Friday 9th February

First of all, a few more photos of our morning at West Dean a couple of weeks ago.  The gardens certainly brought out the creative photographers amongst us.

Back to this week.  Despite being so cold, it really felt like spring was on its way in the garden today with the first Iris reticulata popping up and buds appearing on some of the trees and shrubs.

We started the day with an exercise to see whether we could determine from the size and appearance of seeds whether they are hardy or half-hardy annuals and whether they require heat to germinate.

To recap, the seeds of hardy annuals (HA) can be sown in situ during the autumn or spring and can usually withstand frosts and low temperatures.  However, sometimes it may be necessary to cover them with a cloche or horticultural fleece if particularly freezing temperatures are forecast.  (It is thought that it is better to sow hardy annuals in the autumn as you end up with bigger and stronger plants which are more disease-resistant).

Examples of hardy annuals are:

Calendula officianalis – pot marigold


Nigella damascena – love-in-a-mist


Cosmos bipinnatus


Half hardy annuals (HHA) meanwhile, need to be sown and grown under glass and may only be planted outside when the risk of frost has passed – usually mid-May in the south of the country but later perhaps further north.  Some HHA benefit from being sown in a heated greenhouse and covered with a thin layer of vermiculite.  As a rule, the smaller the seeds, the more likely they are to need heat to germinate.

Exampls of half hardy annuals are:

Nicotiana sylvestris – flowering tobacco


Tagetes – French marigold


Cobaea scandens – cup and saucer vine


Our Plant I.D. this week was based on trees.  It is often difficult to identify them at this time of year when the branches are bare and so it was useful to take a look at a few common species found in our gardens, parks and countryside:

Fagus sylvatica – common beech




This large deciduous tree has a broad, spreading crown.  It’s leaves are yellow-green in spring and turn to a rich-russet brown in the autumn.  It isn’t ideal for a small town garden as it can reach up to 12m high and 8m across.

Sambucus nigra – common elder


This large bushy shrub or small tree (up to 6m high) produces small fragrant cream flowers in early summer, followed by small black berries which are a good source of food for birds.

Betula pendula – silver birch



This medium sized deciduous tree has attractive drooping twigs and striking white bark which becomes blackened at the base.  It produces catkins in spring and its leaves turn yellow in autumn.  It is possible to maintain the pale colour of the bark by washing it with warm water and a soft brush or cloth.

Alnus glutinosa – common alder


This attractive decidous tree is not one for the small garden as it can reach 25m in height.  It has a conical shape in its early years and produces purple-grey buds and catkins which can be easily spotted in winter.

Aesculus hippocastanum – horse chestnut


This broadleaf deciduous tree is a common site in our parks.  When the leaf stalks fall from the twigs in autumn, they leave a scar shaped like an inverted horse shoe with nail holes.  The tree’s conkers used to be gound up and given to horses to cure them of coughs and this association may explain their name.

This week’s jobs:

  • Moving the crab apple tree from the Winter Bed to the new Vinca Bed and generally tidying up around it.
  • Sorting out Little Dixter and planting new hebes and polyanthus for the display.


  • Potting on echinaceas.


  • Tidying up the Winter Bed.
  • Checking which containers in the garden need top-dressing and rearranging.  Also giving them a general tidy-up.
  • Sorting out the seeds in the potting shed, dividing them into categories of HA, HHA, salads, veg, etc.


  • Tidying the Top Garden.
  • Pruning the willow tree.
  • Tidying up the green house and doing some potting on.


Lots of tidying today……..

And lastly, it was Bridge’s birthday this week and so we all raised a glass and ate cake to celebrate!

Friday 2nd February

No Friday Group as such this week as we were on our annual winter away day to West Dean Gardens.  It was a beautiful day – cold but crisp and bright, just right for a walk around the beautiful gardens.  Wonderful Downland scenery; winter planting; fantastic greenhouses and the most amazing walled rose garden.  We’re planning a summer return to see how the garden has evolved throught the seasons.  Well worth a visit!




Friday 26th January

The garden is looking fabulous at the moment in all its winter loveliness (the chillies worked!) and we’re really looking forward to our NGS open day which is on Friday March 2nd from 12-4pm. Mulled cider and soup will be served along with some of our gorgeous cakes!!

We started off the morning with a discussion about chitting seed potatoes.  Most Seed potatoes are produced in Scotland where growing conditions are favourable.  “Chitting” is another word for sprouting: the seed potatoes are placed “eyes up” in a cool place  (an egg box on a cool windowsill is ideal) and left to sprout.  This is vital for earlies and main crop potatoes to prepare them for planting out in six weeks time.  However, the sprouts/stems mustn’t be allowed to get too long.  Earlies and second earlies are good to grow as there is less likelihood of them getting blight.

