Newsletter Spring 2017

Chairman’s report

Sogs has confounded a widely held shibboleth, and it was not at all onerous to do so.  Most Sogs members were involved and there was not a single one who did not end up with a huge smile on their face (or at least smiling inside, which any good yoga teacher will tell you is even more important.)  One Sogs member had a particularly good time, he would not let anyone pass until he had made them smile.  People would pay good money for an experience like that, and, actually, they did pay good money.  Now where was I?  I have lost the thread...Oh yes, Potato day.  This was the 13th time that we have done it! And it was better than ever, the takings were up, and whilst it is important to be solvent that is not the only reason we do pot day.  It may not even be the most important reason that we do pot day.  (What do you think is the most important thing about pot day?)  For me it is an opportunity to refresh my enthusiasm by spending time with other enthusiasts, and there is nothing more life enhancing than to be bathed in enthusiasm.  There never was any doubt that we would all want to do it again next year but now the 1/3/17 Sogs meeting has given its formal approval.

 So it is full steam ahead with the planning starting now.  The first thing is to set a date and to make sure that Mathew can fit us in to his busy schedule.  The next thing we need is ideas to keep the day fresh and exciting, for our adoring public but also for ourselves too.  What do you think?  We need to keep the best of what we do but also we need something new (and possibly cute).  Come on, get your thinking caps on, I want an idea from every Sogs member.  The madder the idea the better because every mad idea has a sensible friend just waiting to be heard.

We have several things to look forward to this summer in addition to our usual visits.  The Plant Sale at The Moat project, which works with special needs clients, which we have supported for the last 2 years, is on Sun. 7th May.  When you are starting your herb and veg. plants just do a few extra.  Carol will collect your plants or better still take them along on the day and get some more of that enthusiasm that I have been banging on about.

An invitation from Maralyn:

We are holding a Coffee Morning at 31 Harley Road, Condover  SY5 7BA on Saturday 29th April, 10.30am - 12.30pm in aid of the Shropshire ME Group, if anyone wants to come along and see progress in the garden. There will be a bring and buy: knick knacks, plants and books, which will go on to a Garden Event supporting a village school in Uganda.                       (Cakes welcome!!!)  Let's hope the sun shines. I have promised Frank it will!!    

Our November talk was by Dave Thomlinson on Tools for Self Reliance. 

This charity has a workshop in South Shropshire where donated tools are refurbished. Some go to Africa, and some are sold locally to swell funds for the workshop. Dave brought a selection of skilfully refurbished tools, some of them antiques. He also brought and sold tools on Sogs’ Potato Day. You can find out more on their website,  

January 4th 2017 Plants and Castle in Transylvania, Razvan Chisu (prounced like quiche)

When I persuaded Siobhan to book this charismatic young man to give his talk I’m sure she thought I was mad. What had the subject to do with SOGS? He’d spoken to my own garden club and I knew that the story of his homeland, Transylvania, would strike a chord with SOGs’ members.

Razvan was fortunate to have grown up in a botanical garden where he spent most of his free time as a teenager. No wonder he became passionate about plants. Then he took a five-year course in Horticulture followed by BSc degree and a two year Masters of Science course in greenhouse, vegetable and ornamentals production at his home university. Botany was however his favourite subject.

After graduating he worked for two years at the Herbarium in the Botanical Garden in Cluj, Transylvania, Romania’s largest herbarium with dried specimens from all over the world, some three centuries old. He began working as a freelance gardener but needed more horticulture in his life and so he came to Britain where he now lives.

His work as a freelance gardener gives him the free time to pursue many other aspects to this subject. He serves on the committees of the Cheshire Hardy Plants, Plant Heritage, Alpine Garden, and the Saxifrage Societies. He edits a magazine and co-ordinates Plant Heritage collections in Cheshire. With lots of other memberships he is a very busy young man.

