Friday 19th March 2021

This week we went wild about wildlife, concentrating on how to go about attracting more and varied critters into our gardens. Good for us, good for them, good for pollination, good for the planet.

Except not slugs, please. And preferably not squirrels. Or snails. Or Sitka deer. Seagulls are a definite no-no. (And that’s just the unwanted wildlife beginning with ‘s’.)

Something like this would be fantastic –

But possibly not good for our pets. Or the next-door-neighbour.

Well, you’d be lovely, but possibly a little out of place in Woodingdean.

Probably something more along these lines –

Just as miraculous. Just as magnificent.

Yes. We are.

But first the

Plant ident.

Prunus spinosa

The clouds of snow-white frothy blossom seen everywhere at the moment, belong to the Blackthorn tree. Appearing on dark, bare branches, the simple, delicate, open flowers attract early pollinators. Blackthorn is hermaphrodite, meaning that both male and female reproductive parts are found in each flower. Small blue-black fruits appear later – these are Sloe berries used in the making of gin. Spiny and densely branched, the trees can live for up to 100 years.

Prunus cerasifera ‘Pissardii’

A strikingly beautiful tree, the Purple-leaved Plum has gorgeous ovate leaves, preceded in early spring by a profusion of pale pink flowers on bare wood. The flowers gradually fade to white. Plum-like red/yellow ornamental fruits follow later, which although edible, are not good to eat. Makes a lovely, small deciduous tree or an attractive hedge. Easy to grow, likes full sun and a well-drained fertile soil. Garden House is very fond of this one, as it channels all things Japanese. 7 m x 5 m.

So exquisite. One small stem is all that’s needed to spark joy.

Primula ‘Gold-Laced Group’

Polyanthus hybrid primulas, particularly those edged in silver or gold, were plants much loved by the Victorians. This dark petalled example is a lovely thing to have as a couple of stems in a small glass vase. Moist soil, partial shade, any soil, any aspect. Sounds like a doddle. Why not build a little theatre to exhibit them in pots alongside a precious collection of Auriculas?

Narcissus ‘Rip van Winkle’

An early-flowering, scented, dwarf Daffodil, and an extremely decorative one. It may be small but it packs a punch above its weight. A double form, its multiple petals virtually explode with exuberance. Grows to around 15 cms; good in containers or at the front of the border – and also makes a good cut flower. Like most daffs, its foliage should be allowed to die down naturally after flowering. Mulch annually with compost.

Scilla ‘Pink Giant’

Known also as Chionodoxa. Scillas are perennial bulbs with narrow basal leaves and erect stems , and this cultivar produces star-shaped pale pink flowers in early spring. Growing to around 20 cms, it will seed around where happy, which is in well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. Look great naturalised under deciduous shrubs. Divide when overcrowded.

Narcissus ‘Elka’

Quite different from the showy ‘Rip van Winkle’, but quietly stunning. A small but perfectly formed ivory Narcissus, lovely in pots or at the front of a border in early spring. Scented too. Best in part shade. Much loved at Garden House and highly recommended. 12 cms.

Topic for the Week

One of the best ways to attract wildlife into a garden is to improve the biodiversity of the environment. Easily said, but biodiversity is the most complex feature of our planet as well as being the most vital. It has been said that without biodiversity there is no future for humanity; it impacts the food we eat, the water we drink and the air that we breathe.

Genes, species, communities of creatures and entire ecosystems interact and are interdependent. We ignore this at our peril.

Everyone can play a part in some way. Check to see if you have plants flowering in your garden to attract wildlife every month of the year.

We discussed the order in which 10 common plants might flower, giving some early and late flowering interest. We thought that they might roughly appear as follows (top to bottom on left, then top to bottom on right)

For the winter, add in some Holly, Ivy, Winter-flowered Honeysuckle, Mahonia, Aconites, Crocuses, Evergreen Clematis and Primroses – and, Bingo! You’ve got 12 months covered.

Herbaceous border have been found to have the most biodiversity in managed garden situations. The best flowers for pollinators tend to have single, open flowers, although some differently-shaped flowers are uniquely perfect for just one kind of insect/moth/butterfly.

