Newsletter from your Chairman March 2022


Hi everyone,

I was looking forward to writing this newsletter a week ago and, with covid infections on a steep decline, I was determined to be positive.  I am sure, like me, what is happening in Ukraine has really changed the mood in Britain. The video clips seen daily on our TVs portray images that I hoped I would never see in one of our European neighbours.  I find the suffering that the Ukrainian people are going through is most distressing.  At the time of writing this I cannot see Russia under the leadership of Putin ending this violent attack on democracy and the people of Ukraine.

It was so good to see so many of you at our meeting on 23rd March. Our guest speaker, Dr Henry Oakeley, gave a wonderful account of his explorations in Peru. His 28 trips to Peru gave us an insight into those parts of the country that he traversed in his search for orchids – certainly parts that were far off the beaten tourist track!  This month our speaker brings us back down to earth literally with a talk on “ Gardening in a modern environment” on Wednesday 30th March.  One of the biggest growth industries over the last 30 years has been that of garden centres and now supermarkets are getting in on the act with the sale of bedding and pot plants.  Certainly during lockdown I know that many of you found getting into the garden your way to escape from the worries of coronavirus.  New houses being built have much smaller gardens so I am looking forward to hearing John Allbut on the challenges that budding gardeners will have in trying to get the best out of their smaller garden spaces.

My u3a Primary Science group is used to hearing me say that one of the key science skills is that of observation.  On a walk in Ibiza recently I came across a sight that I had never seen before. This huge spike had appeared from a succulent that had been growing quietly for many years. It is in fact a huge flower spike some 2.5 metres long.

cactus spike
cactus spike

Having shown my photo to a Spanish friend she found another garden where the plants that we nicknamed the ‘Swan necked Triffid’ were flowering at the same time.  So what is it and what made it flower this year?  Its Latin name is Agave attenuata and it originally came from the plains of Mexico. I like its common name as ‘swan necked agave’ but it is also known as Foxtail or Lion’s tail.  In common with many succulents, all that energy put into the flower production exhausts the parent plant which then dies after flowering.  The parent plant may take between 10 and 20 years before it is ready to flower!  To the other question - I don’t know why it has chosen this year to flower, but Ibiza did have some frosts in January this year?

Hopefully you are all getting back to some degree of normality – most of our u3a groups have started again.  Some have vacancies so if you find a club on the website that you would like to join, please contact the group organiser. Remember if you are a new member and you have a skill or knowledge you would like to share, you can set up a group. Just contact Brian Swift, our Groups Organiser who will help you set up the group.

So, to conclude, I look forward to seeing you all again on 30th March. Once again take care, stay safe and keep healthy!

Best wishes

Mike Collins

Email [email protected]

PS Orchids in the Botanical Gardens in Kandy, Sri Lanka





orchid 2

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