Friday 26th November 2021

Cold and grey. Dismal, even. We press on regardless.

Oh, we are a cheery, chirpy bunch! No doubt about it.

And there are lots of lovely things to keep our spirits up –

The Protection Racket

Time to think about adding extra protection for some tender plants which can’t easily be moved. Mulching is one way to add a layer of insulation; dressing plants in warm, winter outfits is another.

But not this sort of jacket, obvs.

More like this sort of thing –

Plant ident.

Tetrapanex papyrifer ‘Rex’

Architectural Plants say this is ‘Fatsia japonica on steroids’. It has exotica in abundance. The Chinese Rice Paper plant is a beaut., a fast-growing shrub/small tree with enormous, deeply-lobed green leaves. Can be grown in a large pot, but is better in the ground where it will probably sucker, so you end up with a little thicket. Can be thinned out and cut down as necessary, but they have a powdery dust all over them, which can be irritating to some. Wear a mask and long sleeves when working amongst them, just to be cautious. Needs a sheltered position in full sun to partial shade; wrapping it in a winter jacket will help to ensure it gets through the winter unscathed. Ht. 4-8m

Canna

Cannas are vibrant, tender, rhizomatous perennials with bold, exotic leaves and showy-offy flowers from mid to late summer through to autumn. Great Dixter demonstrates how magnificent they can be, growing them in their Exotic Garden. They can be container-grown or placed in a border and need a fertile soil and full sun. Although tender, they can survive the winter in warmer parts of the U.K. if given a good covering of mulch. At Garden House, they’ll be cut in half (yoicks!) and wrapped in a covering of horticultural fleece. Ht 1.8m

Musa basjoo

This Japanese Hardy Banana somehow defies expectations and grows quite happily in the U.K. , managing at ambient temperatures of 6 degrees centigrade. Cut back in the winter and mulch the stems. For colder areas, Architectural Plants once again offers sage words of advice: ‘Acquire yourself some nice old terracotta chimney pots and, after the leaves have been frosted, cut the banana down to a few inches lower than the top of the chimney pot, place the pot over the stem, stuff it with straw and devise a top to keep the rain out. Here it will be safe even when Hell freezes over.’ Heck, give it a go!

Hedychium

One of late summer’s glories – the Ginger Lily plant. Lush foliage and wonderful bright colours make them highly desirable – and they’re also easy to grow. But now they need protection. In an ideal world, move them into a warm, sumptuous conservatory. Otherwise, a cold greenhouse should work and/or wrap them in a winter jacket of horticultural fleece. Bubble wrap around the pot provides an extra layer of insulation and finish with a good helping of mulch over the soil. Planting the rhizomes deeply helps to enhance cold tolerance, as does siting them against a south or west facing wall. As with many exotics, it’s damp-induced rotting which is often the main killer, so endeavour to protect from winter rains.

Cobaea scandens

Is it an annual? Is it perennial? It’s the luck of the draw, really. In the U.K. we usually treat the Cup and Saucer plant as an annual, but it can flower into November/December in a sheltered position, and has been known to make it through the winter. Try covering the roots in much mulch and see what happens. Sow seeds in January, as it takes a long time to get going, but once it does, it’s rampant! An exotic-looking climber with either white or purple bell-shaped flowers, it can be trained over trellises and arches to dramatic effect. Essential!

Now, out into the garden, where someone is keeping a sharp lookout for unwanted intruders

Nothing gets past me

I just did

Autumn Leaves

What to do? Leave leaves to decompose? Dispose of them? Compost them? It’s a puzzle. Merely leaving them on the soil or grass can remove vital nutrients. The very best thing to do with deciduous leaves is to collect them up and put them into a leaf cage, or just a bin bag with holes pierced in it to allow aeration. Add a little water and they will eventually rot down, creating a perfect material for mulching and potting. It is the slow action of fungi rather than bacteria which breaks the leaves down. Some leaves decompose more quickly than others – e.g. birch, beech and cherry, whereas larger, more leathery leaves, like those of Horse Chestnut, take longer and will benefit from being shredded.

Hessian sacks are ideal for making leaf mould. Air can get in easily, as can moisture. And they look posh.

Composting

A quick recap. DON’T put in: plastics, sellotape, weeds, large pieces of wood, large prunings, crocks, polystyrene, cooked food. There will be ructions! DO put in small twiggy materials, green garden waste and grass clippings, ash from wood fires, coffee grounds, tea bags, pet hair and human hair (but not if still attached to owner), feathers, cardboard. Layer, aerate, turn, pray.

Charles Dowding, the no-dig guru, is excellent on the subject (the religion?) of composting. Watch him on YouTube.

Jobs for the week

Sieve compost taken from the bins

Or ’tilth the filth’, as we say. This refines the texture and the resulting glory can be layered onto seeded beds or beds cleared for winter. Or used to mix with leaf mould for potting on.

Compost (before) in barrow. Compost (after) in trug. Compare and contrast.

Assess borders

Decide what is to be kept and what should go. Remove and replant as required. The Buddleia is a case in point. Note the traditional Replanting Dance: heel and toe, heel and toe…

Cut back anything dead, damaged, diseased, ugly, and compost appropriately (not diseased material). Stems of Asters, Dahlias, Rudbeckias, Helianthus and Peonies (not Tree Peonies) can all go. Leave seed heads for the birds and wildlife – for example, Sedums – and anything which still looks good, like the heads of Japanese Anemones. Frosts will take the garden to a whole new level of beauty.

Mulch borders

With compost from the bin

Or, as we call it, black gold

Mulching retains moisture in the soil, acts as a weed suppressant, inhibits soil erosion and provides insulation for resting plants. A layer of 10 cms is ideal. All it requires is a lot of application.

The Applicators

The crucial Break for Cake

Today including carrot cake and orange drizzle cake.

Thank goodness. That’s two of our five-a-day

So welcome. And so restorative

Work in The Cathedral

Potting on seedlings and propagating succulents

Warm, comforatable, spacious. It’s tough, but someone has to do it.

Work in the Pelargonium Palace

Primp the Pellies. Tidy. Re-pot where necessary. You know the rules.

Check Sempervivums

Houseleeks are hardy, succulent, alpine plants, and their name is indicative of the fact that it’s hard to kill them. They are tolerant of extreme temperatures and drought; the main thing which can do for them is sitting in the wet. Well, that would do for anyone.

Sempervivums form distinctive rosettes of foliage and bear flowers from spring to summer. Each rosette is a separate plant and is monocarpic, meaning that it will flower once and then die. However, baby plants (offsets) grow on and these can be removed, planted up and grown on, forming new clumps. Above, we can see the dead rosette in the centre of the pot.

Re-pot offsets in gritty compost and finish with a layer of horticultural grit. Label and protect from wet weather

Planting bulbs

Underneath the arches. Will it ever end? And what’s going in today?

Lovely!

We think so

Anyway, we must get on

Wrap up warm

Winter jackets on

And which Friday Group member got wrapped this year?

Tidy up time

Making a clean sweep of things

And, guess what? The sun came out! Well, they say it shines on the righteous

November it may be…

…but look what’s still blooming away at Garden House!

Friday 19th November 2021

Another Friday. It’s mizzly and drizzly, but the front garden is as neat as a pin. Pots have been planted up with bulbs and topped off with horticultural grit. That’s true haughty culture.

Plant ident.

This could be called ‘The Late Show’, as these lovelies are all still performing even though it’s mid-November.

