New Gardening Club Anyone?

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Gardening Club members enjoying a plant sale on a lovely day out in Cheltenham

Why would anyone want to start a new gardening club! Membership is declining all around the country, clubs are not attracting younger members (and when I say young I mean under 60!) and entries at local shows and competitions are dwindling.

However, turn on the TV most nights and there is usually a gardening programme on. Go to Chelsea, Malvern, Tatton or Hampton Court and the bigger crowds each year would suggest that gardening is thriving. Look a bit closer though and it’s often more about ‘lifestyle’ where the garden is actually an instant ‘outdoor room’ with a barbeque on the patio, cushions on the rattan seating, a fire pit and mood lighting. A few carefully placed pots of totally unsuitable plants provide a summer of contentment only to disappear into mush at the first sign of frost!

Call me cynical, but this ‘fashionable’ sort of gardening preys on the vulnerable, the gullible and those wishing to impress rather than to learn. Don’t get me wrong, I have a barbeque on the patio and somewhere to sit but my plants are the star of the show; a huge variety of flowers, colour and scent in abundance, herbs, fruit and veg, lawns, hedges and trees. Yes, there is a bit of statuary and stuff I’ve bought and regretted including a chiminea which now lurks in a dark corner amongst the old compost bags and chicken wire! But give me traditional gardening every time; a packet of seeds, a begged cutting or a plant split and swapped with friends. And so it was that I found myself in conversation with like minded people who suggested we start a ‘proper’ gardening club for people like us!

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Enjoying a recording of BBC Radio 4 Gardener’s Question Time- spot anyone under 60?

An internet search quickly revealed more than 150 gardening clubs already in Gloucestershire alone so this was either a very bad idea or there is always room for one more. We decided it was the latter! As a past committee member of the Cheltenham Horticultural Society and know a bit about how clubs are run I was tasked to make a plan. I am also lucky enough to be a member of the Hardy Plant Society Western Counties Group which is thriving, well run and well attended with very good speakers and the wonderful Bob Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers usually in attendance. It occurred to me that there was potential for a Cotswold Group of the Cottage Garden Society to be just as successful if only we could attract enough people and give them what they wanted. And there’s the rub. How do we do that?! After listing out all the ‘fors’ and ‘againsts’ it became clear just how tricky this was going to be!

It became clear to me that the crucial thing was going to be finding ways of attracting and keeping a younger audience, new members in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s who like the principles of cottage gardening but need help and encouragement. A group which stays true to the objects of the Society but modernised and relevant to a new generation of tech savvy, health conscious gardeners who want to make the most of their little patch to grow flowers, eat their own fruit and veg and literally stay ‘grounded’. These people recognise the health benefits of gardening for themselves and their family, the outlet it provides for creativity and expression and the potential increase in value a well tended garden can bring when it’s time to move on.

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Meeting Carol Klein at BBC Gardeners World Live – always a joy!

It occurred to me that, without realising it, cottage gardening is often the style a lot of gardeners end up with in the normal course of events. An arch, a pond, beds and borders filled with plants acquired from well meaning family and friends, pots of herbs, a grow-bag with tomatoes or chillies, a mini-greenhouse and a small shed. What is that but cottage gardening? Only the pigs and chickens are missing! It may be on a modern urban estate but it is no less relevant. They may buy their plants from garden centres, not nurseries, and make a lot of expensive mistakes along the way but, sooner or later, and if they don’t become disheartened in the meantime, they could become the talented gardeners of tomorrow. These are the people gardening clubs need to capture, nurturing their fledgling interest and turning it into a passion.

Of course, it is essential for any group to be inclusive and cater for the needs of everyone who wants to join whatever their age and experience, and to provide all the ingredients for a contented and satisfied membership. It is certainly going to be challenging getting the right blend of old and modern, traditional and contemporary, but I believe it can be done. Indeed, it has to be be done otherwise there is no point. Without an annual injection of new and younger members, gardening clubs and societies will slowly decline and wither away.

Trophy Winners August 2013

Cups and prizes for the best at local shows

After a lot of coffees in our local Italian, my friends and I decided that it should be a two-pronged attack. First we would contact the existing membership in North Gloucestershire and ask them to join us, and then use local advertising and social media to attract budding gardeners who want to learn the basics, improve their skills, fill gaps in their knowledge or just join a bunch of plant mad people, allotmenteers, beekeepers, smallholders and others keen to share their knowledge and skill before it gets lost.

 Stay tuned, I will let you know what happens next!

Time for a Change!

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I have been rather dilatory of late and I apologise to my faithful followers for the lack of posts and updates from my garden and my visits to others. To be honest, apart from a few small tweaks here and there, my garden has now settled into a rhythm and ticks over through the seasons. However, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been busy!

Some of you may recall that I was briefly Vice Chairman of the Cheltenham Horticultural Society and was rather frustrated that my ideas for modernising and updating the society and its activities were continually thwarted and questioned. Although I was able to bring a lot to the Society in a short time; BBC Radio 4 Gardeners Question Time, plant sales linked to Open Gardens events, publicity from the Tools Shed recycling project with the Conservation Foundation and helping our Vice President, Chris Evans of The Butterfly Garden win the Daily Telegraph ‘Gardening Against the Odds’ award, revamping the Society website and getting Chris Beardshaw to talk about his Gold winning Chelsea garden and his new book, I realised that my future ‘gardening club’ activity lay elsewhere.

I have always admired the homespun charm of the Cottage Garden Society and eagerly read their quarterly magazine and take part in their excellent seed exchange. However, apart from a group local to South Gloucestershire and the towns in the Stroud valleys, they do not have a local presence in the Cotswolds. Even the Worcestershire Group has amalgamated with the Staffordshire Group and has now migrated northwards. So it occurred to me that they might like a new group in my part of Gloucestershire from Cheltenham north and east. They instantly agreed!

So, as a lot of my gardening activity is now going to be centred around the new Cotswold Group, I have decided to make my blog a record of how I get on starting a new gardening club (for that’s what it really is) and sharing my thoughts and concerns, triumphs (let’s hope there are some!) and disasters (let’s hope there are few!), with my followers, visitors and members of the group.

Onwards and upwards!

Echibeckia Update

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The Echibeckia Summerina ‘Yellow’ was a big surprise this year. The plants from Hayloft survived the winter in pots plunged up to their necks in a raised bed but looked dead until April when a few small green shoots appeared. I dug them up and transferred them to the greenhouse where they took off! By early May they were ready to plant out and with a dressing of bonemeal they romped away.

I think they worked well next to the Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’  but they were gradually pushed over by the thuggish Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ behind.

I will be interesting to see if they survive another, and perhaps harder winter.

First Frost

The first hard frost has intensified the autumn colours and the Liquidamber ‘Worplesdon’ is spectacular today.

The dahlias are blackened and will be mush by tomorrow. The climbing fuchsia ‘Lady Boothby’ is now five years old and going strong, shrugging off the cold and continuing to flower well.


Sorbus hupehensis ‘Pink Pagoda’ has berried up well and is attracting the pigeons which balance precariously on the slender branches to gorge themselves.

My Garden This Week

DSC_0049Just a quick update because I was out photographing the sweet peas. The garden is full of colour this week. The asters and chrysanths are in full bloom and the overwintered dahlias are boldly holding their positions. The salvias have been outstanding this year and some of the patens varieties are better than ever, particularly ‘Blue Angel’ which just goes on and on until the first frost.DSC_0053

This combination of bronzy yellow and purple chrysanths works well and is a complete accident!

More later!