Blog Archives

2014 Seedling Swap

This year’s Seedling Swap took place in Adrian de Baat’s garden in Welwyn Garden City.  Adrian planted masses of tulips last year and swappers took the opportunity to wander around the colourful borders and chat about the emergent grasses and late-flowering perennials for which his garden is well-known.

There was a wide variety of little plants on offer, from David Singleton’s tiny pots of rooted fuchsia cuttings to Linda Williams’ tray-load of Gaura ‘The Bride’.  Members spent quite some time bent over the tables with tiny trowels and dibbers, collecting their ‘plants for free’ to take home.  Cups of tea from Adrian’s wife, Clare, were very welcome, as was the delicious cake on offer.

I offloaded a batch of Anthriscus ‘Ravenswing’ and Ammi visnaga, along with a few Scabious stellata ‘Sternkugel’ and Dahlia coccinea.  I came home with several Smyrnium perfoliatum, a crop of Dianthus ‘Sooty’ and a job lot of Linda’s Gaura to thread through my front garden planting.  Altogether a very happy morning spent with fellow enthusiasts, and new plants for the garden at no cost.

Many thanks to Adrian and Clare for being such genial hosts and providing refreshments.  I hope, if you didn’t attend the Seedling Swap this year, you might be inspired to come along in 2015.  It’s one of the big benefits of belonging to a local group, and yet the attendance numbers are always oddly low.  It’s basically just plants for free with a cup of tea, so put the date in your diary next year and join in.  Remember – no contribution is necessary, there are always more than enough seedlings to go round.

Marion Jay


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Members at the Swap


Adrian de Baat chats with Sarah Marsh

Adrian de Baat chats with Sarah Marsh

The English Garden Magazine Features a Members Garden

Last summer, shortly after our NGS opening in July, we were visited by Marianne Majerus who photographed the garden in the afternoon light. Marianne showed the photos to The English Garden magazine and the result is a feature in the September issue, including the front page (see below).  In all good newsagents now!

Marion Jay & Bill Hodgson

84 Valley Road

84 Valley Road

A Trip to Larch Cottage Nurseries, Penrith

So many of my Google searches for plants have produced Larch Cottage Nurseries as the top result that when we visited the Lake District in early May 2013, I was eager to see the place for myself. The plant list online was so extensive, I imagined the nursery must occupy acres of land, and I wasn’t far wrong. The front entrance was almost concealed, but once through the gate we found ourselves in a courtyard full of statuary and plants. The nursery was divided into rooms by ‘ruined’ stone walls punctuated by archways, which allowed a glimpse into plant heaven beyond.

The first herbaceous section, which in itself was the size of an ordinary nursery, was mainly filled with alpines. I’ve never seen so many in one place, it was quite an education. I couldn’t resist a beautiful little Soldanella montana, tiny round leaves and bright purple, fringed bell-shaped flowers. Then the herbaceous ranks began in earnest. One entire length of bench, which I estimated at 12 metres, was dedicated to Astilbes. The Astrantia section was exhaustive and included a Larch Cottage-bred variety, a large-flowered clear pink with excellent foliage. I spent a long time at the Euphorbia bench and came away with Euphorbia shillingii, an attractive summer-flowering variety with a narrow silver stripe down the centre of each leaf. I came close to succumbing to several Monardas but persuaded myself out of it when I remembered how they disappear over winter in my garden. Still tempting, though.

It took a long time to explore the herbaceous area. I was amazed at the sheer breadth of choice. I was very taken with a plant I hadn’t seen before; Mukdenia ‘Karasuba’, commonly known as Crimson Fans. It’s related to the Heucheras and has palmate leaves which turn a deep crimson in summer. It was a good-sized plant and I easily divided it into three once I got home. Generally all the nursery plants were of a good size and in first class condition.

The shrub and climber section were very interesting, with many unusual specimens. I chose the oak-leaved Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Burgundy’, which has leaves that darken to purple as they mature, and conical pale pink flowerheads. I noticed a fabulous life-sized bronze sculpture of a ram in the shrub section but the price tag made my eyes pop so he stayed where he was. In fact, the nursery was very well stocked with garden sculpture, from large South-east Asian dancing ladies to classical nudes and even crocodiles.

We had lunch on the balcony of the restaurant, which overlooks the nursery. The food was really delicious, though it took a while to arrive. I had Thai fishcakes with a salad of beetroot and baby leaves with a tangy dressing. It was very civilised having lunch under the vine-stemmed eaves, gazing over the stone walls at the greenery beyond.

