Friday 12th February 2021

Really cold. But, in the immortal words of E.L.O. –

‘Sun is shinin’ in the sky, there ain’t a cloud in sight. It’s stopped rainin”

Yes, it has. And, what’s more, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Blue Sky is living here today. Hey hey.

Not only blue skies, but also blue Hyacinths. Garden House really is Keeping Up Appearances. Hyacinth Bucket would love it.

Plant ident.

Good evergreens and ever-greys for pots and borders.

Ballota pseudodictamnus

Square stems – so it must be a member of the Lamiaceae family. False Dittany is a low-growing, bushy, evergreen/grey sub-shrub. Soft, rounded leaves grow in pairs opposite each other on the stems. Small pink flowers appear in the summer. Like most silvery-grey plants, it needs hot, dry and well-drained conditions to thrive, and is at its best in poor rather than rich soils. Rollicks away in full sun and looks great in Mediterranean-style planting schemes.

Ballota roots easily from cuttings – try taking some in March or April when it should be pruned back. Don’t cut into the old wood though, like other sub-shrubs it won’t re-grow from there. Can be shaped into a pleasing dome for a neat finish. Since by now, we are all experienced hairdressers, we should be perfectly able to whizz round and clip anything in our path. Garden House itself is being renamed Maison Enid. Special rates for pensioners on Wednesdays.

Eucalyptus

With 700 different types of Eucalyptus, you’re never short on choice. They do, however, have a habit of heading for the skies, but can literally be brought back down to earth by chopping them to the ground; they will regrow. Maybe opt for a variety that can be grown in a pot. Lovely blue-grey foliage, especially the juvenile growth which has small rounded leaves and is much used and appreciated by florists. As they get older, the leaves change, becoming longer and thinner as is often the way with polymorphic plants. Whatever, Eucalyptus is total koala nirvana.

Acanthus

Bear’s breeches are vigorous herbaceous perennials with handsome, glossy green, lobed foliage and tall erect racemes of two-lipped flowers. The lower lip is white and the upper bract becomes more purple with age. They love sunshine and well-drained soil, but will cope well in shade, although there may be fewer flowers. Very stately and architectural. The best known varieties are Acanthus mollis (rounded, divided leaves), Acanthus spinosus (spiky edges to the leaves) and the elegant A. ‘Rue Ledan’. The latter has pure white flowers on silver-green spikes and is said to be less invasive than its relatives. This one is good in a north-facing border.

When the new growth starts in the spring, cut back any dead, diseased and damaged leaves to allow the new leaves to emerge. Cutting the whole plant back after flowering will encourage new foliage.

Geranium renardii

Virtually evergreen in sheltered locations, G. renardii produces low mounds of lovely, rounded leaves with scalloped edges. These are a pale sage green and have a soft, velvety quality to them. The flowers are lilac or white with dark purple veins and are attractive to bees and butterflies. Incredibly attractive and useful. Good in sun, but also in partial shade and is an excellent groundcover option.

Hardy geraniums (Cranesbills) are a superb resource for the busy gardener. Tough, easy to grow, little required in the way of maintenance, can be propagated from cuttings and division, flower for months and will suppress weeds. There are a huge number of varieties, some more suitable for shade, some for ground cover and some for full sun. Get loads.

Euphorbia ‘Jade Dragon’

A compact and robust, bushy evergreen sub-shrub, there’s no need to tame this dragon. An exciting new hybrid, ‘Jade Dragon’ is a cross between Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii and E. amygdaloides ‘Rubra’. Its glaucous, lanceolate leaves flush reddish-purple in spring. A magnet for pollinating insects. Beware of the milky sap which can be an irritant to skin and eyes. A new top favourite at Garden House. And no wonder.

Bergenia

Elephant’s ears. Poor elephant. Part of the Saxifragaceae family. These clump-forming, hardy perennials spread by rhizomes, making them easy to split in the spring or autumn and to propagate new plants from the divisions. They are often used in shady positions, but some varieties really thrive in sun and poor soil, especially those grown for their leaf colour. In Beth Chatto’s garden they grow well in the gravel garden as they are very drought tolerant. Lots of cultivars to choose from . Semi-evergreen, although some seem to keep their leaves year-round, like B. ‘Bressingham White’ and B. cordifolia ‘Purpurea’. Flowers can be white, pink or deep red/purple. A good and effective ground cover plant.

Topic of the week: Growing vegetables

A massive subject, and although one which thrills many, it can leave others bored (‘It’s a radish. And?’) or rigid with apprehension. Why bother to grow your own? Well – it’s interesting, it’s good exercise, you can grow unusual varieties, it’s good for pollinators, you can save seeds from year to year, the veg. taste better, you can guarantee no chemicals are used, no food miles….the list goes on and on. As can vegetable growers. Ad infinitum.

There are loads of good books and veg experts out there. Garden House, natch. Charles Dowding (the No Dig Guru) is another, with plenty of video clips available on Instagram to advise and inspire.

Vegetables fall into four basic categories: Legumes (pod growing crops like Peas, Beans, Mangetout, Lentils); Brassicas ( Brussel sprouts, Cabbages, Turnips, Swedes, Cauliflowers); Roots (Parsnips, Carrots, Beetroots); Permanent veg. which remain in the ground year on year (Rhubarb, Asparagus, Artichoke, Cardoons, Alliums).

Crop rotation

It’s important to establish a programme of crop rotation to ensure healthy and productive plants, to preserve soil fertility and health. Specific groups of vegetables must be grown in a different part of the veg plot each year to prevent pest and disease problems. It also means that crops can be grown according to their specific needs and abilities. Different crops use different amounts of soil nutrients – and some actually add nutrients to the soil. Brassicas, for example, are a very leafy crop and require nitrogen to make them green. Legumes are a crop which can fix nitrogen in the soil, and are therefore good to grow in a position which will be occupied by brassicas the following year. Root vegetables, however, don’t need nitrogen so much as phosphorus.

Pests and diseases in the veg garden can be devastating for both crops and the poor gardener. Club root disease, which brassicas can suffer from, can last in the soil for 20 years. A long time to wait for a perfect sprout. Carrot fly prey on carrots, onions have to ward off white rot, parsnips, canker, and potatoes live in fear of blight. It’s war out there. Good veg husbandry will go a long way to preventing famine: crop rotation, companion planting and nurturing the soil with compost and well-rotted manure.

The plot itself

Location is important – it should be sited in an open space, away from overhanging trees, with plenty of light and sun. Think about shelter from prevailing winds and avoid frost pockets. Access to beds should be easy and paths ideally need to have hard surfaces, or at the very least be mud-free. Otherwise the gardener may emerge looking something like The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

This is the right idea

And, as well as providing food for the table, vegetables can also be appreciated for their beauty –

Veg as an art form

And they are a lot of fun to grow

Break out groups

We discussed what vegetables or salads we might try to grow in our own gardens this year. Maybe something tried and tested or maybe something completely new.

Ideas ranged from Tomatoes (Sungold and Gardener’s Delight are good) to crimson-flowered Broad Beans, Spring Onions, edible flowers (Calendulas, Nasturtiums, Borage and Violas), Beetroot (Chioggia, Golden Beetroot and Boltardy), Purple French Beans, Tromboncino (a climbing Squash, not a musical instrument), Tree Spinach, Pink Fir Potatoes, Pumpkins (‘Jill be Little’ and ‘Munchkin’ are dwarf forms), Rainbow Chard and Leeks ‘Northern Lights’. Cut and come again salads in boxes would be good. Maybe we’ll try growing some veg in pots too.

We’re going to be so productive

Jobs for the Week

Bring the outdoors in and enjoy the small miracle of individual flowers.

The fabulous colour and markings of Iris unguicularis.

