Friendly way to grow knowhow

Happy BETS Members.
Happy BETS Members.

I am constantly being reminded of the universal appeal of plants and of the diverse choice within the world of roots and shoots.

Some grow them of necessity to help feed a family, others find creativity, satisfaction and therapy in recreational cultivation.

Bishop dahlia.

Bishop dahlia.

The one constant that tends to run through it all is a need to discuss it occasionally with others of like-mind.

Gardening clubs and allotment societies play a key role in this by exchanging surplus materials and ideas, also in bulk-buying, keeping costs to a minimum.

Those people I meet who run such organisations never see it as a burden, rather a pleasure in being of help to fellow enthusiasts.

So when Gill, a member of Alnwick Garden Club, mentioned another local plant-based organisation she belonged to which had a slightly different modus operandi, I was curious!

Rainbow chard.

Rainbow chard.

Unlike our local garden club which runs on fairly traditional lines, but with four regular members giving a short, topical talk/demonstration each month, Gill’s is based on every member participating. Whereas, ours has a regular base, hers is a moving feast, visiting a different person’s garden each time over the spring to autumn sessions.

This club is a member of the long-established Borders Exchange and Trading System (BETS),, which might suggest that finance is involved in the movement of plants and sundries between members.

But that is not the case. The closest I can come to explaining it after a single visit, is that the ‘currency’ involved is similar to that in Monopoly only it’s not tangible, purely theoretical.

Members who wish to trade items use a Berwick ‘Bridge’, which is worth one point.

So, a decent potted plant might be available for 75 bridges. Barter, and you might just get it for 50.

My introduction to this unique gardening club came recently with an invitation to attend the final meeting of the session at the Beadnell home of organiser Jennifer Hall.

Members tend to live in the coastal area around Beadnell and Seahouses but anyone is welcome.

On this occasion, the intention was to look around Jen’s garden then get down to the serious business – but with heavy rainfall outside, we all sat around a table in her large kitchen.

Teas and coffees organised, Jen gave an outline of their organisation.

It transpired that they’d existed for almost five years and currently had 15 members.

The first round of contributions related to innovative or useful ideas.

It began with a small, screw-on spray nozzle in plastic that would fit most drinks bottles – ideal for the gentle watering of seedlings or reducing dust on house plant leaves.

A clip-on plant tie was next. And we’ve all cut up plastic cartons to make cheap plant labels, but this was different; after cutting the lid of an ice-cream box into strips, use a chino-graph pencil and the name will remain come hail, rain or snow.

It always did when we used them for petri dish experiments in school science.

Most novel money-saving idea was the glove trick.

If you have a favourite pair and one develops a hole, don’t discard it.

Remove all the fingers and thumbs and keep them as spares.

When one of the next pair in use has a holed finger, remove it. Put the substitute on your finger and don the glove!

The group moved on to favourite tools, an ancient hand fork with a crooked tine was produced.

Favourite lightweight secateurs, scissors and a swoe (backward and forward cutting hoe) emerged.

With them came provenance and how some had been lost in the garden then rediscovered.

All this in a very relaxed atmosphere.

Next up, we had a round comprising some plants that had performed well, others for identification and general questions emerged.

Although I did contribute, there was no pressure at all as a guest with other knowledgeable gardeners in the room.

One member had brought some colourful flowers of Bishop’s Children dahlias, which also have attractive foliage, raised from seed.

We discussed the merits of lifting tubers over winter or leaving in the ground.

Those lifted could be encouraged to offer stem cuttings in early spring.

A packet of rainbow chard Bright Lights seed was produced and a member sang the praises of this delightful ornamental vegetable.

How many bridges will that be worth, I pondered? Then a number of plants appeared and members got down to the nitty-gritty of bartering.

Two hours in the company of some lovely enthusiasts had flown by. This really is a garden club with a difference! The group meets monthly on Saturday mornings from spring to autumn. They trade unwanted seeds, produce, plants and sundries, all at no cost.

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