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Great Haseley and District Horticultural Society - July 2018

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I woke early this morning and the weather was cool and cloudy with mist and not a good mist as I don’t think it will clear with the sun.

Tomorrow (21st June) is the date of the summer solstice which occurs at 11.07 in the United Kingdom and I feel the weather should be brighter and more summer-like.  Once this day passes I always feel that the days are getting shorter and winter is approaching.  This is, of course, ludicrous as the best of the summer weather is probably yet to come and the garden is reaching its fullest point.  There is barely any soil to see in our garden other than around the edges of the lawn so I suggest you take the time to look at your garden and enjoy the parts that are working and identify the bits that are not and what you might do about it; the lack of bare soil means the weeds have to work much harder to be a problem, but they do appear.  The current worst offender here is the milk thistle which suddenly seems to appear among tall plants only when its flowers start to open; it is a master of disguise!  The quickest way to fill gaps is with annuals which are often very cheap at this time of year as garden centres clear their stocks.  It is also helpful to take photographs to show which areas need changing because it is very hard to remember in the winter/early spring when you are assessing the situation.

I was wandering around the garden the other day and spotted an unusual plant.  I first saw it last summer and had no idea what it was and here it is again.  I believe it is a species of the genus Orobanche and commonly called Broomrape.  The species we have is growing near the edge of the lawn and at first glance resembles a browny-purple orchid, but has no leaves or green parts.  This plant is a total parasite and from my research is probably parasitic on the clover in the lawn which, to my mind, is no bad thing!  Part of me feels reluctant to call it a plant as it has no chlorophyll and does not photosynthesise, but a plant it is.

Parasitic plants are not uncommon and probably the one people are most familiar with is mistletoe growing on trees (often apple) and full of associations with Christmas.  Mistletoe, of course, does have chlorophyll in its leaves and stems and can photosynthesise, but most of its energy requirements come from its host tree.  The other one with which you may be familiar, from seeing wildflower meadows, is yellow rattle.  This occurs naturally in grassland and is generally not welcome in circumstances where the grassland is being used to produce hay for animal feed.  This plant reduces the vigour of grass on which it is parasitic and therefore allows the establishment of other plants.  This was our requirement when we started to establish our meadow.  We initially sowed 1kg simply by broadcasting in the autumn and very little germinated so we sowed another 1kg.  Eventually we achieved good germination rates and are still broadcasting our own seed around areas where the grass is still growing very strongly.  I also sowed some in pots; in some pots, I mixed the seed with grass seed and in others I sowed it alone.  The result was good germination in the pots with grass and no germination in the pots without grass.  I suppose this is a very small number, but it is interesting.  I’m not sure if it requires grass to be present in order to establish after germination, but this year we have plants growing in the drive and in the garden so I think not.

The meadow is growing strongly and the main groups of perennial plants are just starting to flower.  The recent winds have badly flattened the grass which is a pity, but I still like the effect.  Our main excitement is the appearance of another orchid (common spotted) in a completely different place to the one which appeared last year.  Naturally occurring orchids are a joy and reward for our hard work.

Liz Moyses


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