Plant I.D.

This week we looked at evergreens which are looking good in the winter garden at present:

Trachycarpus fortunei – Chusan palm


This is a good architectural feature to have growing in the garden although if allowed to grow unchecked, it can reach ip to 12m.  It is very tough with a thick fibre-covered trunk and deeply divided fan-shaped dark green leaves.

Choisya x dewitteana ‘Aztec Pearl’ – Mexican orange ‘Aztec Pearl’



This small rounded evergreen shrub has dark green slender leaves and produces small white fragrant flowers, approx. 3cm in width during spring and often later on in the autumn.  It enjoys a sheltered position in full sun, however, mine thrives in my windy coastal front garden.

Fatsia japonica – castor oil plant



Again, this is a fantastic architectural plant which grows well in shade.  Its dark shiny palmate leaves open to 45cm and it has small white flowers in globose clusters, followed by small black berries.

Euonymous fortunei ‘Silver Queen’


This bushy evergreen shrub is a useful plant to grow to brighten up the winter garden.  Its ovate dark green leaves are edged with white and somethimes tinged with pink.  It has inconspicuous green flowers in the summer, followed by pale pink fruits.

Sarcococca confusa – sweet box


This is a bushy evergreen shrub with shiny dark green leaves and sweetly scented tiny white flowers, followed by black berries.  Grow this shrub near to the house where you will be able to smell its beautiful scent on a winters day.

Jobs in the garden

  • Moving the philadelphus, garrya and cornus from the Top Garden to a new bed near the potting shed.  Hellebores were also added.
  • Tidying the pelargoniums in the potting shed.  It is too early to cut them back but after taking away the dead leaves and twigs,  the pelargoniums were put inside the cold frames for protection from the winter cold.IMG_0559.JPG
  • Continuing to sort out the compost.


  • Pruning and tying in the roses on the Yellow Bed.
  • Tidying up around the Summer House and bringing out the hyacinths which have been resting inside in the dark.
  • Planting out the blueberry bushes in wine boxes.  All the fruit bushes were inspected carefully to see how they are doing.  Leaf mould was added to the ericaceous compost (blueberries must be grown in acid soil).


  • Pulling out the fennel and planting garlic in its place.


  • Pruning the sambucus nigra hard along with the kerria and the willow ‘Nancy Saunders’.


  • Top-dressing and feeding the heucheras, camellias and acers before planting out.
  • Pruning the climbing roses.
  • Lawn care! Spiking and edging – Mary’s favourite task!


Friday 19th January 2018

A very cold but bright day in the garden today – such a relief after the cloudy skies and heavy rain of late.

We were upset to find that the squirrels had eaten all the crocus bulbs we planted up last autumn in pots.  We were planning for these to be one of the stars at our Open Garden on March 2nd and so we’ll have to think of replacing them with something else – equally as lovely of course.  However, in the meantime, Bridge has been scattering handfuls of dried chillis in the pots in an effort to deter them – apparently squirrels are put off by the smell of the chillis.

Plant I.D.

Phyllostachys aureosulcata f. aureocaulis – yellow-groove bamboo


This bamboo has golden-yellow canes which grow to around 5m.  The stems are reddish in colour when young and may have green stripes near the base.  Their leaves are mid-green and lance-shaped and they thrive in a sheltered spot. Sometimes the lower leaves are taken away to expose the stems which look attractive in winter sunshine.  The jury was out on this one in the group – not popular with everyone.

Phyllostachys nigra – black bamboo


This bamboo has arching, ebony-black, very graceful stems and dark green leaves.  The canes are dark green in their early years and add architectural structure to modern, minimalist gardens.  Even though they are not as invasive as other varieties, they should still be planted in non-perishable containers to prevent them from spreading too far.  We have one growing near the pond in the garden.

Salix matsudana ‘Golden Curls’ – Curly, Corkscrew or Peking willow


This small willow tree is popular with flower arrangers who like to use it for winter displays with its contorted reddish-green stems.  It thrives in coastal conditions in  full sun or part shade, is drought-tolerant and tolerates poor soils.

Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’- corkscrew hazel or Harry Lauder’s walking stick



This is a large, spreading deciduous shrub or small tree with twisted or contorted branches and is most at home in hedgerows.  It produces male yellow catkins in spring with tiny female catkins growing behind which are mostly concealed by the buds.  Edible nuts follow on in the autumn.  It grows well in chalky soil in sun or partial shade.

