All posts by Anne Unsworth

Friday 7th May 2021

The April/May flower show continues…

Prim perfection from Primula auricula

Plant ident.

Saxifraga x urbium

We know it better by its common name – London Pride – it comes from the same family as Heucheras and Bergenias, Saxifragaceae. A delightful little evergreen perennial, forming a spreading carpet of crinkle-edged rosettes, making it a good choice for ground cover. Best described by The Pink Wheelbarrow in this hyphenated masterpiece: ‘One of the most ground-hugging, low-growing, weed-smothering, bomb-proof plants you could have in the garden’. Fair enough. Pink/white flower panicles emerge from mid spring to summer, carried on long stems. Full sun to partial shade. Propagates easily; just pull up a rosette or two with a bit of root, and plant immediately. Garden House rating: Top Stuff.

Hesperis matronalis

Check out the frothy beauty of this biennial. Sweet Rocket smells as good as its name implies (especially in the evenings), and looks just gorgeous shimmering in dappled sunlight. It’s enough to make you go all poetic. Its white or purple flowers look very similar to those of Honesty. Deadheading will prolong the flowering period, but do let some plants go to seed as they will self-sow around the garden, choosing better places to grow than any mere mortal would think of. Any aspect will do; prefers lighter, well-drained soils.

Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow’

Another member of the Brassicaceae family – evidenced by the 4-petalled flowers. And this cultivar of Honesty is a real wowser. Deep, dark purple, almost chocolate coloured leaves contrast with luminous lilac flowers. Biennial. Come autumn, they will produce attractive translucent seed-heads, which look wonderful in the garden as well as in indoor arrangements. Will self-seed happily. Likes moist, well-drained soil in part shade. Good for bees, butterflies and moths.

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’

From the Borage family, this cultivar of Brunnera has frosted heart-shaped leaves and small bright blue flowers reminiscent of Forget-me- Nots. (That’s Myosotis, in case you had actually forgotten, which is also in the Borage family.) An evergreen perennial, it flowers from April to May. Likes moisture-retentive soil and once it is established, it will spread to provide beautiful ground cover. Partial to full shade. Brilliant in a woodland setting, so start planting trees now.

Allium neapolitanum ‘Cowanii

Another clever filler to bridge the gap between spring and summer perennials. Bride’s Garlic / Naples Garlic is a bulbous, herbaceous perennial which will tolerate poor and dry soils and has distinctive white umbels with star-shaped flowers. Sweetly scented, even though it’s a member of the Onion family, attractive to bees and lasts for ages when cut. Good in pots. Looks good grown with purple or blue Dutch Irises in a hot, dry border.

I’m glad that’s over with. Can we get on to the practical stuff now?

Now really, Puss. Have you been paying attention? What was that white flower, for instance?

What, this white one here?

I think you’ll find that is ‘Allium Cowanii’

Perfect, Puss!

The Dry Garden

Gradually, gradually things are coming together, falling apart, then coming together again. Measurements taken; plants schemed of, dreamed of; functions of areas established; flow considered; seating and tables – hmmm; landscaping materials chosen, discarded, reconsidered. It’s a process. The design progresses and the next rough drawing has been done by Liz.

And it looks like this –

Looking good

Hosepipes laid out on the ground are a good way to assess the general layout of beds and seating areas. That’s hosepipes, not hornpipes.

First, wrestle your hosepipe to the ground

I think the hosepipe’s winning…

Jobs for the week

The focus is on sowing seeds, pricking out and potting on. It’s all go. Don’t forget to water your babies. Harden them off gradually. It’s still cold out there, so don’t be in too much of a hurry to plant out half-hardy annuals.

Pot on Stipa tenuissima plants

Prick out rooted cuttings of Santolinas

These rooted very quickly. Remove any flowers which have formed, and cut back by about one third. Prick out into small individual pots.

Dead-head Tulips once flowering is over

They will benefit from a liquid seaweed feed at this stage, before the foliage dies back.

Summer pots

Start to prepare pots for their summer plantings. Remove bulbs which have finished flowering and plant into grass, borders or under hedges.

Keep going

It’s worth it

Friday 30th April 2021

We’re gradually moving out of lockdown. Won’t be long before hotels will be able to welcome back visitors…

This hotel can’t wait

And, with May around the corner, the time of blossom is upon us

Even the espaliered fruit is in flower

It’s a zingy, springy thingy

Plant ident.

