Friday 16th October 2020

Sing a song of seasons!

Something bright in all!

Flowers in the summer,

Fires in the fall!

(Robert Louis Stevenson)

This week the whole group met for another virtual gardening session on Zoom. The format still started with our old favourite, the

Plant Ident

Stalwarts for the winter months ahead featured this week. Good doers, so to speak. Evergreens, evergreys, everblues… We’re after shape and texture as well. Very designery.

Fatsia japonica

This one’s a real good doer. Great at the back of a shady border, but also magnificent in a big pot; grows to 2.5 – 4 m. Very architectural. Beautiful, glossy palmate leaves. Can be used as an indoor plant too. Produces interesting flowers in the autumn, slightly reminiscent of ivy flowers, which the RHS describe as ‘terminal compound umbels’. Prepare the soil well when planting. Can be prone to vine weevil (eurghh) – try treating with nematodes. Propagate from soft tip cuttings in the spring, or just go mad and buy one if you are after some instant impact. There’s another variety called ‘Spider’s Web’, which looks as if it’s been dusted with icing sugar.

Chamaerops humilis

A.k.a. the Dwarf Fan Palm, the most cold-hardy of all the palms and the only native European palm. Adds exotic flamboyance to any garden, emphasising a properly tropical vibe. Probably not best in a cottage garden setting, but placed in the right location, it’s a wowser – especially if there’s a small group of them. Can cope with a certain amount of wind, presumably because of its tough, fan-like leaves. At Garden House it’s in a pot in a north-facing situation and always looks good. There’s a blue form available too.

Euonymous fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’

A small, bushy evergreen shrub with a creamy-white margin around the leaves. Often develops pink highlights in the cold, winter months. Grows in most types of soils. Will climb if planted against a wall, and is also a good hedging plant. Easy to take cuttings from and responds well to being gently shaped or tightly clipped. Tough.

Polystichum setiferum ‘Herrenhausen’

A variety of our native evergreen fern, the Soft Shield Fern. Now that we’re all shielding, surely this is one to try? In the Crocus catalogue it’s described as having ‘filigree-fine fronds that form a lacy rosette’. Fabuloso! Total textural triumph. Likes fertile, humus-rich soil and is good in a shady border where its wonderful shape can be appreciated, or, if you have that kind of garden, it would be marvellous in a woodland area. Can be propagated from bulbils which grow from the stem; pin the fronds down ensuring the bulbils are in contact with the damp compost, and new ferns will grow.

Phormium ‘Black Adder’


Apparently, Phormiums (New Zealand Flax) have a reputation for being rather thuggish. Keep them encased within the confines of an attractive pot, however, and you’ve got a magnificently structural statement plant. A container may be the way to go if you have chalky soil, as these flourish best in clay. ‘Black Adder’ has long dark leaves and doesn’t get too big – growing to around 1 m. Easy to maintain, does well on a north-facing site, looks exotic. Essential.

Soil types

Our task this week was to split into break-out Zoom rooms (I always thought a ‘break-out’ involved prisoners or spots) and share our thoughts on the pros and cons of different soil types. Vastly assisted by an elegant essay written by one of our colleagues, here is a summary:

All soils benefit from improvement, so a compost heap is a must if possible. Good, weed-free, well-rotted horse manure is worth seeking out (but don’t apply it too near to established plants as it will ‘burn’ them). Leaf mould is worth making as it improves soil texture. Mix all three together, apply to well-watered soil, and you’re rocking!

Clay soil

Heavy, sticky, hard to dig, wet, solid and cold in the winter; baked dry and cracked in the summer. Heartbreaking. Don’t work on it or walk on it in the winter as it’s easy to compact the wretched stuff. Made up of small, fine particles. Takes time to warm up in the spring.

But. It’s more fertile than many other soils – and a wide range of trees, shrubs, roses, climbers and many bulbs are easier to grow in it.

Improving clay soils can be done by: digging in plenty of organic matter; adding grit, sand or gravel, which helps to open up the structure; using raised beds to assist drainage and avoid compaction; and (best of all) adopting a no-dig approach.

Top plants: Roses, Ribes sanguineum, Malus, Viburnum, Euphorbia, Mahonia japonica, , Hydrangea, Sorbus, Geranium

Chalky soil

As on the South Downs. Highdown Gardens is a good example.

Can be light or heavy, depending on location, and is characterised by the quantity of calcium carbonate present. It’s alkaline, so will not support ericaceous plants that need acid soil conditions to thrive. Generally speaking, this type of soil is shallow, very free-draining and low in fertility. Best to relish and cherish chalk, if this is your lot; go with the flow and plant accordingly. Things like Lavandula, Geranium, Ceanothus, Campanula, Clematis and Dianthus will do fine.

Sandy soil

Derak Jarman’s garden is certainly an extreme example of sandy soil, but he succeeded in growing a range of interesting plants even in these conditions. Although easy to cultivate and work, these soils are low in nutrients, dry out quickly and are often acidic ( the Fens). They’re very free draining and liable to be washed away by wind and/or rain. On the other hand, they do warm up earlier in the spring . Adding loads of organic matter helps to bind the light, loose sand into more fertile crumbs. Fertilisers are often necessary to assist growth.

Top plants: Lavandula, Buddleia, Choisya ternata, Geranium ‘Rozanne’, Verbena bonariensis

Silty soil

Intermediate sized particles typify this soil and it has a light, grainy texture. Possibly one of the better soils to have, (apart from loam), although it may suffer from wind erosion. Organic matter will improve what is already a good base and also help to prevent waterlogging and compaction.

