Friday 15th July 2022

Mid-July, and the heat is on

No problem for us at Garden House; we plant for both sun and shade.

Such cool gardeners!

Plant ident.

Purple prose to describe the purple/blue plants in today’s ident.

Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spire’

Russian Sage (and, therefore, a Salvia). Large, plumy panicles of lavender-blue flowers are borne on this beautiful perennial sub-shrub from mid-summer and carry on through to autumn. Its white stems have aromatic silvery-grey leaves and the whole effect is luminous. Best grown in a poor but well-drained soil in full sun, so it’s particularly suited to sandy, chalky and loamy conditions. Lovely with ornamental grasses. It can flop a little and so should be cut back in March to its permanent woody framework in order to promote bushier growth. Mulch with compost after pruning and water well. Drought resistant. Attractive to pollinators. A.G.M.

Clematis Perle d’Azur

A late-flowering large-flowered Clematis with sumptuous pale blue/mauve flowers which are produced on the current year’s growth. Plant deeply and in shade to provide a cool root run, as this will help to prevent Clematis wilt and encourage new shoots to grow from below ground level. However, you do want to encourage the top growth to romp away into the sun and this is best done by planting it next to an arch or obelisk. This Clematis belongs in Pruning Group 3, which means it should be cut down in February/March to a framework about 45 cms above the ground, where fat new buds are forming. Feed regularly and water well. Cosset your Clematis. A.G.M. Ht. 4.0m

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’

An elegant, deciduous shrub grown mainly for its rich purple foliage. Back-lit by the sun, the leaves shine. Pinkish-white flowers appear in early summer follwed by glossy red seedheads in the autumn. Site in partial shade-full sun, in a moist, well-drained soil. Does well on clay. Prune after flowering to promote colourful new growth; take out about a quarter of the old stems – or you can cut it back completely. Looks fantastic grown alongside lime-green plants and also golden shrubs like Euonymous ‘Green and Gold’. The foliage lasts well in a vase and is a great filler for arrangements. A.G.M. Ht. 2.0m

Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’

A real favourite at Garden House. The deep purple-black foliage is finely cut and complements the pink heads of elderflower blossom which are later followed by red-black elderberries. Prune back to ground level annually, in early spring. Likes a moist, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. Easy from hardwood cuttings. A.G.M. Ht. 3.0m

Cotinus coggygria ‘Grace’

This is a purple-leafed form of the Smoke Bush, whose distinctive soft, smoky, flower plumes appear in the summer. It’s a shrub which goes on giving as the year progresses, because the leaves turn a vivid orangey-red in the autumn. Grow in well-drained, fertile soil in full sun or part shade. It loves a mulch of well-rotted compost or leafmould. Prune to shape. A.G.M. Ht. 6.0 m

Teucrium chamaedrys

Wall Germander. A delightful, dwarf, evergreen sub-shrub. Whorls of purple-pink flowers on loose spikes appear from midsummer to autumn. . Dark green, shiny, aromatic foliage. Heavenly in a herb garden. Can be used to make a low-growing dividing hedge in a parterre (should you be partial to parterres). Clip after flowering to ensure the plant remains bushy. Full sun. Bees adore it. You will too. Ht 0.25 m

Jobs for the week

Lots to do – but we’re feelin’ hot, hot, hot. So we keep our hats on and find a cool spot when we can –

Cut back Bearded Irises

Make a fan-shape as you cut the foliage, maintaining interest in the shape. Water well after cutting back. If the Irises have become overcrowded, divide clumps, removing the old central part and then replant the rhizomes. They like to bake in the sun.

Clip the Yew hedge outside the Garden Room

It needs shaping. Also, remove Honesty and the seedheads of Aquilegia. Take out the Hydrangea in the border as it’s too dry there for it to flourish. Right plant, but in the wrong place.

Cutting back and planting

Continues apace on the terraces. Gardening is something you very literally have to get into.

Work on the cut flower bed

Sadly, there’s been a lot of fox activity on this bed, and the blighters have caused quite a bit of damage. Cut back where necessary; deadhead; feed and water. Plant out classy Cleomes.

Plant Rose in Apple tree bed

Remove Rambling Rosie from her pot, where she is being somewhat lackadaisical, and plant deeply with lots of fresh compost in the bed next to the Garden Room. Hopefully this “vigorous, arching and repeat-flowering Rose” will then do what it says on her label – ramble!