Phygelius capensis

The Cape Fuchsia is a (very) vigorous semi-evergreen, small shrub with extraordinary tubular flowers, which can be 3 cms long, orange-red in colour and a welcome addition to the border at this end of the year. Its vigour may be welcomed by some, but the phrase “an absolute nightmare” has also been used to describe it. However, the suckers which appear can easily be removed and potted up to make new, free plants. Can be treated as a herbaceous perennial. Ht. 1.5m

Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’

Dan Pearson has recently written about Amsonia, and used such descriptives as ‘luminous’, ‘autumn blaze’ and ‘flash of glory’. So, nip out and buy some immediately. When planted in groups, the gorgeous buttery-yellow, lanceate leaves of Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ light up the autumn garden. A clump-forming deciduous perennial, panicles of star-shaped light-blue flowers appear from late spring to early summer. Fairly drought-resistant and copes with most soils. Best planted in full sun to partial shade where the light will hit it at some point in the day. Unassuming, perhaps, but a hard worker and one that is easily maintained. Reportedly resistant to slugs and snails. And not frequently seen, so worth buying for neighbour envy alone. Ht. 0.5m

Salvia confertiflora

Soft, dark red, velvety flowers adorn this beautiful Salvia. Bees and other insects love its nectar-rich flowers and the spikes contrast with the plant’s large, veined, green leaves. Can be hardy in some warm and sheltered areas, but is probably best treated as a tender perennial, so provide winter protection before the frosts arrive. (By the way, frosts generally arrive with a vengeance the night before you decide to provide winter protection.) So, at the very least, take cuttings to ensure plants for next year. Likes full sun and a sheltered position; regular dead-heading will prolong the flowering period. Ht. 1.5m

Sorbus aucuparia ‘Joseph Rock’

This variety of Mountain Ash is known for the beautiful amber-yellow berries which appear in autumn. Its deciduous, pinnate foliage takes on wonderful fall shades of scarlet, red, orange and copper which complement the colours of the fruit. Birds eventually take the berries, and, earlier in the year, bees enjoy feasting from the creamy white flowers. Upright and neat in form, this makes an excellent choice for a small garden. Full sun, any aspect. And it has an A.G.M., of course! Ht. 6-10m

Salvia involucrata ‘Hadspen’s Pink’

Apparently, one of Sarah Raven’s top ten perennials, now that it has survived a couple of winters in her garden in East Sussex. In less sheltered areas, it is generally treated as a tender perennial. Introduced by the colour gurus Sandra and Nori Pope whilst they gardened at Hadspen House (now The Newt Hotel and Gardens). Starts to flower in July and continues for months. The tubular flowers are a bright lipstick pink and are borne on upright, reddish stems which arch as they grow. Likes a well-drained, warm and sheltered position in sun. Ht. 1.2-1.5m

Jobs for the week

Sow a pictorial meadow

Goodness. Sounds very Homes and Gardens. And, indeed it is. As practised by none other than Highgrove House, my dear. So, what exactly is a pictorial meadow?

It’s a spectacularly colourful and naturalistic seeded planting containing both native and non-native flowers, aimed at attracting more pollinators without being a traditional ‘wildflower meadow’. It doesn’t, for instance, contain grasses in the seed mix. One of the best known was the planting created for the Olympic Park in London 2012.

Garden House is using a special hardy cornfield mixture containing Cornflower, Corn Cockle, Corn Chamomile, Cut-leaved Cranesbill, Corn Marigold and Poppies amongst other delights.

And here, the team assemble to consider the best course of action

First, clear the entire Exotic bed. Dispose of all compostable waste in the receiving bin of the compost heap. (See next Job for the week.)

Apply quantities of delicious, home-made compost prior to sowing the seed mix at 2 gms per sq. yard. (Mixing our Imperials and Metrics there. That’s Brexit for you.)

By sowing now we hope for earlier germination and tougher plants. A further sowing can be made next spring if necessary.

Heap heaps on the compost heap

Sort, turn and whisper magic spells. Remove already composted material to spread on newly cleared beds. Our resident expert returns to cosset his pride and joy, accompanied by a willing and able assistant.

Who, for some reason, doesn’t appear to want a photo taken. Can’t think why…

Still, nothing she can do about it now, eh?

And soon, she’s enjoying every minute –

Plant outdoor Hyacinth bulbs

The variety ‘Woodstock’ is being planted alongside Rhubarb plants in one of the raised beds; this should make an attractive combo next year, with the deep magenta of the Hyacinths contrasting with the deep red of the vegetable stalks. (Yes, vegetable!)

Empty 3 blue pots

To be filled with… guess what?

Absolutamundo!

Still, many hands make light bulb work

Or, light work of bulbs

Where possible, match your gloves to the pots you are working on.

Work in the top garden

More emptying of pots, re-filling of pots, planting of pots, gritting, wiring, labelling. You know the routine.

Yes. We know.

Oh, looking very lovely

And what about the other routine we love?

The Cake Break

Ah, yes.

Plant up window boxes

With yet more Tulips. Tulipa ‘Abu Hassan’ to be precise.

Little Dixter

Not just any old Tulips in here, thanks. Now is the time to bring some of the species Tulips to the planting party, namely Tulipa turkestanica and Tulipa tarda. These are much smaller, more delicate bulbs. And much, much more expensive. They will need truly expert planting…

Excellent choice

And? Oh dear

Perhaps a little gingering up is required to get the best out of her

Looks promising

Planting bulbs for indoor flowers

These Narcissi bulbs have been forced in order to produce earlier blooms. They don’t need much in the way of drainage, so wine boxes will make ideal containers. Planted up in quantity, they are going to provide a dramatic display in the near future

Watch this space

Friday 12th November 2021

Friday Group are back at Garden House. Hip hip, hooray!

And it’s a bit on the damp side

Although the Cornelian Cherry is putting on a fine, fiery display

And what is this glasstastic vision we see before us?

Coo! It’s a beauty

Plant ident.

This week we concentrated on those plants which really should be brought under cover NOW, to avoid death by frost.

Fuchsia microphylla

The small-leaved Fuchsia is a late and very welcome flowerer. It’s got itsy, bitsy, teeny, weeny pink flowers and evergreen foliage going on all over. Small black berries form in the autumn, which, apparently, are edible. ‘After you’, as one F/G member appositely commented. Get this little lovely indoors now; hopefully you already have some cuttings growing, but try again if not. It may survive outside in very mild areas, but why take the chance? It’s great in our Little Dixter area, and in pots around the garden.

Gomphrena globosa

An unusual, tender perennial which is easy to grow from cuttings. Its sprawling habit is shown off best when grown in a large container. Best in full sun, the flower stems can be cut and will last for a long time in a vase; the flowers will also hold their vivid purple colour when dried. Stays in bloom right up to the first frosts.

Plectranthus ciliatus ‘Nico’

A very tender perennial, often treated as an annual, with cuttings easily taken and struck to ensure more plants next year. Invaluable in pots as a foil for Dahlias, Cosmos, Salvias or other flowering plants, but equally arresting on its own. It’s sometimes used as ground cover, as it has a large footprint, and will quickly carpet an area. The dark green leaves have pronounced purple markings, with undersides washed in the same dark purple. Attractive flower spikes emerge in the autumn. Will grow in sun or part shade quite happily. How about trying it as a houseplant on a sunny windowsill over the winter months?

