Friday 25th March 2022

Here are some of the Dahlias and annuals we’re going to be growing this year at Garden House.

Let’s look at the choice of Dahlias in closer detail –

Plant ident.

Dahlias

There was a time when these fabulous plants were somewhat neglected by regular gardeners. Perhaps because they were seen as complicated things to deal with – and only worth growing by Mrs Cholmondley-Smythe at The Manor for Withering-in-the-Water’s Annual Village Show. Thankfully, in recent years, they have come roaring back into fashion.

Nowadays it’s thought that unless you have very hard ground frosts, it’s feasible to leave Dahlias in the ground from one season to the next. This is especially the case in warm, sheltered areas of the country. They should, however, be given a good dressing of mulch in the winter to provide extra protection.

When in bloom, keep picking the flowers to encourage greater floriferousnessesses. Apparently, their petals are edible!

Dahlia ‘Nicholas’

A Decorative. The colour moves from apricot at the outside of the flower head through to crimson at the centre.

Dahlia ‘Renato Tosio’

One of the Decorative group of Dahlias, with a wonderful starburst quality to its flowers. A soft, pinky-orange, it’s an early flowerer, starting in July and continuing to perform over a long period – often into November.

Dahlia ‘Josie’

Named for the Head Gardener at Perch Hill, Josie Lewis. Described as being brighter still than D. ‘Totally Tangerine’, it promises to be a winner. Anemone-type.

Dahlia ‘Sarah Raven’

An Anemone-type Dahlia, named after the famed gardener, cook and writer. Her catalogue describes this one as having ‘tall, straight ebony stems and a good vase life. Exceptional amounts of pollen and nectar for bees and butterflies. ‘ We’re sold.

Dahlia ‘Molly Raven’

A Decorative Dahlia: ‘Rich stripes and stipples over a soft coffee to pink petal base. The foliage and stems contrast perfectly to the flowers.’ Sounds scrumptious. Wonder if it could be made into ice cream?

Jobs for the week

Pot up Dahlia tubers

These are Dahlia tubers – not creatures from the Black Lagoon. Now is the time to start potting them up. Store in a sheltered place, somewhere light and frost free, keeping them moist but not soaking wet. Once the plants have reached about 20 cms, pinch out their growing tips. Only plant out into the garden after the last frosts.

Note: the last frost will be the one which comes the day after you have planted out your Dahlias

Continue planting on cut flower bed

The gardeners are camouflaged behind the architectural structure of the Olive tree, but they are busily planting seedlings of Dill and Beth’s Poppy.

Plant out hardy annuals

Add them to pots on the display area outside the greenhouse.

Plant out the forced Hyacinth bulbs

These Hyacinths have now finished flowering indoors. Remove the spent flower heads and plant the bulbs out into the garden. Leave the foliage to die back naturally; the leaves produce the energy the bulbs need to form next year’s flowers.

Sow salad seeds in boxes

Cover with cling film. The boxes, not the gardeners. This will speed germination.

Take time to look at the new growth in the garden

Adopt a romantic pose. Recite a few lines of poetry, should the mood take you.

There’s plenty to inspire us

Friday 18th March 2022

The third week in March… and the Tulips are beginning to pop!

Here are the magnificent Emperors in all their majestic glory – ‘Exotic’ and ‘Orange’

So, this week, it seemed appropriate to look at a few Tulips in the course of doing the Plant Ident.

Tulipa turkestanica

Guess its country of origin! This is one of the species Tulips and has been awarded an A.G.M. A wonderfully wild-looking flower, with a yellow centre and fragrance too. Can be left in the ground year-on-year and will eventually naturalise and spread. The seedpods are also attractive. Full sun and well-drained soil. Plant in quantity. H. 30 cms.