Larch Cottage Nurseries is 5 miles out of Penrith and really feels as though it’s in the middle of nowhere. Chatting to a member of staff, we discovered that people visit the nursery from as far away as Manchester and Glasgow, treating it as a day out. The nursery started small and has increased in size as the years have gone by. There is no particular specialism, they have thrived on selling a wide variety of plants (the widest I’ve ever seen). They also run a mail-order service which is much recommended.

I realised once we back in the car that I’d missed the Hostas. I’ll use that as an excuse for a second visit sometime very soon…

Marion Jay.

Larch cottage website:

Click to enlarge the individual photos

Against the light – flower and garden pictures by John McCormack

A Photo essay on some techniques for this procedure

[Click the photos to enlarge them]

Pictures of flowers and plants taken against the light can often have a very different look to images taken with the sunlight coming from behind the photographer. The translucency of flower parts and sharply defined outlines of buds are examples of such enhanced images.

Not every photograph can or should be taken into the sunlight, but in a number of instances in flower photography there can be a dramatically improved result by using this method. We are talking about light coming towards the camera, or at a closely oblique angle to the camera axis.

Picture 1

Picture 1

Some of these instances are:

  • Petals and leaves which are translucent often have an internal structure and colouring which is made more visible by light transmitted through them. Picture 1 above illustrates the type of photograph we are going to discuss here.
  • Buds, seed-heads and berries that have an outline which is shown up dramatically by backlighting tracing out the periphery ; similarly spines and hairs on the outline edge of buds and fruit.
  • Individual plants such Cardoons that are mainly grown for their overall shape will show up poorly when photographed with illumination from the front. Backlit pictures can show up their architecture to advantage.
  • Garden vistas can be made to look excitingly different when viewed into the light, especially if they are in the pathway of low morning or evening sun.
  • A few other specific instances such as cobwebs and water fountains.

It is clear that I am talking almost exclusively about natural sunlight, and especially soft very early morning light soon after dawn. Late evening light is also good but this can sometimes change the colour balance and add a red colour cast to photographs. At these hours too, as well as the softness of the actual light, it is at a low angulation which is often just right for capturing pictures at an easily managed axis. High midday sun is not in the equation, neither are  pictures taken with flash.  Around dawn a trace of mist and dew creates a mystical image, and our professional garden photographers are used to getting up before 5 am to get the best pictures!

These photographs can rarely be obtained by just using the automatic exposure setting of your camera. Shooting against the light can often mean that the camera’s internal exposure meter if set to automatic mode ‘sees’ so much light that the exposure is cut down and surprisingly the picture is often under exposed. It can well come out rather dark and uninteresting. So you usually need to increase the exposure when taking pictures against the light, and this is completely contrary to one’s first instinct.

It is this subtle balance between a dull, uninteresting under exposed picture and a burnt out over exposure which makes this area of flower photography so exacting and challenging. There are several ways to correct and compensate for this problem. These are expanded in the technical notes at the end of this article, but you can always start by just taking a number of pictures of the same scene at different exposures. This is called exposure bracketing.  Fortunately with modern digital cameras several pictures can be taken for experiment at no extra cost.

Some Examples

So let us look at some samples of this type of photography. This first example is by not changing the exposure itself, but by simply changing the camera position. This in itself usually alters the exposure which is set by the automatic system in the camera.

Picture 2: A view of a clump of thistles (Cirsum var) in a sunny field.

Picture 2: A view of a clump of thistles (Cirsum var) in a sunny field.

Picture 2 is taken with the light behind the camera, so the thistles are lit from the front that is to say from behind the camera position. The clump is rather flat and uninteresting.

Picture 3

Picture 3

Picture 3 is taken from the other side of the clump directly against the sunlight. The bright sky has dominated the camera’s automatic exposure control, so the metering system has resulted in the sky being perfectly exposed but the thistle clump dark and under exposed. However there is a hint of an exciting picture in the tips of the seed-heads. So let’s change the camera angle.

Picture 4

Picture 4

Picture 4 is taken with the camera tilted down so that the sky is almost out of the picture. This means that the automatic exposure is not dominated by the bright sky. Now the thistles themselves are now far better exposed. Indeed the tips of the seedheads are just on the cusp of what I wanted – very bright and much more interesting but with enough detail.