Razvan’s slides began with a map of Transylvania, sitting roughly in the middle of Romania with the Carpathian mountain range to the east and swiftly followed were pictures of idyllic country scenes of peasants working the fields, using animals to pull carts, cutting hay by hand and using special fences to dry the hay on. It was like this country 100 years ago and 45% of the population  is involved in subsistence agriculture. Being poor, pesticides and fertilisers can’t be afforded and so most of the farming is done organically with families having small numbers of stock, such as 5 cows and twenty sheep. Village shepherds take the animals up to the pastures in the morning and the cows make their own way home each evening for milking. Cheese is made from the milk of cows and sheep. There are very few fences in the surrounding countryside which looks like patchwork and the farmers know which strips or fields they own in which they grow vegetable crops such as potatoes. Being in our country is a big difference for Razvan who is used to walking for miles through the countryside and up on the mountains without meeting barriers or fences.  The rugged terrain makes it difficult to use large machinery and horses are still used to pull carts and ploughs. Whole families from children to grandparents work together when necessary to get the work done. A picture was shown of two old ladies clinging for dear life to the back of a hay cart.

Reference was made with pictures of the traditional way of scything* which the Transylvania people are famous for and Razvan showed pictures of cottages owned by Prince Charles as he is keen to support them and his cottages can be hired. The hillsides were full of flowers, some of the 3,500 plus native plants compared to the 1400 British natives, many of which we would recognise from either our gardens or similar wildflower species. There were many salvias and iris. Some hillsides were covered in the native stipa grass as in Steppe country and which shone in the sunshine. He told the tale of a very important botanist, Alexandra Borza who would stop a train by the emergency cord to get off and look at a nature reserve, Zau de Compie, home of the Steppe Peony. This had been the life’s work of an old man, Marcu Sancraian (1923 – 2006) who perpetuated the species by spreading their seeds through the reserve.

Next came pictures of the salt mines, Salina Turda, now a big tourist museum attraction with underground lakes and stalactites but now a place to relax, to bowl or attend a theatre.  Pictures of the very attractive towns and villages followed with their pantile red roofs, fortified churches where the townspeople would store their food for times when they were under siege conditions in the country’s troubled history. Razvan explained a little about the history of his homeland from early history to unhappy communist times and now a more peaceful democracy.

The last pictures, of course, had to be of the famous castles, especially the ‘so called’ Dracula’s castle in the south of the area. These were all typical of the style associated with Transylvania.

What a beautiful place. He was asked why he came to Britain and it was to enjoy and be able to work in a country with the best horticulture. He is certainly making his mark in that.  He is leading a tour to his homeland for the Alpine Garden Society later this summer.

*see our own members scything at Berrington Hall on the website.

Sue Bosson




From Frank: The Story of the Left Over Spuds

As I’m sure many of you know the surplus potatoes at the close of play on Potato Day go back to Peter and Maggie’s (after Matthew has bought back those that he can sell at his other Potato Days). A few are then sold but we are left with quite a lot. Over the years we have gifted these to various worthy recipients and for three years this has included Oak Farm at Ditton Priors.

SOGS did visit a couple of years ago and if you went on that trip you will understand what a great place it is. For 25 years it has been a day centre for people with learning difficulties who help look after the animals and grow stuff. Shropshire Council have run it all that time but when the Government cut the funding to local government Oak Farm was under threat of closure. A long period of uncertainty finally ended in December 2016 when the Council transferred responsibility to a local charitable organisation – Bethphage (pronounced Beth – fa – g) who will run it for 7 years initially. The villagers really support the farm and the land had already been transferred to a Community Land Trust.

So - when Maralyn and I took the spuds to them this year and chatted for a while to some staff and clients everyone was feeling positive. They are really grateful to SOGS for giving them seed potatoes because they would have to buy them otherwise. They knew the date of Potato Day and as we were later than in previous years taking them down they were wondering whether we were going to remember them this year.  They sell the resulting crop, including at Burwarton Show, and the fact there are lots of varieties goes down really well.

To SOGS these spuds are surplus but we came away from Oak Farm feeling a little humble and in future years it would be good to decide earlier if we are donating potatoes to them and let them know. They didn’t want to ask if we were but they were close to going out and buying some so really there is no better home for our left overs.

Just near the farm there is a café which if you are in Ditton Priors you should visit. The coffee and cake was top notch!!          


