Friday 26th November 2021

Cold and grey. Dismal, even. We press on regardless.

Oh, we are a cheery, chirpy bunch! No doubt about it.

And there are lots of lovely things to keep our spirits up –

The Protection Racket

Time to think about adding extra protection for some tender plants which can’t easily be moved. Mulching is one way to add a layer of insulation; dressing plants in warm, winter outfits is another.

But not this sort of jacket, obvs.

More like this sort of thing –

Plant ident.

Tetrapanex papyrifer ‘Rex’

Architectural Plants say this is ‘Fatsia japonica on steroids’. It has exotica in abundance. The Chinese Rice Paper plant is a beaut., a fast-growing shrub/small tree with enormous, deeply-lobed green leaves. Can be grown in a large pot, but is better in the ground where it will probably sucker, so you end up with a little thicket. Can be thinned out and cut down as necessary, but they have a powdery dust all over them, which can be irritating to some. Wear a mask and long sleeves when working amongst them, just to be cautious. Needs a sheltered position in full sun to partial shade; wrapping it in a winter jacket will help to ensure it gets through the winter unscathed. Ht. 4-8m

Canna

Cannas are vibrant, tender, rhizomatous perennials with bold, exotic leaves and showy-offy flowers from mid to late summer through to autumn. Great Dixter demonstrates how magnificent they can be, growing them in their Exotic Garden. They can be container-grown or placed in a border and need a fertile soil and full sun. Although tender, they can survive the winter in warmer parts of the U.K. if given a good covering of mulch. At Garden House, they’ll be cut in half (yoicks!) and wrapped in a covering of horticultural fleece. Ht 1.8m

Musa basjoo

This Japanese Hardy Banana somehow defies expectations and grows quite happily in the U.K. , managing at ambient temperatures of 6 degrees centigrade. Cut back in the winter and mulch the stems. For colder areas, Architectural Plants once again offers sage words of advice: ‘Acquire yourself some nice old terracotta chimney pots and, after the leaves have been frosted, cut the banana down to a few inches lower than the top of the chimney pot, place the pot over the stem, stuff it with straw and devise a top to keep the rain out. Here it will be safe even when Hell freezes over.’ Heck, give it a go!

Hedychium

One of late summer’s glories – the Ginger Lily plant. Lush foliage and wonderful bright colours make them highly desirable – and they’re also easy to grow. But now they need protection. In an ideal world, move them into a warm, sumptuous conservatory. Otherwise, a cold greenhouse should work and/or wrap them in a winter jacket of horticultural fleece. Bubble wrap around the pot provides an extra layer of insulation and finish with a good helping of mulch over the soil. Planting the rhizomes deeply helps to enhance cold tolerance, as does siting them against a south or west facing wall. As with many exotics, it’s damp-induced rotting which is often the main killer, so endeavour to protect from winter rains.

Cobaea scandens

Is it an annual? Is it perennial? It’s the luck of the draw, really. In the U.K. we usually treat the Cup and Saucer plant as an annual, but it can flower into November/December in a sheltered position, and has been known to make it through the winter. Try covering the roots in much mulch and see what happens. Sow seeds in January, as it takes a long time to get going, but once it does, it’s rampant! An exotic-looking climber with either white or purple bell-shaped flowers, it can be trained over trellises and arches to dramatic effect. Essential!

Now, out into the garden, where someone is keeping a sharp lookout for unwanted intruders

Nothing gets past me

I just did

Autumn Leaves

What to do? Leave leaves to decompose? Dispose of them? Compost them? It’s a puzzle. Merely leaving them on the soil or grass can remove vital nutrients. The very best thing to do with deciduous leaves is to collect them up and put them into a leaf cage, or just a bin bag with holes pierced in it to allow aeration. Add a little water and they will eventually rot down, creating a perfect material for mulching and potting. It is the slow action of fungi rather than bacteria which breaks the leaves down. Some leaves decompose more quickly than others – e.g. birch, beech and cherry, whereas larger, more leathery leaves, like those of Horse Chestnut, take longer and will benefit from being shredded.

Hessian sacks are ideal for making leaf mould. Air can get in easily, as can moisture. And they look posh.