Post exposure digital adjustment

With digital images some manipulation can be used to obtain a better image. This example of a Chimonanthus  praecox ‘Grandiflora’  flower illustrates that we should aim if possible for a slight under exposure, not over exposure to obtain our favoured result. Under exposure can often be corrected to some extent in post exposure computer software, but over exposure usually results in an image which is burnt out and then highlight  details cannot be redeemed. A RAW image file is preferable but JPEGs need less expertise and are satisfactory for most uses if ultimate quality is not required.

Picture 5

Picture 5

Here in picture 5 is the picture of our wintersweet a little over exposed – it is all rather bright and details of the lower petals particularly are burnt out.

Picture 6

Picture 6

In picture 6 an attempt has been made to correct this by overall darkening of the image in Photoshop. However because the petal details have already been lost, and darkened, the subtlety is never recovered.

pict 07

Picture 7

Picture 7 taken from a slightly different angle but a lesser exposure has been used. This time it is a little under exposed, so there is not enough shadow detail. This is far less critical. The veins on the petals also don’t really show up but when this image is adjusted and lightened overall in Photoshop (Picture 8) the picture recovers much of the lost shadow information. Also this lightens the petals to a desirable extent.

Picture 8

Picture 8

Now they recover almost perfect cellular detail of their surface structure (Photoshop ‘levels’ used for this adjustment.) Many modern SLR cameras can also be set up to take several sequence pictures like this both light and dark – one after the other in quick succession – this is called bracketing. If this is not available on your camera you have to do this manually (see technical details below). It enables the best image to be easily chosen. So – the rule is once again, and this is important   – always veer on the side of under exposure, not over exposure. You can usually get back some shadow detail, but you can rarely recover over exposed and burnt out areas. It can often be as you have seen above that only a small subtle correction is needed to make a critical difference.

Many photographic adjustment programmes can make these small changes. There are though more sophisticated packages like Photoshop. They will also be able to make ‘selections’ of different areas within the picture. By adjusting these regions separately it is possible to to achieve better results rather than a ‘global’ (all over) lightening or darkening of the complete photograph.

The next two pictures of larger flowers (picture 9) Papaver orientale ‘ Snow White’ and (picture 10)  Aquilegia var. show very thin delicate petals and are demanding photographically because they  are so translucent.

Picture 9

Picture 9

Picture 10

Picture 10

Again the smallest amount of over exposure will kill all delicate detail. A flower with a thicker petal is this Hemerocallis ‘Helle Berlinerin’ (picture 11) which is an HPS conservation plant.  Like many flowers they often point almost directly into the light, due to what is known as the positive phototropism of the cellular growth of the plant cells. This means that you are presented with an almost vertically lit subject, but the principle of avoiding over exposure is exactly the same. Take several bracketed pictures, and veer to the slight under exposure. So the rule is once again: expose for the highlights, and then post process for the shadows.

Picture 11

Picture 11

These guidelines do not of course just apply to individual close ups of flower heads. Groups of flowers such these dahlias (picture 12) ( Dahlia ‘Bishop Llandaff’ ) and the Tulips (Tulipa var. picture 13)  also need very exact exposure control because the petal edges are so important in the composition.

Picture 12

Picture 12

Picture 13

Picture 13

The secret is to aim to have the periphery of the petals correctly exposed. Any increase will lose that lovely illumination of the outline. Fortunately in these two examples with low morning light it was possible to find a position for the camera just into the shadow of the surrounding trees. The tulips needed a very low camera position, as do many such short stemmed flowers. A hint here is that a plastic waste sack is a valuable extra to have in your camera bag, so that you can lie down on damp ground and not get wet!

Another piece of ‘kit’ which is occasionally very valuable is a ‘reflector’, This is because when photographing into the light, the interior of a flower, or indeed other parts too can be in shadow, and too dark. By using a reflector some of the light can be back reflected into this shadow area. This decreases the dynamic range of the intended picture, and gives a more even exposure. Beware that too much reflected light can make the image flat and uninteresting and may negate the whole concept of creating a backlit photograph!  You can buy a small folding reflector quite cheaply, but a piece of kitchen aluminium foil, crushed and then spread out flat will be very satisfactory. Picture 14 shows a reflector in use. The following two photographs (15  and 16) show a Schizostylis coccinea var. flower, first without any reflection and then with some added light inside the flower from the reflector.