Top plants: Cornus, Hellebores, Galanthus – but there are many others

In all cases, research the best plants for your particular location. Don’t fight nature, choose the right plant for the right place. Or use pots.

Jobs for the week

Succour your succulents and ensure they are in a dry/sheltered spot over the winter. Too much rain will drown them. Maybe take them into a conservatory or greenhouse.

Earth up leeks

This will help to produce lovely, long white stems. These leeks can be lifted as and when needed by the kitchen staff

Check Chrysanthemums

C. ‘Ruby Mound’ growing in the Garden House greenhouse border.

Begin to lift Dahlias for overwintering

At Garden House, the dahlias are taken out before the cold weather bites to make room for other plantings.  Remove the plants from the soil, digging deeply to ensure that the tubers are kept in a clump. Cut back the top growth, as shown above, and store in a cool, dry place to allow the tubers to dry off (but not dessicate).  Keep the right labels with the right tubers!

Meanwhile… a dark cupboard not far away…

where the Hyacinth bulbs were stashed a couple of weeks ago…..

Look what’s happening

They’re putting their roots down

It’s a miracle!

I wonder if there’s any space for me in that cupboard?

The annual bulb-planting bonanza will start very soon. Rest up and prepare yourselves!

Friday 9th October 2020

Question not the quality of these queenly quinces. They qualify as quite the best quartet in the garden today.

The tree from which they come, is Cydonia oblonga, currently bearing quantities of quinces; when mature, they turn a bright golden yellow. Quintessentially autumnal.

And, speaking of autumnal – this month, the RHS magazine features Asters in all their glory, with recommendations from top plantspeople.

Plant ident.

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘Helen Picton’

One of the recommended varieties in The Garden is this magnificent semi-double variety, named for Helen Picton, the holder of a Plant Heritage National Plant Collection of Aster and related genera at Old Court Nurseries. In September/October, rich, violet-purple flowers adorn this upright plant which needs little in the way of staking. Plant in full sun. 1.2 m tall. A stunner and holder of an A.G.M.

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Silver Heart’

A good clump-forming hardy herbaceous perennial for shade, with heart-shaped silver leaves which are edged with green. Delicate deep blue flowers appear in the spring – reminiscent of Myosotis (Forget Me Not). The soil needs moisture and good preparation for this to flourish – improve it with compost and leaf mould. Good ground cover and lovely in a woodland garden. Another good variety is ‘Jack Frost’.

Tricyrtis formosana ‘Empress’

Its botanical name looks much more impressive than its common name: Toad Lily. Its big virtue is its ability to thrive in dry shade. Small, white lily-like flowers are splashed with purple spots and emerge from July -September. A Japanese species, it’s hardy and can be propagated by division in the spring. h. 0.65 x w. 0.40 m

Hylotelephium ‘Matrona’

‘Sedum’ was too simple a name for this garden stalwart, so the Botanical Boffins decided that ‘Hylotelephium’ would be more challenging for the poor gardener. And it is. Another hardy herbaceous perennial, the Stonecrop is a magnet for bees and hoverflies, provides a good splash of autumn colour and the seed heads give continued interest through the winter. The succulent dark leaves are held on pale magenta stems; flower heads are soft pink becoming dark red with age. Needs sun.

Giving these plants the ‘Chelsea chop’ in May (when the Chelsea Flower Show is held) helps guard against them becoming too big, flopping about and exposing their midriffs (I ask you). For goodness sake, cut one in three stems back by at least two-thirds to keep them compact and save them from embarrassment. A.G.M.

Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Dark Knight’

A terrific deep blue form of Caryopteris, loved by bees and butterflies. An autumn flowering shrub, good in the garden and as a cut flower. Needs sun. Glaucous (not raucous) foliage. Cut back to a shaped framework in March. Grows to around 1 m. and can be propagated from softwood, semi-ripe or hardwood cuttings. Very obliging of it.

Jobs for the week

Complete picking tomatoes if not already done

All can be used in different ways

Prepare and plant the beds underneath the arches

First, the beds are weeded

and plants are removed and stored for use elsewhere

The soil is improved with compost –

combined with leaf mould and some pelleted chicken manure

by the barrowload

It’s all about teamwork

Smile, team!

Hollyhocks are planted towards the back of the bed

and white foxgloves are added as well.

Hardy geraniums go in. Good ground cover and pretty

Plant bulbs deeply, in groups of 3, 5 or 7

Narcissus ‘Jack Snipe’ and species Tulips will be lovely

A kind person organises and delivers all the planting material

Put your best foot forward and it will all get done…


Take root cuttings of Papaver orientalis. New plants for free!


Read a colleague’s essay on the subject of soil. (It’s filthy.) We need to gen up on this subject – it’s central to everything that goes on in a garden. What are the different types of soil – sand, silt, peat, chalk or loam? How can you test for the pH value of your garden’s soil? How can one go about improving soil? What sort of plants are best grown in these different situations?

Questions will be asked.

And answers expected

Now, who is this essay writer?

Who’s responsible for all this extra work and stress?

Hmm. Someone’s looking suspiciously innocent.

Paulownia tomentosa, the Foxglove tree, gradually losing its stunning heart-shaped leaves. Perfect against a literally sky-blue background

Don’t forget the homework!

Friday 2nd October 2020

October? Already?