NemesiaSundae Blueberry Ice’

A top tender perennial, usually grown as an annual, particularly brilliant to use in containers. Buy one and get loads free by taking plenty of cuttings (cut below a leaf joint). Takes root easily. The blueberry-coloured snapdragon-like flowers are scented. Full sun and well-drained soil. Pinching out the growing tips will encourage a bushy habit.

There are plenty of Nemesia cultivars – there’s a particularly good white variety which smells of vanilla. Delicious, delightful, delovely. We call it Nemesia ‘Lizii’, because our Friday Friend Liz introduced it to Garden House, but it’s probably Nemesia ‘Wisley Vanilla’.

Pulsatilla rubra

The Red Pasque Flower is a clump-forming herbaceous perennial which flowers in early to mid-spring. It produces beautiful, wine-coloured flowers on short stems, at the centre of which is a circle of bright golden-yellow stamens. Good in alpine sinks, where its feathery filigree delicacy can really be appreciated up close, and also in rockeries. Spreads happily. Likes full sun or partial shade.

Aubrieta ‘Hamburger Stadtpark’

There’s nothing wrong in giving time and space to some of these rather old-fashioned plants; they have been popular for decades for good reason. Great ground cover, and reliable and prolific flowering from early to late spring make these great garden stalwarts. Members of the Brassicaceae family, as indicated by their cruciferae flowers with 4 petals, they are evergreen and mat-forming. This one is Aubrieta ‘Hamburger Stadtpark’, a gorgeous purple/deep mauve. Cut back after flowering to encourage dense, compact growth. Suitable for rock gardens, containers and for trailing down walls and banks. Height and spread around 10 x 30 cms

Artemisia ludoviciana ‘Valerie Finnis’

Named by Beth Chatto after the remarkable Valerie Finnis, who taught at Waterperry Horticultural School for Women and helped to make it a highly respected and prestigious establishment. She was awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour in 1975 by the RHS.

This is a semi-eversilver perennial grown for its fantastic aromatic foliage. Much used in dry garden plantings, as it likes a light well-drained soil in full sun. 70 x 60 cms. A.G.M.

Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’

Another very attractive Artemisia, which can get leggy if not clipped back regularly. Its foliage is finer and more feathery than A. ludoviciana, but it is also aromatic and equally good in a hot sunny border – or even in a container. Cut back hard in the autumn.

Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’

A Marmite plant. You either love it or you hate it. Grown for its leaves, which are maroon with darker maroon and white markings and held on bright red stems. Looks particularly good when grown next to plants with a contrasting colour – perhaps one of the Artemisias above. Its foliage looks good in late spring/early summer, provided the soil doesn’t dry out. Then it can just look messy and dessicated. Great name though. Roots very easily – even in a glass of water.

Progressing the Dry Garden

Liz brought us up to speed on what’s happening. The area has been measured carefully and the plants which are to remain have been mapped. Discussions as to the final shape are ongoing, but this is one of the possibilities –

There’s a lot to think about: the functions of different areas, shapes, destinations, path surface materials… A list of suitable plants has been compiled, and Liz has checked heights/colour/flowering period. Check this out for painstaking work!

There are three pages of this, no less. Let’s hope it’s not too breezy today, or she’ll be three sheets to the wind.

Today’s job is to check and note down how many plants we already have for the dry garden – and of which type.

There are quite a few, and this is just the tip of the iceberg

Topic for the week

There are many seedlings and plants which need potting on; Bridge gave us a Masterclass in exactly how to go about this.

Not a magic wand. A dibber.

Fill your chosen pot or tray right up to the top with peat-free compost. Make sure it is only a little larger than the container your plant is currently occupying. Strike off any overflowing compost with your hand. Remove the plant or seedling carefully, holding it by a leaf, not by its stem. (It has several leaves, but only 1 stem!) Using a dibber, make a hole in the centre of the pot, big enough to take the plant, and gently settle it into its new home. Make certain the roots have room to drop into the hole, and be sure to plant deeply – right up to the first set of true leaves. Tap the pot to settle the compost carefully around the transplanted seedling – there’s no need to press hard down on the surface!

