Friday 6th November 2020

Lockdown Number Two. So, we’re Zooming. But at least we get to see everyone! ‘Every cloud….’ etc. etc.

Plant Ident.

Autumnal delights at Garden House, with the emphasis on colour.

Rhus typhina ‘Dissecta

This one sets everyone on fire as it blazes away now. A small, spreading, deciduous dome-shaped tree which grows to around 3 metres. Female forms have odd upright cone-shaped clusters of red berries which develop after the flowers. The Stag’s Horn Sumach develops a fiery palette of oranges, reds, yellows and greens in the autumn. Gorgeous, finely-cut leaves and tactile furry stems (like stags’ horns, obvs.) – and this one doesn’t sucker. If you have the other variety (Rhus typhina) then you are suckered. It travels all over the place.


A flower which is becoming popular again – and apparently moving away from its associations with old men and allotments. (Seems harsh.) Get ahead of the game and plant some immediately so you’ll be the horticultural fashionista of your neighbourhood. They’re hardy (a word any gardener loves to hear) and easy to strike from cuttings. An amazing array of varieties, from singles to doubles to spiders and beyond. We looked at a lovely white cultivar called C. ‘Old White’, also referred to as C. ‘E.H. Wilson’. Simple and beautiful. Also smitten with a dusky pink one, as shown in the, seemingly, casually thrown together arrangement below. Available from the excellent Norfolk based nursery Plantsman’s Preference. Credit cards at the ready.

Persicaria ‘Marchant’s Red’

One of Graham Gough’s selections, and named for his nursery. Persicarias are related to Dock, and have the rough foliage associated with them. Choose your cultivar carefully and you will enjoy the joyful splash of long-lasting colour that Persicaria can give in shade. Vigorous in growth, so may need taming, but an excellent stalwart. This one has a terrific colour and fatter flowers than others. Fat is good.

Nerine bowdenii

A surprisingly rich, bright shot of pink can be spotted in gardens at this time of year. Situated in a hot spot, often near a wall, the showy Nerines are on display, and flower for at least six weeks. In addition to the bright pink varieties, there are pale pinks, reds and whites. They have strap-like leaves, rather like that of Agapanthus. We admired N. bowdenii ‘Alba’ in particular, with its pure white blooms held above strong stems. Originating in South Africa, it’s not surprising that some cultivars of these bulbs are somewhat tender in our cold, dank, English soils. Hence the need for them to be tucked into the hottest, most sheltered part of the garden, where they can bake happily. Or, if you have such things, put them into a greenhouse/conservatory. Good as a cut flower as well as in the border.


Two particularly stand out at the moment – Salvia confertiflora and Salvia ‘Amistad’. Salvias are part of the Lamiaceae family and have the typical square stems associated with that group. Grow in a sunny position in well-drained soil. Their extended tubular flowers are nectar/pollen rich and attractive to insects. Deadhead to extend the flowering period. Cuttings are easy to take and root.

S. confertiflora (above) is a stunning velvety red with red stems, contrasting with good, green foliage. Half-hardy, but can be hardy in warm, sheltered locations – though it’s always best to take cuttings to ensure plants for the future. Keep the cuttings frost free over winter.

‘Amistad’ has become one of the most popular Salvia cultivars. Very long-flowering (months and months); can be tender, but survives the winter in Brighton and other reasonably sheltered places. The most fabulous deep purple flowers. Don’t cut back Salvias until spring, as it encourages them into growth.

Fuchsia ‘Thalia’

A tender Fuchsia, but so beautiful and still flowering. Vigorous and upright in growth, it displays long, drooping, tubular orange-red flowers and has attractive green/bronze veined foliage. At Garden House, it’s looking good in a sunny position in a pot with Aeoniums. Needs winter protection , but is dead easy from cuttings, so take some. Otherwise it won’t be dead easy. Just dead. A.G.M. and, hopefully, not R.I.P.

