Friday 25th November

Foraged displays in the garden room.

On another beautifully bright morning we started by trying to identify samples of three plants bought in by Jules. She is a rare brave soul who joined FGG as a beginner, without a garden of her own. She has recently moved and now has gardens in front and at the back of her house to assess and plan for. These shrubs were all from the front garden – what are they, what do they need, do we like them?

This is Prunus laurocerasus or cherry laurel. A vigourous, fast growing, spreading shrub with thick glossy leaves which is one of the most common hedging shrubs in the U.K.

It took us a while but we got there – ok – one of us got there. This is Hypericum or rose of Sharon, another fast- growing shrub but this one provides dense ground cover. It has bright yellow, 5-petalled flowers from summer into autumn.

Lastly, Forsythia. Another robust shrub, this time deciduous, which bears abundant yellow flowers on bare stems in early spring. Often pruned into manageable shapes, if left to its own devices it will sprawl and ramble in a more natural way. The choice is yours!

All three of these shrubs are commonly grown, easy to manage and will provide Jules with a starting structure for her garden. We suspect that, with a couple of years at FGG under her belt, she may swap them or add to them for more interesting/rewarding specimens but for now they will do nicely!

Plant Ident

The ident this week was of plants offering gorgeous berries or herbaceous colour.

Hypericum – Magical Series

Aha! Another Hypericum or St John’s wort – part of the Magical series of cultivars which have been bred for their oval, dark-green leaves and range of berry colours. The berries follow on from yellow, star-shaped flowers and are bountiful and long lasting, making this a staple autumn favourite for florists. They like a moderately fertile, well-drained soil in sun or partial shade and has a manageable 1m height and spread.

Rosa ‘Parkdirektor Riggers’

These beautiful, large, orange hips look just wonderful in autumn/winter arrangements as well as on the plant itself. This rose is a robust climber with glossy, dark-green foliage and large, semi-double, blood-red flowers with yellow stamens. The canes can be fairly stiff, making it a bit trickier than some to train over arches etc. but it flowers almost continuously through the summer and gives real impact. Ht 3-4m.

Iris foetidissima

(foetidissima – with a very bad smell)

This Iris has many common names including stinking iris and roast beef plant. Mmm, how appealing! Before you run for the hills you should know that, despite the off-putting name and its slightly invasive habit, this plant has been awarded an RHS AGM so it must be doing something right. Firstly, it thrives in all soil types, including clay, and in shady spots – even under trees. Secondly, it has glossy, evergreen, rich green leaves which are almost architectural. Lastly, despite slightly dull purple flowers, in autumn the seed pods split to reveal masses of bright orange/red berries which last well into the winter. Ht up to 1m.

Cotoneaster franchetii var. sternianus

Native to south-west China, this large semi-evergreen shrub has small, ovate, green-grey leaves that are pale and downy underneath. The small pink-flushed white flowers which appear in summer are followed by a profusion of scarlet berries in the autumn. These are really attractive to birds, which then disperse the seeds in their droppings. Lovely grown up a wall or as a hedge, it will tolerate dry conditions but may need shelter from cold, drying winds. Ht 2.5 to 4m. RHS AGM

Amsonia hubrichtii

The Arkansas or Hubricht’s bluestar has finely cut, willow shaped leaves along the entire length of the stems turning from bright green in spring and summer to shades of yellow and gold in the autumn. This robust and prolific clump forming perennial develops dark blue buds which open to pale, grey-blue starry flowers in early to mid-summer. It is a hit in Beth Chatto’s garden as it will grow in most soils and is fairly drought-tolerant. Ht up to 1m.

Jobs for the week

Plant bulb lasagnes

Layering spring flowering bulbs in pots is a great way to give continuous, changing colour and interest through the spring. First, gather your ingredients.

It’s going to be a very filling lasagne…

Remove old compost from your chosen pots – in this case five large planters around the small seating area. Starting with the larger and later flowering bulbs, plant in layers, adding compost on top of each layer.

Like so.

Bulbs to go in included Tulips ‘Black Hero’, ‘Palmyra’ and ‘Belle Epoch, Narcissi ‘Xit’ and Crocus ‘Record’.

The pots were to be topped with edibles – ‘Red Frills’ mustard, and Mizuna, both purple and the bright green Kyoto varieties.

These will look fantastic and give plenty of fresh leaves through the winter.

The five matching planters will have real impact in the spring.

Plant up more beds

The beds behind the greenhouse and the large pots were also being given the Tulip treatment.

There really are bulbs everywhere.

A similar mix of Tulips was going in to echo those in the pots and avoid a clash. Then wallflowers were added on top which will add to the rich colour scheme.

Nearly there.

Plant Leucojum

Nearby, there were Leucojum vernum bulbs (vernum – relating to spring) to plant at the end of the rose arches.

These are related to snowdrops but are much larger with strappy, dark-green, glossy leaves and arching stems bearing bell-shaped white flowers in March and April. These have tiny dashes of bright lime-green on the tips of the petals, looking as though they have been dotted on with a fine paint brush.

They are reliably perennial so should naturalise over a couple of years in this moist, fertile soil.

Clear the alpine sinks

The butler’s sinks under the rose arches had been planted up with alpine plants but now needed to be cleared as the area is too shady and the plants were not thriving.

Time for a change.

Remove the plants, sort out those that can be saved and plant some of them in the newly spruced-up rockery.

We’ll keep a close eye on what is planned for these next.

Prune a rambling rose

A rambling rose is different to a climbing rose. They tend to be very vigourous, have flexible canes, bear smaller blooms in sprays rather than single flowers and usually only flower once in the season.

The rose that rambles over the apple tree needed pruning. Some people prune just after flowering but the hips on this rose are glorious so they are left until they are needed for Christmas foraging. Ramblers are pruned slightly differently than a climber.

A rambler produces flowers next year on canes that have grown this year so we want to leave the new canes. You can start recognising which these are as they tend to be greener and have no dying flowers or hips on them. Prune out any dead, diseased or damaged stems and those which are crossing or rubbing. Remove or reduce the older stems and tie in the new, flexible growth (if you can reach it).

White foxgloves were also planted in and around the bed surrounding the apple tree and rose.

Work on ‘Little Dixter’

Little Dixter has undergone something of a transformation. The shelving had started to rot and it was time to bring in the experts.

The marvellous Keith has been at work building and painting.

How utterly fantastic!

The small terracotta pots and the gritted planters look great against the black of the wood. Extra pots of Crocus were planted up in honour.

See you next week – I’m off to dream of bulbs.

Friday 18th November

Friday Garden Group on Tour!

It was a special day as the FGG makeover team made their way, en masse, to a garden in Withdean.

Back in June the Garden House hosted a fundraiser for the fabulous charity Homelink. This included an auction where one of the Lots was a morning’s work by the FGG team.

The lovely (and generous) Amanda and Phil bid and won, putting their faith in us to come up trumps in their garden.

The garden is long, sloping, North facing and on clay so has it’s challenges but wonderful garden designer Emma Berry has been working with Amanda to come up with workable plans. Emma and Bridge devised a schedule for the morning.

We gathered in the chill of a bright November morning to be given our tasks

Even past FGG members returned to help. So lovely to see you!