Picture 14

Picture 14

Picture 15

Picture 15

Picture 16

Picture 16

Dark flowers against a lighter background pose a different problem of exposure. Here a camera with the ability to spot meter a very small area and to control and move it around is invaluable. This can be found in many modern SLR cameras.  The selection spot can be ‘jiggled’ to an exact place on a chosen flower or leaf. For this the camera really has to be on a tripod and not moved thus leaving the composition static in the chosen frame. If your spot can’t be moved, but remains in the picture centre, then an alternative technique has to be used.  Half press the release button to lock the exposure by first centering on the part you want to expose correctly, and then shift the camera position a fraction  and recompose. Finally press the button and expose the photograph. Remember that different cameras can have various alternative settings for this and you may need to read the instruction book to find out what your camera does. Ideally a camera with buttons to lock focus and exposure independently will be best for these tricky techniques.

Picture 17

Picture 17

The picture (17) of a Podophyllum versipelle ‘Spotty dotty’ is an example of this technique. The ideal is to have the camera on a tripod, and to spot measure several parts of the projected photograph area, concentrating of course on the main flower itself. Several pictures are taken, and the best one selected. In this example there is a large dynamic range between the light and dark parts of the flower. It is a matter of quite careful judgement to find a compromise in which the darker parts of the flower show some detail, but the light parts just reflecting off the top of the flower are not over exposed. Also importance has to be given to the wonderful leaf behind. If this were to be in sharp focus then it would dominate the picture. This means that you have to use a large aperture (small f number) to keep the flower only in focus and to throw the leaf into slight blurring. This keeps full attention on the flower, not the background.

There is quite a lot to think about in what at first seems a simple picture to take. Another aspect of image control is selective focusing which is enlarged upon further in a later part of this article.

Picture 18

Picture 18

The red flower spray of  Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’  (picture no. 18) was also challenging to  photograph against the very much brighter sky. Again this spot metering when on a tripod  or if handheld then a number of bracketed exposures are the answer. You can easily think of other non backlit situations that demand such extra care, for instance dark red roses against a white cottage wall immediately come to mind.

Occasionally a creative effect is wanted where under exposure against a brighter sky background is called for. This is usually where the actual anatomical structure of the plant is the chief point of the whole composition and photograph. An example is this is the Cardoon (Cynara  cardunculus picture no.19).

Picture 19

Picture 19

It was exposed at several values but this one which is under exposed is far more menacing and appropriate than a picture which shows the green leaves and flowerheads in their natural colour. The so called hedgehog holly (Ilex aquifolium ‘Ferox Argentea’ ) is another good example of this genre.

Picture 20

Picture 20

Picture no. 20   shows the holly leaves with their edges coloured yellow and this feature, together with a backlit photographic angle makes another picture which is quite aggressive.

Seed heads with pronounced hairs or prickles can make another slightly threatening subject. This Datura (Datura stramonium – picture 21) is an example and perhaps parallels it’s poisonous nature.

Picture 21

Picture 21

The flowerbud of this poppy (Papaver orientale ‘Pinnacle’  – picture 22) taken with the low morning sunlight could be an insipid picture with lighting at any other angle. These last two pictures are quite close up and focusing could be difficult with a handheld camera.

Picture 22

Picture 22

A tripod or similar support is needed not only to keep the camera still, but to accurately focus on the hairs and prickles themselves, and not to rely on built in automatic focusing which can easily produce an average focus depth. This can be fine in many situations but may well fail to produce the crisp accurate image of the periphery that is really needed.

Selective focusing

Depth of field has already been mentioned and should not be forgotten in the concentration needed to get the exposure right. This (DOF) of course depends on the magnification used and the aperture. Picture 23 of the group of Eryngium bourgati ‘Picos blue’ was taken at a distance.

Picture 23

Picture 23

At f8 a good depth of field showed up the whole plant in sharp focus and the background foliage  only just going out of focus. The same aperture was used for a close up of a single flowerhead (picture 24).

Picture 24

Picture 24

This illustrates a more limited depth of field due to greater magnification with the front part of the subject in sharp focus. The back part only a couple of cm. behind has a pleasant slight blurring. This in fact can be very desirable, and the gradient from sharp focus to unsharp focus varies with different lenses. There is a Japanese name for this which is called bokeh. Some photographers choose lenses very largely on the basis of this feature. This is one of the reasons why prime lenses without any zoom multiple glass elements are still sought after for perfect sharp to blurred effects. Don’t forget that a small aperture (larger f number) will produce a deep depth of field in sharp focus which in creative terms may be just what you don’t really want. Blurring of backgrounds can of course be created in a computer, but it is always best to start off with the most appropriate and desired picture in the camera.

