Friday 22nd November 2019

Autumn days – but winter is on the way,


and ‘the rose hips are blood-bright,
spattered on their overwrought stems’
(from Chokecherries by Melissa Kwasny)
Plant Ident.
Time to look at evergreens – so important for the structure of a garden, particularly during the winter months.
Rhamnus alaternus ‘Argenteovariegata’
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This large, bushy evergreen shrub is a fabulous plant which can be clipped to taste.  Not fully hardy in extremely cold parts of the country, but vigorous and good in coastal areas.  The creamy-white margins of the leaves make it a particularly attractive choice.
Myrtus communis subsp tarentina
The small-leaved myrtle was known as the herb of love in the Victorian era and was widely used in wedding bouquets at the time.  It has large, pink-tinted cream flowers in the summer, followed by white berries in the autumn.  The leaves are small, ovate in form and a glossy dark green.  Tough and forgiving.
Griselinia littoralis
Litoralis means ‘of the seashore’, so this plant is a good choice for coastal gardens.  It makes a great hedge, but is equally good as a freestanding shrub.  Beautifully coloured petioles (the stalks that join leaves to stems) complement the leaves themselves, which have a sheen on the topside and are a paler matt green on the underside.  Raising the canopy on a freestanding shrub can transform and elevate its appearance.  (Makes it look posher.)
Santolina ‘Bowles Lemon’
There is a grey variety of Cotton Lavender, but this vibrant green form bears lovely lemon flowers.  Another plant which thrives by the sea, it makes a good small hedge and is also effective planted in groups and clipped into plump, cushiony shapes.  Prune in March.
Taxus baccata fastigiata ‘Aureomarginata’
Whilst it’s important to be familiar with the Latin names of plants, it has to be said that this one is a bit of a mouthful.  ‘Aureomarginata’ means ‘having gold margins’.  Fastigiata means ‘growing upright – having upright clustered branches, narrowing towards the top’.  A good description of the Golden Irish Yew.  Much favoured by Garden House, this beautiful evergreen is valuable for its architectural, vertical growth and its robust nature.
Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’
The ubiquitous Elaeagnus is widely used in public plantings, from car-parks to country parks.  It makes an excellent hedge and is particularly appreciated in winter gardens for the splash of bright golden-yellow provided by its leaves, which have irregular green edges.
The tiny, white flowers which appear in the autumn are insignificant, but have a wonderful fragrance.  Another good plant for coastal areas.  Any stems with leaves reverting to plain green should be removed immediately.    
Jobs for the week:
Recently, Garden House held another Workshop on Rose Pruning, led by the inspirational Simon White from Peter Beales Roses.  (‘How-to’ guides are available from their website.)   The R.H.S. also have good publications available on the topic of pruning.
This week, Friday Group had a number of pruning jobs to tackle, including some climbing and rambling roses.  Ramblers generally flower only once a year and, as the name suggests, they ramble about and produce long, lax flexible stems.  They flower on old wood made in the previous year.  Usually, they have single flowers which are followed by rose hips in the autumn.  R. ‘Kiftsgate’, R. ‘Rambling Rector’ and R. ‘Veilchenblau’ are all ramblers.
Climbers, on the other hand, usually repeat flower, and the roses grow on wood which has grown in the current season.  They have stiffer stems and can be a challenge to tie in.  R. ‘Compassion’ and R. ‘ Cecile Brunner’ are examples of the type.
Pruning with our visiting expert
Sharp, clean tools are essential.  As is a plan of action.
Old, dead and diseased wood goes first.
Tying- in stems horizontally promotes better flower production.
But. there’s always so much to clear up and remove!
Plant up the big terracotta pots
Not bulbs, by any chance?
Thought so.  More tulips.
Best get on with it then
Plant Currant bushes.
White, black and red, please.  And why not add some Narcissi bulbs too?
Why not?  They’ll look wonderful.
Plant Crocus bulbs in amongst the paths
Eyes down in the spring…
…for tiny pops of colour
Nicely naturalistic
Plant up Hippeastrums
Crocks in the bottom are a good idea in these big pots
A mix of grit and multi-purpose compost goes in.  Then put in the Amaryllis bulbs, taking care not to damage their tentacle-like roots.  Bury two-thirds of the bulbs, leaving the neck visible.
Don’t forget to grit the top – or you can use moss.  Looks classy.
Then, once we get the hang of things, we can improvise with planting in jars too.
Layers of grit, compost, topped off with decorative gravel.  Think Isle of Wight coloured sand souvenirs
Oh, I say
Leave in a light room at a temperature of around 20 degrees.  Water sparingly to keep very lightly moist but not soggy.  10-12 weeks should do it.
Plant more Paperwhites for indoor-flowering 
Plant Alliums in drifts 
In the new bed, these are going to be a purple sensation!
I mean, these are going to be ‘Purple Sensation’
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Is this drifty enough?
Plant up Lil’s bed with Tulips, Lunaria and Digitalis
First, rake the soil
Cool raking action
They say honesty is the best policy
So, Honesty in first, then Foxgloves
Followed by the bulbs
Here we go……
Many hands make light work of bulbs
That’s funny.  I thought bulbs made lights work….
Oh, very good!
Plant up the special outdoor chair with ivies
Think of it as a Game of Thrones
Have at you!
A little more adjustment
And there we have it.
A hand-woven ivy-cushion seat.
Prune Rosa ‘Cécile Brunner’
A climbing rose which grows on the trellis behind the compost heap.
You may be beautiful, Cécile, but you sure are a prickly customer
A short breather, perhaps?
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Now, do be careful not to relax too much!
Prune the rambling rose growing in the apple tree
Sometimes ramblers are left pretty much to their own devices but there comes a time, when they may need taking in hand.  The long flexible branches are the flower bearing stems for the next year and, unless pruning severely, these should not be cut.  All old, diseased and dead wood can be taken out.  Keep the hips for Christmas decorations!
Where to start?
Help!  It’s rambling into my hair!
Be brutal!
Give it a short back and sides.  That’ll sort it.
Clematis vitalba or Old Man’s Beard.
The wild beauty of wild clematis