So, what’s the story, Morning Glory?

That bygone duo, Flanders and Swann, had it about right –

‘Then October adds a gale

Wind and slush and rain and hail…’

Well, at least it’s not too cold. Yet.

So here we are for another socially-distanced Friday Group session.

Wave, please, everyone! No? Suit yourselves.

Plant Ident.

This week it’s all about autumn performers. Invaluable to the gardener, as they extend the season right through to the first frosts. And beyond! Zingy colours, seed heads, panache – others may be putting their gardens to bed, but why? There’s still so much to enjoy.

Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Orpheus’

Previously known as Asters, these late-flowering herbaceous perennials come into their own now. Vibrant lavender-blue flowers surround a central yellow disc and are borne in clusters above lance-shaped leaves. Apparently, the yellow centres turn pink when pollinated by bees. A kind of traffic-light communication system. Isn’t nature wonderful? Clump-forming and better for being staked; likes full sun or part shade. Dies back in the winter.

Rudbeckia fulgida var sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’

The photo fails to do these beauties justice. En masse (e.g. at Sussex Prairies) they are breathtaking. Another member of the Asteraceae family and a herbaceous perennial as well. Once the sunshine-yellow daisy-style flowers are over, the brown cone-shaped seed heads add interest to the winter garden, especially when touched with early morning dew or frost. Tough as old boots, and essential for the autumn. Thrives in moist, well-drained soil in full sun or light shade. Increase by division. A.G.M.

Fuchsia magellicana

Such a beautiful, hardy shrub. Deep purple sepals are enclosed in delicate crimson petals, the delicate flowers dangling gracefully like earrings. They are small but plentiful and are a terrific addition to a garden border. Can grow to 2.5 m high, and will cope well with being pruned back to the ground in April. Manages in pretty well any soil, but likes to be sheltered and out of the wind. Don’t we all?

Salvia rosmarinus

Many herbs are sub shrubs (having a woody base and soft upper growth) and Rosemary is one such. A fantastic plant for the dry garden, with many culinary uses. Lovely to use in a cut flower arrangement, as its evergreen needle-shaped leaves are aromatic. Its flowers can be blue, white or pink, depending on the variety, and appear in spring/summer.

Calendula ‘Indian Prince’

One of the best hardy annuals – plants which can be sown now (but get your skates on), grown into small plants, then overwintered in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse. They can cope with the cold, but not with incessant wind and rain. Who could? Plant out in February/ March 30cms apart. Other hardy annuals include Sweet Peas, Ammis, Cornflowers. Fab for cutting.


An annual. But a half-hardy annual. These plants cannot survive outdoors until all danger of frost is past. They are sown, grown, set seed and die all in the same growing season. So put these packets of seed aside until next year. Phew! Petunias are brilliant for bedding schemes, patios, pots, troughs, baskets and borders. They take ages to germinate, so need to be started earlier than many other half-hardy types like Cosmos and Nicotiana.

Ginkgo biloba

Also known as the Maidenhair Tree, the Ginkgo is an ancient and venerable species, one which has survived for thousands of years. So old, it is sometimes referred to as a living fossil. As is this blogger. Trees are perennials with trunks, supporting branches and leaves. Surprisingly, this one is coniferous and, as its name suggests, its fan-shaped leaves are 2 -lobed. They turn bright yellow in the autumn. Slow-growing and much loved in the Garden House garden.

Jobs for the week

Masked and mysterious, Friday Groupers distributed themselves around the garden to get on with all the little jobs on hand.

Some enjoyed it

Whilst others,

it’s fair to say,

weren’t quite so enthusiastic

But did a lovely job, nonetheless

Terrific terrarium a-go-go

Seed sowing

Salads for overwintering. Who knew? Mizuna, Mustard, Lamb’s Lettuce, plus herbs like Coriander, Rosemary and Oregano.

Fill wine box with compost. Sow seeds thinly. Sift soil to cover lightly.

Covering the box with cling film encourages germination

Place in greenhouse until the seedlings start to grow.

Great interest was shown in the impressively extensive number of wine boxes at Garden House

Make autumn wreaths

Assemble a cornucopia of autumnal delights: cones, rosehips, physalis, greenery, toffee apples, whatevs.

Wind into, onto and in-between a prepared twig wreath

And, hey presto! A wreath magnifique!

Now eat the toffee apples.

Pot on Pansy seedlings

One plant per small pot

Now, where did those toffee apples go?

Hyacinths for indoor flowering

If prepared hyacinths are established today, they will be in flower in 3 months time – so should be ready by 2nd January. Start the timer now.

These pink bulbs are H. ‘Fondant’

Leave about one third of the bulb above soil level. Water sparingly, label and put into a cool, dark place like a shed or garage until the hyacinth shoots are about 5 cm high. (They need to be below 9 degrees C. to force them into growth.) Then bring indoors into a fairly cool room to bring them gently into flower. After flowering, the bulbs can be planted in the garden.

These white bulbs are H. ‘Aiolos’

Hyacinth bulbs can also be placed on top of glass forcing vases filled with water. The base of the bulb should barely touch the liquid. Keep an eye on them as they will need a little topping up as they start to grow, but be careful not to add too much, as the bulbs may rot. Same treatment as above: into a cool, dark place until shoots reach 5 cm.

Work in the greenhouse

Sow hardy annuals in pots, pick any remaining tomatoes, remove tomato plants, plant Chrysanthemums. It’s all going on in here.