Clearing the bed prior to tackling Rambling Rosie – a prickly customer.

Health and Safety Signage

Literally banging on about it

Potter in the Pelargonium Palace

Check those Pellies. Not too dry, not too wet. They must be just right.

Perfect pondering, pottering

and pouring

Work on the Dry Garden

Cut flowered plants back to a dome shape.

And plant Scabious

Sow biennials

It’s the last chance saloon for this job. Seeds of white and purple Hesperis, Angelica, Papaver nudicaule to be sown in the Cathedral greenhouse. Sieve the compost to remove any large lumps and ensure a fine sowing medium

Civilised sieve sharing

Put a layer of grit on top of the compost after sowing, then label. Water very gently using a fine rose spray on a small watering can.

Looking good alongside the cuttings

Plant Zinnias

Zingy Zinnias. These will contribute to extending the flowering season in the garden alongside other late-flowering perennials such as Heleniums


Hang on. Did we forget our Cake Break today?

Absolutely not!

A very special cake for a very special person’s very special birthday

We simply had to raise a glass to her

This was our penultimate session for the year. It hardly seems possible.

But, be in no doubt that Friday Group will finish 2021-22 with a flourish!

Friday 8th July 2022

It’s hot. It’s sunny. This is no time to be feeling blue. Summer is well and truly here, and the Dry Garden is coming into its own.

Following a recent G/H trip to Suffolk, which included a visit to the specialist nursery Woottens, Garden House seems to have acquired some new specimens from the Geraniaceae family, prompting a deeper dive into the whole group.

Plant ident.

The Geraniaceae family. It’s a big ‘un. They are all fairly short plants, mainly grown for ornamental purposes. Some have scented leaves. Some (such as Pelargonium graveolens) are grown for oil of geranium, used in making perfumes. Some prefer shady, moist soils, whilst others (e.g. Erodiums) thrive in drier, sunnier conditions. Their flowers have 5 petals and they have long, beak-like seedheads.

Within the family, the three main genera are: Geranium (Cranesbills), Pelargonium (Storksbills) and Erodium (Heronsbills).

Now, let’s get one thing straight from the outset – these (above) are NOT Geraniums. They are Pelargoniums. These are beauteous, tender things which love to be brought outside for the summer months, but must be tucked up and kept sheltered and frost free over the winter. If not treated tenderly, they will die, and serve you right. Low maintenance and very rewarding to grow, these brighten up pots, windowsills and patios over the summer. Many of them have deliciously scented leaves, such as Rose, Lemon, Mint and Balsam. The flowers have 7 stamens and come in a wide variety of colours and hues.

Geraniums, on the other hand, are tough old birds.

These are the Cranesbills. There are loads of these hardy, deciduous, herbaceous perennials, and within the genus there will generally be a choice of plants which are suitable for a tricky situation in the garden – dry shade/ deep, moist shade/ full sun. Planted into borders, they disappear below the ground during the winter months, then fresh foliage will emerge in late spring to grow on and produce flowers from early summer and often through into autumn. They benefit from being cut hard back after flowering, given some organic feed (like Maxicrop) and a good watering, and will then grow away once more, often producing a second crop of flowers later in the season. These flowers have 10 stamens – and come in a wide colour range. Invaluable.

Margery Fish, a doyenne of gardening, was apparently once asked what the secret of gardening was. Her reply? ‘When in doubt, plant a Geranium’!

Erodium (Heronsbills) are generally more petite than their cousins. They are hardy plants, preferring a sheltered position in full sun.

Best in a sharply drained, neutral to acid soil and are ideal for including in alpine gardens or gravel beds, where they make soft mounds of growth. Their leaves often have pretty, scalloped edges. Flowering from April through to September, the flowers have five stamens and come in white, pink, yellow, blue and purple. Enjoy them in a little alpine pan raised up on a table.

