Friday 22nd May 2020

Everything’s looking lovely in the Garden House garden. Purple Alliums sing against magenta Roses and chartreuse Euphorbias.

For our virtual meeting today, we zoomed all the way to Eastbourne to discover the delights of another member’s garden and the fruits of years of hard work.  Our hosts garden more or less directly on chalk, with just a few inches of topsoil, and also have to cope with a sloping rear garden which is exposed and windy at the top. Rebuilding wide, attractive steps which lead onto terraced areas and improving the soil with £££ of compost has improved matters considerably, and now the informal, naturalistic planting is a haven for wildlife of all sorts.

Roses abound. We were introduced to ‘Princess Anne’, ‘Alan Titchmarsh’ and the ‘Rambling Rector – all of whom were looking magnificent – demonstrating the importance of pruning, mulching, feeding and watering. A recently planted Rosa ‘For Your Eyes Only’ left us shaken and stirred – part of an ongoing planting project. The chalk bank at the top of the garden has Geraniums, false Valerian, Cotoneaster and Lavenders. Here the grass is only cut every 3 – 4 weeks and there are areas of long grass left uncut too. Wildflowers seed around – Vetches, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Clovers.

An island bed is planted with purple Thalictrum, orange Escholzia, Nepeta, Sweet Rocket, Cerinthe and the impressive, silvery Verbascum olympicum, which thrives on alkaline soils and is home to the mullein moth in its egg and caterpillar stages.

Plant Ident:

Argyranthemum ‘Jamaica Primrose’


A member of the Aster (not Astor) family, and native to the Canary Islands, this joyous daisy is a half-hardy perennial. Primrose yellow petals contrast with a darker centre and grey/green leaves. Its long-flowering period from May onward is aided by regular dead-heading and its height makes it useful in the border. Take cuttings in the autumn.

Nepeta gigantea ‘Six Hills Giant’


Lamiaceae family (sage/mint).  This perennial Catmint attracts bees and mint moths, smells great when crushed and can be pruned easily by giving it a number 3 razor cut. This will encourage growth and a further crop of flowers later in the season. Enjoys light, well-drained soil in full sun. Cats love it. Divide in the spring. The plant, not the cats.

Cerinthe major purpurescens


Aka, Honeywort.  A self-seeding annual; great in the border. Grey/green leaves and purple/blue drooping bell-like bracts. Good in borders, pots and vases. A fantastic plant to put alongside orange Californian poppies. A real zingy thingy.

Cistus x hybridus


Hybrid Rock Rose. A bushy, evergreen shrub with white flowers which last for only one day, although this is compensated for by the fact that it flowers for ages over the summer. Good on chalk – as you can see! Needs full sun, preferably a west-facing aspect and some shelter – should then be hardy.

Erigeron karvinskianus


Somehow ‘Mexican fleabane’ just doesn’t sound as good. Masses of small daisies are borne in profusion, which is also the name of a cultivar, starting white and maturing to pink. Loved by bees and butterflies. Flowers vigorously from May to October; self-seeds; great in nooks and crannies but not crooks and nannies. Full sun.