Some people were more attentive than others…

Jobs for the morning

Prune the apple tree

This lovely old apple tree had got a little out of hand. Cut out any dead, diseased or damaged branches. Remove any that are congested or crossing. Reduce those vigourous upright shoots, known as watershoots, by a third to encourage branching or remove them entirely at the point of growth. We’re aiming for an open, airy bowl shape…or near as dammit!

Carefully does it.

The tree might need some additional pruning next year but should be feeling a lot better,

Prune shrubs

This shrub bed was a little crowded and some of the more beautiful plants were getting lost. Prune the Privet and Buddleia, among others, cut back and dig over the bed.

Someone is getting stuck in…hopefully not just stuck.

This bed was transformed by the end of the morning.

Plant bulbs in pots

Two large urn-style pots on the deck had been earmarked for clearing and planting up with a gorgeous, rich mix of tulips.

Empty the pots of Pelargoniums and a rather large Sage. Save the Pellies and re-pot the sage in a stylish dark planter.

Plant the Tulips in two layers to extend flowering and add interest when they emerge. Add some wallflowers on top and wait for spring.

There were more containers to be planted outside the garden office.

How many?!

Plant up the woodland area

A large bed with a more woodland feel was to be dug over and added to with a variety of plants and bulbs.

First, clear and cut back – including some beautiful yellow/green Cornus. Dig over as much as possible and add compost – this is harder than you think on this stony clay soil.

Plant a mix of Hellebores, Sedum, Ferns and bulbs which will give a naturalised effect across the area.

This is going to be quite wonderful.

Tidy up the Photinias

This narrow area between a log store and a fence was to be planted with Photinia shrubs and edged with white Vinca to provide some ground cover.

Before the joy of planting, however, the bed needed to be cleared of Sycamore seedlings, dug over and bought up to a higher level by adding compost.

Getting there.

This will make an interesting feature of an otherwise dead area.

Time for a break?

Ooh…yes please!

As well as providing waitress service for our morning coffee, our hosts put on a veritable feast of pastries to keep our energy and spirits up.

Just in time by the looks of things… we soon perked up!

A chat and time to survey what we had done so far and what was left to do.

Work on the area near the fence

This long, sloping bed needed to be cut back, tidied and weeded.

There were lots of lovely plants to be uncovered as well as new ones to be planted, including a gorgeous Virginia creeper.

This will romp along the fence giving great coverage through to autumn when those fiery red leaves will glow.

Improve the bed near the hedge

This curving bed had been newly extended and was designed to take the eye away from the hedge and make it seem less tall.

Improve the soil and drainage by digging in compost then plant up with perennials including Sedums and Geums. We could call it the “Ums” bed.


Organise the raised, flint-walled bed

The flint-walled bed below the decking was made with flints found in the garden and is a beautiful feature of the garden. There was a lot of Solanum and Salvias to be sorted out.

Team huddle before we start?

Much cutting back to do… …but don’t leave those there!

Add to the planting with Geranium ‘Rozanne’, white Japanese Anemone and Allium bulbs.

They’ve done a wonderful job.

And finally

Move the Eleagnus from pot to ground

This Eleagnus looked great being trained up a frame but was in danger of growing out of its pot. These two dug a very big hole in exactly the same position and, bingo…the plant is now happy in the ground with plenty of room for its roots.

Time to tidy up

No room left in there….

Wanna bet?

And try to get the clay off your boots.

A great time was had by all.

Friday 11th November

Plant ident.

The ident this week was about tender perennials. These are plants which can survive the winter but only as long as they are protected from low temperatures and harsh weather. Each plant has its low temperature limit – most will not survive a frost – but some can survive outside here in certain conditions, especially as our climate is warming.

The best advice is to protect your favourites by bringing them indoors or into a greenhouse, and to take cuttings as an insurance and to increase your stocks.

Coleus argentatus

(argentatus – silver in colour)

Formerly known as Plectranthus argentatus, or silver spurflower, this is part of the Lamiaceae family which includes sage, mint, salvia and much more. This very tender, evergreen, sub-shrubby perennial has beautiful velvety, silver foliage in a slightly sprawling, multi-stemmed habit. It grows vigourously during the growing season and puts out upright, pink/purple racemes with small whitish flowers. It is a fabulous foil for other summer-flowering plants in beds and containers and is one of the most easily propogated – cuttings can even root up in a jar of water. It likes moist but well-drained soil but keep it drier over the winter once taken inside. Ht up to 60cm.

Gomphrena globosa

(globosa – round)

The globe araminth, or bachelor’s button, is a native of Panama and Guatamala. It is grown from seed as an annual in many places but can be overwintered indoors, or in a greenhouse, and propogated by cuttings. The clover-like heads, looking like pom-poms on airy stems, are actually papery bracts from which the tiny, true flowers emerge. These bracts make excellent dried flowers and are meant to be medicinal, edible and good for making herbal tea.

Oenothera lindheimeri ‘Whiskers Deep Rose’

Another plant that has had a name change – just as we were getting our mouths around the correct way to pronounce Gaura, it has changed to Oenothera. Any easier? Thought not. Anyway, it is still the most gorgeous perennial. Originally a prairie plant from the southern states of the U.S. and Mexico it needs a warm and sunny position but can tolerate some daytime shade. In our area of the country it is almost hardy but doesn’t like windy, wet weather, and established plants don’t take kindly to being moved, so take cuttings. It is worth the bother for those wonderful deep-pink, delicate flowers held on long, thin, red-washed stems against deep-green foliage. It will flower for months – May to October and beyond. Ht. up to 50cm.

Argyranthemum frutescens ‘Jamaica Primrose’

(frutescens – shrubby or bushy)

The species form of this daisy-like flower originated in the Canary Islands and has naturalised in other warm parts of the world. This beautiful, soft-yellow cultivar is a vigourous sub-shrub perennial but is tender so needs protection from frost – cuttings will ensure you don’t lose it. The aromatic, dark, grey-green leaves are finely divided and contrast against the primrose yellow of the 6cm flowers held on sing stems up to a metre tall. They need fairly fertile but well-drained soil and full sun.

Pelargonium ‘Fragrans Variegata’

We had a discussion about the difference between a Pelargonium and a Geranium. Yes, I know we’ve been here before but not for a while and it is a perennial issue…sorry! It is all Charles Linnaeus’s fault as he originally grouped them all together. Here goes…

Both are in the Geraniaceae family but that is about as far as the similarities go. Geraniums, or cranesbill, are usually, but not always, hardy. Their growth is often wide and low with long thin stems and they are often used as ground cover. The flowers are open, quite flat and have five identical petals. Hardy Geraniums will die back to the ground in winter and emerge again in the spring.

This is a typical Geranium.

Pelargoniums, or stork’s bill, are not hardy and need to be bought inside to survive the winter. They can have an upright, sparse habit or be quite bushy – some are trailing. Some are slow-growing while others, especially the ivy-leaf varieties, are quite vigourous. The flowers also have five petals but the top two matching ones are different to the bottom three. This is sometimes difficult to spot, especially in plants with double flowers, but is true of all Pellies.

Spot the top two petals!

Getting back to P. ‘Fragrans Variegata’, this has a wonderfully fragrant, nutmeg aroma and delicate white flowers with a tiny splash of pink. It has small, rounded leaves in gold, lime and mid-green. Like all Pellies it needs to be overwintered inside and can be propogated fairly easily by cuttings. This is equally fabulous in a pot on its own or as part of a mixed container. Ht. up to 50cm.

