Visions of Paradise
and Japanese gardens in the UK
A talk by Graham Hardman from the Japanese Garden Society(JPS)
Graham has been a garden designer since 1999 (now retired). In his professional role and as a member of the JPS he has made seven visits to Japan to study the Japanese style(s) of gardening. His personal slides from these visits gave us clear insights into the influence this approach has had on some specific gardens in this country.
He explained how the country of Japan was virtually unknown to Europe until the initial contact by Portuguese traders in 1543. Then in1617 it was isolated by Imperial decree apart from access by a small number of Dutch merchants until 1854 when the American navy established a foothold.
Until 1868 Japan was a feudal society with the Shogun at the top and under him various warlords commanded the rest of society. This isolation meant that some of the gardens Graham showed us had been in existence and maintained as first set out from the 15th and 16th centuries. These early gardens had been influenced by Chinese and Korean art and elements of this approach are still to be seen in the newest Japanese Gardens.
Graham explained with his slide of the 16th century Imperial garden in Kyoto that this was a classical “stroll garden” where the paths lead you through an idealised landscape representing mountains and water. The limited range of trees and shrubs are carefully shaped using the techniques developed from the practice of “bonsai”. The intention is to show the essence of nature.
He then showed examples of a “viewing garden” where the visitor is once again presented with an idealised picture. The sacred Mount Fuji is often used as an icon along with winding streams and waterfalls. There are no flowering plants, apart from the famous Japanese flowering cherries. The gardens often try to make use of “borrowed scenery”, that is when the viewpoint echos, hills and woods behind the garden boundary.
In the slides of temple gardens where there are carefully raked patterns in the gravel backed by surrounding walls, Graham explained that the intention was to show islands in the ocean with carefully placed rocks and very limited trees often with moss as the only other plant form. The various influences of Zen Buddhism, Shinto and Taoism all have a role to play.
While in his pictures of modern town front gardens the limited palette of classical Japanese gardens is still apparent, the main difference being the use of multiple pots of chrysanthemums. Gardens still employ huge numbers of people and although the styles are developing the essential principles remain the same.
Japanese style gardens only began to appear in the UK from 1900 onwards, and are still limited in number. Tatton Park and Compton Acres near Poole being early examples still in existence. Others can be seen in parks at Wolverhampton and Gateshead, while recent examples have been developed within the grounds of Norwich Cathedral and at the peace garden in Coventry.
Martin Mere WWT
Chris Whitehead, from the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust (WWT) at Martin Mere gave us an illustrated and very informative talk about the work that they do.
The site the WWT manage is just along the West Lancashire coast from Ormskirk. It covers over 600 acres of wetlands. It was purchased in 1972 and opened to visitors in 1975. It is now officially a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Special Protection Area (SPA), and a “Ramsar site,”- wetlands of international importance designated under the Ramsar Convention (Ramsar from the name of the city where the convention was signed). All of which means that this is a site which is extensively monitored and maintained for the benefit of all wildlife.
The mere has a long history dating back over 12,000 years when it formed a large shallow lake with a circumference of over 25 miles. It has shrunk considerably since then thanks in part to natural silting up and the developing costal sand dunes, but from the 1690s it was partially drained by Thomas Fleetwood to create more farm land. He wasn’t completely successful in the enterprise and bankrupted his family in the process. A hundred years later, Thomas Eccleston completed the process only to find as the peat dried out that the land surface sunk so that now some of the area is below sea level. When the reserve was established some of what had become farmland had to be flooded.
The water level is now controlled by the pumping station at Crossens. This allows for islands of varying habitats to be created in the breeding season to accommodate different species of birds, also grassland to be created in time for the autumn migration of geese and swans. Reed beds are used to filter and clean the water while forty longhorn cattle are used to help with ground management. The whole site is managed according to the four principles set out by Sir Peter Scott who founded the WWT. These were conservation, recreation, learning and research.
In terms of conservation the site absorbs flood waters and is a vital carbon store. Bog pine samples from the site have been dated to 9,000 years of age and bog oak to 6,000 years. The reserve is home to some 45,000 migrating pink footed geese and 2,500 whooper swans in autumn, while in the rest of the year, snipe, redshank, lapwing, skylark, meadow pipit, several species of owls and and harriers and many others use the habitat.
For recreation the site has up to 250,000 visitors a year.
The learning on the site is personified by the schools who can visit the recreated ancient village where children can learn about foraging, the various uses of willow, the harvested reeds for thatching and even about life in different ages, Roman, Saxon etc. when the site was occupied.
As a research site, the mere is of international importance and collaboration. Some 50 acres is managed as an area for captive breeding and education. Hawaiian geese, flamingos, spoon billed sandpipers and others are all part of a captive rearing programme which is allowing endangered birds to be re-introduced to the wild.