Salix moupinensis


This willow has broad green, glossy leaves with deep brown stems and large red buds in winter followed by catkins in spring.  It is a useful tree for small gardens.

Vaccinium corymbosum  – blueberry


This medium-sized bush has narrow ovate leaves which turn red and purple in autumn.  Small pinky-white flowers in spring are followed by edible blue-black berries.  They can be grown in containers or raised beds in ericaceous soil.

Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’ – coral-bark maple


This large decidous shrub or small tree is a lovely addition to the winter garden and will grow to around 6m.  Its coral-red young branches produce pinkish-yellow leaves which turn green in the summer and yellow in autumn.  However, they are not recommended for chalky soils or coastal areas.

Cornus mas – Cornelian cherry


This deciduous shrub has clusters of tiny bright yellow flowers in spring followed by glossy  red cherry-like fruits and its oval leaves turn purple in autumn.  It grows well in sun or partial shade in well-drained soil.

Rosa sericea subsp. omeiensis f. pteracantha – winged thorn rose


This is an upright shrub with large, flat prickles on its young growth.  It has fern-like foliage and small creamy-white flowers followed by orange hips.  It is best grown in an open position in full sun where the red young thorns can be appreciated.

Jobs in the garden:

  • Seed-sowing of hardy annuals, eg. Ridolfia ‘Goldspray’, Ammi majus, Agrostemma, Nigella ‘African Bride’ 
  • Sorting out the compost – a never-ending task!


  • Planting onions and garlic in the veg bed.


  • Pruning the Paulownia tomentosa and burning the branches.  The bed underneath was cut back and tidied.


  • Pruning the roses by the Cutting Garden.


  • Tidying the paths and relaying where necessary.
  • Planting Hellebores and feeding with liquid fertiliser.
  • Weeding and sorting out the Herb Bed.
  • Sorting out the pots of bulbs and covering them with netting to protect from squirrels.

Friday 12th January 2018

Cold and grey weather, but life is always sunny at Friday Group.  This week we heard about an inspirational group run by The Brighton and Hove Food Partnership which uses Garden House as a venue to meet, share and enjoy working together in the garden; a couple of Friday group members volunteer their help.  A short film has been made about the group – please see link:

No real plants for this week’s identification, but instead a quiz on virtual plants (i.e. recognizing plants from photos).

Photos reproduced here –  and answers below.



1.  Hyacinthus orientalis

2. Erica carnea “Springwood White”

3. Cerinthe major

4. Galanthus nivalis

5. Daphne odora “Aureomarginata”

6. Erysimum “Bowles Mauve”

7. Narcissi “Paperwhite”

8. Nerine bowdenii

9. Cosmos “Purity”

10. Hippeastrum “Lemon and Lime”

11. Calendula officinalis

12. Echinacea purpurea

13. Campanula lactiflora

14. Hamamelis mollis “Pallida”

15. Cornus “Midwinter Fire”

16. Helleborus hybridus

17. Lathyrus odorata

18. Nigella damascena

19. Primula “Gold Lace”

20. Chaenomeles japonica

21. Dahlia sp.


Jobs in the garden this week:

Digging over beds in big border and adding leaf mould, taking care with established bulbs.  IMG-20180112-WA0014.jpg

 Planting Sarcococca confusa, heathers and colchicums in the terrace bedIMG-20180112-WA0005.jpg

Tidying the pond area and skimming off duckweed (easier said than done)



Generally tidying the rockery area; re-positioning stones and doing some planting IMG-20180112-WA0007.jpg

In the greenhouse, some hardy annuals (Escholzias) need potting into FP9s

Pruning Rosa “James Galway” and tidying the flowering currant








The cold frames had been mended and needed sorting through.  Organising contents into keep/nurse/discard


Planting out broad beans and peas in straight lines in bed behind greenhouse.  Placing them under cloches.  Cutting back dahlias


Sorting out seeds and keeping the home fires burning






Friday 5th January 2018

A wet day which gradually cleared to blue skies and sunshine in the Brighton garden.  A good omen for Friday Group’s 2018 gardening sessions, we hope.  For plant identification this week, Bridge showed us a number of plants with especial interest for the winter garden.

Plant Id.