Tulipa ‘Exotic Emperor’

Semi-double, fragrant white flowers flamed with green are held on strong stems above sword-shaped leaves. It’s a stunner and looks wonderful in a bold planting as a single variety or, alternatively, to make a more dramatic statement, together with a contrasting colour such as yellow or orange. H. 30-40 cms

Chionodoxa forbesii ‘Pink Giant’

‘Glory of the Snow’. An early-flowering bulb, whose pink, star-shaped blooms fade towards the centre of each flower. Likes a well-drained soil in a sunny or partially shaded position, and naturalises well in lawns. Plant in groups for maximum impact. H. 15 cms

Muscari macrocarpum ‘Golden Fragrance’

It’s a Grape Hyacinth, Jim, but not as we know it. This unusual variant is bi-coloured, starting off as a dusky purple, but developing yellow shades as the flowers open. Very free-flowering with a delicious scent – said to be like that of Gardenias. Fully hardy, it needs full sun. When clumps get congested, lift and divide in the autumn. Flowers April – May. Said to be deer and rabbit resistant. H. 10 cms

Jobs for the week

Dead head any bulbs which have finished flowering, but leave the foliage to die back naturally.

Seed sowing

No, it’s not enough to chuck a few seeds in and hope for the best. It’s all about careful preparation, planning and precision.

This will involve measuring

Running a string out to mark a straight line for the seed channel

And sowing seeds carefully and not too thickly. Then you’ll have plenty left over for later sowings to ensure a continuous supply of flowers right through to the end of the growing season. These are seeds of Orlaya grandiflora and will eventually look like this:

Yes, isn’t nature wonderful?

Some seeds are better started off in warmth on a heated mat in the greenhouse.

These pots are being watered in a trug so that they’ll soak up water from below – indelicately known as ‘bottom watering’. This prevents the soil on the top of the pot being swished about (technical term) by a brutal, direct hit from the watering can.

Gently does it

Weeding and pruning

The work continues… some like to explore their gardening through the medium of dance.

Check seedlings and cuttings in pots and cold frames

Those babies need constant attention

Spot if they need a re-pot

Weed the dry bed

Weed mindfully to soak up all the benefits of being outdoors

Tidy up time

These two are setting a good example by cleaning their tools before putting them neatly away in the shed. Just look at the shine on those trowels!

We could definitely get used to this unseasonably warm weather.

Friday 11th March 2022

There’s an element of euphoria about the Euphorbias, and it’s only the second week in March.

And the bulbs in bowls are beaut.

A quick cup of coffee before we move on to the plant ident. In a distracted moment, someone thought this was a milk container… Which actually, it once was – but no more

At Garden House, they’re always banging on about the importance of labelling. And for good reason.

Plant ident.

This week we concentrated on early bulbs. Starting with –

Narcissus Grand Soleil d’Or

There are many different species of Narcissus (Daffodil) and this one is a golden gem, bursting with energy and the promise of spring. It’s a tazetta (or indoor) Daffodil. It can actually be grown outdoors in a sheltered position, but tazetta bulbs are a popular choice for indoor forcing, where they will flower much earlier. The petite, bi-coloured flowers are produced in quantity – from 3 to 20 on each stem – and have a rich sweet scent. A flash of sunshine on a cold, cloudy day.

Narcissus ‘Avalanche’

Another tazetta Daffodil – and this one comes with an A.G.M. Vigorous and very fragrant, it is capable of producing 10-15 flowers per stem. An old-fashioned variety with white petals that frame a small yellow cup. Enjoy it as a forced indoor performance, although it is said to be resistant to deer when grown outside.

Narcissus ‘Rip van Winkle’

This little marvel looks a bit as if it’s been asleep for 20 years and woken up looking extremely dishevelled. Rather like its namesake. Mad, but delightful.

Leucojum vernum

The Spring Snowflake appears in late winter/early spring and is often mistaken for a Snowdrop. Which it ain’t. Each stem carries one flower which hangs downwards like a little lantern. Little dots of yellowy-green seem to have been hand painted on the base of its tepals, and the flowers nod above long, glossy-green leaves. Delicately scented. Grows on most soils, but likes them damp and well-drained. Will naturalise well and looks great when grown in large drifts. Deer and rabbit resistant. Apparently. A.G.M.

Hyacinth ‘Woodstock’

Indoor Hyacinths can be replanted outside once they have finished flowering. Remove the flower heads, but not the leaves, plant in the ground and feed. They will have a looser, wilder appearance when they flower again in the following year, but will still look gorgeous and smell wonderful.

