Well, 2020 started so well. Membership numbers were increasing and we had a vibrant programme in place for the year. And then, you know what happened – the dreaded Coronavirus19 descended on the world. However, undaunted we carried on with innovative re-arrangements throughout the year which were well supported and this was very much appreciated. But let us look back at the first three months and remind ourselves what we got up to from January to March while life was blissfully normal.

JANUARY: Who would have thought that a talk and demonstration on hedge laying would have been so popular and so interesting? But Sandhurst hedge layer, Phill Piddell kept our full attention in his entertaining, illustrated talk about this ancient craft.  Phill is a key member of the South of England Hedge laying society and has learnt his skill over many years and said he continues to learn all the time.  Hedge laying developed in the early 1700s as a means of keeping stock, particularly sheep, from escaping their pasture.  Different areas of the country developed different styles according to their needs and landscape.  He showed off an impressive range of fearsome looking tools, safely encased in their leather covers. He passed round branches of hazel to illustrate the various stages of laying, which required individual “pleaching” whereby a stem is cut to the required length to create a flexible “hinge” that could be pushed over.  From the hinge,  regrowth would appear, but the folded stems on top of each other created a dense barrier to prevent livestock getting through.  Prickly trees such as hawthorn were effective in this respect.  The folded stems were topped off with a binder, held in place with stakes, which was substantial enough to walk on!  And as Phill fired questions at us later on, the best answers were rewarded with a prize – a twig pencil!

FEBRUARY: “Mystery, surprise and illusion in the garden” – that may sound like an Agatha Christie “who dunnit”, but Daniele Altieri provided more of a “how to do it” talk at our February meeting.  He had an abundance of inspirational ideas for gardens large and small with techniques to try straight away without expensive landscaping.  These clever and practical ideas started with creating something as simple as a curved path – a trick to lead the eye to follow and explore a new area.  The idea was to hide and reveal to create depth and intrigue.  Planting suggestions included using hot colours close by and cold colours at the far end to create distance.  He explained that repetition of planting in a zigzag formation made for cohesion.  A “fruit salad”  of planting was a nightmare to be avoided.  Mirrors and gates strategically placed worked well with great effect as did the use of slabs, gravel and brick to provide texture.  Well placed gaps in a hedge line enabled the landscape beyond to be glimpsed.  And if a plant or tree obscured something else more interesting then don’t be afraid to take it out.  His talk certainly lived up to its title.

MARCH:  There was a lot we didn’t know about the humble spud! But Sue Turner, who started her career working in plant pathology at the International Potato centre in Peru, know all about this ancient tuber – indeed its social history and travels from the Andes to Kent. It all began 8,000 years ago when wild potatoes were discovered in isolated areas near Lake Titicaca.  They grew well at high altitude and tolerated extremes of temperature.  However wild potatoes are poisonous and a fairly elaborate process was developed to draw out the poisonous sap, allowing it to seep out and crystalize during the cold nights and then rubbed off and then the potatoes were spread out to bake in the sunshine during the day.  It was soon discovered that  potatoes were a versatile and nutritious food and they were traded with the conquistadores who took them across the world.  The only climate that they cannot tolerate are humid jungle conditions.  Sue said that a lot of vitamins are just under the skin so try not to peel them.  Not only are they widely used for human and animal nutrition, but the starch is used in the pharmaceutical industry, wallpaper paste and now bio-degradable packaging.  Some varieties are more resistant to blight, which is a fungal spore triggered by certain weather conditions, and which arrived from Mexico in a shipload to Belgium in 1845.  So far the UK is free from the menace of Colorado Beetle, but with climate change this could be the next big threat to our favourite veg. Members were able to purchase their seed potato for the “Spud in a bucket” competition which would take place in August.

APRIL: Alexandra Campbell kindly supplied some information about her radio blog spot,  The Middle-sized Garden blog, which she started in 2014 and it has been ranked as one of the top ten garden blogs every year from 2015-2019. She talks to experts, head gardeners and amateurs who have lovely gardens and passes on their tips and ideas. She defines a middle-sized garden as roughly under an acre but it could be just 20ft x 25ft. She has been booked for May 2021 – fingers crossed –  and you can find out more on https://www.themiddlesizedgarden.co.uk and also on YouTube. She has recently published The Middle-sized Garden’s complete Guide to Garden Privacy, which is available from Amazon.

