Friday 23rd September

Just as we were getting into the swing of the new gardening year we were deluged….now, as true gardeners, we welcome rain but would like it portioned out more evenly please.

We were not downhearted but retreated to the Garden Room….there are worse places to be…

We chose our seats carefully, for maximum effect…

…. and tried to ignore the rather alarming amounts of rain by thinking of a few of our favourite things. No singing was involved, and not a brown paper parcel or whiskery kitten in sight but each of us choosing our plant of the moment.

We chose Rudbeckia, Plectranthus, Tibouchina urvilleana, Salvia ‘Amistad’, Dahlia ‘Autumn Orange’, climbing roses, Ophiopogon planiscapus, Trachelospermum jasminoides, Lantana, Caryopteris, grape vines, Rosa ‘Roald Dahl’, Thalyctrum delavayi, Gaura, Anemone japonica, Rosa helenae and Cosmos. Phew!

Plant Ident

The ident this week was of plants included in the Queen’s funeral wreath, which was widely felt to have been a touching addition to the pomp and ceremony. They were all gathered from the various Royal gardens and arranged, we think, by Shane Connolly.

Pelargonium ‘Attar of Roses’

This gorgeous Pelly is a tender perennial sub-shrub with rose-scented, pinnately lobed leaves and small clusters of very pretty, pale, mauve-pink flowers. Like all pelargoniums, it has five petals of the same size and shape but the two upper petals differ slightly in colour and pattern from the three lower petals. It is great in pots and containers but also looks good in the front of borders, preferring full sun and a well-drained soil. It can be used in cooking, for making herbal tea and as an aromatic essential oil. Ht up to 45cm.

Myrtus communis subspecis tarentina

(communis – growing in groups)

Tarentum myrtle is a small, densely growing, evergreen shrub with small, aromatic, ovate leaves. The tiny pink buds open to starry white flowers from spring into summer, followed by white berries. Sometimes known as the herb of love, it was an ancient symbol of a happy marriage. The myrtle in the wreath was grown from a cutting taken from the Queen’s wedding bouquet. It is being used in place of Box in some situations and needs a sheltered , sunny position on well-drained soil – it loves the chalk! Use the leaves in cooking or pot-pourris and the dried berries as a spice. Ht up to 100cm – but slow, slow, slow!

Rosa ‘Highgrove’

The garnet-red, velvety double blooms of this smaller, modern climbing rose will appear repeatedly throughout late spring and summer and on into autumn. I have one which is flowering now in late September. As they age, the flowers display deep magenta hues. They are set against dark green, glossy foliage which makes it a very striking addition trained up walls, trellis or obelisks. Ht up to 2.5m.

Rosemarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’

(officinalis – sold in shops, thereby indicating a useful plant)

This is a hardy, low-growing, spreading form of Rosemary, therefore a Salvia (look carefully at those tiny purple-blue flowers). The grey-green foliage, that unmistakable scent and the insect attracting flowers make it a must-have. It is a symbol of remembrance. Useful as an edging plant for herb gardens or sunny borders – drape it over the edges of walls, add it to troughs and pots – you can’t go wrong! Unless, of course, you try to grow it in anything other than a sunny spot in well-drained soil. Propagate by taking semi-hardwood cuttings. Ht 10-50cm

Scabiosa atropurpurea ‘Black Knight’

(atropurpurea – dark purple)

Scabious can be annuals, biennials, or herbaceous or evergreen perennials. This stunning, dramatic variety is a short-lived perennial, meaning that it will come back each year for 2-3 years…longer if you are lucky. It flowers throughout summer into autumn with double pincushion flowers in the deepest burgundy, with almost black centres and contrasting white stamens. It is a plant for almost every type of planting – cottage gardens, more formal city-type gardens, prairie planting and pots and containers, adding contrast and depth of colour. It also makes a great cut-flower. Cut back hard midway through the season and it will flower again. Propagate by division or sow seeds with heat in autumn or spring. Ht up to 50cm.

Label writing

This is a really important part of working at Garden House – or any other working garden or nursery for that matter. As Bridge says, “The label is more important than the plant!” There was some discussion about why we need to use Latin when labelling plants…

1. Using a universal language means knowing exactly which plant is being grown/discussed/ordered, no matter where you are in the world.

2. It allows plants to be grouped together according to their characteristics and relationships.

3. It can give extra information about the plant in a brief and universal way.

When writing labels you don’t need to put the Family, just use the Genus, the Species and the Cultivar or Variety.

Has everyone got that?! Here is a quiz from Bridge to test you…

I can highly recommend this little book as a starting point for anyone who is interested…

Jobs for the week

It was way too wet to be outside so we settled down to a game of Plant Families – think Happy Families but greener – an FGG favourite.