Looking good

Cut back the Ficus carica

Some like this job

Others couldn’t give a fig

Prune the Rosemary

Prune the Raspberries

These ones are summer fruiting, and bear fruit on growth made the previous season. They need to be pruned now to remove old, dead and diseased wood and give the new wood plenty of time to grow for next summer’s crop.

Pruned and perfect!

Don’t get muddled and blow raspberries at the summer prunes


Some even found time to enjoy the traditional Friday Group Cake Break. After all….

friday 25th september 2020

Wet. Chilly. Are we deterred? Are we heck as like. This is Friday Group we’re talking about.

Still plenty of beauty in the garden

So true

And at Garden House, preparations for a new project are already well underway. The rather sick box hedge around the border in the lawn area has been removed; the box has been boxed up and is gone. Now the rest of the plants need to be dug out before work goes ahead on the planned dry garden.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves; first it’s time for the

Plant ident.

This week it’s all about plants suitable for dry conditions. How timely.

Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spire’

Russian Sage. Such a great plant for this time of year. Long silver-grey branching stems and delicate foliage contrast wonderfully with blue flowers which shimmer in the sunshine. A sub-shrub, with a woody base and soft upper growth, and part of the Lamiaceae family (commonly known as the Mint, Sage or Deadnettle family) many of which are culinary and/or aromatic. Square stems are a characteristic feature of this group. Attractive to birds, bees and other insects. Grow in full sun and well-drained soil; cut hard back in March. ‘Little Spire’ is an attractive smaller version of the type.

Atriplex halimus

Related to Red Orach, this evergrey Tree Purslane has strikingly beautiful silver-grey oval leaves, which are its main attraction. It grows to around 2 metres, creating an effective anchoring point in a Mediterranean-style border. Thrives in hot, dry conditions and enjoys a saline environment – hence, good near the coast. Try taking cuttings…

Ballota pseudodictamnus

Soft silver-grey leaves make this a very tactile plant. Known as False Dittany, this sub-shrub in the Lamiaceae family can often be confused with Phlomis. Whorls of pink flowers emerge on the stems in the summer. Likes full sun and flourishes in poor, well-drained soils. Easy from cuttings. So take them!

Gaura lindheimeri ‘The Bride’

Easy from seed, this popular but short-lived perennial is useful in any herbaceous border and especially in cottage garden planting schemes. Can also be grown from cuttings (from non-flowering side shoots). Spectacular when grown as a combo en masse with Erigeron karvinskianus. Wildlife friendly, simple, effective, a must! Don’t cut back until March.

Glaucium flavum

The Horned Poppy, familiar in eastern seaside locations in the U.K., has ephemeral, brilliantly coloured flowers and amazing, long, curved seed pods. Flowers can be orange or yellow, whilst the ruffled leaves are silver-grey-blue. Great in gravel gardens.

Jobs for the week

The same as last week, but groups swap their jobs. The Digging Group were tasked with removing Red Hot Pokers from the border and taking out the bottom branches of an Olive tree.

Clearing the border

Plants set aside and ready to be re-located

Pruning the Olive Tree

Do it mindfully

But of course!

Ah. He’s clearly relishing a bit of pruning. Looks rather jolly for our liking

Hmm. Much too jolly

Meanwhile, the Cuttings Group continue to take cuttings of tender perennials, like Salvias, Fuchsias and Plectranthus, as well as other perennials.

Plectranthus ciliatus

Needs care with pronunciation, but propagation is easy from cuttings.

Gently insert the cuttings into a free-draining 50:50 mix of perlite and compost. Try to ensure the bottom leaves of each cutting are just touching the soil’s surface. In a propagator they should root in 1 – 2 weeks. Over the winter months, they will need protection in an unheated greenhouse or cold frame

Sometimes it’s hard to communicate whilst wearing a mask

So alternative forms of communication are evolving

Sorry. Absolutely no idea what’s going on there.

Sometimes it’s helpful to discuss concerns with a friendly face

It’s very cathartic

The Jiffy 7s which were sown with seeds last week are on a heated mat in the greenhouse. More will join them this week

They’re doing well

Quality Control checks the temperature is exactly right

Looks purrfect

A well-prepared Friday Group member reveals her work/health & safety bag.


Although a low tub trug such as this is also useful, for taking home any Garden House goodies. There always seem to be some.

Better than sweets – and less calorific

Friday 18th SEPTEMBER 2020

We started our session this week by thinking about plants we love, together with a wish list of things we’d like to learn. Featured were: old Roses and Pelargoniums, zingy yellow Rudbeckias and purple Asters, Grasses of all sorts, Geraniums, Cottage Garden plants. Also: propagating, pruning, planning and design, continuous development and learning, extending the season, gardening in pots, plantings for dry gardens, annual tasks, perennial plants…

Garden House is always looking ahead to the next Big Thing. Spring bulbs are currently high on the list. Hence the digital display board showing ideas for future planting schemes –

Perhaps not a digital display board

Two new Japanese gold standard additions were introduced:

We really dig them

Plant Ident.

This week it was all about weeds. What is a weed? Now, here we could go all philosophical and say it’s a wild and lovely plant, not in quite the right place. But, basically, they are plants that we humans don’t like or want in our gardens. Out they must go. They may be highly invasive, poisonous, stingy, pernicious, prickly, or – heaven forfend – inferior to cultivated varieties.

