Friday 19th October 2018


The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is upon us, and with it come squashes, pumpkins and gourds in all shapes and sizes…. I mean, look at this extraordinary creature –



We looked briefly at hardy annuals (sown, flower and die in a year) again this week.  Hardy annuals can be sown now – up until the clocks go back – and then in March/April next year.  Examples are: scabious, marigolds (Calendula officinalis), ammis, sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus), wild carrot (Daucus carota), cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus), Californian poppies (Eschscholzia californica), false fennel (Ridolfia segetum), corncockles (Agrostemma githago) and the white lace flower (Orlaya grandiflora).

H.a. seeds need a warm place to germinate, so, once sown in modules or pots, a small electric propagator is an ideal environment for them.  At Garden House we put seeds in the greenhouse on a heated mat (see below), but you can try them indoors on a sunny window-sill.

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They need light to grow; once the seedlings have been potted on and hardened off, a cold frame is perfect for overwintering – open in the day for ventilation, but closed at night for protection.  (Its worse than looking after children.)  The seedlings’ growth slows as winter takes hold, but, come next year, these autumn-sown plants will be bigger, stronger and garden-ready earlier than their spring-sown counterparts.  It is possible to direct-sow some hardy annual seeds successfully into autumn’s still-warm soil, (e.g. nigella, marigolds and cornflowers) but for better control, we tend to opt for protected sowing.

The tender perennial cuttings (such as Plectranthus argentatus), taken at the end of September, have already started rooting, thanks to the gentle heat provided by the soil warming cables in the greenhouse. They must be kept frost-free if they are to survive the winter – maybe in an insulated greenhouse, a conservatory or perhaps in a cold bedroom. The cuttings will be potted on into FP9 pots using a 50:50 mix of compost and perlite.  Topping with horticultural grit helps with drainage, reduces weed growth and acts as a deterrent to slugs and snails.  Looks nice too.


Can’t see any horticultural grit topping here though……

Streptocarpus cuttings


These indoor beauties can be propagated from leaf cuttings.  It’s a miracle!

Mid-rib method: Take one healthy leaf. Place face down on a board. Using a very sharp knife, run the blade down either side of the rib which runs from top to bottom. Take out the mid-rib completely – and two lengths of leaf remain. Place them upright (on edge with cut side down) into a 50:50 mix of compost and perlite.  Firm in and water.  Each vein should produce an offset, which will eventually become a new plant.  Place somewhere warm (in a propagator or on a sunny window-sill with a clear covering over). Try a plastic shower cap, if you’re feeling funky.

Lateral vein method: Take another healthy leaf.  Place face down on board. (So far so similar.)  Using a very sharp knife, cut laterally across the leaf; depending on the length of the leaf, you can get about four cuttings.  Place upright into the compost mix, remembering to put the cut edge downwards. Firm in. Water.  One offset should grow from each cutting.

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Mid-rib cuttings at top; lateral vein cuttings below

Fingers crossed – and let’s hope they’re green fingers too.

Plant Ident. 

This week’s ident. looked at autumn delights such as these astonishing

Nerine bowdenii


A surprising colour at this time of year, these plants originate from South Africa and come in shades of pale and dark pink as well as white.  They love to bake in full sun and do well near south-facing walls; they should be planted with their top halves proud of the soil.  Bulbs can remain permanently in the ground once planted, as they can withstand freezing temperatures. They do need good drainage, however, and don’t like to be disturbed.

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Also looking magnificent in the garden now is the ubiquitous, but nonetheless valuable

                                                              Fatsia japonica


and one from the back, please…


…thank you

Also known as the false castor oil plant, Fatsia japonica is a handsome, evergreen shrub, noted for its beautiful, architectural leaves – dark, glossy green on the front contrasting with matt, soft green on the underside.  Fatsias thrive in a shady position and respond well to being cut back and shaped as required – they grow back easily.  Any yellow/ brown/ blackened leaves can just be removed.  Odd, creamy-white flowers appear at this time of year, reminiscent of those produced by ivy.  Also good in large containers.

