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:

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.

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


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


Titivate until perfection is achieved

Nearly there


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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


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


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.


They say that every picture tells a story

This weeks’s story is about houseplants. They don’t pop everyone’s cork. Well, not yet….

And why bother with them? There’s enough to do in the garden. But, take a look outside. It’s raining. It’s grey. It’s freezing. And we still need our horticultural hit.

They’re a great introduction to the world of plants. Cheap and cheerful; decorative; they purify the air, our minds, bodies and souls; make fab presents to give and receive; can last for years and be handed down the generations, like family heirlooms.

Basically, what’s not to like? You could plan a whole house around them – or let them take over completely, once you really get the bug. Imagine –

Monstera deliciosa by the front door

a bit cheesey?


So adaptable. Real fun and games to be had with them.

Time to make a statement in the hallway…

…and a fire in the grate

Cram them into every nook and cranny

Cook up a storm with them in the kitchen

Keep an apron handy

and pray you’re not prey

One or two might look nice on the stairs and landing

A terrarium can offer an aerial perspective

And there’s always room for more to live with you. In the living room

So, let’s celebrate the versatility of houseplants and raise a toast to them

Where’s the drinks trolley?

Make a splash with them in the bathroom

Time for a nice long bath

Or perhaps a shower?

You can just picture it

The care and maintenance of houseplants may seem rather intimidating at the outset. The general approach errs on the side of ‘Treat ’em mean to keep ’em green’. Kindness can kill and hence overwatering is one of the major causes of plant death. Consider where the plant comes from; many have their roots (sic) in tropical forests, so they need warmth and humidity. Many are happy with an occasional wash of water rather than sitting in puddles of the stuff. Some live on air. Some can’t abide draughts. We have relatives like that.

So. Courage! Let the right plant be lovingly put in the right place. And let Google be your watchword. Other search engines are available.

Plant Ident.

Once again, we are much indebted to Liz McCullough for her informative Houseplants essay, which she generously shared with us.

Fatsia Japonica

A splendidly architectural thing. Loves shade. Has superb, large, glossy green leaves. Variegated varieties available too. Apparently, these were originally grown as houseplants in the U.K., and only later were they planted more extensively outside. At G/H there is a specimen growing in a shady bathroom, along with many another plant. Take care not to go overboard with this passion as it will only lead to trouble.

Pilea peperomioides

Aka the Chinese Money Plant. Discovered in China by the plant hunter George Forest. Très trendy en ce moment. Needs a light, bright situation, but not in direct sunlight. Can be propagated from leaf cuttings. Water about once per week.

Senecio rowleyanus

A lovely thing when it dangles from a container. Like most succulents, String of Pearls is drought tolerant. Ensure its pot has drainage holes and a very dry, gritty compost. Water sparingly when the top few centimetres of compost are dry. Each individual ‘pearl’ will root (eventually) if planted. Patience.


Air plants. Fascinating things. They filter airborne particulates – in other words, they clean the air. They don’t require potting soil, and only need a spray of water once or twice a week. If they start to dry up, give them a good soaking and then let them dry off upside down. Now we’re really beginning to see what can be done with some of these houseplants: Christmas baubles? Who knew?

Sedum Morganianum

The Donkey or Burro’s Tail, from the Crassulaceae family. It’s a succulent perennial and has tassel-like blue-green plumptious leaves which trail pleasingly over the sides of a container. Each of the little bead-like leaves will make a new plant if planted, but this will take time, so don’t sit and watch it. Needs a bright location, but not strong, direct sun. Hung in a pot in a particularly inconvenient position over a chair, it will thoroughly annoy people as they stand up. A great talking point.

Platycerium spp.

Stag’s Horn Fern is a plant much beloved at Garden House and a specimen from London’s Garden Museum has been shot and mounted to go on a bathroom wall at G/H. One suspects it’s the last space left. An epiphyte, it loves leaf mould, warmth, gentle light and humidity; in the wild it generally grows on trees in rainforests. Magnificent.

Our own beloved pets

Time for Show and Tell. We shared our own particular favourite houseplants and established that everyone has space for even one or two in their lives. A plant swap-shop to be held sometime in the future will undoubtedly see those numbers rise.