Where do they come from? Perhaps from next door; dropped by birds or other wildlife; in plants you have bought or been given; blown in on the wind; brought in on boots and shoes; carried on dirty tools. The message is clear: be vigilant at all times. Body searches may be necessary. But there may be court cases.

So, what to look for? Here are a few for starters:

Euphorbia peplus

This annual weed is from the Spurge family, and is also known as Common or Petty Spurge. Euphorbias are generally highly desirable garden plants, but this isn’t one of them! Will seed itself around unless controlled, but can be removed fairly easily if pulled gently. Like all Euphorbias, it has a toxic, milky-white sap which is a skin irritant, so wear gloves. Make sure you get all the root out.

Calystegia sepium

Hedge bindweed. Lovely! Such a pretty flower. White and innocent. Don’t be fooled. It’s a perennial weed and devious in the extreme. This stuff is horrific once you get it in your border. It will make itself quite at home there and grow ten times better than anything else. Can climb with ease (see picture below) and does so vigorously, entirely without the aid of a safety net. Climbs anti-clockwise – check it out! Pull long skeins of it out by the roots – fast. Will re-grow from any smidgeon of root left behind.

Good luck

Oxalis corniculata

What a pretty name – and its common name is even more charming: ‘Sleeping Beauty’. Also known as Creeping Woodsorrel. The clue is in the ‘Creeping’ part of the name. Tenacious, persistent, annoying, stubborn. Like many a teenager, in fact. It’s a perennial pest, growing from miniature bulbils and also spread further by its tiny seeds. An utter joy for the weary gardener, it’s virtually impossible to shift. Worse still if you are of the organic persuasion. Dig out by hand, ensuring you remove every morsel of root/bulbil/stem. Or resort to the flame-thrower. Or explosives. Cake can be useful as a sedative.

Senecio vulgaris

Groundsel is an ephemeral weed with branching stems holding clusters of yellow flowers which turn into white, fluffy seed heads. Catch those seed heads before they drift off in a romantic fashion. Better still, pull out groundsel before it flowers. Make sure you are not pulling out a rare specimen of something else in the Asteraceae family which you’ve been trying to grow for the last five years. Just saying. By the way, ephemeral weeds are even better than annual weeds in that they germinate, grow, flower and set seed several times in one growing season. Just think, millions of seeds per year. Marvellous.

Veronica chamaedrys

Germander Speedwell is really quite inoffensive as far as weeds go. Easy to remove, it has small, pretty blue flowers. Perennial and a member of the plantain family.

Anchusa officinalis

Alkanet or Common Bugloss is an upright perennial weed with lance-shaped hairy leaves. Related to Borage, Myosotis and Pulmonaria, a perennial weed with attractive blue flowers and a tap root which is heading for the centre of the earth. Try to get the whole of it out, or it will re-grow. Tough stuff this weed business.

Jobs for the week

Another new piece of kit. Very exciting. What could it be?

A paddling pool?

Certainly not! It’s a holding pool for plants recently dug up and divided and awaiting their new home in the garden.

Tasks this week involved removing/dividing geraniums from the border adjacent to the lawn and taking cuttings of tender perennials.

Dig up and divide geraniums

Try to dig up a large clump. Cut the foliage hard back before placing the plant in the holding pool. Green waste can go into green trugs for the compost heap.

Attention to detail is everything

Everyone’s bent on doing a good job

Take cuttings of tender perennials

A tender perennial (usually herbaceous) is one which will generally not survive the cold winter months unless given protection. Left outside, it will likely die. Taking cuttings of plants which fall into this category both insures against loss and increases stock for the following year. Plants on today’s propagation list: Salvia ‘Nachtvlinder’, Salvia confertiflora, Salvia ‘Amistad’, Linaria ‘Peachy’, Plectranthus argentatus and Plectranthus ciliatus.

Remove a few non-flowering stems from the plant in question and place immediately into a damp plastic bag. The stems should be soft and ‘flippy-floppy’ (technical term), not woody. Fill a 3 cm pot with potting compost, then strike off any excess. Cut beneath a leaf joint with clean, sharp snips or a knife, making a cutting of about 4 cms. Remove any large leaves to reduce transpiration and all lower leaves to prevent rotting.

Plectranthus argentatus cutting

Cover with vermiculite or horticultural grit and water lightly. Label. Place in a warm spot (a greenhouse or window sill) until they have rooted as in the photo below

Then they can be potted on into 7 cm pots.

All work will be scrutinised

That cat will never find out who we are now that we’re wearing masks.

Over winter, the rooted cuttings can be kept in a cold frame or cold greenhouse to keep them frost free and out of the rain and wind. Like us, they are averse to freezing conditions.

Sow seeds in Jiffy 7s

These are little compressed pellets of compost which swell when submerged in water. So, they went for a swim in the not-a-paddling-pool. Nicely plumped, they were then ready for seeds to be planted.

The propagation adventure continues

More next week!

Friday 11th September 2020

It’s September. We’re back! Sharpened pencils at the ready; new pencil cases; pristine notebooks; clean fingernails. All ready to set off on a new horticultural year at Garden House. Happy days.

Some changes, due to the Challenging Times we’re living in. We meet in smaller, socially-distanced groups. We are experts in Health and Safety and can discuss the pros and cons of any number of hand sanitisers with you. Mask fashionistas too: it’s a veritable Venetian Carnival here. Plus, our briefcases are choc full of tools, gloves, snips, secateurs, shears, hair clippers… (oh, wrong tool) and cake. Everything needs to be clearly labelled. Like so…

There are plans afoot to create a dry garden area in view of the current need to conserve water. This will mean researching drought tolerant plants and how to further improve soil to aid water retention. Other items on the menu for this year’s curriculum will be lawn care, pruning, plant identification, ideas for planting combinations, taking cuttings. A heated propagator would be a good addition to one’s home gardening kit, for obvious reasons.