Snowdrop martini, anyone?

Prune Clematis in the viticella group

These are an easy group to deal with. Simply cut back the stems to a pair of strong buds about 30 – 40 cms above the ground. This will promote strong growth in spring.

Prune Wisteria again now

Sow seeds requiring a long period of growth

Cleome and Cobaea scandens are two. Also Chillies. Place pots in a heated propagator to facilitate germination.

Weed the weeds

Again and again

Plant radishes in lengths of guttering

This makes them very easy to plant once the seedlings are underway. Or you can just grow them on in the guttering and harvest direct from there.

Plant Broad Bean ‘Crimson Flowered’

Planting the seeds in root trainers allows long root systems to develop. Sow now and pinch out the shoots when 3 pairs of leaves have formed. This is the most ornamental of the Broad Beans – perfect for that parterre you’ve just created.

Late winter posy from Garden House

A fantasy in flowers and foliage

Inside and outside

Friday 5th February 2021

Fffffebruary. And it’s ffffrreeeeezzzing. Snow and everything. Time to keep warm and stay indoors like these Hellebores.

Plant ident.

This week: Tender perennials. Bless.

Tender perennials are plants like this Salvia ‘Amistad’, which can survive from year to year, provided they are protected from frost. If the frost gets them, they are likely to be ex-perennials, so best to take cuttings. Cuttings taken in late summer or autumn should now be doing well in greenhouses or sunny windowsills. They will probably need potting on.

The five examples below are all excellent fillers and spillers for summer containers. Now is just the right moment to start thinking about these so that later on, your pots, troughs and baskets will present a dazzling sight to your less horticulturally-gifted friends and neighbours.

Plectranthus argentatus

This shimmery, silvery sensation grows quite large, with racemes of bluey-white flowers in the summer. Alongside other plants in a pot, generally just one of these will suffice, unless you are going for the full stately home look. From the Lamiaceae (Mint) family, it has the square stems typical of the group. Looks amazing in a white/silver-themed container. Has presence.

Plectranthus ciliatus

Fab in a pot. Fab as ground cover. Fab when planted with orange and purple plants – the underside of the P. ciliatus is a gorgeous purple, contrasting with the vivid green obverse. Easy from cuttings – which will even root in water. Can’t abide the cold though. This really is a tender tender perennial.

Pelargonium tomentosum

Let’s just recap one more time. Pelargoniums are NOT Geraniums. Repeat. Geraniums are hardy perennial plants which remain in the garden all year round. Pelargoniums, on the other hand, are tender perennials, and need to be taken indoors, or into a greenhouse, to overwinter.

However, P. tomentosum is quite a toughie, and has actually been known to survive outside in Brighton, provided it is kept in a warm, dry, sheltered location. Best not to take risks though, so always take cuttings. A lovely Pelly, it has large, soft, furry leaves which emit a peppermint scent when rubbed. Small white flowers appear in the summer. Excellent in a pot; it soon bulks up and is a great filler.

Helichrysum petiolare

A silvery, ever-grey trailer, shown here growing away happily in a metal trough, each emphasising the other’s colour. Small, ovate leaves on white stems act as an attractive foil to many other plants in a wide range of colours, particularly blues and mauves. Can be grown in a border, but is best of all in a container or hanging basket, where its trailing habit can be fully displayed and appreciated. There is a lovely lime coloured cultivar called H. petiolare ‘Limelight’ which is equally desirable.

Argyranthemum frutescens

These gorgeous Marguerites make a stunning show in the summer garden. Great in the border or in pots. This one is ‘Jamaica Primrose’, but they come in many beautiful colours from whites and soft yellows through to deep pinks and purples. Will flower virtually the whole year round in a greenhouse. Take cuttings (about 5 cms long) in the spring – they will grow quickly to become quite large plants. Eventually they will become rather woody, so replace every few years.

Planning summer containers

In Break-Out groups, (so-called, because we all break out in a sweat when asked to report back), we discussed various options for our own gardens. Things to be borne in mind quite apart from the plants themselves were: choice of pot (size, material, shape), soil, aspect and how it might be viewed. Probably best to keep to a maximum of five types of plant, or fewer, per pot to ensure total tastefulness.

There should be thrillers, fillers and spillers – as advocated by Sarah Raven, and hard decisions need to be taken about plant heights, textures and colours. They might be evergreens, perennials, tender perennials, hardy or half-hardy annuals. Additionally, sourcing the plants requires consideration. Will they be raised from seed (when? how?), grown on from plugs or maybe bought as fully grown plants? Seed catalogues are a useful resource, along with gardening film clips.

Delicious plant recipes were offered in the feedback session. Monotone and multi-coloured. Inventive, traditional, contemporary and bizarre. Room for all.

Can’t wait to see the results in reality!

Jobs for the week

Sow seeds

Leave ‘easy’ seeds like Cosmos until much later. Concentrate on those which need a long growing period.

When sowing very tiny seeds, such as Antirrhinum majus ‘Chantilly’ series, it’s a good idea to mix them with a little silver sand (playground sand). Then sow thinly across the surface of a well-filled seed tray of compost; the sand lets you to see where the seeds have fallen. Sprinkle a little vermiculite over the top – this covers the seeds but permits light through for germination to take place. Placing the tray gently in a water bath allows the compost to take up water by capillary action and doesn’t disturb the seeds. Label – and make a note of the colour of the flowers. A covering of cling film aids germination.

Watch some gardening clips

on the topic of summer containers. See websites and Youtube. E.g.:

https://www.gardenersworld.com/search/?q=summer+containers

Sarah Raven: Creating beautiful summer flower containers

Keep on top of weeds

Speedwell (and it does), Hairy Bittercress and Sticky Willy are lying in wait to take over your plot. Remove now, before there are tears.

Watch the weather

and plan work accordingly. Some shrubs, like Cornus, can be moved now, especially if there has recently been rain. Once safely re-planted, take out any dead, diseased and damaged wood, remove old woody stems and cut new growth back by about one third. They look fantastic with Snowdrops and Daphne. Very cold snaps can damage your plants and your gardening confidence. Very cold schnapps, taken liberally, will restore your nerve.

On stage now: Snowdrops and Crocuses

If you don’t have any, buy some and plant them! Snowdrops are best established when bought ‘in the green’.

Seek out the intoxicating scent of Daphnes

Enjoy

Friday 29th january 2021

Hello Hellebore

The last Friday Group zoom meeting of January 2021. Days get longer, light gets morer, grammar gets worserer. This week involved thinking about the life cycles of plants and the importance of Latin in the 21st century. Stay tuned.

Celebrating the benefits that come with being outdoors and in nature, we began with Wendle Berry’s poem, ‘The Peace of Wild Things’. It ends with the words – ‘For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.’

Then a quiz. Death or Dinner? You get the picture. The killers are in bold

Borago officinalis

Euphorbia pulcherrima

Aconitum napellus

Musa cavendishii

Ipomoea batatas

Ricinus communis

Cynara scolymus

Tropaeolum majus

Citrus limonum

Nicotiana sp.

Diospyros kaki

Pisum sativum

Daucus carota

Solanum tuberosum

Plant ident

All these plants can form part of the backbone of a garden, but not necessarily a menu. Good, all-year performers, they are evergreen, evergrey and eversouseful.

Helichrysum italicum

The Curry Plant. Its scent isn’t to everyone’s liking, but its pretty, delicate form goes so well with a wide variety of plantings, and adds a silvery focal point of interest. It’s a sub-shrub, meaning that it has a woody base and soft top growth, so, when pruning, (March is a good time), it’s essential not to cut back into the old wood, as it will not re-grow from there. Trim back and shape to about 5 – 8 cms above the woody base. If the outer leaves are cut a little lower than the centre ones, the plant will take on a soft domed shape. Very designery. Easy from cuttings and best in a dry garden setting. Lovely now in pots, with Snowdrops and Cyclamen.