Jobs for the week:
Check your roses
Check. Looking good! Keep feeding and watering them.  As they go over, why not collect the petals and dry them in the sun? Make confetti or a wonderful potpourri.
Enjoy your Pelargoniums
Especially if they are Regal ones and live in a Pelargonium Palace.
Look after your tomato plants – there are various ways of growing them
1. Bush tomatoes need BIG pots (as big as a bucket) if they aren’t in the ground. No pinching out required. Full sun. Water and feed. This method is suitable for determinate tomatoes – ones which tend to ripen early, have a compact shape and ripen all around at the same time (usually over a period of about two weeks).
2. Peat-free Grow Bags can be used to plant determinate bush tomatoes against a hot sunny wall – no staking required.
3. Indeterminate tomatoes have a longer growth period, and can produce fruit until the frosts arrive.  They need pinching out, so check their armpits regularly. At Garden House, a frame of ten poles has been constructed in an outside bed and a cordon tomato planted at the base of each, to be trained upward.
In the same bed are crimson-flowered broad beans, courgettes , Calendula ‘Indian Prince’ (companion planting) and Nasturtiums (a somewhat scarily named sacrificial planting). The idea is that the Nasturtiums will attract the blackfly. Let’s hope someone’s told the blackfly. Use organic slug pellets, or you may find that the entire planting has been guzzled overnight by slimy critters.
4. Ring culture is a good way of growing indeterminate tomatoes in the greenhouse
Suitable for vine tomatoes such as Sungold, Gardeners’ Delight and Costoluto Fiorentino. There are two reservoirs, one for water and the other for feeding. The tomatoes produce feeder roots up their stems. Tomatoes planted 18 inches apart.  Note the companion planting of Tagetes – to discourage whitefly.
Plant Hydrangeas in a partially shady area 
Cuttings can be taken now. Cutting under a leaf joint, take a non-flowering shoot about 10 cms long from new growth. Cut the leaves in half to reduce moisture loss. Insert the cutting into gritty compost mixed with perlite. Place pot into a propagator. Spray with water, being careful not to soak the compost. Or rotting will ensue.
Continue to sow vegetables
Like Runner Beans. These are ‘Wisley Magic’; sow and stand back: Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum.
Prick out seedlings
As plants grow, consider whether they would benefit from staking.  Ammis and Cornflowers would. Cut out the first flower as it appears in annuals; this will encourage multiple side shoots, bushiness and floriferousnessessss.
Pot on established small plants.  Sow seeds.  
You can do a second sowing of things like Calendulas, Zinnias and Cosmos now.
Sow biennials for flowers next year   

First, order your seeds.  Hmmm….someone’s been busy.  

Try Foxgloves, Sweet Rocket, Sweet William, Anchusa ‘Loddon Blue’, Papaver nudicaule, Wallflowers. Plant the seedlings out in October to flower in May/June/July 2021. In their first year, they form a rosette of leaves; they then need a period of cold over the winter months (vernalisation) to induce flowering in the following year. Over the winter they don’t need any protection, as they are very hardy. A good choice for those without a greenhouse. The Sweet William Dianthus barbatus nigrescens ‘Sooty’ (below) is a lovely biennial to grow, and a favourite at Garden House. 
Equipment for the garden
Sometimes it’s good to research other aids to gardening which are now available.  Hotbins, for instance. A sealed, insulated unit designed to make compost very quickly at high temperatures. Eventually, you should be able to dispose of cooked food in the bin – something not advised in a regular compost heap. Can be sited (discreetly! – it’s not a thing of beauty) near the house for convenience. Needs careful management. One to think about.
Friday Group Challenge
Write a recipe for a container you have planted up in your garden. Note down the exact names of the cultivars. Think foliage, spillers, fillers and thrillers. Go wild! Take a photo now – and again later in the season.
So, until next week….. happy gardening!