Tillandsia Usneioides

Spanish moss. An Airplant. Initially modelled as a rather splendid beard by its owner, but here seen behaving itself, draping elegantly downwards from a cupboard. Long, silvery grey strands grow like Rapunzel’s hair. Can bear small flowers with yellow-green petals. In the wild it grows hanging from tree branches. Bizarre – but everyone has put this on their list.


The Cast Iron Plant. So-called because they are almost impossible to kill. In the unlikely event that this should happen to you, give up gardening. Embroidery would be nice. The Aspidistra. Keep it flying.

Oxalis triangularis

Known as ‘False Shamrock’, this plant is definitely not Irish in origin – it comes from Brazil. They open and close their flowers and leaves in response to light, and at night look like small, sleeping butterflies. Vivid purple leaves are offset by delicate white flowers. Long-lived and easy to grow, water sparingly when the soil has completely dried out.

Schefflera ‘Nora’

Cruelly abandoned and neglected, this plant was rescued from certain death by its current owner, who restored it to the marvellous condition we see it in today. The Umbrella Plant has long, shiny oval leaves grouped around a series of stalks. Likes indirect light, warmth and humidity. Can be pruned back if it gets too leggy.

Here’s a thought. Perhaps Friday Group should set up the R.S.P.C.H.?

Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’

The Peace Lily. It may be common, but it’s a magnificent plant, and an excellent one for a novice houseplantperson. Copes with very shady spots and helps purify the air. Easy (when it’s not too hot, too dry, too cold, too wet, too draughty or dead). Likes the occasional feed (organic seaweed feed is good) and re-potting into fresh compost as it grows. Produces white spathes held high on stiff stems. Leaf shine makes it sparkle. And that wallpaper sets it off a treat.

Schlumbergera truncata

Christmas Cactus. What a beauty this one is with its white flowers flushed with pink, looking like tiny ballerinas. The branches are made up of flat, glossy green segments. Easy from cuttings, it flourishes in warmth (about 65 degrees), likes its soil to be moist and enjoys a bright position. When buds form, feed every two weeks. Flowers can be red, pink, white, yellow or purple.

Tradescantia fluminensis

Its owner thinks the name sounds like a magic spell. Named after the famous Tradescants who were botanists, gardeners and plant collectors in the 16th and 17th centuries. Small, green leaves with purple undersides scramble downwards. Very attractive on a shelf or table. Easy to propagate pieces of this by placing cuttings in a glass of water, mutter the words ‘Tradescantia fluminensis’ and watch the roots grow.

Sanseveria trifasciata ‘Moonshine’

There are many different varieties of the structural Mother-in- Law’s Tongue, and this is one of the nicest. Can be propagated from leaf cuttings, like Streptocarpus. Low maintenance, drought tolerant, placed in a good light with the occasional drop of water, not too warm, it will stay there happily for a long time. Rather like a mother-in-law, except they like lots of tea and gin.


In the pot on the right. (Oxalis to the left.) This one should be called Lazarus by its owner, because it was resurrected from the dead. Strangely, the theme continues, because these are commonly known as Prayer Plants – their leaves fold together at night like praying hands. (A process called nyctinasty. You heard it here.) Shiny, dark green leaves with a purple underside. Likes humid conditions and bright indirect light. Water every one to two weeks.

Begonia ‘Black Fancy’

A fabulous form of the type, cascading downwards in leafy profusion. Good in shade, and this one proves it because it’s sitting on a bookshelf next to a north-facing window. Can be propagated by division and also from leaf cuttings stuck at an angle into gritty compost.


The Maidenhair Fern. A spectacular plant if you can provide the perfect environment for it. Bright, indirect light and evenly moist soil are critical. Their roots need moisture (but not puddles).

Phlebodium ‘Blue Star’

A Fern with gorgeous blue/grey leaves which have rippled edges and grow in all directions. Has strange furry ‘feet’ (the roots), hence its other common name, the Rabbit’s Foot Fern. Likes full or partial shade and moist but not wet soil.

Also fondly mentioned were: Haemanthus albiflos, Dracaena marginata, Philodendron, Pachyra aquatica, Aloe, Ficus, Kentia Palm and Anthurium.

