Chairman’s report

I have been asked, “How long is it since you became chairman of Sogs?”  The simple answer is that I have forgotten.  If anyone knows, and has documentary proof, I will award a prize of a year’s membership of Sogs.  The point of this musing is to talk about enthusiasm, and how to maintain said enthusiasm at a high level year after year?  Again, there is a simple answer; you have to have good people around you.  Enthusiasm is infectious and Sogs members have infected me and continually re-infect me!
So, let me see if I can splutter all over you and encourage you to gird your loins, put your shoulder to the wheel, your nose to the grindstone and your ear to the ground.  (I will also award a prize to anyone who can draw a picture of that!)  The coming season is looking full and exciting for us Sogs members, (there ought to be a collective noun for Sogs members, Sogians?  Sogites?  Sogerians?  Has anyone got any ideas....there might be a prize in it....? )

Things to look forward to this summer:-

Siobhan is working hard at organising the visits.  (I have inside information and they are good!) 

Watch out for the ‘activities day’, this will have added flax and pizza, not necessarily together, but it would be good for the fibre intake.

Attingham Plant Fair (Fayre?)  Free admission to a great garden, free tea and biscuits, free smiles from Sogunians and all you have to do is grow a few plants.

Flower Show.  Start to grow your plant now and photograph yourself with it every couple of weeks; then, at the show, we will make a display of all the photos and all the plants.  I can picture it now; the marquee wall covered with photos, the ground in front verdant like a forest, Sogeronians smiling until their faces lock into a rictus, a crowd of visitors all saying “my plant is better than that!”  But that is what we want to do; to make people feel good and send them away with the enthusiasm to garden organically.

Our own gardens, Whether they be; big, small, intermediate, in a bucket, or in your imagination; these are the most important thing to look forward to and I look forward to you sharing them with the rest of us.  There is no such thing as a garden that is unworthy of a Sogs visit.  If the gardener has one ounce of enthusiasm you can be sure that Sogdeners will magnify that to at least the weight of potatoes that we sold at the potatoe’s day.  (I will defend that apostrophe to the death!)

I can’t talk about enthusiasm without mentioning the potato day.  This is about the 8th year we have done it and from where I am standing I can see that the enthusiasm is stronger than ever.  Well done every one, give yourself a pat on the back and a hug from me.  (If you want a real hug I am at every meeting half an hour early.) 


Flowering Meadows, Big and Small, November 2nd 2011
At the first indoor meeting of the year the talk was presented by Chris Jones of the Parks and Open Spaces department of Telford and Wrekin Council.  At one time a groundsman, he had decided to take a further qualification i.e. the RHS’s Master of Horticulture and in his own words instead of “killing weeds for a living is now concentrating on the diverse wildflowers available to him”.  His work locally and nationally has earned him the nickname of ‘Roundabout Man’ in certain circles!  This should give you a clue to his area of work.

His talk began with a definition of a meadow as ‘an area of grassland with stock excluded most of the time, and a hay cut taken, usually between April and September’.  Most of the area coming under Chris’s care would have previously been planted with labour intensive and expensive bedding plant schemes.  Chris demonstrated, with pictures, different types of meadows - native perennial, traditional hay, annual pictorial and exotic perennials and showed examples of each.  A native perennial meadow with SSSI status had cowslips which extended the flowering season and was followed by orchids and yellow rattle.      Over the past 60 years, 95 per cent of our wildflower-rich meadows have been lost, mainly due to changes in farming practice.

As well as slides of roundabouts there were some of hedgerows and roadside verges, which act as marvellous wildlife corridors, of purely natural grass with clover and daisies appearing simply by not weeding and less mowing.  Even wet sites will produce good flowering meadows as the grass species become stressed.  To get more variety many of the plants are raised by seed and used as plugs or more often the turf is scalped, the cuttings removed and the ground disc harrowed before seeds are sown in situ.  The poorer the conditions, the better it is for wild flowers.  A bulb planting machine is borrowed from Holland which can plant 20,000 bulbs, such as fritillaries, in 10 minutes.

The council make one cut a year between July and October, the date decided by the last seed formation of the flowers they wish to preserve.  This aspect means a great reduction in costs.