1st March.  Jonathon Groom, British Trust for Ornithology, was unable to give a talk as advertised. Instead Jim Almond stepped in to give a talk. Jim represented the Shropshire Ornithological Society, so his talk was locally based, about birds anyone can find in our gardens and out in the countryside. Using his own excellent photos with Powerpoint, he talked briefly about how important gardens are for birds, then he challenged us to identify dozens of birds, presented according to their Shropshire habitats. I am pleased to report that between us Sogs identified them all, even the rarest, although we were almost stumped by dunlin because they are associated with the sea shore.

Some places to birdwatch in Shropshire:

The meres, Ellesmere.

Wood Lane, south of Ellesmere on the Colemere Road.

Venus Pool, Cross Houses.

Whixall Moss.

The Longmynd.

Chelmarsh reservoir, B4555 road Bridgnorth to Highley. (Access is restricted to public rights of way and the path to the scrape requires a permit from the Shropshire Ornithological Society).

Jim mentioned rare species which may just visit, or be blown in on a gale, for as short a time as an hour or a day or so before moving on.  The fraternity of birdwatchers tweet (appropriately) or email about such rarities, and they must drop everything and go there and then if they wish to catch a glimpse. One instance was a bee-eater, the only appearance ever in the county. There have been some other surprising visitors, such as gannet and spoonbill. We should now be able to distinguish between mute, Whooper and Bewick’s swans by looking at the amount of yellow on the bills. (See next page). One of Jim’s photos showed all three species of swan together.

 Jim’s online blog:


From Nature Notes, Daily Telegraph 3.3.17

 Help to track the Bewick’s swan

 Guides to help people identify swan species are being issued across Northern Europe ahead of the migration of the rare Bewick’s swan.

Designed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), it is hoped the guides will increase awareness of the bird’s plight and enable birdwatchers to help monitor its progress.  The idea came after a journey by Sacha Dench, a WWT conservationist, in which she flew with the Bewick’s swans on their migration from the Russian arctic to the UK.  The identification guides are available online and can be shared, printed or kept on a smartphone to be used in the field. Ms Dench said: “There are fewer than 18,000 Bewick’s swans left in Europe.  We can’t track every individual, but hundreds are fitted with coded plastic rings on their legs, which can be read through binoculars”.

 Samantha Herbert

(Swan identification from the amount of yellow on the beak:

Mute swans have the most yellow.

Whooper swans have a middling amount.

Bewick’s swans have the smallest amount.)


 From Carol E: 

The Albrighton Trust, Moat & Gardens Plant sale is Sunday 7th May this year.

Your donations of plants will be gratefully received, collection of these will be arranged nearer the time. I propose to sell plants at a £1.50 a pot this year, when you are planning your sowing, think about the presentation and content of your donations and ask yourself "Would I pay £1.50 for this?" 

The Albrighton Trust Moat & Gardens offers educational and recreational activities for people disadvantaged by disability, special needs or illness, who are welcomed and supported whatever their capability. They have a proven track record of supporting the most hard to reach in society, providing positive outdoor activities and offering opportunities to enhance or change lives.

All activities are either inspired by or involve the outdoor environment. Their first class facilities are specifically designed to ensure everyone regardless of disability or capability can experience the joy and satisfaction of engaging in positive, outdoor activities which includes:

The finest angling facility for people with disabilities, which is within the capability of everyone.

Horticulture provides opportunities for recovery, therapy, recreation and education, gardening is a wonderfully flexible medium that can make a big difference and enjoyed by all of us.

Woodcraft is another activity that is embraced and enjoyed by the participants.

I was fortunate to be asked to help The Moat at our local village Christmas Extravaganza, and the pride and pleasure that exuded from the students who had made the various wooden articles for sale, was a joy to see when the people paid for their efforts.

If you can spare a few plants etc. and come along and enjoy the surroundings on the day, you can sit around and drink coffee, eat cake and chill if that's what takes your fancy.

Thanking you in anticipation, Carol




Cabbage, Kale, Cauliflower, French & Runner beans:

Plant Nasturtium as a sacrificial crop. Cabbage White butterflies will lay their eggs on this instead of the brassicas and aphids love them, so will lure them from the beans. Mint will help deter the flea beetle 


Calendula (English Marigold) to attract pollinating insects.