Don’t forget to water (very gently) and remember to add that label!

Sometimes seedlings get rather leggy. What to do? Lay the seedling on the surface of the compost with the root out behind; lift the plant up by a leaf

then fold the stem of the seedling gently into the prepared hole.

Tuck the roots in behind, and push them down carefully. Again, plant deeply. Essentially, you are ‘folding’ the seedling. Sounds harsh, but it should grow on perfectly well.

Hey presto!

Jobs for the week

Prick out seedlings and pot on plants as necessary. We potted on Nasturtium ‘Tip Top Rose’, as the seedlings are jostling for more living space

And, of course, we did a ‘Tip Top’ job!

Quality control this week was provided by…..

Scary!

Replant alpine sinks

The utmost delicacy is required for this kind of work

Planting herbs

Check all is shipshape in the greenhouse

Aye, aye Captain

Work in the veg garden

Stake Broad Beans

Oooh! Crimson-Flowered Broad Beans?

Plant out lettuces

No sign that Peter Rabbit has been in this garden

Let’s zoom in on those Radishes

One does relish a good Radish

Harvesting. The best bit!

Fabulous Tulips, in fruit salad colours

Delicious

Friday 23rd April 2021

Narcissi and Primula vulgaris simply sing of spring.

Plant ident.

Narcissus ‘Actaea

Loved passionately at Garden House. This is an old-fashioned variety with large, white, outer petals and a small yellow cup fringed with bright orange. Known also as Pheasant’s Eye or Poet’s Daffodil. Simple, pretty, and comes with the most delicious scent. A.G.M.

Narcissus ‘Thalia’

Shown here at the top of the photo

A pure white Narcissus, ‘Thalia’ features two flowers per stem. Looks beautiful alongside blue Muscari and blue Wood Anemones, and stunning when planted in grass with Tulips. It’s vigorous, and is therefore a good bulb for naturalizing, and will multiply quickly. Very fragrant.

Iberis sempervirens

The perennial or evergreen Candytuft. A fresh and vivid display in white and green, just perfect for spring. Clusters of 4-petalled white flowers form each flower head, making for a striking contrast with the dark green leaves. Low-growing and spreading, it is a good plant to use for edging paths, as ground cover, or in rockeries. Grow in full sun for best results, and cut back by about one third after flowering. Apparently, it is drought, deer and rabbit tolerant!

Tulipa ‘Little Princess’

An excellent, miniature, rock garden Tulip. The yellow centres of this species Tulip complement its red / orange petals. Resilient and long-lived, it’s a good choice for rockeries or in spring containers.

Ipheion uniflorum ‘White Star’

A pretty, bulbous perennial with narrow, light green foliage. A single, white, star-shaped flower is borne on each upright stem – hence, ‘uniflorum’. Each petal is striped with a slim purple line. Easy and requires little in the way of maintenance as it doesn’t need deadheading. Resistant to deer and rabbits – but keep an eye out for slugs and snails. No mention is given to its reaction to puppy-dogs’ tails.

Ribes speciosum

Aka the Fuchsia-flowered Gooseberry. This deciduous, spiny, medium-sized shrub has small, glossy, gooseberry-like leaves. The bright red flowers look like tiny fuchsias with extended stamens, and hang down along the stems from mid to late spring. Good against a wall in full sun and copes with most well-drained soils.

Activities for the Groups

As we are currently meeting in small groups, each set is assigned a different job in the garden.

This might involve working on the area which will be the Dry Garden

Or seed sowing

Or designing a new planting scheme for another bed, using grasses such as Anemanthele lessoniana (Pheasant’s Tail Grass) – a terrific ornamental grass which provides year-round colour, structure and movement.

Ah. Must have a word with the picture researcher. Yes, you’re a pheasant. Yes, you have a very lovely tail. Yes, there’s grass. But – not quite what we were after, I’m afraid.

Some might be set to weeding and clearing a raised bed underneath the arches (below). Here the challenge is to remove clumps of Spanish Bluebells, which tend to spread and dominate other plants. Best keep those bulbs out of the compost heap.

The Herb Bed needs attention too. Everything is gradually being removed, including the blighted box edging. The soil can then be thoroughly weeded and revitalised before a new Myrtle hedge is planted along with a myriad of herbal delights

The greenhouse always needs checking, of course.

