Friday 24th January 2020

Heading the bill this week:

Narcissus papyraceus


The support act is Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’

Sounds like a Death Metal band

Plant ident:

Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’

Aka ‘Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick.’  Don’t ask.  If you were to meet it in the summer, you might pass it by with a pitying glance, but the structure of its winter silhouette is fabulous.  Golden-yellow catkins grace the small tree from late winter until its rather nasty-looking leaves appear. Pity. The Corkscrew Hazel can only be propagated by grafting, not cuttings.

Ranunculus ficaria


Or, Common Celandine.  Many consider this to be a weed, a true weed and nothing but a weed.  Looks innocuous enough, but the little brute is invasive and then some.  The tiny nodules (tubercle/bulbils) on the roots, are on a mission to take over your garden and then the world.  However, they come and go in a flash, and their bright yellow flowers can be a welcome sight in the grey days of winter.  But not recommended, unless you absolutely love weeding.  Try its naughty relation Ranunculus ‘Brazen Hussy’ instead.

Valerianella locusta


Corn salad. Pull the bally stuff out. Nuff said.

Grevillea rosmarinifolia


An evergreen, prickly, acid-loving plant from Australia.  Hates chalky soils!  Loves poor sandy soils. Thrives on neglect.  Good for hedging and coastal areas.  Its needle-like foliage resembles that of Rosemary, and it has curiously-shaped bright pink/flame coloured flowers.

Euonymous japonicus


Somewhat ubiquitous – and regularly seen in unglamorous public spaces like car parks, this tough little bruiser is nonetheless worthwhile.  A good windbreaker, great for coastal planting and has those fascinating pink berries from which bright orange seeds burst.

Osmanthus x burkwoodii


The calmly elegant Osmanthus is a great garden shrub. Evergreen, bears small, beautifully scented, flowers in spring and responds well to pruning and to having its canopy raised.  Full sun or partial shade.  Likes all sorts of soil types, including chalk.  Very tough and very useful.

x Fatshedera lizei


A cross between two plants of different genera, Fatsia and Hedera (Ivy), the Fat-Headed Lizzie can be encouraged to climb or recline.  However, it won’t cling like ivy, so ideally needs a little support.  Produces flowers like those of its parents.  Evergreen and best in shade or semi-shade.  Responds well to hard pruning.  Interesting Fact no. 972:  it’s fine as an indoor plant too.  Interesting Fact no 973: it’s fly pollinated.

Jobs for the week:

Nothing to do this week.  It’s winter, so we can sit around, read magazines, drink coffee and eat cake.

Just kidding.  There’s always something to do

Construct new teepee to support Rosa ‘Wollerton Old Hall’

First make the teepee.  Then prune the rose and tie-in to new structure.


Exemplary knot-tying skills

Nota bene


Or maybe that should be Knota bene?


Jokes in Latin now?

Prune Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’

Using clean, sharp pruners, take the three oldest stems right down to the base.  All deciduous shrubs can be cut hard back in this way around now.  So, we go from this…


to this


Which will look and smell wonderful indoors.  A win – win situation.

Prune Wisteria

Dealing with Wisteria can be a bit of a mysteria.  Needs pruning twice a year – once now, and again later, during the summer.  For now, the laterals on the main stems need to be shortened.  Take back to about two buds.  The long, whippy growth can be dealt with later in the year.


Cripey! That looks like a serious piece of kit.

What’s it called?



A feminist discussion on the inappropriate naming of tools followed


Clear the area around the pond

Cut back dead material and do a general tidy up.


She’s literally reflecting


Work at an angle of 45 degrees

Then it’s on to the paths and some precision weeding.  It takes years of training to achieve this level of perfection.


And hours of osteopathy to recover from the after effects.


Work on rockery 

Things have got a little out of hand and somewhat overgrown.



It is looking rather crowded. One might, perhaps, opine that this garden feature has become ever so slightly overplanted? Best to keep ones opinions to oneself. One might find oneself working in the compost heap next week

I’m saying nothing


Lips sealed.