Pittosporum tobira

Such a great doer. Beautiful and utilitarian. A compact, evergreen shrub with deep green, glossy, paddle-shaped leaves which are matt on the underside. Small white flowers appear in May, fragrant with the scent of orange blossom honey, followed by woody fruits which split to reveal red seeds. Grows in most soils and likes full sun or dappled shade. Can grow quite large (to 4 metres) but can be clipped hard back. Or buy a dwarf version ‘Nana’ – for a pot or in the border. Rated highly at Garden House.

Teucrium fruticans

A species of flowering plant in the mint family – Lamiaceae – the Tree Germander has the square stems typical of its relations. Long white stems contrast with dark green leaves and with its beautiful, lilac-blue summer flowers. Lax in habit, it responds well to being cut hard back (in March). Loves a Mediterranean-type garden setting – full sun, sheltered and happiest in well-drained neutral to alkaline soil. Good news for those who garden on chalk and those also lax in habit.

x Fatshedera lizei

Unkindly known as Fat-Headed Lizzie, or more kindly, as Tree Ivy, this is botanically unusual because it’s a bi-generic hybrid. Not common. It’s a cross between two genera: Ivy (Hedera helix) – a climber, and Fatsia – a shrub. Awkward. How does it cope? How does it grow? Answer: very well indeed.

Climbs away happily, with support and tying in, looking good and rather exotic all year round. Its glossy, green leaves (and the spherical white flowers) are smaller than those of a Fatsia, but larger than an Ivy, and are at their best when the plant is in semi-shade. Training and clipping will result in smaller leaves and a denser plant – as recommended by Architectural Plants. Can also be grown as a houseplant.

Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata Aureomarginata’

The Irish Yew. Highly toxic. Botanically-speaking, it’s a mouthful, but a real beauty when planted. Columnar in shape, with deep green needle-shaped leaves typical of Yew, these have the additional attraction of golden margins. The clue’s in the name. Often used for topiary, as Yew is tough and responds well to cutting, becoming denser the more it is cut. Plant in any well-drained soil, though chalk, sand and loamy soils are best. Ideal as pillars planted either side of a doorway entrance or pathway; they have such great presence and structure. Can be grown from cuttings.

The Academic Bit

So, what’s with botanical names and all this dead language stuff?

It may be worth searching for this sort of book….

It will provide you with all sorts of fascinating information

Using Latin to give plants botanical names is essential to gardeners and botanists the world over, as it provides a unique identification for each and every plant, which is internationally recognised. As Latin is a dead language, it will never vary or change. (Although the names of the plants sometimes do if they are reclassified!)The use of Latin can give an insightful description of the plant itself as well as indicate relationships and common features between plants.

Botanical names place plants in botanical groups

The ‘International Code of Botanical Nomenclature’ is based on a binomial (two-name) system first developed by the botanist Linnaeus in the mid-eighteenth century. Each plant is given a first and last name unique to each species.

In the Papaveraceae family, there are many different forms of Poppy, from annuals and biennials through to perennials. E.g. Papaver nudicaule; Papaver orientale; Papaver somniferum ”Black Peony’; Glaucum flavum; Eschscholzia californica; Meconopsis baileyi. By giving each plant its proper botanical name, rather than the far too general term ‘Poppy’, it can be quickly, easily and specifically identified.

Genus

A group of botanically related plants, having many features in common. It equates to a surname, and is the name by which a plant is most familiar. For example – Papaver (Poppy); Aquilegia (Columbine); Ilex (Holly). The name is always written with a capital letter followed by lower case.

Species

A group of botanically related plants within a genus that can hybridise (cross-breed) to produce fertile offspring. The species name often describes the plant’s colour, origin, leaf shape or maybe the place where it was found, or even the person who found it. For example – aurea; sinensis; palmatum; wilsonii. The species name is always written in lower case.

Cultivar

A cultivated variety of a plant. It’s one that has been bred and do not occur naturally in the wild. The name is given after the Genus and Species names and gives more information. It may be a name indicating the breeder, or perhaps one dedicating the new plant to a specific person. It’s not Latinised, but is written with a capital letter and put in single quotation marks. E.g. – ‘King Edward’; ‘Alan Titchmarsh’; ‘Black Peony’

Variety

A naturally occurring variation in a plant species, often found by chance in the wild. Variation may occur due to geographical isolation, resulting in the development of new and unique traits. The variety name is written in lower case with no quotation marks. For example – the Japanese ornamental cherry Prunus nipponica var. kurilensis is a variety from the Kuril Islands, north of Japan.

Phew!

At this point we all felt the need to immerse ourselves in botanicals

Now conversant in Latin, we can move on to learning insulting phrases. So useful in the current circumstances. Should someone get a little too close at the garden centre, just yell,

“Utinam barbari spatium proprium tuum invadant!”

(Translation: ‘May barbarians invade your personal space.’)

Here Beginneth the Second Lesson

Life Cycles of Plants

Mostly concentrating on hardy and half-hardy annuals.

Annuals are plants which complete their life cycle in one growing season. This means they germinate, grow, flower, set seed and die within that period. Most annuals need to be replanted each year. They split into two groups:

Hardy annuals

Lathyrus (Sweet Peas), Tagetes (Marigolds), Helianthus (Sunflowers), Centaurea cyanus (Cornflowers) and Cerinthe are examples. They can cope with year- round climatic conditions, including frost, and will often return year after year if the seed heads remain and they are allowed to self-sow.

Half-hardy annuals

E.g. Nicotiana sylvestris; Cosmos; Cobaea scandens (the Cup and Saucer plant). These have to be sown indoors and placed under cover; they need heat to germinate. Frost is a killer for them, so they need protection until all danger of frost has passed before they can be planted out. Garden House operates on the tried and trusted 15th May system. Some half-hardies require a long period of growth and should be sown around now – Antirrhinums and Cobaea scandens are two. Otherwise, hold off until the days are longer, or you will be swamped by seedlings. 14th February is a good date to work by.

End of Academic Session

Us, but without Zoom and Social Distancing Regs. in force

Jobs for the week

Enjoy the plants in your garden. Bring some indoors!

Order more seeds

Drool over seed catalogues. Plan your seed sowing – what, where, how. Empty that piggy bank. Order seeds. Gloat over them.

Strawberries

Strawberry runners can be planted up into pots. To guarantee a long period of enjoyment, get early, mid and late season strawbs. Investigate where the best cream can be obtained from. You can’t actually start that too soon.

Friday 22nd January 2021

It’s starting

Stand by your flower beds

Plant ident.

Astelia chathamica ‘Silver Spear’

Fearsomely spear-like, this is (big breath…) a clump-forming, evergreen, rhizotomous perennial. From New Zealand, and, surprisingly, a plant which likes the shade and moist but well-drained soil. The sword-like silvered leaves have a strong architectural presence and look good planted in a container; stunning if planted with white Cyclamen now.

Arum italicum ‘Marmoratum’

A summer dormant plant, and very striking in the garden now, showing off its lovely, deep green leaves with creamy-white marbling. The leaves are glossy and arrow-shaped. Pale green spathes appear in the spring, followed by bright red berries in the autumn. Has a tendency to be invasive, so needs watching. Remove any clumps that revert to the plain green form. Grows best in shade, and likes a heavy, moist soil – looks good in a woodland situation. Plant with Snowdrops?

Yucca

Another spear-shaped leaf. A real roughty-toughty plant which needs to be grown in full sun and well-drained soil. Very pointy. Very sharp. Do take care. A great winter feature as it looks properly glamorous in the garden now, when lit by sunshine. Drought tolerant, requires little in the way of maintenance, it throws up a long spike covered in panicles of creamy white flowers. There are several different species, some plain green and others with variegated foliage.