Pushkinia

Scilla

Iris reticulata

Such a joy. Their stripes, splashes and splodges provide well defined landing strips for bees heading for the nectar/pollen rich flowers. So many varieties, you are spoiled for choice.

Galanthus elwesii ‘Mount Everest’

Snowdrops are the latest passion at Garden House. They seem to have gone from zero to hero in the space of a year or so, and the collection is gradually growing. Last count? 16 cultivars. Only another 2,484 to go. This one is a large flowering Snowdrop with pure white flowers and strap-like upright leaves.

Muscari

The Grape Hyacinth. These blue beauties are perhaps the ones we are most familiar with.

Wonder what the collective name is for a group of Muscari? A bunch of Grape Hyacinths?

And here’s a rather weird and wonderful looking cultivar. But do keep it under your hat, or there’ll be another collection underway before we know it.

Any questions? Yes! What’s the difference between a bulb, a corm and a tuber?

Bulbs

A bulb is an underground food storage organ; a true bulb, such as an Onion, Tulip, Allium or Garlic, consists of fleshy layers of scales which are leaves in their embryonic form, storing food for the developing plant and protecting the stem and flower at the centre of the bulb. They often have papery skins, called ‘tunics’. Bulbous plants can spread by seed and also by producing offsets (bulblets) to reproduce themselves; these form around the edge of the mother bulb’s basal plate. The original mother bulb doesn’t die, but nourishes them as they grow.

Corms

A corm is an enlarged, modified stem in which food for the plant is stored. It has a basal plate, tunic and growing point. If you cut one in half, it’s a solid mass rather than having concentric rings of leaves (as in a bulb). Examples of plants grown from corms are Crocosmia, Gladiolus, Crocus, Freesia and Muscari. Plants can spread by seed and also by forming cormlets, which grow one on top of the other, rather like a string of beads. The mother corm eventually dies, to be replaced by the growing cormlets.

Tubers

These are enlarged structures used as storage organs for nutrients in some plants. Usually short and thickened, they generally grow below the soil and provide energy and nutrients for growth and are high in starch. Potatoes are a great example of stem tubers, and Dahlias are an example of root tubers. The big advantage of Potatoes, of course, is that they can be made into chips. And Dahlias can’t.

Jobs for the week

Potting on

Pot on Sweet Pea seedlings from their deep root trainers into 1 litre pots. One module of seedlings per pot. You know the rules. Lathyrus ‘Mollie Rilstone’ and Lathyrus sativus var. azureus amongst others got the removal treatment. Water and label every pot.

Prick out Chasmanthium latifolium seedlings

And others. There will be lots. Remember to fill pots/modules to the tops of the rims and then strike off any excess compost. Plant well-rooted seedlings deep enough for their seed leaves to rest on the surface of the soil.

Prepare beds for cut flowers

Empty the raised beds of any remaining plants, weed and add compost. Rake over. Lay out a grid and plant hardy annuals 30 cms apart: Larkspur, Ammi majus, Orlayas and Eschscholzia.

What a good grid

12.00 noon. Cake stop.

We made short work of that task

Work in top greenhouse

Pot on succulents into terracotta pots. Use a sharp mix of 50% horticultural grit and 50% compost. Also do some propagation by leaf cuttings, placing one leaf upright (in the aforementioned compost mix) in a small module. Cut back pelargoniums.

Plant Roses in pots

Remove those which have been heeled-in on a temporary basis and plant in large pots.

Happy in her work

Seed sowing

First, make up some compost suitable for seed sowing. The recipe is as follows: 25% leaf mould, 25% coarse sand, 50% sieved garden soil. Mix together, then riddle through the middle of a garden sieve.

Here they are, riddling like anything

In a perfect world, bake this delicious mix in an oven to kill off any weed seeds. Thankfully, it’s not a perfect world. And, anyway, nobody knew how long the baking time should be. Two weeks was one helpful suggestion. Could be overkill.

Sow seeds of Dahlia ‘Bishop’s Children’, Malope trifida and Achillea on a pot filled with damp seed compost. Finish with a light layer of grit. Label.