Tibouchina urvilleana

A spectacular tender, evergreen perennial, with the most glorious irridescent violet/purple flowers in late summer to autumn. A somewhat lax shrub with soft, elliptical, grey-green leaves, it will grow in most soils. Brings a touch of the exotic with it, and looks great in containers and on patios. Better still in conservatories or orangeries; surely it’s worth getting this plant if only as a reason to acquire the latter. Will grow outdoors in frost-free situations, but should really be brought in as the weather gets chilly. A.G.M. Ht 2.5 – 4 m

Cuphea ignea

This spreading, evergreen sub-shrub is the Mexican Cigar Plant. Striking scarlet/orange, tubular flowers are produced in quantity throughout the summer and autumn and complement the lance-shaped, vivid green leaves. Grows best in full sun in a sheltered position or in a pot. Attractive to pollinators. A.G.M. Ht. 40 cms

Bulbs

The time for planting is upon us. They have been ordered, delivered, hidden in wardrobes, cupboards and under benches. And counted. How many are there?

‘Never you mind.’

Planting schemes have been meticulously planned for various parts of the garden. Beds, pots, containers will all host dramatic displays, which we hope will be at their peak next spring when the garden opens for the National Garden Scheme.

So, let’s plant!

Jobs for the Week

Plant bulb lasagnes in large pots. This will provide interest from February to May, as the different layers come through. Ensure the pot has good drainage and add a layer of compost; arrange 15 Tulip bulbs at a depth of around 30 cm; add a 10 cm layer of compost and put in a further 15 Tulip bulbs. 10 cm more compost will cover those bulbs, then top with white Narcissi bulbs; yet another layer of compost will take Crocus bulbs. Finish the whole lot off with another layer of compost and plant pansies as a final hurrah! Add a generous layer of grit. (Anti-squirrel tactics.)

Secure wire mesh over the pot. Those squirrels have a fight on their hands.

Plant bulbs for forcing

One group were allowed exclusive access to the enviable new structure to plant prepared bulbs. These have already undergone a period of cold temperatures to encourage early flowering. Aka vernalization.

Once the bulbs have had their cool period, they will begin to sprout. When they have grown a few centimetres they can be brought into slightly warmer conditions where they will continue to develop slowly, and then come into bloom. Grow in pots or shallow pans. (October’s Gardens Illustrated magazine has a feature on this.)

Bulb lasagne. Encore.

Plant a mix of pink and purple Tulips in layers in the large black pots.

Remember to label. And grit. And add wire mesh deterrent. Squirrels Keep Out!

Plant Galanthus

Snowdrop bulbs can be planted now under the Birch trees and amongst black grasses (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’, since you ask) to provide a wonderful effect in the spring. Plant them deeply, to about three times their depth. This is where the rather alarming-looking Niwaki Hori Hori tool comes into its own. A knife with an extremely sharp blade, it can be used to dig, plant, weed and prune. And you can use it to stir your tea.

Plant bulbs in woodland bed

Scatter Narcissi bulbs for an informal scheme. Plant in Downward-Facing Dog Pose, if possible. That’s Adho Mukha Svanasana, just to be clear.

Develop an orange themed area in the top garden

So suitable when using Dutch Tulips

It’s going to look bulbalicious

More lasagnes, one suspects.

Little Dixter

Time to clear the decks and start preparing for a spring showstopper

And, yes, it does involve bulbs… Muscari, Iris, Chionodoxa. These little beauties are going to shine.

Are these bulbs planted in layers?

Well, yes, in a manner of speaking

Allow time to tidy up

Inside

and out

And then home for a hot bath. And tea in a real cup and saucer. Not the horticultural type, like these –

Friday 5th November 2021

Remember, remember, – today is the day to work in colleagues’ gardens. So, this Friday, it was a case of hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work we go, but not at Garden House. One group met in Brighton and one in Newhaven

The Brighton team’s brief was firstly to find the garden…It was a bit of a puzzle.

Through a little gap, and down some steep steps…

Find a gate…

…and walk into a magical space full of greenery

and a lovely view

On a steep slope too! Amazing, and not a little challenging

All sorts of levels had been created by the (strong and feisty) owner, who had also laid brick patios, built steps and was now preparing to set to work with a new toy…

Unsurprisingly, we found this a little intimidating, and had to sit down for a moment or two

Equilibrium recovered; then there was no stopping us

Our task (and we chose to accept it) was to clear a bed, remove weeds and replant with bulbs and plants appropriate to the site. Most plants were removed and placed in a holding area

These paddling pools come in so handy

We disturbed some of the hidden wildlife

A slow worm

A fast newt

And a toad which was hopping mad

We frightened a dragon, who went into hiding

And discovered oodles of oozy snails

Remaining shrubs were given a trim and tidy up. Some pots were emptied and filled with compost ready for bulbs. And a vine was unearthed and its roots traced back to New Zealand.

Of course, cakes featured. As per.

It would have been rude not to

Spurred on by the sugar rush, work continued…

for some

Then it was time to leave and return to the outside world once again

Were we ever there?

Indeed we were – the owner kindly said it was a month’s worth of gardening done in a day!

Meanwhile, in a garden far, far away…. in the midst of a mist of Miscanthus

lay another magical space

with a very excellent greenhouse

and a keen workforce eager to get going

They know the rules…

there are bulbs to plant

in beds and boxes

Beds to weed and plant

Here’s the shrub hub

Cake bait

(It works every time)

And always gets a good response

Seedlings to pot on

Keep them in the greenhouse until they are rooted and established

There are cuttings to be taken. These are of Helichrysum italicum

Narcissus bulbs planted and topped off with gravel to deter the darling little squirrels. If this fails, flame throwers will be brought in. Available at all good garden centres.

Another golden day

Thank you so much to both our wonderful hosts. It was a lot of fun.

Next Friday, it’s back to base at Garden House

Friday 22nd October 2021

It’s Friday. It’s Friday Group. But a certain someone isn’t here.

Sending love and all good wishes

We have a super-duper supply teacher though, complete with canine companion. Introducing, a certain Ronnie Barker…

Oh

Plant Ident.

Autumn showstoppers and colours were to the fore this week.

Aster amellusViolet Queen

Belonging to the Asteraceae family – Aster means ‘star’ – this herbaceous perennial is an excellent old variety with personality. The flowers are held on stiff dark stems and vivid deep violet/purple petals surround a yellow centre. These complementary colours contrast with one another, making each look brighter. This Aster is one of the first to flower and continues to do so throughout autumn. Clump-forming, it likes an open, sunny position and thrives in alkaline soil. Propagate by division or by taking basal cuttings in spring. Attractive to pollinators. Ht 45 cms

Chrysanthemum ‘Apollo’

Love it? Hate it? It seems that this is a Marmite plant. Also from the Asteraceae family, this is an erect, strong grower which is self-supporting (hooray!) and bee-friendly. Flowering from October to November, its rich copper-orange petals contrast with greeny-yellow centres. The Chrysanthemums have long been revered flowers in Japan and remain the symbol of the Japanese emperor even today. Ht 0.9 m

Chrysanthemums originally came from China. In traditional medicine they were used as a herbal remedy, their roots boiled for headache relief; the sprouts and petals were eaten in salads.