Friday 15th May 2020

This week Friday Group was given another virtual tour around a fellow member’s garden. Such a treat – great design, beautifully planted and clearly much loved. It featured a change of level at the rear of the garden, a lawn with a meandering path, a summer house, a greenhouse, a pond, roses and many cottage garden plants.  Evergreens provided form and structure.
Here are some of the highlights:
The glorious Mimosa tree in full flower showing off masses of fragrant yellow flowers. Native to Australia, it flowers from February to May.  Now, that’s a long-running show.
Acer palmatum ‘Inaba-shidare’
Deciduous. A wonderful Japanese Maple with feathery, filigree, purple/burgundy foliage which turns bright crimson in the autumn.  An excellent specimen tree.
Betula utilis jacquemontii ‘Grayswood Ghost’ A.G.M.
The multi-stemmed Himalayan Silver Birch has glossy green leaves which turn yellow in the autumn months.  It is particularly known for its stunning ghostly-white peeling bark.  So tactile! Deciduous; it grows best in full sun or part shade.
Phillyrea latifolia
The Green Olive tree, planted and grown here as a hedge.  With its tight, lush, evergreen foliage, it’s a terrific plant; according to its owner, it only needs trimming once a year. Hardy and highly recommended. 
Pinus sylvestris ‘Nana’
The Dwarf Scots Pine is an evergreen conifer which can apparently live for up to 1,000 years. Sadly, we have yet to breed gardeners who can do the same. A fantastic, slow-growing, compact tree, suitable for sites where low maintenance is a priority.  Its distinctive flaking bark is orange/red-brown in colour, whilst the foliage is glaucous- blue/green. Needs full sun.
Jobs for the week:
Dead heading
Essential to encourage longer flowering in plants such as geums and other herbaceous perennials and annuals
Stake hardy annuals as necessary
Ammi majus and Cornflowers grow very tall and will do better with a little support.  As we all do.  Wire twist ties covered with brown paper are good for this job.
When growing hardy annuals, cut the emerging central flower out
This will encourage a bushy plant with more side shoots. If your neighbours ask what you’re doing you say (and here, repeat after me), “Oh, this? Just removing the apical dominance.”  Then waft indoors, modestly but confidently.
Above: the hardy annual Corn cockle – Agrostemma ‘Alba’. Note the fabulous markings, which look like embroidery.
Feeding and watering
Difficult to be precise when there are so many plants which have different needs – but this is where getting to know your individual darlings will pay off. Succulents don’t like too much water – yet roses can’t get enough. Generally speaking, use pelleted chicken manure to establish plants when planting them. About a small handful in a large planting hole, mixed in with good soil and compost. Feeding can be with Maxicrop Seaweed Concentrate (diluted), every couple of weeks. Roses love Uncle Tom’s Tonic, as does Uncle Tom.
Plan and plant up summer pots and troughs
Be daring.  How about Angelica with Aeoniums? Then you can move on to the ‘B’ section. Thinks about some new colour combinations (not talking underwear here). Oranges and purples?
Now is a good time to prune evergreens
For example – Griselinia, Pittosporum, Holly etc. We have now passed the magic date of 15th May when, hopefully, the danger of frost is over. (No liability accepted.) Feed and water the evergreens afterwards. Rosemary can be cut back too – but don’t cut into the old wood.  Prune it hard back to above where a couple of leaves are growing.  Use the opportunity to take some tip cuttings: cut under a leaf joint, giving a tip about 5 cms long. Take off the bottom leaves and insert into a small pot of gritty compost.
Continue to harden off half-hardy annuals, some of which can start to be planted out now
Keep a watchful eye on the temperature.  Don’t plant out the half-hardies which notoriously HATE the cold, like Rhodochitons, Mina Lobata and Morning Glory. Basically, you have to be like an over-anxious parent and hover over your seedlings day and night, being careful not to let them get too cold, too wet, too hot, too dry or too leggy. Exhausting. But this is why gin was invented.
Start a new project – how about a Rose Meadow?  
At Garden House roses are being planted along with Verbena bonariensis, Gaura lindheimeri, Orlaya grandiflora, Helichrysum, and annual grasses.  One of the roses is Rosa ‘For Your Eyes Only’ (see below). A stunner. The charity Perennial have advice on Rose Meadows and Peter Beales roses are always a good bet.
Sow biennials now
Much cheaper than buying the plants themselves.  Foxgloves, Wallflowers and Verbascums can be started off now to flower next year.
Take note of any gaps in planting 
Plan to fill them with suitable plants next year. Aquilegia ‘Black Barlow’ (above) is a good filler for what used to be called the ‘June gap’ – but which is now the ‘May gap’.  Perennial Dutch Irises are stylish – and you can never have too many Alliums.
Harden off and plant out tomato plants
They can go into large containers to grow into big, sturdy plants. Place them near a sunny wall for maximum warmth, sun and protection. Water well, but don’t over-water. They love being fed too. See advice on being an over-anxious parent above. Now is the time to bring that home-made watering can into use (The plastic milk carton.) Keep a note of the date of last feeding on the carton itself.
Watch out for slugs and snails
Some plants are a magnet for them.  Hostas are a particular delicacy, as are all your carefully sown salad crops. Use grit to discourage the slimy blighters. Be like Scar in The Lion King and “Be Prepared”.
The Chelsea Chop
If you can’t give yourself a haircut, for goodness sake do at least cut back your bushy herbaceous perennials. Things like Sedums, Geraniums, Heleniums, Asters and Phlox. Seems a tad scary, but this will prevent them from flopping and exposing their bare middles. ‘Nuff said. It will also encourage more flowers and sturdier growth.  I wish a haircut could do as much for me.
Lay in enormous supplies of gincake and chocolate. With the amount of weight this blogger has put on over Lockdown, no wonder it’s called bulk buying.
And………. rest!

