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