Friday 24th September 2021

Blue skies and autumn sunshine reveal the silhouette of the Foxglove Tree at Garden House – Paulownia tomentosa. Magnificent if left to grow and flower, but equally astonishing if cut right down every year; the leaves on the new growth will be impressively huge, providing a jubilantly jungly atmosphere in the heart of Sussex.

And what a difference a week makes! Last week these seeds were sown –

And just look at them now!

Nothing short of miraculous

So, it’s izzy wizzy, let’s get busy… and on to the

Plant ident.

This week the autumn-flowerers take centre stage

Succisa pratensis

Or Devil’s Bit Scabious, a delicate see-through herbaceous perennial. From a rosette of mid-green leaves at its base, comes a long, branching stem with pale blue/mauve flowerheads, which are almost spherical. Dead-heading will promote further branching and the production of yet more flowers. Gorgeous when seen wafting amongst grasses such as Stipa tenuissima. Any aspect, any soil type, full sun or partial shade, likes a reasonably moist soil. A.G.M. Ht. 0.6 -1.0 m

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘Helen Picton’

A clump-forming, herbaceous perennial. Re-classified from the more easily-spelled and pronounced ‘Aster’, this form glows in the autumn sun. Rich, dark purple petals surround golden-yellow centres and the flowers are held on stiff, upright stems. Disease resistant, attractive to wildlife and great as a cut flower. It’s a must! Named after Helen Picton who holds the National Collection of Michaelmas Daisies at Picton Garden near Malvern in Worcestershire. A.G.M. Ht. 0.9 – 1.0 m

Symphotrichum novi-belgii ‘Vasterival’

Small, pale mauve/lilac daisy-type flowers feature atop the dark stems of this tall, beautiful plant. Forms an airy, upright clump which adds greatly to the autumn border. Good in sun or partial shade; especially good on clay, but does well in the chalky soil at Garden House. Doesn’t die very gracefully (how shocking), but is good as a cut flower. Ht. 1.0 – 1.2 m

Echinops ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’

An attractive Globe Thistle, with metallic blue spiky flowers and leaves. Its architectural shape, height and distinctive colouration associates well with other late summer plants like Grasses, Crocosmia, Cardoons, Rudbeckias and Echinaceas. Attractive to wildlife – particularly to bees. Cut back to the ground once flowering has finished – although it’s a good idea to leave some seed heads for the birds. Full sun, most well-drained soils. Ht. 1.0 m

Hylotelephium ‘Purple Emperor’

Or Sedum, to those of us who find change difficult. A wonderfully vivid autumn plant from the Crassulaceae family. Purple/red stems and flowers glow in the late summer sun. Can be propagated easily from cuttings placed in water or compost, or by planting one of the fat, succulent leaves. Peel off a leaf, leaving a little fleshy heel from the stem, and plant upright in compost. It will rooty-toot root. Can also be divided.

Looking ahead to 2022

Time to think about bulbs of all shapes and sizes. Head for your collection of catalogues – Parkers, Sarah Raven, Avon, Bloms, de Jager and many more. The trouble is, it can all get a bit overwhelming. At Garden House, Bridge makes up a collage for different areas of the garden, making it easier to think about flowering periods, heights and colour combinations. There’s something meditative about paper, scissors and paste. And it’s a system that works –

This year, some precious Tulipa sprengeri seeds have been gifted to Bridge, but they won’t flower for about 4 years. What’s more, they’ll need a cold period to encourage germination (stratification). None of this will deter Garden House. Always up for a Tulip Challenge.

Now, some people have wine fridges. Only a very few have plant fridges.

And here are the T. sprengeri seeds. Already sown and in the fridge.

(But, where are all the wine bottles?)

Jobs for the week

Seed collection

When seed heads have formed and just started to open, a little seed collection is in order. Do this on a dry day. Shake the seeds onto a small tray and remove as much of the chaff as possible, then carefully transfer them into seed envelopes. Label!

For goodness sake, don’t mix up the hardy with the half-hardy annuals. The consequences are too awful to contemplate.

The whispy seed heads of Stipa tenuissima in September…

…and its seeds

Lychnis coronaria seed heads and seeds

Seed heads of Althaea cannabina

and the little beauties within

Ferns

The fern collection is being developed to establish a veritable fernery. Pot the new selections into terracotta pots using a John Innes compost. Water, label and place in a shady area. More research will be done on these fascinating plants in due course.

Foxgloves

Time to plant out some biennials in shade / part-shady areas of the garden. Digitalis need to be planted deeply, firmed in and watered. Space about 45 cms apart and await their glorious evolution.