Break-out groups broke out. And came up with some ideas for pollinator-friendly plants:

Heuchera; hardy Geraniums (e.g. ‘Patricia’); Osteospermum; Dahlia; Argyranthemum; Hydrangea; hardy Fuchsia; Penstemon; Nicotiana; Campanula; Hebe; Erigeron karvinskianus; Hellebore; Viburnum; Sarcococca.

Native trees and shrubs will add food and shelter for local wildlife throughout the year. They are often used to provide mixed hedging in gardens, particularly in the countryside. We had a go at listing some of the many trees native to the U.K.:

Alder; Ash; Aspen; Crab Apple; Beech; Birch; Box; Blackthorn; Horse Chestnut; Sweet Chestnut; Elder; Elm; Field Maple; Hazel; Holly Hawthorn; Hornbeam; Juniper; Lime; Oak; Pear; Poplar; Rowan – here’s a Rowan

Spindle; Wild Cherry; Whitebeam; Willow; Yew.

Didn’t we do well?

Yeah, not bad

Wildflower Meadows

A lovely idea, but not simple to create and manage, especially on clay soils. If you live on an Estate, as opposed to an estate, it might be feasible. Have a chat with your Head Gardener. If you are the Head Gardener, then maybe consider just a small patch of wildflowers; perhaps plant Crocus, mini Narcissi and Camassia bulbs in your lawn and mow accordingly. Some people have experimented successfully using just their front gardens, particularly if the soil is poor and unproductive.

What can each of us do to attract even more wildlife into our gardens?

Research the topic. There are plenty of experts out there.

Plant bulbs, flowering plants and shrubs known to attract insects and birds

Add a bird house or two dozen. And feed those birds. Only tuppence a bag.

Provide a bug hotel. And a hedgehog home. We want those creepy guests.

And don’t forget the bees. Be a honey. A bee brick or bee hotel will give them a real buzz.

Plant dwarf buddleias in pots

Plant at least one tree known to be wildlife-friendly

Grow night-scented plants to encourage moths

Night-scented Stocks, Nicotiana, Jasmine, Evening Primrose, Honeysuckle, Mahonia. Get your night vision binoculars out and stand by.

Use biological controls for pests; don’t use chemical pesticides

And definitely use peat free compost

Make log piles in dappled shade – decaying wood is great for insects, fungi, mosses and lichen.

Don’t cut down dead material over winter. Leave it to provide food and shelter. Hollow stems will allow beneficial insects to hibernate in them.

Bring water into the garden. Dave Goulson, author of ‘The Garden Jungle’, says this is one of the quickest and most effective ways to introduce more wildlife.

Maybe not this…

But, hopefully, this –


and these great Great Crested Newts

Jobs for the Week

Let’s romp quickly through these, as we’ll no doubt be very busy creating wildlife havens this week

Plant out chitted Potatoes

Not ‘chipped potatoes’.

Continue to sow seeds

On a daily if not hourly basis. Spinach, Spring Onions, Beetroot, Carrots, Leeks, Lettuces. And Tomatoes, of course

You’ll enjoy harvesting the rewards later

Cut down Cornus stems

Maybe take out only one in three, or maybe all of them, depending on whether you want to enjoy their leaves, or grow them solely for their colourful stems.

Start planting out hardy annuals

But only once they have been hardened off. Escholtzia, Ammi majus, Ammi visnaga, Nigella and Centaurea can all be planted 30 cms apart in well prepared beds. Sow more!

Trim deciduous hedges

Unless there are birds nesting in them, in which case postpone until later

Finish any Rose pruning this weekend

Force Rhubarb

Ideally, get some of these terracotta forcing jars. Then you needn’t actually bother with the Rhubarb at all, unless you’re partial to a bit with custard.

Divide Grasses

Prune Salvias

But keep an eye out for temperatures – there may still be frosts to come and some Salvias are more tender than others

Enjoy the Hellebores. It’s their season

It’s a Buttercup, Jim, but not as we know it

Friday 12th March 2021

March. In like a lion. Out like a lamb. We hope. In the last few days we’ve enjoyed hail, stormy winds, showers, downpours, drizzle, mizzle and fizzle, sunshine and bright spells. And, as for temperatures, don’t get me started.


Plant ident.

Loveliness to enjoy now.

Primula vulgaris

The true Common Primrose. But very far from vulgar. Emblematic of spring, hope, new growth – we’re virtually talking the Easter Bunny here. Refined and elegant in its simplicity, and quite different from those rather blowsy, overblown Polyanthus one sees everywhere. Likes moist conditions and somewhere which won’t dry out completely during its dormant period.

