Cold Ash Horticultural Society

Welcome to Cold Ash Gardening Club! The aim of the Society is to promote the enjoyment and benefits of amateur gardening. To that end we arrange informative and social activities for members and visitors.

Here you can find details on our History, keep up-to-date on our News Page, plus discover our Upcoming Events


Welcome to our new name and logo. While we want to be known as the Gardening Club, for banking and historical reasons we will retain our original name.  Cold Ash Horticultural Society first set up in 1935 and has been affiliated to the Royal Horticultural Society since 1936. Our origins go back much further to 1877 when Reverend John M. Bacon set up the first Cold Ash Cottage Show. Please get used to calling us Cold Ash Gardening Club from now on.


Members may notice one other difference. Following instructions from the Annual General Meeting, the Treasurer investigated how to improve our banking arrangements to save paying banking charges (£5 per month plus 40p per cheque). The committee has decided that in future The Gardening Club will use Metrobank. This will mean that we will be able to use Internet Banking for transactions and to manage the account. If, in future, you wish to pay your membership fees by Internet Banking please contact the Treasurer for details of the account number.


2022 Spring Show

After an absence of two years, it was lovely to be able to hold the Spring Show again on Saturday 2nd April and to see so many people.   The recent warm spell and subsequent colder weather meant that we had a range of interesting flowers and flowering shrubs, including fritillaries and tulips, primulas, magnolias and camellias.  Beautiful narcissi included some later-flowering varieties, together with the usual trumpet and cup forms. There were some beautiful floral arrangements – I especially liked Jane Geater’s ‘Spring Green’ entry.    We also had some wonderful handcraft exhibits, including some imaginative designs.

There were 100 entries at the show, and four different winners of the cups:

  • Grahame Collins won the Hardwicke cup for the most points in the Narcissi classes.
  • Chris Jones won the Hillman cup for the most points in the Flower section.
  • Jane Geater won the Mann cup for the most points in the Floral Art Section.  It was a close competition and she won by a single point.
  • June Hiscock won the MacDonnell cup for the best handcraft exhibit for the second successive year, this time with her most unusual painting combining a person in profile and a tree.

I would like to thank the judges – Kelvin Mason (Flowers), Diana Amesbury (Handcrafts) and Becky Boswell (Floral Art), the exhibitors, the committee and everyone who helped on the day.  In the afternoon sunshine we had lots of visitors to the hall.  Our plant stall was busy.  The sale of seed packets raised £28 for the Newbury Foodbank, there were wooden hedgehog houses, bird nest boxes and even a wooden wheelbarrow planter available made by Alan Smith.  We also had delicious cakes, refreshments and a raffle.    The children were very busy with colouring activities, too.

A very enjoyable day was had by all!

Kate Miller (Show Secretary)

Web:  https://cahs.org.uk             Email: info@cahs.org.uk



Gardening for Wildlife – a talk

Tuesday 7th June in the Acland Hall at 7.30 pm


Summer Show

Saturday 10th September  in the Acland Hall

Apples and Apple Tasting

Tuesday 4th October in the Acland Hall

A Seasonal Arrangement

Tuesday 1st November in the Acland Hall

A demonstration with the option to make your own (for a fee)

AGM and Review of 2022

Friday 2nd December in the Acland Hall



Tongue-in-cheek, Sharon-lee Brookes of Hillier Garden Centre gave a fascinating talk on the intricacies of plant breeding to the Gardening Club after its Annual Lunch. Here I have taken a few of the tasty titbits to whet your appetite.

Plants don’t really have sex, not the way humans do – otherwise our gardens and greenhouses would be very different places if they did. They do, however, have male and female reproductive organs, which appear once or twice a year in the form of flowers. Just think about it, every time we delight in the bright and beautiful blooms, we are in fact admiring the plants’ genitals. Indeed, some of us even go as far as to bury our noses in the velvety petals and take a deep sniff of the intoxicating scent that is being produced!