Brachyglottis ‘Sunshine’

Yet another plant which has had a sneaky name change. (Used to be Senecio ‘Sunshine’). Brachyglottis sounds more like a throat problem. A small, spreading, ever-grey shrub with contrasting felted silvery undersides. Tolerates drought and coastal conditions, so is often found in seaside plantings. Lovely ovate leaves, but sadly the flowers don’t get too many Brownie points – dull yellow and daisy-like, they somehow seem a mismatch to the foliage.

Euonymous fortunei ‘Silver Queen’

OK, you may see this everywhere, and therefore be somewhat immune to its charms. Look again. An excellent winter plant that can do everything. It can be grown up a wall, used as ground cover or grown as a hedge. Oh look, there’s one here! (Needs a trim, but most of us do) –

It can be encouraged to grow tall or will cope with being pruned back hard. Often used in formal plantings and as topiary, but can fit equally well into a more relaxed planting scheme. A terrific skeleton shrub, evergreen, with white margins to its leaves, the tips of which blush pink in very cold weather. Like so –

Lovely with Snowdrops and white Narcissi. Everyone needs one of these. Or more. A.G.M.

Time for Trees

The name of Barcham Nursey’s wonderful book on tree species available for supply and planting in the U.K., but also the focus of the Lesson for Today. Liz McCullough’s handout provided a succinct overview of points to consider when thinking about buying a tree. So useful to have a starting point!

Space available, site, aspect and specific location, proportions (height, spread and relationship to the rest of the garden), soil type, seasons of interest and decorative value, purpose, deciduous or evergreen, proximity to buildings / pavements / neighbours. Basically, will it be the right plant in the right place?

Possibly not

Liz suggested drawing a scale plan of the garden/location and plotting the size of the tree at maturity, not forgetting the shade thrown by its canopy.

The RHS has an extensive list of trees suitable for smaller gardens, focusing on height, spread, form, flowers, fruits, bark, blossom/foliage in spring and summer, autumn colour, winter interest. There are also recommendations for containers, the top six being: Japanese maple, Olive, Bay, Pinus pumila ‘Glauca’, Sophora microphylla, Apple or Pear (grown as an espalier, cordon or fan)

In break-out groups, we considered suitable trees for specific sites. Vivacious discussions ensued, and we came up with the following suggestions:

A school or community garden – Family Apple tree

A wildlife garden – Hawthorn (Cratageus x lavalleei ‘Carrierei’)

A street tree – Ginkgo biloba

A front garden – Prunus serrullata ‘Pink Perfection’ or ‘Little Pink Perfection’

A celebration tree – Sorbus commixta ‘Olympic Flame’

A container – a Crab Apple – ‘Evereste’ may be too big, so perhaps the deep pink Malus toringo ‘Aros’.

Jobs for the week

Education, education, education

Use this period to look carefully at tree outlines, bark, twigs, berries, catkins and buds. Before long you will find you’ve become an expert on dendrology. Imagine that. ‘Oh, the tree over there? It’s a Horsechestnut. Aesculus hippocastanum, if you will. A large, deciduous synoecious tree….’ So impressive. Although you may lose all your friends.

Plant Eranthis hyemalis

Winter Aconites are one of the earliest flowering delights and a joy to behold in the winter as they shine out in the border. (Hyemalis means winter-flowering.) Part of the Buttercup family, they have bright, sunny yellow flowers surrounded with a ruff of green. They thrive in damp, chalky woodland, flowering before the tree canopy develops to shade the soil below. Give them some leaf mould or well-rotted compost in the spring to keep the tubers happy. Also good in pots/boxes for display now.

Plant Snowdrops

Order quantities of Snowdrops ‘in the green’ (with roots, in leaf, and possibly also in flower) and plant them immediately in groups of 3 – 5. Easier to establish than just the stored bulbs alone. New bulbs (offsets) will grow as the clump gets established, and can eventually be lifted, split into small groups and re-planted. Snowdrops will also spread by seed

Plant Sweet peas

Root trainers are ideal as they encourage a long root run. Broad beans will benefit from this too.

Room for 32 in this little lot. Carefully monitored by the snoozing feline, top right.

These even come with their own lid. Wonderful stuff.

Prune hybrid tea and shrub roses now

Collect seed catalogues

For a future cutting and pasting session. We’ll be planning designs and a sowing calendar for ‘pretties’ and ‘infill’ plantings in our own gardens

Check the veg. plot

Harvest. Enjoy.

Some splendidly frondy Florence Fennel

So, no vegging out. Time moves on. Izzy wizzy, let’s get bizzy and help make the magic happen!

Friday 15th January 2021

Snow? No. Snowdrops? Yes.

Not so much Dry January, as Very Wet January. It’s enough to drive you to drink. Perhaps a calming cup of green tea would be a good idea as we head into another Friday Group zoom session….

…and enjoy some lovely stems and bark arranged in a simple jug. A really seasonal bouquet.

But what’s in the jug?

Plant ident.

Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’

Such a winner in the garden at the moment. It’s a must-have plant in the Garden House Book of Must-Have-Plants. (Quite a big book.) Planted so that it catches the sun’s rays, it will light up the garden for months, especially if grown en masse. Actually, it provides vivid colour even on the greyest of grotty days. Dogwoods are grown primarily for their stem colour, and this one is outstanding. Once the leaves have fallen in autumn, its brilliant flame-coloured stems are revealed. Grow in full sun, ideally with other dogwoods, to contrast with their purple and red stems. Grow from hardwood cuttings once the plant has become established.

Corylus avellana contorta

A lovely winter feature, and a beautiful sight when its bare, curled branches and twigs can be seen against a clear sky. Yellow catkins emerge in late winter, presaging the spring to come. Unfortunately, it’s not so attractive in the summer months. The original Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick was found in hedgerows in the 19th century, and every plant grown since then comes from a graft taken from the original specimen. It can’t be grown from cuttings.

Male and female catkins form on the same tree, and are visible from now. Remove any straight pieces of growth, as these are reversions. The aim is to keep it going curly wurly. (Curly Wurly. Mmmm.) The twigs are good for staking and as decorative embellishments – see the bowl of Hyacinths later – and will basically add a classy air to your house and garden. Maybe try growing one in a largish pot, which can then be moved somewhere more discreet in the summer. Harsh, but fair.

Malus x robusta ‘Red Sentinel’

January. And still the fabulous fruits hang on. The lovely, small, red crab apples look great on this tree in the garden just now. The Malus is a real all-singing-and-dancing performer, with fresh leaves and blossoms emerging in the spring, fruits in the autumn, autumnal colour and then the little apples often remain through the winter months. A true contender for a long-season-of-interest prize.

Salix babylonica ‘Tortuosa

Its Latin name makes it look as if this poor thing was tortured by the Babylonians. Better to think of it as the Twisted or Corkscrew Willow. Can grow (fast) to become a large tree with twisting horizontal branches, so take care unless your property is more estate than garden. The leaves turn a beautiful, buttery yellow in the autumn before falling. Seeing one grown to its full height and potential is a fantastic thing – especially if its intricate shape can be seen silhouetted against a bright blue wintery sky. Can be coppiced, but better to go for a smaller cultivar – like Salix ‘Nancy Saunders’. Easy from hardwood cuttings.

Prunus spinosa

A deciduous tree with personality. The Sloe, or Blackthorn, is a real indicator of spring, flowering in April before its leaves appear. The prolific white blossoms stand out against the dark blackness of the stems, and is a common sight in hedgerows. It has spiky thorns to protect itself from all those who have designs on its Sloe berries. Not generally suitable for small gardens as it can get quite large, but small pieces of it are wonderful to enjoy indoors as they are frequently covered in lichen.