Bergenia ‘Harzkristall’

Bergenias (‘Elephants’ Ears’) can often be underestimated as plants. Evergreen, rhizomatous perennials with large leathery leaves and erect clusters of flowers, they make quite a statement in the border. Effective when used to ‘punctuate’ planting schemes. Good in shade, good as ground cover, good for producing early flowers. From magentas, through to bright bubble gum pinks, pale pinks and whites, there are many cultivars to choose from. ‘Bressingham White’, from Diss in Norfolk, is a good form, as is ‘Harzkristall’. This has pink-flushed white flowers on dark, upright stems. The glossy, dark green foliage takes on a reddish hue in cold winter weather. Propagate by taking sections of rhizomes in early spring and replanting them to form new plantlets.

The RHS says Bergenias are susceptible to vine weevil, leaf eelworm, bud eelworm, slugs, snails and some caterpillars. Nice. This is where one needs to be less ‘gardener’ and more ‘en garde’.

Vinca minor ‘Atropurpurea’

Such useful plants for groundcover. Valuable, in that they will grow in the challenging circumstances of dry shade once established. Now is the time to give them a light clip with shears, which will encourage more side shoots, and therefore flowers.

Veronica umbrosa ‘Georgia Blue’

Related to the weed ‘Speedwell’. This cultivated form has good bronze foliage and bright blue flowers. Loves hot, dry areas and is good placed towards the front of borders, where it softens edges. Good too in pots,troughs or alpine planters. Can cope with partial shade in well-drained soil. Evergreen (everpurple?). Easy to propagate from tip cuttings.

Prunus spinosa

Blackthorn. It’s the gorgeous, white frothy stuff currently decorating hedgerows and roadsides. Simple white flowers in quantity appear on dark, bare tree stems, presaging spring. The fruit, which follows later, is the sloe berry – that stalwart required for gin making. Nature, eh? The gift that keeps on giving. You might almost say it puts the gin in giving.

You might not.

Topic for the week


A science and art form in its own right, and worthy of several dozen tomes for research purposes and several decades of hands-on work for practical experience.

First and foremost, you need the right tools for the right job. Snips are good for deadheading and for intricate work on plants with slim stems. Bypass secateurs seem to be more popular than anvil ones – for pruning jobs dealing with stems up to the thickness of the secateurs’ handle.

A pruning saw is a good investment for tackling larger branches; they can usually be folded up, which is a good safety measure.

Loppers are useful for reaching up to higher stems and branches – there are extendable versions too. Great for pruning back trees and shrubs; those with a ratchet action are preferable, unless you are working towards ab fab abs.

Shears are essential for hand cutting hedges and topiary.

A bow saw may also be something to consider for larger jobs. And then there are chain saws… alternatively, it may be time to put the kettle on and visit

All tools should be kept clean, sharp and ideally disinfected between each job. This is to prevent the possibility of carrying disease from one plant to another.

There are a huge choice of manufacturers to choose from – Wolf Garten, Spear and Jackson, Bulldog, Felco and Niwaki are just a few. Try to invest in the best you can afford. It will pay dividends.

Reasons for pruning

To shape or topiarise; to encourage growth; for the health of a plant (removing diseased, dead and damaged wood); to prevent congestion and allow light and air to penetrate; to maintain vigour; to prevent fisticuffs at dawn where trees overhang a neighbouring property; to reduce shade; take a breath here; to cut back plants susceptible to wind rock (e.g. Roses); to encourage better coloured new stems (Cornus, Salix); to remove reversions in variegated shrubs (e.g. Ligustrum and Euonymous).

Types of pruning

Formative pruning: as implied, this is where a plant is pruned when young to achieve a good form/shape. This is a practice frequently followed in Holland, with good results, particularly on things like Lavenders, Hebes, Pittosporums etc. Perhaps we should go Dutch too.

Japan is also well-known for achieving superb shapes through disciplined pruning techniques

Routine pruning: pruning done on a regular basis in order to promote fruiting and flowering. This entails removing all dead, diseased and damaged wood and often deploying the 1 in 3 method, whereby 1 in every 3 stems or branches are removed each year.