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides

A terrific choice for the autumn border, with foliage turning from green to red and purple, contrasting with clusters of rich, blue flowers which bloom from late summer to December. This hardy Leadwort likes a sunny and well-drained sheltered site and will be fairly drought tolerant once established. Good as ground cover, as it forms a mat of stems inhibiting weed growth. A low maintenance plant. We like them. Cut back in the spring as required. Propagate by semi-hardwood cuttings. Ht 0.75 m

Verbena macdougalii ‘Lavender Spires’

A clump-forming hardy perennial which needs protection from the wind. Erect and tall, it has branching spires of nectar and pollen-rich deep lavender flowers. Flowers from July right through to October and associates well with grasses and other later-flowering plants like Gauras, Dahlias, Dill and Salvias. Best in a sunny position on moist but free-draining soil. Dan Pearson uses this at his garden ‘Hillside’, and describes it as ‘finely-tapered’ and ‘tireless’. Attractive to pollinators. Propagate by taking softwood cuttings, dividing plants or saving the seed. Ht 1.5 – 2 m

Euphorbia cyparissias ‘Orange Man’

This spreading, rhizomatous perennial has slender stems with feathery blue-green leaves which turn coppery-orange in the autumn. Acid lime-green bracts are borne from spring to summer, turning more orangey as the seasons progress. Grows in any site and will spread quickly to form large clumps. A good foil to other plants, textured and colourful and useful at the front of a border or as a trailing plant. Although it can be invasive, it is easy to remove. Beware its milky sap, typical of all Euphorbias, which is toxic and can cause irritation to skin and eyes. Ht. 20-30 cms

Persicaria ‘Firetail’

And one extra for luck…This is a favourite of that great plantsman, Piet Oudolf. Fantastic with its long red spikes persisting through until November. Dies cleanly, which is a bonus for the busy gardener.

Ah, here’s Ronnie. And she can smell a cat

Colour theory

As well as learning Latin for Gardeners, we at Garden House like to engage with all aspects of horticulture: history, science, techniques, design and artistry. Oh yes.

Today we considered how planting designs can be effected and affected by colour. First, take your colour wheel

The wheel makes colour relationships easy to see by dividing the spectrum into 12 basic hues: 3 primary colours, red, yellow and blue; 3 secondary colours, purple, green and orange; 6 tertiary colours, which are blends of one primary and one secondary colour.

Colours by themselves can create a mood. Green tends to be calming and soothing, whilst yellows are uplifting and lively.

Complementary colours sit opposite one another on the wheel. E.g. red is opposite green. These provide a vibrant and energetic combination of colour, giving the most visual impact. Nature does this with ease – think of green Holly with its red berries, or Asters with violet petals and yellow centres. Analogous (neighbouring) colours, however, sit next to each other on the wheel and share the same base colours. By putting them together, a colourful but more relaxed feeling is created. For example, blue, purple and fuchsia or orange, yellow and green.

We looked at various colourtastic combos and were somewhat overcome.

As usual, cake saved the day

Meanwhile, Ronnie is still doggedly pursuing that scent…

She’ll never find me here

Having a little cat-nap

Jobs for the Week

Plant prepared Hyacinth bulbs

These are bulbs specially treated for forcing indoors; they are pre-chilled to force them to flower at Christmas or in the New Year.

Clean out the Hyacinth jars

Fill with water

Repeat

Place a bulb on the top of a jar, ensuring that the base of the bulb sits just above the water. Tuck the jars away in a cool dark place for 6 weeks or so and wait for roots to form. Top up the water levels as required. Once the main green shoot is around 7-10 cms tall, move the glass into full light and gentle warmth and the flower will gradually develop.

They can be grown in gritty compost in pots too. And will definitely light up those dark winter months

Pricking out

Lots still to be done. Hardy annuals, herbs and veg. in particular

Flat-leafed Parsley seedlings in clumps

Flat-leafed Parsley now with breathing room

Prune Shrub Roses

The work continues. They’ll look glorious by next summer

Thick, prickle-resistant gloves are essential

Work on Dry Bed

Work is ongoing here too

It’s really starting to look like a Dry Bed

Sow seeds

This week, it’s Broad Beans, Onions and Garlic

Here are the sowers

And here they are, sowing

Take cuttings

There’s still time to take cuttings of tender perennials. Cut plant material with clean, sharp secateurs and place in a moistened plastic bag to prevent drying out.

Penstemons, Salvias, Plectranthus and Linarias today

Trim into cuttings as per last week’s blog. Insert carefully into a loose compost mix.

Keep some, give some away. Happiness all round.

Plant Lilium Regale bulbs

These are to go into 3 long tom pots which will help to provide a long, cool root run. Huge, trumpet-shaped white flowers flushed pink, with a wonderful scent, will give a spectacular display. In triplicate.

Plant Lilium ‘Forever Susan’ bulbs in pots.

Top with grit to stop those snails getting interested.

But keep a look out anyhow. You can’t be too careful.

There are some big specimens around

Empty pots preparatory to planting Tulip bulbs

…and recycle the contents to make more lovely compost

Work in greenhouse

Potting up more seedlings

That greenhouse is looking rather empty. What gives?

The contents of the greenhouse are in temporary accommodation

Eagerly awaiting rehousing, in a brand new greenhouse!

Stay tuned for the next exciting update…. Wonder if it will look something like this?

Friday 15th October 2021

They’ve arrived!

It’s that time again

Trug no. 12 in a series of many

Topic for the Week

Trees

Recently featured in a Gardeners World TV special, trees are very much in focus at the moment. The biggest plants on the planet, and the longest living species, they provide oxygen, store carbon, stabilise soil, and are essential as a habitat for wildlife. Some in the U.S.A. are over 5,000 years old.

But how many are there in the garden at Garden House? Fifteen? Maybe thirty? Higher, higher…

It’s forty!

Well, I knew that

Plant Ident.: Trees in the garden

When choosing a tree for your garden, some research is necessary. Think about the eventual size, shape and shadow profile of the tree in question. Deciduous or Evergreen? What do you want it for? As an ornamental? For its fruit or bark? To act as a barrier or as a specimen exhibit? What sort of soil do you have, and will it be right for the object of your desire? Location? Aspect?

Now go and have a nice cup of tea.

Paulownia tomentosa

The magnificent Foxglove Tree (aka The Princess Tree) is a deciduous, hardwood tree native to China. It gets BIG, and in May, when it comes into flower, its large, fragrant, mauve blossoms resemble those of a foxglove. The fruit is an egg-shaped capsule which contains the seeds. Paulownias can be pollarded every year in early spring, but then won’t produce their dramatic flowers as these only form on mature wood. However, the upside of this is that their leaves will be humungous! Could look fantastic in a jungly planting scheme. Grows best in full sun, is tolerant of pollution and copes with many soil types. Ht. 12 m and upwards!(Unless, of course, you cut it back.) A.G.M.

Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’

A beautiful, deciduous, small tree/shrub, which absolutely hates exposed, windy conditions, so please think carefully about siting this one. Needs sun or partial shade and shelter. Can be multi- or single-stemmed. Its vivid pink/magenta flowers arrive before the leaves, growing on bare stems. The leaves are purple and heart-shaped, turning yellow in the autumn, and look amazing when backlit by the sun. Not very keen on chalky soils. Can also try it in a (very) large pot. Loves an annual mulch of well-rotted compost. A.G.M. Ht. 8 m

Cercis Siliquastrum

Another Redbud tree – related to ‘Forest Pansy’ – this is the Judas Tree. The photo shows the pea-like pink blossom which grows on the bare wood of the tree before the leaves emerge. At Garden House, this is in the front garden and is at its spectacular best in April/May. This one actually likes poor, chalky soil, so thrives in Brighton, and although it grows larger than Cercis canadensis, it responds well to pruning. Likes an open, sunny position. Its heart-shaped leaves are green and colour to yellow in the autumn. Good for pollinators, and highly recommended by Garden House. Ht 8 -12 m

Betula utilis subsp. jacquemontii

The silvery beauty of Silver Birch. A vigorous deciduous tree with brilliant white bark and upright, graceful branches. The bark peels each year, revealing a new, fresh layer. Good as a specimen tree, but, arguably, even better when planted in small groups. Part of the Betulaceae family, so it has catkins in the spring which emerge prior to the foliage. Ovate leaves turn an attractive golden yellow in the autumn, before falling. Good for wildlife. Grows well in most situations and soils, but best where its bark can be lit by the winter sun, when it will shine out at its glorious best. Ht 12 m and rising.