Jobs for the week

Plant bulbs in the dry garden

The dry garden is looking really established. The larger ‘bed’ needed to be cut back gently and tidied then some carefully chosen miniature bulbs planted in and around the existing plants. The aim is for these to grow up through plants that will have yet to put on their spring growth.

The bulbs included miniature Tulips, Crocus versicolor ‘Picturatus’, Iris histrioides ‘Sheila Ann Germaney’ and Chionodoxa luciliae ‘Alba’.

These all have delicate white or very pale flowers and should give a natural feel to the planting when they emerge.

Can’t wait!

Spruce up the Sempervivums

The containers of Sempervivum, or house leeks, near the sundial were in need of attention. Oxalis corniculata, although pretty, is a persistent pest of a weed and will take over if left to run riot.

That’s a lot of trugs!

Weed out the Oxalis and any other unwelcome intruders. Top up with extra plants and re-grit.

From this… …to this. Wonderful.

Prepare tubers for overwintering

Now is the time to be lifting Begonias, and Dahlias if you are not leaving them in the ground. Dig up Dahlia plants and cut off most of the stalk and any foliage. Carefully brush the soil from between the tubers and place upside-down inside for a few days. This will drain any residual moisture from the plant and help reduce rotting.

Pack them into shredded paper, wood shavings or sawdust in boxes or bags and keep in a cold, dark place. They need a tiny amount of damp so a shed or garage that is not completely dry is perfect.

At this time of year, stop watering your Begonias and cut the stems back to about 10cm. The stems will gradually fall away – don’t force them! Lay them in a single layer in shallow trays in sawdust or similar. Keep them at about 10℃.

Prick out Chard

It is a little too late to be planting Chard out in the beds so these Chard ‘Rhubarb’ seedlings were being potted on into FP7s and will be kept in the greenhouse until ready to plant out in the spring.

How neat.

Prune Rosa ‘Pompon de Paris

It is time to start pruning roses, especially if you have lots to get to…70+ at Garden House! Some recommend pruning in February/March but anytime between now and then is fine, in particular for climbing varieties.

Prune, tie -in and stand back…

This vigourous, arching climber has almost fern-like foliage and small, cupped, lightly scented double flowers in bright pink with a yolk-yellow centre.

Move Rosa ‘Blue Moon’

This stunning lilac/mauve/blue Hybrid Tea rose has large fragrant blooms on strong upright stems, set against glossy mid to dark leaves making it an excellent floristry flower.

This lovely rose needed to be moved into a bigger pot and was being placed to compliment a pale pink rambling rose at the back of the Pelly house.

Dig out existing bulbs and Primulas from the large pot and save for another time/place. Move the rose carefully to its new home. Underplant with a mix of Narcissus, Iris reticulata and Muscari. Make a wigwam support from hazel sticks.

Job done!

Plant Alliums and foxgloves near the rose arches

Continue to cut back and clear the raised flowerbeds on either side of the rose arches.

On the southern, sunny side, plant Allium bulbs and on the northern more shady side, white foxgloves are going in.

Simply gorgeous.

Rejuvenate an old sink

Add some more winter interest by planting up a classy combination of hardy Cyclamen and snowdrops.

Keep your eyes on this one in the new year.

More Pelargoniums

We’ve nearly reached the end of the Pelly marathon – checking over, weeding, re-potting, taking cuttings and bringing them into the Pelly house.

Are they all going to fit? We can do it!

Plant out broad beans

Winter varieties of broad beans such as ‘Aquadulce Claudia’, ‘The Sutton’ or ‘Witkiem’ will grow happily over the colder, darker season for early cropping next year.

The plants had been grown from seed and potted on until they were strong…but were they strong enough?

These two spent ages making a complex, and quite beautiful, cat’s cradle of fox defences….

…only to be met a few days later by this.

Sadly not “outfoxed” this time.

We were in blissful ignorance of the foxy destruction to come though as we enjoyed delicious cake and a rest in the sunshine.

Bliss indeed.

Friday 4th November

In a week of rainy days, we arrived at the Garden House in lovely sunshine – how lucky!

There has been a few changes, including new steps up to the top garden and by the garden room, and renewed gravel paths. Very nice.

Indoor bulbs

This week there was a combined ident and indoor bulb masterclass.

There were several Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) in a variety of creatively chosen containers. These large (and sometimes pricey) bulbs can be grown in quite small amounts of grit or compost, or no compost at all as long as they have water and some support – see the picture above for ways to plant. Glass jars look particularly good and will support the stem as it grows. Leave ⅔ of the bulb above the surface.

Place in a well-lit place at about 21℃ and water sparingly until new leaves start to emerge then water more regularly. Don’t let it dry out but don’t overwater it either. Turn periodically to keep the stem growing straight, and stake if it looks like it might need it. Once the flowers appear keeping it in a slightly cooler position will extend the flowering period.

After 6-8 weeks they might look like this.

There are a couple of ways to care for the bulb once the flowers have died back. One is to cut the stem down to the base but keep the leaves growing on by watering carefully and feeding weekly. Place outside or in a greenhouse but protect from scorching. In September, place in a bright but cooler (13℃) place without feeding and reduced watering for 8 – 10 weeks. This induces semi-dormancy. After this, cut the old leaves back to about 10cm, add a layer of new compost and treat as a new bulb.

The second method is to start off the same way but in September stop watering and let the bulb dry off. Cut back stems and yellowed leaves and place them, still in their pots in a cool place (no light needed) for a couple of months. Bring them back into the light, feed and water to start them off again.

Now for some Narcissi.

Just a few then…

There was a collection of Narcissi waiting to be planted for an indoor display in January/February. Varieties included ‘Avalanche’, ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’ and ‘Erlicheer’ as well as paperwhites.

Pour your chosen planting medium into an open, shallow bowl. Push the bulbs about halfway into the mix making sure that any that have started sprouting are facing inwards, towards the centre. This will ensure they don’t grow away from the bowl and flop over. Last week I said that they should be put in a cool, dark place… they actually don’t need it to be dark but don’t need light either at this stage as long as they are kept cool. Once they have started developing roots and are starting to shoot, bring them into the warmth (not too hot!) – they will grow and flower very quickly. Support with dogwood stems, twisted hazel or birch twigs. Try staggering your planting to enjoy these beauties for longer.

These varieties are all tender so not suitable for planting outside, apart from ‘Avalanche’ which could survive in a sheltered position.

Jobs for the week

Prick out Eschscholzia seedlings

Before starting on our tasks for the week there was time for a quick re-cap on how to prick out seedlings properly.

Carefully remove the seedling from the clump by tipping them out or gently easing it out with a dibber. Hold the seedling by the leaves, not the root, to prevent snapping or damaging the tap root.

Fill your pots up to the top and strike off any excess compost so each pot is evenly filled. Make a hole in the centre with your dibber and gently ease in the seedling, pushing the compost back in around it and making sure it is planted deeply enough…don’t leave it waving around on a thin stalk! Many things can be used in the absence of a dibber…plant labels, paintbrushes, biros…I could go on.