Chris finished his talk with a quote from Sir Peter Scott, who said that, “I want people to fall in love with the natural world.” Martin Mere is certainly doing that.
Gardener, TV presenter (on Love Your Garden and Gardeners' World) author, environmentalist, conservationist and crafter
"Creating and maintaining a wildlife garden"
A packed audience were given a very informative and interesting talk by Frances. She began by setting out the principles that apply to gardening in a nature friendly way after admitting that such a process actually runs contrary to what she had been taught in her initial formal garden training where the emphasis was on tidy, well manicured spaces.
Frances set out six areas for all gardeners to take into account when gardening for nature. These are, water, food, shelter, passage, nesting and variety.
Water in the garden is needed as a place for some animals to live in, and others to drink from and wash in. She explained that ponds work best when approximately two thirds of the surface are free from vegetation, and, importantly all have exit points to allow creatures to escape from. The sources of water don’t have to be big, just accessible.
When thinking about what food to provide it is important to cater for many different species, not just birds and mammals, but insects and amphibians as well. Nature requires food throughout the year, and it is especially important in late spring when there is a hunger gap as there is less food available in the wild.
Wildlife needs shelter to hide and relax in and this can be in different forms, hedges are great, but foliage in all forms, high and low can provide cover, as can walls, sheds and buildings. Just as important, and easily overlooked in designing a garden, wildlife needs to have safe passages through a garden and on to the next garden. Then within a garden, wildlife needs safe access for food and water. The pathways don’t need to be extravagant just simple and clear.
We tend to think of nesting just in terms of birds, but as Frances pointed out mammals, insects and amphibians all require places to raise young and as gardeners we can help either by providing spaces for them, or materials for them to use. However, some creatures such as rats, we want to discourage, which needs careful thought about where we place food such as bird feeders and vigilance around compost heaps and decking areas.
When thinking about the variety our gardens can offer Frances emphasised more is best as all wildlife has different needs and preferences. She admitted that she has been known to buy plants on impulse even though they may not match her garden’s aesthetic design, but this only broadens the impact the garden has for wildlife.
Frances concluded her talk by talking about garden maintenance in the four seasons of the year. She advocates leaving the garden minimally disturbed in winter, just carrying out essential maintenance like pruning with care and restraint. Spring is the best time to tidy up, but leave hedges uncut as this is the nesting season. Summer is the time to cut hedges, keep ponds topped up, and cut wildflower meadows after seed has been set. It is also a good time to visit gardens and wild landscapes to get inspiration for your own garden. In autumn leave seed heads and fruit nuts while keeping some ground cover in place.
At the end of her talk Frances answered questions on a variety of topics and was warmly applauded for her talk.
Dyeing for a print
Jane Allison from Mayfield Plants
"A country walk"
May Meeting 2023
Maggie Pearson gave a talk which provided us with a very different perspective on plants from our gardens and how they can be used. She is a textile artist and her talk was entitled “Dyeing for a Print.”
In the talk she set out her journey from complete novice in the use of plants for dyeing materials to becoming the expert she now is. She set out the principles she uses and the logical process she applies to achieve some stunning results. She explained that she makes copious notes as the nature of the materials she uses mean that it is very difficult to get consistent results and the experiments she carries out produce both highs and lows in terms of the results she achieves.
For instance, one plant will produce markedly different effects depending on the time of year it is used. Horse chestnut produces the best results in the spring while oak is best used in the autumn. The same is true for the materials to be dyed. Fabrics produced from a protein source, such as silk or wool react differently to those from a cellulose source, such as linen, cotton and bamboo. Then there is the impact of the different mordants to take into account. Alum brightens the colours, but iron saddens the colours although it helps to give definition. Copper on the other hand will modify and change the colours being produced.
Maggie talked us through the process of preparing the materials to be dyed or printed and her slides illustrated the processes she uses very clearly. She explained the need to have clean materials and the delicate task of choosing the right amount of heat and or moisture to get the best outcomes. Although the stunning products she had with her look thoroughly professional, she demonstrated that the effects don’t require expensive equipment. Second hand aluminium fish kettles, a rusty iron spanner and lengths of copper pipe are all part of her tool kit.
For a beginner she recommends the straightforward use of onion skins, both red and brown to achieve simple results. For more detailed information, her website, https://www.bymaggienaturally.co.uk/ contains links to her work shops and events as well as the courses she runs and her shop for the products she produces.
Her list of materials used included: -
Chestnut, leaves and catkins, oak leaves and galls, Buddleia leaves and flowers, green tea, logwood and indigo. The list of leaves included: - liquid amber, eucalyptus, sumac, acer, walnut, continus, tree peony, cranes bill, geranium and silver birch.
Jane Allison from Mayfield Plants returned to give us another of her well received talks. This time her theme was, “a country walk.” She used some of her extensive collection of personal pictures of wild plants to relate how wild flowers influence us as gardeners. She explained that if we understand the environment in which we find a particular wild plant grows it will help us to place its cultivated relatives in our gardens.
