Friday 18th October 2019

October, and autumn is in full swing.


Seeds, berries, hips and haws everywhere

And on the Nature Table this week…


Now there’s a blast from the past!

This week for the Plant Ident. we looked at rock, alpine and other similar plants.  An alpine is a plant which naturally grows in an alpine climate – high up and above the tree line.  Some rain is fine, and they can cope with low temperatures but, crucially, they must have good drainage as they hate standing in cold, wet soil.  Don’t we all?

Good drainage can be provided by using a very gritty soil.  A mix of half horticultural grit and half multi-purpose compost is fine, as is a mix of one third grit, one third m-p compost and one third John Innes no. 2.

Provided the above criteria are met, they can be left outside all winter, although it’s wise to try and protect from too much rain, unless you want to stand outside with an umbrella over them every time the skies open.  Try putting them under the eaves of your house or under a porch during the wet months.   Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Hosta venusta


An adorably tiny little Hosta!  Or, botanically speaking, a miniature Hosta cultivar.  This is the smallest of the Hosta species: glossy, dark-green, ovate leaves complement the lavender/violet flowers which form in late summer/autumn.

Cotula hispida


Mat-forming perennial with feathery, silver-grey leaves.  a spreader.  Has bright yellow button-shaped flowers in the spring/summer.  Needs a sunny, well-drained position.

Sempervivum ‘Royal Ruby’    


Houseleeks are not true alpines, but need similar treatment.  They are small, hardy, low-growing plants needing sun and good drainage.  The rosettes have long leaves which turn an attractive dark red.

Armeria maritima ‘Rubrifolia’


A lovely little cushion-forming plant with dark red-bronze leaves and deep pink flowers.  Commonly known as Thrift.  As the name suggests, it’s a good performer in coastal areas.

Sedum pachychlados


A spreading alpine with small rosettes of blue-grey leaves.  White flowers in the summer.

Planting up alpine sinks

Most of us don’t have an alpine house to display a collection of these beauties, but alpine sinks are a perfect alternative, as it’s possible to create the conditions needed for the plants to thrive.  Moreover, troughs can easily be raised to enable better appreciation of these tiny horticultural jewels.  Wendy Bates from Rotherview Nursery near Hastings (a Chelsea Gold medallist!) recently ran a workshop at The Garden House demonstrating how to plant up hypertufa alpine troughs.  She favours either a traditional planting with rocks or using slate to create a ‘crevicing’ effect.


So, obviously, one of our jobs for the week had to be: –

Planting up alpine troughs.

First mix up the gritty compost


In with the hard landscaping


Impressive.  With no hesitation, he’s going for the creviced look

Meticulous attention to planting detail


Finishing off with a layer of grit



Loving it


Now that’s just showing off.

And now for something completely different

At this time of year, it’s a good idea to:-

Take cuttings of tender perennials  

Tender perennials will not survive outside over the winter, but by taking cuttings now, you can ensure there will be a good stock of plants for next year.  Some plants can, of course, be brought indoors, but space can be a problem unless you have a set of splendiferous glasshouses.

Cuttings are easily taken from the side shoots of tender perennials.  Take off a side shoot, cut just below a leaf node and remove some leaves to prevent too much water loss (transpiration).  The cutting should be around 5.0 – 7.5 cms.  If the remaining leaves are particularly large, some can be cut in half.  Ensure tools are clean and sharp.

Oak-Leaved Pelargonium cutting


Note how the cut has been made just below a leaf node.

Verbena bonariensis cuttings


Insert the cuttings around the sides of a pot filled to the top with multi-purpose compost mixed 50:50 with perlite (helps drainage).   Use a small dibber to create the hole and put the stems in right up to their remaining leaves.  Firm in and label!  Place on a heated bench or in a propagator.  Failing that, try a warm, well-lit windowsill.  Rooting can take place within 3 -4 days.  Some find that a plastic bag tied lightly around the pot is helpful. Or experiment with half a clear, plastic bottle inverted over the pot.


No room!  No room!  I got here first.  Taken root and everything.

Plectranthus ciliatus

Take a few of these little lovelies

and you can go from this…


…to this, by next summer


Amazing, but true.

We call it ‘plants for free’…

that’s propagation for you.

The danger is that they may rot off, so keep an eye on them.  Squirt with a little water every day to keep them moist, but don’t overwater.  When rooted, pot each cutting on into its own pot, using just multi-purpose compost this time.  Plants such as Salvia, Rosemary and Lavender are easy to propagate too.

Labelling the Lavender cuttings



A creche of potential baby plants

Other jobs for the week

Sow hardy annual seeds


Cover with a fine layer of compost or vermiculite.  Label and water carefully.