To see what is happening to seeds and seedlings

and pussy cats

There’s always plenty to do at this time of year

Jobs for the Week

Check out gardens to visit in the county. Get hold of the National Gardens Scheme Yellow Book, and you will never be short of ideas.

Deadhead Narcissi

Once they have finished flowering. Don’t remove the foliage though – the plant uses it to feed the bulb, helping to promote good flowering the following year.

Above all, make time to enjoy the fruits of your labours. If not now, when?

You know it makes sense

Friday 16th April 2021

Plant ident.

This week, it’s all about Tulips. Look at these beauties –

‘Exotic Emperor’ and ‘Orange Emperor’ in all their glory. Early-flowering and perennial. Simply sumptuous.

Species Tulips, such as Tulipa acuminata, are especially exquisite. They are smaller and seemingly more delicate than some of their cultivated cousins – but actually, being wild, they are tough and vigorous. Needing little attention, they will reappear every spring. Plant in full sun. They look great in rockeries or borders – as well as in pots. Feed well after flowering and apply a mulch of organic material to sustain them.

Tulipa acuminata

Tulipa ‘Shogun’

Perennial and multi-stemmed, the pale orange T. ‘Shogun’ is reliably perennial and a good choice for naturalising in grass, where it will multiply. Early to flower – in March/April. Attractive, spear-shaped leaves.

Tulipa sylvestris

This wild Tulip is gorgeous. A bright yellow, lemon-scented flower which appears in early spring. Contrasts beautifully with vivid blue Muscari, or even Myositis. (If you have forgotten what the latter are, shame on you! They are Forget-Me-Nots.)

Tulipa clusiana ‘Cynthia’

A miniature, slender, scented, pale-yellow Tulip, with rose-red outer petals. Naturalises well. A.G.M.

Tulipa saxatilis (Bakeri) ‘Lilac Wonder’

Originally discovered in Crete, a delicious mauve-pink Tulip with a blotch of yellow at the centre. Broad and glossy green leaves. Distinctive and wonderful; will naturalise.

Tulipa ‘Annika’

A new variety of the clusiana Tulip. Salmon-pink petals are edged with pale yellow. A splosh of deep purple marks the centre of each flower. 3 to 5 flowers are produced by each bulb. Bargainous!

Tasks for the week

Charting the development of The Dry Garden

Plants are gradually being moved out of the lower garden around the lawn to make way for a transformation. Here is an artist’s impression of the dream to come – with thanks and respect to Vicky.

And, a (long) list of plants which might be included in the scheme

All plants suited to a dry environment

Before anything else, proper measurements of the site need to be taken. This takes patience, care, a measured approach – and a good, long measuring tape.

And a willing assistant

Hold very tight, please

This work provides the basis for an initial drawing. Provides dimensions/shape/area/. Significant trees and shrubs can be triangulated by measuring angles to them from known points on a fixed baseline. It’s time-consuming, but worthwhile, and will be the first rough draft of the survey for the dry garden.

First measurements completed. Note the Victory Dance.

In time, the plants which are to remain will be added to the initial rough draft (above) in order to create a template on which the design for the new scheme will be drawn.

We started to think about Garden House’s specific requirements and needs for the area. What will be the best way to move around the space? (The flow.) What will the function of different areas be?

Take cuttings of Chrysanthemums

Remove ‘mums’ from the greenhouse; tidy them up; take cuttings. Place these on gentle heat or in a warm, bright place indoors – and they should take. Pot on when the young plants have developed a good root system. All being well, they should be in flower by the end of the summer/ beginning of autumn.

If your boots, coat and hat are colour-coordinated, this will help

Take cuttings of Cotton Lavender

That’s Santolina pinnata subsp. neapolitana ‘Bowles Lemon’ to you. You could take 5 cuttings by the time you get your tongue round that name!

Construct an obelisk in the new herb garden

It will support a Rose. This job is rather a tall order. But still, nothing ventured…

Dig up and divide Chives

With gusto

Re-plant and re-pot

Jobs for the week

Grit around Sweet Peas

Helps keep the Slimy Ones at bay

Pot on Tomato seedlings as they develop true leaves

Label and water. Watch them tenderly.