Now it’s your turn…a safe pair of hands. Given time they will look like this…

Eschscholzia californica ‘Orange King’

Tend to the Sempervivum

The collections of Sempervivum, or house leeks, were crowded and had been invaded by Oxalis corniculata. They needed to be picked over, weeded and some of them moved on.

There may have been one or two new ones to home too…

From this… …to this. Lovely!

Plant Grevillea in pots

Grevillea or spider flowers are evergreen shrubs or trees native to Australia (mostly!) At the time of writing I don’t know which species was being planted but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a tree.

These large pots needed to be partially emptied before adding fresh compost. The newly planted Grevillea were then underplanted with Narcissi ‘Xit’…I’m sure they are beautiful but that name?!

Sort out Little Dixter

The area known as Little Dixter is being revamped with new shelving and a new planting scheme. In preparation, pots needed to be emptied and cleared, spare plants redistributed and everything to be left spick and span.

So many pots, so many plants.

Watch this space to see the plans evolve.

Work on the winter bed

There were several jobs to do in the winter bed including moving Rosa ‘New Dawn’ which was in the wrong place and needed more light.

From back in the shadows to upfront and sunlight.

This beautiful climber should be much happier and romp away over the tool shed.

While we’re at it, remove a stubborn Elder which was making a nuisance of itself.

It’s in there somewhere…much digging ensued…success!

Weed, cut back and plant Narcissi ‘Jenny’

Move a Gunnera and more

The rockery has been rediscovered since the hazel arch that grew in front of it was taken out. It is a lovely sunny spot and the elegant black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) is rightly on show. The rockery and path now needed a re-think with some plants moved out, others bought in and everything tidied. That Yucca was now in the middle of the path.

There’s a whole lot of digging going on…

This is the result…wowser!

Oh yes, and a Gunnera manicata (manicata – with long sleeves), or giant rhubarb, needed to be moved to the wet area by the pond to be part of the bog garden.

That’s the one!

Plant bulbs in pots

Of course, being November, there were more bulbs to be planted. These ones were going into pots and included the unusual Tulip acuminata (tapering to a long, narrow point). This has strange, spidery blooms in yellow to red and will be stunning in those pots.

Making sure the right bulbs go in the right pots….


Make a surreal succulent display

There was some discussion about the difference between succulents and Sempervivan. Well, Sempervivan are succulents but are different in habit to Echeveria and Aeonium in that they are fully hardy in cold and wet conditions. Echeveria will tolerate cold but really don’t like getting wet while Aeonium are not frost hardy and must be taken inside during the cold months.

The easiest way to tell them apart is by looking at the leaves. Echeveria and Aeonium have broader, thicker, more fleshy leaves.

Prepare your pot with very gritty compost then get arranging with the wonderful succulents from around the Garden House.

Absolutely stunning.

Plant up poppies and pansies

A big hit last year were the Icelandic poppies, Papaver nudicaule (nudicaule – with bare stems) grown in bowls and containers. They look really good in shallow enamel bowls, placed hither and thither on the garden tables. Something worth repeating.

In the meantime, we need some winter colour too so winter flowering pansies were also planted up for instant impact.


It was a busy, sunny, productive morning….here’s hoping for the same next week. 😊

Friday 21st October

The garden room was looking particularly beautiful when we arrived this week. Artfully arranged displays, vibrant against the recently painted walls – more than one person commented on how well the new colour sets off almost every plant and flower.

More artiness on the wood-burning stove.

Plant Ident

Yours truly was slightly alarmed as there appeared to be a vast number of plants for the ident. Three tables full…looking up info on all these for the blog would take until Christmas!

But never fear…turns out we were doing things differently this week.

Each table had been given a selection of fabulous looking plants picked from the garden that morning – the variety of blooms, colours and textures on show in October is amazing.

The idea was for each group to look carefully at the plants on their table, see if they could identify them and to write any information they could muster next to each one. This might include the type (e.g. hardy annual), family, genus, growing conditions, uses and anything else that came to mind. Did this get competitive? Not a bit!

Looks like she doesn’t believe me! (Welcome back Pat – good to see you.)

Just some of the lovelies which we reported back on to the whole group.

Now commit all that information to memory…there will be a test.

Jobs for the week

Sow veg, garlic and onions

As well as onion and garlic sets to plant, there were vegetable seeds to sow including mizuna which is a Japanese, leafy vegetable that grows as a large rosette of feathery leaves. It likes cool, damp conditions and is a fantastic “cut and come again” crop of peppery, slightly cabbage-flavoured leaves. You can also harvest young stems to treat like broccoli.

How pretty.

In fact, this is so attractive it is being grown to go on the top of pots and containers of bulbs to add interest over the winter months. What an excellent idea!

Onion and garlic sets were planted out in the cleared beds using canes to ensure regimental rows. My family find it very funny that you have to plant one onion to get……one onion back! However, that is what is needed and it was done with panache.

Protect those vulnerable sets with whatever you can find…

Cloche city!

Plant a bulb meadow

It’s that time of year again. Boxes, packets and parcels of bulbs have been arriving in readiness for the “big plant out”. We were not encouraged to estimate just how many there might be but the phrase “lots and lots” was heard whispered.

One idea is to create a naturalistic meadow of mixed bulbs, with a carefully planned colour palette, in the wild flower beds at the end of the garden.

Cutting and sticking as inspiration.

The wildflowers had been cleared from the three beds but will have seeded around so that, along with extra seeds added, new plants will emerge next year just as the bulbs are finishing.

First, assess the plot.

Next, mix the chosen bulbs in trugs to ensure an even spread

Scatter them artfully across the soil.

After a little judicious spacing, dig each one in!

Foxes are an ongoing problem at the Garden House and these newly planted beds would shout “playground” to those pesky teenage cubs. In addition, an army of squirrels is just waiting to get their teeth into such an autumn feast. We had rose clippings and ingenuity on our side…

Modern art for the garden, entitled “Outfoxed” (copyright – Tina) …that should stop the blighters.

Start off indoor bulbs

It is also time to think about preparing bulbs for early indoor colour.

These are the ones chosen this year. A gorgeous combination of whites, pale yellows and Delft blues.

Forcing bulbs is a matter of mimicking the cold and dark of winter for around 10 – 15 weeks, then fooling them into thinking it’s spring by bringing them into warmth and light. Narcissi papyraceus (paperwhites) and Hyacinth are traditional favourites but other bulbs – e.g. Muscari, Crocus, Anemone and Iris reticulata – can work well too. With Hyacinth it is important to buy prepared bulbs as these have already been through an initial sequence of “cold treatments” which triggers the growing process.

Indoor bulbs can be grown in shallow bowls in small amounts of gritty compost as they have all the nutrients they need for growth stored in the bulb. You don’t need to have drainage holes in the containers as these are short, temporary homes until the flowers die back – just don’t waterlog them. Bury them halfway in the compost, close together but not touching. Cover the soil with grit or moss for a professional finish. Place in a cold, dark spot – roots will develop until you are ready to bring them indoors in 10 – 15 week’s time.

Hyacinth bulbs don’t need any soil at all to get going.

Choose your Hyacinth vase from the lovely selection available and fill to the neck with water…the vase that is. Place the bulb in the top so that it sits with its base just above the water. That’s it! Roots will develop and reach down into the water.

Place them in a cool, dark place for about 6 weeks.