Viburnum rhytidophyllum 


The evergreen leatherleaf viburnum gives year-round colour and interest in the garden.  A tough, drought-tolerant plant, producing red fruit at this time of year, and small, fragrant white flowers in the spring.  It has striking, deep-green, corrugated leaves.  Plant in full sun.

Clerodendrum trichotomum



This is a vigorous, deciduous shrub whose starry, white flowers, produced in the summer, are highly fragrant.  They are followed by amazing metallic turquoise-blue berries held in crimson calyces – an arresting sight. When crushed, the leaves of this shrub are said to smell of peanut butter.  Grow in full sun or partial shade.

Symphoricarpos albus 


Snowberry’s white, waxy berries look well in mixed shrub borders in the autumn and early winter months.  They are preceded by small, pink flowers in the summer.  A suckering, deciduous shrub from the honeysuckle family, snowberry can be grown in both full sun and partial shade – plus it tolerates exposed sites, pollution and poor soils. One tough customer.  There are varieties with beautiful pink berries.  Sought after by florists – and definitely a good bet for gardeners who don’t have green fingers..

Jobs for the week:

Sow broad beans, calendula and stipa tenuissima in modules


Empty the compost heap and fill two of the raised beds


Re-think the planting in various beds


 She’s thinking…..


She’s obviously come to a decision.


And she’s hard at it

Propagate streptocarpus plants by taking midrib and lateral vein cuttings. Place in greenhouse; water


Lateral and midrib cuttings. Nicely done. Where do they go?


 In the greenhouse. Excellent.  And have you watered them?


Oh, she’s good.

Prune Hedera helix “Goldheart”. Remove reversions and take cuttings


One for the Health and Safety training manual

Remove current occupants from alpine sinks


Out you come

Take out Pennisetum macrourum grass and replant elsewhere


Autumn lawn care – scarifying, spiking, weeding and edging




What a team!

That’s Friday Group for you.















Friday 12th October 2018


Today we started with a fascinating talk given by Judy McClelland, who runs “Flowers from the Field” in Isfield.  Bringing with her a jewel-like selection of late-summer blooms, she explained how to grow cut flowers for the home – and shared with us the best varieties to choose, how to cut and condition your flowers and the secrets behind keeping them looking fresh for longer.


Inspired by the flowers she saw whilst working in the Netherlands, Judy followed her passion and eventually found a plot of land near Lewes, where, in recent years, she has literally reaped what she has sown. Fighting the elements has been challenging, but photos of her raised flower beds and polytunnel were clear evidence of her success.

The how:  It’s important to think about the site; a wind barrier is a good idea if the area is exposed.  Sunshine, good soil and good drainage are essential – Judy uses green compost and horticultural grit to open up and improve her clay soil.  Green waste (recycled compost) is also used as a mulch around the plants, which acts as a weed suppressant and retains moisture. Cut flowers don’t need a lot in the way of nutrients – only the sweet peas and dahlias are given a tomato feed.  Staking is crucial; Judy finds horizontal netting over the plants invaluable and has it in place before everything starts to grow up through it.  Her polytunnel enables her to get a head start on growing things like sweet peas.

More details:  Most of her plants are grown from seed, which is cheap to buy.  She sows into modules to have better control over the seedlings.


Only a few are sown direct (e.g. ammis). Hardy annuals can be sown now, but she sows most in Feb/March.  The half-hardy types are sown in mid to late April; fast growers, they like warmth, so don’t sow too early. (Judy doesn’t have a heated propagator but does use a cold frame.) Light is essential to growing good healthy plants. A cutting patch of 1 m wide x 2 m long takes about 18 plants, with around 30 cms between each plant. More space results in better and bigger plants.  Weed and water and pray for clement sunny weather.  Beware pests! Especially our old friend –

Close-up Photography of Snail

Tips on cutting and conditioning:  Get to know your plants.  Some need to be picked at just the right point in their life cycle.  For example, scabious will carry on maturing, so need to be picked before they are fully open.  Others, like dahlias, don’t open further after picking – their buds remain as buds.  Pick flowers in the early morning, ideally after the dew has gone, but before the heat of the sun affects the blooms. Once cut, remove leaves from the stems, cut the base at an angle and plunge them straight into a bucket of cool water.  Leave for a couple of hours or overnight in a cool place before arranging.

