Friday 23rd November 2018


Berries abound at this time of year – here is the fabulous Cotoneaster horizontalis revealing why it is sometimes called the fishbone cotoneaster.

November continues – grey, chilly – but the log burner here at Garden House is toasty.  Provided you KEEP THAT DOOR SHUT!

Thank you.

Today we are planting garlic cloves and onion sets into pots which then go into the cold frame.  The garlic comes from the Isle of Wight Garlic Farm, which is a veritable treasure trove of garlic gorgeousness.  It’s important to buy from a reputable source to ensure that the garlic is virus-free.

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Garlic likes a period of exposure to winter cold to push it into growth – this is called vernalisation.  Take one bulb of garlic and separate the cloves; each clove will grow on to become a mature bulb.  Plant one clove per pot, at a depth of about 5 cms, in multi-purpose compost.  The top of the clove should not be visible.


Onions are best grown from onion “sets” (very young onions) and, if planted at this time of year, they need to be the Japanese overwintering varieties.  Traditionally, they are sown on the shortest day of the year and eaten on the longest; so pop that job into the diary for 21st December 2018 and 21st June 2019.  Here are two which we will be growing.











Plant one small onion per pot; pull off the wispy bit at the top of the onion, then plant it up to its neck in compost.  Only the very top of the onion should be showing.

Plant Ident.:  this week it’s all about Winter Interest.

Salix erythroflexuosa



A popular tree with Bridge, this makes a fine small tree or large shrub with decorative orange/orange-yellow bark.  It has contorted branches and shoots and narrow, twisted willow-like leaves.  In the spring there are silvery catkins.  Offcuts and shoots will root easily if pushed into the ground or left in a bucket of water.  Its winter outline is beautiful – and branches are popular with flower arrangers.

Viburnum opulus


The Guelder rose is a hardy deciduous shrub which flaunts these stunning jewel-like berries in the winter months.  Shining capsules containing the seeds of future plants sparkle in the sunshine.  When there is some.  Clusters of snowball-type flowers are produced in late spring and the vibrant red berries follow in the autumn.  It has a long season of interest and makes a good choice for hedging.  Does well on all soils, and especially on its native chalk downland.  Likes plenty of moisture, great for attracting wildlife and good as a cut flower in the spring.  What’s not to like?


Cotoneaster x watereri 


Cotoneasters  are actually members of the rose family and a number of varieties are available for the gardener to choose from.  This one is evergreen and is a large, dense shrub/tree which can grow to 5m x 5m.  It has clusters of white flowers in May/June and, later, masses of small, pendulous, red berries form along arching branches.  These last through the autumn and on into the winter months.  Bridge rates C. x watereri highly; it grows in sun or partial shade and tolerates a range of soil conditions.

Pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’


And glow it does.  Firethorn is a strong-growing, spiny, evergreen shrub.  This one is particularly attractive with its glossy leaves, small, white, summer flowers and long-lasting, vibrant berries.  It is good when grown against a wall, where it can be trained by judicious pruning.  Cutting new growth back to two buds in late winter/early spring will keep these shrubs in check, and the resulting display will ensure you are the envy of the neighbourhood.


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Basically, the horticultural equivalent of a rottweiler.  The barberry is guaranteed to repel burglars of all shapes and sizes – and is, (true fact), often recommended by the police for planting as a deterrent against intruders.  Extremely spiky, but nonetheless attractive, it has small, attractive, yellow or orange flowers in spring, followed by lovely red/orange, translucent berries (barberries) which are edible.  Maybe serve them to your burglars, as you all wait for the police to arrive.

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’



An upright, evergreen shrub with striking, glossy, green leaves; it prefers a shady position in the garden.  Mahonia ‘Charity’ bears racemes of fragrant, sunshine-yellow flowers in late autumn and winter and the scent (akin to lily of the valley) is most marked in the evenings, when the plant’s main pollinators (bats and flies) are about.  Small, deep purple berries follow on from the flowers, and these are enjoyed by birds.  Unsurprisingly, the R.H.S. recommend this shrub as attractive to wildlife.  Just think of the good you would be doing by planting it – after all, Charity begins at home.


