ‘local bee’ can be very local indeed.  Derry also mentioned the value of sterile hybrids which are such a boon to the gardener as, in a perpetual effort to set seed, they flower on and on throughout the season.

The group in the garden

Derry Watkins

I was very interested to gather tips about the practical side of seed-collecting, which of course Derry does on a large scale.  The equipment was laid out on the table; a sizeable trug filled with several metal kitchen mixing bowls and a sheaf of paper bags.  We all trooped out to the garden and Derry lead us from plant to plant, showing us the seedheads of various species and demonstrating how to recognise when seed is ripe and how to harvest it successfully.  Large seed-heads can be placed in the metal bowls and processed indoors, smaller ones collected in paper bags.  It’s important to clean the seeds before storing, winnowing the chaff so that it isn’t sown alongside the seeds where it can sit and rot, affecting the seeds themselves.  Derry advised us to leave the seeds in a paper bag in a dry room indoors for a week or so before storing, fully dried, in the fridge.  It was fascinating to listen to such an experienced plantswoman discussing the her techniques and expressing her opinions about the plants she grows in her own garden, frequently in intricate detail and with great enthusiasm.

A sizeable trug

Gravelled sculpture garden

I asked about Angelica gigas, which I’ve found erratic to germinate.  The received wisdom is that A. gigas seed should be sown fresh but then left open to overwinter, during which time the cold will stratify the seeds, leading to germination in the Spring.  I described an experiment in which I sowed two trays, one of brown, ‘ripe’ seed and the other of dark red, fresh, seemingly ‘unripe’ seed.  To my surprise, the red seed germinated within 3 weeks of sowing, without the usual requirement of frost stratification, but the brown seed failed.  Derry explained that if the seed was very fresh, almost unripe, the overwintering stage could be skipped and germination was almost immediate.  I’m trying the same method again this year – the experiment is already underway.

Late summer colour

Informal planting punctuated by box balls

If you’re travelling to the Bath/Bristol area, I’d recommend you to take time out to visit Special Plants – take it from me, you won’t be disappointed.  Derry’s seed list is on the Special Plants website, Mail Order plants are available from September to March, and every Tuesday from April to October at the nursery, Derry gives an informal talk at 11am and 2.30pm on a seasonal topic.

Derry Watkins will be our guest speaker at the Herts HPS on February 2nd, 2013. (Programme)

Marion Jay

What I bought:

  • Sedum ‘Betrand Anderson’ (dark foliage, pink flowers, good ground-cover)
  • Euphorbia rigida (similar to E. myrsinites – architectural, glaucous foliage, prostrate)
  • Dahlia coccinea (intense, red-orange single flowers, airy habit)
  • Salvia ‘Nachtvlinder’ (deep maroon-purple flowers, quite fabulous)
  • Nemesia ‘Belmont Blue’ (rich mauve flowers; I’ll overwinter under glass and take cuttings)
  • Agastache ‘Black Adder’ (a bushy specimen bought for cuttings, as mine are too sparse)
  • Indigofera pendula (a barely-rooted cutting, much treasured – shrub, wisteria-like racemes)

Special Plants,
Greenways Lane,
Cold Ashton,
Wilts, SN14 8LA

Tel: 01225 891686


Tree Recognition Challenge

Below are two photos of an unknown tree, which is growing in the gardens of Stoberry Park in Wells Somertset ( We stayed for a night at Stoberry Park on our way to Cornwall, it was a lovely place to stay. The tree is about 12 to 15 feet tall, and has striped bark. Please note the zigzag joins to the bark on the trunk. If you have any idea what this might be, leave your thoughts in the comments at the bottom. Click each photo to enlarge it, many thanks for any clues. As an added incentive, a visiting HPS group to the garden has so far failed to identify the tree!