Plant alpines in two wine boxes

Holes have been drilled into the box bases. Use a free-draining mix of compost and horticultural grit. Let your creative urges run wild


But first, find the grit

Plan the layout of the plants


Slate will complete the alpine vibe


Wine box upcycling at its best


Now that’s a bonzer job! Must be an Australian wine box.

Sow more Lathyrus odoratus

To extend the flowering season, successional sowings of these seeds are needed – thus sustaining summer Sweet Pea scent. Super!


Then it’s time for a quick look around the garden


Sow radish seeds into compost in lengths of guttering

Sounds strange, but works like a dream.  Put the guttering into the greenhouse for an early crop.  So easy to slide out.


Work on the herb garden

Tenderly tend the herbs. Weed, cut back, tidy.  Plant Oregano


Pray it survives

Transplant Gaura lindheimeri 

We have grown the cultivar ‘Whirling Butterflies’ from seed, and the seedlings will now be moved into pots. Gauras are beautiful short-lived perennials, generally lasting from 3 – 5 years.  Those already growing in the garden need cutting back now.


Oh dear! More praying going on in the greenhouse….


All is well


Plant up containers ready for the G/H Open Day for the National Garden Scheme 

Winter plants like Hedera and Polyanthus can go in, and some Narcissi too. Those dratted squirrels have already eaten the tops of the crocuses which were planted in them last year.  Now it’s personal.




Cut back old leaves on Hellebores. Tidy up the Periwinkle

And feed the Hellebores with a little pelleted chicken manure.


Not sure who’s winning here; that periwinkle seems to be growing even as it’s being cut back.


Pretty as a picture

Excuse me?


Oh, but not as pretty as you.


Glad we got that sorted out.  Categorically.












Friday 17th January 2020


A pale and pining girl, head bowed, heart gnawed,

 whose figure nods and shivers in a shawl

of fine white wool, has suddenly appeared

in the damp woods, as mild and mute as snowfall.

(‘Snowdrop’ by Alice Oswald)

It’s started!  The new year, and sightings of the first flowers are in.

Scented Plants To Look Out For In Winter / Spring

Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ (Winter-flowering Cherry); Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’; Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ (Witch hazel); Iris unguicularis; Lonicera fragrantissima (Winter honeysuckle); Viola odorata (Sweet violet); Osmanthus burkwoodii; Sarcococca hookeriana; Viburnum farreri; Mahonia japonica

Iris unguicularis


Mahonia japonica


All smell delicious.  Let your nose lead you to them

We spent some time trying to identify the plants from photos… only to find out later that the answers were on the reverse.  Next time we’ll all get 100%.









Then on to the Plant Ident.

Hedera helix ‘Goldheart’


Ivy comes in so many forms. On the R.H.S. website, this variegated type is called Hedera helix ‘Oro di Bogliasco’ – but we know it better as ‘Goldheart’.  (The Italian sounds more romantic.)  Best in full sun where it can develop its wonderful yellow colouring, but will be fine in partial shade.  Can also deal with dry situations.  Lovely red/purple stems, yellow/green autumn flowers and then small black spherical fruits.  Ivy is a fantastic plant for those wishing to encourage wildlife. That would be all of us then.

Cornus mas


Cornelian Cherry has an attractive (and silent) bark.  A great tree for a small garden.  January brings clusters of scented, soft-yellow flowers on bare wood – stunning when lit by the sun and seen against a winter-blue sky. Good shape. Produces glossy, red, cherry-like fruits in the spring.  Edible? Yes, but not particularly good to taste. Autumn foliage is purple. This tree delivers!20200117_125841-1

Acanthus mollis


With its huge leaves, the herbaceous Acanthus is an impressive, decorative foliage plant.  A touch of the imperial about it. That’s why the ancients incorporated their design into their architecture. Unfortunately, it’s not only attractive to us, it’s also beloved by slugs and snails. They love it so much they could eat it. And do. And therein lies the difficulty.  Will grow in shade or sun, though hot, dry conditions suit it best. Acanthus will spread, so beware. Can look amazing grown in massive pots.