Create frameworks for espalier or cordon fruits

Done correctly, you could achieve something like this! This is an espaliered Pear, looking just peachy.

Take cuttings of hardy and half-hardy annuals

Free plants. Say no more.

Check the vegetable plot

Before the plot thickens, so to speak.

Add a posh cloche or two.

If your Violas are vying for some attention, do give them some.

Friday 9th April 2021

What, no Zoom session? Small groups actually meeting in real life?? At Garden House???

So it seems. And the residents are absolutely delighted to see us.

Well, moderately pleased, anyway

How wonderful to be back in the garden again, albeit in teeny-tiny groups and for a shorter session. It’s looking marvellous – full of Tulips, Euphorbias, Amelanchier buds, Prunus ‘Tai Haku’ blossom, Narcissi and sunshine. We got somewhat blissed out on it all.

After a little catch-up, we had time to have a wander round to see what’s been going on. There’s a lot to catch up on at Garden House.

There are big plans afoot for the creation of a dry garden; two openings over the weekend for the National Garden Scheme; G/H is shortly due to appear in the Telegraph, with Garden House friends Max and Henry demonstrating staking/support techniques using birch. It’s all going on.

Woven plant support cage

Wigwams

Arches

Looks deceptively simple, but when you start looking at the details…

it’s a little more complicated

Knit one, purl one…

…and, cast off

And how’s the greenhouse doing?

Orderly

All neat. All labelled. All good.

Although the workforce seems a little laid back.

Are you being sarcatsic?

Jobs for the week

Think about providing plant supports

For the growing season ahead. Be prepared. One group practised birch twisting and twirling skills

In complete control

A little light weeding

Keep on top of emerging weeds. One group took on the challenge; nothing too stressful – we don’t want to overtax the compost bins on our first day back

Comb through evergreen grasses to remove dead growth

An unlikely piece of garden equipment is the best tool for the job – an Afro comb. Brilliantly effective. Invest in one now.

Short back and sides, with a Bobby Charlton comb-over

Forced Rhubarb should be ready to pick

Enjoy the Tulips

It’s good to be back

Friday 26th March 2021

We’re still zooming, while Garden House is blooming.

The Narcissi are having their moment

As are the Hyacinths. This one is ‘Woodstock’

Euphorbia euphoria

Plant ident.

There are changes afoot at the lower end of the Garden House garden (Box hedges removed due to blight; plans to remove part/all of the lawn; design for a new dry garden bed in process). So, this week’s focus was on plants suitable for dry gardens.

Dry, yes, but perhaps not quite as dramatic as this. We’re talking Sussex, not Arizona.

Beth Chatto’s ‘The Dry Garden’ and ‘The Gravel Garden’ are hugely informative on the topic. An award-winning plantswoman, author and lecturer, she spent years creating her renowned garden at Elmstead Market in Essex, an area known for low levels of rainfall. Her philosophy, ‘Right plant; right place’, is completely in tune with current thinking on sustainability and environmental concerns. Check out the website for loads of good information: https://www.bethchatto.co.uk/ And visit the gardens!

Cynara cardunculus

The Cardoon. What a splendidly architectural plant. A robust, herbaceous perennial whose glaucous foliage is a statement in itself, but the magnificent thistle-like purple flowers, which appear in late summer and autumn, are the icing on the cake. They resemble Globe Artichokes. Cuttings can be taken from side shoots. Can grow up to 2.5 m; attracts bees and, unfortunately, blackfly. Spectacular in a pot or in the border. A.G.M. – and no wonder.

Convolvulus cneorum

Evergrey, pretty and vigorous, this half-hardy Convolvulus is a good doer and a stalwart in the dry garden. Can be hacked back annually to keep it bushy and restrained, and cuttings are easy to take and root. Pruned to shape now, it will spread to provide good ground cover. Lovely leaves and delicate pollen-rich flowers which may look like bindweed, but, thankfully, are not! Attracts bees. Full sun. 60 cms h. x 90 cms w. A.G.M.

Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’

Wormwood. It seems that absinthe is derived from Artemisia. A concept now being tested by Friday Group, solely in the name of reesearchhhshh, you unnershtand. An excellent plant, evergrey, silvery and soft. It needs cutting back now, as it grows quickly, and will become woody without pruning. Cut above the new, fresh buds, and avoid going back into the old wood. A.G.M.