Helleborus argutifolius

Corsican Hellebore, Hellebore, Blossom

Also known as the Corsican hellebore, this evergreen herbaceous perennial has serrated leaves and beautiful pale green nodding flowers.  It is in the Ranunculaceae family, and is therefore related to both clematis and Japanese anemones.  It is slug resistant and therefore very useful to gardeners!

Sarcococca confusa

Image result for sarcococca confusa image

This useful evergreen shrub is lovely in the winter garden with its fragrant white flowers and shiny dark green leaves.  “Christmas box” also produces shiny black berries and is good in a pot.

Erica carnea

Erica carnea

This winter flowering heather is tolerant of chalk as well as acidic soils, making it a good choice in many areas.  Purple and white/silver varieties can look very attractive together.  If it gets leggy, the plant can be planted in a deep hole in the spring to encourage the production of rooted cuttings.  This process is known as “dropping” heather.

Colchicum autumnale


Commonly known as autumn crocus  – or “naked ladies”, because their flowers emerge long after the leaves have died back – these are dwarf deciduous perennials and are poisonous if eaten.

Galanthis nivalis


Snowdrops are one of the first bulbs of the year to bloom and spread mainly through bulb division, especially in woodlands.  They are perennial flowering plants and there are some very distinctive and sought after named forms collected by “galanthophiles”.  Flower heads can be single or double.

Cyclamen coum

Close up of Cyclamen coum flowers.

A tuberous hardy herbaceous perennial which has handsome heart-shaped leaves and beautiful flowers – ideal under shrubs and trees. Where happy, they will self-sow and create a carpet of flower. They also look good in shallow “pans”. Slugs and snails tend to leave them alone.

Iris foetidissima

Iris foetidissima

The Gladwyn or “Stinking” iris has rather dull pale mauve flowers but attractive bright orange (poisonous) seeds are produced from its seed pods in the autumn and remain through the winter months.

Helleborus niger

Helleborus flowers in early spring

Commonly called the Christmas rose or black hellebore, (its seeds are black), this semi-evergreen flowering perennial is also part of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae).  All parts of it are poisonous.  Helleborus x ericsmithii is a jewel of a plant created by Eric Smith many years ago, from a cross with Helleborus niger.  It has large white flowers tinged with pink, but is worth growing for the silvery sheen of the foliage alone.

Skimmia japonica “Rubella” 

Seasonal red skimmia flowers, winter, evergreen shrub (Skimmia japonica 'Rubella')

A popular compact evergreen shrub in the winter garden, “Rubella” (the male plant) has dark red flower buds which persist through the winter then open in the spring.  Best on acid soil or in a pot with ericaceous compost. Wakehurst Place holds the National Collection.

Viburnum bodnantense “Dawn”

This upright deciduous shrub is a good choice in the winter months as it bears deliciously fragrant dark pink flowers on bare stems from November through to March.  Viburnum tinus is a commonly seen shrub, easy to grow, but can look untidy unless kept well pruned.

 Lonicera fragrantissima


A  winter-flowering shrub with the most wonderful, delicate, slightly lemony, perfume.

Vinca major

purple periwinkle flower

A vigorous low-growing evergreen plant, the long-flowering periwinkle is frequently chosen for its ability to act as effective ground-cover.

Daphne odora aureomarginata



A compact evergreen shrub with dark green glossy leaves edged in yellow.  It has the most wonderful scent and is highly rated by Bridge.  Spendy, but worth it!

Iris unguicularis

"Lazistan Iris" flower in St. Gallen, Switzerland. Its Latin name is Iris Lazica, native to Northeastern Turkey and Georgia.

The Algerian iris is a plant much recommended by Bridge.  It grows from a rhizome to reach about 30cms in height and has scented deep violet flowers.

Cornus sanguinea “Midwinter Fire”

Dogwoods are a terrific asset to the garden in the winter months when their stems catch the light.  Plant in groups in full sun for best effect.  “Midwinter Fire” is a variety which has bright orange-red and yellow stems.  Cut back in spring.


Clematis cirrhosa “Freckles”

  • This evergreen woody climber has bell-shaped flowers produced from late autumn onwards, cream/pale yellow in colour speckled with bright maroon “freckles”.  Attractive seed-heads follow. 

    Jobs in the garden

  • Weaving a fence for protection and decoration
  • Planting up bulbs in bowls with compost, grit and adding moss on top for decorative purposes
  • Potting on hardy annuals (calendulas in this case) into 1 litre pots


  • Upgrading the Bug Hotel to a 5-star establishment
  • Checking over pulmonarias in pots before planting them out into the garden for spring flowering
  • Potting on sweet peas in the greenhouse.


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