Cut back Grasses

Time to give the deciduous Grasses (e.g. Calamagrostis, Miscanthus and Pennisetum macrourum) a haircut. And we’re looking for a flat-top style, please. You’ll need a lot of trugs for all that hair, I mean herbage

It can all go into the compost

The evergreen Grasses merely need a comb through to remove dead thatch.

Planting

Vincas, Snowdrops and Primroses to go in, as well as some creamy-flowering Comfrey.

Meanwhile, in a peaceful corner of the garden, the Camellias quietly get on with looking gorgeous.

Friday 4th March 2022

There’s a sudden spring in our step at Garden House. And in fact it looks as if a spot of spring cleaning is underway –

Pots all sorted, clean and orderly

Plant ident.

Plants in shady spots can provide year-round interest and colour. In our bid to rush forwards towards the vivid colours of spring and summer bulbs, annuals and herbaceous perennials, it’s easy to overlook these stalwart heroes, which work so hard for us, but often remain unsung.

Hedera helix ‘Goldheart’

The dark red stems of this ornamental Ivy contrast so effectively with the dark green-blotched-with-golden-yellow leaves. It can clamber up a pergola or over a seating area in shade, as it has adventitious roots, but it has the ability to light up an area, rather then making it gloomy. Clip back to keep in shape. Propagate from stem and tip cuttings. Each section of a stem can be rooted to make more (free) plants. Much loved at Garden House. Get one and you won’t regret it.

Acanthus mollis ‘Rue Ledan’

Bear’s Breeches. Large, glossy, green leaves which have a distinctive, classical, architectural vibe going on. This cultivar is not your common-or-garden type of Acanthus; it has tall spires of pure white flowers. Properly sophisticated and will do very well in a north facing border. Apparently, it’s not invasive – and, as it’s also sterile, it won’t self seed either. 1.2 m tall

Fatsia japonica

From the Araliaceae family. An old, but very useful, favourite for dark corners, which can also be grown in a pot outdoors or in. Big, shiny, dramatic, palmate leaves. It produces interesting fruit in spring – rather like the berries borne by Ivy, to which it is related.

They eventually turn black

The plant can cope with a good cut back from time to time, usually best done in mid to late spring. Either prune all stems down to a base structure, or alternatively take out one third of the stems down to the base. There is a newish variegated cultivar now available – ‘Spider’s Web’ – which is a Marmite plant. Frankly, if you don’t love it, you’re wrong.

Fatshedera lizei

Impress those neighbours of yours, who have just ‘popped by’ to tell you about their flashy, new, 4-bed R.V., by telling them that this sprawling/climbing shrub is a bi-generic hybrid. A fascinating cross between two genera of plants: Ivy and Fatsia. Their eyes will glaze over, and they’ll be gone in no time, leaving you the rest of the morning to get on with your gardening in peace and quiet.

Pulmonaria saccharata

This is one where the Latin name is worth using, because its common name is Lungwort, which sounds dreadful. It’s derived from the ancient concept of the ‘doctrine of signatures’, where herbs thought to resemble parts of the body were used to treat ailments afflicting those areas. So, the spotted leaf of Pulmonaria was thought to be appropriate for pulmonary (lung) infections. Don’t try this at home.

The plant is good in shade, but needs moisture to get established. It’s fascinating, because the flowers change colour (turning from blue to pink) as they are pollinated by bees. Cut back with shears after flowering to encourage further growth. There are many lovely cultivars – ‘Sissinghurst White’, ‘Blue Ensign’., ‘Diana Clare’ amongst others.

Polypodium vulgare

Ferns are fab, not least because the word ‘fronds’ can be used with gay abandon. This one is under the Pittosporum at the top of the steps at Garden House and is doing very well. They are rhizomatous plants which like a fairly shady position in moist soil with lots of organic matter and very good drainage. This one has long, leathery but lacy fronds. Great for a woodland area, where it will spread happily but not too invasively.

Polystichum Fern

The Shield Fern. Soft, dark green fronds that emerge upright before unfurling and falling open. Good amongst Solomon’s Seal and Hostas.

Vinca difformis

This white Periwinkle is a fantastic plant for shade. It clumps up to provide really good ground cover and the delicate flowers sparkle amongst the glossy foliage. Cut them over with shears now and this will encourage growth and the production of more side shoots and flowers.