This is great for learning about the characteristics (and differences) of plants within some of the Families. It also bought out the competitive side of some of us….

Before it all ended in tears it was time for coffee and cake.

Lets hope for more clement weather next week! See you then. x

Friday 16th September

Shadows are lengthening as we head into Autumn but it was a beautiful September morning and there was plenty to see and do at the Garden House.

Plant Ident

One of the upsides of the summer drought was that there were fewer weeds to contend with as they struggled to grow along with other, more precious, plants. Now we have had some serious rainfall, they are back with a vengeance. Weeds are often described as wild plants growing where they are not wanted! They tend to be invasive, spreading readily, and they compete with your favourites for water, nutrients and light. We looked at five of the blighters….

Anchusa officinalis

Alkanet or common bugloss is a biennial (occassionally perrenial) plant with pretty spikes of blue flowers above leaves that look a bit like Foxglove. However, these leaves are slightly more rounded and bristly – the bristles can cause skin irritation so take care when handling them. It has a long tap root and new shoots can form on root sections. Although attractive, it is invasive and there are other, cultivated forms which will give larger flowers and will not spread as readily. Up to 90cm ht.

Euphorbia peplus

Milkweed or petty spurge – my own, personal nemesis – is a small annual form of Euphorbia with upright, branching stems bearing oval leaves and small pale green flowers with triangular bracts below. It has a milky sap which can irritate the skin and is painful if it gets into your eyes so use protective gloves and eyewear when dealing with this readily spreading annual. On the plus side, the emerging plants are easy to pull from the soil or hoe off. Up to 20cm ht.

Mercurialis annua

French or annual Mercury is also in the Euphorbiaceae family and is easily confused with Dog’s Mercury but has a more branching habit, hairy stems and darker leaves. It is rich in potassium and used to be used as a purgative. Although poisonous to livestock, the seeds are an important part of a bullfinches diet. The seeds are dispersed explosively, are sometimes carried away by ants and can remain viable in soil for 6-7 years. Up to 70cm ht.

Geranium robertianum

Herb robert, red robin, stinking Bob, fox geranium, death come quickly… the list of common names goes on. Another initially attractive plant, it has strongly scented, palmately divided foliage which is often reddened, matching the narrow stems. Pink flowers appear throughout spring, summer and autumn producing explosive seed pods, spreading the plant rapidly over a wide area. Apparently, the leaves are edible and are used for making tea…none for me thank you. The roots are fairly shallow so it can be pulled up easily. Up to 30cm ht.

Oxalis corniculata

(corniculata – with small horns)

Creeping oxalis is a ground-hugging annual or perennial with small, reddish-purple leaves and tiny yellow flowers. Its branched, creeping, roots form a mat of growth and weave around stones and the roots of other plants. It loves cracks and crevices in pathways but also the soil in pots, especially those in a greenhouse. Some people live happily with it as it is quite pretty but new growth will sprout from any pieces touching the soil as well as having explosive seed capsules so it can run riot .

With all weeds it is best to stay on top of them as much as you can, hoeing off seedlings and digging or pulling up larger plants before they set seed….I know, easier said than done! To prevent more spread, avoid putting them in the compost and be careful of transferring your weeds to other gardens (GH!) in donated plants or on your shoes.

Jobs for the week.

Tie in the Cypress trees

The two Cypress trees were in need of a makeover – taking out any dead matter then carefully tying in straggling branches to create a good shape. A daunting task and not for the faint-hearted……

Achieving the perfect shape by the sheer force of her willpower.

Start preparing Pelargoniums for winter.

It’s time to start preparing your precious Pelargoniums for the winter. At GH this meant taking every plant out of the “Pelly House”, removing any weeds or dead foliage, taking cuttings, re-potting those that needed it and giving them all a final feed. Next the task of finding room for them all, plus the ones from outside which have, mysteriously, grown in number.

That’s a Pelly? Really?

Divide grasses.

Ornamental grasses can be divided to reduce the size of a clump, reinvigorate growth and to produce more plants. Grasses from a cool climate (e.g. Carex, Calamagrostis, Chasmanthium, Deschampia, Festuca, Hakonechloa, Helictotrichon, Molina and Stipa) can loose their vigour after three years so need regular division. Those from warmer climates (e.g. Arundo, Cortaderia, Imperata, Panicum, Pennisetum, Phalaris and Spartina) only require occasional division. Split clumps with two forks back-to back, cut through with a sharp spade or saw through with a knife (breadknives are great for this).