Renovation/remedial pruning: carried out when a shrub has lost its shape and/or become overgrown. Think ‘us as we come out of lockdown’. Will look a bit skeletal and scary for a year or two, and flowers will be forfeited, but worth doing to rescue rather than lose a mature plant.

Here, for example, a wisteria seems to have got a little out of hand. There’s a house there somewhere.

Pruning techniques

Know your shrub. Look at it carefully. Are the buds opposite or alternate? If opposite, make a clean cut just above a pair of buds; if alternate, cut at an angle sloping away from an outward pointing bud. Cutting too high above a bud will result in dieback; too low and the bud may be damaged. It’s got to be a Goldilocks cut – just right.

Once it’s all done, don’t even think of going indoors. Now you have to spend twice as long again getting the whole lot tidied up, forced into brown-topped bins and taking the rest of the bally stuff to the recycling centre in trugs.

When to prune

An R.H.S. course in itself – that royal institution lists a total of 13 pruning groups! Broadly speaking, if a shrub flowers before midsummer’s day, it should be pruned immediately after flowering (Forsythia, Kerria, Deutzia). If it flowers after midsummer’s day, then it can be pruned in the early spring of the following year (Hardy Fuchsia, Hydrangea paniculata, Buddleia davidii). Worth checking those aforementioned research tomes.

Winter flowering and evergreen shrubs generally only need minimal pruning. Some shrubs respond best to being cut right back to the ground (Cornus and some Eucalyptus), whilst others only need a light clipping (Ericas). Knowing your plant material means you can ensure your pruning is carefully planned and meticulous, not just blindly hopeful and potentially disastrous.

Advanced pruning

Techniques such as coppicing and pollarding require a little experience. The former is when young tree or shrub stems are regularly cut right down to ground level, forming a ‘stool’. New shoots grow from the stool; these multiple-stemmed trees provide a sustainable supply of wood. Hazel is a typical example of a small tree which can be coppiced; it is typically used for pea-sticks and poles.

Coppiced woodland

Pollarding, on the other hand, occurs when standard trees are cut close to their head (knuckle), on top of a clear stem.

It is often seen in France, where the practice creates an easily identifiable shape resulting eventually in a ball-like canopy. Hornbeam, Willow, Lime, Chestnut and Beech are trees which are frequently pollarded.

Jobs for the week

Sow herbs

Basil, Chervil, Coriander and Parsley can be started off now.

Sow Radishes

Try using gutter pipes. It’s a convenient method to adopt, and you won’t be without a Radish. Good for those who relish Radishes.

Sow Spring Onions

Sow seeds in small amounts in modules; this makes it easier to plant them out in small clumps later.

Pinch out Sweet Peas

Once they have produced at least 3 pairs of leaves. Encourages bushy, sturdy plants.


Give shrubs and plants a general purpose feed in early spring. Pelleted chicken manure is a good slow-release fertiliser. A handful every square metre distributed around the garden just before rain would be terribly efficient. And do remember to feed with chicken manure, not manure with chicken feed. That way disaster lies.

Prune silver-leaved plants

As part of your routine pruning schedule, to keep them shaped and bushy. Prune back to where the new growth is visible – but not into old wood, or your plant will soon become an ex-plant. Fondly remembered, but no more. Artemisia, Santolina, Perovskia, Helichrysum italicum and Hyssop are good candidates.

Feed and re-pot Auriculas

Why not go all theatrical and display them in the old Victorian way?

Cut back Pelargoniums

Cut back all leggy growth and dead leaves. Feed and water. Keep under glass or in a warm, bright place indoors.

Check the weather

Then stay indoors in a warm bright place. Feed and water regularly.

Friday 5th March 2021

Marching onwards into March

That’s one helluva lot of Hellebores

Plant ident.

Straight to it – this week we looked at small seasonal delights. Best planted in groups for maximum impact in the garden, although a couple of flowers brought into the house will provide huge enjoyment.

Iris reticulata ‘Pauline’

A beauty; a dwarf Iris with slender, green, erect leaves. Scented, velvety dark purple flowers appear in early spring. A perfect little perennial for pots and rockeries. Propagate by dividing the bulbs between late summer and autumn. Such a pleasure to see in the garden now.