Friday 15th November 2019

All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey…

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…except for the leaves of the Field Maple, which are a bright buttery-yellow.

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Plant Ident.

This week, the focus was on trees.  Garden House finds Barcham’s ‘Time for Trees’ to be an excellent reference book.

Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’


An attractive, small, deciduous tree with large, purple, heart-shaped leaves.  Fertile, moist but well-drained soils suit it, and it likes a sunny or partially shaded position.  Looks great contrasted with lime-coloured plants.  Can suffer from wind damage as it is a little fragile.  A.G.M. (h. 8 m)

Acer campestre


The tough, native Field Maple is frequently used in urban plantings as it is resistant to air pollution.  Deciduous, it has small, five-lobed leaves which are dark green, but turn a beautiful butter-yellow in the autumn.  It makes a good informal hedge and is a fantastic tree for wildlife.  (h. 7 – 10+ m)

Cercis siliquastrum


The Judas Tree.  It loves chalk!  Heart-shaped leaves are preceded by pink/purple pea-flowers which bloom on the branches – a stunning sight in the front garden at Garden House.  Flattened pods follow later in the year. Deciduous. (h. 3 – 8 m)

Betula utilis var. jacquemontii


The Himalayan Birch.  With its distinctive white trunk, this is a tree that sparkles at this time of year.  Good as a standard, or multi-stemmed; good planted as an individual specimen, or in a group.  Visit the National Trust gardens at Anglesey Abbey near Cambridge to see a magnificent glade of them, with their shimmering white bark against blue skies lit by winter sunshine.  Makes you go all poetic.


Cornus Mas

The Cornelian Cherry.  Deciduous.  Wonderful for its tiny yellow flowers in the bleak days of February, followed by small, red, cherry-like fruits.  Doesn’t grow too big.  Nice shape.  Lovely bark.  A good alternative to Witch-hazel. Plant early flowering Narcissi underneath to complete the golden glow.  (h. 3-8 m)

Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’

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Also known as the Coral-Bark Maple.  A large deciduous shrub or small tree, its stems and branches are coral red.  Looks glorious at this time of year with the additional bonus of the beautifully coloured autumnal leaves.  Not good on chalk.

Arbutus unedo

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The Strawberry Tree, named for its large red-berried fruits.  The fruits from the previous year ripen in the autumn, at the same time as tiny, white, bell-shaped flowers appear.  All-year interest is guaranteed as it is evergreen and sports a wonderful rough, brown bark which peels away in strips to reveal coppery-orange colours underneath. (h. 4 – 8 m)

Malus robusta ‘Red Sentinel’

A lovely tree for the garden.  Beautiful and numerous bright red crab apples decorate this tree in the autumn, often remaining well into winter.  Tolerates a range of soil conditions, including clay. (h. 3 – 7 m.)

Prunus serrulata ‘Tai-haku’ 


The Great White Cherry.  Much loved by Garden House.  Makes a magnificent specimen tree, bearing large single white flowers in the spring alongside coppery-coloured foliage.  This tree was thought to have disappeared for many years, until ‘Cherry’ Ingram found one growing in a Sussex garden in 1932, after which it was re-introduced to its native Japan.  (h. 7 – 12 m)

Jobs for the week:

Pot on propagated annuals in the greenhouse


Fill pots right to the top with compost then strike off the excess with one hand. Tap the pot so that the compost settles.  Leave space for watering.  Its important that each pot should be similar to its neighbours so that the same plants will receive exactly the same treatment and grow at a similar rate.