Rubus thibetanus


Spiky, difficult, idiosyncratic, challenging.  We all have friends like this.  And we need them, as they are attractive, fascinating and offer something different.  A member of the Rosaceae family, and sometimes referred to as ‘ghost bramble’, it takes on a white bloom in winter and looks startling in large numbers and lit by the sun. Wisley has a spectacular planting of them. Benefits from being cut down at the end of February.  The plants, not the friends.

Iris reticulata ‘Pauline’


What a beauty!  Narrow, erect, green leaves set off the deep purple flowers of this dwarf bulbous iris.  The ‘falls’ look and feel like velvet, and speckled markings indicate landing points for early bees in their search for pollen. Scented. Good in pots or rockeries.


Galanthis nivalis


The Snowdrop.  Exquisite.  An early precursor of spring and such a hopeful sign.  Green markings brand the nodding white flowers which appear in late winter. They look lovely when seen in formal arrangements in little terracotta pots – ‘Snowdrop Theatres’, but arguably they’re at their best when seen in a natural setting, in self-sown drifts, in great quantity.  For those of us learning French-in-a-year-the-Garden-House-way, they are known as ‘Perce-neige’.  C’est charmant, n’est-ce pas?

Jobs for the week:

Borders – rake, remove, restore 

Rake leaves off, remove to compost bin, loosen the soil and add compost as required, restoring order and beauty.  Remove leaves on hellebores to prevent leaf spot disease and to better appreciate the new buds coming through.


Cut down the Clematis in the Tulip Tree bed

Then refer to above work detail for further instructions


Got it!


Here we go!


Weed terrace beds and cut back Sambucus nigra


The Black Elder (any relation to Darth Vader?) now needs to be pruned hard in order to encourage growth for the coming year.  Propagate the hardwood cuttings – we’ll have a forest of them soon.  The Salix ‘Nancy Saunders’ also needs cutting back.  “Cut Nancy right down to the ground,” comes the instruction.  Seems harsh.

Cut back herbaceous perennials. Prune Lonicera ‘Lemon and Lime’ to shape


Er, what kind of shape?

Propagate hardwood cuttings of Lonicera and Hebe

Use sharp, clean secateurs

Plant Rose and two Clematis near the top terrace sun-seat

Or, ‘The Bus Stop’ as some unkindly call it. We tell the Rambling Rose to hold on very tight, please.  Plant all three deeply.

Continue pruning roses in the top garden

Potting on in the greenhouse.  

Those plants won’t do it by themselves, you know


There are plenty of pots everywhere.

Seek out, find, identify and label the roses.  

Your mission. Should you choose to accept it. Bare stems. No flowers. Good luck with that.


A twig with thorns?

I’m guessing it’s a rose

Plant up large boxes with Hyacinth and Tulip bulbs

Make drainage holes in the box bases. And it would be good to finish off the look with some moss.


Easy. I can do this with my eyes shut


Properly professional

And this piece of creativity went down very well too…


Meanwhile…. someone has to keep an eye on things


There’s no need to be scared.  It’s just quality control…


Perhaps I’ll just take five….


…or ten

Go through the seeds in the shed and put them into packets

Maybe take some to Brighton’s Seedy Sunday to sell/swap




Looks good enough to eat.  But don’t.

Friday 10th January 2020

New year, new decade.  It seems ages since we were last here, but we’re back and good to go 


Well, once we get our dose of caffeine, we’ll be good to go

Won’t we?


Of course!

So, without further ado, it’s straight onto the…

Plant ident:   

And what’s in the garden now? Bulbs are starting to come through… 


…and there are lots of other things to enjoy

Vinca major

This is a lovely form, believed to be Vinca major.  This has been flowering every week of the year – and the present week is no exception.  Upright in form, with a delicate blue flower, the glossy green leaves display marked veining.  A delight, and an excellent choice for ground cover.