Amelanchier lamarckii ‘Ballerina’

This is what it looks like in the spring against a blue sky. Almost sets you off doing arabesques, chassés and a couple of grande jetés, doesn’t it?

Commonly known as Snowy mespilus, these can be single- or multi-stemmed, and are some of the most useful ornamental trees for small gardens. Simple, white blossoms and lovely bronzed foliage in spring, autumn colour and small berries, which are loved by birds, they tick all the boxes. Prefers a moist, lime free soil, but the ones at Garden House are doing very well with plenty of added compost, thank you! Ht. 3-6 m

And these are the little ballerina blossoms. Five-petals? Must be in the Rosaceae family. Tick.

Topic for the week

Taking cuttings

It’s best to take cuttings early in the morning when the plant is full of water. Don’t let them lie about as they’ll dry out. Put them into a clean, plastic bag until you are able to deal with them. But time is of the essence!

Artemisia ‘Powys Castle’

When taking cuttings, it’s important to look carefully at the parent plant. Choose a strong side shoot, with no flowers (these would drain energy from the cutting and thereby inhibit growth). Enough material needs to be taken to enable the plant to photosynthesise, and it should be young, floppy growth. Cut a piece about 10 cms long with snips or a sharp knife. Trim the stem just below a node, or leaf joint, and remove any buds. Handle very gently by holding a leaf; if the stem gets damaged, the cutting is unlikely to take. Your final cutting should be around 5 – 8 cms long

A cutting of Plectranthus ciliatus ‘Nico’

Some leaves can be cut in half to prevent too much water loss.

Using a dibber, place the cutting into a small pot or tray of compost (roughly 50%) mixed with vermiculite (about 50%). They seem to root best if planted around the edges of a pot, and rooting will be quicker if they are placed on a heated mat in a greenhouse. Or, a propagator with a hood would be good. And alliterative. If you have neither of those, a bright windowsill should be fine, but cover the pot with a clear plastic bag, supported by small canes. You’re trying to enclose moisture, not suffocate the poor things. Hopefully, they should root in about 2 – 3 weeks.

Argyranthemum ‘Jamaica Primrose’ cutting

Which should turn into this by next year –

So, by the summer of 2022, that little Artemisia cutting should have grown into this –

Unless this happens

Jobs for the week

Take cuttings

Quelle surprise!

Of Argyranthemums and Arctotis, Plectranthus and the Beloved Pelargoniums, Osteospermums… and on and on. Plant prepared cuttings carefully into a vermiculite/compost mix. Water, label and place in greenhouse. Await root formation. (Not formation rooting.)

Salvias as well. Ensure the cuttings are taken from new wood, not the old stuff. The cutting on the right needs its lower leaves removed and then the cut to be made below a leaf joint.

Look at this wonderful treasure trove of goodies

Plectranthus, Artemisia ‘Powys Castle’, Pelargonium ‘Attar of Roses’. Some say that taking cuttings is ‘protecting your assets’, others just see ‘free plants’.

Prune the Ficus carica

The Fig. You can’t miss it. It’s huge.

This is usually a March job, but it’s got so big it needs taking in hand now.

And here, our colleague has the Fig very literally in hand. The leaves and wood smell fantastically figgy.

Seed sowing

We’re starting to sow Sweet Pea seeds now, but more will be sown early next year. This will give us early flowers and continuity of growth.

Using root-trainers is a good idea as Lathyrus develop long tap roots and need a long, cool root run. Plant 3 seeds per module (about 2-3 cms below the surface of the compost), then remove the weakest one later. The seedlings can remain in the trainers for a considerable length of time. They can go into an unheated greenhouse or cold frame.

Keep vigilant! Once they have three sets of leaves, pinch out the growing tips to prevent leggy growth and encourage side shoots to form. Control the amount of light they receive – too little and they’ll become etiolated. (Leggy. But sounds posher and more botanical.)

Sow more hardy annuals. Scabious ‘Black Cat’, Centaurea ‘Double Blue’ and Welsh Poppies. Don’t sow too thickly, or you’ll end up with a gazillion poppies. Mix a little silver sand with fine seeds – this helps you to see where they’ve been sown.

Cake time!

Crumbs!

Work on the Dry bed

Ongoing. Take a strip of land about 60 cms wide and weed thoroughly. Remove any material which is unsuitable for hot, dry situations. Like Polar Bears.

Prick out seedlings in the greenhouse

Seedling levels have peaked. Start to reduce the quantity by pricking them out into modules for growing on. You may not need all of them, unless you want to move into the greenhouse whilst the plants take over your house.

Sow salad seeds

Use up all leftover salad seeds by mixing them together and sowing into compost-filled containers. Wooden wine boxes are attractive to use, but it does mean that you have to drink all the contents first. Shame.

The salads can be sown fairly thickly and will provide leaves over the autumn/winter as they are ‘cut and come again’ varieties.

Prune the Shrub Roses

Another ongoing task. Remove dead, diseased and damaged wood, taking those stems right down to the base. Thin out the shrub to allow air circulation and light to penetrate the plant; this helps to deter black spot and mildew. Leave the Rose with around 15 stems, and trim them to 3 levels of height. This will enable you to enjoy the blooms more easily next year as they’ll be elegantly layered as opposed to clumped together. Point this out to your neighbour who will, no doubt, be mightily impressed.

Cydonia oblonga (Quince)

If we sliced these up, we could eat them with a runcible spoon

Anyone got a runcible spoon?

The finest, most fabulous, filigree casing

Fabergé couldn’t do it better.

Friday 8th October 2021

Great Dixter might have a fab Plant Fair, but our Little Dixter has fab plant fare

Check it out

Plant Ident.

From late summer to autumn, Ornamental Grasses come into their own. They provide tranquillity and calm, colour and movement, structure, texture and sound. Some are light and wifty-wafty, whilst others are dense and authoritative. Like many politicians. Belonging to the Poaceaea or Gramineae family, there really is a Grass for every type of garden.

But, beware. Once bitten by the bug, you’re a gonner. As is all your pocket money.

Stipa tenuissima ‘Wind Whispers’

Also known as Mexican Feather Grass, this is a deciduous, perennial grass which produces tactile plumes from early summer. The plumes start pale greeny-white but become progressively blonder as they age. Looks good through the winter. Can be cut back in early spring which results in fresh green growth, but can also be left. Benefits from a comb-through to remove dead material. Likes full sun to part shade; hates wet, frozen soil. Ht. 0.6 m. Award of Garden Merit. Hem hem.

And look what happens if you plant them in quantity…

Edging. Structure. Movement. Softness. Texture. Beauty. Light. Sound. Wifty-waftiness in abundance.

Sigh!

Hakonechloa macra

Japanese Forest Grass. It has an A.G.M. as well. So there. A perennial Grass which has mounds of bright green leaves topped by airy sprays of green flowers from mid-late summer. The leaves develop autumn tints as the seasons progress; the red-brown coloration lasting through the winter. Copes with most positions, and provides interest over a long period. Ht. 0.5 m. There is also a very desirable lower-growing, golden variety, ‘Aureola’, which is frequently used by garden designers.