Chris then showed us pictures of his orchard at home where he grows a meadow beneath the fruit trees.  This does not affect his crop of fruit and means he does not have to mow too close to the trees.  We could see meadow vetchling, knapweed, clover, yellow rattle and ragged robin, all attracting useful insects to attack the pests and in fact the trees, planted in 2004, had never been sprayed.  Someone asked the best time to sow rattle and it would appear to be when the soil is wet and cold and the seeds should be stamped into the ground, just as cattle would do.  His meadow varies from year to year – for instance, buttercups will dominate one year and geraniums the next.  After it is mowed, chickens are allowed in and they eat a lot of the seed, but obviously not all! Knapweed heads are left for goldfinches.
Next came a picture of an annual meadow containing poppies, cornflowers,  corn cockle and corn marigolds.  Chris recommended the latter as a green manure as nothing much grows through it.  Annuals provide a lot of colour and impact and Chris showed various mixes.  Exotic annuals are also just as good for insect life.

When the first roundabout was planted at Oakengates several years ago, many members of the public rang the council to say how they liked it and so more similar plantings were planned.  By 2004 15,000 square metres of public grassland such as that near houses and schools, were treated this way. 

For nice, fine grasses Chris recommended Crested dogstail and Meadow foxtail and not ryegrass.  And for more impact or to add variety, prairie style planting can be incorporated but only with perennials that can be strimmed down in February and then mulched should be used.  Dr. Nigel Dunnet of Sheffield University has done some marvellous work on this subject, which Chris obviously admired, including using prairie style plants and slug resistant varieties of these.  Some recommendations of these are Echinacea pallida, Echinacea purpurea, Monarda fistulosa, Ratibida pinnata, and Solidago rigida.   (Do google his name for more information and wonderful pictures of the work done in Sheffield, Sue)

If you are stuck for inspiration regarding which wildflowers to grow, find out which varieties naturally flourish in your area, or use the Postcode Plants Database at; it generates lists of native plants for any specified postal district in the UK. Where possible, obtain seeds of British origin, grown by wildflower seed companies on their own land. Cut your meadow at the end of the summer, remembering to rake up and remove all debris. Be prepared to manage your meadow in subsequent years by removing any dominant thugs, incorporating further sowings and supplementing with plug plants.
Pictorial Meadows, Manor Lodge, 115 Manor Lane, Sheffield (0114-276 2828;
Landlife Wildflowers, National Wildflower Centre, Court Hey Park, Liverpool (0151-737 1819;                                          Sue Bosson

“Snowdrops” – a timely talk by Jim Almond, 1st February

Just as the first snowdrops were arriving to cheer us up during the last weeks of winter, along came Jim to cheer us up and educate us with his beautiful power point presentation and lively talk.
There are over 500 varieties, many of them doubles and with various markings or widths of leaf. Wealthy galanthophiles can indulge their passion by buying single bulbs costing from £2.50 to £25 or more, choosing named varieties such as Galanthus ‘Elwesii Barnes’, G. ‘Spindlestone Surprise’ or G ‘Sandhill Gate’.
Some of us may be prepared to spend the £2.50 or more on a bulb which will eventually spread into a clump over the next few years, but most of us will take the easy route to almost instant gratification and obtain someone’s surplus bulbs to plant, as snowdrops need to be lifted and replanted at wider spacing every 3-5 years, up to 6 inches deep, and fellow gardeners may well have some to spare. You should plant the bulbs ‘in the green’, after flowering, just as the blooms begin to fade.

Some basics of cultivation:

You could try to to grow them from seed fresh from the pod and grown on in pots, covered with a layer of compost and top-dressed with grit, and left outdoors for two years giving them a dilute feed fortnightly. In the garden they are best sited under trees, as in nature, where they receive nutrients from leaf drop, moisture when required but dry conditions in summer, and good drainage. If naturalised in grass they are happy, but the grass must be left to grow after they flower so that the leaves are not chopped. They can perform well in a formal garden situation between herbacious plants. You can close plant the bulbs in clay pots to enjoy near the house.

Jim’s numerous photographs showed the astonishing variations of markings, petal sizes, and petal combinations such as three short and three long, or all long, and so on, and it became evident that this humble little white flower repays close attention, as well as being enjoyed for its potential to mimic a snowdrift in a woodland glade. If you keep your eyes open you might even spot a variation that if carefully propagated might earn you a fortune!

Jim mentioned clubs and people involved in snowdrop growing and collecting, some of whom have varieties named after them. One snowdrop with an unusual name is ‘Heffalump’ which appears to have a scowling face and is named after the grower’s husband! Jim even included tips on photographing snowdrops in his talk.
As a bonus, Jim also gave us brief advice on growing crocus, winter/spring flowering iris and many other bulbs, which also featured in his images. He illustrated the method of twin scaling a bulb, e.g. daffodil, by removing its tunic, slicing off the top, and with a sharp knife slicing it vertically into as many as 32 sections, each with some of the root base. These are put in moist vermiculite in a plastic bag until growth begins when they are potted up.