Divide Auriculas

Tip plants out of their pots to check for the evil vine weevil. Divide, wash, and then re-pot carefully, back into terracotta pots.

Put them in a shaded place and, come spring, they will flower with great dignity, as befits their Victorian elegance. They love being displayed in an Auricula theatre, but definitely not the music-hall variety.

The Auricula is quite particular

Is there time for a Cake Break?

Need I say more?

Succulents

Pot up succulents in a really light compost. Cat litter was suggested as a possible medium to be mixed in with compost. With due diligence, this was given a try. And deemed not a runner. Clumping!

But the finished pots looked marvellous –

Pot on cuttings in the greenhouse

Use a mix of compost and horticultural grit for this.

We’re on it!

They certainly are! 5-star pots of Dianthus cuttings.

Divide hardy Geraniums

Cut back hardy Geraniums, dig up and make divisions of the plants. Re-plant / give away any extras. Tough job, but these Friday Groupers are up for the challenge.

Divide Agapanthus

Their roots will be compacted, so a pruning saw or bread knife will come in handy when splitting them. Come to think of it, there’s a woman in the potting shed with a bread knife.

I think she’s busy murdering someone

Sow Herbs

To sow now – Chervil, Dill, Coriander, Clary Sage, Lemon grass and Parsley. There’s a lot to do.

This is what you might call a division of labour…

Well, I call it management inaction

Take cuttings of Streptocarpus

Time to increase the Cape Primroses. We do love a free plant or two. First, catch your Streptocarpus. Then, dead head the plant and give it a general tidy up.

Cut off a perfect leaf. Then you have two options: cut either vertically or horizontally. If you are of the vertical persuasion, then remove the mid-rib running from top to bottom of the leaf and place the two cut edges in a light compost mix.

For those favouring horizontalism, make several horizontal cuts across each leaf, dividing it into several segments. Place each section upright in a little furrow of compost (see photo below). Make sure the lower cut is the one in touch with the growing medium . Water lightly and don’t forget to label. You think you’ll remember the cultivar’s name in future? You won’t. Place on a gentle heat for around three months to establish roots. Each cut leaf will eventually make a new plant.

Isn’t Nature wonderful?

And so we come to the end of another session. Time to admire Cobaea scandens in the garden: the Cup and Saucer plant.

And maybe have another cup of tea

Friday 17th September 2021

We’ve only just started our autumn sessions, and already we’re thinking about next year’s plantings. These are some fantastic Stocks, with cool evergrey-silver foliage, whose blissful scent we’ll enjoy in 2022.

Plant ident.

This week it’s all about half-hardy, annual climbers. Useful, exciting, dramatic and well worth a go. These begin and end their life-cycle over a twelve-month period; being half-hardy, means they can’t be planted out in the garden until all danger of frost has passed. They are generally sown in the spring and the pots are placed on heat to germinate.

Thunbergia alata ‘Sunny Suzy Brownie’

The Black-Eyed Susan Vine is a great choice if you need to cover an ugly fence or wall quickly; a twining climber, it will need support. In the summer months it produces very pretty dark orange-red flowers. Grow in a sunny position for best results, remembering to water and feed regularly. H. 2m

Rhodochiton atrosanguineus ‘Purple Bells’

Sow seeds very early (in February) on heat. (Rhodochiton needs a long growing season.) A glamorous climber, which excites a lot of interest both for its bell-like flowers and its tendril-like stems with heart-shaped foliage. Originating from Mexico, it can hang downwards from a balcony, or clamber upwards from pots. Treated as a half-hardy, acrobatic annual in this country (for obvious reasons), it could be considered a tender perennial if kept somewhere sheltered and warm over winter. The obvious answer is to build an orangery. A.G.M. Full sun, any soil. H. 3m

Something like this would do

The Rhodochitons currently performing at Garden House came from seeds collected from last year’s plants. Just saying.

Cobaea scandens

Another one from Mexico which also needs sowing very early in the year – in fact those at Garden House were sown in January. Sow the seeds on their sides to discourage rotting off. They start off their lives growing with quiet innocence, looking so encouraging in their green lushness. By the end of the autumn, they are a chaotic mess, unless trained by a strict disciplinarian. Sarah Raven grows hers over arches at the entrance to Perch Hill, where the white or purple bells of the Cup and Saucer plant dangle down to welcome visitors. However they are grown they are wonderful, as they are fabulously tendrilled creatures with surreal, exotic flowers. A.G.M. Full sun, any soil. H. 10m!

