Wednesday 9 August 2017

Old gardeners day out

Botanist Mike Ashford has turned his back on my ‘roofless roof garden’ which is really an old slab of concrete covered with soil and stone mulch
My wife Brenda recently hosted a small gathering of long retired Askham Bryan colleagues and their partners in our garden. Please indulge me today as I wallow in nostalgia and share a few memories as old folks do.
Brenda’s lunch was as ever superb. Peter Williams not only took the pictures but after coffee on arrival we visited and marvelled at his own garden. He says his camera focus was out of focus but his pictures look good to me. 

Prats examine pratia which invades my lawn

Peter Hemsley (bending) told me that to capture this lovely invasive alpine’s true colour my camera needs a blue filter.
Botanist Philip Orton (great pullover) micro propagated Dicentra ‘Snowflakes’ when it was launched at Chelsea thirty years ago. 

Wine buffer
The copper beech was a former seedling from Bolton Percy cemetery (transported as a ten foot sapling - imagine my car). We are standing on a raised area which is a long gone rubbish dump
My guests look a little bored with my mulching stones (spoil from Worsbrough cemetery).


Peter (dig that hat) spots, identifies and admires my Salix fargesioides. No previous visitor has even noticed it!

“Peter Williams gave me another” 
David Willis breeder of Euphorbia ‘Silver Swan’ had lost the plant in his own garden. David is a former custodian of a section of the National narcissus collection and has been involved in rehabilitating old varieties such as ‘Weardale Perfection’

I hope David can grow his plant better next time and as well as Peter
Wonderful 'Weardale Perfection' in a North Yorkshire churchyard 

“He never stakes - but Brenda sometimes follows him round” 
Isobel and June love herbaceous perennials. The gunnera and the aconite are free standing

“Current theory might satisfactorily explain how water gets up this tree but not a hundred metre redwood”
Former mature student 88 year old Alan Warwick explains his hypothesis. Thirty years earlier Alan had interrupted Philip Orton's botany lecture to tell him he was wrong.
Alan’s tree Malus ‘Crimson Cascade was launched at Chelsea this year.

“The drink makes him loquacious”

Peter Hemsley examines Inula hookeri (I had thought it was called Inula hemsleyana) 
Peter is the most able horticulturist I know. The high quality of his landscape drawings are only surpassed by his ability to create and maintain the gardens. Not only can he precisely identify almost every garden tree he could climb them like a monkey to carry out arboricultural maintenance. In contrast he is also an authority on alpines

“ He does not dig you know”
Tony Thompson confides with his wife Margaret. Rhona looks on. Tony helped me run the NCH course (he did all the work).This craft all-comers course (provided students had practical experience) was the best in the college. More of a traditional gardener than me, ex Radio York gardening guru grows dozens of potato varieties and is the most loved and remembered tutor by former students.

"Brenda tells me he has lost his Stipa gigantea"
As a former Wye college student I admired fellow student Rhona’s effervescent personality and beauty from afar. Askham Bryan lecturer, more lately nurseryman and hill farmer (sheep) still lectures to gardeners. One of the kindest people I know.

Margaret Thompson snaps the frothy heads of the mature valerian flowers. She grows thirty different hostas and added one more today 

“You could take Tony for an RHS judge” 
Christine Hemsley and Isobel Ashford confer.

Peter in clover
Cameraman Peter Williams is not getting away without a mention. My best friend and his contributions are well known to readers of this blog. His garden in Seaton Ross village is one of Yorkshire’s finest. As a York University man he has not been privileged to work at Askham Bryan!

Further information and links

I told the story about the Chelsea launch of Dicentra 'Snowflakes' and how micro-propagator Philip Orton and Yorkshire author Joyce Fussy's new dicentra was introduced. They were guests on celebrities day. Poor Alan Warwick was only invited with the punters when his Malus 'Crimson Cascade' was launched this year. Things are not what they used to be.

Alan Warwick's water theory
See Isobel Ashford's rose-petal confetti when Brenda and I married two years ago
See Peter Williams' lovely garden in this post. Peter's and my own garden are both open on Tuesday 22nd August in aid of Yorkshire Arboretum - combined ticket £5. More details on their website.

You learn something every day and Peter Williams yesterday told me of yet another of David Willis’s achievements. He invented Vitax Q4
This is probably the best of the fertilisers on the amateur market and for me is only now exceeded by professional ones such as yaramila.
Working in the fertiliser industry fifty years ago David reasoned that a good fertiliser should be formulated with more sensible proportions of NPK and should contain necessary trace elements.

Vitax has been a market leader for fifty years and the same company has produced it for all of that time. He was recently invited to a slap up celebration by the company for the fertiliser’s  fiftieth anniversary. Great for an old employee to be remembered.


  1. This post was fun to read, thank you! Thank you also to your visitors who so kindly gave you permission to use their photos on your blog. I wish my sister and my partner were not so shy so that I could show Pictures with them on, too, but they won't have it.

    1. I am sure that they are all ok with it but I never asked... nor for my wedding ones
      My generation are not very comfortable with computers and most of my visitors have never read it - even after much prompting - and will never know!
      I guess as my visitors have worked in public that they will not mind. I hope!

  2. It looks to have been an enjoyable evening, you appear to be the only one with a glass of wine!
    With such a knowledge group of friends, are you all still learning?

    1. Empty too by the look of it.

    2. Not evening Brian, lunch
      We are all in bed by eight!
      I learnt to get to the wine first

  3. You look to be revelling in the occasion :-)

  4. So glad you all had a jolly good get together, now I have a question....
    What is the collective noun for a group of horticulturalist of a "certain age" ??

    Best wishes, Bridget

    1. That was only one "Bridget" got a gremlin!!

    2. i thought there was two of you!
      A gaggle of backwoodsmen. comes to mind...
      a pastime of gardeners?

    3. I don't know about a collective noun, but an anagram for gardener is deranger! That seems entirely apposite!

    4. Deranged dodderers perhaps

      (dodder is a scrambling parasitic plant in the cucumber family)

  5. What a wonderful gathering, it must have been a real pleasure. We just had a gathering here in Chicago of a handful of garden bloggers. Also made for a very pleasant and stimulating day.

  6. Amazing to see wonderful natural surrounding. It,s always an peaceful experience in the garden.I am an gardener and lives in San Diego. My best wishes to old gardeners.


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