Pests and Diseases

Many houseplants love to have a spell outdoors during the warm summer months. A breath of fresh air before they come back in for autumn and winter does them good and helps prevent pests.

Mealybugs can be a problem: sap-sucking insects which leave a tell-tale white fluffy coating on leaves. Cotton wool dipped in alcohol or meths can be wiped over the affected areas – or soft soap. S.B. Invigorator is a spray which is widely used in the horticultural trade – it will also deal with a variety of other pests and mildew and provides a foliar feed. Biodegradable and pet-friendly too. Another alternative is to use biological controls.

Keep plants healthy by not overwatering, feeding judiciously and by repotting them in appropriate compost when required. Talk to them as well.

Jobs for the Week

Plant bulbs for indoors and out

It’s not too late to plant prepared bulbs for flowering indoors. Paperwhites and Hyacinths are particularly suitable. Outdoors, narcissus and tulips can still go in.

Prick out hardy annuals

Cut back Peonies

Tidy up Asters and cut them back

Divide Hostas and other herbaceous perennials

Sow Sweet Peas


Once bitten by the houseplant bug (not literally we hope) care needs to be taken lest one becomes addicted to this new enthusiasm.

In some houseplant households, even the candles are houseplant-shaped

And your bathroom might end up like this –

What’s more, the consequent shortage of space may reduce other residents to sitting on the roof. may be a helpful source of information.

Friday 13th November 2020

This looks like something from the pages of Country Living. Guess the fruit.

Ponicirus trifoliata, of course. 5 points to Gryffindor!

Aka the Hardy Orange, or, Japanese Bitter Orange. Shouldn’t be surprised that there’s a trugful here at G/H, where all things ‘japonica’ are much appreciated. This brings us smoothly on to the –

Plant Ident.

Prunus ‘Tai-Haku’

Where our first item just happens to be, arguably, the most beautiful of all Japanese Cherry trees, the Great White Cherry. The cultivar had apparently died out in Japan and was thought to be extinct, until a single specimen was found growing in a Sussex garden in the 1920s. Reintroduced to Japan by the remarkable Collingwood Ingram, all ‘Tai- Hakus’ owe their existence to that single one. Someone should make a film about it. There’s already a book: ‘Cherry’ Ingram: The Englishman Who Saved Japan’s Blossoms’ by Naoko Abe.

Highly recommended, perhaps too large for a small garden, but such a beautiful all-year tree. Gorgeous spring blossom, good bark, ablaze with colour in the autumn. Officially fantastic. One could imagine serenading it with that classic, “My Cherry Amour”

The Great White Cherry, dressed for spring in the Garden House garden

Betula utilis var. jacquemontii

Another superb, deciduous tree, which comes into its own in the autumn/winter when it reveals its elegant pyramidal shape and stunning white bark. Catkins and fresh green leaves appear in the spring; as the season progresses, they turn yellow/toffee-brown and golden before falling. Looks great planted in small groups, or as a specimen on its own. Can be grown as a single trunk or multi-stemmed tree. Grows to around 10 m. in most soils, provided they are well-drained.

That dazzling white bark

Abelia grandiflora

Highly regarded at Garden House, this evergreen shrub has a graceful arching habit and lovely, glossy, deep green leaves. Very long-flowering, it bears small, scented, trumpet-like flowers from summer onward. In some locations it can be slightly tender and semi-evergreen, but is fine in Brighton. Grows to about 2 – 3 metres, it can be cut back / shaped after flowering. A good border plant.

Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’

Frequently used by garden designers, the cut-leaved Black Elder has very finely dissected foliage which can work as a dramatic foil to other plantings – particularly those featuring golds or yellows. Pollen / nectar- rich, pink flower heads form in early summer, (those of the Common Elder are white), and are attractive to pollinators. Red/black elderberries follow. In spring, the shrub should be cut hard back to the ground; this will promote vigorous growth and better leaves. Easy from hardwood cuttings, and grows in most soils – even very chalky ones.

Cyclamen persicum

Delightful to see planted in containers in the garden now, creating interest from autumn through the winter. Try planting them with ivies to demonstrate the elegant sophistication of your horticultural savoir faire.