Ipomoea lobata

Spanish flag (its flowers are red and creamy yellow) is a terrific climber and another which will provoke envious glances. Related to bindweed (although its flowers don’t resemble those of that blasted Morning Glory we all know and hate) and to the Sweet Potato, it is in the Convolvulaceae family. Grow in full sun, either in a border or up a teepee of canes in a large pot. H. 5m. Stunning.

Sowing Seeds

Now is the time to get on with sowing hardy annuals, which we’ll be doing over the next few weeks at Garden House. They can also be sown next year in the spring, but by starting now we’ll get stronger plants which will flower earlier.

Hardy annuals are plants which begin and end their life cycle over one growing season – i.e. within a twelve month period. They can withstand the cold temperatures of winter, and can survive outside over the winter months. However, it’s a good idea to give them some protection from storms, winds and torrential rain, so they’re best kept in an unheated greenhouse or coldframe where possible.

Examples of hardy annuals are: Ammi majus, Calendula ‘Indian Prince’, Orlaya grandiflora, Nigella ‘African Bride’, Eschscholzia ‘Strawberry Fields’, Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Ball’, Consolida and Papaver ‘Beth’s Poppy’. Cheap and easy to grow, they are a no-brainer for the keen Friday Group member.

Method

Fill an FP9 pot full of compost and strike off the residue. Sow seeds on top, gently pressing into the compost. Cover with horticultural grit and label. Where seeds are tiny, sow them with a small amount of silver sand mixed in; move the mix across the pot diagonally; turn the pot and sow again. This enables you to see exactly where the seeds have been sown and ensures that germination will be fairly even. Cover with a shallow layer of vermiculite, an inert material which improves drainage and allows light to penetrate. That’s vermiculite. Not cellulite. Label.

Place pots in a water bath so that the seeds won’t be disturbed; water will be taken up by capillary action. Putting pots in the greenhouse on a heated mat will facilitate germination.

Jobs for the Week

Now, who’s on Quality Control this week?

Sorry. Not me. Far too busy looking gorgeous

Aniseed?

ANISEED!

Just resting my eyes. Keep your hair on

Work on Little Dixter

Using some very precious pots. No pressure there then.

Pot up Viola ‘Bunny Ears’. And no rabbiting on. Pot up other autumn-flowering shrubs and grasses to create interest and theatricality at the entrance to the lower part of the garden. Pennisetum and Hylotelephium spectabile will feature spectacularly.

Sow hardy annual seeds

As per instructions (see above). Label the pots. Remove from water tray and place on heated mat in greenhouse for speedier germination.

Pots – 9/10. Quality control – 0/10

Iris unguicularis

Such beautiful flowers, and now is the time to propagate them. Remove the Irises from the under-arch bed and divide them, ensuring that some roots remain on each division.

Some detangling is involved

And then some splitting

Plant up in pots; water; label; place in greenhouse until rooted.

Vegetable beds

Plant out Beetroot, Spring Onions, Radishes, Spinach and Leeks. Rake the beds first; they have already been given some lovely home-made compost.

Leeks in

Label?

But of course!

And a little something to deter those slimy things?

Ah, yes!

But – oh dear!

Look what the team found inside the bag!

Hmm. Disposed of carefully, thoughtfully,

and ecologically

Plant out Wallflowers

These Erysimum ‘Sugar Rush’ have been grown from seed and now need to be set out in the garden. One hand-span apart and planted deeply.

Nicely watered in

Work in the greenhouse

Pot on Florence Fennel and Robert de Niro. Sorry, that should be Cavolo Nero, or Black Kale. The latter is very ornamental in the winter border – especially when there’s a touch of frost to decorate the edges of its leaves. It’s a cut-and-come-again vegetable, useful in stir-fries and salads. Who knows, in time the seedlings may become as statuesque and architectural as this –

Plant out Chrysanthemums for autumn flowering

Keep colour in the garden going throughout late summer/early autumn. A wide variety of Chrysanthemums are now available, and they are coming back into fashion fast. Get ahead of the curve.

Pinch out the tops of the plants to promote more flower heads.

Plant out Foxgloves

In the bed underneath the arches. (Please, no singing.) Foxgloves are hardy biennials, and strong seedlings/plug plants can be planted out in the garden now for overwintering so they will be ready to flower next summer. They are versatile plants, coping with both sun and shade.

And so, Friday Group finish until another Friday. Bidding a fond farewell with a fabulous Fuchsia Finale –

Phew!