Composting

A quick recap. DON’T put in: plastics, sellotape, weeds, large pieces of wood, large prunings, crocks, polystyrene, cooked food. There will be ructions! DO put in small twiggy materials, green garden waste and grass clippings, ash from wood fires, coffee grounds, tea bags, pet hair and human hair (but not if still attached to owner), feathers, cardboard. Layer, aerate, turn, pray.

Charles Dowding, the no-dig guru, is excellent on the subject (the religion?) of composting. Watch him on YouTube.

Jobs for the week

Sieve compost taken from the bins

Or ’tilth the filth’, as we say. This refines the texture and the resulting glory can be layered onto seeded beds or beds cleared for winter. Or used to mix with leaf mould for potting on.

Compost (before) in barrow. Compost (after) in trug. Compare and contrast.

Assess borders

Decide what is to be kept and what should go. Remove and replant as required. The Buddleia is a case in point. Note the traditional Replanting Dance: heel and toe, heel and toe…

Cut back anything dead, damaged, diseased, ugly, and compost appropriately (not diseased material). Stems of Asters, Dahlias, Rudbeckias, Helianthus and Peonies (not Tree Peonies) can all go. Leave seed heads for the birds and wildlife – for example, Sedums – and anything which still looks good, like the heads of Japanese Anemones. Frosts will take the garden to a whole new level of beauty.

Mulch borders

With compost from the bin

Or, as we call it, black gold

Mulching retains moisture in the soil, acts as a weed suppressant, inhibits soil erosion and provides insulation for resting plants. A layer of 10 cms is ideal. All it requires is a lot of application.

The Applicators

The crucial Break for Cake

Today including carrot cake and orange drizzle cake.

Thank goodness. That’s two of our five-a-day

So welcome. And so restorative

Work in The Cathedral

Potting on seedlings and propagating succulents

Warm, comforatable, spacious. It’s tough, but someone has to do it.

Work in the Pelargonium Palace

Primp the Pellies. Tidy. Re-pot where necessary. You know the rules.

Check Sempervivums

Houseleeks are hardy, succulent, alpine plants, and their name is indicative of the fact that it’s hard to kill them. They are tolerant of extreme temperatures and drought; the main thing which can do for them is sitting in the wet. Well, that would do for anyone.

Sempervivums form distinctive rosettes of foliage and bear flowers from spring to summer. Each rosette is a separate plant and is monocarpic, meaning that it will flower once and then die. However, baby plants (offsets) grow on and these can be removed, planted up and grown on, forming new clumps. Above, we can see the dead rosette in the centre of the pot.

Re-pot offsets in gritty compost and finish with a layer of horticultural grit. Label and protect from wet weather

Planting bulbs

Underneath the arches. Will it ever end? And what’s going in today?

Lovely!

We think so

Anyway, we must get on

Wrap up warm

Winter jackets on

And which Friday Group member got wrapped this year?

Tidy up time

Making a clean sweep of things

And, guess what? The sun came out! Well, they say it shines on the righteous

November it may be…

…but look what’s still blooming away at Garden House!

Friday 19th November 2021

Another Friday. It’s mizzly and drizzly, but the front garden is as neat as a pin. Pots have been planted up with bulbs and topped off with horticultural grit. That’s true haughty culture.

Plant ident.

This could be called ‘The Late Show’, as these lovelies are all still performing even though it’s mid-November.

Phygelius capensis

The Cape Fuchsia is a (very) vigorous semi-evergreen, small shrub with extraordinary tubular flowers, which can be 3 cms long, orange-red in colour and a welcome addition to the border at this end of the year. Its vigour may be welcomed by some, but the phrase “an absolute nightmare” has also been used to describe it. However, the suckers which appear can easily be removed and potted up to make new, free plants. Can be treated as a herbaceous perennial. Ht. 1.5m

Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’

Dan Pearson has recently written about Amsonia, and used such descriptives as ‘luminous’, ‘autumn blaze’ and ‘flash of glory’. So, nip out and buy some immediately. When planted in groups, the gorgeous buttery-yellow, lanceate leaves of Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ light up the autumn garden. A clump-forming deciduous perennial, panicles of star-shaped light-blue flowers appear from late spring to early summer. Fairly drought-resistant and copes with most soils. Best planted in full sun to partial shade where the light will hit it at some point in the day. Unassuming, perhaps, but a hard worker and one that is easily maintained. Reportedly resistant to slugs and snails. And not frequently seen, so worth buying for neighbour envy alone. Ht. 0.5m