Jobs for the week

  • Plant up more bulbs for indoor flowering at Christmas and afterwards.


You can never have too many.


My word.  Nicely top-dressed.

  • Write labels for the tulips.  


                With artistic flair, if possible.  In good hands here.

  • Remove mint from large metal troughs. Replant with blueberries and bulbs


  • Plant garlic cloves and onion sets in cells


  • Plant up the pots in the front garden


There will be a white/green theme here.

  • Plant Narcissi ‘Thalia’ and ‘Minnow’ with muscari in troughs


  • Plant species tulip bulbs in the alpine sinks and on the rockery


Groups of five or seven bulbs will look great.

And no yodelling in the alpine area.

  • Remove salvias and plectranthus and plant Rembrandt tulips in the metal planter in the top garden
  • Plant black parrot tulips and wallflowers in the three large pots by the greenhouse


  • Plant alliums in quantity outside the Garden Room


She’s painting a picture of the allium fest to follow….


They’re going in here, here and…



And now, we’re back where we started at the beginning of the day


The onion sets are set, and ready to go into…


…the cold frame, which awaits the little beauties.

So, that’s game, sets and match to Friday Group.







Friday 16th November 2018


November.  Grey.  Drizzly.  Dismal.  But are Friday Group gloomy at Garden House?  Never!  Here, we are always the bright in Brighton.  Even when the squirrels have paid us a special visit and pulled up all the newly planted crocus bulbs (in spite of the chilli flake deterrent).  Those villains must have hot lips.  It’s a belt and braces approach for us from now on:

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Take that, you bushy-tailed varmints.

Today we looked at a variety of horticultural aides and discussed how to use them.



This is a natural, organic, inert material made from volcanic rock.  It is used to help retain moisture, lighten the soil and improve drainage when sowing seeds in modules or pots.  Used 50:50 mixed with a multi-purpose compost, it is great for cuttings as it allows more air around the roots of the plants and adds a bit of “bite” to the compost.  It is possible to use perlite on its own as a rooting medium for taking cuttings such as holly.  Very much recommended.


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At Garden House, vermiculite is used instead of compost as a thin dressing on top of sowings of tiny seeds, such as antirrhinum and nicotiana.  This allows light to reach the seeds and also improves drainage.

Water-Retaining Gel 

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Swell Gel can be used in pots or hanging baskets to improve water retention.  Good for the lazy waterers amongst us, and for very dry situations.  As the name implies, it swells as it takes in moisture which it then gradually releases.  Apparently, the same technology is used in babies’ disposable nappies.  (Smell Gel?)

Horticultural Grit


The cowboy of the group – or True Grit as we lovingly refer to it – this stuff is invaluable.  It can be used instead of perlite, or on newly planted pots as a top dressing.  It helps to open up clay soils and also to improve drainage/aeration generally.  Functional and decorative, it’s a must in any gardener’s kit.

Chicken manure

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This organic fertiliser is high in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and is Bridge’s fertiliser of choice at Garden House.  Nitrogen promotes green leafy growth, phosphorus encourages root growth, whilst potassium is needed for flowers and fruits.  Beds, borders and pots benefit from a spring feeding with these pellets.  (N.B. ericaceous plants, which need an acid soil, require an alternative feed, appropriate for lime hating plants.)

Plant Ident.

This week we focused on the brilliant benefits of biennials in the garden. Biennials are flowering plants which complete their lifecycle over the course of two years.  In Year 1 they are sown and grow leaves, stems and roots; in Year 2 they flower, and produce fruits and seeds before dying.  Sow in May/ June/ July to flower in the following spring and summer

Lunaria annua












We know this fabulous plant as honesty.  It is an easy plant to grow in either sun or shade, and will self seed around the garden.  Purple or white flowers are followed by flat, paper-like, translucent, decorative seed pods.  Both flowers and seed pods are fantastic for flower arranging.

Matthiola incana


This stock, which self-seeded in the mosaic pebble path at Garden House, has wonderful grey foliage and pure white flowers which emit the most heavenly fragrance in the late afternoon/evening.  Good in coastal locations.

