1974-2016 and still going strong
The suggestion that a garden club be formed in the village came from the late Mrs Robinson and the inaugural meeting was held in her house “Little Haven “ in Troy Lane on 4th January 1974. Twenty –two people attended and the first committee was chosen. This consisted of the Chairman Dr Eustace Jones, who held an academic post in the University Forestry Department, Vice-Chair Caroline Robinson , Secretary Jane Briscoe and Treasurer Mary Clapinson. The committee drew up a constitution which was accepted at the first A.G.M. held in the “Bakehouse” on Feb. 15th 1974.
A plant sale in April that year was a financial success and also resulted in more members, leading to the meetings moving from homes to the old village hall. At the first meeting proper in November that year, John Mattock the local rose-grower, was the speaker. Meetings were initially 4 during the winter months increasing later to 6 and are now 7. For some years these were held on Fridays, but in 1990 Thursday became the day for groups and we were assigned the third in each month. Visits to gardens and places of interest were to be arranged for the summer months.
Since this is a source of income there are repeatedly-stated needs for more members. In fact the membership has fluctuated quite widely between the mid-30s and a high point of 61 reached in January 2010. Interestingly our neighbouring clubs have been going through the same cycle with associated concerns over their longer term survival, and it seems that with patience things settle once again.
This was initially set at 50p per annum increasing to £1 after a few years; £1.50 in 1987 where it remained until an increase to £2 in 1995. Since then there have been increases in line with other village clubs to £6 in 2010 and currently £8. Although over the years there have been recurring worries over the Club’s finances, these have always been resolved by the cyclical nature of the club’s membership. The bank balance has varied from as little as £350 to as much as £1300, at which point there have been hints of generous donations but history has successfully applied the brakes of caution!
These have been held in April every year since the club started. The archives are littered with reminders to members of the importance of these events. For many years the sales attracted a large number of non- villagers who could be seen anxiously waiting in an orderly queue with their boxes and bags for the door to the village hall to be opened at precisely 2pm. The stalls would be cleared of quality plants at bargain prices within 30 minutes. Nowadays, although the need for good plants remains a constant plea from the Chairman, the interest from non–villagers has declined. Nevertheless the income from our plant sales, augmented since 2008 by a smaller sale at the fete in early July, has held up quite well. Looking though the archives where, I might say, information has been collected very carefully and provides an easy answer to most of the relevant questions one might pose, the sales have achieved sums ranging from a modest £29.50 in 1976 to more than £400 in recent years, the highest being £470 in 2007.
Preparation for the plant sale is unchanging. Donors arrive with their loads of plants in mid-morning and the process of identification, labelling and categorising for sale undertaken. This is time-consuming (and often unrewarding if the quality of plants is poor) and these tasks, performed for many years by Kay King, have, for the past several years been done by Ann Mowat and Sylvia Oldcorn. Members often fail to realise that if they have an excess of a plant it is unlikely to be that rare specimen that the Amateur Gardener is seeking. Perhaps we should emulate the club of yesteryear with a gift of 6 bags of compost to those who had contributed most to the success of the plant sale. (There is no clue as to the origin of these bags nor who were the recipients).
For many years the plant sale was at the home of the Briscoes, and later the Barnes’s, Cornbrash House, but moved to the new village hall in 1988. The secondary sale at the fete was originally at the suggestion of the Fete Committee in 1990, and was so successful £125 was given towards renewal of the church gates. In 1984, the Allotment Association suggested that there should be a joint produce sale but this came to nothing, the only similar event being at the Millenium celebrations when the Village Hall committee organised a plant and produce competition that was won by the chair of the Committee, Ann Mowat.
We have been fortunate to have had an outstanding range of speakers, and if there has been quite a high level of repetition I believe this reflects the quality of gardens and speakers on our own patch, so to speak. Thus it would have been foolish not to use the wisdom of the Oxford Botanic Garden, Britain’s oldest, of Waterperry, the relevant University departments and the many gardens that surround us such as Rousham, Hidcote, Blenheim, Broughton, and many more. Timothy Walker from the Botanical Garden, the late Janet Cropley, and Mary Spiller from Waterperry became very familiar faces in the Village Hall. There is a constant search for good speakers especially those that have mastered Power-point and who have all the equipment they require. Exchanging information with other clubs has clearly been helpful in the past.
