Friday 5th October 2018


Autumn is upon us: crisp days and earlier nights.  At Garden House we are enjoying the harvest and delighting in the dahlias… and thinking about the bulb programme for the year ahead.  Nothing stands still here.

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Our plant ident. this week focused on the flower of the moment, the dahlia.  It’s amazing to think that something so beautiful can grow from such ugly root tubers.  We looked at their many shapes, sizes and colours – from single to ball to cactus and beyond.  They have come back into fashion in recent years, and are now much prized by gardeners and florists alike.  Sometimes elegant, sometimes blowsy, their presence is invaluable in both vase and garden, providing colour and interest from late June through to the frosts.  They belong to the Asteraceae family and are tuberous, tender perennials.

Tubers can be potted up in February (in a heated greenhouse) and stem cuttings can be taken as they come into growth. (These will not flower until the following year.) Meanwhile, the potted tubers will have become bushy plants and can be planted out once all danger of frost has passed, usually in May, at a depth of about 20-30 cms.  Dahlias flourish in rich, fertile well-drained soil in full sun.  They are hungry plants and benefit from good well-rotted compost and a scattering of fertiliser when they are planted.  Slugs love them – so take precautions – and they also require staking with bamboo sticks or similar to prevent them flopping over.  Once flowers appear it is advisable to give them a liquid feed every couple of weeks, as this will encourage more flowers – as will pinching out the main growing shoot to just above a pair of leaves.  Don’t forget to deadhead too!

As dahlias die down  in November they should be cut back.  At Garden House we dig up the tubers, and store them in a frost-free, airy environment, keeping them slightly damp so that they don’t dry out completely.  This leaves the ground free for further planting schemes. Some gardeners, however, leave dahlia tubers in the ground to overwinter – covering them with a bucket of mulch.  It is said that this promotes more and better flower growth the following year – as long as winter wet doesn’t kill the tubers.

High maintenance they may be, but dazzling dahlias definitely repay the effort put in.

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’

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This vivid red peony-flowered dahlia, with its contrasting dark stems and foliage, is a favourite of bees and other pollinators; it holds an R.H.S. Award of Garden Merit

Dahlia ‘Jowey Mirella’


A dramatic ball dahlia; its long strong stems make it wonderful as a cut flower. Ball dahlias are prized by flower arrangers for their perfect round flower heads and their clear colours.

Dahlia ‘Tahoma Moonshot’


This stunning Honka variety has deep burgundy, velvety, single flowers  with a rich  yellow centre.  Attractive in growth, Bridge finds that it is not particularly good as a cut flower as the petals tend to fall.

Dahlia ‘New Baby’


This little Pompon beauty may be small, but it is a real delight.  Good in hot borders and works well with dark red and magenta dahlias – such as……….

Dahlia ‘Chat Noir’


A fabulous semi-cactus dahlia, with spiky garnet-red petals and a nearly black centre.  Dramatic in a tropical-style border.  And below is another semi-cactus dahlia –  again, it has a spiky flower head (magnificently magenta), but this one has petals which split at the end – like a deer’s antler.

Dahlia ‘Ambition’ 


And now, from semi-cactus to full blown cactus……….

Dahlia ‘Karma Bon Bini’


A stunning bi-coloured dahlia whose inner petals are golden-yellow, turning to fiery red-orange on the outer layers. Spectacular!  And there’s more –

The Collerette-flowered Dahlia ‘Pooh’  – these dahlias have a little collar of shorter florets which surround the centre disc.


Dahlia coccinea, a delightful single flowered species, loved by bees.                                                                                                            COCCINEA.jpg

Jobs this week:

  • Continue to clear beds of eschscholzias, ammis and self-sown grasses
  • Label all the various dahlias in the garden so that when lifted, we will be able to correctly identify the tubers as we prepare them for winter storage.


I think that’s actually a cosmos you’re looking at ……..