Plant the bare-rooted roses (ultimately destined for the Rose Meadow) into large pots 

The selection chosen are: R. ‘Hot Chocolate’, R. ‘For Your Eyes Only’, R. ‘Cafe’, R. ‘Eyes For You’ and R. ‘Belle Epoque’.  All hybrid tea roses.  Prune hard back.  Label and water, of course!


They look snug

Plant clematis and roses on the back bed.

It’s cold, it’s wet it’s… hey! Where’s my planting companion off to?


I’ll be right back…


I’ve been espaliered!

Continue planting bulbs


And more and more and more….


And plant species tulip bulbs in pots



These will be used as part of the Little Dixter display.  The pots, not the ladies.

Check the Pelargonium Palace

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We think the ladies would be terrific as part of the Little Dixter display.

Dead-head all Pelargoniums; remove any damaged or diseased plant material.  Water.

Plant Narcissi in winter border


Plant up large pots with Tulipa ‘Chinatown’

Add some winter bedding on top for seasonal interest


Divide Allium ‘Ozawa’ and re-pot


Pull the clumps apart gently.  Pot up clusters consisting of about 4 of these summer-flowering bulbs.  Firm in well; label; grit; water. Put them into the cold frame.


She looks rather pleased with herself

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the garden…


Ooh, a nice quiet moment

I’ll just sit here for a while


Hang on a minute


What is that?

I don’t believe it


Believe it, baby!


It’s OK, puss, there’s an ally nearby…


To the rescue!

Prick out Californian Poppies and re-pot

Re-pot them quite deeply, ensuring their lowest leaves are resting on the surface of the compost.  this keeps them firm in the pot and ensures they will grow away better.

Remove the strawberry plants from the metal containers and move to fruit beds


Cut the plants back and re-plant around the edges of the fruit beds.  A berry good idea.

Sixteen apples sitting on a wall


What if one should accidentally fall?

The leaves of Prunus serrulata ‘Tai-haku’


‘Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.’

(Robert Frost)





Friday 8th November 2019

It may be November, but there’s always something for Friday Group to enjoy at Garden House.  Now’s the time for the woodburner and bunches of chrysanths.


Plant Ident.

First of all this week, we looked at leaves and branches from some unusual trees.  Ginkgo biloba (the Maidenhair tree), Metasequoia glytostroboides (the Dawn Redwood), Larix decidua (the European Larch) and Taxodium distichum (the Swamp Cypress).

Q.  Why are they unusual?

A.  They are all deciduous conifers and, unlike most conifers, they shed their leaves in    the autumn.

Biennials Bonanza

Time for some of the biennial seedlings sown earlier in the year to be planted out.  Seeds of biennial plants can be sown in the May, June or July of the year prior to them flowering.  These are some we will be enjoying next year:

Dianthus barbatus ‘Sooty’


Sweet Williams are always a favourite and these are no exception.  Fragrant, deep red/chocolate flowers are borne above red stems and the leaves are mid green turning to deep ruby-black in colour.  Eye-catching.

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Erysimum cheiri ‘Blood Red’

Part of the Brassica family, the deep red flowers of this wonderful Wallflower will excite admiration from all your garden visitors.  They fill the May-June ‘garden gap’ and, what’s more, have a deliciously spicy scent.  They need to be hardened off slowly before being planted outside, ideally in full sun.  Ensure good drainage and regular dead-heading, and you are on to a winner.  Plant amongst tulips to evoke real garden envy.


Lunaria annua


Another member of the brassica family, Honesty can have either white or purple/mauve flowers.  Lunaria means ‘moon-shaped’ – which its seed heads are.  These are an added bonus, decorative in the border and when used for flower arrangements.  The flat, papery seed cases are translucent and shimmer, both indoors and out.  Will self seed around the garden.




Come next April, this Sea Stock’s brilliant white flowers will be floating over its grey-green leaves.  Particularly effective in the low-light of dusk, its exquisite scent will fill the air.  So, place this hardy biennial near a path, where it will be much appreciated.  The plant shown above will become the plant below.


Hesperis matronalis

Sweet Rocket.  This biennial (can also be a short-lived perennial) and its fragrant purple or white flowers appear in late spring/early summer.  Another useful plant to have in the garden to fill the spring-summer gap.  Beautifully scented, as its name implies, and a self-seeder.


Jobs for the week:

Basically, if you say ‘Plant bulbs’, you’ve got it covered.


See what I mean?

But, before you start:-

Add leaf mould to improve the condition of the soil and rake the beds to a smooth finish

Those beds look nicely raked


But of course!


Plant bulbs


Plant more bulbs


See above




The bulbs are in, but not forgotten


They are planted deep in the soil.  The Dianthus, and Aniseed, stand guard.


Something else is planted deep in this soil….


Wonder if we’ll get a Tortoise Tree?

Plant three or four different types of Narcissi under the Cornus Mas tree

Include ‘Jack Snipe’ and ‘Hawera’, to create a golden glow under its yellow blossoms in February.