Work in the Dry Garden

The weather is gradually changing and it might be only 2-3 weeks until we get a cold snap. It’s a good time to get everything into shape by cutting back plants such as Nepeta, Lavender, Rosemary etc. Don’t cut into the old wood but enough to create the shape you want. Take cuttings. Note – this is not the time to cut back Salvias – that should wait until March. Take this last chance to put in any more plants, while the soil is still warm and light levels haven’t dipped too low. Lovely Erigeron was going in here.

Tidy up the Herb Garden

Are we allowed to stand up yet?

A similar task was being carried out in the herb garden. Cutting back the lush growth of the herbs will keep the area tidy and prevent parts of the plants rotting when we get wintery weather. The aroma was delicious and there were herbs to take home to use straight away or freeze for later.

Sort out the cold frames

The cold frames needed some attention. Some of the plants were for keeping, some to sell at the Macmillan coffee morning and some to give away.

Identify the plant and remove weeds, slugs and snails. Cut back stragglers and harvest seed. Pot on those which have outgrown their pots.

Remember, whatever your task for the day, tidy up behind you!

Friday 9th September 2022

Welcome back

It is a time of endings and new beginnings as we return to the Garden House for an exciting year of learning and doing.

Plant Ident

To ease us in gently, this week’s ident is of plants which are looking particularly beautiful in the garden at the moment

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides

(plumbaginoides – resembling Plumbago or Leadwort)

Hardy blue-flowered leadwort. A beautiful ground cover plant, native to the rocky foothills of Western China and Tibet. It forms a mat of stems bearing vivid green oval leaves which turn red or purple in Autumn. The clusters of rich blue flowers appear from late summer. It likes a sunny, well-drained, sheltered spot and is drought tolerant – great for those planning their own dry garden. Propagate this hardy plant by taking semi-hardwood cuttings. Ht.up to 75cm.

Cersis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’

(canadensis – from Canada – or sometimes other parts of northeast USA)

This stunner is also known as ‘Eastern Redbud’. It is a multi-stemmed, spreading deciduous shrub or small tree with gorgeous, large, heart-shaped leaves in deep red/purple, turning to shades of orange, bronze and red in Autumn. It needs a sheltered position in full sun or dappled shade – it will not thrive in exposed conditions – but is hardy down to -15c. It has an ultimate height and spread of up to 8 metres but can be pruned to keep it smaller. It quite rightly holds an RHS AGM (Award of Garden Merit)

Verbena bonariensis

(bonariensis – from Buenos Aires)

A favourite (aren’t they all?) at GH for its tall, narrow, sparsely-leafed stems bearing slightly flattened heads of pink to purple flowers in summer through to autumn. Its open, transparent shape combined with height makes it perfect to add height to borders and can be planted front, middle or back as it will not shade or overwhelm other plants. Gorgeous planted with grasses too. It is wafty, stylish and even slightly luminous at dusk – what’s not to love? Ht. up to 2m. Another holder of an AGM.

Cleome hasslerianna ‘Violet Queen

This lesser known, fast growing, half-hardy annual is also known as the ‘Spider Flower’. It produces loose clusters of fragrant, four- petalled flowers with long stamens that protrude out giving a spidery appearance. With the plant growing up tp 120cm tall on straight stems, and the flower “ball” measuring up to 15cm across they add unusual, airy drama and height to beds, borders or even pots. Will self-seed readily so remove the pods if you want to control the spread.

Salvia ‘Amistad’

Salvias, or perennial sages, come in a vast range of forms and colours but this perennial cultivar must be among the most stunning. The tubular flowers are larger than most salvias and are a wonderful shade of purple, set off by the near black of the calyses and stems, and the bright, zingy green of the foliage. Given shelter, full sun and a moist but well-drained soil it will reward you with that beautiful colour from early summer through to the first frosts. Protect from frosts. Ht up to 1.2m AGM

Jobs for the week

After introductions, stories of garden visits and the “start of school” run through rules and regulations we teamed up in small groups to show new colleagues around the garden. Greenhouses, potting sheds, tool stores and compost heaps where identified and committed to memory but there will be no quiz so don’t panic! Some of us old-timers still don’t know where to find the garden twine. If you are unsure of something, keep asking until you find someone with the answer.

Then to work….each group chose an area to look at, tidy, weed and generally beautify…..

…..then disappeared into the undergrowth.

Gardening or conducting?

Look what I found! Any useful plants which have self-seeded or multiplied can be potted up for later.

Who knew weeding could be so joyful? As long as we remember to put the “good” waste in green trugs destined for the compost heap, and “bad” waste (weeds, diseased plants etc.) in black trugs for the council brown bins we’ll stay this happy all year.

It’ catching….

Do you think if we stay very still they won’t notice us?

Next, a welcome break, cake and time to catch up with friends old and new in the dry garden. The cakes were delicious – thank you!

See you all next week for the next installment….