Put prepared hyacinth bulbs into forcing jars

Use gloves, as some people are allergic to handling the bulbs.  Prepared hyacinth bulbs have been refrigerated and therefore tricked into thinking that they have been through a winter.  Sit the bulb in the neck of the jar so that it is just touching the water.  Place in a cool, dark place (maybe a shed or garage) for 8 – 10 weeks; white roots will begin to grow.  When the hyacinth shoot has reached about 5 cms, bring the jar back into a cool, light room.  The hyacinth will then be able to develop slowly and will flower for a long time.  Too much warmth, and the plant will grow too quickly.


Prepared bulbs can also be grown in compost or just grit as they have all the food they need within the bulb itself.  Plant up to the neck of the bulb and follow the same procedure as above.

Re-pot Abutilons into clay pots.


Label. (Make a note of the colour if possible.)  Water and finish with a layer of grit; place in the greenhouse for the winter.

Would anyone like some quinces?


We might!


Pot on rooted willow cuttings. 

These are Salix purpurea ‘Nancy Saunders’.


Have they been watered?


Bear with, bear with…

Make a wreath from autumnal pickings


Don’t worry, it’s going to look glorious



Awesomely autumnal



Friday 11th October 2019

After successful forays into other people’s gardens last week, this Friday we returned to home territory.


And the Plant Ident. was all about grasses, many of which are looking spectacular now.  There are several good books on the topic, including Designing with Grasses by Neil Lucas and Grasses, Ferns, Mosses and Lichens by Roger Phillips.

It’s helpful, at this point, to remember the old adage:-

Rushes are Round, Sedges have Edges and Grasses are Glorious!

They do make a lovely display, both inside and out.


We’re talking verticality, impact, structure, shimmer, long periods of interest, movement,  inflorescence and seedheads.

Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’


The dwarf form of the ubiquitous Pampas Grass; a robust perennial, evergreen grass in the Poaceae family.  A bit sad when grown as a solitary specimen, perhaps, but magnificent when planted in bulk to catch the sun as part of a planned border.  Then its great white plumes of feathery beauty, held on erect stems, form an eye-catching feature from summer through autumn.  Lovely when planted with other grasses; has also been seen grown very effectively in large black pots.  Hardy and wind resistant.  Cut to the ground in spring.  Good for cut flower arrangements.  (h 1.5 m x w 1.0 m)

Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’


A terrific deciduous grass (dies back in the winter).  Very useful, as it tolerates partial shade as well as full sun, and can therefore light up darker areas of the garden.  Fairly low growing, (to about 30 cms), its slender leaves are striped yellow and green.  Likes well-drained but moist soil.  Good as edging and in pots.  Add well-rotted compost to the soil when planting and as a mulch in early spring.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Rosi’


A very architectural, late-flowering plant – in fact the Miscanthus Genus can flower well into the winter.  Has upright silvery-pink flowers.  Clump forming, deciduous and very desirable. Grows best in full sun in most well-drained but moist soils; cut back to about 15 cms in February.  (h 2.0 – 2.5 m)

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Punktchen’ is also highly recommended; its bright green leaves are marked with golden-yellow horizontal bands (h. 1.2 m)


Panicum virgatum ‘Warrior’


Switch Grasses are true North American prairie plants.  They look great en masse, providing interest, height and movement from late summer right through to winter.  After rain, droplets cling to the flowerheads and they glitter! ‘Warrior’ has very slim stems which hold delicate sprays of tiny purple flowers.  Other good varieties include ‘Shenandoah’ and ‘Heavy Metal’.  Deciduous.  (h. 1.2 m x w. 1.0 m)

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’


Chinese Fountain Grass. Hardy.  Likes full sun / partial shade.  This one needs moisture to get established and seems to particularly like clay soil!  A clump-forming perennial which produces arching spikes of creamy-white/purple – brown flowers looking like furry caterpillars!  Evergreen, but cut down in late February for fresh new growth.        (h. 0.6 m).  Pennisetum orientale is a variety that will grow on chalky soils.

Stipa tenuissima ‘Pony Tails’


Mexican Feather Grass is easy to grow from seed and will then go on to self seed around the garden.  Especially good for winter interest as the flower heads waft about in the breeze, providing movement.  Treat them as you would a pony’s mane – groom them!  Comb through to remove old and dead stems (in late summer), then sit back and watch them perform.  Maybe wear a cowboy hat.  Grows to about 0.6m tall.  (Bridge actually prefers Stipa tenuissima ‘Wind Whispers’, which is slightly taller and more graceful.  The ‘Pony Tails’ beg to differ.)

Jobs for the week:

The Compost Heap

It’s wet.  It’s unpleasant.  But there’s work to be done on the compost heap.

Guess who’s up for the challenge?


Guess who isn’t.

It’s fine if you dodge the raindrops


Getting properly stuck in.


Black gold, that is.