(Is she praying or planting? Both are useful.)

Plant in groups of 5 to 7 bulbs

  Or more!


One, two, three, four… oh blast, have I counted that one already?


An additional Achillea will just add to the golden glow.  This one is Achillea ‘Schwellenburg’.

Plant bulbs in pots 

(If not already engaged in planting bulbs in borders.)  This is ‘Avalanche’, for indoor flowering.


Bulbs tossed and mossed

And bulbs for outdoor pots.  These are Crocuses.


Hyacinth bulbs planted in the rhubarb bed will create a sophisticated look next spring.  Oh yes.

Remove Salvia uliginosa from large pots; plant up with a mix of orange/red tulips and orange and red Erysimum.

Five little wallflowers sitting on a wall…


Plant bulbs in the top garden near the Pelargonium Palace greenhouse.

Plant deeply – at least a trowel’s depth, wriggle the trowel about to create a hole, then plant the flatter side of the bulb against the back of the hole.



And delivery


Design a scheme for perennial planting in the top garden

Hang on a minute.  No bulbs???

Not one!

Here are the plants in all their glory


First, lay out your scheme


Consider from all angles


Ready, set…




Take tender plants into the greenhouse 

This one might be Begonia luxurians


Some will need removing from their pots and re-potting



Prick out and pot on biennials and hardy annuals as necessary



(You mean Alcea rosea?)

Plant Sweet Williams in the bed behind the greenhouse


Good job



A last sweep round to create the perfect finish.


True dedication

No sign of any bulbs now!


I wonder.  Maybe more next week?



Those tulips don’t plant themselves, you know.

And who planted you there?


I’m not planted


I’m hibernating




Friday 25th October 2019

We’re a seasonal lot at Friday Group and although we’re always thinking ahead, planning and planting for the future, never let it be said that we don’t take time to enjoy the here and now.  20191027_145531 (1).jpg

In view of this, today’s Plant Ident. was all about berries.  It’s a very berry year.

Cornus alba ‘Kesseleringii’


This vigorous, deciduous dogwood has dark red, almost black, stems which contrast well with other coloured barks and stems in the winter garden.  Its oval leaves turn a lovely mahogany-red in the autumn, and small white berries follow the tiny creamy-white flowers.  Likes a moist, well-drained soil.  Chop down to the ground in April to encourage fresh new growth with intensely coloured young stems.  Seems harsh, but pays dividends.

Cotoneaster horizontalis


Aka the fishbone Cotoneaster, the reason for which is obvious when you see a good specimen: its stems grow in an easily identifiable herringbone pattern.  A really structural, tough, deciduous shrub, it is loved by bees (for its little pink flowers) and birds (for the small, bright red berries which they enjoy in the winter).  Will self-sow easily.  Can be encouraged to grow upwards against a wall.

Malus sylvestris


One of the Rosaceae family, commonly known as the Crab Apple.  The fruits are wonderful for making crab apple jelly as they have a high pectin content.  There are many cultivars of these small, useful trees to choose from and their fruits can vary in colour from yellow through to gold, orange, scarlet and dark red.  They are a good choice for a small garden as they offer year-round interest in addition to the fruits: long-lasting flowers, good autumn colour, attractive to birds and insects – and they are self-fertile.  Plant one!

Rubus Fruticosus


The native wild blackberry is a vigorous, thorny, suckering plant.  Creates a good habitat for wildlife, but would normally only be grown by a gardener as part of a mixed, wild, country hedge.  There are now named cultivars which have been developed for growing in gardens for their fruit – several of which are thornless.  Lovely to harvest the blackberries in late summer and enjoy them ‘au naturel’ (‘in the nude’??) or in a crumble.

Crataegus monogyna


The common Hawthorn, native to the U.K., is a small, rounded, spiny deciduous tree with small, green, distinctively lobed leaves.  Masses of small creamy flowers appear in the spring – a familiar sight in country lanes and along roadside verges – and are followed by little berries (or haws) which turn red in the autumn.  Good as part of a mixed hedgerow and very attractive to bugs and birds.

Crataegus laevigata

Sometimes known as the Midland Hawthorn, and actually not dissimilar to the common one, this variety is a very beautiful form of Hawthorn.  Its leaves are more deeply cut and it holds two seeds within each haw or berry.  Laxer in growth than its more common cousin.  Loved by Garden House.



Firethorn is a genus of thorny, evergreen shrubs which are a common sight in many gardens and municipal plantings.  That’s because they do their job well.  Tough, ornamental and practical, their autumn berries come in a range of colours, from yellows through to oranges and fiery reds.  Frothy white flowers, adored by insects, appear earlier in the year and the foliage is a deep, glossy green.  They can be clipped, trained and shaped (prune back to two buds from the main stem in April), or left to grow a little on the wild side.  Birds love to nest in them.  Will tolerate all sorts of conditions and are cheap to buy.  Common, maybe, but star performers.  Don’t diss them.  Don’t miss them.