Hesperis matronalis

Sweet rocket has fragrant flowers which attract bees and other insects into the garden.  They can vary from white through to an attractive pale lilac and even purple; the scent, like that of the stock mentioned above, is most pronounced in the evening.  Can be grown in full sun or partial shade and particularly useful because it appears in the growing “gap” between the tulips ending and roses starting to perform.  Eventually, they will self seed around the garden.  A good cut flower, they look particularly good in a cottage garden setting.  Like many biennials, the seeds need cold temperatures to break their dormancy (vernalisation).



Wallflowers earn their keep as the backbone of many a spring planting scheme.  Their presence in the garden through the cold winter months imbues the gardener with hope that spring will come! In truth, they are really short-lived perennials, but they are generally treated as biennials, and usually discarded after flowering.  ‘Bowles Mauve’  is well-known, but there are many other varieties, in a wide range of colours – e.g. Erysimum ‘Sunset Bronze Shades’.  Used frequently in plantings with tulips, they are best in full sun.



Another short-lived perennial that is treated as a biennial by many gardeners.  The common foxglove, with its rose-purple, bell-shaped flowers is Digitalis purpurea, but many different varieties are grown today.  The white Digitalis purpurea f. albiflora was made popular by Gertrude Jekyll and, more recently, Digitalis purpurea ‘Sutton’s Apricot’ has become a much sought-after garden plant.  These foxgloves prefer light shade and look good in an area of informal planting.  Take care, because all parts of the plant are poisonous.

The bulb-planting fiesta continues apace.  Faster and faster we plant them.  Prior to getting out into the garden, Bridge revealed the secrets of planting a…

“Bulb Lasagne”


The advantage of this is that you will be able to enjoy flowers from Jan/Feb. through to May.

Take a substantial and tallish pot.  Place crocks in the  base for drainage, then fill the bottom half of the pot with multi-purpose compost mixed with some chicken manure pellets.  Place a layer of 20 tulip bulbs on the compost – Bridge used Tulip ‘Salmon van Eijk’.  Cover with about 10cms of compost.  Put another layer of 20 tulips in – this time ‘Slawa’.  These are both late-flowering varieties and will flower in April/May.


Add another 10 cms of compost on top.  Then 20 bulbs of Narcissus triandrus ‘Hawera’ – tall and elegant creatures – are the third layer in the lasagne.  Another 10 cms of compost (I think we’re getting the idea), and set out 25 bulbs of Iris reticulata.  10 cms of compost over them, and then to finish, (hurray!), a layer of 30 Crocus chrysanthus ‘Romance’.


Complete the project with a layer of horticultural grit – it aids drainage, looks the business and helps to discourage our old adversaries, the squirrels.  Some wire mesh stretched over the pot may add to the defence strategy.

Or invest in a rocket launcher.

Jobs for the week:

Remove the cosmos plants; prepare bed; plant more tulips, wallflowers and the stocks.


Commendably co-operative



Plant bulb lasagnes in the big pots; plant up two further pots. Protect from squirrels.




Bulb lasagne in preparation


And very nearly complete



Now, what’s the betting those squirrels have wire cutters?

Pot on cuttings currently growing in the greenhouse 



A lovely job. 10 points for Gryffindor.

Plant rhubarb and pink hyacinths in three large pots



Now what?


Ah!  I see. We’re even beginning to think like squirrels

Remove strawberry plants from the Lion’s Head bed; weed; plant bulbs 


Plant pansies and bulbs for complete Visitor Enjoyment in Little Dixter


Prune the Cornus Mas tree in the Yellow Bed.  Underplant with yellow narcissi and orange tulipsIMG-20181116-WA0019.jpg

And let’s hope this is the Yellow Bed.

Now we can all go home and dream about bulbs and next year’s treasures and pleasures





Friday 9th November 2018


And so, dear reader, on to the business of planting bulbs for our delectation next year.  For best results, it’s all about contemplation, location, preparation.  A random scheme? Now, where would be best for that?  But, then again, surely tulips look better in a more formal arrangement?  Perhaps in the cleared beds behind the greenhouse.