An important part of the need to raise funds is to cover the fees and travel expenses of our speakers. Thus looking back at the early fees they seem almost laughable; in 1976 Mary Spiller was paid £4.56. The sums did rise steadily but slowly so that in 1987 the same speaker charged £17.60; Janet Cropley charged £7.50 in 1984 but only 6 years later this figure had increased to £20. Nowadays even modest speakers charge fees and expenses of at least £50, while the best can command totals of well over £100. It can readily be appreciated that with several speakers the annual bill is considerable. However, there is only one year with a clear admission of over-expenditure, 1981. Joint meetings have been a way to share, and thereby reduce, costs. In recent years these have involved K.W.A.C.S. and the W.I. In practice the larger, combined audience is enjoyed by the speaker, while a fuller hall is appreciated by the audience. The difficulty lies in finding suitable topics that meet the needs of both groups. There seems to have been some difference of opinion over joint meetings as in 1991, a request from Kidlington Garden Club for a joint meeting was met with a rather snooty response that the club already had a full programme; yet 3 years later an invitation was to be sent to the club at Weston-on-the-Green, although this also does not seem to have borne fruit.
The costs of hiring the village hall have, of course, also risen with time but a brief move from the main hall to the smaller and cheaper Hazel Room was not a success.
At various times the Club has felt it appropriate to contribute to village life. Thus there have been donations to the Fete, the Pond Committee, the village hall and the church gates. Members have planted spring bulbs in various sites, these having been purchased via a gift of £200 in the will of the late Merle Ward. A Hungarian oak was planted in the village hall carpark area in memory of Dr Eustace Jones and although it died a short time later, its replacement is still going strong. Gifts of £25 from Hazel Budgett and £30 from Betty Jalley in 1990 were used, at the request of the Village Hall Committee, to buy trees and plants for the area round the hall. The club undertook the planting but in a letter made it quite clear they would not accept responsibility for future care!
Despite frequent requests to members to indicate their choices for outside visits, usually in the summer months, there is a disappointing sense of déjà vu when put beside current answers to the same question. Wisley, Kew, Chelsea and Highgrove are the usual replies, although the take-up of places on the coach often fails to make the visit viable. Highgrove remains on our wishlist as the previous visit was spoilt by heavy and persistent rain, and we remain hopeful as garden entrance has become less restrictive. Nevertheless, visits to other gardens have clearly been enjoyed including Hidcote, Frogmore, Sketchley Park, Deene Park, Chelsea Physic Garden, Westonbirt Arboretum and Bowood Park. Nearer to home, there have been summer social events with garden visits within the village and surrounding villages on an own-transport basis, while for several years there was a garden party. In the early years the venue was not stated but it was important that there should be raspberries. More recently the Barnes’s invited us to Cornbrash House, where there is suitable outdoor wet weather cover. Other gardens have been opened for walk-throughs on the way to the party.
The 30th birthday of the club was celebrated in 2004, it not being clear why this anniversary should have been chosen. Unfortunately, ignorance of this historical event prevented any repetition in 2014 but the committee of 2024 are hereby warned!
For many years arrangements have been made with Dobies of Paignton, Devon for a 50% discount on their seeds for bulk buying. This activity was shared with the Allotment Association but involved considerable effort in administration. The computer has now simplified the process with no need for a local agent but with retention of the discount.
Small discount were available to members in the past at Ashcrofts Hardware store in Sheep Street Bicester, but along with others of that kind, they have long since gone. Currently members can get 10% off all horticulture products at Yarnton Garden Centre and Preston Bissett Nurseries, on production of their club membership card.
The following villagers have held the various positions in the club:
Chairman: Dr Eustace Jones, Harland Turnbull, Michael Bramwell, Gill Harrison, Diana Barnes, Alastair Mowat
Vice–Chairman: Caroline Robinson, Ron Counter
Secretary: Jane Briscoe, Michael Bramwell, Elizabeth Vincenti, Jenny Hammond, Jo Morritt, Anna Whitworth, Wendy Basker, Sally Finesilver
Treasurer: Mary Clapinson, Giles Ivens, Michael Bramwell, Harland Turnbull, Ben Palmour, Eric Chalmers, John Moody
Alastair Mowat, Chairman, compiled and wrote this history of the Garden Club from extensive records kept since its instigation.