Erodium pelargonifolium

Another gorgeous asset to a dry border. Heronsbill belongs to the Geraniaceae family along with two other species, Pelargoniums (Storksbills) and Geraniums (Cranesbills). It’s a woody-based perennial and has pretty apple-green leaves on long stalks. The 5-petalled flowers are white with the two uppermost petals carrying purple markings. Often used in alpine troughs and rockeries, it prefers gritty, neutral/alkaline soils. Flowers forever and will seed around. Stunning! 30 x 30 cms

Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’

A lovely thing, this compact, everblue, ornamental perennial grass. The needle-like leaves become more intensely silvery/blue-green in full sun. Low-growing, it forms neat mounds and produces spikes of blue-green flowers over the summer months. Comb through in the winter to remove dead foliage. Grows in most soils. 30 cms x 30 cms. A.G.M.

Topic for the week:

Planning a planting scheme for a dry garden

Many thanks, once again, to Liz McCullough for generously sharing her knowledge and work with us. Her handout helped us to think about the importance of how many plants might be necessary to make an impact in a planting scheme, and how they might be used to greatest effect. Odd numbers seem to work best.

We were tasked to select around 5 species of plants which would be good to include in a dry garden of about 1.2 x 2.4 m. Here are some of the ideas we came up with – we were quite generous with the plants!

First of all:

Featuring: Stipa tenuissima (see it billowing below), Ballota pseudodictamnus, Eschscholzia californica and Festuca glauca.

And here we have:

Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’, Hyssop officinalis f. albus, Erodium pelargonifolium and Geranium malviflorum. Respect to the artist.

The third group suggested:

Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ x 1  (h 1.2 x w 1.0); Achillea ‘Credo’ x 3 (1.2 x 0.5); Stipa gigantea  x 1 (2.5 x 1.2);  Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ x 20  (1.0 ) (see below);  Verbena bonariensis x 2  (0.45 x 0.2); Erodium pelargonifolium x 3  (0.3 x 0. 3)     

 And the fourth:

A purple, blue, grey and white colour scheme, featuring the lovely violet Verbena bonariensis together with Stipa tenuissima; Stachys byzantinus; Gaura lindheimeri; Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’

Group five presented:

Stipa tenuissima, Calamantha nepeta ‘Blue Cloud’, Dianthus carthusianorum, Sedum matrona (or similar)Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’. (And white iris at the back because they’re already there (see below), as well as a few random purple alliums…)

Number six was in favour of:

Olea europaea; Helictotrichon sempervirens x 3; Knautia macedonica x 3; Agastache ‘Blackadder’ x 3. Thymes and/or Oregano plants to be added at the front of the border. Extra house points awarded for coming up with the first two items…

The seventh and final contribution:

Stipa gigantea (see below); Verbena rigida; Lavendula; Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’; Allium ‘Globemeister’; Iris. Plus, possibly, Geraniums. This group clearly had their minds set on a bigger site and garden.

The plant shopping list just gets longer

Jobs for the week:

Sow Beetroot in modules in clumps; sow lettuces and salad leaves. Sow Courgettes.

Sow carrot seeds

Easier in raised beds. Try ‘Rainbow Mix’ for different coloured carrots. (It might even make eating the things more interesting.)

Sow Broad Beans under cloches

Them, not you. Unless you have a cloche hat. That would be natty.

Sadly, this is more likely…

Sow Tagetes ‘Burning Embers’ and Ricinus seeds (toxic!)

Start to plant out hardy annuals

Although, do keep an eye on the weather. Use canes to support plants as they grow away

Feed Snowdrops after flowering

This will help to feed the bulbs for next year’s performance. At Garden House, we use a liquid seaweed feed

Tiptoe through the Tulips

Take time to enjoy them

Cut down Cornus stems to promote strong coloured stems next year

– and for goodness sake, do be creative with the prunings. These Cornus plants are looking fabulous, emphasising the green theme and contrasting beautifully with the bright yellows.

Above all, remember where you hid those Easter eggs in the garden. Unless, of course, you’re purposely trying to save them for another day.

Under the Cornus mas?

Maybe in the watering can?

And now we March into April

Happy Easter

Friday 19th March 2021

This week we went wild about wildlife, concentrating on how to go about attracting more and varied critters into our gardens. Good for us, good for them, good for pollination, good for the planet.