Cyclamen hederifolium

Another Cyclamen cultivar, ivy-leaved cyclamen is the most widespread of the species. Hardy and vigorous, this tuberous perennial blooms in the autumn. Best in part shade, will self-seed freely and loves an annual dollop of leaf mould.

Amsonia hubrichtii

Mentioned in dispatches on 6th November, the Amsonia is worth a repeat plug this week as it continues to glow away in the chalk soil in Brighton. Great autumn colour from this herbaceous perennial.

Garden Styles

Moving on from last week’s discussion about the use of colour in the garden, we considered the many and various garden styles currently in vogue. Once again we were assisted and informed by an essay written by Liz McCullough. Huge thanks to her.

Our mission, which we accepted, was to decide on a design type which had influenced us in terms of our gardening, and then think of a tree, a shrub and a perennial consistent with that style, which we might go on to use in our own gardens.

Styles included: cottage; Mediterranean; contemporary urban; exotic/architectural; wildlife-friendly; courtyard; coastal; woodland; prairie-style; vegetable/fruit-based; naturalistic; eclectic; art/sculpture-based. Some members of Friday Group seemed to be sticking with impressive resolve to just one design theme, whilst others had two, three or all elements! Below are a few of our ideas.

Strangely, no one went for the possibility of the full landscape option. No idea why. We’re all perfectly Capable.

We agreed it’s necessary to work with the hand nature has dealt you. Think about the soil, environment and conditions you have, and aim to grow the Right Plants in the Right Place.

The Exotic Garden

Additional plantings might include a Dicksonia antarctica, Fatshedera lizei and Echiums. Perhaps a Musa basjoo (Hardy Banana), Tetrapanax and a Jasmine or Passion Flower. Nurseries such as the Big Plant Nursery at Ashington and Architectural Plants near Pulborough are invaluable.

The Prairie Garden

Perhaps Carpinus betulus (Hornbeam) with grasses such as Stipa gigantea and Calamagrostis x acutiflora’Karl Foerster’ together with Rudbeckias. Visit Sussex Prairie Gardens to get your socks blown off.

The Woodland/Naturalistic Garden

Malus sylvestris (Crab Apple), Ferns and Wood Anemones and/or Heuchera villosa ‘Autumn Bride’. The Beth Chatto Gardens near Colchester are a must.

The Cottage Garden

An Apple or Holly tree, a rambling Rose and Ceratostigma plumbaginoides or Aquilegia formosa would perfectly accentuate this theme. Visit Alfriston Clergy House or Charleston to experience this type of garden.

The Wildlife Garden

Betula utilis jacquemontii or a Crab Apple, Guelder Rose, Gaura lindheimeri and Echinaceas. Or, maybe, Cratageus (Hawthorn), Lavender, Rosemary and Nepeta. According to Dave Goulson (a wildlife garden guru) this has to be the future of gardening, or we are lost.

Jobs for the week

Cut back any dead herbaceous plants which are looking messy. Leave plants and their seed heads where appropriate. (The birds will love you.)

Divide perennials and replant or you can always give some clumps away. (Your family and friends will love you.)

Chrysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’

Resolve to grow Chrysanthemums next year

On that note, look around the garden and consider what plants you might need in future at this time of year. Here are a couple of possibilities.

Mahonia japonica

Sorbus hupehensis


Still not too late to order and plant bulbs in the garden. At Garden House over 1,000 have been planted recently – entirely without the aid of Friday Group, but with the aid of the indispensible, but rather frighteningly horrible, hori hori knife.

And, by the way, how are those forced bulbs getting on after all this time? We’re really rooting for their success.

My goodness. They’re rooting for us too

A pity that the Crocus bulbs aren’t doing the same. Those darn squirrels have been at it again. The battle is lost, but the war has only just begun.

Friday 6th November 2020

Lockdown Number Two. So, we’re Zooming. But at least we get to see everyone! ‘Every cloud….’ etc. etc.

Plant Ident.

Autumnal delights at Garden House, with the emphasis on colour.

Rhus typhina ‘Dissecta

This one sets everyone on fire as it blazes away now. A small, spreading, deciduous dome-shaped tree which grows to around 3 metres. Female forms have odd upright cone-shaped clusters of red berries which develop after the flowers. The Stag’s Horn Sumach develops a fiery palette of oranges, reds, yellows and greens in the autumn. Gorgeous, finely-cut leaves and tactile furry stems (like stags’ horns, obvs.) – and this one doesn’t sucker. If you have the other variety (Rhus typhina) then you are suckered. It travels all over the place.