Geranium ‘Rozanne’

In Sarah Raven’s view, this is the best of the violet-blue Geraniums for a pot or in a border. Excellent as ground cover, this is a vigorous plant and can become overly enthusiastic, so it’s a prime candidate for cutting back after flowering. Likes a moist soil in partial shade-full sun. Divide clumps in the spring. Attractive to pollinators. A very popular cultivar. A.G.M. Ht 0.75 m

Geranium ‘Anne Thomson’

Vivid magenta flowers are the hallmark of this lovely. Great for combining with golds and darker reds. Its light green-golden foliage is ‘palmately lobed’, according to the R.H.S., which is horticultural-speak for ‘looks like a hand’. Full sun-partial shade. Pollinators? Tick. A.G.M.? Tick. Ht. 0.5 m

Geranium himalayense ‘Derrick Cook’

Which part of the world do you suppose this originates from? Produces masses of purple-veined white flowers in the summer, and its leaves take on red hues in the autumn. Gorgeous. Prefers a moist but well-drained soil; partial shade-sun. Attractive to pollinators. Ht. 0.5m

Erodium malacoides

Lovely violet-magenta flowers form in July. It needs a light (sandy) or medium (loamy) well-drained soil and full sun. Ht 0.5m

Geranium sanguineum

Eye-catching magenta-pink mallow-like flowers characterise this variety, which is also known as Blood-red Cranesbill. The small leaves are deeply cut and palmate. Good for groundcover and also in a rock garden, flowering from late spring to late summer. Drought tolerant, easy to grow and very reliable. Apparently resistant to deer and rabbits. Please do give feedback if you own a deer park. Attracts pollinators and other beneficial insects. Ht. 0.2 m

Jobs for the week

At some point in the academic year, many educational establishments include a Reading Week as part of the curriculum. At the University of Garden House, we have a Weeding Week. This means that we all turn up as usual, armed with sharpened secateurs and gleaming trowels, and spend the best part of one session weeding weeds.

Cries of ‘Out you come!’ and ‘Let’s be ‘avin’ you’ echo round the garden as we heed the need to weed and feed.

It’s not just weeding though. We also engage in the age-old tradition of hacking back. This may look chaotic if not somewhat frenzied, but belies the craftsmanship and hours of training involved in reaching the horticultural heights of hacker-backer.

Hacker-backers in action

Take no prisoners!

Water divining? Whatever next?

Oh. It’s a semi-circular metal support structure. But is it for the garden or the gardener?

Possibly for this gardener

Understandably so. The need for cake comes upon us all at midday

The clearance continues. Removing Lunaria from garden borders

It’s a case of being the best policy for Honesty

Garden House’s very own biological pest control system in action. The headline might be: ‘Snail-Eating Tortoise’.

(Not ‘Snail Eating Tortoise’, which would be a very different picture.)

Nature red in tooth and claw

Back for more nature next week.

Friday 1st July 2022

Well, please don’t think that just because it’s summer we’ve got time to lie about and smell the Roses. There’s no shortage of jobs to get on with – and we’re always looking ahead. Now is the moment to consider getting those late summer perennials in, if you haven’t done so already…

But first, as ever, it’s the Plant Ident.

Consolida ambigua

Larkspur is a joy to behold in gardens now. A hardy annual Delphinium which flowers longer and better than perennial forms, it has dense flower spikes which come in a range of colours from white to pink through to deep purple-blue. It makes an excellent cut flower and can last for over a week in a vase. Flowers from June to October. Ht 90 cms

Centaurea cyanus

The annual Cornflower, seen planted alongside Larkspur in the above photo, is an old faithful seen in every cottage garden. The vivid blue of the wild flower has been cultivated in the various forms now available, from ‘Blue Boy’ to ‘Blue Diadem’, but the range of colours has now been extended by breeders to include pinks, whites, reds and a deep maroon/black form called ‘Black Ball’. Loved by pollinators and florists alike; easy to grow. Ht 1.0 m

Eschscholzia californica

The delicate flowers of the California Poppy bring a vivid splash of colour to the summer garden. The feathery foliage is blue-green, and cultivars come in shades of orange, pink, red, coral, ivory and white. Grown as hardy annuals in the U.K., they are easy to grow from seed – especially in hot, dry areas where the soil is poor. Will self-seed – the curious looking seed pods are long and curved. Regular deadheading prolongs the flowering period. Rich in pollen, they attract bees and other pollinators. Ht. 30cms


Mostly tender perennials, used in summer flower displays, pots and hanging baskets, they are loved by some, hated by others. Begonias have, by and large, lost their reputation for being all boringly-bedding-plant-like or overblown with ruffles and kerfuffles. Recent varieties have been bred to be much more refined and elegant in appearance. Foliage can be lanceolate or gently rounded, plain glossy green or tapestry-like – and there are a wide range of non-garish flower colours now available.

