Friday 25th January 2019

Grey and drizzly makes us grizzly.  But, cheer up, it’s Friday, and time for another Friday Group session at Garden House.


Plans are afoot to create a new path through the bed behind the hedge at Garden House;  this will make weeding easier and offer a new way to experience the garden in that area.  At this point, however, you have to use your imagination –


Plant ident.

Plants which help us get through the dark days, which are somehow even more appreciated and vivid as a result.

Galanthus nivalis


The snowdrop.  In French, it is the “perce-neige”.  Such a lovely thing, especially when seen in drifts near woodland.  It needs good drainage to flourish and a soil which doesn’t dry out in the summer, but can do well even on thin chalk soils.  Snowdrops probably do best in dappled shade.  It’s best to plant them “in the green” – that is, after flowering, and just as the foliage starts to die back.  (The foliage can be allowed to die back naturally.)  Snowdrops will self-seed and spread where happy, or can be increased by division.  There are many hundreds of snowdrop cultivars now available, some of them very expensive, and much sought after by keen ‘galanthophiles’.


These winter/spring flowering perennials prefer a gritty and poor-to-reasonably fertile soil.  There are a wide variety of types and colours available these days, but the early-flowering Crocus tommasinianus remains very popular.  It thrives best in partial shade and is easy to naturalise as it will self-seed.  Attractive to bees and other insects.  The large autumn crocus, Crocus speciosus, flowers much later in the year, and is equally delightful.

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Crocuses can be enjoyed indoors too –


Easiest to buy crocus bulbs as they are coming into flower; put them into little glass forcing vases so that their roots reach down into the water.  A group of them will make a lovely display –  and your neighbours green with envy at your horticultural prowess.

Iris reticulata’Pixie’


Iris reticulata are dwarf bulbous perennials.  Three large spreading petals alternate with three erect smaller petals.  ‘Pixie’ is a wonderful violet-blue and each of the “fall” petals is flecked with golden yellow and white.  In the garden, bulbs should be planted in well-drained soil in the autumn, about 8 -10 cms deep and 7- 10 cms apart.  In pots, they are frequently planted much closer together.  Often used in winter/spring container plantings and in rock gardens, they need plenty of sun.

Iris reticulata ‘George’

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The oyster shell grit used here shows off the lovely blooms – and discourages  interested parties


Like you two

Eranthis hyemalis


It’s not hard to discern that this little plant with its ruffled green bib is part of the buttercup family.  Known as the winter aconite, its golden-yellow glow is a cheery sight in winter.  In the wild, aconites grow largely in deciduous woodlands and en masse they can light up an otherwise dull area.  Cultivation is very similar to that of snowdrops – and, again, they do well on chalky soil.  They will self-seed, or the seed can be collected and immediately sown in pots, or they can be transplanted “in the green”.

This variety is actually part of the Eranthis hyemalis Cilicica Group


Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’

Twisted or corkscrew hazel is the mainstay of many a flower arranger’s vase in their winter/spring displays, and also provides a spectacular shape in the garden at this time of year, especially when seen against a sparkling blue sky.  Also known as Harry Lauder’s walking stick, it is a hardy, deciduous shrub/small tree with attractive, yellow, male catkins in the early spring, followed by edible nuts.  It requires little in the way of pruning, just enough to keep it in shape and not too bushy, and will grow in all types of soil, provided it doesn’t dry out.

Cornus mas

Bridge is a great fan of this deciduous shrub/small tree.  Known also as the cornelian cherry, it is currently bearing  small clusters of long-lasting, bright yellow flowers.  They open on bare wood in late winter, and are later followed by tart, edible, glossy red fruits which have the appearance of cherries. Cornus mas has ovate leaves which provide good colour in the autumn, when they turn reddish-purple.  An excellent alternative to witchhazel for those who don’t have acidic soils.  Can be propagated by hardwood cuttings at this time of year.


