Islington Gardeners News
In addition to our quarterly newsletters which you will find below, we will also update this page with any news as and when we have it!
Our trip to Beth Chatto’s Garden, Essex
To see some pictures from our trip, visit our gallery here.
To reach Beth Chatto’s gardens you turn off the road to Clacton down an unprepossessing lane in Essex and there they are – built around an ordinary little bungalow where she still lives at the age of 94.
It is a surprisingly unassuming home for one of Britain’s most interesting and inspirational gardeners, as we discovered when we visited by coach on a 29 September, a day that began wet but mercifully dried up before our arrival. There is no grand mansion; instead you ramble through a series of contrasting gardens – gravel, water, reservoir and woodland garden – created to encourage plants to grow where they are happiest.
This commitment to the idea of “right plant in the right place” is what Beth is best known for. She is a serious plantswoman, an ecologist who believes that plants should be grown in environments that suit them best. “We’re not a Sissinghurst or a grand stately home,” explains Sally, one of the gardeners who takes us on a guided tour.
Beth and her husband moved to the spot in 1960. It was derelict land between two farming areas in Elmstead Market, near Colchester, that belonged to her husband’s family. Undeterred by the fact that it was immensely inhospitable and not good enough for farming, full of boggy hollows with poor soil and covered in brambles and nettles, Beth set about making her seven-acre garden. It was to be her life’s work, for which she won Gold at the Chelsea Flower Show over 10 consecutive years.
This part of rural Essex is about the driest bit of England. The gravel garden, where we start our tour, is a supreme example of “the right plant in the right place” philosophy. Built on a former carpark and never watered, the beds are planted with drought-tolerant plants such as amaryllis, sedum “red cauli”, gaura, bergenia and colchicum “rosy dawn”. All were flowering in late September, the sedum giving wonderful splashes of magenta in amongst grasses, verbascum and verbena boniarensis.
Beth has her own firm ideas about where and how to place plants. In the gravel garden she plants in ones rather than the fashionable threes but she repeats the single plants throughout the garden. Planting in ones means that you can see the whole plant. She puts tall plants in amongst smaller ones rather than layering them in the herbaceous-border style, so you can look through and see something else.
As you walk down the hill to the water garden you feel you are entering another world and a different climate zone. A series of ponds flow down to a reservoir; the plants are bigger leafed, more thuggish and there is a preponderance of ferns, a gunnera and beautiful lawns. Herbacious borders make an appearance but the planting is in a tapestry pattern rather than the block planting you get in today’s borders.
“It is incredibly damp down here,” says Sally. The plants seem to love it. We gaze at several astrantia, some beautiful but poisonours aconitum and brightly-coloured asters. Beth creates her beds by simply listing the plants she would like to include and then planting them free form. There are no diagrams or drawings. The gardeners are fairly easy-going with the plants, leaving them to grow and self-seed where they like and weeding where needed to keep beds tidy.
But these are not low-maintenance gardens, Sally emphasizes. A lot of weeding goes on. And the gardeners are not purists. There has been some watering this year to keep water-loving plants such as hydrangeas alive. They use spray occasionally against insects and employ slug pellets to protect the hostas.
The reservoir garden has an open, sunny aspect and is a recent creation, showing off bedding plants, roses and an enormous phormium tenax, a New Zealand native that is thriving in the newly enriched soil.
Beth no longer gardens actively, having handed over the running of her business to her granddaughter four years ago, but she is still interested in what goes on and ventures out into her domain to dispense advise. A couple of gardeners now do the work she once did, using the tried and tested ideas that have served her so well.
Sunday 14th May 2017
Islington Gardeners Plant Sale
This year things began badly. The plant sale date had to be changed at the last minute due to an Arsenal fixture, but with plenty of advanced planning and extra publicity we had one of the best turnouts for the plant sale ever, in our second year at the Olden Community Garden.
After an exceptionally dry winter and early spring May had been cold and sometimes wet as in recent years (I blame melting arctic ice); but the weekend was fine and Sunday afternoon sunny, and warm with it.
From the moment that plants started arriving it was obvious that this year was going to be a good one. Our members, supporters and friends had managed to overcome a difficult start to the gardening season by producing a huge collection of varied and well-grown and desirable plants, some of which were rare and/or specialities. I do not want to single any one out, but those who go to the trouble of raising seedlings, particularly vegetable seedlings, are especially appreciated.
The Olden Garden is a tribute to its members and community- beautiful, peaceful and well-kept. It is also a perfect spot for our needs, with room for tables for plants and to store overflow, space to sit and talk and catch up with old friends and make new ones, and a beautiful garden to wander round and view. The large kitchen is perfect for refreshments from which to serve teas with scones and cake. My gratitude to the bakers for a selection almost as varied and certainly as delectable as the plants.
Our heartfelt thanks to all those who donated, those who helped, and those who turned up to buy or just to enjoy themselves.
Special thanks must go to the Olden Garden committee and especially Jill McKeown who provided access for the purpose of setting up, sometimes at times other than advertised, and her kindness and help on the afternoon itself.
Everyone I spoke to had a lovely time and I hope all of you reading this did too. We made a record amount of money, and will be donating £150 to St. Joseph’s Hospice, Hackney and £150 to the Alzheimer’s’ Society. The rest of the money is used to keep Islington Gardeners in funds for another year or two.
The Newsletter is published and sent to members four times per year, in February, April, August and November. It is added to the website a month after sending to members.