Best out of direct sun, they can add interest to shady spots in the garden. Imagine their cool elegance as they drape themselves effortlessly over the edges of a series of large hanging baskets in your garden.

The showiest leaves of all belong to Begonia rex, while Begonia luxurians, the Palm-Leaf Begonia, can reach 3 metres in height and add exoticism to a border planting for the summer months.

Jobs for the week

Remove Honesty, unless you want to keep some growing for self-seeding or to decorate the garden in late summer/autumn with its shining seed pods. Remove Poppies, unless you want to keep their seed heads to look decorative in the garden. You can always hang onto both Poppy and Honesty seed heads to use in your flamboyant vase arrangements indoors.

Plant Heleniums and perennial Sunflowers. These colourful plants will keep the summer season going through into autumn, together with things like Crocosmia, Echinacea, Asters, Anemones, Rudbeckia, Hylotelephium and Salvias. It’s all about continuity.

Plant up hanging baskets with Begonias

Plant Grasses, Nicotiana and Fuchsias

For waves of graceful waftiness

Love a bit of waftiness!

Take cuttings of Mints

Mint has a tendency to occupy all available space, hence it is usual to contain it. Whilst taking cuttings, it’s a good time to check on its vigorous root system and see whether any of your marvellous Mint collection has managed to make good an escape from the metal bucket you so carefully chose to restrain it in two years ago.

Take cuttings of about 8 cms long from the top growth of a Mint plant. Remove the lower leaves and cut through the stem just below a leaf node. Put the stems into a glass of water and keep in a light place; roots will develop on the stems within a couple of weeks. Pot the rooted cutting up into a small container filled with good, peat-free coompost. Once a good root system has developed, pot the stems up in a container with good quality, peat-free multipurpose compost. Firm in well and water.

Of course, you’ll know that it’s a pot of Mint – but what type? Pineapple? Apple? Blackcurrant? Spearmint? Peppermint? Morroccan MInt? So, for goodness sake, don’t forget the label, Mabel. Trim the top growth from the newly planted cuttings to reduce transpiration. Hey presto! New plants from old.

In winter and autumn, root cuttings of Mint plants can be taken and easily grown on. Once you have a selection, you can choose the many and various ways in which to enjoy them –

in tea

in a sustaining tisane

or maybe in a summer beverage

That last one sounds good!

Plant up a Rose meadow container

Finish planting up and staking Dahlias in pots

Confront the compost

They look pretty jolly, all things considered. And that compost is simply magnificent.

Composting isn’t normally so much fun –

But today, they’re really getting on top of it

Prick out Foxgloves

These beloved biennials put on root and foliage growth in their first year, then flower, set seed and die in their second. (Sorry about that spoiler.) Seedlings can be grown on now then planted out in the garden in the autumn, where they will overwinter. Next year, they will do the Foxglove floriferous flower formation thing. Like so –

Pot on various (innumerable) plants

Including Chillies. From mild to scorchio. The clue is often in their cultivar name. Aji Dulce? Mild. Dragon’s Breath? I guess pretty hot. Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Pepper? Naga Viper Pepper? Avoid at all costs!

And you really wouldn’t want to muddle up those labels, would you?

Not even for a joke

Take a little time for a spot of serenity

Good for the soul

Friday 24th June 2022

Poppies. Symbols of everything from death and remembrance to peace and consolation. They are popping open all over the garden, bringing joy, colour and style with them.

Papaver rhoeas

Family: Papaveraceae Genus: Papaver Species: rhoeas

The Field Poppy

Poppies are a genus which form part of the family known as Papaveraceae. There are many other genera within the family, and this is where the Latin binomial naming system for plants is so useful to the gardener. It enables an individual plant in the larger family to be uniquely identified. Below is a chart showing 4 different plant families and an example of one genus within each. Each genus has a species name and may then also have a cultivar/variety name .

The Papaveraceae family alone contains around 42 genera. Most plants in the family are herbaceous, but a few are shrubs and small trees. Although members of the family share characteristics, each genus can be very different. The Californian Poppy (Eschscholzia californica), for example, is quite different from Papaver somniferum (the Opium Poppy), which, in turn, is distinct from Romneya coulteri (the Tree Poppy).

Plant ident.

Bridge showed us a number of plants from the Papaveraceae family which might all be commonly described as ‘Poppies’, yet they don’t all share the same genus.