Pot on the wallflowers

The wallflowers needed to be potted on. Getting them to a decent, sturdy size before planting them out will give them a good start and a better chance of success.

Plant in the center of a well-filled pot – aiming for even growth of each one. Label carefully as these will be part of the tulip schemes.

Water, water, water!

Those greenhouse fairies left it looking immaculate.

Tend to the Pelargoniums and Auriculas

Work continues on the Pelly collection. Weed, tidy, re-pot where needed and place into the greenhouse to protect them for the winter. They do not have a dormant season as such but their growth will slow and you can make them more dormant by cutting back to 10cm or so. They need a light and airy position and to be kept damp but not wet. If you don’t have space indoors, putting your Pellies in a very sheltered spot against the wall of your house might keep them safe unless we have a harsh winter.

The auriculas (Primula auricula, mountain cowslip or bear’s ear) needed to be divided and re-potted. These alpine plants are a bit “marmite” with many vivid and showy varieties, but this one is delicate and understated – beautiful. When the plant has finished flowering, check to see if has grown “offset” shoots. If so, lift and gently pull the offsets away from the plant. Check for vine-weevil! Re-pot in a mix of compost and grit. Keep watering to a bare minimum over winter.

New plants in the making.

It was time for some rather delicious cake, a drink and a chat in that lovely, low autumn sunshine. How lucky we are.

See you in a couple of weeks. 😊

Friday 14th October

On Friday morning we headed to our FGG friend’s house in Lewes, armed with spades, trugs and endless enthusiasm.

We stood and admired, wondering what could possibly need doing in such a wonderful garden…but only for a few moments. We all know that gardens are never finished and there are always changes to be made. Jane had consulted with Bridge and Deborah over what she wished for, what was possible and together they came up with a plan.

Canes, hoses and brick edging had been laid out to mark where beds were to be widened and new lawn shapes created. There were lists of new plants and trees to be added, those to be moved and some to be taken out. Large amounts of new compost had been delivered, waiting to be added to the existing soil. Jobs were allocated over a welcome coffee.

You want us to do what? Is that laughter the hysterical type?

Someone was not so pleased to see his “patch” invaded.

Where did they all come from?

The Tasks

Work on the herb bed.

Improve the appearance and balance of the herb bed. Take out some of the plants and shape others.

Stripes are de rigueur for this job.

New thyme, rosemary and tarragon will be placed in the bed or surrounding pots. Where the herb bed borders the new lawn area, edge with repeated planting of Teucrium chamaedrys.

Marvellous! The new red-brick path will be installed properly soon.

Re-shape the lawn

Create a circular lawn, edged with red brick, from the grassy area near the herb bed. Remove turf to extend the surrounding beds and, voila! – a perfect circle ready for garden chairs, a parasol, gin and tonic…

The red brick of the path and lawn links with their use in other areas of the garden to add continuity.

Improve the shrub border

The plan is to create a low-maintenance border – how we all love those!

Prune the unruly rose – wires will be fixed so this can be tamed and trained. Plants to be added might include Kerria, Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’ and Abelia. Don’t the varied greens look wonderful against the old flint wall? Edge the bed with hardy geraniums – you can’t go wrong!

Plant new trees

A major change to the garden was to plant three silver birch (Betula pendula) in a corner to create a feeling of enclosure around the seating area.

Remove existing plants, including Zantedeschia, and assess the site. Mark the chosen spots – set out in a triangle.

Dig an enormous hole, add compost, chicken manure and water, then wrangle the not-so-tiny silver birch into the hole. Ensure the thing is straight from all angles then support with tree stakes. Phew!


One…. Two… Three!

Water in then re-plant the divided Zantendeschia, Melica uniflora and Lamprocapnos spectabilis in the spaces between the new trees.

This area is going to be something special.

Cutting back in the Hydrangea bed

Searching for inspiration?

The Hydrangea in this long bed are beautiful but the area needed some attention.

Take out the long, wooden edging planks and widen the bed by removing turf, creating a more pleasing curve. Cut back ivy and honeysuckle and remove Montbretia.

Re-plant more Hydrangea taken out from other areas of the garden, they obviously thrive in this space. Edge with Geranium ‘Lisa’ to soften the new lines.

Mission accomplished!

Reorganise the summer border

There was a lot planned for this sunny bed. First, almost double the width of the border by removing the turf to make it a more pleasing shape.

Have you noticed how much turf is being removed? Some people won’t want that job again for a while!

However, finally, the last turves were extracted – hurrah!

Simplify the planting by removing some plants entirely, then use repeat planting of key favourites such as Gaura, Salvia, Verbena and grasses to create height and movement as well as colour and shape. Improving the soil in this bed was very important .

Yes…alright…I’m on it!

Blooming lovely.

Where did they all go?

Ah….cake time.

A well-deserved break and time to swap garden makeover stories.

We were treated to several different sweet and savoury bakes – all delicious – thank you Jane.

Then just about time to finish our jobs, add that all important compost to the beds, tidy up and collect our tools in rain that had held off up until this point.

The small mountain of turves was placed carefully, grass sides down, behind the garage. These should rot down into lovely compost which is destined, eventually, to be added around the new trees.

Surplus plants were snatched up and squirrelled into bags before the owner could change her mind.

Then we could survey the results.

Yes, it is muddy but the grass will soon spring back, paths will be washed clean and the transformation will reveal itself in all its glory!

What a team! Thank you all.

Friday 7th October

As we head into October there are many beautiful and interesting plants to spot, all looking especially good in the gorgeous autumn sunshine. Take time to look at the areas you worked on in the last couple of weeks and see how everything is flourishing, even at this end of the year.

Plant Ident

This week’s plants are all shrubs. A shrub is usually defined as a small to medium, perennial, tree-like plant that has several stems rather than one trunk. Unlike herbaceous plants, shrubs have persistent woody stems above the ground. These five were all grown by Bridge from cuttings taken at Stanmer. (Does anyone else find the word “shrub” gets sillier the more you say it? ….Just me then?)

Pittosporum tenuifolium

( tenuifolium – with slender leaves)

There are over 200 types of Pittosporum but this is one of the most popular in the UK. Originating in New Zealand, where it is known as kohuhu , this variety is a large evergreen shrub, with slender, dark shoots and rounded, glossy, wavy-edged leaves. Small, honey-scented, dark purple flowers open in clusters in late spring and early summer. The scent is strongest in the evening, and during damp weather, and the flowers are filled with sticky nectar which attracts moths and night-flying insects. They do best in a sheltered spot with well-drained soil in full sun but will tolerate partial shade. Frost hardy to -8℃, they are easy to grow, require minimum pruning – just enough to keep them in shape and to encourage bushy growth – and they look wonderful. Ht 4m+ Easy peasy!

Griselinia littoralis

( littoralis – growing by the sea )

With that Latin species name it’s no surprise that this New Zealand native does really well in coastal areas. However, it performs best with some shelter and you don’t have to live a stone’s throw from a beach to grow it as it will tolerate most soils. Fast-growing with an upright habit and those oval, apple green, glossy, almost leathery leaves, it is ideal as a specimen shrub or as hedging. It bears tiny, rather insignificant yellow flowers on both the male and female plants, with those on the female plant developing into small purple fruits if both plants are grown together. It is frost-hardy but might need some protection in the harshest of winters. Ht 5m+

Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’

( pungens – with a sharp point)

This bushy shrub is also known as oleaster, or silverthorn, and is native to Asia. It makes a striking architectural plant as well as being useful for screening or hedging. Spiny brown shoots bear those amazing golden-yellow centered leaves which are edged in dark and lighter greens. The undersides are more silvery, indicating that it will be happy in exposed sites. Small ,white, fragrant flowers appear in autumn. It is great for lighting up a shady corner and those marvellous leaves are a must for winter flower arranging. Ht up to 4m.