Have a break.  Once you have completed your Latin For Horticulture homework, maybe move on to Japanese?  That’s what’s happening at Garden House. Check the labels.

For some, this Lockdown has clearly gone on for far too long.

Friday 8th May 2020

The wonderful Paulownia tomentosum at Garden House
Run out of things to do in Lockdown?  Given up on learning the banjo?  Mandarin homework too difficult?  Turned out yet another rubbish watercolour?  Take heart, my friends. There are Garden House tasks to accomplish, should you choose to accept them.  But first, the all important –
Plant Ident.
This week we were given a virtual tour round the beautiful garden of one of our very own Friday Group members. And it was simply lovely. Design, planting, atmosphere – it had it all. One area was selected for particular study –

Erodium pelargoniiflorum 

The Pelargonium-flowered storksbill, native to the Pyrenees and belonging to the Geraniaceae family.


Perennial, although a bit on the tender side. Looks like a geranium and is a lovely thing; its white flowers have maroon markings. Lax habit. Likes sun, but not wet, and prefers a neutral / alkaline soil. Good for pollinators. Self-seeds gently or can be propagated by basal cuttings from April – September. Add it to your list. 

Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ AGM

Bishop’s Hat or Barrenwort.  Belongs to the Berberidaceae (Barberry) family.  Native to Europe and Asia.


A vigorous, rhizomatous perennial which has bright yellow flowers held upright in an open spray.  They are more easily seen if the leaves are removed in late winter. The leaves are the plant’s best feature – beautifully shaped and opening light green with red tints. Really tough, good ground cover and will tolerate dry shade. Propagate by division after flowering or in the autumn.

Athyrium pictum ‘Silver Falls’      


The Painted Lady Fern, native to eastern Asia, belonging to the Cliff Fern family (Woodsiaceae).  A deciduous fern with creeping rhizomes. Grey-green fronds have purple-red midribs, and are heavily overlaid with silver and a central, purplish flush that develops. More silvery than Athyrium pictum (the Japanese Painted Fern) and keeps its colour for longer. Likes a shady sheltered site. Propagate by division in spring

Aquilegia formosa  


Aka, the Crimson, Red or Western Columbine is a form of Granny’s Bonnet. Part of the Ranunculaceae family and native to North America. The name ‘formosa’ means beautiful and this lovely plant is certainly that.  Best raised from seed, its red and yellow flowers give a pop of colour in the border, and have a light, airy quality.  A short-lived perennial. Likes sun or part shade.

Thalictrum delavayi album   

Another great plant from the Ranunculaceae family, Chinese Meadow Rue is a favourite in this garden.


Not in flower yet, but its foliage is attractive, with deeply divided pale green leaves. Beautiful, airy white flowers create a frothy haze in the summer border. Can reach up to 2 metres in height, so needs support. Likes a rich, fertile soil in part or full shade and not too dry.  Seed heads look good and it also makes a striking cut flower. Herbaceous, so dies down in the winter. Can divide in the spring or autumn if required.

Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’ 


Related to the edible buckwheat, Persicaria is from the Polygonaceae family. A dramatic and vigorous plant (estate agent’s jargon for “it’s a thug”) which grows to the owner’s height in her garden, but is kept in check.  Exotic purple-crimson foliage is the main attraction as the white flowers are nondescript.  Cut back in late autumn when the plant dies back.  Grow anywhere, but good in light shade; propagate by cuttings or division.

Saxifraga x urbium AGM       


Known from the 17th century as London Pride, this is part of the Saxifragaceae family. Bishop Walsham How (1823–1897) wrote a poem to the flower rebuking it for having the sin of pride. When told the flower had the name because Londoners were proud of it he wrote another poem apologising to it! A song by Noël Coward, celebrated London Pride and the plant became very popular in World War II.  Much loved in this garden, it forms a mat which provides great ground cover, with a mass of small pale pink rosette flowers.  A beautiful cut flower. Grows anywhere, even deep shade.  Easy to propagate by offsets.

Jobs for the week:
Finish removing flowered tulips bulbs from pots
… and also from the borders if required. You can let the foliage die down naturally and keep the bulbs somewhere cool, airy and dry until next year.
Start to cut back Euphorbias
As they go over, cut their flowering stems back to the base of the plant. Remember to take care as you do this job as the sap is toxic and an irritant to the skin, so full protective armour is required, including goggles. In keeping with the times, let’s call it P.P.E.
Plant up summer containers
At Garden House, drought tolerant plants like Pelargoniums, Argyranthemums and Acidanthera murielae are being used as far as possible. Trailers such as Helichrysum and Plectranthus (above) are invaluable.
Feeding plants
At this time of year, regular feeding makes a huge difference to their performance. A dilution of Maxicrop organic seaweed extract is ideal.  Why not adopt the idea of using an empty, plastic milk carton and punch some small holes in the lid. This creates a magnificent, if somewhat utilitarian, watering can with a fine rose spray. For free. We like that.
Feed your Roses
Uncle Tom’s Tonic is good. (Although my own Uncle Tom’s tonic was called whiskey.)
Rosa ‘Cecile Brunner’ demonstrating the floriferous results of skilful pruning earlier in the year.
Continue to harden off half-hardy annuals and tender perennials
Take them out in the day and back into the greenhouse/cold frame/under the bed at night. The 15th May isn’t far away, if that’s the date when you normally begin to plant out your tender lovelies.
If your seedlings are becoming etiolated…
Etiolated = long and leggy, like these Cosmos. As a rule, because they aren’t getting enough light. Try to get them outside during the day, or at least turn them around by 90 degrees each day to ensure they get as much light as possible. (It’s a time-consuming business, this gardening lark.)

When you plant them out, fill a module tray full pf compost and strike off the excess.  Ensure that you plant each seedling deeply. Coil the long root and stem all into the planting hole in a single cell. This is better than having an unstable long-stemmed seedling. Charles Dowding, the No-Dig guru, has some good You-Tube videos on this subject.

Spray SB Plant Invigorator on seedlings (including veg.) 
Reduce Dahlias to five stems
This will encourage bigger and better flowers.  First take your Dahlia.
Take off all but five stems
To increase your stock, pot up the cuttings; trim the stem just below a leaf joint
Chrysanthemum cuttings can also be taken now.
Other plants looking good at Garden House
Geranium pyrenaicum ‘Bill Wallis’: a tough, long-flowering self seeder. Essential.
Anchusa azurea ‘Loddon Royalist’. Bluer than blue Alkanet.
Tulbaghia ‘Purple Eye’. The delicate, slender-leaved ‘Society Garlic’. Gorgeous.
The Cynara Cardunculus is magnificent…
But just take a look at that Wisteria alba!

Friday 1st May 2020


Lockdown continues.  As do Zoom meetings.  Friday Group remain supportive, encouraging and inspirational.  Photos provide proof.