But we are getting ahead of ourselves…..first, our plant ident. for the week:


And good to see that at least one member of Friday Group is paying close attention.

Cotoneaster horizontalis



This is a spreading, deciduous shrub, familiar at this time of year due to its vivid, small red berries and regular, herringbone-style branches.  Its small, glossy green leaves turn orange and red in the autumn months, before dropping.  Birds love the berries and broadcast the seed around gardens, resulting in plentiful seedlings.  It is, in fact, a bit too successful for its own good, and has now been placed on the Schedule 9 list as “an invasive non-native species”.  However, provided it is kept under control, it is a useful shrub providing year-round interest; in spring, for instance, it is covered with small pink-tinged white flowers which are a magnet for bees.  Drought-resistant, low maintenance and good as ground cover, it is particularly useful on banks and slopes.  If grown against a sunny wall, it will grow upwards to about 2 metres.

Jasminum officinale affine “Fiona Sunrise”


A beautiful, rampant climber which bears scented white flowers over the whole summer.  The stem and leaves are rather architectural, and the large leaves transition from vibrant yellow to orange/gold in the autumn  Attractive to bees, it is an excellent choice for growing up pergolas or fences.  Best grown in sunny, sheltered positions

Vaccinium  corymbosum


Very much basking in its celebrity status as a “super fruit”, (it’s full of antioxidants), the blueberry needs an acid soil to grow successfully.  Acid soils are those with a pH level below 7.0 and, according to the R.H.S., blueberries need a pH of 5.5 or lower to thrive.  (You can measure the pH level of soil in the garden with a soil testing kit.)  Blueberry plants respond well to being cosseted in leaf mould.  If you have alkaline soil, they can be grown successfully in pots (use ericaceous compost), and should be fed with a liquid fertiliser for lime-hating plants.  They should ideally be watered with rainwater, as tap water will raise the soil’s pH level. Some varieties are self-fertile, but others require a different cultivar to be planted nearby for pollination.  A lovely, easy plant whose leaves seem to catch fire and glow in the autumn.  Oh, and delicious fruit, of course!

Three trees to look out for, especially at this time of year:

Ginkgo biloba

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Otherwise known as the maidenhair tree, it is sometimes referred to as a “living fossil” because it is one of the world’s oldest living tree species.  Native to China, it has apparently been found in fossils dating back over 270 million years.  “Biloba” means “divided into two lobes” (easily visible in the above photo); over the centuries, the ginkgo’s leaves have been highly prized for their medicinal properties.  In the autumn they turn a glorious butter yellow before falling.  The trees are “dioecious” – which means that the male and female reproductive organs are on separate trees.  So for pollination, (by the wind), both a male and a female tree are required.  They can grow to 40 metres in height, but smaller varieties are available and can be grown in pots.

Prunus “Tai-Haku”

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“Tai-haku” means “big, white flowers”.  Known as the Japanese great white cherry, this sensational, deciduous tree revels in pure white blossom in the spring and provides glorious colour in the autumn.  The specimen at Garden House stands in the top garden and has been there for 18 years; Bridge rates it highly.  Prefers full sun and reasonably fertile, well drained soil.  A.G.M. (Award of Garden Merit).  Between 4 to 8 metres tall x 8 metres plus in width.

Malus “Golden Hornet”


A beautiful tree for a small garden.  This crab apple has lovely white spring blossom, and goes on to produce delightful clusters of small yellow crab apples in the autumn, which last for a long time on the tree. A nicely shaped, small, self-fertile tree, it can tolerate a range of soil types.

Jobs for the week:

Planting bulbs in pots for outside display 


The fabulous blue Scilla siberica are going into this one.  Note those pots in the background – beautifully top-dressed with horticultural grit. 10/10, ladies.

Plant Hyacinth “Woodstock” around the rhubarb plants 


They need to be planted around 10-15cms deep.  Their deep magenta/purple blooms will look beautiful alongside the forced rhubarb’s pink stems.