  • In the greenhouse, check progress of recently sown seeds.  (Looking good.)


  • Pot on cuttings.  Good job!


  • Take tomatoes out of the greenhouse. Plant up chrysanthemums for Christmas flowering









  • Prune roses under the arches and compost any waste material


A woman happy in her work…….

  • Weed the beds under the willow arch


  • Remove plants from flowerbed and put into liners for temporary storage


  • Make an Autumn wreath from willow and treasures from the garden


  • Prune the muehlenbeckia on the wall


  • And most importantly of all, enjoy the rewards of all that hard work



Just beautiful.




Friday September 28th


Today we chatted about which particular garden tool or piece of garden paraphernalia we really couldn’t do without.  The usual suspects came up such as secateurs/snips, brooms, garden clogs, a potting tray, trugs, dibbers, garden gloves, long handled loppers and so the list goes on.  Some of us are even lucky enough to own antique spades and forks which are especially cherished.  We particularly liked these pink steel capped boots; gardening apron with double holster(!) and mini snips – just right for when you accidently come across a stray stem of somethig gorgeous reaching out over a public footpath ……

We had a good discussion and demonstration from Bridge about how to take soft wood cuttings.  This method can be used for cultivating all sorts of perennials and shrubs as well as some trees.  It is usually carried out in spring and early summer but we are taking a chance now.  Other methods of taking cuttings are semi-ripe (autumn) and hard wood (winter) – we will talk about these another day.

Good plants to take cuttings from are herbs and tender perennials such as pelargoniums.  The best time to take soft wood cuttings is in the morning when the plants are full of water.  Look around the garden for suitable cutting material – it should be a healthy fast-growing shoot with short internodes.

  • Cut the stem just above a leaf node of the parent plant .
  • To prepare the cutting, cut the base of the stem 6mm below a leaf joint (this is where all the growth hormones and energy are stored) so that the cutting is no more than 10cm in length.
  • Remove the leaves from the bottom third of the cutting to minimise water loss (from the leaves) and pinch out the flowering central tip from the top of the stem (apical dominance).  Another way of minimising water loss from the cutting is to cut any remaining large leaves in half.
  • Using a dibber, make a hole for the cutting in a container of compost (ours included perlite) and insert the cutting with the first leaves just above the level of compost.  You can usually fit 5-6 in each pot.
  • Label, gently firm the cuttings into the compost and water with a fine-rosed watering can.

A similar method is to take a heel cutting where you gently ease the shoot away from the main parent stem, taking with it a bit of the stem (the heel) as you go.  Neaten the tail on the heel by cutting across it with a very sharp knife.  Place the cutting in compost as before.

The compost should be kept moist to encourage root growth.  Bottom heat would help to produce the roots but if done before the weather gets much cooler, the cuttings should do well under glass, propagator or perhaps enclosed in a sealed polythene bag.

Good plants for taking softwood cuttings now:

Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’


This old healing herb was sacred to the Romans and remains an important culinary herb today.  Its young red-purple leaves look good in the border and should be well-clipped to maintain shape and encourage new leaves which have the best flavour.  It grows well in full sun/partial shade in light well-drained soil.  It will reach 80cm in height.

Santolina chamaecyparissus – cotton lavender


This rounded compact shrub has grey-green foliage which is aromatic when crushed.  During July and August, its yellow button flowers push up through the foliage on wiry stems.  It is perfect for a hot, sheltered border with poor-moderately drained soil.  It looks particularly good in gravel gardens.

Lavandula – lavender


This is another sun-loving plant which thrives in hot, sunny borders and gravel gardens.  It prefers poor-moderately fertile borders (or containers) and will do well in  chalky/alkaline areas.  If you garden on clay, add organic matter mixed with gravel to improve darinage and to prolong the life of the plant.