Jobs for the week

Recycle those Christmas wreaths

And create a feast fit for birds of all sorts. They’ll love it, and you’ll love them. At Garden House, even the bird food is presented decoratively

Sort out seeds to sow in January and February

Reading, dreaming, planning and ordering are half the fun. Everything is possible. Nothing is off limits. Some seeds need to go in early, as the plants need a long period of growth – like Rhodochiton atrosanguineus, Cobaea scandens (the cup and saucer plant), Cleome and Nicotiana. Tomatoes and Aubergines too. Hence the need to get things organised sooner rather than later.

Start sowing Sweet Peas

These don’t need heat or light to germinate. Use root trainers or cardboard tubes to encourage long root growth. Put newspaper over the tops to increase warmth, keep in moisture and reduce light. Once there are three sets of leaves, pinch out the top set to prevent the plants from becoming leggy.

Sow chillies

A good range of chilli seeds can be found at The Victorian Nursery. These plants do require a long season of growth, so start now! Good drainage is important, and they germinate best in a heated propagator or on a heated mat.

Keep checking the Hyacinth bulbs

Looking good

Grow Hyacinth bulbs in bowls

And decorate a la mode. Adding Twisted Hazel provides a good support for the flowers and looks simply divine.

Take hardwood cuttings

January is a good time to take hardwood cuttings. There is less to do in the garden, allowing plenty of time to make plants for free. Many deciduous shrubs can be propagated using this method – Sambucus nigra, Hydrangea, Philadelphus, Forsythia, Cornus, Roses – as well as Blackcurrants and Gooseberries amongst others.

No special equipment is necessary. No heat. No propagators. The cuttings can stand outside. Why not have a go?

First, cut your stems from one-year old wood. Pencil-thick.

Here are a variety of Cornus cuttings. Lay them out and then prepare by making a slanted cut at the top of each cutting, above a leaf joint, and then another cut straight across at the bottom, underneath a leaf joint (a dormant bud).

Place a mix of perlite and compost on top of a long rectangle of black plastic and tuck the cuttings in.

I think in Austria they make apple strudel more or less along these lines, except with filo pastry, loads of butter and a spiced apple filling

Roll it all up

Tie the rolls securely and label

Et voila!

Make sure there are drainage holes at the bottom of the plastic rolls. Don’t let them dry out. Now all you have to do is wait patiently.

Cuttings can also be placed in a deep flower pot.

Plan a planting scheme for your garden

Once again, Liz McCullough provided a brilliant outline guide to help us on our way. We were encouraged to think about Specials (the Prima Donnas or star performers); Skeletons (plants that form the green background for year-round enclosure and give shape and form to the space ); Decoratives (Seen at the front of the skeleton, providing structure and a wow factor); Pretties (perennials for flower and foliage interest in spring and summer); and Infill plantings (transitory splashes of colour as the seasons change, invaluable gap-fillers adding extra drama). Design is an intimidating and extensive topic, but we started gently with a brief to design a new bed of 3 m x 2 m, backed by an established deciduous hedge, in semi-shade on chalk soil.

Break-out rooms formed to discuss the possibilities. And we soon found ourselves confronted not only by choices of plant material, but also of colour/ height/ spread / season / style….Oh, heck!

Specials came in as: Malus, Sorbus, Sambucus; Skeletons were: Osmanthus, Sarcococca, Daphne, Skimmia, Viburnum davidii; Decoratives might be: Ferns, Vinca, Euonymous, Grasses for shade, Euphorbias; Pretties: Geranium phaeum ‘Lily Lovell’, Heuchare ‘Autumn Bride’, Astrantias, Anemome ‘Honorine Jobert’, Pulmonarias; Infill planting: Crocus, Cyclamen, Hellebores, Snowdrops, Foxgloves

This was the plan Liz and Bridge came up with:

A daunting topic, but take it easy. Considering just one area of the garden is helpful to start with! There are good online tools available too: Crocus, The Beth Chatto Gardens and Rosie Hardy all provide online plans, advice and suggestions via their websites.

And…. relax. Time for more green tea. Or something.

Maybe that Curly Wurly?

Frosted Euphorbia provides euphoria

It’s the icing on the January cake

Friday 8th Dryveganuary 2021

A cold but light and bright January morning saw Friday Group reassembling virtually, if not virtuously. Sharing the highs and lows of our Christmas and New Year celebrations revealed that certainly more than a couple of tins of Quality Street had disappeared over the period. Many were quite certain that naughty neighbours had taken the liberty of dumping empty bottles into their recycling bins. How else to account for the volume of glass?

So, the highlights. Spending time with, and cooking for, those family members we were able to see in lockdown, yet at the same time relishing the fact that this year most of us actually had less washing up to do as a result of participating in the ‘Lockdown Numbers Game’. Appreciating gifts such as gardening tools, a heated propagator, an insect house, plants, trees, and Raspberry canes. Looking forward to taking part in a garden safari at Knepp Estate in 2021. Getting out into the garden – applying mulch, manure and leaf mould; planting bulbs; starting to clear and prune. Finding new podcasts to enjoy, like Monty Don’s on the Gardeners’ World website: https://www.gardenersworld.com/search/?q=monty+don+podcast

Ordering seed and plant catalogues (or horticultural porn as it’s known). Buying pots from local nurseries; bird-spotting; watching hyacinth bulbs grow in forcing jars and Amaryllis unfurling indoors.

Walks and reading featured strongly. Books recommended were: The Almanac 2021, by Lia Leendertz; The RHS Propagating Plants Book; The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben; The Overstory, by Richard Powers; Gardens Illustrated magazine; A History of Plants in 50 Fossils, by Paul Kenrick; Natural Garden Style, by Noel Kingsbury; The Garden Jungle, by Dave Goulson; Wilding, by Isabella Tree; My Garden World, by Monty Don; Derek Jarman’s Garden book. Also mentioned was Meera Sodhal’s vegan cookery book East. (N.B. Audio books are available to borrow free of charge via many libraries now.)

On to the next topic: The New Year Quiz. Now. The thing is. We Friday Groupers are team players and definitely prefer to work in groups! So, without further ado, we’ll move swiftly on to the –

Plant Ident.

The first of the year. We looked at what’s performing in the garden at Garden House right now.

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata

One of the most beautifully scented shrubs you will find. Expensive, because it’s not the easiest to propagate, but so worth it at this time of year. Evergreen, with gold margins, the glossy, lanceolate leaves provide a lift to winter borders. The small, pale pink flowers emerge from dark magenta buds – and their fragrance is divine. Take a sprig into the house to keep the party going. Can eventually reach 1.5 m x 1.5 m. Full sun or partial shade.

Sarcococca confusa

Another winter-flowering, hardy, evergreen shrub. It will grow in sun but is best in shady conditions, making it an extremely useful addition to a planting scheme list. The lance-shaped leaves are dark green, whilst its small flowers are pure white, and deliciously scented. Long-lasting, shiny black berries follow. Grows easily in most types of soil, to around 1.5 m.

Lavandula x intermedia

The soft silvery-grey leaves of this Lavender stand out on a frosty winter’s morning and shimmer in the early light. Beautiful when snipped and brought into the house as part of a small bouquet, as the leaves are so aromatic. The Intermedia group tend to grow larger than other Lavendula varieties and produce more flower spikes. They bloom later than their colleagues and the flowers last through to late summer

Helleborus argutifolia

Much loved by Bridge, this variety has strikingly architectural foliage and structure. Grows to around 45 cms, it has quite solid, robust stems, and produces bright lime-green flowers. The leaves are a lovely soft blue- green with spiny, serrated edges. Essential in the winter garden, and performs well in a shady border.