Plant ident .

This week the topic was grasses, which belong to the Poaceae family. A fabulous addition to any planting, there are grasses for all shapes and sizes of garden, providing interest for much of the year. Colour, movement, structure – they have it all – as well as being extremely tactile. And as for susurration? My dear, they’re a must. Being wind-pollinated, they don’t need flowers to attract pollinators.

Pennisetum macrourum

African Feather Grass grows to around 1.5 m and looks great in a dry, sunny position, providing a strong vertical statement in the border. Hardy, but not evergreen, it carries long, compact, soft cream flower heads over clumps of grass-like leaves from late summer to autumn. A.G.M.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferner Osten’

The slender, narrow leaves of this ornamental grass hold spectacular dark red plumes aloft from summer to late autumn. The leaves themselves also colour to copper and red. Deciduous, but maintains interest through the winter months. Cut back hard in February/March as the new growth starts to appear. Grows to around 1.8 m and is best in a sunny, open position with plenty of space to display its magnificence. A.G.M.

Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’

A much smaller grass, but equally eye-catching, with vivid bright yellow/green striped leaves. Grows to about 35 cms. Deciduous and fully hardy. Has a modern minimalist vibe, and looks great in planters as well as at the front of the border or as an under-planting. Best in sun or part shade in moist, well-drained soil. A.G.M.

Anemanthele lessoniana

Try saying that with a mouthful of cake. A wonderfully ornamental wind grass, providing interest throughout the year. Initially emerging green, the foliage later colours with streaks of red, orange and yellow. Likes full sun/partial shade and moist but well-drained soil. Evergreen. Comb its hair through in the spring (we should all be experts in this by now) to remove dead grass. Divisions can be made in spring/early summer. Grows to about 1 m. A.G.M.

Stipa tenuissima ‘Wind Whispers’

Taller than the general species, growing to around 90 cms, the fine hairy leaves of this Stipa waft gently in the breeze. Best grown in quantity to reveal its graceful elegance. Hardy and poetic.

Stipa gigantea

It’s a big ‘un. And an all-time Garden House favourite. The spectacular Oat Grass can grow to 2.5 m. Not so much a statement, more an exclamation. Arching stems of golden oat-like flower heads shimmer in the sunlight, floating above slender grey-green foliage. Majestic. Grow one as a specimen plant – or several if you have the space. A.G.M.

Jobs for the week

Easing us in gently, the main task this week was weeding. Just to make sure we could remember the difference between plants to go and plants to keep. Green trugs for compostable refuse. Black trugs for bad thugs.

Others were set to cutting back shrubs. And they set-to with vigour.

A second summer

It’s hot stuff

It’s good to be back

Friday 17th July 2020


Time to celebrate the end of a rather strange year for Garden House and Friday Group.  Zoom sessions will continue for another 4 weeks, but today is when we say our formal farewells.20200717_135807

So, open the gate….


And come on down into the garden


Let’s check out what’s flowering

Who knew, in September 2019, that “Zoom”, “social-distancing”, “virtual hugs” and “PPE” would become terms we’d acquire over the course of the year?


Actually, I did.

Never mind, let’s think about all the positives. It’s the summertime and the weather is fine. Some say there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues….but we beg to differ


A socially-distanced chat


Time to appreciate the garden


It’s in the pink!

And time to enjoy each other’s company


…not forgetting a little something to eat

…and drink


Here’s to all members, past and present

Now, what’s caught their attention?


Oh, another good story!


Then it’s time for…


The Speech


A celebration of Friday Group!

Au revoirs are always sad – please keep in touch


Some have been coming for years


We’ll miss them terribly!

Farewell for now


Happy summer all!

Be safe.

Friday 10th July 2020

This week, we Zoomed around another lovely garden owned by one of the infamous Friday Group. A real treat. Packed full of interest, from a clever trompe l’oeil effect to a great choice of fence and shed colours, to some wonderful/some weird scented plants. Loads of good ideas for us to take away and try in our own gardens. It’s all gravy! (Or, in our case, cake.)img_20200710_091749657_hdr

Initially, faced with a very traditional rectangular back garden, the owner attended Deborah Kalinke’s course in Garden Design, and then implemented changes. The rear garden is approached from a balcony with steps leading down – offering a change in perspective. A curving sinuous path went in, two grass circles surrounded by beds, a close-boarded fence was painted black (so good), and a mirrored “gate” was installed, which magically appears to open out into another area of garden. A veggie patch was created “all you can eat in 3 square feet”, the tiniest Mediterranean garden, a shady area, the smallest prairie garden in the south-east, a pebble pond, pots, a little greenhouse. Incredible.  And, a darling blue shed; the icing on the cake, and the owner’s pride and joy.img_20200710_122312958

We all want one

Plants a-plenty, of course. We expect nothing less from a long-standing F/G member. Highlights were: Wisteria – now heading for its second flowering of the year; the dry area planted with an Olive tree, Lemon thyme, Euphorbias, Salvias and a fabulous Jasmine; the vegetable area – Tomatoes, Carrots, climbing and dwarf French Beans, Cavolo Nero, Beetroot, Nasturtiums, Strawberries and a Crab Apple tree. And a mahoosive Rhubarb. And Peas growing up a trellis. How is it done? However it’s done, she goes on to do yet more in the shade – with Hart’s Tongue Fern and other varieties planted alongside Phlomis russeliana, Astilbes and Astrantias. Betula ‘Snow Queen’ also makes an appearance along with a dramatically impressive Dranunculus (sounds like Dracula’s uncle and, by all accounts, smells like him). Grasses and Thalictrums sway together in vertical harmony.