Remember that a large aperture (small f number) will focus a smaller sharp area in the centre of the frame, leaving a larger area of often blurred background around it. A small aperture means a greater overall central area of sharper focus and much less peripheral blurred area. It is this purposeful alteration of the picture which is often a major part of photographic creativity. A skilled photographer will have this completely built in to his or her mind before any picture is taken. Such previsualization only comes with constant practice.

An occasional problem  

Against the light images often need a lens shade to stop stray light and to narrow the acceptance angle exactly to the specific scene you are imaging. Even so, because lenses are composed of multiple elements, internal lens reflections can show up as an odd pattern across part of the picture if the camera is ponted too close to the incident light axis. This is seen in Picture 25 of pumpkins (Curcubita pepo ‘Spellbound’).

pict 25

As you see the lens flare looks rather like a ‘string of beads’. This applies especially to modern zoom lenses which can have very many elements. The answer is in the first instance to move the camera/lens axis perhaps down away from the direct light, and this may improve the picture. In many cases there will also often be a slightly blurred or misty appearance to the image as in the modified image (Picture 26).

Picture 26

Picture 26

This is called lens ‘flare’ and was far more common in early cameras that did not have the elaborate lens coatings which cover the lens elements of our modern cameras. The only sure way round this problem is to really move the camera to a different axis altogether.

Some technical notes- expanding some of the themes above.

There are some technical difficulties in against the light photography and this applies to several areas. It is worthwhile enlarging more on some of the methods we have been using for the pictures we have been taking, because this is the key to success in this quite exacting area of photography.

Exposure metering

If a standard point and shoot automatic exposure is set up to be the usual default in the camera controls then you may well be doomed to failure.

The main problem is that the exposure is very often set by the camera  exposure sensor mechanism. This means that when the camera is pointed more or less into the sunlight, then a lot of bright light is a shining into the camera mechanism. The camera then ‘thinks’ there is too much light around so that it closes down or reduces the exposure (aperture or shutter speed or both) so that the sensor is not overwhelmed with a picture that is too bright. Now suddenly we have an image  in which much of it is correctly exposed, but the critical part we are interested in may well be too dark and under exposed, resulting in lost important  information in that area.

I like to use the analogy that the camera perhaps ‘thinks’ because if we leave the camera settings to automatic then the camera does in a way ‘think’ and it takes control out of our hands. Although this can be fine in many situations it should not apply when we are taking some rather different and creative pictures against the light. For this we need our own control of exposure and also a check on the result by looking at the read out histogram which is discussed in greater detail below.

First of all we have to be not afraid to take several pictures of our chosen subject. I don’t just mean waving the camera about and firing off a number of exposures in the vain hope that one may turn out to be correct, but to carefully think of a number of viewpoints that are possible candidates. After composing the picture from several places then this is the time to repeat these with different settings of the camera controls, and this is what we are going to discuss further.

Camera control exposure adjustments.

Many modern cameras have a small control button to change the exposure which has been determined by the metering system. This can change the exposure timing and/or the aperture. The change of timing can be critical if the camera is hand held, or if the plant is waving in a breeze. In this case compensation should be made by upping the ISO sensor sensitivity. In cameras with large sensor areas this does not affect the image if applied in limited amounts. Small cameras with appropriately small sensors are affected more, and image degradation can result. Changing the aperture of course alters the depth of field, and can also alter the timing of the exposure. This may not matter too much for distance pictures, but can be more critical in close up ranges. Remember the Eryngeum pictures illustrated above.

Spot Metering

Not all cameras have a spot metering mode, but if your camera has one  then this is the very time to use it. This is the easiest option to obtain a properly exposed picture in these ‘against the light’ situations.  Set up the camera controls and then spot meter directly onto the flower or area you are photographing. This will ensure that the flower itself is properly exposed. The area outside the flower may of course be under or over exposed but for a start the part we are interested in will be properly exposed.  In some instances there may have to be a compromise. The over exposed area may end up with just too little texture, and so some reduction of exposure may have to be made. Again take several exposures to have some selection available later. And keep in mind the mantra : ‘expose for the highlights – post exposure adjustment to bring out the shadows’.