A flower which is becoming popular again – and apparently moving away from its associations with old men and allotments. (Seems harsh.) Get ahead of the game and plant some immediately so you’ll be the horticultural fashionista of your neighbourhood. They’re hardy (a word any gardener loves to hear) and easy to strike from cuttings. An amazing array of varieties, from singles to doubles to spiders and beyond. We looked at a lovely white cultivar called C. ‘Old White’, also referred to as C. ‘E.H. Wilson’. Simple and beautiful. Also smitten with a dusky pink one, as shown in the, seemingly, casually thrown together arrangement below. Available from the excellent Norfolk based nursery Plantsman’s Preference. Credit cards at the ready.

Persicaria ‘Marchant’s Red’

One of Graham Gough’s selections, and named for his nursery. Persicarias are related to Dock, and have the rough foliage associated with them. Choose your cultivar carefully and you will enjoy the joyful splash of long-lasting colour that Persicaria can give in shade. Vigorous in growth, so may need taming, but an excellent stalwart. This one has a terrific colour and fatter flowers than others. Fat is good.

Nerine bowdenii

A surprisingly rich, bright shot of pink can be spotted in gardens at this time of year. Situated in a hot spot, often near a wall, the showy Nerines are on display, and flower for at least six weeks. In addition to the bright pink varieties, there are pale pinks, reds and whites. They have strap-like leaves, rather like that of Agapanthus. We admired N. bowdenii ‘Alba’ in particular, with its pure white blooms held above strong stems. Originating in South Africa, it’s not surprising that some cultivars of these bulbs are somewhat tender in our cold, dank, English soils. Hence the need for them to be tucked into the hottest, most sheltered part of the garden, where they can bake happily. Or, if you have such things, put them into a greenhouse/conservatory. Good as a cut flower as well as in the border.


Two particularly stand out at the moment – Salvia confertiflora and Salvia ‘Amistad’. Salvias are part of the Lamiaceae family and have the typical square stems associated with that group. Grow in a sunny position in well-drained soil. Their extended tubular flowers are nectar/pollen rich and attractive to insects. Deadhead to extend the flowering period. Cuttings are easy to take and root.

S. confertiflora (above) is a stunning velvety red with red stems, contrasting with good, green foliage. Half-hardy, but can be hardy in warm, sheltered locations – though it’s always best to take cuttings to ensure plants for the future. Keep the cuttings frost free over winter.

‘Amistad’ has become one of the most popular Salvia cultivars. Very long-flowering (months and months); can be tender, but survives the winter in Brighton and other reasonably sheltered places. The most fabulous deep purple flowers. Don’t cut back Salvias until spring, as it encourages them into growth.

Fuchsia ‘Thalia’

A tender Fuchsia, but so beautiful and still flowering. Vigorous and upright in growth, it displays long, drooping, tubular orange-red flowers and has attractive green/bronze veined foliage. At Garden House, it’s looking good in a sunny position in a pot with Aeoniums. Needs winter protection , but is dead easy from cuttings, so take some. Otherwise it won’t be dead easy. Just dead. A.G.M. and, hopefully, not R.I.P.

Physalis alkekengi

Who doesn’t love a Chinese Lantern? Emblematic of autumn and so useful in the garden now as well as indoors in a flower arrangement. Hardy perennials, they can be invasive; they are in the Solanaceae family, and their white flowers are very like that of the potato. It is their bright orange-red seed pods that are so attractive in the garden at the moment. Some people use them as Christmas decorations, casting them casually yet artfully, hither and thither over mantlepieces, windowsills and tables together with other natural and artificial elements. You can even insert little Christmas fairy lights into the pods and they will glow beautifully. That’s the decs sorted then! You’re welcome.

Rosa ‘Francis E. Lester’

A long-time fave at Garden House where it romps around over an arch near the potting shed. Loved for its prolific flowering, its large, single pink/white flowers and for the plethora of small, vibrant orangey-red rose hips which follow in the autumn. A good rambler, performing over a long period of time. Scented.

Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’

An absolutely lovely, small, deciduous tree, which can be a little tricky to grow. Needs to be placed out of the wind. Clusters of bright pink pea-flowers form on the branches and stems just before the leaves emerge. The heart-shaped leaves are a glorious deep red/purple and have dramatic autumn colour. At this time of year, with a carpet of species cyclamen planted underneath, it’s a beaut.

Colour in the garden

As indicated by the choice of plants this week, colour was very much the focus of today’s Zoom session. It involved more homework. Big respect to our academic F/G colleague, Liz McCullough, who generously shared another of her essays with us. She did the work; we just had to read and absorb.

She emphasised how important colour is for our mental health and how we can all become more aware of it in nature, once we start looking more mindfully. (Thankfully, the term ‘wellness’ was completely avoided.) Colours may be harmonious – where they are located next to each other, on the colour wheel, like yellow and green – or they may be complementary- where they are in opposition to each other, like yellow and purple or red and green. Harmonious colours engender a sense of peace and tranquility, whereas complementary ones tend to create a more exciting, energetic mood. This can be of enormous use to the gardener when it comes to garden design and planting.

Liz took us on a journey of the imagination, covering three of her most recent walks, to explore the colours she found in the natural world.

1. Southease/Rodmell

Buff coloured reedbeds, massive blue skies, the greens of the South Downs, the sparkle of water and its browns, greens and blues. A harmonious, peaceful palette of muted, gentle colour reinforced by the quiet, rustling of the reeds. Sometimes a limited number of colours work beautifully together: creams, browns and earthy tones. Bear in mind the way in which a plant fades and dies. Piet Oudolf was one of the first plantsmen to use the ability of a plant to ‘die gracefully’ in his planting schemes.

Amsonia hubrichtii fading brilliantly

2. Sheffield Park Gardens

Reds, oranges, golds and yellows contrasting with greens and glaucous blues. Trees and shrubs reflected in the lakes and water features around the park are set alight by the low autumn sun. Carpets of leaves on the woodland floor serve to emphasise the complementary colours. Layer upon layer of interest.

3. Nymans Gardens

Walking along the South African bed in the sunshine, with its planting of Phormiums, Agaves and Chamaerops humilis, revealed a harmony of blue, green and silvery tones. Island beds of ornamental grasses brought further harmony, as well as textures and plumes of more colours. Colour was also apparent in bark, berries, hips, leaves, fungi.

The remarkable hips of Rosa Roseraie de l’Hay

Single colour gardens, such as the White Garden at Sissinghurst, can be a relief as well as a challenge, although even these will have green as a background. A purely monochromatic garden in greens is also possible. Much will depend on the ultimate vision of the gardener. A cottage garden, for instance will have a very different design paintbox from a slick, contemporary urban garden, or one destined to be a paradise for wildlife.

We discussed colour in break-out groups, and agreed that it can be used to help create a more coherent garden space, creating links and points of focus throughout the year.

Thrilling, yes – but how exhausting! Let’s get back to:

Jobs for the week

Sow sweet peas and harden off the seedlings. Pinch out the tops when three sets of leaves have formed. Half-hardy, so protect from winter frosts.

Plant tulip bulbs

As below. If you haven’t got them yet, there’s still time to order them. In quantity.

You know it makes sense

Plant up pots for winter interest

Now that’s what I call interesting….

Love the plant support

Friday 23rd October 2020

A hot, zingy Salvia with a cool blue-grey Eucalyptus. Colour rocks at Garden House.

The Plant Ident.

The topic for the week is succulents. A wonderful, tough group of plants, they store water in their leaves as a way of surviving dry, arid conditions in the wild. Here, they will tolerate cold and heat, but not wet. As in The Great British Bake Off, soggy bottoms are to be avoided at all costs. Keep inside in a light place or in a greenhouse or, at the very least, covered with plastic or glass lids over the wet months. Now is the time to start protecting them and other tender plants.