Broad Beans:

Summer Savory helps to repel blackfly.


Spring onions, leeks, sown amongst the carrots deters carrot root fly. Mint can help confuse the carrot fly.

Chrysanthemum, Sunflower:

Chives, the onion scent deters aphids.


Mint, the aromatic leaves help to confuse and deter the onion fly


Mint, helps to deter flea beetle which chew irregular holes in the leaves.


Garlic, the smell of garlic helps to deter aphids. Mint, Chives and Thyme help to deter blackfly.

Runner Beans:

Sweet Peas to attract pollinating insects


Mint & chives to deter aphids; French Marigold deters whitefly. Basil _ reportedly improves the flavour, and the strong scent of the leaves helps deter aphids.

These are a few ideas, if anyone has any other useful info. about companion planting, perhaps it can be shared with members at our various meetings. 


Recipe from Maggie:

We have been hosting volunteers of Wwoof ( World Wide Workers on Organic Farms) for the last couple of years.  They do any work we need doing in return for bed and board.  We have met some really interesting people from all over the world although the majority come from France.  They usually cook a meal or two for us and several of the French volunteers have cooked Tartiflette.  This is a

delicious dish consisting

mainly of potatoes.  They use

a traditional French cheese

called Reblochon.  The only

place I have seen it is in

Appleyards (thanks to Maggie Ling).  We did make it with Cheddar once when we had no Reblochon and that worked as well.
Here is the recipe:-
300g bacon (smoked or unsmoked)
3 cloves garlic
1 large onion
1 kg potatoes (more or less, depending how many people are eating. Or as the French said "Use your feeling")
50 cl creme fraiche (or cream)
1 Reblochon

Cut the bacon in dices.  Chop the onion and the garlic.  Cook the potatoes in water until they are done.  Cook the onion and garlic in a pan with butter, add the bacon and creme fraiche.  Remove from the stove when they are done.  Peel the potatoes and cut them up. In a large dish put a layer of potatoes, then a layer of creme/bacon/onion.  Cut the Reblochon in slices.  Put one layer of Reblochon in the dish.  Repeat with the potatoes, repeat with the creme/onion/bacon, repeat with the Reblochon.  Put it in the oven for 30 minutes at 200 degrees C.  You can serve it with green salad.



The problem: We removed a large chunk of a meadow area to put in a fruit cage.  However, we didn’t want the remaining meadow to seed into the cage, so planned a path round two sides.   Suggestions of bark or gravel were not received with enthusiasm by Frank.  A google search into green paths didn’t throw up anything much.  So I set out to find out what low-growing, perennial, mat-forming plants would be suitable, whilst covering the area with cardboard to prepare it.

Taking the top off a creeping thyme that the ants had built a nest in provided a large area, and transplanting other “weeds” from the garden also proved a cheap way to do this, whilst weeding the borders at the same time. (I am all for reducing work).  Self-heal is a very good bee plant – I have watched them on the lawn, and seemed to suit the purpose, and creeping jenny creeps everywhere.

On a visit to John Massey’s garden at Ashwood Nursery, we chatted to a young guy who, after doing an Environmental Science degree, was given a field by John for a wildlife haven with hides and information panels.  He had grown Bird’s Foot Trefoil and was selling it in the nursery, so, after buying three plants, I split them into mushroom trays and a few months later they had spread so also added to the area.

In the spaces between I sowed white clover. This used to be used much more widely on farms, and its decline hasn’t helped bees. I hope I can now do my bit.  I am still waiting to see if it has seeded.  Although I tried to protect it from the birds, I suspect they may have had a feast!

So now I wait patiently for the spring to see what will happen.  And decide when we can ceremoniously walk over it – though not in bare feet if the bees find it first! 