We were given a chance to see the whole sequence of images again with a gentle musical accompaniment, before Jim answered queries and then received well-deserved applause.
                                                               Marian Byrne

Potato Day on the coldest day of the winter!

The weather forecast for the first Saturday in February promised the coldest day of the winter, and some places in the Midlands were supposed to be having several inches of snow. This was a little worrying for us, besides the fact that we had changed our usual venue for the event and were hoping that people would find their way to Montford Village Hall instead of Nesscliffe. There was no snow, although it was cold, bleak and damp.

People came in steady numbers through the day until about one thirty when it went quieter. The hall with its large car park, and a kitchen at each end, one for breakfasts and lunches and one for tea and cakes, was ‘fit for purpose’ and gave us more room for tables down the centre for the potatoes, and small tables for the café at the far end.
The bacon butties and sausage baps went down a treat, and of course the tea and home-made cakes as well. Oh, and we sold quite a lot of potatoes.

Our March meeting was a talk on Green Manures by Francis Rayns of Garden Organic.

Francis explained that he had been working at Ryton for three years on a DEFRA-funded project which was really for farmers, but just as useful for gardeners. His powerpoint presentation was somewhat marred because of a glitch with the projector which meant only two thirds of the screen width were visible, but surprisingly this did not matter too much. He listed the benefits of growing green manures, which are numerous, and the disadvantages, which are extremely few, so those in the audience who do not yet use green manures in their plots should be inspired to do so, and those who already grow them can take pride in doing the right thing by the soil.

There are many things to consider and learn, however.
Types of green manures:
Winter ones to keep the ground covered, and to be dug       in in the spring.
Summer ones which cover the ground for a short while or can be grown between crops.
Permanent, such as a clover crop under fruit trees.

Nitrogen-fixing green manures, eg clovers, trefoils, beans, vetches: Some of these need inoculating with Rhizobium bacteria. The roots have nodules which when pinkish are able to provide nitrogen. However, the advice usually given to leave roots of legume plants in the ground after cropping is not sound, because the nodules will already have given all their nitrogen to the crop.

Incorporation of green manures by digging in needs to be timed carefully. Nitrogen can be lost from the soil by heavy rain, but an overwintering green manure will take it up and conserve it until spring. Grazing rye is good for this.

Adding organic matter to the soil: Green manures can improve soil structure, improve water-holding capacity, assist with water infiltration and drainage, and stimulate microbial activity – some benefits only seen in the long term. They can also suppress weeds, reduce pest and disease problems by providing habitat for predators such as beetles and provide a nectar source for pollinators if allowed to flower. Cabbage root fly can be controlled by a clover undercrop. Buckwheat produces root exudates that mobilise phosphorus, and - useful to know - apparently can inhibit the growth of docks.

Marian Byrne

SLUGS – suggestions by Alys Fowler in the Guardian (Thank you, Wendy)

Apart from the usual beer traps etc., hoeing the ground can help. Know your slugs – the big black ones prefer decaying or dead material, so Alys’s mantra is ‘big and black, put it back’ (on the compost) whereas most others eat living plant material, and she ‘squishes’ them.

Garlic Drench – suggested in the Telegraph as an effective organic slug treatment, to keep delphinium shoots safe: Add 2 garlic cloves to 2 pints water – boil for ½ hour, strain off the liquid and bottle. Keep in a cool place and once a week from spring spray onto plants and the surrounding soil using 2 teaspoons drench to a gallon of water.

Thanks to Dave Parr for this:
An entry in Wallis Seeds catalogue. Collard Greens: Name Flash Fi-78-82 days until maturity, high yields, fast regrowth, slow to bolt, may be used as broccoli – said to be good for diabetics and iguanas (our italics)!
The word ‘food’ was added after three issues of the catalogue had been produced!

To stop or not to stop . . .
Stopping Brussels sprouts – removing the topmost sprout when the lowest sprout is about 1cm – is often advised, but this is really only appropriate for commercial growers who want all the sprouts to mature together for
freezing. Leaving it in place ensures successional cropping. However, yellowing leaves should be removed.

A simple way to keep wasps away from your fruit trees or from your picnic/barbecue.

Apparently wasps will avoid a strange nest, as they could meet with aggression from its occupants. Therefore if you can suspend from your tree or near your picnic an object closely resembling a wasp nest, you will scare wasps away. You can purchase imitation nests from this website:
However, you might have a try at making one or more yourself of newspaper papier mache. Judging by the photo on the website the nest needs to be a bit larger than a man’s head, grey in colour and shaped a bit like a rugby ball.
It is important to mimic a real wasp nest closely by having horizontal ridges all over, or maybe a scale effect which should be easy to obtain by overlapping layers of papier mache. This is just a suggestion – I do not have any detailed instructions, but if anyone manages to make one and it proves successful, please let us know.