Succulents: Succour them. Sustain them. Support them. Shelter them. Now search for succulents starting with “S”. Ah! Here’s one…

Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Moonshine’

Spectacular and architectural, the Silver Snake Plant has lovely, broad pale silvery-green leaves lightly marked with horizontal bands. Can be propagated from individual leaves, by cutting them horizontally and inserting the cut ends into gritty compost. Alternatively, offsets will grow around the base of a plant; these can be removed from the mother ship and planted up.

Check out the smart black label inscribed with white pen. Posh.

Gasteria armstrongii

Slow-growing, it has splendid dark green leaves which are distichous (!) They grow in only two planes. Easy – and a good houseplant. Not to mention an ideal present for Mr, Mrs or Ms Armstrong.

Haworthia pumila

A very attractive low-growing plant with fab raised white markings on its fleshy leaves. Bright light, some moisture in the summer months and little, if any, in the winter. Easy.

Aloe ‘Cleopatra’

Soft pale green leaves rise in a rosette form, their serrated edges are pale orange. Bears orange flowers from June – September. Legend has it that Cleopatra used aloe gel as a skin softener – and this natural product is still used as a soothing balm by the beauty industry today. A well-known TV programme was named after this plant: ”Allo Aloe’.

Echeveria elegans

An interesting and beautiful genus of plants in the Crassulaceae family. Its glaucous, geometric foliage develops pink tips in sunny, bright conditions. Stunning small orange/pink flowers with yellow edges are produced on long stems in winter and spring. Fills a pot or bowl beautifully.

Jobs for the week:

Rapt attention being paid as the jobs for the week are described

After the first three hours, however, one member of the group seems to have drifted off…. (back left). Bless.

But she’s soon up and at it. Spade at the ready!

Remove Roses

In preparation for the new dry garden, plants have been removed from the bed near the lawn. Now the Roses need to be taken out.

And… begin!

Tackle first on one side

Then on the other

The Rose arises

The gardener, on the other hand, gently subsides

Those plants removed last week have been paddling in the specially provided pool. This week, they need to be lined out and heeled in temporarily until they are re-homed permanently.

We’re looking for nice straight lines

Like this

A line of white, blue and pink Hyssop

ditto Agapanthus

ditto Kniphophias

or Red Hot Pokers, if you will

Spot the frog checking on work in progress

A whole new meaning to the phrase’Do your lines’

What do you mean, they’re not in a straight line?

Come here and say that

I’m saying nothing

Remove Miscanthus

Cut back to about 18cms, split into 3 and re-plant. Some grasses have a tendency to become (and here we use technical horticultural language) ‘doughnut-like’ as they age. To avoid the hole in the middle getting bigger and bigger, it’s necessary to split them from time to time. Best done in the spring, but this one is a large, established plant, the soil is damp and still warm and we have prayed to Saint Fiacre, the patron saint of gardeners. And crossed our fingers.

Plant tulip bulbs in the bed near the greenhouse

They’ll be deeply purple, darkly maroon and darkest burgundy: T. ‘Black Parrot’, T. ‘Queen of the Night’, T. ‘Ronaldo’, T. ‘Paul Sherer’, T. ‘Black Hero’

First prepare the (newly created) bed. Remove lavenders, weed bed and add copious quantities of compost

A three – pronged attack

With hand to hand fighting

and four – pronged forks

and a spade

Everybody digs Friday Group

Here are the bulbs

And here, and here and here

Keep at it!

It’s a great spectator sport

Plant Iris reticulata and Crocus bulbs in pots

Finish with a layer of horticultural grit – and netting

Protection from those pesky squirrels

The war starts now

Round One to Friday Group

Friday 16th October 2020

Sing a song of seasons!

Something bright in all!

Flowers in the summer,

Fires in the fall!

(Robert Louis Stevenson)

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

Plant Ident

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

Fatsia japonica

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

Chamaerops humilis

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

Euonymous fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’

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

Polystichum setiferum ‘Herrenhausen’

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

Phormium ‘Black Adder’


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

Soil types

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

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

Clay soil

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

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

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

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

Chalky soil

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

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

Sandy soil

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

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

Silty soil

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

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

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

Jobs for the week

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

Earth up leeks

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

Check Chrysanthemums

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

Begin to lift Dahlias for overwintering

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

Meanwhile… a dark cupboard not far away…

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

Look what’s happening

They’re putting their roots down

It’s a miracle!

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

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

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