Whilst flowers provide a stimulating feast for our senses, we are, of course not their intended target. The aim of a flower’s colour, shape and smell is to form a threesome and attract the attention of a pollinator such as: bees, butterflies, moths, birds and even small mammals. Like most seductive liaisons, the pollinators are tempted with a sweet incentive, in this case nectar, which is produced by small glands often located at the base of the flower. Floral anatomy is arranged so that pollinators have to push past the male stamens and receive a dusting of pollen on their bodies in order to get to the nectar. They then move to another flower where the pollen rubs off onto the female parts of the flower and pollination (or fertilisation) is achieved and the flower effectively becomes pregnant with what will, eventually, be a baby plant in the form of a fruit. The design of the reproductive organs has to be clever enough to ensure that pollen from the same flower doesn’t end up fertilising itself.

Some plants aren’t fussy about which pollinators they attract and usually have casual relationships, with a simple design that most birds, insects and mammals can easily access. But some have formed strong bonds with specific species with spectacular results. In fact, the very appearance of a flower can tell us which kind of pollinator the plant is in a relationship with. For example, the Heliconia (a houseplant in the UK) is in a monogamous relationship with hummingbirds. This relationship is so intense it has dictated not only the shape of the flower but its colour as well, for the hummingbirds are attracted to bright yellows, reds and oranges. Sometimes it is the flower that influences the shape of its pollinator. In South America, a passionflower called Passiflora mixta produces flowers with incredibly long, narrow trumpets and its pollinator is the sword-billed hummingbird, whose beak is longer than its body and tail combined. Whilst this committed relationship entitles the bird to exclusive access to the passion flowers’ nectar, it does have its drawbacks. Because the bird’s beak is so long, it’s unable to preen itself like other birds. The best it can manage is a vigorous scratch through its plumage with a foot.

The Phalaenopsis orchids are a little more direct with their bee pollinating partners. They have a method that ensures their pollen is delivered to exactly the right spot and not lost in transit. When a bee pushes its head inside the flower to get at the nectar, it triggers a spring-loaded trap that sticks a specially shaped packet of pollen onto the back of the bee’s head. The bee flies off, lands on another flower and pushes its head towards the nectar. As it does so, the female part of the flower collects the pollen parcel with a corresponding shaped hook and picks it off the bee. Most of these relationships which are responsible for the wide variety of flowers in the wild have been formed over a very long period.

Today, of course, there are many more varieties around for us to choose from, thanks to the obsessive efforts of plant breeders and growers. Most of the cultivated plants that we grow today have been pollinated artificially and bred for a very specific shape, size and colour etc. One of the oldest (and easiest) ways to artificially pollinate plants is to gently stroke the pollen off the male parts of one flower (usually with a small paint brush) and then dab it onto the female parts of another flower, effectively helping two plants that would never otherwise meet to have sexual relations.

Now, there was a time when this sort of behaviour was considered grossly improper, not to mention unnatural. Throughout the 19th century, brave and inquisitive men sailed off round the world to strange new lands in search of discovery and adventure. This was seen as an honourable way to prove themselves worthy of the affection of a sweetheart or betrothed. Quite often, they would return with rare and exotic blooms as the ultimate gesture of romance. In fact, a lot of these plants can still be found in British homes today as houseplants. When they were first brought back to England, many of these new discoveries caused a bit of a stir and were instantly coveted and are still much sought after. One such plant that offered immense variety in abundance is the famous orchid.

The name orchid is derived from the word ‘orchis’, Greek for testicle. This doesn’t refer to the flower but to the shape of the root tubers of certain types of orchid. Queen Victoria was an avid fancier of orchids and collected many during her reign. She even had an expert orchid breeder (a man, of course) who was employed to breed new varieties for her collection. Breeding and collecting plants were considered highly inappropriate for women at the time (because of the suggestive nature surrounding flowers) so for the ruling Head of State to be seen engaging in such an erotic activity was a scandalous embarrassment. Think about that when next you give a loved one an orchid as a present.