Teucrium chamaedrys – wall germander


This low-growing plant can be either deciduous or evergreen in warmer areas.  It is mainly grown for its aromatic dark green foliage and produces pink-light purple flowers.  It looks good in containers, planted as low hedging, knot gardens, rockeries or as edging.  It prefers a sheltered site in full sun and should be cut back hard after flowering.

Jobs this week:

  • Planting Narcissi Thalia bulbs under the arches, along with apricot coloured foxgloves.


  • Underplant the box plants with yellowCrocus crysanthus ‘Romance’.
  • Collecting seeds, eg Bridge’s runner bean seeds, Cerinthe, white sweet pea ‘Royal Wedding’, Agrostemma (corncockle), Tagetes.
  • Taking soft wood cuttings of salvia.


  • Sowing hardy annual seeds for next summer’s cut flower bed.  (One seed was sown per module into multi purpose compost and then placed in the greenhouse or cold frame.  They will be overwintered outside).3d7422aa-7c2f-404a-a61d-eac9f96a6df8.jpg
  • Planting up containers for autumn interest.
  • Cutting willow to make into an autumn wreath for the front door.


  • Pruning the Sorbaria.
  • Sorting out “Paul’s Bed” – dividing and replanting 
  • Pruning the roses underneath the arches.


Many thanks to all of you who came to support our coffee morning last Friday to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Care.  It’s always good to welcome visitors into the garden and especially for a good cause.

Friday 21st September

More new faces and introductions continued with a discussion about what is our favourite garden of the moment?

Among others, there were many votes for the Sussex Prairie Garden which is possibly at its most beautiful now as the seed heads ripen and the autumn sun shines across the grasses.  However, it is striking how many of us nominated small private gardens which we pass by or visit on a regular basis.  It just goes to show that our favourite gardens don’t have to be huge spaces designed on a massive scale – gardens are very personal and speak to us all in very different ways.

To ease us into the morning, Mary read us an excerpt from Ambra Edwards’ book called “Head Gardeners”.  Jim Buckland and Sarah Wain are the couple behind the beautiful garden at West Dean College.  It was fascinating to hear how their joint passion for gardening has shaped the garden and how it has become so much a part of their lives.

As it is peak Dahlia season at the moment, it is necessary to keep dead heading regularly in order to prolong flowering.  To make sure you remove flowers that are dead and not buds which are about open, look for squishy, pointy flower tops which are the seed heads and need to be removed to concentrate energy into the emerging new flowers.  The picture below shows a spent flower head (right) and a new bud which is rounded and firm.


Cut the stem back to the nearest leaf joint, so removing the apical dominance of the main stem.  This will extend the life of the plant.

The Plant I.D. today concentrated on grasses.  Valued in the garden for their texture, sound and movement and providing a long season of interest, it was interesting to focus on a few examples we have growing in the garden.

Pennisetum macrourum or South African fountain grass.


These sun-loving plants with their thin, spikey panicles are not totally frost hardy in cooler climates.  They grow in clumps and send out runners which go on to produce new clumps of narrow green leaves which turn yellow in autumn.  The flower panicles are produced in late summer/early autumn.

Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’


These neat, clump-forming deciduous grasses have vivid green and yellow stripes, turning slightly red in autumn/early winter.  They do best in full sun although will tolerate partial shade.  Growing to 30cm, they look good planted in terracotta pots.  They will disappear completely during the winter.

Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ or swith grass ‘Schenandoah’


These deciduous perennials are proper ‘prairie grasses’ and grow to 90cm in full sun.  Characterised by their blue-grey narrow leaves, these take on a reddish tinge in late summer.  The delicate flowers spikes are produced on tall stiff stems which last through the winter in clumps.

Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’


These rhizomatous perennial grasses grow well in full sun and form clumps of upright blue-grey leaves which turn a reddish colour in autumn.  They produce weeping pannicles of purple-tinged flowers in late summer/early autumn.  In the right conditions they can grow up to a metre.