Elaeagnus x ebbingei

You sharp-eyed lot will have noticed that this is our second Elaeagnus (testing my spelling to the limits) which is also known as fragrant mouseberry and Ebbinge’s silverberry. The knowledgeable people at Architectural Plants describe this as “one of the toughest evergreens on the planet” and it is often seen in otherwise inhospitable places such as B and Q car parks. It is a fast grower which might be down to something called ‘Hybrid Vigour’ – the offspring of such a cross being more vigourous than either parent plant. All this may make it sound rather uninspiring but this amazing plant, with its glossy, mid-green, oval-shaped leaves, is a great addition in just about any position in the garden. The silvery undersides of the leaves add a certain shimmer. It can be grown as hedging, as part of a border or even clipped as topiary in pots. It bears small but beautifully fragrant flowers in August and September. Unusually, these will grow on old wood so you’ll still have flowers if you prune back new growth. Ht 2.5 to 4m.

Fuschia magellanica

( magellanica – connected with the Strait of Magellan in South America.)

Commonly known as hardy Fuschia, this fast growing, semi-evergreen shrub will produce those distinctive, delicate, “fairy” flowers with their scarlet sepals and purple corolla throughout summer and well into autumn. It can be grown as a hedge but is more likely to be pruned back hard to the ground, or to a framework, in spring as flowers appear on the current year’s growth. It is a deceptively tough plant, rabbit resistant and able to withstand quite harsh conditions and temperatures down to -10℃ although it can be affected by grey moulds and Fuschia rust. This plant seems to split opinion – some love it, some hate it and some of us have changed our minds! Ht up to 2.5m

Jobs for the week

Gather quince and clear the bed below

Found one!

It has been a difficult year for the poor quince ( Cydonia oblonga ) with the drought affecting the amount of fruit it has produced but those few will not go to waste! They are great for making jams and jellies, and that Garden House favourite, membrillo. The surrounding beds also needed to be tidied and prepared for planting up.

Pot on wallflowers and lily of the valley

I think they are singing gently to those precious plants!

The wallflowers (Erysimum) needed to be potted on and their tops pinched out to encourage bushy growth, ready to be planted out later. These are biennial, bedding type plants (perennial types are also available) which flower in early spring and are wonderful partners for tulips and other spring flowering bulbs. They can also give a second, later flowering and some cultivars, such as ‘Sugar Rush’ can survive being cut back, to return in the following years.

Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) were divided and potted up too. These treasured beauties are great in difficult dry-shady positions and – oh…that scent.

Preparing the veg beds

The second of the beds that had been used for cutting flowers needed to be cleared and prepared for vegetables such as pak choi. This is hardier than many other leafy crops and is good for autumn/winter as it can bolt in hot weather. Use the leaves straight from the plant or wait until it develops a “heart” to use the whole thing in stir-frys etc. Yum!

Sow larkspur and chard

Now is the time to sow larkspur (Consolida ajacis). They need a period of time in very cold, slightly damp conditions (stratification) to break the dormancy of the seed. You can do this in a ziplock bag with some damp perlite added, or sown pots, in the fridge if you have space!

Chard is a really useful plant as it will grow in cold conditions as well as in warmer months. If planted out early enough in the autumn it will make a good start before colder weather arrives in November. This could cause growth to slow or stop but can be avoided by covering plants with cloches, using horticultural fleece on very cold nights and mulching around the base of the plant.


Replant troughs in the passageway


These troughs are in a tricky site – with little direct light – and require careful planning to ensure they are looking good to welcome visitors to the Garden House. The summer planting was removed, leaving in the ivy as a foil for Senecio cineraria, pansies and lily of the valley among others. Can’t wait to see them in all their glory….should be fabulous!

…and after.

Take out the willow arch

The willow arch near the dry garden was planted many years ago and had become rather too well-established. The plan was to remove it, trying to save the lovely Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles’ which climbs through it and is just starting to flower, then dig trenches for new plants to start again. Once one side had been taken out and the other cut back to an upright form, the opened-up area caused pause for thought and there now may be different plans afoot. Watch this (surprisingly large) space.

Last but not least – compost

Have you ever seen two people happier in their work?

There was a discussion (lecture?) about the dos and don’ts of composting. It is important to stick to using green trugs for good waste and black ones for weeds, diseased plants and rubbishy stuff. Only green trugs to be emptied into the compost, cutting things up small as you go. Layer up green and brown matter to avoid slimy compost and try to avoid tipping crocks, labels or other nasties in with the good stuff. Remove sellotape from cardboard before it goes in or you might incur the wrath of the compost gods.

We want to avoid this…

….and these.

This is a chafer bug and it is definitely not welcome!

The prepared compost in all its crumbly, rich glory was destined for the top garden to add a mulching layer to the beds.

We are off to Lewes next week to bring our own brand of garden makeover to one lucky recipient – see you there.😊

Friday 30th September

The Garden House was buzzing with activity on Friday morning with plant sellers, cake makers, café volunteers, friends and even scaffolders on site alongside the Friday Garden Group.

It all started so peacefully…a calm and spacious area for the plant sales….

….then, within a nanosecond of FGG being let loose, it looked like this.

And these were always going to disappear like…..well, hotcakes.

But before the Macmillan coffee morning started it was down to the serious business of FGG.

Plant Ident

This week’s plants were all annual climbers, great on their own or as part of a scheme, grown up trellis, wigwams, walls or arches.

Thunbergia alata

(alata – winged)

Black-eyed Susan, black-eyed clock vine, bright eyes are all common names for this fairly fast growing, twining climber. It is a good example of why Latin names are useful as, not only does this plant have many different common names, other plants are also sometimes known as black-eyed Susan which could be confusing. Although it is a tender perennial, originating from East Africa, it is generally grown here as an annual. It will produce an abundance of flowers over several months – the picture here shows three different varieties. Sow seed under glass in Jan/Feb or take semi-ripe cuttings in late summer. Ht up to 2.5m when trained up.

Rhodochiton astrosanguineus

(astrosanguineus – dark blood-red)

This fascinating tender climber, also known as purple bell vine, is native to Mexico and can be grown here as a perennial in very sheltered, frost-free spots or in a conservatory but is more widely grown from seed as an annual. Each flower is composed of a long, slender, purple-black tube growing out of a chalice-shaped mauve calyx resembling dangly earrings, hanging bells and other things that we won’t mention here…(!). It will romp away up to 3 metres when trained but can also be used as a trailing plant. Grow from seed on heat in February. RHS AGM

Cobaea scandens

( scandens – climbing )

The cup and saucer plant, or cathedral bells, is one of the fastest growing vines, reaching growth of 7m+ in a single season. Again, it is perennial native to tropical America and can be grown as such here if it is protected and kept at about 7°c. The plants have an almost tropical appearance with lush green growth and large, bell-shaped flowers which are fragrant when fully open. Pictured is the purple variety but a white version – f. alba – is also fabulous. When growing from seed it needs a long growing period so start it off under glass in January, planting its large, flat seeds on their sides to prevent them rotting. As it gets going it will need supporting with a cane or similar. Ht 4,5,6,7 metres…and beyond?!