With thanks and apologies to the original author, Ed.


SAVED FROM THE SOUP                       by Minnie

Where were we? Oh yes, we were off to find the bedroom, well it had started to get dark, and we are used to sleeping in a barn, so being outside is a bit scary. Bunty decides to bivvy up in the corner of the run, marking herself comfy, we all think “Yep” she has the right idea, so all pile in one on top of the other, with Ginger (naturally) on top. ‘‘This isn’t so bad, is it girls’’, I say, ‘’Gnnumpf’’ says Bunty from the bottom.

We are all just nodding off, when the door of the run bursts open and in comes ‘Blondie’ shining a light at us and starts to laugh. “Rude”, me thinks. Blondie grabs Nora and shoves her through a little hole in the end of the run. “Scatter” squarks Ginger, “everyone for yourself” there is mayhem as we all charge around the run flapping our wings like we are birds or something.  Bunty is next to be pushed into the hole, then Ginger and then I am on my own. Blondie shines the light in my eyes and I am blinded, this is it a second time in two days, a lifetime of dutiful egg laying and this is my reward – pitched into the abyss. My mistake. The ‘hole’ turns out to be a rather nice bedroom, lots of straw in some nest boxes, all very cosy and we all settle down, Ginger picks the box with the most straw in the corner and shuffles her bottom into position! We all start to settle down when Ginger in her role as ‘General’ gives out the first order “I will take first shift as look out and then we will all take turns”. I look over to her but her eyelids are already drooping, within a minute we are all fast asleep, it has been a one hell of a day.

Next morning, we are all awake and pottering around the bedroom unsure what to do. Nora pops her head out of the hole to have a look and lets out a loud squawk, “BREAKFAST” and vanishes out the hole, we all follow suit and she’s right, we all get stuck in. Later in the morning ‘Chatty’ arrives and opens the door of the run. Nora rushes past her out the run onto the grass “LUNCH” she squawks.  She just can’t resist food, I’m sure her eyes are bigger than her crop. It is all going well, we are having our fill, ‘Ginger’ decides she is going to do some ‘reconnaissance’ and wanders off. Next thing it all kicks off, Ginger is charging across the grass wings a flapping, squawking ‘Enemy attack, enemy attack’ a brown head with white teeth is hard on her claws. Bunty swings around and raises herself to her full 1 foot 3 inches and flies at the brown head and pecks as hard as she can. Well, I can tell you we are all shocked, not the least the brown head, turns out to be a dog! It turns tail and runs to the other side of the allotment terrorised by a bird with no brains, Chatty and Blondie stand and laugh, it won’t be trying that again me thinks. Things are looking up and I strut off to find some yummy weeds. 

Minnie and her friends were rescued and re-homed in Cold Ash and will be back to tell you how things are going.



I have been having quite a bit of competition for the fruit and veg. that I grow, as I am sure you have. The worst culprits have been:


It seems they are keen to eat nearly everything that grows, including leafy beetroot tops, chard, young broad bean tops, and for pudding they really like the flowers on viola/pansies, marigolds etc. I had a really satisfying stand of cos lettuce, filling out and looking good for the Summer Show. Then one morning, there they were eaten halfway down.  Every single one. “Goodness gracious me, look at that”, I said.   How can I train them to eat a whole lettuce and leave some for me?  My garden is fenced, but nowhere near the six-foot needed to keep them out.  They do look nice with their big doey eyes, but then so do my flowers and veg., stood straight and tall.

It does seem the few things they are not keen on include begonias, heathers and even daffodils and tulips. Any suggestions apart from a taste for venison in the right season?


Peck, peck, peck. There goes a lot of things that are growing – kale above the netting, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, chard.  London and other cities have treated them as rats with wings, banning feeding and covering perches with wire or spikes, to good effect, too.

All I seem to be able to do to keep them at bay is cover everything – and I mean everything – with netting that they cannot peck through.   Do you need a licence now to hunt them or are they considered as vermin or game, I wonder?