Camellia japonica ‘Little Bit’

You can’t beat the karma of a Camellia. Refined. Elegant. So Japanese. Glossy, evergreen, ovate leaves. And this one looks like raspberry ripple. Delicious in every way. Perhaps a little blousey, compared with the simplicity of the single forms, but oh, so composed. Neutral to acid soil. Deadhead regularly. Likes a sheltered position in shade/part-shade away from morning sunshine (which can brown the petals and leaves). Good displays of Camellias currently at Nymans Gardens.

Jobs for the week

Prune the Fig

The Ficus carica is quite an old specimen by now. It has a big, fat trunk but rather skinny branches, and needs to be pruned back hard to encourage more vigorous growth. Now, this is a job for those well acquainted with all Health and Safety provisions. There are long, sharp pruning saws involved

Ah.

Be brave. Be radical. Prune back to 2 – 3 buds from the main stem. Pull (rather than cut) away any suckers growing at the base. Have a go with rooting hardwood cuttings taken from the prunings – nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Remove pond plants growing in aquatic pots

There’s a bit of overgrowth going on in the pond area. So, the plants need removing, dividing, reorganising and re-potting.

Maybe start with this one – Equisetum hyemale, or Rough Horsetail. A.k.a. the Lego Plant. Fun fact: pieces of the stalk can be pulled apart…. and then re-attached! I know! Bizarre and guaranteed to fascinate every small toddler, who will thenceforth be pulled like a magnet towards your garden pond. You may find some adults will be pulled in the same direction too. Can be grown as an indoor or outdoor plant.

Well, he’s caught a magnificent specimen

But it’s no easy task

After a lot of hustling and tussling…. success!

Bravo!

I thought you said there would be fish?

Propagate pond plants

Divide and separate.

Pot up into new aquatic baskets. Replace in pond.

Carefully

Oh heck

Note the presence of the Garden House Lifeguard.

Eat cake

A job we all enjoy

Plant up the Green Roof

This is usually on top of the shed, which is currently in the process of moving. (Sheds move quite slowly.) As the roof is currently at ground level, it’s a good moment to plant up more Houseleeks and check through the existing planting.

Plant Roses

Plant deeply, adding compost to the planting hole. Dust a little mycorrhizal fungi powder on the roots of the plants when planting. Sprinkle some organic, pelleted chicken manure around the planted area. Don’t forget to provide posh metal labels complete with a catalogue number for the Rose. Oh, and water in. Natch.

Create two obelisks

For the benefit of two (more) Roses. They’ll love the support. Applications from artistic types only. That will be:

you

and you, yes you up that ladder

Tidy up time!

Enjoy the scent of spring

And in these dark, sombre days, remember that to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.

Friday 25th February 2022

Sunshine at last! And all sorts of bulbs are presenting themselves for our appreciation – and to form the basis of this week’s

Plant Ident.

Hyacinth ‘Woodstock’

The fabulous beetroot colour combines with a knockout scent to make this one of the season’s must-have bulbs. The ones in flower right now are the forced bulbs which have been kept in a cool, dark place for 10 weeks before being brought into gentle warmth and light. After flowering, they can be dead-headed (but don’t remove the leaves) and then planted out in the garden. Regular Hyacinth bulbs can also be grown in the garden, but they won’t flower until April. So grow both! At Garden House the presence of H. ‘Woodstock’ amongst the pink stems of Rhubarb creates a very effective colour combo.

More to come!

Iris reticulata

There are many different cultivars of these delightful little bulbs, ‘Pauline’, ‘Harmony’, ‘George’ and ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ to name but a few. Cheap and joyful, there is no reason not to buy them in quantity and plant them in bowls or beds to enjoy now. They like a sunny site in well-drained soil, and need to be planted deeply (around 10 – 15 cms down). This will help them to flower well. Plant bulbs in the autumn. You’ll regret it if you don’t.

Narcissus ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’

Another forced bulb making its sunny, fragrant presence felt indoors. Long upright stems are topped by multiple, bi-coloured, scented flowers. A good cultivar for forcing, but it can also be successfully grown outside in a rockery. Good as a cut flower.