Except not slugs, please. And preferably not squirrels. Or snails. Or Sitka deer. Seagulls are a definite no-no. (And that’s just the unwanted wildlife beginning with ‘s’.)

Something like this would be fantastic –

But possibly not good for our pets. Or the next-door-neighbour.

Well, you’d be lovely, but possibly a little out of place in Woodingdean.

Probably something more along these lines –

Just as miraculous. Just as magnificent.

Yes. We are.

But first the

Plant ident.

Prunus spinosa

The clouds of snow-white frothy blossom seen everywhere at the moment, belong to the Blackthorn tree. Appearing on dark, bare branches, the simple, delicate, open flowers attract early pollinators. Blackthorn is hermaphrodite, meaning that both male and female reproductive parts are found in each flower. Small blue-black fruits appear later – these are Sloe berries used in the making of gin. Spiny and densely branched, the trees can live for up to 100 years.

Prunus cerasifera ‘Pissardii’

A strikingly beautiful tree, the Purple-leaved Plum has gorgeous ovate leaves, preceded in early spring by a profusion of pale pink flowers on bare wood. The flowers gradually fade to white. Plum-like red/yellow ornamental fruits follow later, which although edible, are not good to eat. Makes a lovely, small deciduous tree or an attractive hedge. Easy to grow, likes full sun and a well-drained fertile soil. Garden House is very fond of this one, as it channels all things Japanese. 7 m x 5 m.

So exquisite. One small stem is all that’s needed to spark joy.

Primula ‘Gold-Laced Group’

Polyanthus hybrid primulas, particularly those edged in silver or gold, were plants much loved by the Victorians. This dark petalled example is a lovely thing to have as a couple of stems in a small glass vase. Moist soil, partial shade, any soil, any aspect. Sounds like a doddle. Why not build a little theatre to exhibit them in pots alongside a precious collection of Auriculas?

Narcissus ‘Rip van Winkle’

An early-flowering, scented, dwarf Daffodil, and an extremely decorative one. It may be small but it packs a punch above its weight. A double form, its multiple petals virtually explode with exuberance. Grows to around 15 cms; good in containers or at the front of the border – and also makes a good cut flower. Like most daffs, its foliage should be allowed to die down naturally after flowering. Mulch annually with compost.

Scilla ‘Pink Giant’

Known also as Chionodoxa. Scillas are perennial bulbs with narrow basal leaves and erect stems , and this cultivar produces star-shaped pale pink flowers in early spring. Growing to around 20 cms, it will seed around where happy, which is in well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. Look great naturalised under deciduous shrubs. Divide when overcrowded.

Narcissus ‘Elka’

Quite different from the showy ‘Rip van Winkle’, but quietly stunning. A small but perfectly formed ivory Narcissus, lovely in pots or at the front of a border in early spring. Scented too. Best in part shade. Much loved at Garden House and highly recommended. 12 cms.

Topic for the Week

One of the best ways to attract wildlife into a garden is to improve the biodiversity of the environment. Easily said, but biodiversity is the most complex feature of our planet as well as being the most vital. It has been said that without biodiversity there is no future for humanity; it impacts the food we eat, the water we drink and the air that we breathe.

Genes, species, communities of creatures and entire ecosystems interact and are interdependent. We ignore this at our peril.

Everyone can play a part in some way. Check to see if you have plants flowering in your garden to attract wildlife every month of the year.

We discussed the order in which 10 common plants might flower, giving some early and late flowering interest. We thought that they might roughly appear as follows (top to bottom on left, then top to bottom on right)

For the winter, add in some Holly, Ivy, Winter-flowered Honeysuckle, Mahonia, Aconites, Crocuses, Evergreen Clematis and Primroses – and, Bingo! You’ve got 12 months covered.

Herbaceous border have been found to have the most biodiversity in managed garden situations. The best flowers for pollinators tend to have single, open flowers, although some differently-shaped flowers are uniquely perfect for just one kind of insect/moth/butterfly.

Break-out groups broke out. And came up with some ideas for pollinator-friendly plants:

Heuchera; hardy Geraniums (e.g. ‘Patricia’); Osteospermum; Dahlia; Argyranthemum; Hydrangea; hardy Fuchsia; Penstemon; Nicotiana; Campanula; Hebe; Erigeron karvinskianus; Hellebore; Viburnum; Sarcococca.