Eleagnus x ebbingei ‘Gilt Edge’

Seen everywhere, and therefore probably not appreciated as much as it should be. (It’s been awarded an A.G.M. after all.) An evergreen shrub, whose glossy dark green leaves have golden splashes and margins. In the autumn it produces tiny, almost invisible, silvery-white flowers which have an intoxicating fragrance – followed by small red fruit. It’s hardy, tough and is often used by landscapers in urban locations, like supermarket car parks. Drought resistant, it can be used for screening, as a hedge or trained against a wall.

Iris unguicularis

A striking shot of blue, this winter-flowering iris is a tough cookie, appearing in the coldest months of the year. Evergreen, grass-like leaves contrast with clear blue flowers. The fall petals are marked with white and deep yellow. Known as the Algerian Iris, it is a vigorous, rhizomatous perennial – and is a delight to cut and enjoy in a small vase indoors.

Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’

The deciduous Dogwood comes into its own in the winter months when the small oval leaves fall and its bare stems are lit up by the sun. Planted en masse, the effect can be breathtaking – especially when reflected in nearby pools of water or offset by groups of the white trunks of Betula utilis Jacquemontii and dark evergreens. This variety is especially attractive, and lives up to its cultivar name. Best grown in full sun and moist soil, once it has become established, it should be pruned hard back in March and then mulched.

In our gardens

In small groups, we discussed those plants which are currently giving us pleasure at home. Huge variety, of course, but as an example, one trio came up with: Malus ‘Red Sentinel’; Corylus contorta; Rosmarinus officinalis; Laurus nobilis; Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’; Miscanthus zebrinus; Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’; Trachelospermum jasminoides. In fluent Latin too.

Fun to cut some pieces and arrange individually in small jars, or as one mammoth display.

Jobs for the week (It’s a long list!)

Check for dead, diseased and damaged wood on deciduous shrubs

Cut this out and get rid of it.

Prune Wisteria back to four buds from the main stem

If you want to keep your Wisteria in check and encourage floriferous flowering later in the year, now is the time to prune.

And cut back other vigorous climbers such as Vitis coignetiae to maintain shape and structure

Prune Climbing and Hybrid Tea Roses at the end of the month

Cut back to an outward-facing bud and remove any crossing or diseased branches. They can be cut hard as they are as tough as old boots. Feed them and add a mulch of delicious compost/well-rotted manure. They’ll love it and you will reap the benefits in the summer.

Keep an eye on forced bulbs

You can never have too many

Remove old leaves on Hellebores

This will help to expose the flowers, gives them air and space and helps to prevent blackspot. Leave the fresh new foliage to grow. A good source of Hellebores is the Twelve Nunns Nursery, selling Harvington Hybrids. https://www.twelvenunns.co.uk/nursery/

Check plants to ensure they are not dying from being left standing in water. This may cause rot to occur and that would be rotten.

Plant fruit trees

And prune Apples and Pears, but never more than by a third.

Force established Rhubarb plants

Excluding light will result in delicious, long, pink stems. So, if you have been given new terracotta Rhubarb forcers for Christmas, now is the time to deploy them. Dead posh, and will arouse deep envy in all and sundry #iwantoneofthose. The downside is: you may have to mount a 24 hour guard to prevent theft. The upside is: rhubarb crumble. And custard.

Sow Sweet Peas

They don’t need light to germinate, so can be covered by a sheet of newspaper to keep warmth in and light out. Germination in 10-12 days.

Sow seeds of plants which require a long season of growth

These will include: Cleome, Iceland Poppies, Cobaea scandens, Antirrhinum, Chillies, Nicotiana. They will need to be sown on heat. Get those electric propagators plugged in and ready for action.

Sow vegetable seeds under glass

Try hardy Broad Beans, Leeks, Spinach, Peas, Swiss Chard

Plant deciduous hedging now

Take hardwood cuttings of shrubs

Deadhead plants in pots

Like Pansies. This will prevent them from going to seed, encourage more flowers and prolong your display

Potatoes can be placed on a windowsill to chit

Clean pots, seed trays and greenhouses

What do you mean, you’ve got other things to do? Get on with it.

Feed the birds

This little lot will cost more than tuppence a bag, but it is one of the most important things you can do for wildlife at this time of year.

A variety of wildlife will be attracted to the feast

But it’s the birds we really want to feed…

Remember to ensure there is also a supply of drinking water for them to access – check it hasn’t frozen over.

Sedum spathulifolium ‘Purpureum’ AGM, looking jewel-like and gorgeously frosted in an alpine sink at Garden House. Proof that it can tolerate the cold.

But it doesn’t like a soggy bottom

Who does?

Friday 18th December 2020

The last session for 2020. Whilst Covid has been and continues to be appalling, frightening and dreadful, it always helps to try and concentrate on the good stuff. This year, we have participated in Zoom meetings – even in break-out rooms, for goodness sake. We have done our lessons and homework. We’ve made films of our gardens to share with others. We’ve converted a reluctant few to the wonderful world of houseplants. All-in-all, pretty good.

So now, with Christmas approaching, the Holly looks jolly

and the Ivy looks lively

Split into (teeny tiny) groups, a few of us met (outside and socially distanced) at Garden House and enjoyed some festive activities … as well as the dreaded traditional quiz. Some really entered into the Christmas spirit

Others looked on and could only be impressed

A chilly day, but plenty of warmth from fire pits and ovens

and from the general joie de vivre and camaraderie

Even the pots were cosily wrapped up

Some plants seem to be naturally aflame at this time of year

On with the practical stuff. Various activities were available, together with a wide range of natural materials

Evergreens, eversilvers, everblues, evergreys, eversolovely

One possibility was to decorate a jar for a table centrepiece. Using the phenomenon that is double-sided tape (it’s miraculous), stick pieces of Rosemary around the circumference of the jar. Then fill the aromatic container with your choice of wintery delights. Maybe add a candle?

Another option was to make a wreath

First, gather together a range of garden materials and a wire ring

Wrap lengths of evergreen generously around the ring

Exactamundo!

Now make up a small bouquet of plant material. A twist of floral wire will keep it together. Excellent. Now make another four. Or more.

Attach them to the wreath

Looking good. How about a few dried Allium heads?

Like these

Alliums added

Lovely!

Titivate until perfection is achieved

Nearly there

Perfection?

You bet!

I sense a business opportunity coming on

Of course, there’s always someone who takes their decorating just a little too far…

For example, here we see a bad case of tinsellitis

Meanwhile, at the back of a border at Garden House, life is moving on…

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas and a most floriferous 2021

Friday 11th december 2020

Grey and drizzly, but we ain’t grizzly. Frizzy, maybe – but that’s down to moisture in the air and hair. It’s Friday, and time for Friday Group!

And, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Wreaths are being wrought

And anything that stays still long enough, like these Artichoke heads, is getting sprayed

So keep moving

Plant ident.

The focus is on plants that die well. They have the benefit of extending interest in the garden over the winter months. Asters and Dahlias, for example, do not for the most part die well. They tend to go all squelchy as soon as a frost hits them. Hydrangeas and Sedums, on the other hand, are models of how to die a good death. As are many grasses and other perennials.

Garden designers such as Piet Oudolf demonstrated the use of these plants in the New Perennial Movement, which he pioneered. (His book ‘Designing with Plants’ is highly recommended.) These prairie-style plants are typified by their ability to hold onto their structure and seedheads as they fade and die back. Frosts and snow merely add to their charm, and they will also be beneficial to birds and other wildlife. They should not be cut back until late winter/early spring.

