Great Hockham Gardening Club Diary - April

For our March meeting we welcomed Jim Paine of Walnut Tree Garden Nursery. Previously, Jim has visited us and we he, at his nursery just northwest of Rockland All Saints. That our paths have crossed on several occasions is testament to how interesting and informative his presentations can be. On this occasion his talk was entitled, ‘Gardening in the Shade, a Scientific Approach’.

Jim opened by discussing scientifically how differing amounts of light can be categorised with regard to plant requirements. Full sun: more than six hours a day (but not when dormant). Dappled shade: less than six hours a day. Deep shade: little or no direct sunlight. As well as the plant’s position with regard to its proximity to other plants and the type of landscape, the issue of location on the globe was relevant. Jim outlined the how the Earth's tilt, currently at 23.5 degrees from the perpendicular in relation to its orbit around the Sun, combined with latitude, gave rise to our four seasons. Additionally, while all latitudes will, at any particular instant, receive the same amount of light, in northerly latitudes the light shines on a larger area, therefore the intensity is lower. This last effect can be visualised by thinking about the lengthening of your shadow as the Sun sinks towards the horizon.

Whatever the type of plant it will have evolved a relationship with the light available. In the never-ending struggle for existence the various species do not ‘like’ a particular environment; it is that they can tolerate those conditions when others cannot. Sometimes the only way to survive and reproduce may be to go where no plant has gone before, to evolve into what seem to us a bizarre morphology and an ability to thrive in some unlikely conditions. But the restrictions of evolution mean that having travelled down a particular path the plant has no way back.

In addition to its long-term evolved characteristics any plant will have an ability to adapt to short-term circumstances. Inhibited germination: where the seed waits for the right conditions – light, temperature and moisture. Delayed development: where seedlings will temporary interrupt their growth if there is insufficient light or water. Differing size: the plant can grow taller as a response to shade Rapid response to sunflecks: where a plant can respond and benefit to just a few seconds of light. Sunflecks are brief, intermittent periods of light that can significantly improve carbon gain in shaded forest understories and lower canopies of trees.

To the plants themselves: leaves are nature’s solar panel, operating by photosynthesis. Whereas we, animals, have mitochondria, so plants have chloroplasts, both organelles being the factories manufacturing the energy required to build and operate the organism Jim discussed leaf design: size, shape, volume, orientation and why leaves are (mostly) green. Jim stressed that in order to successfully grow, soil management was of the essence: nutrient, moisture, soil ecosystem and well rotted manure, but if all else fails, pots may be the only answer. Jim’s talk was accompanied by a comprehensive series of slides.

Post covid, Jim and his wife only operate as click and collect or by appointment. But, as is usual in these circumstances, we were saved all that trouble as Jim bought along a wide selection of plants, not just those tolerating shade.

As it happens, soil is what has been exercising my mind recently. In our previous garden the soil was in excellent condition. Presumably in the deep past there were trees that were removed for farming, but the plot showed no signs of intensive agriculture. The only sign of human activity were two phases of land drainage, one using hand made clay pipes. Then the old dwelling was parachuted in shortly after the 39-45 War. No foundation digging, just a wooden shack on a concrete base. I honestly don’t think much had happened to the ground since the ice age.

The last incumbent was Prue's Uncle Sid. He had been living in Biggin Hill and started to see the post war housing developments marching across the fields towards him, and thought it was time to relocate. So he goes to an estate agent, looks at this place in Norfolk, agent didn't have a key, so he just looked through the window and bought it on the spot. He was an organic gardener, none of those new fangled chemicals. He just dug his veg plot incorporating a ready supply of farmyard manure. He loved his garden growing the majority of his vegetable requirements. We were of the same mind and were therefore careful not to ruin the soil by mixing the foundation spoil with the growing areas.

This is not a natural history that can be shared with our current tilth. In our previous life, planting a plant was a simple matter: dig hole, insert plant, fill hole. Time taken? 10 minutes. Now it's a little different. It took me a day to create a cavity in the 7-year-old archaeology. The 'soil' makes me have to employ the services of a pick. As luck would have it, below about 15 inches I broke through into something resembling original terrain, albeit clay like and compacted. But whereas before my hole would only need to be little more than that needed to accommodate the root ball, I now feel I need to excavate sufficient space for the mature plant throughout its life. So now I have a manhole-sized cavity. Then I have to get in car and purchase compost, in non-recyclable plastic bags. After all this I am left with about three barrow loads of ideal drive making material, but we already have a drive. Quite what we do with this material has not yet become apparent.

Finally, it is my sad duty to inform you of the death of one of our members, Val Long. Val had been an active member for many years and helped out at many of the club's meetings and events. She will be missed.


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