Arum italicum subsp ‘Marmoratum’


Its stunning arrow-shaped, variegated leaves are beautiful in their own right; in summer, creamy-white spathes (the flowers) emerge, giving way to a cluster of green berries which turn a vivid orange/red in autumn.

Iris unguicularis


The Algerian Iris – a tough little performer.  The rhizomes are happiest at the base of a sunny, south-facing wall.  A real beauty, which flowers from November through to the end of February, and its lavender-blue flowers are scented.  Very undemanding, it thrives on poor soil, dry conditions and neglect. The renowned gardener E. Bowles commented that, “the older a clump gets, the better it flowers”.  Plant alongside drought tolerant shrubs and bulbs.

Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles’


A winter-flowering variety, which can take its time to get established.  But well worth giving it a go – just look at the results! Now is a good time to plant it.  From the Ranunculaceae family – the same as Hellebores

Cyclamen coum


Perfect small white flowers contrast with rounded, dark green leaves in the plant shown above, but a wide range of colours and foliage is available.  Delicate loveliness, but don’t be fooled, this is a tough little perennial, flowering away in winter and early spring. Interesting fact number 5,193.  Did you know that the seeds of these Cyclamen are actually distributed by ants and bees? (I know!) Apparently, the stems curl, bringing the seed pod down to the ground.  The seeds are collected by ants and bees which eat the sticky seed coat, but leave the seeds themselves!   

One other must-have for this time of year is a Daphne.  If you haven’t got one, rectify the situation immediately.  Either Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ or Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’. Scentsational! 

Jobs for the week:

It may be gloomy and cold out there, but there’s plenty to do.  

Compost control and management

First remove composted material


Easier said than done


Then on to the amber bay

Churn and turn 

Apply newly retrieved compost to flower beds

Remove rose prunings (aka squirrel deterrents) from flower beds.  They failed.  Order cannons.  This is war.  Apply compost to improve soil structure and appearance.

Pot on Ranunculus ‘Pauline Violet’ seedlings

No problem!


Seed sowing

This time of year is when heated mats and electric propagators come into their own; just gives seeds a head start.  We are sowing: Nicotiana mutabilis, Cobaea scandens, Cleome, Swiss chard, Spinach, Giant Red Mustard, Antirrhinums, Coriander, Parsley (soak the seeds in warm water prior to sowing). And Rue. Phew!



Better crack on, there’s a lot to do

Prune the hybrid tea roses and apply feed to all roses


Research materials – check

Tools for the job – check

Workers – where are the workers?

They checked out


Ah! That’s where they’ve got to   


Back to it

Prick out seedlings

Here we have les amies des Ammis doing une tâche splendide.  Friday Group aims to be trilingual by the end of the year.  English, French and Latin


Yes! Oui! Ita vero!

These are Eschscholzia ‘Ivory Castle’.  They are hardy annuals, so can be left outside through the winter – but keep an eye on them, they won’t like sitting in pools of water indefinitely.  Would you?

img-20200115-wa0008And thick and fast they came at last


More and more seedlings.  All looking good.

General potting-on work


Generally pottering on with potting on

Work on Little Dixter

Remove all existing pots.  Tidy and clean shelving. Set out pots of Iris and Narcissi. New year, new term, new start.


Work in progress


Well, that’s a lovely job

Simple, elegant, refined

Pelargonium Palace

Deadheading as required; water the pots – but don’t soak them; tidy the greenhouse and sweep through


Taking them out for an airing?


Pelargoniums on parade

Cut back perennials in the top garden

Remove as much wild garlic as possible from the bed


Now, I don’t mean to be funny, but I could be here until 2030 doing that….

Weed and tidy the bed outside the shelter

Remove the green-leaved Celandine (Ranunculus).  They tend to take over… these poor Cyclamen are being throttled


 Leave R. ‘Brazen Hussy’


A dark form of the common celandine with shiny bronze/black foliage.  Best not to make any jokes about brazen hussies.  

Sort through seed boxes and organise

I’m sorting

And I’m organising

Order restored, it’s time to leave


Garden House 10th January 2020