Calamagrostis brachytricha

Korean Feather Reed Grass. A.G.M. This genus forms a clump of glossy green, linear leaves which turn yellow in the autumn. Purple-tinged sprays of flower heads open in late summer/early autumn and continue into the winter. The Beth Chatto website describes them as being like elegant bottle brushes, providing “a fine vertical above lower plants”. Most soils; full sun or partial shade; exposed or sheltered. It’s a coper! Propagate by seed or division in mid-spring. Ht. 1-1.5 m

Miscanthus nepalensis

Himalayan Fairy Grass. Who knew there were fairies in the Himalayas? This plant forms bold clumps of elegant, green leaves. Drooping flowerheads, held above the foliage, develop in the summer; these seedheads persist for several months, providing architectural interest. Not reliably hardy, so may need protection from frosts, although it could be grown in a sizeable pot and sheltered in a greenhouse or conservatory. Full sun. Any soil. Ht. 1m. A.G.M.

Stipa gigantea ‘Gold Fontaene’

This fully hardy Stipa is a firm favourite at Garden House. Known as Giant Feather Grass or Golden Oat Grass, this one is even more beautiful when its inflorescences are lit by the sun. Clump-forming and evergreen, the long, golden panicles of oat-like flowers gradually fade to a buff/straw colour. Architectural and then some. Prefers a light, well-drained soil. Ht. 2.5 – 4 m. A.G.M.

Jobs for the Week

Divide Hostas

Hostas have a good root system and can be divided easily in either spring or autumn. Cut the clump with a knife from the crown down to the base. The re-planted division should recover and grow away well, provided it is kept well-watered. And slug-free. Best to add a layer of grit to the top of the pot to deter the critters.

Divide Stipa gigantea

First, dig up your gigantic Stipa. This will take about 3 days. Rest, recover, then split the plant into smaller divisions.

Once the plants have been divided, they can be tidied up – the leaves combed through and cut back, and the roots shortened. As demonstrated below by the stooping Stipa team –

What a lovely, neat job

And, look! The label is ready to go in too. Marvellous.

Hang on a minute. Can we take a closer look at that label?

Oh, very clever. Our esteemed colleague has made a deliberate mistake to keep us on our mettle. She’s purposely left out those all-important single quotation marks. 50 points to Gryffindor. It should, of course, read: Stipa gigantea ‘Gold Fontaene’.

Ah, those crucial single quotation marks! And they say that punctuation is no longer important.

Take cuttings of Pelargoniums

A particular favourite at Garden House. Some might say an obsession. These are tender perennials, and won’t survive outside over winter. Now is the time to take cuttings, to ensure you have stock for next year. These can be rooted on a heated mat or in a propagator (failing that, try a sunny windowsill), then kept protected under glass or indoors until next year, when all danger of frost has passed. This one is ‘Attar of Roses’, and why wouldn’t you want that?

Empty pots preparatory to The Great Bulb Planting Operation

The big heave-ho begins. This one will run and run. In fact, there are usually so many Tulip bulbs that this (below) is likely to be an imminent Job for the Week….

Hardy annuals

Getting them going now will produce bigger, earlier and more robust plants next year. We do like to get ahead at Garden House.

Prick out seedlings in triplicate

Eyes down for a full propagating tray

Sow more hardy annual seeds. And more.

Cover tiny seeds lightly with vermiculite

We really are motoring!

Prune Rosa ‘Charles de Mills’

He’s one prickly customer is old Charles.

Most Shrub Roses tend to flower best on older stems, so generally they only need a little light pruning to keep them in shape. Prune in late summer/early autumn after flowering. Remove the 3 Ds – dead, damaged and diseased wood, together with any branches which cross one another. Take out any older stems which are causing congestion at the centre of the plant – the aim is to keep it as open as possible. Cut back a few of the leggier stems to around 10 cms; this will encourage new, vigorous growth.

Propagate Succulents

Continue the work started last week. You can never have too many Succulents. Sixty Succulents? Seventy Succulents? More?

Here’s one I did earlier

Check the vegetable beds

Oh, I say!

Work on Dry Bed

Dig, weed ad infinitum

The yellow-hued autumn nature table. Pears and pumpkins?

Oh no, nothing so common, my dear…

Quinces and Cucurbitas

After all, this is Garden House

Friday 1st October 2021

Pouring with rain. Outdoor play has been suspended. Everyone’s indoors.

They’re playing cards. What the hecky decky is going on?

Poker? Show no emotion. Masks will help.

So true. And I’ve got all spades

(How appropriate)

Actually, it’s a card game featuring plant families. Every plant belongs to a family, of which there are many. Lamiaceae; Asteraceae; Rosaceae; Iridaceae; Scrophulariaceae (sounds nasty)…. the list is long. Plants in the same family share physical characteristics which can assist in their identification. Those in the Asteraceae (Daisy) family, tend to have a daisy-like form, whilst those in the Rosaceae family usually have open, bowl-shaped flowers with five petals and a cluster of stamens in the centre.

So, Sunflowers, Chrysanthemums and Dahlias are in the Daisy family (but, surprisingly, so are Echinops and Yarrow), and Roses and Blackberries are Part of the Rosaceae family (and so are Apricots, Apples, Pears and Raspberries).

Families can be tricky and surprising, can’t they?

Plant Ident.

This week’s focus is on Persicarias (aka Bistort or Knotweed). Part of the Polygonaceae family, they are a varied genus of robust, hardy, herbaceous perennials which flower from mid-summer to autumn. There are about 100 species, so there’s plenty to choose from, and they have become very popular in prairie-style plantings as typified by Piet Oudolf and also by the McBrides at Sussex Prairies. They provide vibrancy and interest in late summer borders and contribute to that season’s rich tapestry of colours.

Generally speaking, they thrive best in rich, moist soils, but they’re pretty adaptable and will manage in poorer conditions provided it’s not too hot and dry. They need room to spread and display themselves, but are low maintenance on the whole, needing only the occasional haircut. The flowers are loved by butterflies and bees and, what’s more, will last for a long time in water when cut and brought indoors.

Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Alba’

Slender tapers of tiny, white flowers are borne on long stems rising above a mound of large leaves. Flowers from summer through to autumn, and grows to around 1.0 m.

Persicaria virginiana var. filiformisGuizhou Bronze’

 More impressive as a foliage plant, this one has large, felted leaves with smudgy dark green markings. Rated by Steve Edney of Salutation Garden fame, it’s got to be a good ‘un.

Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Orange Field’ and ‘Pink Mist’

‘Orange Field’ is a cultivar selected and named by the Belgian landscape architect Chris Ghyselen. It has luminous, slender, coral flowers.Ht 1.0 m.

‘Pink Mist’ is shorter than many Persicarias; soft pink spikes rise above its slim stems, and the plant forms a gently rounded clump. Ht 0.8 m

Persicaria virginiana var. filiformis ‘Alba’

This one has an upright bushy habit. Mossy green leaves have a faint chevron marking and narrow spires of tiny white flowers emerge in the autumn months. Hardy, deciduous and performs best in shady conditions. It’s a good choice for borders where there are Ferns and Hostas, as it will give some height and late colour. It can tolerate quite dry soils once established, but, like other members of its genus, it really prefers moisture retentive conditions. Ht 0.9 m.

Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’

This cultivar is a vigorous, spreading perennial with lanceolate leaves which are purple/green in colour. The silver/green chevron marking on each leaf do indeed conjure up the face of a dragon. Clusters of small white flowers emerge in late summer – early autumn. Can provide good, dense ground cover, as this is one of the lower-growing Persicarias. Cut back after flowering. Ht. 0.5m

Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Fat Domino’

A good, reasonably well-behaved variety, again introduced by Chris Ghyselen, with long spikes of plump, deep red flowers carried on stems above bright green foliage. Spreads freely but tends not to be invasive. Its impressive impact in the garden is largely due to the size, quantity and continuity of the flowers. Looks good with grasses. Ht. 1.0 – 1.2 m

Succulents

A trayful of succulent Succulent cuttings

These cuttings were taken earlier and left in a tray to callous over, which will aid propagation. They may start to grow roots even before planting.

Ready, steady…..propagate!

And they’re off…

Succulents can be divided by removing the little plantlets, or offsets, that have grown up alongside the mother plant. Sometimes it is possible to divide them by root separation, where the plant itself is split into separate clumps.

They can also be grown from cuttings. Here, a leaf can be pulled away, or a stem can be cut (useful when a plant has grown long and leggy). Cut the stem leaving about 2cms on the plant. Leave to dry. Plant in a good, well-drained potting medium – compost mixed with grit or perlite – ensure they are firmly bedded in. Water sparingly.

Here we are propagating by planting the individual leaves of Succulents – things such as Echeverias and Aeoniums. The cut part of the leaf is gently pushed upright into the compost. New plants will grow from the base. It’s all very exciting.

Don’t watch them though; it will take time.

Outside at last!

Potting up cuttings

Propagate grasses

Dig up clumps of Grasses (various). Divide. Pot divisions into fresh compost, removing dead and damaged leaves and shortening the root system. Use of a devilishly sharp pruning saw is advisable.

Count fingers on both hands before and after this job.

But how many fingers did you start with?

Six, seven, eight, nine…..

And what’s happening in the greenhouse?

Lots of green growth

Nicely labelled, Puss. And are they all properly categorised?

“I can categorically confirm that they are.”

Friday 24th September 2021

Blue skies and autumn sunshine reveal the silhouette of the Foxglove Tree at Garden House – Paulownia tomentosa. Magnificent if left to grow and flower, but equally astonishing if cut right down every year; the leaves on the new growth will be impressively huge, providing a jubilantly jungly atmosphere in the heart of Sussex.

And what a difference a week makes! Last week these seeds were sown –

And just look at them now!

Nothing short of miraculous

So, it’s izzy wizzy, let’s get busy… and on to the

Plant ident.

This week the autumn-flowerers take centre stage

Succisa pratensis

Or Devil’s Bit Scabious, a delicate see-through herbaceous perennial. From a rosette of mid-green leaves at its base, comes a long, branching stem with pale blue/mauve flowerheads, which are almost spherical. Dead-heading will promote further branching and the production of yet more flowers. Gorgeous when seen wafting amongst grasses such as Stipa tenuissima. Any aspect, any soil type, full sun or partial shade, likes a reasonably moist soil. A.G.M. Ht. 0.6 -1.0 m

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘Helen Picton’

A clump-forming, herbaceous perennial. Re-classified from the more easily-spelled and pronounced ‘Aster’, this form glows in the autumn sun. Rich, dark purple petals surround golden-yellow centres and the flowers are held on stiff, upright stems. Disease resistant, attractive to wildlife and great as a cut flower. It’s a must! Named after Helen Picton who holds the National Collection of Michaelmas Daisies at Picton Garden near Malvern in Worcestershire. A.G.M. Ht. 0.9 – 1.0 m

Symphotrichum novi-belgii ‘Vasterival’

Small, pale mauve/lilac daisy-type flowers feature atop the dark stems of this tall, beautiful plant. Forms an airy, upright clump which adds greatly to the autumn border. Good in sun or partial shade; especially good on clay, but does well in the chalky soil at Garden House. Doesn’t die very gracefully (how shocking), but is good as a cut flower. Ht. 1.0 – 1.2 m

Echinops ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’

An attractive Globe Thistle, with metallic blue spiky flowers and leaves. Its architectural shape, height and distinctive colouration associates well with other late summer plants like Grasses, Crocosmia, Cardoons, Rudbeckias and Echinaceas. Attractive to wildlife – particularly to bees. Cut back to the ground once flowering has finished – although it’s a good idea to leave some seed heads for the birds. Full sun, most well-drained soils. Ht. 1.0 m

Hylotelephium ‘Purple Emperor’

Or Sedum, to those of us who find change difficult. A wonderfully vivid autumn plant from the Crassulaceae family. Purple/red stems and flowers glow in the late summer sun. Can be propagated easily from cuttings placed in water or compost, or by planting one of the fat, succulent leaves. Peel off a leaf, leaving a little fleshy heel from the stem, and plant upright in compost. It will rooty-toot root. Can also be divided.

Looking ahead to 2022

Time to think about bulbs of all shapes and sizes. Head for your collection of catalogues – Parkers, Sarah Raven, Avon, Bloms, de Jager and many more. The trouble is, it can all get a bit overwhelming. At Garden House, Bridge makes up a collage for different areas of the garden, making it easier to think about flowering periods, heights and colour combinations. There’s something meditative about paper, scissors and paste. And it’s a system that works –

This year, some precious Tulipa sprengeri seeds have been gifted to Bridge, but they won’t flower for about 4 years. What’s more, they’ll need a cold period to encourage germination (stratification). None of this will deter Garden House. Always up for a Tulip Challenge.

Now, some people have wine fridges. Only a very few have plant fridges.

And here are the T. sprengeri seeds. Already sown and in the fridge.

(But, where are all the wine bottles?)

Jobs for the week

Seed collection

When seed heads have formed and just started to open, a little seed collection is in order. Do this on a dry day. Shake the seeds onto a small tray and remove as much of the chaff as possible, then carefully transfer them into seed envelopes. Label!

For goodness sake, don’t mix up the hardy with the half-hardy annuals. The consequences are too awful to contemplate.

The whispy seed heads of Stipa tenuissima in September…

…and its seeds

Lychnis coronaria seed heads and seeds

Seed heads of Althaea cannabina

and the little beauties within

Ferns

The fern collection is being developed to establish a veritable fernery. Pot the new selections into terracotta pots using a John Innes compost. Water, label and place in a shady area. More research will be done on these fascinating plants in due course.

Foxgloves

Time to plant out some biennials in shade / part-shady areas of the garden. Digitalis need to be planted deeply, firmed in and watered. Space about 45 cms apart and await their glorious evolution.

Divide Auriculas

Tip plants out of their pots to check for the evil vine weevil. Divide, wash, and then re-pot carefully, back into terracotta pots.

Put them in a shaded place and, come spring, they will flower with great dignity, as befits their Victorian elegance. They love being displayed in an Auricula theatre, but definitely not the music-hall variety.

The Auricula is quite particular

Is there time for a Cake Break?

Need I say more?

Succulents

Pot up succulents in a really light compost. Cat litter was suggested as a possible medium to be mixed in with compost. With due diligence, this was given a try. And deemed not a runner. Clumping!

But the finished pots looked marvellous –

Pot on cuttings in the greenhouse

Use a mix of compost and horticultural grit for this.

We’re on it!

They certainly are! 5-star pots of Dianthus cuttings.

Divide hardy Geraniums

Cut back hardy Geraniums, dig up and make divisions of the plants. Re-plant / give away any extras. Tough job, but these Friday Groupers are up for the challenge.

Divide Agapanthus

Their roots will be compacted, so a pruning saw or bread knife will come in handy when splitting them. Come to think of it, there’s a woman in the potting shed with a bread knife.

I think she’s busy murdering someone

Sow Herbs

To sow now – Chervil, Dill, Coriander, Clary Sage, Lemon grass and Parsley. There’s a lot to do.