Were you wondering what became of the New Zealand flatworm?

In an article in the Daily Telegraph of 11 February 2012,
Ken Thompson says we need not worry too much about them. They are indeed here in the UK, having been accidentally imported with contaminated plants, but although they feed exclusively on earthworms, in the parts of the country where they have become established there has been no discernable effect on worm numbers.

In New Zealand they are confined to the cooler and damper parts of South Island, and here too they are more common in cooler, damper regions such as Scotland. They love compost heaps, and co-exist with worms in the writer’s heap, where he has also noticed an unusual amount of  large fat centipedes and wonders whether they eat flatworms. An indicator of the presence of large numbers of earthworms is of course the mole, and there are still plenty of mole hills about, says the writer.

Spotted in the press and media:

Psyllid – a warrior bug which may conquer Japanese knotweed. DT 9 3 10

This louse is tiny, and yet it can kill the giant invasive knotweed in a matter of weeks. It lays eggs on the weed, and the hatched larvae suck out the sap. It is to be used in this country, the first time that biocontrol has been used in Europe to fight a weed. Apparently thorough testing has been carried out to ensure that the psyllid will not become a pest. Generally psyllids are ‘host specific’, and Aphalara Itadori, the type to be released here at a few sites which will be closely monitored, is specific to Japanese knotweed. Let’s hope that we are not in for any nasty surprises.

DT 19 2 2011 Dropped cigarette butts good for the environment?

A Californian company now makes organic cigarette filters which, unlike normal ones, will biodegrade being
made of all natural materials, including hemp. They can be combined with a variety of seeds such as grass, flowers or even trees, so they could be planted, or if discarded may sprout something more acceptable than rubbish. To quote the author of the piece ‘I knew they smoked a lot of grass in California, but I never thought they’d turn their smokes into grass’.

DT 2 11 2010
Is there no end to the cleverness of bees?

By their sense of smell they can be used to help foil potential terrorist attacks, locate landmines and detect diseases. They only require ten minutes training!

Ragwort – friend or foe?
A guidance leaflet on Common Ragwort - a cheerful yellow flower found on waysides and fields - has been published jointly by Plantlife, The British Horse Society (BHS) and Butterfly Conservation.

Common ragwort is a native plant with yellow, daisy-like flowers. It is extremely toxic to grazing animals, particularly horses, where it results in irreversible liver damage.

As a natural part of our countryside, however, it supports many species of wildlife, including fungi and insects, which depend on it for their survival. It is a valuable source of nectar for butterflies, moths and hoverflies and is the sole food plant of Cinnabar Moth, a Priority Species on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

There is no evidence that ragwort is increasing but, in an attempt to target the effective removal of plants from grazing land and to increase public awareness of its many benefits to biodiversity, a detailed guidance leaflet is now available.

Dr Deborah Long, Conservation Manager for Plantlife Scotland, said: “It is, of course, sensible to remove ragwort from grazing land but in other habitats it should be recognised as a valuable native plant which has a rightful place in our landscape. We encourage landowners to take the time to identify ragwort correctly as there have been unfortunate cases where other wildflowers, such as St John’s wort and tansy, have been destroyed needlessly as part of ragwort removal programmes”.                                                See over . . .
Plantlife UK recommend:

A balanced, sensitive approach to ragwort control, giving full regard to animal welfare, the legal requirement to prevent spread, and to wildlife conservation.
Control through good land management practices, with hand-pulling or spot herbicide treatment if necessary.
Horse owners should only buy hay or haylage from those who give a guarantee that it does not contain ragwort.
Where land is not grazed or used for forage production, ragwort is part of a diverse plant community, has biodiversity benefits and does not require control.

Sources of information and advice on ragwort:

Herbal or Homeopathic?

During Jeremy Derrick’s recent talk on flowers for homeopathy a question was asked about the difference between herbal remedies and homeopathic remedies. The difference lies in the preparation of each. The herbal substance is prepared from various parts of the plant and administered according to the need of the patient.

The homeopathic remedy can be prepared in the same way from parts of the plant or from different substances but is then further prepared by dilution and succussion; this releases the energy of the substance depending on the need of the patient.

If anyone is considering using either herbal or homeo-pathic remedies it would be best to visit a Herbalist or Homeopath to be advised on the most suitable remedy for their state of health. Homeopathic prescribing is tailored to a patient’s personality, temperament, and total symptom picture, but in addition, there are certain remedies which can be used successfully in first aid situations. If anyone would like to know more, please come and ask me.

                                         Pam Lunt (retired Homeopath)

























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