Ipomea lobata ‘Exotic Love’

( lobata – with lobes )

This firecracker of a climber is also known as Spanish flag but hails from Mexico. It is a half-hardy, short lived perennial but is generally grown as an annual here. Its vigourous growth produces spires (racemes) of tubular blooms that arrive in an intense scarlet then fade through gold to creamy white. Sow seeds under glass in April then plant out when all risk of frost has passed into a well drained soil in full sun. Note – the seeds can be toxic if ingested so it is recommended that you wear gloves when handling them. This is a striking addition to any garden – go on – who doesn’t need a bit of ‘Exotic Love’ in their life? Ht up to 5m.

Jobs for the week

Sow hardy annuals

Hardy annuals can be sown in autumn or spring but starting them off now allows them to get a good start, making the plant hardier and earlier to flower. Plants such as Calendula, Nigella, Centaurea (cornflower), Eschscholzia, Lychnis and Scabiosa can be sown in an FP9 pot on a mix of compost and perlite and covered lightly with grit. When sowing very tiny seeds, mix with fine silver sand and sprinkle evenly over the surface. Remember, the smaller the seed, the less covering it needs. Hardy annuals don’t need heat to germinate but these ones are being put into the new, custom-made fancy-schmancy propagator… Made by Keith, it has heating cables controlled by thermostat and is lined with attic-type insulation. Very impressive.

We’re not jealous!

Prepare beds for winter veg

The cut-flower beds have served their purpose for now and need to be cleared to make way for winter vegetables and salads. Early broad beans have been started off in pots – these are hardy and will overwinter in the beds.

They’ve done a grand job but why are they are trying to avoid the camera?

Cut back the jasmine under the rose arches

This is more like it….well posed you two.

The area under the rose arches was becoming quite jungle-like. The rampant jasmine needed cutting back, alongside tidying up the beds underneath. We will now be able to walk through without the aid of a machete.

More bed management

We’re a happy bunch!

At this time of year there is always clearing, cutting back, weeding and tidying to do. These lovelies were concentrating on the beds and paths in front of the rose arches.

Sort out strawberry plants in the greenhouse.

No, not quite that many.

More our scale I think.

The strawberries had been lifted from the beds, where they were not in the best position, and potted up until ready to be planted elsewhere. They needed to be checked over, weeded, some consigned to the compost heap and others selected to be sold at the coffee morning. Chilli plants were searched for their last remaining fruits, then also jettisoned into the compost. This is what we found….


Work in the dry garden

It’s all about the teamwork!

The dry garden is looking wonderful but we can’t rest on our laurels (or any other plant for that matter). Some of the Euphorbia needed to be removed, established plants like Helianthemum cut back to a manageable shape for winter, and there was beautiful Myrtle (see last week’s plant ident) to be planted.

Have you noticed how much everyone is smiling today?

Herb bed management

See what I mean?…smiles galore.

Earlier this year (or could well have been last year – time means nothing at the moment) several hedging Germanders – Teucrium x lucidris – were planted along the edges of the herb beds to form, eventually, a low (30cm) hedge which is drought resistant, aromatic when brushed past and has very pretty, tiny pink flowers. They now need to be clipped into shape to keep the hedging dream on track. There were also other herbs in the beds which needed a tidy as well as the potted mints. A heady job for these lucky gardeners.

Pot on Chrysanthemums

There were lots of Chrysanthemums in the greenhouse which needed to be potted on from their fairly big pots (2 litres) into even bigger ones – we’re talking bucket sized. The plants will then be found a more suitable home as they were not getting enough light in the greenhouse. These are Korean Chrysanthemum which are making something of a comeback after falling out of favour. This was a sizable, physical task so it’s a wonder that even these two are still smiling.

Macmillan coffee morning

I think the universal cheerfulness stemmed from getting the garden ready for visitors and knowing that a good cause was being supported. Lots of people came, the sun shone, plants were purchase, cake was eaten…..and the best part?…. £500 was raised for Macmillan – a cause close to many of our hearts. Thank you everyone. xxx

Friday 23rd September

Just as we were getting into the swing of the new gardening year we were deluged….now, as true gardeners, we welcome rain but would like it portioned out more evenly please.

We were not downhearted but retreated to the Garden Room….there are worse places to be…

We chose our seats carefully, for maximum effect…

…. and tried to ignore the rather alarming amounts of rain by thinking of a few of our favourite things. No singing was involved, and not a brown paper parcel or whiskery kitten in sight but each of us choosing our plant of the moment.

We chose Rudbeckia, Plectranthus, Tibouchina urvilleana, Salvia ‘Amistad’, Dahlia ‘Autumn Orange’, climbing roses, Ophiopogon planiscapus, Trachelospermum jasminoides, Lantana, Caryopteris, grape vines, Rosa ‘Roald Dahl’, Thalyctrum delavayi, Gaura, Anemone japonica, Rosa helenae and Cosmos. Phew!

Plant Ident

The ident this week was of plants included in the Queen’s funeral wreath, which was widely felt to have been a touching addition to the pomp and ceremony. They were all gathered from the various Royal gardens and arranged, we think, by Shane Connolly.

Pelargonium ‘Attar of Roses’

This gorgeous Pelly is a tender perennial sub-shrub with rose-scented, pinnately lobed leaves and small clusters of very pretty, pale, mauve-pink flowers. Like all pelargoniums, it has five petals of the same size and shape but the two upper petals differ slightly in colour and pattern from the three lower petals. It is great in pots and containers but also looks good in the front of borders, preferring full sun and a well-drained soil. It can be used in cooking, for making herbal tea and as an aromatic essential oil. Ht up to 45cm.

Myrtus communis subspecis tarentina

(communis – growing in groups)

Tarentum myrtle is a small, densely growing, evergreen shrub with small, aromatic, ovate leaves. The tiny pink buds open to starry white flowers from spring into summer, followed by white berries. Sometimes known as the herb of love, it was an ancient symbol of a happy marriage. The myrtle in the wreath was grown from a cutting taken from the Queen’s wedding bouquet. It is being used in place of Box in some situations and needs a sheltered , sunny position on well-drained soil – it loves the chalk! Use the leaves in cooking or pot-pourris and the dried berries as a spice. Ht up to 100cm – but slow, slow, slow!

Rosa ‘Highgrove’

The garnet-red, velvety double blooms of this smaller, modern climbing rose will appear repeatedly throughout late spring and summer and on into autumn. I have one which is flowering now in late September. As they age, the flowers display deep magenta hues. They are set against dark green, glossy foliage which makes it a very striking addition trained up walls, trellis or obelisks. Ht up to 2.5m.

Rosemarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’

(officinalis – sold in shops, thereby indicating a useful plant)

This is a hardy, low-growing, spreading form of Rosemary, therefore a Salvia (look carefully at those tiny purple-blue flowers). The grey-green foliage, that unmistakable scent and the insect attracting flowers make it a must-have. It is a symbol of remembrance. Useful as an edging plant for herb gardens or sunny borders – drape it over the edges of walls, add it to troughs and pots – you can’t go wrong! Unless, of course, you try to grow it in anything other than a sunny spot in well-drained soil. Propagate by taking semi-hardwood cuttings. Ht 10-50cm

Scabiosa atropurpurea ‘Black Knight’

(atropurpurea – dark purple)

Scabious can be annuals, biennials, or herbaceous or evergreen perennials. This stunning, dramatic variety is a short-lived perennial, meaning that it will come back each year for 2-3 years…longer if you are lucky. It flowers throughout summer into autumn with double pincushion flowers in the deepest burgundy, with almost black centres and contrasting white stamens. It is a plant for almost every type of planting – cottage gardens, more formal city-type gardens, prairie planting and pots and containers, adding contrast and depth of colour. It also makes a great cut-flower. Cut back hard midway through the season and it will flower again. Propagate by division or sow seeds with heat in autumn or spring. Ht up to 50cm.

Label writing

This is a really important part of working at Garden House – or any other working garden or nursery for that matter. As Bridge says, “The label is more important than the plant!” There was some discussion about why we need to use Latin when labelling plants…

1. Using a universal language means knowing exactly which plant is being grown/discussed/ordered, no matter where you are in the world.

2. It allows plants to be grouped together according to their characteristics and relationships.

3. It can give extra information about the plant in a brief and universal way.

When writing labels you don’t need to put the Family, just use the Genus, the Species and the Cultivar or Variety.

Has everyone got that?! Here is a quiz from Bridge to test you…

I can highly recommend this little book as a starting point for anyone who is interested…

Jobs for the week

It was way too wet to be outside so we settled down to a game of Plant Families – think Happy Families but greener – an FGG favourite.

This is great for learning about the characteristics (and differences) of plants within some of the Families. It also bought out the competitive side of some of us….

Before it all ended in tears it was time for coffee and cake.

Lets hope for more clement weather next week! See you then. x

Friday 16th September

Shadows are lengthening as we head into Autumn but it was a beautiful September morning and there was plenty to see and do at the Garden House.

Plant Ident

One of the upsides of the summer drought was that there were fewer weeds to contend with as they struggled to grow along with other, more precious, plants. Now we have had some serious rainfall, they are back with a vengeance. Weeds are often described as wild plants growing where they are not wanted! They tend to be invasive, spreading readily, and they compete with your favourites for water, nutrients and light. We looked at five of the blighters….

Anchusa officinalis

Alkanet or common bugloss is a biennial (occassionally perrenial) plant with pretty spikes of blue flowers above leaves that look a bit like Foxglove. However, these leaves are slightly more rounded and bristly – the bristles can cause skin irritation so take care when handling them. It has a long tap root and new shoots can form on root sections. Although attractive, it is invasive and there are other, cultivated forms which will give larger flowers and will not spread as readily. Up to 90cm ht.

Euphorbia peplus

Milkweed or petty spurge – my own, personal nemesis – is a small annual form of Euphorbia with upright, branching stems bearing oval leaves and small pale green flowers with triangular bracts below. It has a milky sap which can irritate the skin and is painful if it gets into your eyes so use protective gloves and eyewear when dealing with this readily spreading annual. On the plus side, the emerging plants are easy to pull from the soil or hoe off. Up to 20cm ht.

Mercurialis annua

French or annual Mercury is also in the Euphorbiaceae family and is easily confused with Dog’s Mercury but has a more branching habit, hairy stems and darker leaves. It is rich in potassium and used to be used as a purgative. Although poisonous to livestock, the seeds are an important part of a bullfinches diet. The seeds are dispersed explosively, are sometimes carried away by ants and can remain viable in soil for 6-7 years. Up to 70cm ht.

Geranium robertianum

Herb robert, red robin, stinking Bob, fox geranium, death come quickly… the list of common names goes on. Another initially attractive plant, it has strongly scented, palmately divided foliage which is often reddened, matching the narrow stems. Pink flowers appear throughout spring, summer and autumn producing explosive seed pods, spreading the plant rapidly over a wide area. Apparently, the leaves are edible and are used for making tea…none for me thank you. The roots are fairly shallow so it can be pulled up easily. Up to 30cm ht.

Oxalis corniculata

(corniculata – with small horns)

Creeping oxalis is a ground-hugging annual or perennial with small, reddish-purple leaves and tiny yellow flowers. Its branched, creeping, roots form a mat of growth and weave around stones and the roots of other plants. It loves cracks and crevices in pathways but also the soil in pots, especially those in a greenhouse. Some people live happily with it as it is quite pretty but new growth will sprout from any pieces touching the soil as well as having explosive seed capsules so it can run riot .

With all weeds it is best to stay on top of them as much as you can, hoeing off seedlings and digging or pulling up larger plants before they set seed….I know, easier said than done! To prevent more spread, avoid putting them in the compost and be careful of transferring your weeds to other gardens (GH!) in donated plants or on your shoes.

Jobs for the week.

Tie in the Cypress trees

The two Cypress trees were in need of a makeover – taking out any dead matter then carefully tying in straggling branches to create a good shape. A daunting task and not for the faint-hearted……

Achieving the perfect shape by the sheer force of her willpower.

Start preparing Pelargoniums for winter.

It’s time to start preparing your precious Pelargoniums for the winter. At GH this meant taking every plant out of the “Pelly House”, removing any weeds or dead foliage, taking cuttings, re-potting those that needed it and giving them all a final feed. Next the task of finding room for them all, plus the ones from outside which have, mysteriously, grown in number.

That’s a Pelly? Really?

Divide grasses.

Ornamental grasses can be divided to reduce the size of a clump, reinvigorate growth and to produce more plants. Grasses from a cool climate (e.g. Carex, Calamagrostis, Chasmanthium, Deschampia, Festuca, Hakonechloa, Helictotrichon, Molina and Stipa) can loose their vigour after three years so need regular division. Those from warmer climates (e.g. Arundo, Cortaderia, Imperata, Panicum, Pennisetum, Phalaris and Spartina) only require occasional division. Split clumps with two forks back-to back, cut through with a sharp spade or saw through with a knife (breadknives are great for this).

Work in the Dry Garden

The weather is gradually changing and it might be only 2-3 weeks until we get a cold snap. It’s a good time to get everything into shape by cutting back plants such as Nepeta, Lavender, Rosemary etc. Don’t cut into the old wood but enough to create the shape you want. Take cuttings. Note – this is not the time to cut back Salvias – that should wait until March. Take this last chance to put in any more plants, while the soil is still warm and light levels haven’t dipped too low. Lovely Erigeron was going in here.

Tidy up the Herb Garden

Are we allowed to stand up yet?

A similar task was being carried out in the herb garden. Cutting back the lush growth of the herbs will keep the area tidy and prevent parts of the plants rotting when we get wintery weather. The aroma was delicious and there were herbs to take home to use straight away or freeze for later.

Sort out the cold frames

The cold frames needed some attention. Some of the plants were for keeping, some to sell at the Macmillan coffee morning and some to give away.

Identify the plant and remove weeds, slugs and snails. Cut back stragglers and harvest seed. Pot on those which have outgrown their pots.

Remember, whatever your task for the day, tidy up behind you!

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