This is what you might call a division of labour…

Well, I call it management inaction

Take cuttings of Streptocarpus

Time to increase the Cape Primroses. We do love a free plant or two. First, catch your Streptocarpus. Then, dead head the plant and give it a general tidy up.

Cut off a perfect leaf. Then you have two options: cut either vertically or horizontally. If you are of the vertical persuasion, then remove the mid-rib running from top to bottom of the leaf and place the two cut edges in a light compost mix.

For those favouring horizontalism, make several horizontal cuts across each leaf, dividing it into several segments. Place each section upright in a little furrow of compost (see photo below). Make sure the lower cut is the one in touch with the growing medium . Water lightly and don’t forget to label. You think you’ll remember the cultivar’s name in future? You won’t. Place on a gentle heat for around three months to establish roots. Each cut leaf will eventually make a new plant.

Isn’t Nature wonderful?

And so we come to the end of another session. Time to admire Cobaea scandens in the garden: the Cup and Saucer plant.

And maybe have another cup of tea

Friday 17th September 2021

We’ve only just started our autumn sessions, and already we’re thinking about next year’s plantings. These are some fantastic Stocks, with cool evergrey-silver foliage, whose blissful scent we’ll enjoy in 2022.

Plant ident.

This week it’s all about half-hardy, annual climbers. Useful, exciting, dramatic and well worth a go. These begin and end their life-cycle over a twelve-month period; being half-hardy, means they can’t be planted out in the garden until all danger of frost has passed. They are generally sown in the spring and the pots are placed on heat to germinate.

Thunbergia alata ‘Sunny Suzy Brownie’

The Black-Eyed Susan Vine is a great choice if you need to cover an ugly fence or wall quickly; a twining climber, it will need support. In the summer months it produces very pretty dark orange-red flowers. Grow in a sunny position for best results, remembering to water and feed regularly. H. 2m

Rhodochiton atrosanguineus ‘Purple Bells’

Sow seeds very early (in February) on heat. (Rhodochiton needs a long growing season.) A glamorous climber, which excites a lot of interest both for its bell-like flowers and its tendril-like stems with heart-shaped foliage. Originating from Mexico, it can hang downwards from a balcony, or clamber upwards from pots. Treated as a half-hardy, acrobatic annual in this country (for obvious reasons), it could be considered a tender perennial if kept somewhere sheltered and warm over winter. The obvious answer is to build an orangery. A.G.M. Full sun, any soil. H. 3m

Something like this would do

The Rhodochitons currently performing at Garden House came from seeds collected from last year’s plants. Just saying.

Cobaea scandens

Another one from Mexico which also needs sowing very early in the year – in fact those at Garden House were sown in January. Sow the seeds on their sides to discourage rotting off. They start off their lives growing with quiet innocence, looking so encouraging in their green lushness. By the end of the autumn, they are a chaotic mess, unless trained by a strict disciplinarian. Sarah Raven grows hers over arches at the entrance to Perch Hill, where the white or purple bells of the Cup and Saucer plant dangle down to welcome visitors. However they are grown they are wonderful, as they are fabulously tendrilled creatures with surreal, exotic flowers. A.G.M. Full sun, any soil. H. 10m!

Ipomoea lobata

Spanish flag (its flowers are red and creamy yellow) is a terrific climber and another which will provoke envious glances. Related to bindweed (although its flowers don’t resemble those of that blasted Morning Glory we all know and hate) and to the Sweet Potato, it is in the Convolvulaceae family. Grow in full sun, either in a border or up a teepee of canes in a large pot. H. 5m. Stunning.

Sowing Seeds

Now is the time to get on with sowing hardy annuals, which we’ll be doing over the next few weeks at Garden House. They can also be sown next year in the spring, but by starting now we’ll get stronger plants which will flower earlier.

Hardy annuals are plants which begin and end their life cycle over one growing season – i.e. within a twelve month period. They can withstand the cold temperatures of winter, and can survive outside over the winter months. However, it’s a good idea to give them some protection from storms, winds and torrential rain, so they’re best kept in an unheated greenhouse or coldframe where possible.

Examples of hardy annuals are: Ammi majus, Calendula ‘Indian Prince’, Orlaya grandiflora, Nigella ‘African Bride’, Eschscholzia ‘Strawberry Fields’, Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Ball’, Consolida and Papaver ‘Beth’s Poppy’. Cheap and easy to grow, they are a no-brainer for the keen Friday Group member.

Method

Fill an FP9 pot full of compost and strike off the residue. Sow seeds on top, gently pressing into the compost. Cover with horticultural grit and label. Where seeds are tiny, sow them with a small amount of silver sand mixed in; move the mix across the pot diagonally; turn the pot and sow again. This enables you to see exactly where the seeds have been sown and ensures that germination will be fairly even. Cover with a shallow layer of vermiculite, an inert material which improves drainage and allows light to penetrate. That’s vermiculite. Not cellulite. Label.

Place pots in a water bath so that the seeds won’t be disturbed; water will be taken up by capillary action. Putting pots in the greenhouse on a heated mat will facilitate germination.

Jobs for the Week

Now, who’s on Quality Control this week?

Sorry. Not me. Far too busy looking gorgeous

Aniseed?

ANISEED!

Just resting my eyes. Keep your hair on

Work on Little Dixter

Using some very precious pots. No pressure there then.

Pot up Viola ‘Bunny Ears’. And no rabbiting on. Pot up other autumn-flowering shrubs and grasses to create interest and theatricality at the entrance to the lower part of the garden. Pennisetum and Hylotelephium spectabile will feature spectacularly.

Sow hardy annual seeds

As per instructions (see above). Label the pots. Remove from water tray and place on heated mat in greenhouse for speedier germination.

Pots – 9/10. Quality control – 0/10

Iris unguicularis

Such beautiful flowers, and now is the time to propagate them. Remove the Irises from the under-arch bed and divide them, ensuring that some roots remain on each division.

Some detangling is involved

And then some splitting

Plant up in pots; water; label; place in greenhouse until rooted.

Vegetable beds

Plant out Beetroot, Spring Onions, Radishes, Spinach and Leeks. Rake the beds first; they have already been given some lovely home-made compost.

Leeks in

Label?

But of course!

And a little something to deter those slimy things?

Ah, yes!

But – oh dear!

Look what the team found inside the bag!

Hmm. Disposed of carefully, thoughtfully,

and ecologically

Plant out Wallflowers

These Erysimum ‘Sugar Rush’ have been grown from seed and now need to be set out in the garden. One hand-span apart and planted deeply.

Nicely watered in

Work in the greenhouse

Pot on Florence Fennel and Robert de Niro. Sorry, that should be Cavolo Nero, or Black Kale. The latter is very ornamental in the winter border – especially when there’s a touch of frost to decorate the edges of its leaves. It’s a cut-and-come-again vegetable, useful in stir-fries and salads. Who knows, in time the seedlings may become as statuesque and architectural as this –

Plant out Chrysanthemums for autumn flowering

Keep colour in the garden going throughout late summer/early autumn. A wide variety of Chrysanthemums are now available, and they are coming back into fashion fast. Get ahead of the curve.

Pinch out the tops of the plants to promote more flower heads.

Plant out Foxgloves

In the bed underneath the arches. (Please, no singing.) Foxgloves are hardy biennials, and strong seedlings/plug plants can be planted out in the garden now for overwintering so they will be ready to flower next summer. They are versatile plants, coping with both sun and shade.

And so, Friday Group finish until another Friday. Bidding a fond farewell with a fabulous Fuchsia Finale –

Phew!

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