Salvia confertiflora

Soft, dark red, velvety flowers adorn this beautiful Salvia. Bees and other insects love its nectar-rich flowers and the spikes contrast with the plant’s large, veined, green leaves. Can be hardy in some warm and sheltered areas, but is probably best treated as a tender perennial, so provide winter protection before the frosts arrive. (By the way, frosts generally arrive with a vengeance the night before you decide to provide winter protection.) So, at the very least, take cuttings to ensure plants for next year. Likes full sun and a sheltered position; regular dead-heading will prolong the flowering period. Ht. 1.5m

Sorbus aucuparia ‘Joseph Rock’

This variety of Mountain Ash is known for the beautiful amber-yellow berries which appear in autumn. Its deciduous, pinnate foliage takes on wonderful fall shades of scarlet, red, orange and copper which complement the colours of the fruit. Birds eventually take the berries, and, earlier in the year, bees enjoy feasting from the creamy white flowers. Upright and neat in form, this makes an excellent choice for a small garden. Full sun, any aspect. And it has an A.G.M., of course! Ht. 6-10m

Salvia involucrata ‘Hadspen’s Pink’

Apparently, one of Sarah Raven’s top ten perennials, now that it has survived a couple of winters in her garden in East Sussex. In less sheltered areas, it is generally treated as a tender perennial. Introduced by the colour gurus Sandra and Nori Pope whilst they gardened at Hadspen House (now The Newt Hotel and Gardens). Starts to flower in July and continues for months. The tubular flowers are a bright lipstick pink and are borne on upright, reddish stems which arch as they grow. Likes a well-drained, warm and sheltered position in sun. Ht. 1.2-1.5m

Jobs for the week

Sow a pictorial meadow

Goodness. Sounds very Homes and Gardens. And, indeed it is. As practised by none other than Highgrove House, my dear. So, what exactly is a pictorial meadow?

It’s a spectacularly colourful and naturalistic seeded planting containing both native and non-native flowers, aimed at attracting more pollinators without being a traditional ‘wildflower meadow’. It doesn’t, for instance, contain grasses in the seed mix. One of the best known was the planting created for the Olympic Park in London 2012.

Garden House is using a special hardy cornfield mixture containing Cornflower, Corn Cockle, Corn Chamomile, Cut-leaved Cranesbill, Corn Marigold and Poppies amongst other delights.

And here, the team assemble to consider the best course of action

First, clear the entire Exotic bed. Dispose of all compostable waste in the receiving bin of the compost heap. (See next Job for the week.)

Apply quantities of delicious, home-made compost prior to sowing the seed mix at 2 gms per sq. yard. (Mixing our Imperials and Metrics there. That’s Brexit for you.)

By sowing now we hope for earlier germination and tougher plants. A further sowing can be made next spring if necessary.

Heap heaps on the compost heap

Sort, turn and whisper magic spells. Remove already composted material to spread on newly cleared beds. Our resident expert returns to cosset his pride and joy, accompanied by a willing and able assistant.

Who, for some reason, doesn’t appear to want a photo taken. Can’t think why…

Still, nothing she can do about it now, eh?

And soon, she’s enjoying every minute –

Plant outdoor Hyacinth bulbs

The variety ‘Woodstock’ is being planted alongside Rhubarb plants in one of the raised beds; this should make an attractive combo next year, with the deep magenta of the Hyacinths contrasting with the deep red of the vegetable stalks. (Yes, vegetable!)

Empty 3 blue pots

To be filled with… guess what?

Absolutamundo!

Still, many hands make light bulb work

Or, light work of bulbs

Where possible, match your gloves to the pots you are working on.

Work in the top garden

More emptying of pots, re-filling of pots, planting of pots, gritting, wiring, labelling. You know the routine.

Yes. We know.

Oh, looking very lovely

And what about the other routine we love?

The Cake Break

Ah, yes.