You may well have to read your camera instruction book to check if spot metering is available on your camera. Some more elaborate SLR cameras have the ability to move the spot around the frame. This was mentioned in the Podophyllum picture above, and is used to obtain a very exact measurement of a special area.  Of course remember to turn it off afterwards for your next photographic subject if you do not need it!

Camera movement metering selection.

This is a simple method of ‘locking ‘ your exposure to achieve a controlled image exposure. Some more advanced cameras have the ability to lock focus and exposure independently. Otherwise put the focus into manual mode and carefully focus onto your flower. However most cameras do have the ability to lock both focus and exposure by half pressing down the shutter release button. So – frame up your selected picture, and focus manually. Now swing the camera a little sideways into a different area, possibly outside your first frame which has a similar image density (darkness or brightness) to the key area you are photographing.

Half press the release button down so that the exposure is locked onto this second area and then swing back to reframe onto your subject again. Both your exposure and focus should then be correct. However, unless your camera is on a tripod you can quite easily not swing back into exactly the same focus again. The answer is to take several pictures, and also to make sure your ISO setting is high enough for your aperture to be say f8 or smaller so that the depth of field recorded is deep enough to compensate for your realignment to maintain your subject in adequate sharp focus. This is quite a lot to think about.


This is indeed an area of photography which could be expanded into a whole article in itself

The nub of it is that most modern cameras can be set to show in the monitor a special type of graph or ‘histogram curve’ whenever we take a picture.  This curve will display at once if the picture is under or over exposed, and also give an idea by how much. This then gives us an idea of how much to adjust the exposure to avoid over exposure of our prime subject, and indeed how much under exposed the rest of the picture may be.  Part of the answer is of course to read your manual to see what is available in your particular camera model. Professional garden photographers are constantly referring to the histogram and take further subsequent images to obtain the curves they need. An alternative to the histogram curve may be to use the option display of ‘flashing highlights’. However they only display over exposed saturation areas and do not give a quantitative idea of over or under exposure.

The monitor image otherwise should be used also to double check that you have not inadvertently missed out a peripheral part of the picture you have envisaged. This immediately leads on to another rule! Always take your picture with an adequate surround of periphery which you may or perhaps may not use. You can always crop a picture to its ideal theme, but you can’t at all easily add peripheries of flowers or leaves or garden content that you don’t have in that master image. This could demand a really advanced cloning replacement in Photoshop and of course one could be starting to enter an area of possible image falsification, and the moral unsavoury overtones of such procedures.

It is worth while noting here that in film camera techniques one was urged to ‘fill the frame’. This was because cropping and choosing the main selected area of both black and white pictures and even more so colour images was difficult. In digital imaging it is relatively easy to crop to an ideal selection of the picture to enhance the impact of the image.

HDR Photography

A new area of digital photography has developed recently called HDR or High Dynamic Range photography. In this technique multiple pictures are taken usually at different exposures, but the camera is locked on a tripod to avoid any movement whatsoever. Pictures from this sequence are then selected which each have an area of the desired image in a correct exposure. These are then combined by special software, so that the optimum image part is extracted from each picture.  This makes a final combination image which has separately controlled parts to make up an optimum picture. This result can never be obtained from a single exposure, and illustrates the advances that have been made with modern digital photography.

I suspect though that this is not the end of the story –  more exciting features of imaging will surely soon emerge !

John McCormack

If you would like to follow up some more advances in flower photography technology, John has a website you may be interested in. This is at

North Bucks Orchid Society Show

Dear Secretary,

I will be attending the North Bucks Orchid Society Show in the Village Hall, Flitwick on Sat 16th February selling a wide range of orchids for the garden, meadow and alpine house. This will include over 60 different slipper orchids. Perhaps you could pass this information to any of your members who might be interested. There will also be a number of nurseries selling indoor orchids and accessories.

The show is open form 11am to 4pm and admission is £2.

Kind Regards,
Jeff Hutchings
Laneside Hardy Orchid Nursery:

Bletilla Striata

Bletilla Striata

Xmas Party 2012

Today the group enjoyed a talk from Rob Potterton, along with a Christmas feast. Rob took us through his plant hunting expedition to China, and onwards through the process of propagation and sale. Rob experienced altitude sickness at 16,000 feet in the mountains near-ish the border with Tibet, to collect new species of alpine plants, now on sale at his nursery The lovely table decorations were made by the members (if I missed any, sorry), and also the bountiful fancy cakes. Next meeting on the 5th of January with James Alexander-Sinclair. Have a good Christmas everyone.


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 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

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.

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