Narcissus ‘Avalanche’

Clusters of exquisite, small, white flowers emerge over narrow leaves of greenest green. The petals (perianth segments, don’t y’know) surround a pale golden cup, and the flowers are sweetly fragrant. Excellent as a cut flower it’s perfect for indoor forcing, or for naturalising in lawns. A perennial bulb, said to be deer and rabbit resistant, it holds an A.G.M.

Puschkinia scilloides

The Russian Snowdrop. A dwarf bulbous perennial related to Chionodoxas and Scillas. This petite little darling has silvery blue star-shaped flowers with a faint blue line along the length of each petal. About 6 cms tall when it draws itself up to its full height. Easy to grow, likes well-drained soil in full sun/partial shade.

Topic of the Week

Potting on seedlings. It’s a technique worth perfecting. Bridge demonstrated using tomato plant seedlings: the aptly named ‘Gardener’s Delight’. Once your seeds have gone from this –

– to this –

and have developed two true leaves (not their seed leaves), then the seedlings need to be gradually potted on into ever larger pots. Use FP7s to begin with. Take a clean pot and overfill it with a mix of peat free multi-purpose compost together with the priceless stuff made at Garden House (sieved). Strike off the excess and tap the pot firmly to settle the contents. The pot should be full to the top. Holding the seedling carefully by a leaf, make a hole in the centre of the compost with a dibber, and gently drop the seedling in so that its roots go right down and the seed leaves are just resting on the surface of the compost. The stems of the tomato plants will develop roots all the way along them. Clever things.

Keep in a sheltered, light position – a greenhouse or conservatory would be perfect, or a bright kitchen window sill.

In a few weeks time (by May) they will need potting on again into FP9s. Eventually all this work will result in a triumphant trugful of Tomatoes.

Sometimes seedlings can get very long and leggy (‘etiolated’), in which case you need to adopt the ‘nip and tuck’ method. Cosmetic surgery for tomato plants, if you will. It’s a delicate operation. Lay the stem of the seedling on the compost, bend the stem gently, pressing it down into the hole. A dipper should suffice – you won’t need forceps. Then tuck the roots in down behind the stem.

Jobs for the Week

Pot on seedlings

A lucky duo win places in the greenhouse. They love pottering and potting. Today they are dealing with Tomato seedlings, but need to check on the progress of the Chillies and Cobaea too.

The Cobaea scandens seedlings are romping away

Roses

Continue the ongoing project to label, name and number every Rose in the garden. There are 68 of them. Rosa de Rescht is one that requires a new metal label.

Several David Austin Roses have arrived and these will need heeling for the time being. And which Roses have we plumped for?

Aha!

And by tomorrow, there will be another new arrival – a granddaughter, baby Ella! Many congratulations to all.

Irises

Cut dead leaves off the Irises in the bed near the espalier Apples. Feed with organic, pelleted chicken manure.

Rockery/pond beds

Cut back Epimedium leaves to expose the flowers to come. Cut back dead plant material in the pond area. Weed.

Anyone got the time?

Just gone midday? Good grief, it’s time for….

Recipes please!

The Pond

The top part of the pond is rather messy and needs taking in hand. Six of the best Friday Groupers were allocated to this task.

However.

They decide instead to embark on some serious training for the World Aquatics Championships. Their dedication knows no bounds. Five coaches and one swimmer.

Plenty of Health and Safety equipment. At least one fishing net.

Go, go, go

More pace, more pace!

Phew! She arises from the water!

Style 10, Speed 9, Degree of Difficulty 11. And who knew that bobble hats were de rigueur swimwear these days?

Well, that was eventful.

Auriculas

There are plans afoot for these to be centre stage in April and May – they’re even having a theatre purpose built for them. Pot on new plantlets into compost with really good drainage and feed with diluted liquid from the wormery. Feed every 2-3 weeks until they come into flower.

We’ll be enjoying them in all their genteel glory by mid to late spring

If your estate isn’t large enough to accommodate livestock such as deer, Shorthorned cattle or Sussex Saddleback pigs, why not consider worms? Wiggly Wigglers are a good source of composting worms, wormeries and advice on all things wriggly. Just be careful not to muddle up your home-made apple juice with that recently decanted worm wee.