Winners of the Bridge Saunders Prize for commitment


and a welcome break for both


Organise and label the bulbs ready for planting

All 1.3 million of them.


Think we’ve found some

But we’ll need another few dozen trugs, that’s for sure.  There are Aconites, Crocuses, Irises, Muscari, Narcissi, Tulips, more Tulips, Hyacinths, species Tulips, Alliums, more Tulips……


This could take some time

Sow sweet pea seeds


First fill the root trainers with compost


Push a couple of seeds in

Label and water lightly

Then into the greenhouse with them –


and wait for the magic to begin

Pot on plants.  Place in the cold frame. 


Don’t worry – the plants, not you!

Take cuttings of tender perennials

These need to be placed on warmth to encourage rooting


Hang on – what’s that dark furry thing in the background?

Aniseed!  Testing out the heated matting?


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 I do this every year.  Quality control.

Prick out seedlings


Centaurea and Agrostemma will both feature in the garden next year


Beautifully centred and labelled

Mark out salad beds in greenhouse border

Fork over and rake border.  Use canes to divide up the beds.


Sow seeds and plant salads of: Mizuna, Rocket, Swiss Chard.  Label!

Work in the Pelargonium Palace

It’s a plastic-free zone, so plants need to be potted into clay pots


What a lotta terracotta



A quick stop to admire this little beauty



Sow seeds of Physalis, Scabious, Nigella papillosa ‘African Bride’, Papaver rhoeas…and more


Note that the tiniest seeds benefit from a light covering of vermiculite.  The pots are having a paddle to soak up some water

Let’s just see how things are doing in the greenhouse before we go…

All present and correct

Somebody’s still looking very cosy


Good camouflage, Aniseed!


Until next week



Friday 4th October 2019

Autumn bliss


Here’s the thing.  If ‘oct’ indicates the number ‘eight’, why is October the tenth month of the year?  A little conundrum to take your mind away from the everyday worries of climate change, shifting politics, global economics and what to have for dinner this evening.  For a minute or two at least.

This week we went walkabout and worked in other people’s gardens.  Always a fun thing to do, provided we keep our surrealist tendencies in check.  Usually there’s someone about to keep an eye on things…


…and a good job too

Here’s one group, receiving their instructions


On your marks…get set…

And they’re off!

Cut back annuals


to go


Plant up a shady bed

Liriope ‘Silvery Sunproof’




Nandina domestica 


Add ferns and pieces of wood

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Some plants can stay exactly where they are


How’s it looking?


My goodness.  That does look good


Yes, it does –


but I really must get on.


Now apply the same idea to the raised bed on the other side of the garden.

Plants for a sunny site

Alchemilla mollis and Sedum spectabile ‘Stardust’


and maybe Pennisetum?


Et voilà!


And from another angle?



Plant Agapanthus in a sunny spot

This looks promising


The fairies will keep an eye on them

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We will!


Some Agapanthus remain happily in their pots20191004_122327.jpg

Hard-core weeding

And here are the hard-core weed-excavator-experts


Their knowledge of weeds can literally be measured in bucketloads

One bucket


Two buckets


A bucketload of buckets


It’s all great fun, but is it time for tea yet?


Now that sounds like a good idea


Tools down!

I give you…


The Team!

(Just a short break, mind!)

The challenge: prune Arbutus unedo. 

Aka the Strawberry Tree


Weed the ‘holding beds’


Adding the finishing touches


A second hard-working group tame a trellis of triffids





And after



Now for the wall…

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Action shot


Let’s deal with this too, before we go

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A few snips and it’s like Elvis –

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“It’s all good”

Meanwhile, in a garden not too far away…

There are bulbs are going in


Lay them out

Don’t forget to plant them


We won’t!



So, a successful day all round.  As one garden owner put it: “Friday Group were brave and wonderful”.  One feels a F/G motto coming on.

And, by the way, ‘October’ was the eighth month of the ancient Roman calendar, which was replaced by the Julian calendar in 45 BCE.   It then became the tenth month!  The Julian calendar was itself replaced by the Gregorian calendar in the 16th century.

(Let’s hope it comes up in a pub quiz.)

Autumn bouquet 


Back to our usual venue next Friday






Friday 27th September 2019

OK.  Three guesses.  What season are we in now?


Beautiful and bountiful


Almost as nice as…..


But we’re getting ahead of ourselves

Plants and their names

All plants belong to a family, and the plants within that family have certain things in common.  However, they might not be immediately obvious to the naked eye!  For example, the Rose family (Rosaceae) is comprised not only of Roses, but also of Cotoneaster, Prunus, Alchemilla, Sorbus and Rubus, to name but a few.  As a rule, the flowers in this family all have five sepals and five petals.

Who knew?