During the talk she gave us snippets of information about wild plants use in herbal remedies for balms, ointments and tisanes. She also included literary references to Shakespeare and Hardy and the plants that they included in their work.
Her walk took us through country gardens with plants such as lady’s mantel, sweet william, lupin, delphinium and rosa rugosa. From there she strayed into churchyards, with their undisturbed areas, that might have cuckoo pint, hawk bit and yarrow. This was followed by a seaside path where she showed thrift, samphire, pineapple mayweed, and slender thistle. Then it was down the banks of a canal, with cow parsley, willow herb and gypsy wort. After this came the country lane and honeysuckle, deadly nightshade and hearts ease. From the lane she took us into meadows with lady’s bedstraw and its uses in dyeing cheese or killing lice in bedding, then comfrey for bruises, convolvulus, dog rose and stitchwort. The walk finished in woodland where there are foxgloves for use in eye and heart treatments, ramsons for flavouring food, bluebells, white dead nettle, yellow archangel and scarlet pimpernel.
There were many more plants shown often with humorous asides which kept everyones’ interests. A fascinating talk.
A year in the life of the head ranger at Lyme Park
April Meeting 2023
Chris gallantly returned after the failure of the technology in February to present his slides and videos of his work at Lyme Park. Chris has been in his current role at Lyme for eight years, looking after the 1,400 diverse acre estate that includes woodland, moorland, parkland and ponds.
This time the technology was working and greatly enhanced the talk he gave.
His role is a challenging one. Much of his work is about understanding the estate's long-term impact on the environment. For instance, the controlled management of the deer herd is vital to their survival. The red deer herd has been integral to the estate long before the current house was built. In contrast, the fold of Highland cattle largely looks after itself, though they play a vital role in conserving the pasture in a healthy state.
Climate change is having an impact on the estate, the mild wet winters pose a flooding risk not just to the estate but also to the communities below it. Whereas the bone dry Aprils that have become a feature of recent years pose a fire risk. The cattle reduce this risk by grazing the dead grass in winter.
The situation clashes with the way the estate was managed in the past. A former owner, Thomas Legh, put in lots of drainage channels to “improve” the ground. Now Chris is having to reverse this work, rewetting the moorland. Last year, Chris and his team built 135 leaky dams to slow down the flow of water off the hills, they will be putting in a similar number this year.
Woodland management is another issue with diseases such as Ash dieback hitting a number of trees. The fact that much of the woodland is either overcrowded, or all the trees are due to mature at the same time is a second issue. A further complication is the extensive areas of Rhododendron ponticum which excludes all other plants and provides little benefit to wildlife.
Chris and his team aided by up to 90 volunteers are thinning the woodland, replanting with native species and gradually eliminating the Rhododendron.
With approximately 400,000 visitors a year there has to be a lot of maintenance, - the 19 miles of stone wall for instance.Then there is the need for visitor engagement to ensure an understanding of the benefits of maintaining this estate.
Chris was once again thanked for his talk and his excellent slides were greatly appreciated.
January Meeting 2023
Garden Wildlife by David Tolliday
Following on from the club AGM, we had an interesting and informative talk from David Tolliday. David made it plain from the start that he was no gardener, his expertise is in the wildlife that can be found in our gardens. His talk ranged across garden birds, mammals, invertebrates and insects. As a wildlife photographer his talk was accompanied by his excellent collection of photos. Each bird photo was accompanied by an example of the call it uses. The photos can also be viewed on his website, https://www.davidtolliday.co.uk/. During the talk, David reviewed the results of the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, explaining why the numbers of the different species had changed over the years since it was started. He encouraged everyone to take part in this year’s survey on 27th - 29th January. Details of this can be obtained either by: -
Phone; 0800 473 0251 or
Text; BIRD to 70030 or
Meeting reports 2022
November Meeting 2022
Pat Bennett gave us an interesting talk on the work he has been doing on the three acre section of woodland he bought in 2013. Unfortunately, technical difficulties meant he was unable to show us the pictures and videos he has made. Nevertheless, he was able to describe how he has been restoring the woodland, clearing the overgrown boundary laurel hedge that was swamping the native trees. Felling a few of the denser areas of tree growth to allow light in and planting hazel to create an understory and allowing controlled coppiced regrowth.
None of the felled timber is wasted, the small branches, the brash, is used for fire wood. The larger logs he cuts into planks with an Alaskan mill. These he air dries before making into simple pieces of furniture, garden benches, rustic stools and benches, even Welsh stick chairs and simple boxes with carved American pioneer decoration.
Despite a twenty year period when the wood was left unmanaged, he explained how he has learned to read the history of the wood from the remnants of the older management. He discovered an arrangement of planks that was used with a “froe” to cleave wood to make palings for fences.