Jobs in the garden

Display crocuses in forcing jars


Tidy “Little Dixter”

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Looking good

Empty out the urns and prepare them for planting 

Use a mix of compost and pelleted chicken manure.  Eventually the urns will be planted up with these libertias


Prune apple trees


Be careful out there

Prune Cornus mas


That pruning saw looks dangerous.  I hope she’s not about to take the whole tree down


All well

Prune Rosa Cecile Brunner 


Pruning roses is a science and art form in itself, but there are general rules.  Always use good, clean, sharp secateurs; ensure cuts are cleanly made; all cuts should be made at an angle, above a node and away from the bud; remove dead and diseased wood; remove wood/stems which rub against others; maintain an open, airy centre to the plant; prune hard when first planting.  One can always consult a reputable website for expert advice on particular roses: the R.H.S., David Austin Roses and Classic Roses (Peter Beales) are three such.  Basically, be brave and don’t be intimidated!

Weed tulip tree bed.  Cut back plants as necessary

For example, curry plants should be cut back to new growth, whilst grasses can be cut hard back.

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I don’t mean to frighten you, but there are bears in these woods….



Sow seeds in the paper pots made last week


Recycling a-go-go


And water anything in the greenhouse that seems too dry

Cut back Rosa banksia ‘Lutea’ 



Smile please!

…and cut back Rosa glauca


That’s all very well, but have you seen these thorns?


Oh, well.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained

Prick out honesty seedlings


  That’s honesty, honestly.

Winter still-life


Effortlessly elegant and hard-working

Just like Friday Group














Friday 18th January 2019

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Not a drop of snow – but there are snowdrops!


We looked at a variety of indoor and outdoor plants, and identified them all as Euphorbias (spurges).  This is a large and very diverse genus of flowering plants (there are over 2,000 types) varying from annuals to shrubs and trees, coming from all over the world.  Even the Christmas poinsettia is a euphorbia.  What unites them is their milky white, poisonous sap and the shape and form of their heads of flowers.  It is essential that they (and all plants) be labelled correctly so that they can be uniquely identified.

Euphorbia splendens, or crown of thorns


Euphorbia myrsinites


Euphorbia mellifera


Euphorbia wulfenii


When writing labels, the genus name comes first, starting with a capital letter.  This is followed by the species name, written in lower case.  Often there is a third descriptor – the cultivar name – indicating that the plant is a cultivated variety.  The first letter of this name is also capitalized and the name itself is set within single quotation marks.

Here, for example,  is Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’

….not forgetting the label, written with a permanent ink marker


Plant Ident.

This week, Bridge focused our attention on the beauty of twigs and buds.  There are ways of identifying trees and shrubs, even without their flowers and leaves.

Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’


Buds appear symmetrically opposite each other on pale new shoots.  Eventually the buds present as creamy-pink before opening to produce pale pink flower heads, which contrast with the almost black, dissected foliage. An excellent ornamental plant which responds well to being cut hard back in the winter.

Cornus sp.


The stems of this wild dogwood are flushed red and green, typical of the species.



The vivid green stem of this willow is pliable and lends itself to being woven into decorative garden arches, living willow sculptures, baskets etc.

Carpinus betulus


The name hornbeam comes from the hardness of the timber: it seems that ‘horn’ means ‘hard’ and ‘beam’ means ‘tree’ in Old English. Very similar in appearance to beech, but hornbeam leaves are more deeply veined and the edges more noticeably serrated.

Betula jaquemontii


The shiny red-brown bark of the twig indicates it is from the silver birch.  However, as trees mature, it is their silvery-white bark which makes them so distinctive in winter.

Ginkgo biloba 



Also known as the Maidenhair tree, the bark of this ancient tree is pale grey-brown.  The buds emerge from stubby spurs.

 Fraxinus excelsior


Ash has the darkest of black buds.  Its bark is ash grey and smooth until the tree gets older, when fissures appear.  In spring, shoots emerge from the buds which produce clusters of small purple flowers.

Prunus serrulata ‘Tai Haku’


The fat little buds of the great white cherry glow chestnut brown and are clustered together.  The twigs are knobbly in appearance.

Cattus problemicus


This is a perennial difficulty when trying to do an accurate plant ident.

Jobs for the week:

Plant up window boxes


Using polystyrene to fill the base means that less compost is needed and the container is lighter to carry.  It also helps with drainage.  This box is going to be planted up with primulas.