Cabbage white and other pretty flying things

They do love to come fluttering about on nice sunny days, having a little rest on the buddleia then squeezing through the half inch netting to sit on the kale, cabbage and caulies.  No, not just sitting, but laying eggs. When these hatch out, the caterpillars soon get fat and big, eating all the leaves and quickly stripping them bare.  There are various sprays that might work but need reapplying if it rains.  I have heard that boiling rhubarb leaves and once cooled, spraying on fools the cabbage white into thinking it is rhubarb. Their taste buds are in their feet and so they don’t stop by.   Once I grew stem broccoli, which even after several soakings in salt water, still had caterpillars. I am under strict instructions never to bother, for I always do as I am told as you know.

Flea beetle

These are the tiny creatures that can fly through the finest of mesh with impunity, land on young rocket plants or similar salad plants and drill little holes in most of the tender leaves.   One option is to use Derris Dust and Enviromesh, but it is a lot easier to buy a bag of rocket at the supermarket.

Slugs ‘n snails

 They come out at night and like the smell and taste of beer.   I always think of slugs as homeless naked snails.  They do like young tender shoots, not only on vegetables but also on plants like Hostas which can quickly look very chewed.

Prevention varies from copper tape, eggshells, coffee grounds, to traps with beer in them (at least they will drown happy!).   Small amounts of ferric phosphate pellets can work but what then ingests it, when the dead slug is eaten? I must admit I have not tried going out at night with a torch to collect them and dispose of them well away or feed to chickens.  But then neither have I collected snails, fed them on a lettuce diet for a couple of weeks then cooked them with garlic butter.  Have you?


Here we are still climbing out of winter and already there are colonies of aphids appearing – roses, sweet pea seedlings, some veg., even my lime and lemon trees indoors.  Encourage wildlife – they need food at this time of the year.

Spray with water with a few drops of washing up liquid a couple of times gets rid of most of them, then a systemic chemical spray does the trick.


Every year I try to grow broad beans, planting in November then taking off in Spring.  The perceived wisdom is to remove the delicate tops (cook like cabbage) then you won’t get blackfly.  I do that, I try spraying with soapy water, milk and whatever.  The ants ignore it all, bring up the blackfly to enjoy the sap and then the ants farm the sweet sticky stuff produced by the blackfly.

It is a playoff between picking and podding the broad beans and ignoring all the black stuff on the pods.

There are of course many other things in our garden, mice who try to chew any stored food such as potatoes, moles who love to throw up mound of earth all over the place, voles who come up inside the strawberry netting and help themselves, cats who love to leave a deposit on dry beds.

There are some that I don’t mind, pheasants pecking for insects and seeds, woodpeckers looking for grubs in the lawn, the flocks of small birds diving about nervously.

I have to recognise that all of the above (or their ancestors) were here well before me, so they are entitled to squatters’ rights. Notices stating that my garden is PRIVATE LAND – KEEP OUT just do not seem to work.  Can’t they all READ??


SWEET POTATOES             Chris Jones

If you like sweet potatoes, why not have a go a growing them? It’s worth getting pot grown plants rather than slips as they will establish more quickly and get off to an early start. Sweet potatoes give a much better harvest if grown in a greenhouse or polytunnel.  Use a wigwam of hazel or bamboo canes for support and tie in the foliage. Give liquid feed regularly and keep well-watered.

Recommended varieties are Beauregard Improved and Carolina Ruby.

Supplier:  https://www.sweetpotato-slips.co.uk/


THE SHIMMER OF SILVER       Pauline Cload

Birches are some of the most distinctive types of trees. With their graceful canopy of fluttering leaves and beautiful white pealing bark they are an asset to almost any garden, as a statement tree or to create a place of lightly dappled shade. But they are also important trees in other ways.  Over 300 species of insects use birch as their home, in terms of biodiversity they come second only to oaks. As a pioneer species, Silver Birch (Betula pendula) was one of the first trees to colonise Britain after the last ice age.