Papaver nudicaule

Family: Papaveraceae Genus: Papaver Species: nudicaule

The Iceland Poppy is the fashionista of the family. A biennial or short-lived perennial, its beautiful, silky, chiffon-like flowers grace grey-green foliage. A fabulous choice for the cutting garden as it looks fantastic in the ground and lasts well in a vase. Sarah Raven rates the cultivar ‘Champagne Bubbles’ very highly, ‘the best possible Poppy you can grow’; praise indeed. Grows best in a fertile soil in full sun. Picking encourages prolonged flowering, but leave some seed heads for self-seeding. Ht 45 cms

Eschscholzia californica

Family: Papaveraceae Genus: Eschscholzia Species: californica

These delicate flowers bring a vivid splash of colour to the summer garden. The feathery foliage is blue-green, and cultivars come in shades of orange, pink, red, coral, ivory and white. Grown as hardy annuals in the U.K., they are easy to grow from seed – especially in hot, dry areas where the soil is poor. Rich in pollen, they attract bees. Ht. 30cms

Papaver orientale ‘Mrs Perry’

Family:Papaveraceae Genus: Papaver Species: orientale Cultivar: ‘Mrs Perry’

This deciduous perennial is a glamorous perennial with large bowl-shaped, salmon-pink flowers. Dark purple blotches mark the base of each petal. Copes with most well-drained soil and likes full sun. Propagate by division in spring or by taking root cuttings in late autumn. Ht 0.5 – 1.0 m

Papaver commutatum ‘Ladybird’

Family: Papaveraceae Genus: Papaver Species: ‘commutatum’ Cultivar: ‘Ladybird’

This gorgeous annual Poppy has black splodges, reminiscent of a ladybird. Good for filling gaps in sunny borders, attractive to bees and good as a cut flower. Easy to grow and a good self-seeder. Ht. 50 cms

Romneya coulteri

Family: Papaveracea Genus: Romneya Species: coulteri

The Californian Tree Poppy is a woody-based perennial with glaucous foliage and cup-shaped, white flowers. The golden yellow stamens add to the striking appearance of the plant, which blooms over a long period in the summer. Grow in a sunny location, and protect from cold winds. Propagate from basal or root cuttings. Ht 2.5 m

Meconopsis betonicifolia

Family: Papaveraceae Genus: Meconopsis Species: betonicifolia

The Himalayan Blue Poppy. If you live on chalky, alkaline soil, don’t try this at home! This short-lived perennial really wants a more acidic soil, thriving best in the cooler, wetter conditions of Scotland and northern England. It’s happiest in a bed of moist, fertile, organic matter in a sheltered and partially shaded location. A tricky, difficult customer, but one which has a rare and beautiful colour. Ht 1.2 m

Jobs for the week

Pricking out

It’s time to prick out Wallflowers, and sow biennials. Let’s do it!

Separate out the little lovelies, being careful not to damage the rootlets…

Nicely done

And add the all-important label (this one is there already).

Plant Dahlias

Plant up six pots with different varieties. Put crocks at the botoom of each pot to help with drainage, then mix G/House compost with a little organic, pelleted, chicken manure. Stake the plants and finish with a layer of horticultural grit to discourage those far from sluggish slugs. Label and water.

Sounds easy enough

If only we hadn’t watered the flipping thing before deciding to move it

Then weave a little frame to support the darling Dahlia as it grows

No trouble at all

Check the cut flower bed

Weed. Remove those plants which are beyond help. Plant some Dahlias, Larkspur and Ammi. Add a layer of grit (see reference to slugs, above) and a few organic slug pellets.

Pander to the Pelargoniums

In the greenhouse in the top garden, deadhead and feed the precious Pellies. Use diluted worm wee (technical term) or seaweed feed. Talk to them, show them kindness and treat them tenderly. They seem to respond.

But choose your words carefully

Take cuttings

So many plants to choose from! Plectranthus are a good bet – they take very easily and grow on quickly. Using a sharp knife or snips, cut down to a leaf joint on a non-flowering shoot; remove the bottom leaves of the cutting; make a small hole in the corner of a plant pot with a little dibber; push the cutting gently into the hole; firm carefully; water and label.

Also, take cuttings of Chrysanthemums to grow on in the greenhouse

Pot up Grasses

In the greenhouse. A less popular option in the summer months as it can turn into an oven in there

But these are cool customers

Check round the garden

Weed. Feed. Deadhead

Devoted dedication to duty

These are the Salad Days of summer