Rudbeckia

Black-eyed Susan are marvellous perennials which flower over a long period, and have seed heads which continue to provide interest well into the winter. They look magnificent when planted in swathes amongst the vivid green of a grass such as Sesleria, and are used extensively at the Sussex Prairies Garden. There are many cultivars – this one is Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii. Bright yellow, daisy-like flowers bloom in late summer to autumn. The cone-shaped black-brown centres continue to be held aloft long after the petals fall.

Sedum

Fyi, they have changed their name, and are now known as Hylotelephium. There should be a law against it. There is a huge variety of Stonecrops, from alpines to large border cultivars. The latter are the ones which are noteworthy for their skeleton stems and flower heads which persist through until spring, when they can be cut back. Planted in full sun, they will tolerate drought and combine well with most other perennials. Tough, easy to grow and invaluable.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Yakushima Dwarf

The nursery Perfect Plantings believes that Miscanthus is the King of grasses. Full sun, any soil, they produce fabulously wafty (technical term) flower heads which last well into the winter. Sparkling in the frost or with dew on them. Not invasive. Hardy and reliable. They give height and structure and also look good in fresh and dried flower arrangements. There are many cultivars to choose from; ‘Yakushima Dwarf’ is about 0.6 m tall and one of the smaller, more compact varieties. Produces pinkish-brown flower plumes from late summer. A joy!

Eryngium planum

The Sea Holly. Here’s one that’s been sprayed earlier. Loves coastal areas, a hot and dry location and a dry, sandy soil. This one is E. planum bourgatii, and, when not covered in silver, it has variegated leaves. If one were more poetic, one would describe them as ‘elegantly marbled with broad, silvery white veins’. Eryngiums have the most beautiful, vivid metallic-blue flowers surrounded by blue/green stiff bracts. A famous cultivar is E. ‘Miss Willmott’s Ghost’, reputedly sown secretly by the eponymous lady when she visited gardens.

Alliums

Allium schubertii

It’s HUGE! And the seedheads look like exploding fireworks. Clearly, they need plenty of room in the garden to display their elegant expansiveness to the full. Pick the dried stems, if you can bear to, and spray them for magnificent table decorations or flower arrangements. Plant now for an outstanding garden performance next year.

Allium christophii

Another big ‘un. Grows to around 50 cms. A denser seed head than schubertii, but just as magnificent. Awe and wonder in bucketfuls.

Jobs for the week

If the above inspires you to look more closely at the possibilities out there in your garden, you will find yourself happily picking and spraying from now until Christmas. Gold, silver, white – or go colourtastic. Try Iris sibirica seedheads as well as those of Fennel, Poppies – heck, even mini gourds left over from the autumn. And how about Broad Bean pods? Dry them out thoroughly, have a spray-play-day and enjoy.

Plant Allium bulbs in quantity

For maximum pleasure next year

Ditto Erythronium ‘Pagoda’ bulbs

Dog’s Tooth Violet. Best to keep your dog’s teeth (and paws) away from them. Plant in partial shade and humus-rich fertile free-draining soil.

Pot on cuttings

These are Pelargoniums, now ready to be moved on into individual pots.

Creating more and more new plants for next year

Check round the garden

Sweep up leaves to make leaf mould. Make sure plants are not drowning in pots standing in saucers full of rainwater

Check!

Plant Raspberry canes

These are Raspberry ‘Tutameen Pearl’

Soak bare-rooted Raspberry canes to hydrate the roots before planting. Cut back to around 25 cms.

Cast an eye over the vegetable plot

The fluffy green fronds of Florence Fennel. Mr McGregor would be proud. And just check out that Chard in the background! More an art form than a vegetable

Wowser

Wrap up tender plants tenderly in horticultural fleece

Tidy up in the greenhouse

And put the newly potted on seedlings in there to get established

Winter salads should be growing away happily for your delectation. Sow any spare seeds that remain to ensure salad days ahead

All is hunky dory in the Pelargonium Palace

Enjoy all that is still thriving

Salvias and Rhodochiton are still flowering away in the garden

Adopt a vigorous pose

It will fill you with purpose and energy in these difficult times. As demonstrated:

Well done; that’s perfect!

Well, 2020 has been a tough year for everyone. But thank goodness for Friday Group. It’s been marvellous!

Better to light a candle than curse the darkness

FRIDAY 4th DECEMBER 2020

December 2020. Out of Lockdown Number 2. Greenery and greyery assembled, ready for online Christmas wreath concoctions

Someone’s been practising

Not me

I’ve just been practising curling up. It’s a skill.

Plant ident.

Hebe rakaiensis

An invaluable low-growing evergreen shrub which can be kept tightly clipped into soft, dome-shaped mounds. Small glossy leaves. Hardy. Looks Japanese, but will fit easily into any garden scheme, offering structure and pattern. A good alternative to Buxus. Good on most soils, including chalk and easy from cuttings.

Sarcococca var chinensis

Christmas Box. An easy, small evergreen which does well in shade. Produces small, fragrant, white flowers in the winter months which scent the air wonderfully, and attract early pollinators. Glossy evergreen leaves are reminiscent of those of Box. They are good, hardy shrubs which flourish in urban environments, and cope with pollution and dry shade. Good in the border and as a low informal hedge. Around 1 m tall. This variety has red berries.

Sarcococca confusa

This is a larger variety, and can grow to 4 m. Very free-flowering, and produces shiny black berries. Lovely to have a couple of Sarcococcas growing near a front or back door so that you can enjoy their perfume as you drift in and out. Another very desirable variety is S. hookeriana var. digyna ‘Purple Stem’. Upright and compact, its young stems are purple/pink, as are the flowers. The foliage of these shrubs is useful for creative types to use in Christmas wreaths.

Grevillea rosmarinifolia

Originating in Australia, this hardy, evergreen shrub has a lax, spreading habit, growing to around 1 – 2m. Its dark green, needle-shaped leaves are (unsurprisingly, given its name) similar to those of the herb Rosemary, but decidedly more prickly. Deep crimson flowers are produced over a long period, from winter through to late summer; in some sheltered sites it can actually flower the whole year round. Little pruning needed, but branches can be cut in order to shape and maintain a good framework. Neutral to acid soil; likes full sun.

Rhamnus alaternus ‘Argenteovariegata’

An excellent evergreen, variegated shrub, highly rated at Garden House. Magnificent shape and beautiful variegation – even variegatophobes tend to like this one. Dark stems, cream-edged leaves, small scented golden flowers in summer, followed by shiny red berries in the autumn months. Plant in full sun or partial shade – ideally in a fairly sheltered situation – it’s definitely not suitable material for a windbreak. A.G.M.

Jobs for the week

Split houseplants which have become overcrowded

This is a flourishing example of Haemanthus albiflos, the Shaving-Brush plant, and its pot is positively bursting at the seams. Ready to be released into a more spacious living arrangement with fresh compost. New plants from old.

Re-pot the separated plants. Water, Label. Gloat over all your new (free) stock. Plenty to give away too.

Prune Climbing and Rambling Roses

As we enter the season of their dormancy, it’s a good time to look at the shape and spread of these Roses, and some pruning can be started. Climbers will flower on wood made in that current season (growth made in that year), and they generally repeat-flower all summer and on into autumn. Cut out dead and diseased wood and prune old stems back to around two buds. Stems should be tied in different directions to encourage new flowering growth; train as near to horizontal as possible to encourage more lateral flowering shoots to grow. Sometimes you just have to be brave and go for it! Below is a picture of the newly pruned framework of the Climbing Rose, R. Cecile Brunner.

Rosa ‘Compassion’

Another Climber. On the right-hand side quite a lot of pruning has been done. There are still some leggy stems and entangled growth over to the left. Unfinished? Well, yes, but we’re being generous, as we need to leave something for the other groups to do! Hang onto the lovely orange-red hips; they will be fab. in wreaths and table decorations

Look at the size of those hips!

