Roehampton Garden Society

Exotic vegetables from seed

Crop planning and seed sowing time begins for 2024. Are you planning to grow any of these?

There’s much interest in the new, often easy to grow, exotic vegetables and salads. Some are useful to fill a gap between more traditional produce, some just for exotic variety! Here’s an article from Bite Sized Gardening which covers forty unusual vegetables to grow in an English garden !

The Real Seed Company is a small seed business in Wales. In addition to their heritage and heirloom seed varieties their website is a mine of information about how these exotics grow in our climate. Check out their unusual salad veg, their rare and unusual tubers section for Oca and Yacon, and Cucumbers, Achocha and similar things for unusual Cucmbers, Cucamelon and the Giant Bolivian Achocha!

Their seedling gallery can be useful when the plant labels go astray….

Gardening with Children

We know that family gardening is great fun for children, and the RHS Campaign for School Gardening is helping some to have gardening experience in school. Early reports find that school gardening is proving excellent support for their mental health. Granard School enjoy their visits to our allotments.

The Little Green Fingers website from the BBC contains some lovely short videos to show children how to tackle jobs in the garden. Watch them here.

if you’d like more ideas for child friendly garden projects try this selection from Gardener’s World magazine

A new book on children’s gardening is included in the RHS ten top gardening books of 2023..

The No-Dig Children’s Gardening Book by Charles Dowding is published by Welbeck.

See the complete 2023 top ten gardening book list from the RHS here

Events at the Lindley Library

If you’re interested in a Central London source of horticultural information, talks and events, do add the RHS Lindley library to your list. They hold world-renowned collections of early printed books, the archives of the RHS, botanical art collections and modern books on the history of horticulture, botanical art and practical gardening, but after refurbishment they are now also open for practical sessions.

Here are two examples on Tuesday 12th December

Free Plant Advice Pop-up

Do you have a houseplant that has seen brighter days? Is a pest or disease ravaging your garden? Drop into the Lindley Library between 11am–3pm to receive free one-to-one gardening advice from the RHS Advisory team. Bring a photograph (no samples, please). RHS membership is not required – these sessions are open to all. See more

There will be a break in the advice session to allow you to enjoy Lindley Live: A Curious Herbal – From Love Apples to Treacle Mustard – a 15 minute talk about the unusual life of Elizabeth Blackwell, the woman behind this 18th century herbal.

Heating a Greenhouse

How do you heat a greenhouse with minimal energy usage? Now that we need to be energy efficient and sustainable – what options do we have to try and keep it frost free? Bubble wrap may be the future….

Read some practical advice from the RHS here:

This candle heater will produce a slight raise in temperature

Bubble Wrap Insulation – but light will be reduced..

Hydronic underfloor heating! Recommended to solar heat the circulating water if possible. You can also use old carpet to insulate the floor.

Peat free composts: Water with care..

One of the key adjustments you may need to make when changing from peat-based compost to peat-free is with watering. Peat-free composts, especially those containing composted bark, often hold water for longer, so may need watering less frequently. They also tend to look dry on the surface, making it easy to overwater. So use your fingers to check the moisture levels under the surface where possible, or lift the container to feel how heavy it is. Also water using a small watering can or even a mist sprayer, so it’s easier to control the amount you apply.

Going peat free may mean changing the way we plant and deal with seedlings this winter.

The RHS says:
“Before sowing seeds, make sure the compost is moist but not soggy. Saturated compost is colder, which can slow down germination and may cause seedlings and cuttings to rot.”
For more on checking compost moisture and how to water containers, see the RHS video guide to watering.

The John Macleod Lecture – RGS Members invited…

The RHS has invited our members to their John MacLeod Annual Lecture

“Plant Fitness, Sustainable Planting and the Conceptualisation of Understanding Horticultural Plants”

by Professor James Hitchmough

Are we on the brink of transformation or disaster? Join us for an evening of insight and glimpse a world where ecological understanding and innovative horticultural practices converge to create a sustainable future.

Prof. James Hitchmough will paint a compelling picture of how our evolving climate demands a deeper focus on plant fitness, despite a lack of tools and perspectives to address the challenge.

Discover a glimmer of hope as he unveils a framework linking fitness, niche, and geographic range, offering a pathway to a reimagined horticultural landscape that stands resilient in the face of biodiversity loss and climate change.

Date: 16th November 2023
Time/Venue – 14.30 – 15.45 hrs in The Garden Room RHS Wisley Hilltop The Home of Gardening Science.