Plant up window boxes

With yet more Tulips. Tulipa ‘Abu Hassan’ to be precise.

Little Dixter

Not just any old Tulips in here, thanks. Now is the time to bring some of the species Tulips to the planting party, namely Tulipa turkestanica and Tulipa tarda. These are much smaller, more delicate bulbs. And much, much more expensive. They will need truly expert planting…

Excellent choice

And? Oh dear

Perhaps a little gingering up is required to get the best out of her

Looks promising

Planting bulbs for indoor flowers

These Narcissi bulbs have been forced in order to produce earlier blooms. They don’t need much in the way of drainage, so wine boxes will make ideal containers. Planted up in quantity, they are going to provide a dramatic display in the near future

Watch this space

Friday 12th November 2021

Friday Group are back at Garden House. Hip hip, hooray!

And it’s a bit on the damp side

Although the Cornelian Cherry is putting on a fine, fiery display

And what is this glasstastic vision we see before us?

Coo! It’s a beauty

Plant ident.

This week we concentrated on those plants which really should be brought under cover NOW, to avoid death by frost.

Fuchsia microphylla

The small-leaved Fuchsia is a late and very welcome flowerer. It’s got itsy, bitsy, teeny, weeny pink flowers and evergreen foliage going on all over. Small black berries form in the autumn, which, apparently, are edible. ‘After you’, as one F/G member appositely commented. Get this little lovely indoors now; hopefully you already have some cuttings growing, but try again if not. It may survive outside in very mild areas, but why take the chance? It’s great in our Little Dixter area, and in pots around the garden.

Gomphrena globosa

An unusual, tender perennial which is easy to grow from cuttings. Its sprawling habit is shown off best when grown in a large container. Best in full sun, the flower stems can be cut and will last for a long time in a vase; the flowers will also hold their vivid purple colour when dried. Stays in bloom right up to the first frosts.

Plectranthus ciliatus ‘Nico’

A very tender perennial, often treated as an annual, with cuttings easily taken and struck to ensure more plants next year. Invaluable in pots as a foil for Dahlias, Cosmos, Salvias or other flowering plants, but equally arresting on its own. It’s sometimes used as ground cover, as it has a large footprint, and will quickly carpet an area. The dark green leaves have pronounced purple markings, with undersides washed in the same dark purple. Attractive flower spikes emerge in the autumn. Will grow in sun or part shade quite happily. How about trying it as a houseplant on a sunny windowsill over the winter months?

Tibouchina urvilleana

A spectacular tender, evergreen perennial, with the most glorious irridescent violet/purple flowers in late summer to autumn. A somewhat lax shrub with soft, elliptical, grey-green leaves, it will grow in most soils. Brings a touch of the exotic with it, and looks great in containers and on patios. Better still in conservatories or orangeries; surely it’s worth getting this plant if only as a reason to acquire the latter. Will grow outdoors in frost-free situations, but should really be brought in as the weather gets chilly. A.G.M. Ht 2.5 – 4 m

Cuphea ignea

This spreading, evergreen sub-shrub is the Mexican Cigar Plant. Striking scarlet/orange, tubular flowers are produced in quantity throughout the summer and autumn and complement the lance-shaped, vivid green leaves. Grows best in full sun in a sheltered position or in a pot. Attractive to pollinators. A.G.M. Ht. 40 cms

Bulbs

The time for planting is upon us. They have been ordered, delivered, hidden in wardrobes, cupboards and under benches. And counted. How many are there?

‘Never you mind.’

Planting schemes have been meticulously planned for various parts of the garden. Beds, pots, containers will all host dramatic displays, which we hope will be at their peak next spring when the garden opens for the National Garden Scheme.

So, let’s plant!

Jobs for the Week

Plant bulb lasagnes in large pots. This will provide interest from February to May, as the different layers come through. Ensure the pot has good drainage and add a layer of compost; arrange 15 Tulip bulbs at a depth of around 30 cm; add a 10 cm layer of compost and put in a further 15 Tulip bulbs. 10 cm more compost will cover those bulbs, then top with white Narcissi bulbs; yet another layer of compost will take Crocus bulbs. Finish the whole lot off with another layer of compost and plant pansies as a final hurrah! Add a generous layer of grit. (Anti-squirrel tactics.)