Friday 10th September 2021

Whisk out your wheelbarrows! Stand by your spades! Unearth your trowels! Friday Group are back! Now in Year 16.

And somebody is very pleased to see us…

“You may stroke one’s neck very gently.”

First we shared info. about our various summers – discoveries, visits, excitements. Sussex Prairies Garden, Great Dixter, Oxford Botanical Gardens, the roses at Regent’s Park, Sissinghurst, Rousham Gardens, One Garden at Stanmer Park, the Yeo Valley Organic Garden and Pelham Plants were all mentioned. The importance of having a shed to hide in was discussed and approved. Growing vegetables for the first time was a highlight for some as was experimenting with ‘going wild’. Sort of not-gardening gardening, if you will. Some had realised their dreams of growing annuals –

That’s one hell of a Helianthus

Others had planted up super-duper summer containers. One person was maintaining a watching brief over a newly acquired garden and another had grown their first Cucamelon. Cripes!

Plant ident.

It’s autumn, and the grasses are coming into their own. This week we looked at Pennisetum; all from the same genus of plants, but all very different.

Pennisetum macrourum

Looking absolutely stunning at the moment at Garden House, growing with Verbena bonariensis. This African Feather Grass was grown from seed obtained from Gravetye Manor, a fantastic hotel and garden in West Hoathly, Sussex. It makes a loose, spreading clump of narrow leaves which turn yellow in autumn. The grass heads are long, slender and cylindrical, starting light green and turning a pale oat-yellow as they age. Wonderful waftiness. H. 0.5 – 1 m

Pennisetum is the genus and macrourum is the species. This one will come true from seed and is hardy at Garden House.

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Little Bunny’

Pennisetum (=genus); alopecuroides (= species); ‘Little Bunny’ (= the cultivar name, meaning that it is a hybrid). Because this is a hybrid, it needs to be divided for propagation purposes; it won’t come true from seed. This variety loves clay soils, but may not be fully hardy through the winter. H. 0.1 – 0.5 m

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’

If you are on a chalky soil, this cultivar is a better option for you. It performs best in a well-drained soil, and, as it is semi-evergreen, it may lose some of its foliage in winter, but will produce fresh new growth in spring. Again, it won’t come true from seed, so divide in the spring to make new (and free) plants. H. 0.5 – 1 m

Pennisetum orientale ‘Shogun’

Genus? Species? (Good this, isn’t it?) And, the cultivar name is ‘Shogun’. Note that the cultivar name always starts with a capital letter and is placed within apostrophes. Like ‘Hameln’, ‘Shogun’ is also good on chalk. It produces mounds of upright, narrow leaves with silver-pink panicles in summer, growing to around 1.2 m. Good in a group in a gravel garden. A deciduous perennial.

The four different Pennisetum above, highlight the fact that although plants may be from the same genus, they can be quite different. Pennisetum can be annual or perennial, evergreen or deciduous grasses, clump-forming or spreading in habit. In order to identify them exactly, we need their species name and a cultivar name if there is one. Hence, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Black Beauty’ is this one:

H. 1 – 1.5 m

And Pennisetum setaceum ‘Sky Rocket’ , H. 0.9 m. (note the variegated leaves) is this one:

Here endeth the first lesson in binomial nomenclature. All thanks to the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus. Eighteenth century. (No television.)

It’s a serious business and was given our full attention

Only one in five fell asleep. You know who you are.

Labels

In view of the need to name our plants accurately, labelling is a skill to be learned early on in a gardening life – and one which should become a habit. Date the end of the label; write the genus name of the plant, beginning with a capital letter; write the species name in lower case; write the cultivar name within quotation marks, using a capital letter for each word. Write using an indelible pen such as an ultra-fine Sharpie. Other felt tips are available.

Homework: Produce a label for a plant of your choice. No pressure.

Jobs for the week

This week it’s about looking carefully at what’s growing, what needs hoicking out and what needs cutting back. Hardy Geraniums, for instance, have become lush and overgrown after flowering, and will benefit from a severe haircut.

We collect tools and trugs (green for ‘good’ waste, which can be put on the compost heap; black for ‘bad’ waste, weeds etc., which need to be put in the recycling bins at the front of the house). Then heigh-ho, it’s off to work we go.

Work on the Herb bed

Trimming, clipping, clearing, composting

Work in beds underneath the Rose arches

Ditto

Dry Bed Project

Bottom Terrace bed

Rhubarb bed

It’s all Rhubarb, Rhubarb, Rhubarb

The Cake Break

Still an essential part of the session. Thank goodness.

It’s good to be back!