How to keep your flowers fresh:  Bacteria spells death for flowers!  Ensure your tools and vases are spotlessly clean (a little drop of bleach in the water can help).  Change the water completely every couple of days.


A few of Judy’s must-have annuals: 

Salvia viridis, or Clary sage.  A hardy annual that self-seeds. Judy recommends the blue and pink varieties.

Centaurea cyanus, or cornflowers – especially Blue Boy and, even better, Red Boy.

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Top picture:  Zinnia “Dahlia-Flowered Mix”. Bottom:  blue Salvia viridis, the acid yellow/green of Euphorbia oblongata, Sedum “Herbstfreude” and zinnias. 

Zinnias –  half-hardy annuals; especially the “Dahlia-Flowered Mixed” collection.  Good stiff stems.  Cut the flowers above a leaf node and deep on the stem to encourage regrowth.

Consolida ajacis, or larkspur – highly recommended – also thrives on being cut. Judy likes the varieties “White” and “Dark Blue”. Its seeds germinate better after a cold spell (“vernalisation”). Top tip: dampen a piece of kitchen paper; place some seeds on it; fold over; seal in a plastic bag; place in freezer for a week; take out and into a warm place; sow.

Antirrhinums, or snapdragons; another cut-and-come-again plant. Use tall varieties, like the white “Royal Bride”.

Tithonia “Torch” – although she finds their flower heads can flop in the vase.

Ammi visnaga “Green Mist” and “Casablanca” – they form good “chunky” plants which branch well.

Malope trifida “Vulcan” – a good, tall annual which lasts well in a vase.

Daucus carota – the wild carrot, (biennial).  Beautiful – should be sown direct.

Ageratum “Blue Horizon” and Timeless Mixed”.   

Euphorbia oblongata – a fantastic “filler” in flower arrangements.  But, be careful of the white, milky sap which is an irritant to the skin and eyes.

Judy completed her talk by demonstrating how to arrange a hand-held bunch of flowers using annuals, perennials, shrubs, herbs and grasses.  Odd numbers work well.  She made it look easy, but we know it’s all down to magic.

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Arranging a bunch of hand-held flowers, turning it as each component is added.

Jobs this week: 

It’s autumn, and it’s all about preparation.

Dismantle summer displays in the large pots; remove tender salvias and pelargoniums. Take cuttings and place in greenhouse to overwinter. 


  • Take cuttings from osteospermums and plectranthus in the top garden. Place in greenhouse.



Nicely labelled!


  • Plant out chrysanthemums in greenhouse


  • Prune summer-fruiting raspberries – out with the old canes and tie-in the new 



Oh dear, who is taking out whom?



  • Little Dixter: pruning, sorting, tidying. For a tip-top Visitor Experience. 


They certainly look busy.


Yes, magnificent!

  • Weeding and digging over beds preparatory to planting. 


You do actually need spades…….

  • More weeding, digging and generally improving the soil


  • Remove dahlias from Lil’s bed – keep plants for drying out prior to storing tubers. Remove ammis; pot some up some for next year’s display. 



  • Work in the new raised beds area


There are blackcurrants there somewhere.

  • Remove plants from Paul’s bed and pot up



……..not forgetting to water them, of course.

  • Sow salad in the greenhouse


They look pleased. Must have had a handshake from Bridge.

  • Attack the plot


  • And add to the compost heap


………for some, this is a truly beautiful sight.


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.