The Plant Ident. centred on five of the owner’s favourites:

Buddleia alternifoliaimg_20200604_175514

The slender branches of the Fountain butterfly bush have a weeping habit and are covered with soft purple or pink racemes of flowers in the early summer – flowering on the previous year’s stems. A hardy (A.G.M.) shrub, it will grow in sun or part shade, in pretty much any type of fertile soil, reaching around 4 m  x 4 m. Buddleias are magnets for wildlife – bees, moths, birds and butterflies – and are virtually mandatory in any naturalist’s garden. Probably in naturists’ gardens too, but perhaps for different reasons.

Malus ‘Laura’ img_20200425_182422

Crab apples are such rewarding trees to grow, giving interest over much of the year. Buds and flowers in spring and summer are followed by fruit which can be picked and enjoyed by humans and birds alike. ‘Laura’ is a small, deciduous tree with leaves which emerge as bronze/purple in spring but turn dark green by summer. The flowers are dark pink with lighter centres and remain on the tree for longer than regular apple trees. The crab apple fruits are maroon/dark red and can be used for making jelly, which has a red tint to it. Grows (slowly) to about 2.5 m., upright in habit, (haughty horticulturalists would say ‘fastigiate’), and doesn’t take up much space. A good choice for a small garden.


Speedwell is a tough, long-lived perennial which is deer resistant, drought tolerant and can cope with a range of soil types. There are many different varieties, and although the name of this particular cultivar is unknown, its vivid blue makes it invaluable both in the border and the vase. Attractive to pollinating insects, it satisfies any gardener’s demand for eco-credentials. Best in full sun.

Lupins (mixed)img_20200527_075603

If you can grow specimens like these, then you’d be mad not to. A traditional cottage-garden plant with pea-like flowers which are loved by bees (good) and slugs and snails (bad). Strong vertical spires in a range of mouth-watering colours. Grow in full sun or partial shade in moist, well-drained soil. Deadhead after flowering, and you may get another flush of flowers. Cut back to base in the autumn after seeds have formed. Often lupins will self-seed around naturally; alternatively, basal cuttings can be taken in spring.

Dranunculus vulgarisimg_20200602_191832

The Stink Lily – highly impressive and highly stinky. Has been described as ‘indispensable exotica’. The smell (like rotting flesh) attracts the type of flies it needs to pollinate it. Nice. Lovely colours though. About 1 m tall.

Rosa ‘Wedding Day’img_20200607_091508

A rambling rose that just loves to ramble higher and higher. This one rollicks about on a Lilac and is stunning when it flowers in May/June. Attractive hips are produced in abundance in October. Glossy, dark leaves offset the fragrant, white, single blooms which are borne in clusters. Stand back, as it can get to 10 m+.

Jobs for the week

Meanwhile, back at Garden House, the week’s tasks centre around weeding, watering, feeding, more weeding, staking, taking cuttings (especially of Salvias and Pelargoniums) and labelling. Sow Ipomoeas (Morning Glory) – it’s not too late – and maybe try for another crop of Sweet Peas. Veggies? Go for Pumpkins, Cavolo Nero, Spinach and Chard. They’re good for you. jeshoots-com-l8nlxbhwbw0-unsplash

Sow now for autumn fruition. You’ll reap the benefits.

Friday 3rd July 2020

How very exciting!  Over the course of the day, some Friday Groupers visited the garden in socially-distanced small groups. And found that summer had definitely arrived


Everything’s looking good


And we aren’t the only ones to have been Zooming recently. Look at this –


– and thisimg-20200708-wa0008-1

and these20200703_144816

 The first Act of summer is over20200703_143817

And Act 2 is about to commence20200703_143805

Take your seats

The succulents have already reserved their seating

The show must go on20200703_145708

and it does


Act 2’s happy ending20200703_144424

What a performance! Take a bow…20200703_143954

Act 3 to follow in due course

Meanwhile, unseen activity is going on quietly in the wings20200703_145015-2

Did fruit and veg make an appearance?

But of course!img-20200708-wa0016




And Currant affairs too20200703_144200-1

It wouldn’t be Friday Group without a Plant Ident. 

Salvia Amistadimg-20200709-wa0002

Introduced in 2012, a wonderful Salvia growing to around 1 m. Flowers until November and can remain in the ground over winter. Fabulous purple/blue flowers which look great in a vase, if you can bring yourself to cut them. A warm, sheltered site in full sun suits them best. Deadhead regularly to encourage more blooms. Cut back and mulch in autumn – they will survive most winters, except the one after you have invested in twelve of them.

Salvia microphylla ‘African Skies’20200703_160113

The microphyllas have smaller leaves, but are tough and generally hardy garden plants. Small light blue flowers are produced in quantity from summer through autumn. Dead heading prolongs the display of all Salvias. Prune in late autumn and mulch at the base. Grows well from cuttings.