Please reply to if you would like to attend. First two bookings from RGS members will be accepted.

James Hitchmough is Professor Emeritus in Horticultural Ecology in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Sheffield.
He retired from the University in September 2022, but continues to co-supervise his final tranche of 5 PhD students as they complete their studies. Two of these students are working on understanding and quantifying plant fitness for the changing climate.
James continues to develop new types of designed plantings (as he always has) in landscape architectural practice often in collaboration with Tom Stuart Smith but currently also with Piet Oudolf.
Most of his consultancy and design work is however in China and Australia where he works primarily with their native flora. The perspectives that come from his integration of academic research and practice shapes a world view, that makes him an in-demand conference speaker around the world.

The Commons Conservators Wildlife Report

The Wimbledon and Putney Commons’ Wildlife and Environment Report 2022 has just been published.

This monitoring report on the wildlife species living on our commons shows health of our local wildlife, with winners and losers changing year on year.

This year the report shows:

28 species of butterfly were recorded – a slight increase on 2021. There was a more noticeable increase in dragonfly species, up by nine to 21, including a single Norfolk Hawker and a Keeled Skimmer which is a typical wet heathland species not seen on the Common since 2018.

16 Common Lizards were spotted, an increase on the previous year while frogs, toads and newts continue to spawn in many of the ponds.

The stag beetle population continues to decline with only 21 reported by visitors, a continuation of the fall since 2014.

While a number of new species are appearing, there is broader concern expressed in the report that more common species of butterfly are declining in numbers continuing a trend seen over the last few years. In particular Meadow Brown, Small Heath and Common Blue are showing significant declines over the past 5 years.

Read the full report on The Conservators website here

More or Less in the insect world

Our allotment sites have been home to greater numbers of Red Admiral butterflies this year. Such a welcome sight and a little good news. Peacock butterflies didn’t do quite so well, however, and numbers of the Small Tortoishell and Green-veined white slumped. If you’re interested in the full results of the Butterfly Count this year check them out here.

Red Admiral

The other insect species having a startlingly good year in Roehampton is a small brown grasshopper – seen in hundreds by those mowing the paths this summer as they scramble away from the mower. Look out for them hopping on your plot.

Common Field Grasshopper

If anyone is curious about our native grasshoppers there is more to see here

Soil Health and Propagation – two interesting courses at Carshalton

Both workshops are led by a RHS qualified and experienced tutor, and as always, there will be lots of information to take home.

Soil Health – for growing great veg
(Saturday 30th September 2023)
Soil Health – Find out More

On the Soil Health workshop, participants will:
– Learn how to test and improve their soil
– Find out how our soils work to store carbon and water
– Learn the secrets of making great compost
– Find out how to make free plant fertilisers and tonics at home

Autumn & Winter Plant Propagation
(Saturday 21st October 2023)
Autumn & Winter Plant Propagation -Find out More

The Plant propagation workshop covers:
– Hardwood cuttings
– Leaf Cuttings
– Root Cuttings
– Air Layering
– Seed sowing including chipping and vernalization
Participants will be able to take home a selection of propagated material.

The problem with Charlotte..

A conversation in the Store one Sunday led to Jackie Savage contacting the RHS helpline about a problem with Charlotte Salad Potatoes this year…

Jackie says:

I have a plentiful harvest from the seed potatoes I planted in March but when I cook them I find that they are not the waxy, pale yellow salad potatoes that I love. I clean them and leave the skins on and then boil them for 8 to 10 minutes. The skins fall off but the potato is white and floury. I cannot use them to make potato salad as they do not hold their shape, but they are tasty as mash. I was not the only one to experience this so I wrote to the RHS helpline and received this answer:

This breaking down of the potato is known as sloughing. The exact cause is unclear. Potassium deficiency has been discussed and, as sulphate of potash is fairly cheap and widely available, adding this at 20 g per sq yard would seem be worth trying. It is reported that disintegration decreases with storage and it may be that the potatoes will be better after a few months of storage.
It is said that adding some bicarbonate of soda to the cooking water helps maintain the intercellular bonds and reduces sloughing. It would be interesting to know if microwaving, baking and steaming also led to disintegration.

RHS Helpline

Jackie would be really interested to hear if anyone else has had the same experience and if they have any suggestions or solutions. She says: “Perhaps I should give up on Charlottes and grow a different salad potato? Or add sulphate of potash at the time of planting? I am reluctant to add bicarbonate of soda to the cooking water.”

Have you had a similar experience this year – or have you any advice to offer? Please email your suggestions to rgs.sw15