Daily Telegraph 11.6.16

Aquilegia Downy Mildew. Stephen Lacy warns of a new ‘plague’ causing yellow streaks and blotches on the leaves of his aquilegias, followed by distorted flowers and undeveloped buds. He found grey felt on the leaf undersides. Matthew Croney, plant pathologist at RHS, told him that it first appeared in the UK in 2013 but nowhere else. There is no effective treatment. All traces of affected plants should be removed completely and not put on the compost heap. 

It is to be hoped that some resistant aquilegias may eventually appear, and that this does not spell the end for this lovely cottage garden plant.

D.T. 4.11.2016 “Messy” allotment. An allotment holder who grows nettles on his plot to make soup has been threatened with eviction because his produce is “not acceptable”. 

D.T. 3.11.2016 Save the environment by eating rabbit instead of beef or lamb. Lancaster University has produced a list of the foods most likely to harm the environment. Lobster, Beef, and lamb top the list. Lobster are intensively farmed in Asia and imported, and ruminants, as well as requiring large amounts of land, food and fossil fuel, produce methane. The lowest impact is from grains, fruit and vegetables, followed by nuts and pulses. Swapping beef and lamb for rabbit and duck reduces weekly carbon footprint from 160lbs of emissions to 50lbs. Doing without meat and relying on nuts and pulses for protein could cut weekly emissions to 7 lbs.

D.T. 3.11.2016 Watch out – yet another flatworm’s about! The Obama flatworm (its name comes from the Brazilian Tupi language words for leaf (oba) and animal (ma)) has been spotted in Britain. It grows to 7cm long and is causing damage to agriculture in France. It eats earthworms and snails. The CEO of the insect charity Buglife says the government should increase biosecurity, as it could have been brought in in imported pot plants.

D.T. 17.10.2016 Native daffodils and bluebells under threat. We have heard of the plight of the native bluebell, because of cross breeding with the Spanish bluebell, but the native daffodil as celebrated by Wordsworth is becoming rarer in the wild because of cross-pollination with garden species planted nearby. Thus, the mass plantings of bulbs in verges, parks etc. are a threat to the native species. English Heritage has been handing out bulbs of native daffodils and bluebells for people to plant in their gardens, to help maintain the population.


Volunteers needed for our stall at the Flower Show 11th & 12th August.

It involves spending two hours meeting and greeting the public, and attempting to answer their queries – don’t worry about not knowing answers as there are information leaflets to consult, and if it is your first time as volunteer I will try to pair you with someone who knows the ropes. You will be met at any entrance at a time that suits you, and once in you will be free to stay as long as you wish, courtesy of SOGS. If this appeals to you please let Carol know the day and time you are available.


Phone   01902 373905     Mobile: 0771 727 3516

                 Zero Waste Grocery Store

Berlin grocery store, Original Unverpackt, is an experiment in grocery.  They sell upwards of 350 products dispensed from refillable containers, while some of the liquids come in bottles with deposits on them.  The store creates zero waste and the customer is able to purchase exactly as much as he or she needs, which contributes to less waste at home.

Sara Wolf and Milena Glimbovski crowdfunded the store and, driven by the idea to do "something impossible," have established a way to economically sell food without contributing to the huge amounts of huge amounts of municipal waste caused by food packaging.

Cuttings from Carol Lovell:

Use an old hanging shoe tidy with pockets to grow herbs. Just remember to pierce water holes in the bases of the pockets before filling with compost, then plant your herbs.

Feed up the butterflies in autumn before they hibernate, with an overripe banana. Leaving the skin intact, give the fruit a rub until you feel the insides turn mushy. Make three or four small nicks along one side, and place it in a sunny, sheltered spot at about chest height, and look out for some colourful visitors.

You may like to be reminded of the charities that Sogs has helped with donations over the past ten years:

 All our potato days have been financially successful, but we need to keep enough funds to cover ourselves in case of an unsuccessful one. We are happy to donate any surplus funds to causes such as these:

 Harvest Help -

Garden Organic (of which we are a group member)

Shropshire Wildlife Trust

Montgomery Wildlife Trust

Shrewsbury Friends of the Earth

Village Water -

Self Help Africa -

Self Help Africa - Shrewsbury
Westgate House, Dickens Court
Hills Lane, Shrewsbury, SY1 1QU



Make a free website with Yola