Salvia microphylla ‘Nachtvlinder’20200709_172110

Translates as ‘Night Moth’. Soft violet/purple flowers. Very hardy in Brighton. Quite a shrubby microphylla and, again, easy to propagate. Take non-flowering cuttings from side shoots, remove the lower leaves and plant in compost. They will root in a few days. Sarah Raven recommends Salvia microphylla as a good underplanting for Roses to discourage disease and blackspot – referencing this cultivar in particular. Fairly drought tolerant once established.

Salvia greggii ‘Royal Bumble’20200703_160022

This one has containers buzzing – due both to the vibrancy of the red flowers and the fact that Salvias are rich in nectar and pollen and will attract insects. This one can tolerate a little shade, though Salvias are usually best grown in full sun.

Salvia ‘Love and Wishes’img-20200709-wa0003

Aromatic leaves, dark stems and striking magenta/pink flowers. Like ‘Amistad’ it’s a stately spectacle, attractive to insects and pollinators, and will flower from June to November. Got one? Get more.

Then there were some socially distant weeding tasks to be done

They look busy


Hmm, not so much…


Oh dear. The pressures of lockdown?


Colour co-ordination


Aeoniums , Angelica and Salvias


Fiery torches of Libertia


Fiery colours of Gazania


Hot stuff


We’ll be back

Friday 26th June 2020

Midsummer’s Day, and time to take stock of those shrubs which have finished flowering. One might say, “in June, we prune”. But why do it at all?
Pruning keeps shrubs tidy and within bounds; it shapes them; it removes the 3 Ds – damaged, diseased and dead material; it helps to maintain vigour in the plant, stimulating new growth; it promotes future fruiting and flowering. But it can be a daunting task for gardeners – some shrubs need barely any pruning, whilst others need cutting right back.  Where to start?  The main thing is to get to know your own plants well, to observe them closely, to learn when they flower and to know whether you are growing them for their flowers/stems/fruit/ foliage. All this will inform your pruning regime.
The basic rule is that early flowering shrubs, which flower before Midsummer’s Day, in spring and early summer, should generally be pruned immediately after flowering. So by mid June plants like Winter Jasmine, Forsythia, Kerria japonica and Ribes should already have been cut back to strong young shoots lower down. If not, do it now. The 3 Ds can also be removed. Other shrubs such as Weigela, and Philadelphus aureus are just finishing flowering around now, and need to be pruned before the end of the month. All these shrubs flower on growth made in the previous season, so over the rest of the year, they have time to grow this new material.
Forsythia intermedia
Philadelphus aureus
In contrast, late flowering shrubs – like Hydrangea, Sambucus nigra, Fuchsia magellicana, Summer-flowering Jasmine, Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’, and Perovskia – produce flowers made on the current season’s growth, and they should be pruned in March/April. These can be cut right back to a pair of buds close to the ground. If congested, 1 in every 3 stems can be taken out completely. Dogwoods are plants which also respond well to being cut back in late winter/early spring – lots of new stems follow with stunning, rich colours varying from yellow through to orange, red and green/black. Magnificent when grown in groups.
Sambucus nigra
Fuchsia magellicana
Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’
Cornus flaverimea
Some plants like to be cut really hard back – Buddleia is one and Eucalyptus another. Evergreens, on the other hand, may only need a light cut in early spring just to keep them in shape.  With short-lived shrubs like Lavender, Salvia and Rosemary, it’s very important not to cut into the old wood when pruning as this will kill them. Just cut back to the point where they flowered and go no further for now.
It should go without saying that all pruning equipment, be it secateurs, pruning saws or loppers, should be cleaned between each task, oiled and sharpened regularly. Polishing them is, frankly, just showing off. After pruning, always water, feed and mulch the shrub concerned. Poor thing, it’s had a shock.
So. Pruning. Part art, part science. Part knowledge, part experience. And, of course, part magic, part miracle. Simples.
Jobs for the week
Prune spring flowering shrubs
Refer to all the above, a good website, good books and other good gardeners.
Take cuttings of Lavender, Sage and Rosemary 
Harvest Lavender for drying. Cut back Sage (above), Rosemary and Lavender to about 5 cms below the faded flowers. (Don’t prune back any further until March)
Cut back any wispy Wisteria growths to 3 buds
From the main stem.
Dead-head annuals
For example, Sweet Peas – this promotes more flowers. Stake. Keep picking them too – so gratifying to be able to throw a handful of your home-growns into an old jam jar. Make sure you have it to hand every time you open the door to someone. ‘Oh, these? Yes, just picked. Charming, aren’t they?’
Pot up Chillies and Sweet Peppers and feed
Plant Chrysanthemums
In the greenhouse, once the Tomatoes have been moved out and there’s a bit of space.
Cut back hardy Geraniums
Once they have finished flowering. Most have by now. Feed and water to encourage fresh new growth, and, hopefully another later flush of flowers too.
Fill in any gaps with Salvias
They are a Good Thing under Roses as they seem to help prevent mildew and blackspot – particularly the small-leaved microphylla cultivars. (see Sarah Raven’s website on this).  It’s also a good time to take cuttings – free plants!
Surprise! Bet you didn’t expect that, did you?!
Cut back leaves of Pulmonarias 
And water them
Sow beans of the French and Runner varieties
These can be sown directly into the soil. Courgettes too.
Watch out for Vine Weevil
It’s evil

A weekly account of the activities of the Friday Gardening Group at the Garden House in Brighton