Muscari macrocarpum ‘Golden Fragrance’

Another scented, reliably perennial bulbous plant. This particular cultivar is bi-coloured – the flowers emerge pale violet/purple, then gradually turn a soft golden yellow. The scent is said to be reminiscent of Gardenias. Very attractive and unusual. Likes sun and fertile well-drained soil. Divide clumps in the autumn.

Crocus ‘Jeanne d’Arc’

A must. Add to the (long) list of Garden House ‘musts’. Big, bold and beautiful, this white, goblet-shaped Dutch Crocus has lovely bright yellow stamens and is very attractive to wildlife. Especially bumblebees. Plant the corms in any well-drained soil in full sun and they will put on a fabulous display in early spring.

Viola odorata

Sweet violet. And it really is! A pretty little perennial which is best in dappled shade. If your estate stretches to having a woodland, plant it there. Small, strongly-scented, violet flowers will spread to form a ground-covering carpet. Pick individual flowers and put them in tiny green vases next to your bed. Change your name to Vita Sackville-West too, if you are so inclined.

Leucojum vernum

The Spring Snowflake. This one likes full sun but moist conditions. Highdown Gardens in Worthing is a good place to see them, where they grow at the edge of a pond in damp soil. White, nodding, bell-shaped flowers, with green markings on their tips, are held over upright stems. They are taller than Snowdrops – growing to about 30 cms. Again, best planted in clumps or, more poetically, ‘in bold drifts’.

Topic for the Week

Summer Containers

Full disclosure of our plans for our own pots of delight. Homework involved a measure of glueing and sticking, so we were prepared to come to share and discuss our ideas. Additionally, to think about where and when we might source our plant material: whether by sowing seeds, taking and growing on cuttings, ordering plugs or, failing all that, by purchasing a ready-made pot from the garden centre and saying three Hail Marys.

Break-out groups endeavoured to keep to the horticultural theme, rather than share Netflix suggestions and recent good reads. It was tough, but so are we… Here are some results from Project Concept Containers:

Cosmos with Nigella, Cornflower and Nemesia

Salvia ‘Amistad’ with Argyranthemum frutescens ‘Grandaisy Pink Halo’, Verbena rigida ‘Santos Purple’ and Erigeron karvinskianus

Osteospermum with white vanilla-scented Nemesia and Sutera cordata

Cosmos ‘Purity’ with Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’, Gaura lindheimeri ‘The Bride’ and Plectranthus ‘Nico’

Gaura lindheimeri (above) and Plectranthus ‘Nico’ (below)

Good places to buy and order from: Ebay; B and Q; Notcutts online; Supermarket seeds; Homebase; Miranda’s at Florence Road Market, Brighton; Pelham Plants; Staverton Nursery; Garden Sage Nursery, Hassocks; Bolney Nursery (good for pots); Marchant’s Hardy Plants

Seeds: Chiltern Seeds; Just Seeds; Sarah Raven Seeds; Higgledy Garden Seeds; Seedy Sunday in Brighton

Friday Group Question Time

A host of horticultural questions and some quickfire answers.

Q. How do you know when a shrub should be pruned?

A. First, know your shrub. The general rule of thumb is, if a shrub flowers before midsummer’s day, then prune it straight after flowering. This gives it time to make the growth needed for next year. If it flowers after midsummer’s day, then prune the shrub the following spring.

If it only flowers on midsummer’s day, then get rid of it.

Q. Will Echium pinnata plants seed around?

A. Yes. (This from Friday Group’s very own Queen of Echiums.)

Q. A Tree Mallow has been hit by frost. Will it regrow?

A. Cut it back and see what happens. Lavatera maritima plants can get quite woody over time and are not known for being particularly long-lived. Take cuttings as a precaution.

Jobs for the Week

Take cuttings of tender perennials

By purchasing just one plant, several cuttings can be taken and grown on in warmth. Things like Argyranthemums, Marguerites, Plectranthus and Salvias if started off now, will quickly grow and be ready for planting out in May. Nemesia and Sutera are two examples of annuals which can also be propagated from cuttings. It’s a financial no-brainer.

Continue to sow seeds

Stand by your germination stations! Take it slowly, easy does it. You don’t want to be swamped by too many seedlings at once and have nowhere to put them. Cosmos, for instance, can be started later than many other seeds – they’ll grow very quickly.