Pennisetum alopecuroides viridescens or Black Fountain Grass


Growing to around 60cm, these are slightly smaller than the regular species and are a good choice for the smaller garden.  In late summer, the purple-black flower plumes emerge, contrasting well with the slender green leaves.  The leaves turn more yellow in the autumn and the seed heads provide a valuable food source for birds.  They prefer a sunny position and look great in containers.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’


These are probably the oldest cultivated form of Miscanthus and originate from Japan.  Their leaves are slightly variegated but as a whole they give off a greyish effect.  In warmer climates, reddish-pink flowers are produced in late summer although in cooler areas they seldom flower.

When choosing grasses, check their growing conditions as some dislike growing in chalk which is tricky in our Brighton gardens!

Jobs this week:

  • Pot on hardy annual seedlings which have self-seeded, eg ammi and escholzia.
  • Pot on wallflowers into individual pots (adding chicken manure).  The tops were pinched out to remove the apical dominance and to make the plants more bushy.  These will be planted eventually amongst the tulips.


  • Cutting back the catmint and jasmine underneath the arches.


  • Potting on cuttings of dianthus.


  • Cutting back the mints in the Top Garden.
  • Replanting the containers in the front garden.


  • Major action in the compost heaps.


We are trying to keep to a strict toutine with the compost heaps and are continuing with the ‘traffic light’ system to organise the heaps in terms of readiness.



Green waste for the compost heap should only be placed in the green bin.  The amber bin is work in progress and the red bin is full of compost ready to be used.



This rose has been pruned for winter interest.  Its name is Rosa serecia subsp omeiensis pteracantha – try remembering that one…..

Friday 14th September 2018

And so, old friends and new faces meet to enjoy another year of happy gardening.  This weekly blog endeavours to track our activities, and share some of our horticultural joys and sorrows at Garden House.


The coming year promises: exciting new projects, speakers, outings, mastering the science of propagation, proficiency in the theory and usage of the binomial system of naming plants, achieving competence in placing right plants in the right place – and so much more.  No time for lists – we have work to do!

Labelling  Bridge stressed the importance of writing out plant labels correctly, using a fine, black, permanent marker.  Plant names are in Latin, as this unchanging language enables scientists throughout the world to classify and identify plants according to the naming system established by Linnaeus in the 18th century.  Common plant names can vary from place to place, but “binomial nomenclature” is a means of uniquely identifying plants.

Written on the label below is the name of a maple tree.  The first word gives the plant’s genus (a bit like a surname) and the second gives the species.  The species name (or specific epithet) tells us something about the plant – perhaps its colour/form, where it is from or maybe the person the plant is named after.  Here we can see that this maple tree (Acer) has leaves shaped like the palm of a hand (palmatum).  And we know that it is different from other types of maple tree.


The genus name is written starting with a capital letter, but the whole of the species name is written in lower case.  Other examples of the two-name system are: Helleborus orientalis; Campanula pyramidalis; Lavendula dentata.

When plant breeders develop new plants, often a third name is added, which shows that the plant has been bred by someone.  This cultivar (or variety) name, is written with a capital letter and is in single quotation marks.  For example: Betula utilis ‘Jacquemontii’ and Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’.


At Garden House we place labels in the 12.00 o’clock position, behind and under plants. When sowing seeds or planting seedlings, we also date the label.

Plant ident.

This week we thought about the differing life-cycles of various plants, starting with the the thoroughly upright biennial bellflower, Campanula pyramidalis:

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“Biennial” means that a plant completes its life cycle over a two-year period. It germinates and forms a rosette of leaves in the first year, then flowers and dies in the second, surviving only through its seed.  Well-known biennials are: honesty, forget-me-not and wallflowers.

Tithonia rotundifolia, the Mexican sunflower, is a showy half-hardy annual.  Annuals are plants which complete their life cycle in one year and survive only through their seed. Half hardy annual seeds need heat to germinate (we use a heated propagator in the greenhouse) and seedlings can only be planted out after all danger of frost has passed.

