Biggleswade and District Gardening Club

PUBLISHED: 15:02 30 October 2006 | UPDATED: 11:06 06 May 2010

The October meeting saw the arrival of a 15 minute media celebrity in that the speaker, Alan Shipp had appeared in TV s Gardeners World on October 6 and then had a three page article about him in The Times Saturday Magazine the following day. Alan lives

The October meeting saw the arrival of a 15 minute media celebrity in that the speaker, Alan Shipp had appeared in TV's Gardeners' World on October 6 and then had a three page article about him in The Times Saturday Magazine the following day. Alan lives and farms in Waterbeach and for the last ten years he has held the National Collection of hyacinths. He is the only commercial grower of this beautiful and scented flower in this country. The title of his talk, not surprisingly, was The World of the Hyacinth and it is owing to his hard work and determination that he now has 170 varieties of the flower growing on his Cambridgeshire farm, whereas just a few years ago, there were only a dozen or so to choose from. Politeness has probably been a great help to him in that several years ago a plant centre in Lithuania wrote 23 letters to different countries asking for information on a hyacinth collection which they held and Alan was the only grower to respond. From that letter, he added 31 varieties thought to be lost to his collection and was able to supply much information to them to identify the plants they held. He is still in touch with these people and had attended an event at the Lithuanian Embassy the evening previous. Amongst the 31 varieties was a double yellow, long believed to be extinct. The first half of the programme was a hands-on demonstration of how to grow, multiply and preserve the species. A bulb was cut in half and the two pieces passed round the room and one could see that within the core, the flower was all there, waiting to grow and bloom. The higher temperatures in summer will make the bloom within the bulb and then all they need is a period of cold weather to extend the stem. If you grow in pots for the house, once the bulbs have had their cold treatment and the stem is doing well, then they may be brought inside for the flower to extend. If you plant outside, they need to be planted deeply, some 6 - 8" below the surface of the soil. If you do not do this, they will eventually make enough roots to drag them down to the proper distance. They really need to dry out in the summer, so choose a sunny site and with a clay soil a handful of grit at the bottom of the hole will help. After a coffee break some lovely slides were shown of bulbs easily found in garden centres, not so common varieties and the real rarities which are not numerous enough to be sold. The competition for the best houseplant was won by Val Penrose with an African violet, second was Francis Whitfield was a Christmas cactus and third was Tony Gray with lilies. The next meeting on November 15 at Stratton School is a celebration of the club's first 30 years.


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