Ilex aquifolium 

These long-lived native trees are of enormous importance to wildlife.  They are generally dioecious, with male and female flowers on different plants; berries are only produced on the female trees when there is a male tree nearby.  Nectar, pollen and, on the female trees, bright red berries attract pollinators and birds alike.  The leaves are evergreen and glossy, often prickly at the edges.  Used to decorate houses over the Christmas period, holly was seen as a fertility symbol and also as a charm against evil spirits.


To see a splendid display of holly, visit the Holly Walk at Kew.

Iris foetidissima


Stinking Iris?  An unlovely name which sounds like a character from a Harry Potter book.  But check those berries out.  What a shiny, zingy, orange!  They generally remain as seen above through the winter, bursting out of their pods – birds generally ignore them – and add a bright splash of colour to the winter garden border.  A plant which some consider to be rather a weed, it is tolerant of a wide range of growing situations and soils.

Euonymus europaeus


Such an eye-catching tree at this time of year.  The Spindle has lovely pink capsules which split open to reveal orange berries within.  A colour clash that works.  This is a native tree that has dense hard wood – originally used for making spindles for the spinning trade.  The foliage turns a dramatic shade of red in the autumn. Joe Swift has recently declared this to be one of his favourites for autumn, the best cultivar being ‘Red Cascade’.  They grow well in chalk, but will tolerate most well-drained soils.

Cotoneaster frigidus ‘Cornubia’


This deciduous, bushy shrub can also be trained into a small specimen tree.  Prolific flattened heads of white flowers precede vivid red berries, which remain on the tree for a long time before the birds descend.  The flowers are attractive to bees and other pollinators.  No wonder it has been awarded an AGM by the RHS.

Jobs for the week:

Plant up bowls of Narcissi for indoor flowering.


Three types of bulbs are being used this year: Paperwhites, Grand Soleil d’Or and Avalanche.

These should come into flower within 6-7 weeks of being planted.  Put a good layer of compost in the bottom of a bowl – it doesn’t matter too much about drainage because this is a short-term arrangement and the bulbs are generally disposed of after flowering.  Nestle the bulbs in – a good number will mean a good display.


Plant them up to their necks and top with grit or moss.  Add birch twigs as the stems grow, for support and a touch of professionalism.  Keep outside or in a cool place until it starts to get really cold, or they will grow too quickly, then bring in and keep frost free.  Keep an eye on the developing plants – try not to give them too much heat too quickly.  Gradually bring into warmer conditions.

Decorate as the artist in you dictates.  Lights? Baubles maybe?  But for heavens sake, keep it tasteful.

Take cuttings of tender perennials


Salvias, Pelargoniums, even the glorious Tibouchina (below).  Using clean, sharp tools, take off softwood side shoots from the plant.  Remove any flowers/some leaves, use a dibber to make a hole to insert the cutting.  Firm in gently.  Compost mixed with vermiculite provides an excellent open mixture for cuttings.


Liberate the Libertias

Free free…


Set them free

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This is Libertia ‘Goldfinger’, a useful evergreen herbaceous perennial.  Looks good in pots and, if you run to that sort of thing, urns.

No one seems to be using this table…


So, I might as well…


Ahhhh!  And…. relax.

Plant Anemone coronaria ‘Hollandia’ and Ranunculus Picotee ‘Cafe au Lait’

These are both in the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae.  They need soaking for a good 2 – 3 hours to re-hydrate them  Here’s some being prepared earlier….


Looks like dog food

At best


Once rehydrated, place the Anemones about five to a one-litre pot, smooth side down about 4 cms deep, and keep in a frost-free greenhouse or cold frame.

After the Ranunculus have been rehydrated, sit them on a compost-filled tray in a greenhouse or cold frame.  Once the shoots start to appear, pot them up spacing them a few centimetres apart and about 5cms deep.   About five in a one-litre pot.



Dig up dahlia tubers and store


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, cut back top growth, store in a cool dry place to allow the tubers to dry off (but not dessicate).  Keep the right labels with the right tubers!




The everlasting compost heap

Constant and careful attention makes the best growing medium money can’t buy.


And who are the lucky people in there this week?


People grow about 2 cms taller after just one session on the heap.  Fact.

Should we still have cakes at break?



Well, it wouldn’t exactly be a cake-break without them, would it?

Can’t talk.  Mouth full


Not have cake? Whose half-baked idea was that?

Discussion ends

Wrap up the exotics

Or ‘put the bananas in pyjamas’, as the practice is also known.  Cut the leaves off and wrap them up warmly in horticultural fleece.  Cannas and Gingers too, please.

From this…


to this…


to this….