(I’m sure I’ve heard that sentence somewhere before)

Rosa ‘Mermaid’

A beautiful yellow Climbing Rose – untouched at present. Taming is obviously needed. The stems of Climbers tend to be stiffer than those of Ramblers.

Rambling Roses

Are those which do just that. They are the ones that can rollick happily up a tree. Rosa ‘Wedding Day’ is an example, and can get to around 10 metres. Stunning, simple white single flowers appear in clusters in May/June and attractive hips follow in October. The leaves are dark and glossy. Scented.

Ramblers flower on growth made in the season prior to flowering. They are more vigorous than Climbers and the flowers tend to be simpler and smaller – although still borne in profusion. Usually, they only flower once in the season. Their branches tend to be longer and more flexible, and in fact they require only occasional pruning.

When pruning, ensure that tools are clean and sharp. This makes the job of cutting easier and will help to prevent the plant from becoming diseased. Ideally, tools should be disinfected after pruning each plant.

Jobs for the week

Prune Climbers and Ramblers as above.

Make a winter / Christmas wreath

Gather greenery, hips, decorations, lights, gold and silver spray, dried fruit and dried flowers. Get creative!

Complete bulb planting

Add some violas and pansies on the top of pots to keep things interesting whilst the bulbs get busy below. Remember that squirrels may be inclined to investigate…

Squirrel-proofing a-go-go

Nutkin thinks this looks a cinch. We’ll see

Gather dried Allium heads to use in winter displays indoors. They look magical when sprayed white, gold or silver.

Farewell autumn

Welcome winter

FrIDAY 27th NOVEMBER 2020

The skeletal structure of the winter garden offers an opportunity to look carefully at one’s plot and to think about plants and structures which will contribute interest, texture, form and added meaning.

Plant Ident.

Viburnum davidii

A very useful evergreen shrub. Diecious. (No, me neither.) It means that male and female flowers exist on separate plants. It is the female form which bears flat heads of white flowers in May, followed later on by clusters of shiny, metallic-blue berries – provided, that is, there is a male plant in the vicinity. The semi-glossy, dark green leaves are noticeably veined. It makes an attractive dome-shaped shrub for borders, growing to around 1.5 m. in sun or partial shade. A.G.M.

Viburnum farreri

Originally brought back to England by the plantsman and plant collector, Reginald Farrer, from China. This is one of G/H’s must-have plants, so it must be good. An upright, deciduous shrub, which flowers between October and May. Clusters of pink buds appear in late autumn to winter, opening to scented, tubular, white flowers. An absolute joy to have its fragrant presence in the garden at this time of year. The small veined leaves are bronze at first, turn green over the summer and darken to purple in the autumn. Vigorous in growth, so you may need to cut around one third of the shrub back to the ground every couple of years. A mature plant will be about 2.5 m. in height. Likes most soils, including chalk! A.G.M.

The flowers bloom (and you swoon) before the leaves appear.

Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’

Another wonderful, winter-flowering, deciduous shrub. This is a cultivar which was developed at Bodnant Garden in 1934-35, hence the name. Fabulously fragrant, with pinker flowers than than V. farreri. Grows to around 2.5 m in most soils and in full sun or partial shade. Leaves are small, veined, dark green and oval in form. A.G.M. We probably need this one as well.

Viburnum rhytidophyllum

Some people don’t like this at all: “too coarse, too ugly”. Others start off feeling the same way, but then find, over the course of time, that they have come to rather love the ‘leather-leaved’ (or ‘wrinkled’) Viburnum. It grows larger than other Viburnums, up to 4 m. in height, is evergreen and architectural. Clusters of small creamy-white flowers form in a dome in the spring, followed by oval red berries which turn black as they ripen. Its distinctive leaves are long, lanceolate, dark green, and deeply veined. Happy in full sun or partial shade, but will also cope with full shade.

Clematis cirrhosa var. ‘purpurascens ‘Freckles’

Not a Viburnum. But for a thing of such simple beauty, it does have a long and complicated name. An evergreen, winter-flowering climber, it looks amazing now with its splashes of purple ‘freckles’ and glossy, dark green leaves. Flowers from December to February and best grown over an arch where the flowers can be enjoyed from below. No regular pruning required, but can be cut back to restrict its growth directly after flowering has finished. A.G.M.

Garden Structures

The week’s topic. How can structures, objects of art and ornaments be used to add interest to a garden space and improve rather than detract from it. Winter is a good time to observe, consider and assess what is missing and needs adding. Of course, there may be things which need removing, so maybe start with these.

The term ‘garden structures’ covers an enormous range of items. For example, an obelisk is one possibility; it would certainly make a statement.

A pagoda, perhaps?

Of course, any statement has to be chosen with care. You don’t want anything too showy-offy

How about a pergola? It would add height and interest to any space. This one is gorgeous but spendy.

Notice how it leads the eye towards that curve and onward, through to the next part of the garden.

This one is less spendy, and more appropriate for a cottage garden, but it fulfills the same purpose.

Visiting other gardens is always a good place to start.

Clinton Lodge Garden, Fletching

A mown strip cut through a wildflower meadow leads to a seat which just begs to be sat on. Birch trees add vertical structure to this soft informality.

Knepp Castle estate

Hmmm. These look very much like….. antlers?

Yes, indeedy. At the Rewilding Project, where deer roam freely, they make good use of found materials. Here an arch leads the way into the campsite area.

Sissinghurst Garden

A massive copper pot makes a bold statement in the middle of a paved area, providing a focal point. Such a clever choice to opt for the vivid red of these tulips with their grey-green foliage. It’s clearly sparked joy in these visitors.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

The suspended bridge emphasises the jungly nature of this part of the garden; it creates a sense of adventure and excitement. Just look at the way those children are being encouraged to cross it and move from one area into another. This structure creates a partnership between the visitor and the garden.

When visiting other gardens, try to notice the various devices used to encourage movement, rest, contemplation, curiosity.

A seating area within an arbour of hedging: peace and privacy.

A gate and a small obelisk beyond: marking endings and beginnings

View through hedge created by woven branches; a focal point which moves the gaze out beyond the present space

Ornaments and structures can also include statues, water features of all sorts, pots, stone balls, kinetic pieces, ceramics, gates, arches, raised beds, mirrors and screens. Sound and movement may be part of this – as in the trickle of water or the soft clunk of bamboo. These additions can help to make sense of a space, draw the gaze, and create relationships between other elements in the garden. They should heighten and reinforce a sense of place.

We discussed the various garden structures we already have, and those we might install in our own gardens. Budgets permitting.

A pebble pond. Adds interest, the element of water, texture and a punctuation mark in the design.

A mirrored gate is cleverly installed on the back fence.

A bird bath – for wildlife and as a terrific focal point, uniting the planting and the tree trunks

Jobs for the week

Friday Group is ready to get out there whatever the weather, We have proof –

Prune roses

Plant garlic

Try the Isle of Wight Garlic Farm for a wide variety of interesting bulbs

Plant salad and herb seeds in boxes

Plant Japanese onion sets

Divide Rhubarb plants if necessary

Lift pots up off the ground to help drainage through the winter. Use pot feet or bricks

Plant broad beans and peas

They can be started now for an early crop next year.

Prick out Verbascum seedlings

Experiment. Grow something new!

Garden House is trying Florence Fennel.

Buy and plant Raspberries

Raspberries can be planted any time during the dormant season from November – March. They are often sold as bare root canes, as above. Plant in an area where they will get full sun.

Plant yet more of these

These bulbs are the beautiful tulip species ‘Bronze Charm’ or Bokhara Tulip. Described as having apricot-yellow petals and being “an endearing small tulip with poise and character”. Delightful.

You can never have too many. Especially if the squirrels are digging them up as fast as you are planting them. The blighters.

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