Et voilà!


And this one is getting Festuca glauca and some fuschias

Take hardwood cuttings from prunings 


This philadelphus is in need of a good haircut, and now is a good time.  Pruning and cutting back shrubs like elder (Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’), Kerria japonica and Philadelphus coronarius ‘Aureus’ keeps them in check, thins them out and encourage strong new growth.  Taking hardwood cuttings from the prunings is a means of propagating new stock.  (We call it “free plants”.)



A few judicious snips and…..


Cover with grit and water.  Say the magic words.  Then it’s a waiting game.

Prune the apple tree

….. and prune the rosehips scrambling through the tree


Hmm.  I need to get a bit higher


This is more like it


I don’t think she’s coming down

Well, this looks like one way of getting her down









Work on tulip tree bed 

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The sun shines on the righteous

Prune the winter flowering honeysuckle

That’s Lonicera fragrantissima, for the Latin speakers amongst us, being pruned on the left-hand side of the photo below.  Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ will also be pruned, and pulmonarias added to the bed to provide spring interest.


It’s a hive of activity here.

Clear out the shed

The Marie Kondo life-changing magic of tidying.


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Any bidders?

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Something is definitely sparking joy




Well impressed

Pot up new camellias


Hope that’s ericaceous compost?

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It most certainly is!

The end of another productive session


Primulas looking prim and perfect











Friday 11th January 2019


It may be a grey January day, but at Garden House, there is always something to put a smile on your face.  And, inevitably, the skies clear and the sun comes out.

We tackled a photo plant ident. at Friday Group today – all images of plants looking good in winter gardens now.  Briefly, these were: Iris unguicularis; Viola odorata; Sarcococca hookeriana; Osmanthus x burkwoodii; Viburnum x bodnantense; Lonicera fragrantissima; Mahonia x intermedia ‘Winter Sun’; Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’; Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’; Daphne bholua.  Seek them out in a nursery or garden near you.  Inhale deeply when you find them; they all have wonderful fragrances.


Having studied, considered and discussed, we moved on to the practical plant ident. for the week.  Bridge brought in stems, leaves and flowers for our delectation.  Starting with:

Rubus thibetanus


Brutally thorny, the purple stems of this brambly thing look as if they have been white-washed.  Its common name is ‘ghost bramble’, and it does indeed have the aura of an apparition in the low, evening light of a winter garden.  Lovely, ferny leaves decorate the stems – there is a golden variety which is particularly pleasing.  Will cope with sun or partial shade and can be propagated from hardwood cuttings in the winter.  Has a tendency to spread, as it will root where its growing tips touch the soil.  Bridge advises cutting the whole lot to the ground in April.  Attractive and easy to grow, but keep your secateurs handy alongside a pair of heavy-duty, protective gloves.

Cyclamen coum Album


These hardy perennials, with kidney-shaped leaves, flower from winter through to spring.  This variety has a wonderful wash of magenta at the base of the white petals.  If grown in fertile and well-drained soil, and left undisturbed, they will naturalise and spread; their seeds are actually carried by ants!  Look out for the ‘Pewter Leaf’ group, with attractive silvery leaves and pink/ magenta flowers.  Stunning in clumps under trees and at the edges of woodland.


Libertia ‘Goldfinger’


Like the Bond villain of the same name, this evergreen plant is a tough cookie.  But there the similarity ends, because libertias are good and desirable individuals.  Adding verticality to planting schemes, the upright green/gold leaves turn golden orange in the winter and enliven borders and pots.   They love a sunny, well-drained position.  Good on chalk and in seaside gardens, their small, white  flowers, borne in summer, are not particularly remarkable.  Old and dead leaves need combing through and removing in the spring.  Propagate by division.

Kerria japonica ‘Golden Guinea’


Belonging to the Rosaceae family, Kerria japonica is an easy, deciduous shrub which grows to around 1.5 m.  Over the winter months, the stunning green stems of this shrub shine when lit by the sun.  By mid-spring, single golden-yellow flowers have opened – they have five petals, like roses.  The foliage is slightly toothed and is a vivid, fresh spring green.  After flowering, kerrias should be cut to the base to encourage strong growth.  Useful in borders when there are gaps to be filled.