It’s time to go to sleep

Some need a bedtime story


Until next year then

Collect berries and prepare them for stratification

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Sounds scary, but it just means the seeds need a cold spell before they can be tempted into growth.  Use a pestle and mortar to remove the seeds from the berries; sieve and wash; put seeds into a plastic bag with perlite and compost; place in the fridge; don’t mistake the mixture for granola.


Stratification is the game, germination is the aim.  Some seeds can take weeks, months or even years to break their dormancy.  Think teenagers.  Once the first signs of growth are there, remove from bag and pot on.  Exciting stuff.  Here we are taking on Rosa pimpinellifolia.

Plant bulbs of Iris reticulata into pots


Drainage will be necessary.  Put some old crocks into the base of the pot, add multi-purpose compost.  Plant the bulbs at about twice their depth.  Finish with a layer of grit.  Label!


Perfect symmetry

Dismantle sweet pea arches and make new wigwams

Entirely without the aid of a safety net.


Remove the old structures. Rake the beds.









I couldn’t agree more

Au revoir









Friday 18th October 2019

October, and autumn is in full swing.


Seeds, berries, hips and haws everywhere

And on the Nature Table this week…


Now there’s a blast from the past!

This week for the Plant Ident. we looked at rock, alpine and other similar plants.  An alpine is a plant which naturally grows in an alpine climate – high up and above the tree line.  Some rain is fine, and they can cope with low temperatures but, crucially, they must have good drainage as they hate standing in cold, wet soil.  Don’t we all?

Good drainage can be provided by using a very gritty soil.  A mix of half horticultural grit and half multi-purpose compost is fine, as is a mix of one third grit, one third m-p compost and one third John Innes no. 2.

Provided the above criteria are met, they can be left outside all winter, although it’s wise to try and protect from too much rain, unless you want to stand outside with an umbrella over them every time the skies open.  Try putting them under the eaves of your house or under a porch during the wet months.   Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Hosta venusta


An adorably tiny little Hosta!  Or, botanically speaking, a miniature Hosta cultivar.  This is the smallest of the Hosta species: glossy, dark-green, ovate leaves complement the lavender/violet flowers which form in late summer/autumn.

Cotula hispida


Mat-forming perennial with feathery, silver-grey leaves.  a spreader.  Has bright yellow button-shaped flowers in the spring/summer.  Needs a sunny, well-drained position.

Sempervivum ‘Royal Ruby’    


Houseleeks are not true alpines, but need similar treatment.  They are small, hardy, low-growing plants needing sun and good drainage.  The rosettes have long leaves which turn an attractive dark red.

Armeria maritima ‘Rubrifolia’


A lovely little cushion-forming plant with dark red-bronze leaves and deep pink flowers.  Commonly known as Thrift.  As the name suggests, it’s a good performer in coastal areas.

Sedum pachychlados


A spreading alpine with small rosettes of blue-grey leaves.  White flowers in the summer.

Planting up alpine sinks

Most of us don’t have an alpine house to display a collection of these beauties, but alpine sinks are a perfect alternative, as it’s possible to create the conditions needed for the plants to thrive.  Moreover, troughs can easily be raised to enable better appreciation of these tiny horticultural jewels.  Wendy Bates from Rotherview Nursery near Hastings (a Chelsea Gold medallist!) recently ran a workshop at The Garden House demonstrating how to plant up hypertufa alpine troughs.  She favours either a traditional planting with rocks or using slate to create a ‘crevicing’ effect.


So, obviously, one of our jobs for the week had to be: –

Planting up alpine troughs.

First mix up the gritty compost


In with the hard landscaping


Impressive.  With no hesitation, he’s going for the creviced look

Meticulous attention to planting detail


Finishing off with a layer of grit



Loving it


Now that’s just showing off.

And now for something completely different

At this time of year, it’s a good idea to:-

Take cuttings of tender perennials  

Tender perennials will not survive outside over the winter, but by taking cuttings now, you can ensure there will be a good stock of plants for next year.  Some plants can, of course, be brought indoors, but space can be a problem unless you have a set of splendiferous glasshouses.

Cuttings are easily taken from the side shoots of tender perennials.  Take off a side shoot, cut just below a leaf node and remove some leaves to prevent too much water loss (transpiration).  The cutting should be around 5.0 – 7.5 cms.  If the remaining leaves are particularly large, some can be cut in half.  Ensure tools are clean and sharp.

Oak-Leaved Pelargonium cutting


Note how the cut has been made just below a leaf node.

Verbena bonariensis cuttings


Insert the cuttings around the sides of a pot filled to the top with multi-purpose compost mixed 50:50 with perlite (helps drainage).   Use a small dibber to create the hole and put the stems in right up to their remaining leaves.  Firm in and label!  Place on a heated bench or in a propagator.  Failing that, try a warm, well-lit windowsill.  Rooting can take place within 3 -4 days.  Some find that a plastic bag tied lightly around the pot is helpful. Or experiment with half a clear, plastic bottle inverted over the pot.


