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Winter 2023 / 2024 Newsletter

I am not a Druid but I share their enthusiasm for celebrating the winter solstice. I too feel that December 22nd is a very special day; it is the day that marks the end of increasing gloom and the beginning of increasing light. The year turns and a new cycle of life begins. Now we gardeners can really begin to plan for the year ahead.

We have had an exceptionally wet autumn but at least the rains held off until after our autumn show on September 9th. Surprisingly this was one of the hottest days of the year. The topsy turvy weather over the summer was not kind to vegetable growers but 21 exhibitors produced over 150 entries. Once again Mike Leon succeeded in many classes earning him three cups in the vegetables and flower sections of the show. Mike, however, is a man of many talents and excels in the kitchen as well as the garden. He was awarded two cups for exhibits in the cookery section including the best fruit cake. Last year’s newcomer, Caroline Smith, proved she can stay the course and won the Dahlia cup for her beautiful flowers. Ron Smith grew the best Fuchsias and Mavis Lawrence delighted with her floral arrangements; both of them won cups for their exhibits. There was a new contender in the home-made drinks class, Andrew Billington, who won the cup for best (and presumably the tastiest) drink. Finally, we had a completely new class, for the “tallest weed”, in keeping with the move towards more natural gardening! Rumour has it that Mathew Stanton’s winner, well over a metre high, was grown by the compost heap! For the spring show there has been a change to the way the paintings section is organised. There will be a special class for novices, that is those who have not won a prize in the last three years. Please refer to your handbook for more details.

As gardeners we have often contended with bad weather, bugs and drought but this autumn I have added ‘Highways England’ to my list of adversaries. Due to their closure of the A3 for roadworks at Junction 10 on the M25 our planned visit to Wisley Gardens on October 1st was scuppered. Luckily we were able to visit the following week although this did not work for everyone and there were winners and losers among our members. The biggest losers though must be RHS Wisley. This annual free visit was later than previous trips as we were in search of autumn colour. The mild wet weather had slowed the progress of autumn, however, and instead we were able to enjoy the lush plantings of summer perennials and grasses that were still flourishing.

Quiz nights seem to have become established as the favourite theme for our annual social evening. We’re done with smelly ferrets and wooden horses racing up and down as we seem to be more sedentary now. What has not changed over the years is our members’ enthusiasm for food, drink and a good chat. So on 10th November our members settled down in teams of eight to exercise our brains and have a merry time. In addition to the quiz there was a raffle (of course!) and this raised £150. In all we were able to bank £450 to help pay for our 2024 activities and make a donation to charity.

Planning for the next season and ordering seeds is an enjoyable exercise to while away the winter days. Over the last twenty years we have used Thompson and Morgan as a supplier of seeds to our members. In the past a bulk order was compiled and sent off but now members are able to order independently on the internet using a special code. This seemed to have worked well last year and we obviously hit our target of £300 as we have been given a new code for 2024. This was emailed to members last autumn but if you have lost/forgotten it is TM_GT112X. So, get ordering and please give it to family and friends so that we can continue to get 50% discount off seeds and 15% off other live products. I still have catalogues if needed.

It is a new year and emails from garden suppliers are cascading into my inbox offering early deals on seeds and plants. But this is all too premature and I feel that we should take time to enjoy the special qualities of a winter garden. If you have visited the winter gardens at Anglesey Abbey, Kew or Cambridge Botanic gardens you will know what I mean. Colours may be subdued but since our eyes are not bombarded by brilliant colour we can become more appreciative of structure, sound and scent. Evergreens are the backbone of the winter garden and can provide a foil for the coloured stems of Cornus, Rubus and the trunks of Silver Birch, Acer and Cherry. Wind plays through shrubs and trees and creates waves through grasses whilst accompanying birdsong with its humming and whistling. And of course, there is scent. Many winter flowers are highly scented to attract the few pollinators that are around, and yes, you will see bees about on sunny days. A splash of sunshine enhances colour and brings out perfume. The best flowers for winter scent are Viburnams, winter flowering Honeysuckle, Witchhazel, Mahonia and my absolute favourite, Sarcocca. Planted by my front door it greets me and visitors with its beautiful scent as we come and go causing us to pause and sniff. So, despite the chill it is worth taking time to really look at what your garden can offer in the winter and perhaps make some additions to the planting.

Looking forward to events for the coming year we kick off with a talk on March 20th by John Tyler, a local naturalist, who will be telling us about “The Ridgeway”. A second talk on May 2nd by Kate Harwood will recount “The History of Allotments”. Both talks will be held in the Baptist church starting at 7.30. Tickets at the door. We hope to see many of you there.

Happy New Year to you all.

Doreen Wood

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