Plant ident.

Tulbaghia ‘Purple Eye’


Known as ‘Society Garlic’, this Tulbaghia is a clump forming perennial with slender leaves and pale lavender flowers which have a deep purple centre.  Suitable for borders or containers – it is valuable as it flowers for a long time,  Full sun and fertile, well-drained soils suit it beautifully.

Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’


Scarlet flowers held on long stems bloom prolifically from mid-spring.  Regular dead-heading prolongs their lengthy flowering period – and, in fact, they may flower again later in the season.  Plant in full sun.  Good in most soils, including sandy ones.

Euphorbia x arendsii

A cross between E. walichii and E. griffithii ‘Dixter’, this splendid specimen flourishes and glows in the sunshine, which helps to develop its wonderful colour.  Clump-forming and fully hardy, grows to around 120 cms tall.


Astrantia ‘Buckland’


Masterwort is best grown in semi-shade. Compact umbels of pincushion-shaped flowers are surrounded by bracts – in this instance, the flowers are a delicate shade of pink, whilst the bracts are white with green tips. A good cut flower which dries well. Grows to around 90 cms.

Angelica taiwaniana


A spectacular architectural plant, with purple-bracted umbels of creamy white flowers which are followed by perfumed seeds.  Fabulous foliage. Will grow in sun or partial shade.  Monocarpic, which means it generally takes 3 years to flower, rather like Echiums.  Sets seed and dies after flowering.  Makes a real statement in the border – but why not try it in a pot?  Go mad in Lockdown and give it a go.

Tasks for the week:

Pull out Spanish bluebells
So inferior to our own dear native bluebells. The invaders have wide, strappy leaves and flowers all around the stem. The natives (see below) have slimmer leaves, delicate flowers on one side only, are a darker blue and more fragrant. Sounds like the judge’s reflection on Mary Archer in his summing up of her husband’s court case.
Plant out Gladioli
Not too late to order them from somewhere like Parkers’ Wholesale.  At Garden House,  ‘Espresso’ and ‘Plum Tart’ are being planted amongst Stipa tenuissima.  (Sounds like a particularly good coffee break.)  Also being used is Gladiolus papilio ‘Ruby’, a species glad.
Take tulips out of their pots
Once they have finished flowering and either a) get rid of them b) plant them into borders or c) put them into boxes to dry out to be re-planted later in the year.
Replace said tulips with summer bedding
First take out about 30 cms of compost, mix some new compost with organic feed such as pelleted chicken manure and put into the pots. Harden off bedding plants gradually before planting out. At Garden House, the magic date is 15th May, but other dates are available.
Pot on cuttings (e.g. of tender perennials) and seedlings 
Tender perennials include things like Pelargoniums, those prized potted plants posing in the Pelargonium Palace.  Don’t forget to water and label.  You think you’ll remember what they are.  You won’t.
Don’t plant Dahlias out just yet
However, do take cuttings if you so wish. Leave 5 stems on the original plant to promote better and larger flowers. Take cuttings from under a leaf joint, insert into gritty compost and they will hopefully develop and flower next year.
Time to give your grasses the Leonard of London treatment. Use an afro comb to channel your inner Teasy-Weasy and remove old thatch from the plants. Apply the horticultural equivalent of conditioner – a handful of pelleted chicken poo, and water well. Luxuriant and gorgeously glossy growth should result.
Sow beetroot and other vegetable seeds
Radishes, French beans and Runner beans.  Have a go at something new – Sweetcorn?  Squashes?  Sow half-hardy annuals: Cosmos, Zinnias etc.
Cut back the long growth of Penstemons and also Allium leaves
Tidies things up if they are looking tatty.
Now relax and enjoy it all.  Here we enjoy a beautiful Iris we fondly call Iris ‘Liz Bradshaw’
Well done, gardeners all! Time to head for the teapot and the Hobnobs.