THE NATIONAL ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING
9th - 11th May 2014
A gallery of pictures and report
Norfolk is one of the driest parts of the country and gardeners had been pining for rain since February. Predictably the drought ended on the first day of the AGM weekend. Gardeners are a stoical bunch and undaunted by such trifles so the hundred plus delegates shrugged their shoulders and pulled on their cagoules.
Bishop of Norwich’s Garden
An optional visit to that most serene of gardens: the private garden of the Bishop of Norwich was our first stop. Welcomed by Simon Ward the Bishop’s Chaplain and Head Gardener, Simon Gaches, seventy early AGM arrivals were able to enjoy a tranquil green space, with sweeping lawns and a footprint dating back to the eleventh century. With its flint walls, ancient porches and the Norman spire and falcons overhead, the garden proved to be full of covetable shrubs as well as venerable London plane trees and delegates made an early start on plant purchases..
The weekend base was the Maids Head Hotel reputedly the oldest hotel in the country, which kindly allowed us to customise our meeting suite with lashings of flowers, foliage and displays including one celebrating the life and works of Norfolk’s greatest plantsman Alan Bloom. Alan Gray and Graham Robeson of East Ruston Gardens joined us for Friday’s dinner and Alan’s talk proved as show stopping as his garden: delegates who had failed to book for the Sunday morning visit to the Old Vicarage promptly changed their minds on seeing and hearing how Graham and Alan had created their extraordinary gardens over a mere thirty year period. (We noted that Linda’s gardening quiz was aptly won by the table headed by the PH chair designate: Mike Buffin.)
AGM and Plant Exchange
By Saturday morning the Plant Exchange contained over a thousand rare and covetable plants, and was ready for the critical swap, efficiently overseen by Lloyd Kenyon, Trustee and Shropshire member, assisted by Norfolk members. The AGM on Saturday morning was well attended by some delegates. Michael Alder, on his last AGM as chair of Plant Heritage, recounted some of his experience of heading up a small charity which “punches above its weight” and we were introduced to our newly appointed CEO, Sarah Quarterman who showed she already had a a sharp grasp of the challenges facing Plant Heritage.
Dell Garden and The Harralds
Immediately after lunch we boarded Rose and Lavender Coaches bound for two south Norfolk gardens: the famous Alan Bloom Dell Garden now impeccably curated by our past chair, Jaime Blake ; the smaller private garden of our current chair Dr Janet Sleep, which Norfolk members know is both beautifully designed and planted. The two gardens provided a stunning contrast which not even the rain could undermine.
Jaime took us on a fascinating guided tour recounting not only stories of Alan’s plant introductions but revealing that he is also custodian, as well as Head Gardener, for a garden full of historic plant treasures.
In the lovely, intimate The Harralds, members had the opportunity to sample members’ cakes as well as purchase plants from Janet’s small but choice nursery. (If a coveted plant was not available for sale Janet could be seen generously digging one up!)
The evening saw a well supported raffle, with a large pot of Alan Bloom’s introduction:
a white Trillium flora plena taking the top spot. A host of tempting prizes from sponsors such as Brother and Griffin Greenhouses and many generous Norfolk donors raised over £500 plus over £200 from the sale of Jaime’s donation of plants from the Alan Bloom display.
Tom Williamson, Professor of Landscape History at UEA provided the after dinner speech: Well known to Norfolk members, we listened to an entertaining if challenging talk on ‘How natural is natural’ in which he questioned many of the assumptions held on plants and habitats, from ancient woodland to heathland, from meadow fritillaries to oak trees. It would be impossible to walk through the countryside with the same confidence after listening to Tom speaking and it was a bravura performance.
The weekend was tightly packaged but we had hoped that some members would be able to exploit the city centre location to explore: in the event many took the chance to view the Cathedral , its cloisters and Close; to wander Elm Hill and the surrounding ancient lanes. At least three people made their way to the Victorian Plantation Garden on the west of the city; a few investigated the medieval churches and at least one energetic couple managed to sample a number of Norwich’s hostelries, in a city once famed for having ‘a pub for every day of the week and a church for every week of the year’.
The final excursion brought us full circle: The Old Vicarage Gardens at East Ruston.
Alan and Graham kindly opened their stunning gardens especially for delegates on Sunday morning; this allowed the vistas and avenues, the sculptures and the rich variety of exotic planting to be enjoyed to maximum effect. It was a perfect end to a weekend packed with the best of Norfolk plants and gardens and to which so many Norfolk members contributed.
Pictures by Tony and Kathy Gray and Colin Pusey.