The largest family among flowering plants is that of the Asteraceae.  Other families  include Ranunculaceae, Papaveraceae and Solanaceae.  Check ’em out!


This is such an important issue in horticulture and something we revisit every year at Friday Group.  The reason plants have Latin names (as well as common ones) is not to scare or intimidate gardeners, but so they can be specifically and universally identified.  Latin is an unchanging language and by using the system of ‘binomial nomenclature’ (a way of naming all living things), devised by Carl Linnaeus in the 18th century, we can specify exactly which organism we are concerned with.  Common plant names can vary from place to place and country to country, but the Latin name of a plant means that it can be uniquely identified anywhere in the world.

For example, a rose could be any number of colours, shapes, types.  However, Rosa moyesii ‘Geranium’ is this particular rose –  

Rosa moyesii ‘Geranium’


This is a wild rose cultivar, as should be apparent from the leaves.  A tall shrub rose with orange-red single flowers and pronounced anthers.  Come the autumn, it produces the most fabulous flagon-shaped hips – provided it hasn’t been dead-headed by an overly-enthusiastic gardener.

Labels are written as shown, using a fine, black, permanent marker.

Written on the label below is the name of a maple tree.  The first word gives the plant’s genus (a bit like a surname) and the second gives the species.  The species name tells us something about the plant – perhaps its colour/form, where it is from or maybe the person the plant is named after.  Here we can see that this maple tree (Acer) has leaves shaped like the palm of a hand (palmatum).  And we know that it is different from other types of maple tree.


The genus name is written starting with a capital letter, but the whole of the species name is written in lower case.  Other examples of the two-name system are: Helleborus orientalis; Campanula pyramidalis; Lavendula dentata.

When plant breeders develop new plants, often a third name is added, which shows that the plant has been bred by someone and given a name.  This cultivar (or variety) name, is written with a capital letter and is in single quotation marks.  For example: Betula utilis ‘Jacquemontii’ and Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’.


At Garden House we place labels in the 12.00 o’clock position, at the back of pots or trays.  When sowing seeds or planting seedlings, we also date the label at the top.

Plant Ident.

This week, Bridge talked about tender perennials – and below are examples of these.  (N.B. Note the labels which accompany them.)

Tender perennials are plants which have lifecycles of over two years PROVIDED they are kept frost-free over the winter months!  They can be kept in a heated greenhouse or indoors in a light and airy place, and can only go out into the garden again when all danger of frost has passed – usually around May (although this can vary from location to location).

One way of ensuring tender perennial plants will survive is to take plenty of cuttings.

Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’

The Chinese rice-paper plant is a tender perennial, and one of the best-looking exotics.    It has massive palm-shaped leaves; Architectural Plants describes it as a Fatsia japonica on steroids.


Salvia involucrata 

Salvias are part of the Lamiaceae family, members of which have lipped flowers and square stems – like Mint, Thyme, Phlomis and Lamiums.



Pelargonium ‘Paton’s Unique’


Helichrysum microphyllum


The (species) word microphyllum tells us that this plant has very small leaves.


Plectranthus argentatus


Plectranthus argentatus (the species word argentatus, means silver) is on the right, whilst on the left is Plectranthus ciliatus (careful how you pronounce it).

Jobs for the week:

Underneath the arches

We’re not going to dream our dreams away – because the beds there need weeding and clearing before being planted with Geraniums and Digitalis


Cornus mas

The Cornelian cherry needs its canopy raising – or, if you’re not terribly PC, its skirts need lifting.  Prune back the Philadelphus too.


We’re going in here, here and here…

Prune the Jasmine

It’s growing on one of the arches – and has got very “hairy”.  Cut back leggy stems to two buds.


Short back and sides?


Meticulous clearing up going on here

Work on cut flower border

Cut remaining flowers and remove some plants.  Dig over the bed, add compost, then set out Wallflowers so they can start to get their roots down.  Later, these will be moved to their intended flowering positions.


Work in progress


Labelled too!


Here’s one I prepared earlier

And the genus name?  Erysimum, of course!


Pot on Pelargonium cuttings in the upper greenhouse


Seed collecting

Collect seeds of Hollyhocks and Nigella papillosa ‘African Bride’


Nigella papillosa ‘African Bride’


Plant out Box plants

And plant up an old pair of boots with Sempervivums.  Well, why not?

Hope you used the right boots?


Excellent tool care

Remove teasels from beds

And take out all dead, damaged and diseased material.


Cut flowers to fill jugs in the Garden Room


Echoes of summer


As we worked, the Macmillan Coffee Morning was taking place, and we welcomed visitors in to enjoy the garden, coffee and cake.  Recipe books were on sale too.


It’s essential to check for quality…


Just a small piece, to see if it’s as delicious as it looks

It is!



someone’s been very thorough with their checking


Summer may have gone, but there are upsides to autumn