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Other half hardy annuals include nicotianas, cosmos and zinnias.  They are excellent for prolonging colour in the garden as summer turns to autumn.

Pelargonium sidoides  Pelargoniums are often mistakenly called geraniums, but are actually a different genus. The latter are hardy herbaceous plants that can live outside in the garden permanently, whilst pelargoniums are tender perennials that will not survive the winter outdoors – they need to be kept frost free in a greenhouse or conservatory. During the summer, however, they love to be out in the sun. Don’t we all?

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Geranium ‘Rozanne’. This excellent prize-winning cultivar, is a hardy herbaceous perennial, which means it is a non-woody plant that dies down in late autumn/early winter.  It tolerates the frost and overwinters underground, then regrows in the spring. Being perennial, it can live in the garden for many years. ‘Rozanne’ is a sought after variety which flowers for months on end; cutting it hard back after flowering encourages fresh growth and more flowers.


Plectranthus argentatus This lovely tender perennial, with its soft, grey, downy leaves and square stems, is used extensively in container planting for summer display.  Below it can be seen featuring in pots at East Ruston Old Vicarage Garden, Norfolk.

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It belongs to the Lamiaciae family, which boasts rosemary, lavender, and salvias amongst its members, and it thrives in hot, dry conditions.  Plectranthus argentatus.jpg

Tropaeolum majus, commonly known as the nasturtium, is an easy-going popular hardy annual.  Hardy annuals are plants which are sown, flower, set seed and die within one year. They are generally sown outside in early spring where they are going to flower, and can survive frosts without protection.   Cornflowers, nigella and california poppies are all hardy annual flowers. They frequently self-seed around the garden.


Jobs this week

Getting to know what’s where in the garden IMG-20180916-WA0003.jpg

Please note: weeds are to be put in black trugs and not in the compost bins. IMG-20180916-WA0005.jpg

Weeding the vegetable bedsIMG-20180916-WA0004.jpg

Spot the half hardy annualIMG-20180916-WA0007.jpg

It’s all going well…


……so far


Something for next week’s plant ident.?


A great start.  Introductions made, we can’t wait for next Friday……

Friday 13th July




Nearing the end of the Friday Group year, it was our last morning in the garden until September.  Next week we’ll be at Parham House and Gardens to relax and spend time in the beautiful garden and nursery before sharing a picnic lunch.

The Plant I.D. this week concentrated on plants we’re using to fill the gaps left by late spring plants and those that have suffered in this hot weather:

Begonia ‘Renoir’ (Impressionist series)


This striking architectural plant is often grown just for its foliage (although it sometimes produces small pink flowers above its leaves).  It loves the shade and should be grown in free-draining soil and watered and fed regularly. However, it does benefit from a good mulch, eg. a mixture of mushroom and standard compost.  If grown in full sun, it should be watered in the evening to avoid scorching the leaves.

Lemon verbena


Often confused with lemon balm (which can be very invasive), lemon verbena is a sweet smelling tender perennial and is often used for making herbal tea.  It is best grown in a container in full sun and kept under cover during the winter months.

Senecio cineraria ‘Cirrus’


This is an evergreen sub-shrub which is often grown as an annual in full sun.  It has silvery-grey furry leaves with clusters of daisy-like flowers in summer.

Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’


This clump-forming perennial grows to about 1m and has dark green/purple lance-shaped leaves. The yellow-orange funnel-shaped flowers appear from summer through to autumn.  They have red markings and brown streaks on the inner petals.

Streptocarpus saxorum ‘Concord Blue’


This indoor (in this country) plant originates from South Africa and has dark green fleshy leaves and delicate violet pansy-like flowers.  It should be kept in shade or semi-shade and will flower all summer if kept moderately watered.

