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.


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


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!

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