Learn from the best – experts galore at Alexandra Park greenhouse this weekend

Apple and plant experts will be giving visitors some tips on growing healthy stock at a Heritage Open Day in Hastings this weekend.

Peter May, who has studied commercial horticulture, will talk about soil conditions and pests and diseases among apple varieties on Saturday (September 12th) at the Alexandra Park Greenhouse.

Apples expert Peter May.

The event will be part of two Heritage Open Days on Saturday and Sunday (September 13th) to celebrate the historic greenhouse’s history and to help the greenhouse group’s Crowdfunding appeal to raise £10,000 towards putting a permanent roof on the 1930’s structure. One of the group’s supporters has already pledged a substantial sum towards the work to repair the teak and cast iron greenhouse and install reinforced glass.

Mr May, who lives in Lewes, specialises in fruit trees. He works with the Brighton Permaculture Trust, based at Stanmer Park, Brighton, and his projects have included planting orchards at schools, community projects as well as planting private orchards.

He said: “I’ll be talking about the best soil and the different pests and diseases that can affect apples. I can also demonstrate tree grafting as well.”

Mr May took an apprenticeship in tree and shrub growing with Hillier Nurseries at Winchester and, for the last 15 years, he has worked with Permaculture Trust to propagate all 28 Sussex apple varieties. He co-wrote the book Apples and Orchards of Sussex, a cultural history of apple growing in the county, and he will have copies available to buy.

His talk will start at around 11.30am on Saturday, with the greenhouse open on both Heritage Days from 11am to 5pm. Admission is free. Social distancing measures will be in place and visitors are asked to wear masks. 

Cacti and succulent specialist Alan Bromley will also be there on Saturday to advise the public on propagating and caring for the many varieties available.

Alan Bromley with flowering cactus.

Mr Bromley, who lives at Laughton, near Lewes, started growing cacti and succulents when he was a teenager. He started a collection again in 2007 and now has about 1,500 plants in his greenhouses.

He is secretary of the British Cactus and Succulent Society’s (BCSS) Rother Valley branch which was formed 18 months ago and now has 26 members. 

Mr Bromley will be selling some of his stock at Saturday’s event and explaining the differences between cacti and succulents, he said: “Cacti belong to the same plant family, but succulents belong to seven families. There are different types of cactus; many people think that anything with prickles is a cactus, but they vary in shape and form.

“I grow a lot of cacti and succulents from seed. Most of them are easy to grow and need a sunny, south-facing position.  Some succulents will thrive in shady places and some epiphytic cacti grow in trees or on rocky slopes.”

Delicate bloom at Alan Bromley’s greenhouse.

Mr Bromley will be selling a booklet costing £1, produced by the BCSS, which explains how to cultivate the plants.

A permanent roof will allow the greenhouse to be used in all weathers for community groups, talks, horticultural exhibitions, concerts and social gatherings. The Crowdfunding appeal has raised more than £5,000 so far. Visit www.our-greenhouse.org  for information about the group’s work to date. Donors can contribute at  crowdfunder.co.uk/lets-raise-the-roof-and-grow-together

The campaign is supported by borough councillor Maya Evans who says: “The greenhouse will become an educational hub for the town. Education is the key to changing human behaviour and attitudes, which is essential for preserving precious natural spaces that support biodiversity, and help to tackle climate change.”

The BCSS’s Rother Valley branch website is  www.rothervalley.bcss.org.uk  and the society’s Sussex Zone, which covers Rother Valley, Brighton, Hove and Littlehampton, has a website at www.sussex.bcss.org.uk

And Eddie Weekes will be there too…

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