As a result of his management of the woodland he is restoring is coming back to life. His camera traps have revealed some of the wildlife that lives in the wood, badgers, foxes, squirrels, rabbits, wood mice as well as birdlife that includes, tawny owls, buzzards, pheasants, magpies, pigeons an blackbirds.
Malcolm Dickson from Hooksgreen Herbs, Stone Staffordshire 07977 883810
Malcolm gave a well received illustrated talk. He explained how the family run nursery began with selling surplus plants at local markets. He quickly realised that a focus on herbs was the most profitable way forward and began to learn the tricks of the trade, exhibiting at various shows and gradually refining their approach. By 2010 they were collecting silver and silver gilt medals from the RHS shows they exhibited at. Their success grew until by 2017 they became accredited as ‘RHS Master Growers’ and won a gold medal at Chelsea.
Malcolm explained some of the key factors in growing herbs. A south or south west position; water in the mornings and if possible take plants under cover in winter; don’t use posh soil and be cruel to be kind by keeping the plants under control.
He brought a number of plants for sale and a range of seeds. More plants and seeds are available from their website: -
July Meeting 2022
June Meeting 2022
Maureen Sawyer from Southlands, Stretford, Lancashire M32 9DA
"An Organic Kitchen Garden"
Maureen gave a detailed and comprehensively illustrated talk on her organic kitchen garden at her house in Stratford which she has developed over a period of 25 years. To begin with she set out some of the science and principles of organic gardening:-
a. Soil building and improving. b. Pest control and management. c. Heirloom plant preservation.
She talked about her personal commitment to this approach, giving examples of how she has created a both a productive and decorative space.
Explaining about the techniques she applies, extensively re-using plastic bottle cloches, building raised beds, applying crop rotation, feeding the soil, not the plants, and watering carefully.
Her garden is open to visit on the 17th July as part of the NGS
May Meeting 2022
Jane Allison from Mayfields Nursery, Stanthorne, Middlewich Cheshire CW10 9JR
"It's a Family Affair"
Jane gave a light-hearted illustrated talk on various plant families. She began with the Asteraceae (daisy) and outlined the characteristics that define the over 23,000 members of this group. Explaining about the nature of the flowers, leaves and roots and the typical soil conditions they like. She then ran quickly through some of the elements of the mint, rosa, ranunculus, plantain, malva and solanum families.
April Meeting 2022
Kevin Pratt from Village Plants stepped in at short notice when the booked speaker was ill.
Kevin gave us a detailed talk on: -
Plant that merit attention
He selected over forty species that are attractive and viable to use in our gardens that are often overlooked and only usually to be found in specialist collections.
These included some of his personal favourites such as unusual Berberis varieties and Veronicas, the new official name for Hebes.
For more information go to: - www.kevinpratt.co.uk Village Plants Ltd 7, Bosden Fold Road, Hazel Grove SK7 4LQ
March Meeting 2022
At a packed meeting, Adam Frost, garden designer and TV presenter, gave a relaxed but highly informative talk on "Getting the most from your garden".
He began by emphasising the need to understand your garden, starting with the state of your soil,
before moving on to talk about the garden's climate and understanding the nature of the space it occupies.
He recommended that you should, slow down, stop, look and take in the garden, noting how it changes throughout each day and the seasons.
This, he explained would allow you to plan the space and get more from the planting that goes in.
Using examples from his work as a designer, he talked about choosing plants for, size, texture, shape and scent. He acknowledged that while colour was important, it shouldn't be the only factor. "We need to ask ourselves what elements does each plant bring to the space".
In summing up, he talked about looking after our gardens, planning for the future while accommodating the changes to our climate. He stressed the need to ensure diversity and gardening in an environmentally sensitive way and the joy of creating a space that attracts wildlife.
Febuary Meeting 2022
"Cyclamen, Hepaticas and Snowdrops"
Mr Bob Worsley, a self-confessed enthusiast for these three Alpines (he has the T-shirts) gave an illustrated talk on the delights of growing these plants. His enthusiasm for their various foliage forms was clear, as was his appreciation of the many rich and varied flower types. He brought examples to show with some for sale.As a keen advocate for the Alpine Garden Society https://www.alpinegardensociety.net and the East Cheshire Group which meets in Wilmslow. He invited everyone to see what they had to offer. https://www.alpinegardensociety.net/local-groups/east-cheshire-ags-group/
January Meeting 2022
"Flowering and Fruiting Bonsai"
Returning by popular demand, Mr Tony Tickle a bonsai specialist, gave an amusing illustrated talk on the art of bonsai. He explained the various forms of bonsai and the requirements for each category that is grown, along with the elements that support each exhibit. He ended the talk with slides about his role as one of the judges at the 2014 China National Bonsai Championship.
For more information go to Tony's website