Jobs for the week:

Divide up the libertias.  They need potting on and placing on the heated bench in the greenhouse. 



Check over and tidy up the pelargoniums. Currently under protection for their own good

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Divide clumps of Viola odorata in the top garden; pot up divisions 

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Remove bulbs of elephant garlic where too prolific


Like here

And weed beds 


She’s weeding

Make paper pots from newspaper


Here’s some she made earlier


Caught on camera reading the newspaper – demonstrating how easy it is for a gardener to get distracted

Pot on cuttings of Muehlenbeckia complexa and stipas.


Muehlenbeckias are as mad-looking as their names.  Scrambly things which can climb, twine and grow as a mound. Will grow anywhere.  Stipas are a genus of grasses, good in gardens generally and especially used in prairie-style plantings.

Prune Rosa ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ 



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It’s going to look a lot better for it

Feed hellebores and camellias with pelleted chicken manure.  Cut the old leaves off hellebores throughout the garden in order to reduce the risk of fungal disease and to better appreciate the flowers


Hunting hellebores


Found one.  Behind the Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’

Take hardwood cuttings of roses


Hardwood cuttings can be taken from many plants at this time of year (black elder, philadelphus, weigela, roses, dogwoods) and are easy to do.  Rose cuttings should be around 25 – 30 cms long.  Find a dormant bud towards the bottom and make a straight cut below it. Then locate another bud at the top end of the cutting and cut diagonally above it.  Push the bottom end into a pot of gritty compost (or into a trench in an out of the way part of the garden).  2/3 of the cutting should be below the soil.  Water, label, then wait for the magic to happen.


Have they labelled them?


Ta dah!  By summer, they should be well-rooted

Sow leeks, chillies and sweet peas; place on hot bench in greenhouse to encourage germination

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It looks snug in there


Then label and …..relax

Plant agapanthus bulbs; try to imagine them in the heat of summer


     Prune and feed roses in the top garden                                                                                                            IMG-20190114-WA0017.jpg

not forgetting to feed the gardeners



Quite literally, pots of work completed

Friday 4th January 2019

Blue sky. Silhouettes. Winter bareness. Skeletal structures.


Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’

And so we are back!  We discussed the joys (family, friends, children) and sorrows (excessive commercialism, oven burns) of Christmas and New Year.  We shared some of the happy times and places we had experienced over the festive season: a visit to the Saltmarsh Cafe after a walk at Cuckmere Haven; trips to Kew and Standen; walking to Rodmell;  riding a pony; open-air cooking over a fire; celebrating New Year doing the conga with neighbours in the street; and – perhaps a particular favourite – drinking hot chocolate with a shot of brandy outdoors.  Somewhat randomly, the phrase “Count the lollipops!” came up.  Random, maybe, but perhaps a good metaphor for life?

Plant Ident.

Winter plants.  There are plenty of stems, scents and flowers to enjoy now.

Clematis cirrhosa var. purpurascens ‘Freckles’


This early-flowering winter/spring specimen at Garden House is spectacular at the moment.  Full of nodding flowers and buds, in due course it will produce beautiful seedheads.  In Group 1 of the clematis pruning brigade, ‘Freckles’ loves to romp about in full sun, but its base and roots need to be planted in the shade.  It requires little in the way of routine pruning, but, if growth needs to be restricted, shoots can be cut back to healthy buds after flowering.  Tie-in plant as required.  Then feed with a slow-release general purpose fertiliser and mulch with well-rotted garden compost.

Camellia japonica ‘Little Bit’


Originating in northern India, China, Japan and Indonesia, camellias are the plant species responsible for bringing tea to the tables of the British aristocracy from the 17th century.  (Tea is made form the leaves of Camellia sinensis).  The British East India Company later brought camellia plants back for wealthy, discerning clients to use in their gardens.   Best in shaded woodland areas, camellias are elegant, evergreen, plants with exquisite flowers, which require acid soils to thrive.  They flower from winter through spring and can successfully be grown in pots, provided ericaceous compost and acidic fertilisers are used.  It’s best to use rainwater for watering where possible, as tap water contains calcium – especially in hard water areas.  Flowers can be single, semi-double or double and have different forms (e.g. paeony, anemone, rose).