Secure wire mesh over the pot. Those squirrels have a fight on their hands.

Plant bulbs for forcing

One group were allowed exclusive access to the enviable new structure to plant prepared bulbs. These have already undergone a period of cold temperatures to encourage early flowering. Aka vernalization.

Once the bulbs have had their cool period, they will begin to sprout. When they have grown a few centimetres they can be brought into slightly warmer conditions where they will continue to develop slowly, and then come into bloom. Grow in pots or shallow pans. (October’s Gardens Illustrated magazine has a feature on this.)

Bulb lasagne. Encore.

Plant a mix of pink and purple Tulips in layers in the large black pots.

Remember to label. And grit. And add wire mesh deterrent. Squirrels Keep Out!

Plant Galanthus

Snowdrop bulbs can be planted now under the Birch trees and amongst black grasses (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’, since you ask) to provide a wonderful effect in the spring. Plant them deeply, to about three times their depth. This is where the rather alarming-looking Niwaki Hori Hori tool comes into its own. A knife with an extremely sharp blade, it can be used to dig, plant, weed and prune. And you can use it to stir your tea.

Plant bulbs in woodland bed

Scatter Narcissi bulbs for an informal scheme. Plant in Downward-Facing Dog Pose, if possible. That’s Adho Mukha Svanasana, just to be clear.

Develop an orange themed area in the top garden

So suitable when using Dutch Tulips

It’s going to look bulbalicious

More lasagnes, one suspects.

Little Dixter

Time to clear the decks and start preparing for a spring showstopper

And, yes, it does involve bulbs… Muscari, Iris, Chionodoxa. These little beauties are going to shine.

Are these bulbs planted in layers?

Well, yes, in a manner of speaking

Allow time to tidy up

Inside

and out

And then home for a hot bath. And tea in a real cup and saucer. Not the horticultural type, like these –

Friday 5th November 2021

Remember, remember, – today is the day to work in colleagues’ gardens. So, this Friday, it was a case of hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work we go, but not at Garden House. One group met in Brighton and one in Newhaven

The Brighton team’s brief was firstly to find the garden…It was a bit of a puzzle.

Through a little gap, and down some steep steps…

Find a gate…

…and walk into a magical space full of greenery

and a lovely view

On a steep slope too! Amazing, and not a little challenging

All sorts of levels had been created by the (strong and feisty) owner, who had also laid brick patios, built steps and was now preparing to set to work with a new toy…

Unsurprisingly, we found this a little intimidating, and had to sit down for a moment or two

Equilibrium recovered; then there was no stopping us

Our task (and we chose to accept it) was to clear a bed, remove weeds and replant with bulbs and plants appropriate to the site. Most plants were removed and placed in a holding area

These paddling pools come in so handy

We disturbed some of the hidden wildlife

A slow worm

A fast newt

And a toad which was hopping mad

We frightened a dragon, who went into hiding

And discovered oodles of oozy snails

Remaining shrubs were given a trim and tidy up. Some pots were emptied and filled with compost ready for bulbs. And a vine was unearthed and its roots traced back to New Zealand.

Of course, cakes featured. As per.

It would have been rude not to

Spurred on by the sugar rush, work continued…

for some

Then it was time to leave and return to the outside world once again

Were we ever there?

Indeed we were – the owner kindly said it was a month’s worth of gardening done in a day!

Meanwhile, in a garden far, far away…. in the midst of a mist of Miscanthus

lay another magical space

with a very excellent greenhouse

and a keen workforce eager to get going

They know the rules…

there are bulbs to plant

in beds and boxes

Beds to weed and plant

Here’s the shrub hub

Cake bait

(It works every time)

And always gets a good response

Seedlings to pot on

Keep them in the greenhouse until they are rooted and established

There are cuttings to be taken. These are of Helichrysum italicum

Narcissus bulbs planted and topped off with gravel to deter the darling little squirrels. If this fails, flame throwers will be brought in. Available at all good garden centres.

Another golden day

Thank you so much to both our wonderful hosts. It was a lot of fun.

Next Friday, it’s back to base at Garden House