They also are often the first trees to recolonise land after fires or if marsh lands are drained. Silver Birch prefers fairly dry light soils and plenty of light. They are a fast growing tree reaching a height of up to 30 metres in a few years. They are short-lived, with typical lifespans being between 60 and 90 years old, although some individuals can live up to 150 years. They can form woodlands; in areas allowed to naturally progress, they get replaced by larger tree species as these grow up around. The silver birches actively provide shelter and protection for their bigger and slower growing cousins.

Silver birches are popular in towns and cities, studies have shown that they are beneficial in that context. A single Silver birch tree is capable of removing 40 tonnes of C02 from air in 20 years, according to one study. Furthermore, BBC research showed that an avenue of silver birch trees planted along a busy urban road was responsible for reducing particulate materials by up to 60% in the homes of the residents living alongside them.

Silver Birch was used extensively by our ancestors. A number of birch specific fungi can be used for such diverse things as sharpening blades or holding embers for fire starting. The pealed bark has volatile oils that make it perfect as a natural firelighter. The wood itself is brilliant to feed fast burning hot fires. Larger pieces of bark stripped from trunks can be formed into containers, pots and baskets. If you want to try making a birch bark pot, here is a link to a tutorial – https://www.jonsbushcraft.com/birchcontainer.htm. The sap rising in the spring can be tapped as a sweet treat. 

Silver birch has both male and female flowers (catkins) on the same tree. The male catkins are formed in the autumn and will remain on the tree all winter opening in the spring. Unfortunately, all this pollen is notorious for producing hay fever (seasonal allergic rhinitis). Birch pollen is the most common allergy after grass and affects 25 per cent of people with hay fever.  The female catkins appear with the new shoots.  The female catkins, where the seeds develop, eventually disintegrate in September and October, releasing the seeds.

One tree can produce many thousands of seeds each year. The seeds are dispersed by the wind. They are tiny nutlets (only 2-3mm across) with two wings, helping them to travel up to one mile from the parent tree.


PLANNING AHEAD                                               Natasha Wilton   

I will be lucky enough to come and visit Cold Ash Gardening Club to give a talk about Seasonal Arrangements on Tuesday 1st November. At this time of year I start to grow flowers that are really useful in such arrangements.  If any of you are planning to join me in November or would just like to have a go at growing them, here is a list for my picking garden this year. 

Angelica – beautiful lime heads used dried. 

Scabiosa Stellata Sternkagel  – fantastic seed heads dried.

Rosemary – Used fresh

Rose Heads – Cut and dried

Hydrangea – Heads dried

Statice – Yarrow – Sea Holly – Flowers all dried

Happy Growing



Members may borrow an RHS Garden Card which belongs to the Society. It will allow up to two members entry to the RHS Wisley Gardens in Surrey, Hyde Hall in Essex, Rosemoor in Devon and Harlow Carr Gardens in North Yorkshire at 30% discount. Full details and loan of the Garden Card can be obtained from the Secretary,

email: Secretary@cahs.org.uk

Committee Members

President                                  Gill Hall                                    

Chairman                                 Rhona Tucker                         email: Chairman@cahs.org.uk

Vice-chairman                         Philip Russell

Secretary                                 Jane Geater                             email: Secretary@cahs.org.uk

Treasurer                                 Fred Davison                           email: Treasurer@cahs.org.uk

Show Secretary                       Kate Miller                               email: ShowSecretary@cahs.org.uk

Programme                             Jane Geater

Membership                            Chris Jones                              email: MembershipSecretary@cahs.org.uk

Editor                                       Fred Davison


Website:     cahs.org.uk

Email:         info@cahs.org.uk

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/653065025477925/

                                                                      Cold Ash Gardening Club was founded as

                                                            Cold Ash Horticultural Society and we have been affiliated

                                                                      to the Royal Horticultural Society since 1936












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