Sweep, tidy and refashion “Little Dixter” 


Ensure that all tender perennials have been removed and cuttings taken.

Cut back geranium macrorhizum in beds under arches.  Plant alliums in and around the nepeta


Yes!  That jacket is exactly the sort of colour we hope to achieve next year with the allium /catmint combo.

Plant chionodoxa bulbs randomly in prepared bed   


In position and looking good.

Lay out wallflowers in Lil’s bed ready for (random) planting

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Wallflowers are biennials: foliage this year, flowers next year.  Plant firmly and deeply then pinch out the top to ensure a bushy (not leggy) plant.


Tulip bulbs will then be thrown over the bed and planted where they land.  Here’s a (literally) hot tip: sprinkle chilli flakes over the soil to discourage squirrels from plundering bulbs.  That’ll teach the blighters.

Formal planting in the beds near the greenhouse


Wallflowers planted first – about 45 cms apart – and deeply.


Scenes of industry and meticulous planning.


Lay out bulbs ready for planting


Using string ensures straight lines for formal planting arrangements.  Plant around 10 cms apart and at least twice the depth of the bulb.  Some say it’s better to plant even deeper. If you garden on heavy clay soil, putting a layer of grit into the planting hole helps to prevent the bulbs from rotting.


A beautifully made bed – but telltale signs that someone’s been jumping on it….

Clean tools after use and replace where found


Nice pose.  Hang on…. she’s brushing the brush.  Dedicated, that one.


Nature’s sunrise and sunset.  Autumn bliss.







Friday 2nd November 2018

We are back after a break for half-term, and the temperatures are dropping.  But not our spirits.  Blue sky, sunshine and the prospect of fireworks this weekend – what’s not to like?


Just before our regular plant identification session, Bridge drew our attention to a recently published book, “Botanical Illustration” by Leigh Ann Gale.  A leading botanical artist and tutor, Leigh Ann regularly features on courses offered on the Garden House website.  Especially exciting is the fact that the book includes illustrations by Vicky Sharman, an erstwhile Friday Group stalwart and all-round terrific gardener. Congratulations, Vicky!

Plant ident. 

The topic this week is – shrubs.  Here at Garden House, we love a good shrubbery  – very much like Monty Python’s knights who say “ni”.

Fatsia japonica


Such a useful stalwart planted in a shady situation.  It also looks stylish in a black container. Dark green, glossy, architectural leaves which are a matt soft green on the reverse.  If it gets leggy, just prune it back in the spring and it will respond well.  At this time of year it produces small umbel-like flowers, which Alan Titchmarsh has described as looking like tiny exploding fireworks. How appropriate!

Choisya ternata


Best in full sun, the Mexican orange blossom is an evergreen shrub which produces star-shaped, scented white flowers in the summer.  A popular plant, often used in city plantings as it is tolerant of pollution.  If pruned after spring/summer flowering, you may get more flowers in the autumn.  A more compact alternative for smaller gardens might be Choisya “Aztec Pearl”, with much slimmer leaves.  Choisya ternata “Sundance” has bright gold/yellow leaves.  This last one is a bit of a Marmite plant; you either love it or hate it.  Here it is:-


Rosa Frances E. Lester

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Not a shrub, admittedly, but lovely at this time of year.  A wonderful, fragrant, rambling rose, with strong, bushy growth.  It has masses of small single blooms in the early summer and, if left unpruned after flowering, it produces small vivid red hips in profusion in the autumn. Such a great rose, it well deserves its Award of Garden Merit from the R.H.S.


What you might call “a good doer”, this is a very diverse genus of plants, largely native to New Zealand.  They are valuable evergreen shrubs, mostly fairly compact, and are pretty tough characters.  Particularly good in seaside gardens, they like full sun, and are available in a range of colours from white, pink, through to shades of mauve and purple. They can be pruned hard back in spring, right back to a pair of shoots (but don’t cut into old, bare wood).  Softwood cuttings can be taken in the spring and should root fairly easily

Viburnum rhytidophyllum





The leatherleaf viburnum, with its deeply-corrugated, dark green leaves, likes full sun. Hardy, evergreen and easy, it is tolerant of different types of soil, although it does appreciate being sheltered from strong winds.       