No room!  No room!  I got here first.  Taken root and everything.

Plectranthus ciliatus

Take a few of these little lovelies

and you can go from this…


…to this, by next summer


Amazing, but true.

We call it ‘plants for free’…

that’s propagation for you.

The danger is that they may rot off, so keep an eye on them.  Squirt with a little water every day to keep them moist, but don’t overwater.  When rooted, pot each cutting on into its own pot, using just multi-purpose compost this time.  Plants such as Salvia, Rosemary and Lavender are easy to propagate too.

Labelling the Lavender cuttings



A creche of potential baby plants

Other jobs for the week

Sow hardy annual seeds


Cover with a fine layer of compost or vermiculite.  Label and water carefully.

Put prepared hyacinth bulbs into forcing jars

Use gloves, as some people are allergic to handling the bulbs.  Prepared hyacinth bulbs have been refrigerated and therefore tricked into thinking that they have been through a winter.  Sit the bulb in the neck of the jar so that it is just touching the water.  Place in a cool, dark place (maybe a shed or garage) for 8 – 10 weeks; white roots will begin to grow.  When the hyacinth shoot has reached about 5 cms, bring the jar back into a cool, light room.  The hyacinth will then be able to develop slowly and will flower for a long time.  Too much warmth, and the plant will grow too quickly.


Prepared bulbs can also be grown in compost or just grit as they have all the food they need within the bulb itself.  Plant up to the neck of the bulb and follow the same procedure as above.

Re-pot Abutilons into clay pots.


Label. (Make a note of the colour if possible.)  Water and finish with a layer of grit; place in the greenhouse for the winter.

Would anyone like some quinces?


We might!


Pot on rooted willow cuttings. 

These are Salix purpurea ‘Nancy Saunders’.


Have they been watered?


Bear with, bear with…

Make a wreath from autumnal pickings


Don’t worry, it’s going to look glorious



Awesomely autumnal



Friday 11th October 2019

After successful forays into other people’s gardens last week, this Friday we returned to home territory.


And the Plant Ident. was all about grasses, many of which are looking spectacular now.  There are several good books on the topic, including Designing with Grasses by Neil Lucas and Grasses, Ferns, Mosses and Lichens by Roger Phillips.

It’s helpful, at this point, to remember the old adage:-

Rushes are Round, Sedges have Edges and Grasses are Glorious!

They do make a lovely display, both inside and out.


We’re talking verticality, impact, structure, shimmer, long periods of interest, movement,  inflorescence and seedheads.

Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’


The dwarf form of the ubiquitous Pampas Grass; a robust perennial, evergreen grass in the Poaceae family.  A bit sad when grown as a solitary specimen, perhaps, but magnificent when planted in bulk to catch the sun as part of a planned border.  Then its great white plumes of feathery beauty, held on erect stems, form an eye-catching feature from summer through autumn.  Lovely when planted with other grasses; has also been seen grown very effectively in large black pots.  Hardy and wind resistant.  Cut to the ground in spring.  Good for cut flower arrangements.  (h 1.5 m x w 1.0 m)

Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’


A terrific deciduous grass (dies back in the winter).  Very useful, as it tolerates partial shade as well as full sun, and can therefore light up darker areas of the garden.  Fairly low growing, (to about 30 cms), its slender leaves are striped yellow and green.  Likes well-drained but moist soil.  Good as edging and in pots.  Add well-rotted compost to the soil when planting and as a mulch in early spring.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Rosi’


A very architectural, late-flowering plant – in fact the Miscanthus Genus can flower well into the winter.  Has upright silvery-pink flowers.  Clump forming, deciduous and very desirable. Grows best in full sun in most well-drained but moist soils; cut back to about 15 cms in February.  (h 2.0 – 2.5 m)

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Punktchen’ is also highly recommended; its bright green leaves are marked with golden-yellow horizontal bands (h. 1.2 m)


Panicum virgatum ‘Warrior’


Switch Grasses are true North American prairie plants.  They look great en masse, providing interest, height and movement from late summer right through to winter.  After rain, droplets cling to the flowerheads and they glitter! ‘Warrior’ has very slim stems which hold delicate sprays of tiny purple flowers.  Other good varieties include ‘Shenandoah’ and ‘Heavy Metal’.  Deciduous.  (h. 1.2 m x w. 1.0 m)

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’


Chinese Fountain Grass. Hardy.  Likes full sun / partial shade.  This one needs moisture to get established and seems to particularly like clay soil!  A clump-forming perennial which produces arching spikes of creamy-white/purple – brown flowers looking like furry caterpillars!  Evergreen, but cut down in late February for fresh new growth.        (h. 0.6 m).  Pennisetum orientale is a variety that will grow on chalky soils.