Physalis alkekengi

Who doesn’t love a Chinese Lantern? Emblematic of autumn and so useful in the garden now as well as indoors in a flower arrangement. Hardy perennials, they can be invasive; they are in the Solanaceae family, and their white flowers are very like that of the potato. It is their bright orange-red seed pods that are so attractive in the garden at the moment. Some people use them as Christmas decorations, casting them casually yet artfully, hither and thither over mantlepieces, windowsills and tables together with other natural and artificial elements. You can even insert little Christmas fairy lights into the pods and they will glow beautifully. That’s the decs sorted then! You’re welcome.

Rosa ‘Francis E. Lester’

A long-time fave at Garden House where it romps around over an arch near the potting shed. Loved for its prolific flowering, its large, single pink/white flowers and for the plethora of small, vibrant orangey-red rose hips which follow in the autumn. A good rambler, performing over a long period of time. Scented.

Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’

An absolutely lovely, small, deciduous tree, which can be a little tricky to grow. Needs to be placed out of the wind. Clusters of bright pink pea-flowers form on the branches and stems just before the leaves emerge. The heart-shaped leaves are a glorious deep red/purple and have dramatic autumn colour. At this time of year, with a carpet of species cyclamen planted underneath, it’s a beaut.

Colour in the garden

As indicated by the choice of plants this week, colour was very much the focus of today’s Zoom session. It involved more homework. Big respect to our academic F/G colleague, Liz McCullough, who generously shared another of her essays with us. She did the work; we just had to read and absorb.

She emphasised how important colour is for our mental health and how we can all become more aware of it in nature, once we start looking more mindfully. (Thankfully, the term ‘wellness’ was completely avoided.) Colours may be harmonious – where they are located next to each other, on the colour wheel, like yellow and green – or they may be complementary- where they are in opposition to each other, like yellow and purple or red and green. Harmonious colours engender a sense of peace and tranquility, whereas complementary ones tend to create a more exciting, energetic mood. This can be of enormous use to the gardener when it comes to garden design and planting.

Liz took us on a journey of the imagination, covering three of her most recent walks, to explore the colours she found in the natural world.

1. Southease/Rodmell

Buff coloured reedbeds, massive blue skies, the greens of the South Downs, the sparkle of water and its browns, greens and blues. A harmonious, peaceful palette of muted, gentle colour reinforced by the quiet, rustling of the reeds. Sometimes a limited number of colours work beautifully together: creams, browns and earthy tones. Bear in mind the way in which a plant fades and dies. Piet Oudolf was one of the first plantsmen to use the ability of a plant to ‘die gracefully’ in his planting schemes.

Amsonia hubrichtii fading brilliantly

2. Sheffield Park Gardens

Reds, oranges, golds and yellows contrasting with greens and glaucous blues. Trees and shrubs reflected in the lakes and water features around the park are set alight by the low autumn sun. Carpets of leaves on the woodland floor serve to emphasise the complementary colours. Layer upon layer of interest.

3. Nymans Gardens

Walking along the South African bed in the sunshine, with its planting of Phormiums, Agaves and Chamaerops humilis, revealed a harmony of blue, green and silvery tones. Island beds of ornamental grasses brought further harmony, as well as textures and plumes of more colours. Colour was also apparent in bark, berries, hips, leaves, fungi.

The remarkable hips of Rosa Roseraie de l’Hay

Single colour gardens, such as the White Garden at Sissinghurst, can be a relief as well as a challenge, although even these will have green as a background. A purely monochromatic garden in greens is also possible. Much will depend on the ultimate vision of the gardener. A cottage garden, for instance will have a very different design paintbox from a slick, contemporary urban garden, or one destined to be a paradise for wildlife.

We discussed colour in break-out groups, and agreed that it can be used to help create a more coherent garden space, creating links and points of focus throughout the year.

Thrilling, yes – but how exhausting! Let’s get back to:

Jobs for the week

Sow sweet peas and harden off the seedlings. Pinch out the tops when three sets of leaves have formed. Half-hardy, so protect from winter frosts.

Plant tulip bulbs

As below. If you haven’t got them yet, there’s still time to order them. In quantity.

You know it makes sense

Plant up pots for winter interest

Now that’s what I call interesting….

Love the plant support

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