Check Camellias

Camellias need an acid or ericaceous soil with a pH of 5.5 – 6.5. They will benefit from a dollop of composted bracken or leaf mould at this time of year – or you can always add some ericaceous compost. Ideally, they should be watered with rainwater, as it is slightly acidic. Tap water can contain too much calcium – especially in hard water areas.

Plant Strawberries

Maybe in containers? This will help to protect them from the depredations of woodlice, who are partial to a strawberry or two. Grow early, mid-season and late Strawberries for maximum yum.

Meanwhile, somebody is waiting patiently for lockdown to come to an end… and for Friday Group to return to the garden. Looking quite meditative. Almost catatonic.

But this old waiting game is such a tiring business

While we’re zooming, he’s snoozing

Friday 28th February 2021

Vaccines are rolling out. Skies are blue. Bulbs are emerging. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Unless it’s a train.

What is flowering at Garden House at the moment?

Plant ident.

Forsythia x intermedia ‘Lynwood Variety’

Ubiquitous, but, treated properly, it can look magnificent and be a glorious herald of spring. In Beth Chatto’s woodland garden, its natural, arching habit has been emphasised by careful pruning, rather than by a butchering cut-back, which is the more widespread approach. This has resulted in splendid shrubs, revealing their graceful beauty. Annual pruning prolongs the life of early-flowering deciduous shrubs, and as Forsythia flowers on wood made in the previous year, it needs to be pruned shortly after flowering. Cut flowered growth back to where strong young shoots are growing lower down the stems. Additionally, removing one third of the older stems every year, allows light to penetrate more easily and facilitates the growth of new wood. Feed and mulch. Many varieties available.

Cornus mas

The fabulous Cornelian Cherry at Garden House is much treasured. It’s the focus of a ‘yellow bed’ in the corner of the garden and is valued for the soft, yellow blossoms which decorate its bare branches now. Amazing against a blue March sky. Raising the canopy has enabled more plants to be grown underneath. (More plants? At Garden House??) Good on chalk, where growing Hamamelis is problematic, so a brilliant choice for chalky soils in late winter/spring. Although the insignificant fruits don’t bring much to the party, its attractive bark does. Highly recommended.

Hamamellis x intermedia ‘Jelena’

Witch-hazels are another early flowering deciduous shrub, providing late winter/spring and autumn interest. They are mostly found on clay, loam or sandy soils, preferring a neutral/acid soil, and so are very unlikely to do well on chalk. This one grows in a pot at G/H, making it easy to add appropriate amounts of ericaceous compost to the planting mix and also to shove it into the wings during the summer months – when, frankly, it looks dull. Beautiful now though, when highly scented, spider-like flowers are borne on its bare branches. Beautiful autumnal foliage. 4 m x 4 m.

Lonicera fragrantissima

Heaven sent, heavenly scent. It’s luvverly. The tiny, white flowers of Winter Honeysuckle throw out an exquisite fragrance for weeks on end from December onwards, attracting early pollinators like winter-active bumblebees. Will grow in most fertile, well-drained soils in full sun or dappled shade – but make sure to plant it near a path or window, so you will be able to appreciate the scent. Lovely with Crocuses – maybe a carpet of these –

NarcissusGrand Soleil d’Or

A beautiful small-flowered narcissus, which can be grown outside or forced indoors. Deliciously scented. Multiple bi-coloured blooms are held aloft on each stem. Good in pots, troughs, in the border or at the edge of a woodland area. After flowering, dead-head the plants, but let the foliage die back naturally, as this helps the bulbs to store energy for next year.

A New Obsession

Snowdrops. Garden House has finally succumbed in a big way and become keenly galanthophile. Galanthomaniac even. Could be dangerous. Good places to see Snowdrops en masse are: Anglesey Abbey Gardens in Cambridgeshire and the Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex. More locally, try Southease Churchyard.

Topic of the Week

Herbs. Who doesn’t love a herbert? A plant whose seeds, leaves or flowers have a medicinal, aromatic or culinary use to people. A fascinating and extensive topic, so experts are well worth consulting. The queen of herbs is, of course, Jekka McVicar.

The use of herbs can be traced back thousands of years. Some have changed the world:

Madagascan periwinkle

Catharanthus roseus. Alkaloids found in this plant have proved to be effective in the treatment of a number of cancers, such as Hodgkin’s disease and leukaemia.