‘Little Bit’ has anemone-form flowers.  Grown in a pot at Garden House, it can also be used in the border, against a wall or as a specimen plant.  Prune as required in the spring, after flowering.

Camellia sasanqua ‘White Pearl’


Another early-flowering variety, this one is semi-double.  Glossy, dark green leaves show off the white petals perfectly.  It’s a good idea to avoid an eastern aspect when planting camellias, as the morning sun can burn their buds, leading to a loss of flowers.

Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’

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This deciduous dogwood looks amazing when planted in quantity, as here at Wakehurst Place.  In recent years, this shrub has become very popular – and rightly so – as the winter garden is lit up by its flame-coloured stems.  Dogwoods love soils which hold moisture and so tend to do well in clay; they are wonderful planted near water or in groups in the border.  Plant in full sun and only prune once the plants are well-established, then cut back hard at the end of March.  Mulch muchly.

Lonicera fragrantissima

Also known as the winter-flowering honeysuckle, this shrubby plant grows quite big, sprawls, doesn’t look particularly beautiful – and yet, and yet.  From January – March small white flowers appear on leafless stems.  Smell them and you’ll understand.  Gorgeous!  Likes a fertile soil which is moist but well-drained.Prune as soon as it finishes flowering.

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’


Another top smeller.  A beautiful, evergreen shrub with gold margins edging the leaves; it likes a sheltered, sunny site.  The small clusters of pink/purple flowers are wonderfully fragrant.  It’s an expensive plant as it is hard to propagate.  Spendy, but worth it.  Top tip: whilst at Wakehurst, after enjoying the dogwoods, continue on to the Himalayan Glade, where you will be able to inhale the lemony-perfumed deliciousness of these daphnes.

Helleborus argutifolius


The Corsican hellebore is an evergreen, herbaceous perennial and one which garden designers frequently include in their planting portfolios.  Bridge prefers this to the perennial “stinking hellebore”, Helleborus foetidus.  (With a name like that, who wouldn’t?)  Pale green flowers are suspended over dark, glossy leaves with serrated edges.  Can take sun, shade and most soils – but for preference, errs on the side of neutral to alkaline soils.  To appreciate the flowers fully, remove faded or damaged leaves when the buds begin to open.

Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’


This upright, hardy, deciduous shrub can reach around 3 metres, and is another perfumed delight.  Reaching for the skies, its bare stems produce clusters of small, pink flowers before small, dark green leaves reappear.  Not especially exciting later in the year, this fabulous viburnum is a great plant for the winter months as it is so long-flowering.  Plant near a path or gate to enjoy the scent.  Remove old/damaged/weak branches after they have flowered – and mulch around the base.

Jobs for the week:

We need to crack on with work in the garden because Garden House will be opening its doors as part of the National Garden Scheme on March 8th 2019. Do check out the famous Yellow Book for further information, or visit the website

Pot on rooted cuttings


Hedera helix ‘Goldheart’.  Done.  Boom.

 Plant up the newly-prepared, raised vegetable bed


Meticulous planning and execution


Delicate handling


Satisfaction.  A good job, well done.


Broad beans (‘Aquadulce’).  All in a row.

Prick out hardy annual seedlings into 7 cm pots


Ridolfia segetum, unless I’m very much mistaken.

Work on Little Dixter


Think Christopher Lloyd; we want the complete experience.




Weed tulip beds.


Somehow, the phrase “Hoe, hoe, hoe!” comes to mind.

Check the coldframes for unwelcome visitors


 Like this little critter


Pinch out tips of ammis etc. to encourage growth

Pot on sweet pea seedlings


Plant tulbaghia bulbs near viburnums


 Plus various other jobs



Sort veg./ flower/salad/herb seeds 


Now how did they manage to get an indoor job?

Plant out wood anemones and a few more tulips (the last ones!) in the winter bed

Re-pot rooted streptocarpus cuttings

Pot them into a bark/compost mix.  And we also need to check the heated matting is working in the greenhouse.




In winter

all the singing is in

the tops of the trees

Mary Oliver