Jobs this week:

  • Removing the sweet peas as they are dried out and putting them on the compost. We will save the sweet pea seed pods for next year and squashes will be planted in their place.


  • Tidying the herb bed, dead-heading and clipping the box hedging which surrounds it.  Cuttings were taken from some of the herbs, eg. rosemary and sage.


  • Planting out exotic containers with Tibouchina urvilleana, gingers and cannas.


  • Cutting back and watering in the Top Garden.
  • General dead-heading around the garden.
  • Weeding and watering Lil’s Bed.
  • Cutting back and dead-heading under the arches.



It feels strange to be leaving the garden for the summer but we’ll be back in the autumn, fresh from our holidays and with renewed enthusiasm for the challenges and creativity which lie ahead.

Friday 6th July


As we reach the height of summer, the garden is looking amazing with colour everywhere.  The pots in particular are looking great, benefitting from the long sunny days and plenty of feed.

Other plants are coming on well, including the dahlias which were left to overwinter in the ground.  We made sure that they were mulched well and they seem to be all the better for being left undisturbed – they are growing into big, strong plants and promise to be a highlight in the late summer garden.

The plant I.D. today featured some of the stars of our containers:

Heliotrope ‘Cherry Pie’


This half hardy annual has dark green, deep-veined leaves and tiny purple flowers with the most delicious scent – just like cherry pie.  In warmer areas it can be grown as a perennial but is best grown as an annual as it can become very leggy and straggly in later years.  It is at its best planted in a container on the patio where its scent can be enjoyed on a hot summer day.

Plectranthus argentatus


This sun-loving member of the mint family from Australia is fantasic in containers.  Its velvet-textured silvery foliage looks great with our Heliotropes and Pelargoniums, being a great foil to their rich colours.  Our Plectranthus have been grown from cuttings taken from plants bought by Bridge from the shop at East Ruston Old Vicarage in Norfolk.  Its insignificant pale lavender blooms are often pinched out but if left, they are a great pollinator.

Pelargonium ‘Tip Top Duet’


This compact Pelargonium has pale pink flowers, the upper petals being edged in wine-red and the lower petals veined with violet.

Geranium ‘Rozanne’


This stunning violet-blue Geranium can grow to 60cm and will spread vigorously if given free reign.  Its white-centred flowers can reach 5cm across and will bloom right the way through the summer.  It was short-listed for the Plant of the Centenary for the decade 1993-2002 and won the peoples’ vote.

Tagetes ‘Cinnabar’


This half hardy annual has fiery red flowers, tinged with a yellow edge.  It will grow right up until the first frosts in well-drained soil in sun or part shade.

Ipomea – Morning Glory


This tender climbing annual can be tricky to grow and is very sensitive to the cold.  It can look lovely scrambling through other plants in a border but at the Garden House we grow it in a terracotta pot.  It needs heat to germinate and is unlikely to flower in a poor summer.  It needs to be established to flower and so it is a good idea to sow the seeds in March and keep them in a a heated greenhouse or on a warm window sill.

Phygelius capensis – Cape fuchsia


  • This semi-evergreen small shrub has triangular ovate leaves with tubular orange-red flowers.  It grows well in most soils in a sheltered sunny position but may need to be protected during the winter in colder areas.  It can also be quite invasive so must be kept in check in restricted areas.

Jobs this week:

  • Sorting out the compost and spreading it on the hedge border, ready for new planting.


  • Refreshing the hedge border with new plants and cutting down early summer seed heads.


  • Removing the allium heads from the bed by the greenhouse, storing them for Christmas.


  • Pruning the espaliered fruit trees in Lil’s Bed.


  • Picking the blueberries and red currants and weeding and feeding the blueberry pots.
  • Pruning the Rosa banksiae on the terraces.  As it is an early-flowering rose in May, it really needs to be pruned now in order to produce blooms nest year.



  • Sowing biennials.


  • Clearing the weed from the pond.


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