Cepaelis ipeccuanha

Ipecac is an evergreen shrub from Brazil which has been used in the treatment of dysentery for centuries. Apparently, it’s the most common ingredient in all proprietary cough medicines. a syrup is made form the tuberous roots.

Cinchona pubencencs

Quinine was discovered in the early 17th century, probably by the Jesuits, as a treatment for malaria. It was the first drug that Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, tested on himself.

Colchicum autumnale

Autumn Crocus. Highly toxic, but an important element in the treatment of gout. Cells from this Crocus are used in the genetic modification of plants

Digitalis purpurea

The Foxglove. Known for its toxicity, but important as a medicine for regulating the heartbeat in patients with heart disease


An evergreen shrub from South America and the source of the drug cocaine. Erythoxylum coca is extremely important medicinally as a painkiller.

Filipendula ulmaria

Meadowsweet. In the early 19th century, the painkiller salycin was discovered in its leaves. This is the basis for acid, from which aspirin was first produced. Used also in the treatment of diarrhoea (dire rear?), ulcers, pain, stomach ache, fevers and gout.


Witch hazel has been used for centuries in Europe and North America to treat bruises and sore eyes. Also used today for colitis and other gastro-intestinal disorders.

St John’s Wort

Hypericum perforatum. Traditionally used to treat mild forms of depression. In 1652, the herbalist Culpeper recommended the herb as a remedy ‘against melancholy and madness’.

Papaver somniferum

The Opium Poppy. Possibly the oldest painkiller in the world. Opium, extracted from these Poppies is used in the manufacture of morphine, codeine and methadone.

Rauvolifa serpentine

Serpent Weed, or Indian Snakeroot, is native to Myanmar and is a source of reserpine, the first tranquilliser. Used in the treatment of hypertension and mental health conditions.


Stachys officinalis was used by the Romans to cure many ailments, from respiratory and gastro-intestinal disorders, to gynaecological and skin problems and difficulties with the nervous system.

Then…… A Quiz. Looking at the various headings in bold type, supply the names of appropriate herbs. Between us, we managed an impressive number of answers –

Annual herbs: Marigold, Coriander, Opium poppies, Rocket, Basil, Borage

Herbaceous perennial herbs: Chives, Marjoram, Sorrel, Tarragon, Mint, Lemon Balm, Camomile, Primrose, Oregano.

Biennial herbs: Parsley, Angelica, Chervil

Sub-shrub herbs: Rosemary, Lavender, Hyssop, Artemisia, Helichrysum italicum, Lemon verbena, Sage

Herbs for shade: Parsley, Coriander, French Sorrel, Chervil, Rocket, Dill, Angelica

Herbs which grow taller than 1 metre: Angelica, Bay

The Task

Bridge and Liz then set us to work to design a herb pot/container for full sun. Essential to provide really good drainage and a gritty soil. They opted for a mahousive 3 metre wide galvanised metal container, and went for the following planting:

This had thrillers, fillers and spillers. Useful culinary herbs, good colour combinations and attractive. Over to us in groups –

Frankly, Friday Group was masterful. Exuding lots of ideas. We’re as keen as mustard, although, mustard wasn’t actually one of our chosen herberts.

Here are a few of the suggestions:

Look good. Chives, French Tarragon, Golden Oregano, Trailing Thyme

Chives, Marigolds, Curry Plant, Creeping Thyme. A symphony of orange, silver and purple.

Here’s a superb rendering of another group’s concept –

And perhaps most enigmatic of all, there is this –

Clearly, this group have amazing plans, but seem to be reluctant to share them. Very untypical of F/G. Nul points.

Jobs for the week

Prune winter-flowering shrubs after they have finished flowering

Divide bulbs

Such as Snowdrops and plant those bulbs which need to be dealt with ‘in the green’.

Cut back deciduous grasses left uncut over winter

At Sussex Prairie Gardens they set fire to their island beds. Not an advisable approach in most home situations. Now is also a good time to remove dead grass from clumps of evergreen grasses (aka: Give them a ‘comb through’)

General garden tidy-up-time

Plan your herb garden/pot/container

Teucrium chamaedrys (Wall Germander) may be a good alternative to box as edging hedging around your herb garden. Don’t forget to include edible herbs in the scheme!

You know it makes sense