Stipa tenuissima ‘Pony Tails’


Mexican Feather Grass is easy to grow from seed and will then go on to self seed around the garden.  Especially good for winter interest as the flower heads waft about in the breeze, providing movement.  Treat them as you would a pony’s mane – groom them!  Comb through to remove old and dead stems (in late summer), then sit back and watch them perform.  Maybe wear a cowboy hat.  Grows to about 0.6m tall.  (Bridge actually prefers Stipa tenuissima ‘Wind Whispers’, which is slightly taller and more graceful.  The ‘Pony Tails’ beg to differ.)

Jobs for the week:

The Compost Heap

It’s wet.  It’s unpleasant.  But there’s work to be done on the compost heap.

Guess who’s up for the challenge?


Guess who isn’t.

It’s fine if you dodge the raindrops


Getting properly stuck in.


Black gold, that is.

Winners of the Bridge Saunders Prize for commitment


and a welcome break for both


Organise and label the bulbs ready for planting

All 1.3 million of them.


Think we’ve found some

But we’ll need another few dozen trugs, that’s for sure.  There are Aconites, Crocuses, Irises, Muscari, Narcissi, Tulips, more Tulips, Hyacinths, species Tulips, Alliums, more Tulips……


This could take some time

Sow sweet pea seeds


First fill the root trainers with compost


Push a couple of seeds in

Label and water lightly

Then into the greenhouse with them –


and wait for the magic to begin

Pot on plants.  Place in the cold frame. 


Don’t worry – the plants, not you!

Take cuttings of tender perennials

These need to be placed on warmth to encourage rooting


Hang on – what’s that dark furry thing in the background?

Aniseed!  Testing out the heated matting?


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 I do this every year.  Quality control.

Prick out seedlings


Centaurea and Agrostemma will both feature in the garden next year


Beautifully centred and labelled

Mark out salad beds in greenhouse border

Fork over and rake border.  Use canes to divide up the beds.


Sow seeds and plant salads of: Mizuna, Rocket, Swiss Chard.  Label!

Work in the Pelargonium Palace

It’s a plastic-free zone, so plants need to be potted into clay pots


What a lotta terracotta



A quick stop to admire this little beauty



Sow seeds of Physalis, Scabious, Nigella papillosa ‘African Bride’, Papaver rhoeas…and more


Note that the tiniest seeds benefit from a light covering of vermiculite.  The pots are having a paddle to soak up some water

Let’s just see how things are doing in the greenhouse before we go…

All present and correct

Somebody’s still looking very cosy


Good camouflage, Aniseed!


Until next week



Friday 4th October 2019

Autumn bliss


Here’s the thing.  If ‘oct’ indicates the number ‘eight’, why is October the tenth month of the year?  A little conundrum to take your mind away from the everyday worries of climate change, shifting politics, global economics and what to have for dinner this evening.  For a minute or two at least.

This week we went walkabout and worked in other people’s gardens.  Always a fun thing to do, provided we keep our surrealist tendencies in check.  Usually there’s someone about to keep an eye on things…


…and a good job too

Here’s one group, receiving their instructions


On your marks…get set…

And they’re off!

Cut back annuals


to go


Plant up a shady bed

Liriope ‘Silvery Sunproof’




Nandina domestica 


Add ferns and pieces of wood

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Some plants can stay exactly where they are


How’s it looking?


My goodness.  That does look good


Yes, it does –


but I really must get on.


Now apply the same idea to the raised bed on the other side of the garden.

Plants for a sunny site

Alchemilla mollis and Sedum spectabile ‘Stardust’


and maybe Pennisetum?


Et voilà!


And from another angle?



Plant Agapanthus in a sunny spot

This looks promising


The fairies will keep an eye on them

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We will!


Some Agapanthus remain happily in their pots20191004_122327.jpg

Hard-core weeding

And here are the hard-core weed-excavator-experts


Their knowledge of weeds can literally be measured in bucketloads

One bucket


Two buckets


A bucketload of buckets


It’s all great fun, but is it time for tea yet?


Now that sounds like a good idea


Tools down!

I give you…


The Team!

(Just a short break, mind!)

The challenge: prune Arbutus unedo. 

Aka the Strawberry Tree


Weed the ‘holding beds’


Adding the finishing touches


A second hard-working group tame a trellis of triffids





And after



Now for the wall…

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Action shot


Let’s deal with this too, before we go

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A few snips and it’s like Elvis –

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“It’s all good”

Meanwhile, in a garden not too far away…

There are bulbs are going in


Lay them out

Don’t forget to plant them


We won’t!



So, a successful day all round.  As one garden owner put it: “Friday Group were brave and wonderful”.  One feels a F/G motto coming on.

And, by the way, ‘October’ was the eighth month of the ancient Roman calendar, which was replaced by the Julian calendar in 45 BCE.   It then became the tenth month!  The Julian calendar was itself replaced by the Gregorian calendar in the 16th century.

(Let’s hope it comes up in a pub quiz.)

Autumn bouquet 


Back to our usual venue next Friday






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