MAY: Katherine Lynn’s talk on Tulips from Amsterdam had to be rescheduled for another time  (November 2021). Everyone was disappointed that we couldn’t hold our annual Plant Sale which is of  course our main fund raiser for the Society and enables us to book high quality speakers and often subsidise our summer coach outing. 2019 had been an outstanding success with taking so over £1,000, and we were very fortunate to have some trays of plants from Great Dixter for free which supplemented our usual amazing variety of home grown plants, often from seed, from our members.  But we overcame the difficulties of lockdown and social distancing by putting a list on the web site of available plants so that members could phone the “grower” to arrange to collect from the garden gate and pop the money through the letterbox. And this worked well, raising around £180 for funds. We were very grateful to have lovely vegetable plants to share to help supplement the scarce supermarket delivery slots.  It certainly worked for me –  one minute there was a tray of plants on the drive awaiting collection and the next time I looked it had changed into a chocolate rabbit! Result.

JUNE: Alas the coach outing to West Dean Gardens or the Weald & Downland Open air Museum was another casualty of Covid, but we hope to visit there at a later date.

JULY:  No Mini Show this year but we came up with a cunning plan to have a “virtual” bi-annual Mini Show instead.  We took out the home economics classes but asked members to send in photographs of the entries they would have submitted for the other classes. These were then put up on the web site and an independent judge had the unusual task of judging from photographs, which was certainly a first for him and he was very impressed with the innovative idea and indeed the support from members. In fact  about 72 photographs were sent in and our wonderful “web manager”, Terry, did a great job in sorting out the technicalities and keeping track of the entries.

AUGUST: Well that seed potato bought for £1 at the March meeting was ready to be tipped out of its bucket and the contents weighed. Normally this all takes place at our Summer Social event but this year just five of us met at a social distance in Brian and Margaret’s garden for the serious job of weighing all the entries.   Everyone had delivered their  buckets  to Brian’s front lawn during the day and then on a very warm evening of 5th August the hot work of emptying began. The winner, with an astonishing haul, was Jeanne Smith with 4lb 14oz. Joint second place was shared between Jenny Rummery and David Smith with 4lb 6oz and 3rd place to Tom Hicks with 4lb 4oz.

SEPTEMBER:  The Society volunteered to help with a Tree planting project from KCC who awarded the village a grant of £1000 to plant trees in community areas for “greening up” the village. It is hoped that some will be planted on the Recreation ground and suggestions for other areas would be welcomed. At first it was thought that some would be available for private gardens but we have been advised that this is not possible. Suggestions should be sent to Natalie Bicat who is liaising with the parish council and other relevant bodies.

OCTOBER: We were able to offer a mini sale of a  variety of hardy perennial plants, grown by members, in another garden gate sale.  All the plants available are listed on the Market Place tab on the web site.

NOVEMBER: We were invited to join the Mayfield Horticultural Society and others  in a zoom lecture by Fergus Garrett, the head gardener at Great Dixter who talked about “Painting with Plants the Great Dixter Way”. This was a fund raiser for the Great Dixter Charitable Trust which has seen its income plummet this year and we were very pleased to support this virtual event.

DECEMBER: With no AGM possible this year we have distributed the trophies to the competition winners and there is a lovely selection of the proud recipients on the web site. The accounts have been audited and are available to anyone who would like a copy. All the Officers and Committee members have kindly agreed to carry on for another year and we will have an AGM as soon as we can once the Government guidelines make this possible. We had hoped to have a demonstration of Christmas decorations in November but  this had to be cancelled. However to get you into the festive mood the Chairman has set a special challenge to members and asks you to send in a photo of a CHRISTMAS DECORATION you have made, which can include artificial elements. Maybe you could make a garland or wreath, or a table decoration or something for the tree. Send your photos to Ros (ros.maggs@yahoo.co.uk) and there will be a lovely prize for the winner.  All entries to arrive by Monday 14th December and will be put up on the web site. So do have a go. It will be lovely to see what you come up with. There is no printed copy of the Annual Newsletter this year but there are several very interesting articles provided by members of our web site. Please have a look as we are very lucky to have an excellent number of contributions from our members.

It has certainly been an eventful year but not in a way we could have envisaged. As always I want to thank my marvellous committee for their support and all the members who often send me lovely messages of appreciation which makes it all worthwhile and it was great to see some of you  while we were all enjoying our village walks. Special thanks must go to Terry Hannocks who created our website only one year ago, and what a boon it has been during these strange times. We could not have managed without his help and know-how in keeping everything updated. Keep safe everyone, have a wonderful Christmas despite all the difficulties. Thank goodness we have the interest and refuge our gardens provide and I look forward to seeing you all sometime in 2021.