Abelia x grandiflora

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A good, reliable and long-flowering garden shrub, abelia is semi-evergreen with attractive, glossy leaves.  Rather lax in its growth, it has small, fragrant trumpet-like flowers produced on long arching branches from mid-summer.  Grow in sun, ideally in a sheltered position.

Lonicera “Baggesen’s Gold”


This species of shrubby honeysuckle is particularly known for its use as a hedging plant, and is often used in place of box where a dwarf formal hedge is needed.  It can be planted in full sun or partial shade, but its evergreen, oval, yellow leaves become even more golden in the sunshine.  Another tough plant that tolerates a range of soils.

Griselinia littoralis


Originating in New Zealand, this shrub is a tough cookie – and another good doer.  Often seen grown as a hedge, it can tolerate salty conditions, and is therefore an obvious choice for coastal gardens.  It responds well to clipping and can be propagated by taking cuttings.

Buxus sempervirens


Box.  Used in so many English gardens through the ages, it is the perfect plant for topiary (well, it was until the scourge of box blight took hold).  Its small, glossy green leaves can be clipped and manicured into balls, cones and hedges – but a fair degree of continuing maintenance is required to achieve perfection!  Perhaps a couple of box balls grown in a pair of elegant terracotta pots would be sufficient?  Can be grown in sunny or shady conditions.

Prunus laurocerasus 

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Also known as English laurel and cherry laurel, this is a fast-growing evergreen species of cherry.  Arguably, it’s best given a lot of space so that it can grow unimpeded, showing off its handsome. long, glossy leaves and, in spring, its white candle-type flowers.  Frequently used as a hedge in suburban gardens, it is fairly drought resistant.  Good as a windbreak.

And now for something completely different….


The time for planting indoor bulbs has come.  Narcissus papyraceus “Ziva” (paperwhites), N. “Avalanche” (see above) and N. “Grand Soleil d’Or” make lovely Christmas centrepieces or gifts.  They take around six weeks to come into flower – and what you do is this:-

Take a bowl or possibly even some jam jars; drainage holes aren’t essential here.  Put some horticultural grit or a little polystyrene in the bottom.  Then fill either with grit or a mix of grit and compost. You could use decorative glass.  Plant bulbs with their tops showing – odd numbers work best.  If you like, finish off with horticultural grit or moss as a top dressing.  As the bulbs grow, you can add birch twigs to support them and this adds to the decorative effect.  The bowl needs to be kept somewhere cool and frost-free, but definitely not in a warm room, as they need to grow slowly for best results.  Keep soil just moist.  Then, hey presto!  Your family and friends will be well impressed.


As they grow, the bulbs will straighten up.  Let’s check this out from above.


There we are.  See you in six weeks time.

Jobs for the week:

Dig up dahlia tubers, wash off mud and leave to dry off for a couple of days.  These will be stored in perlite in crates and kept very slightly damp and frost-free in the shed.  It’s important not to let them dessicate – but equally they mustn’t rot off.  No pressure then…




Well-washed and drying off nicely.  Can’t say the same for the gardeners, unfortunately.

Dig up remaining salad crops from outside beds – making more space for planting out tulips in the coming weeks.


Now that’s what I call a salad bowl.

Work on the new fruit bed – remove remaining annuals and Salvia uliginosa

Continue programme of autumn lawn care.  Complete lawn-spiking, then brush in a top dressing.  Scatter some grass seed to improve the lawn.



Note the carefully measured areas – ready for the right amount of top dressing

Put the bananas in pyjamas.  The Musa is cut down to about 30cms, put into a plastic pot filled with compost, then wrapped with fleece before storing it in the frost-free greenhouse for overwintering.

Sempervirens plants need re-potting and put under cover for the winter.   They can cope with lower temperatures but hate getting wet.


These two hate getting wet too.

Prick out and pot up orlayas and other hardy annuals




Enjoy your bonfires and fireworks.  Keep safe!