Well, 2021 was a year like no other and one that none of us could have anticipated or experienced before.  With another period of lockdown in November 2020 due to the Covid 19 pandemic there was to be no AGM or trophy presentation last year.  But in December 2020 I set the members a challenge to make a Christmas Garland and to send in a photograph and there was to be a prize for the winner.  Natalie Bicat produced a beautiful wreath, but all the entries were excellent, and it was difficult to choose a winner. I had a go at my own challenge and enjoyed using all the dried seed heads and cones I had collected on many of my  local walks in lockdown. Our Programme for 2021 was duly prepared with anticipation of a return to normal before too long, but alas that was not the case. In fact, it went out the window. But undaunted we found ways to keep you engaged.  If some of my report sounds a bit familiar that is because I am using my notes from the Sandhurst village magazine to remind myself what we did actually manage to do over the year. I kind of assume that everyone gets a copy of the Village magazine but if you don’t I should explain that it  has a regular Horticultural Society column as well as an excellent piece each month from Annabel Lear. The other highlight for January was an interesting Zoom lecture from Fergus Garrett, long-time  head gardener at Great Dixer when he talked about biodiversity and in particular the biodiversity audit recently carried out at Great Dixter. This lecture was organised by the chairman of he Mayfield Horticultural society and was very well supported.


We decided to carry on regardless with the annual Spud in a bucket competition.  Members collected their lone spud from Margaret and Brian’s front garden, all ready to plant up in a builder’s bucket and grow on until the Summer social. Some of us watched more lectures on Zoom, organised by the National Garden Scheme, and I encouraged you to start the growing season using peat free compost.


Hippeastrum, popularly known as amaryllis, are a beautiful chunky bulb often given as a Christmas gift, and actually there is one to win in the raffle this evening. But with a little care they can be kept to re-bloom the following year and I hope some of you had success doing this. I did manage to get one of mine to bloom again – but it was a trifle early for Christmas as it flowered in July!


One of our younger members, Dean Charlton, who works at Great Dixter and who is an authority on snowdrops,  held a zoom lecture organised by the Beckley Horticultural Society. It was great fun and recorded his experience digging up his parents’ front garden in Rotherham and planting it with a variety of plants and grasses to provide interest during all seasons.  The neighbours were somewhat surprised and puzzled as to what was going on but it was a useful learning curve for all concerned. I think that is the best way to describe it.


Our Plant sale was cancelled for the second year running, but the Garden Gate sale was popular with everyone desperate to get their hand on something to grow. Although the garden centres had largely remained open this year, it was nevertheless a welcome exercise and generated some useful funds for our Society which will go towards our charitable giving this year.


With the easing of lockdown many members enjoyed a fabulous evening visit to Potman’s Heath at Wittersham. It was a beautiful evening, just before a storm but the roses were spectacular and the large borders very colourful. Even the chicken run was delightful. It was lovely to see everyone again and enjoy refreshments and have a chat.


On 15th July members were welcomed to Bean Place garden and nursery at Headcorn.  It is somewhat tucked away not far from the aerodrome and was most enjoyable with the owners, Tim and Anita Waters showing everyone round their still developing garden and thriving nursery business. The quality of their plants was excellent and members were intrigued to see their potting up machine which could pot up 1000s of plug plants in record time.  They were prize winners at the recent Hampton Court Flower Show and had been invited for the first time to exhibit at Tatton Park.


Sandwiched between a period of wildly wet and unsettled weather we could not believe our luck with a beautiful calm and sunny evening for our Summer Social on the 4th August. There were four gardens in a row to explore, just along the Rye Road, and a big “thank you” to Jill Oliphant-Robertson, Barbara Nunn, Maggie McCormack and Fiona Bradley for making us so welcome.  All four gardens were very different and quite delightful. And, of course, the highlight of the summer social is the weigh in of the spuds grown in a bucket competition. Margaret and Brian and other helpers tipped out 21 buckets and the winner this time was Ruth Elsdon with an astonishing haul weighing 4lb 12oz. Its no good asking her what her secret is because she just smiles and remains evasive! But whatever it is, it works jolly well.  And the refreshments? Well, no surprises there, we all know what a fantastic spread the members provide. We all had a great time.


After 18 months of lockdowns and shielding over 40 members and guests gathered in a well ventilated Old School Hall to hear Daniele Altieri talk about “Winter colour in the garden”. He had even changed his flight back to Italy especially to come to us. He shared so many ideas to keep interest during the dormant period in the garden between November and February. If you did a “Chelsea chop” in the summer the chances were some plants would still be flowering into November. He suggested keeping anything that died gracefully as seed heads looked particularly beautiful when caught in a frost.  He recommended planting bulbs under shrubs and hardy perennials so that after flowering the  new growth of those plants hid the die back of the bulbs.


“The roses of Hever Castle” was the title of the talk by Neil Miller, head gardener, but we were entertained with so much more.  Neil looked back at the history of the Castle itself and how during the early 20thC when the estate was bought by millionaire, William Waldorf Astor, the garden was developed greatly in a number of varying styles and huge landscaping projects including the construction of a 38-acre lake, dug by hand – or actually 2000 Irish men’s hands. In June over 7000 bedding plants are put in, in addition to the 4000 roses. We were all so impressed we have decided to do our best to make Hever our Society coach outing in 2022.


Kathrine Lynn told us all about Tulipomania which sept through the ancient Ottoman Empire when tulips were first discovered and given their name as their shape echoed the turban-like headgear worn by the Sultan. These days 90% of tulips are grown in the Netherlands and their dazzling display is showcased at the Keukenhof Festival. With the vast variety of colours and shapes and flowering period it is possible to have tulips in flower from March until May. Kathrine recommended planting deep, up to 10”, with plenty of grit, in order to get the best display.


And here we are – we made it through thick and thin, good times and bad times, vaccines and boosters and grateful for the escape, recreation, interest and mental well-being our gardens have provided during difficult times. We think with horror at the plight of the poor city dwellers confined to a high rise flat and thank our lucky stars to live in the beautiful Kent countryside. Thank you everyone for your great support that has continued throughout the troubled times. It is tremendous to come through it with more new members and of course my huge thanks to the brilliant committee who have worked hard to help the Society all the way through. They are all so enthusiastic and I couldn’t do my job as chairman without their unstinting support. We have been able to give £250 to the Hands of Hope charity in Hawkhurst. And I can recommend you visit them to see what an amazing job they do and maybe order a regular organic veg box.  Please have a healthy and happy Christmas and we look forward to a seeing you all on the 5th January. All keen to get going on another successful year in your garden.