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!











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