Native trees and shrubs will add food and shelter for local wildlife throughout the year. They are often used to provide mixed hedging in gardens, particularly in the countryside. We had a go at listing some of the many trees native to the U.K.:

Alder; Ash; Aspen; Crab Apple; Beech; Birch; Box; Blackthorn; Horse Chestnut; Sweet Chestnut; Elder; Elm; Field Maple; Hazel; Holly Hawthorn; Hornbeam; Juniper; Lime; Oak; Pear; Poplar; Rowan – here’s a Rowan

Spindle; Wild Cherry; Whitebeam; Willow; Yew.

Didn’t we do well?

Yeah, not bad

Wildflower Meadows

A lovely idea, but not simple to create and manage, especially on clay soils. If you live on an Estate, as opposed to an estate, it might be feasible. Have a chat with your Head Gardener. If you are the Head Gardener, then maybe consider just a small patch of wildflowers; perhaps plant Crocus, mini Narcissi and Camassia bulbs in your lawn and mow accordingly. Some people have experimented successfully using just their front gardens, particularly if the soil is poor and unproductive.

What can each of us do to attract even more wildlife into our gardens?

Research the topic. There are plenty of experts out there.

Plant bulbs, flowering plants and shrubs known to attract insects and birds

Add a bird house or two dozen. And feed those birds. Only tuppence a bag.

Provide a bug hotel. And a hedgehog home. We want those creepy guests.

And don’t forget the bees. Be a honey. A bee brick or bee hotel will give them a real buzz.

Plant dwarf buddleias in pots

Plant at least one tree known to be wildlife-friendly

Grow night-scented plants to encourage moths

Night-scented Stocks, Nicotiana, Jasmine, Evening Primrose, Honeysuckle, Mahonia. Get your night vision binoculars out and stand by.

Use biological controls for pests; don’t use chemical pesticides

And definitely use peat free compost

Make log piles in dappled shade – decaying wood is great for insects, fungi, mosses and lichen.

Don’t cut down dead material over winter. Leave it to provide food and shelter. Hollow stems will allow beneficial insects to hibernate in them.

Bring water into the garden. Dave Goulson, author of ‘The Garden Jungle’, says this is one of the quickest and most effective ways to introduce more wildlife.

Maybe not this…

But, hopefully, this –

this

and these great Great Crested Newts

Jobs for the Week

Let’s romp quickly through these, as we’ll no doubt be very busy creating wildlife havens this week

Plant out chitted Potatoes

Not ‘chipped potatoes’.

Continue to sow seeds

On a daily if not hourly basis. Spinach, Spring Onions, Beetroot, Carrots, Leeks, Lettuces. And Tomatoes, of course

You’ll enjoy harvesting the rewards later

Cut down Cornus stems

Maybe take out only one in three, or maybe all of them, depending on whether you want to enjoy their leaves, or grow them solely for their colourful stems.

Start planting out hardy annuals

But only once they have been hardened off. Escholtzia, Ammi majus, Ammi visnaga, Nigella and Centaurea can all be planted 30 cms apart in well prepared beds. Sow more!

Trim deciduous hedges

Unless there are birds nesting in them, in which case postpone until later

Finish any Rose pruning this weekend

Force Rhubarb

Ideally, get some of these terracotta forcing jars. Then you needn’t actually bother with the Rhubarb at all, unless you’re partial to a bit with custard.

Divide Grasses

Prune Salvias

But keep an eye out for temperatures – there may still be frosts to come and some Salvias are more tender than others

Enjoy the Hellebores. It’s their season

It’s a Buttercup, Jim, but not as we know it

Friday 12th March 2021

March. In like a lion. Out like a lamb. We hope. In the last few days we’ve enjoyed hail, stormy winds, showers, downpours, drizzle, mizzle and fizzle, sunshine and bright spells. And, as for temperatures, don’t get me started.

Onwards!

Plant ident.

Loveliness to enjoy now.

Primula vulgaris

The true Common Primrose. But very far from vulgar. Emblematic of spring, hope, new growth – we’re virtually talking the Easter Bunny here. Refined and elegant in its simplicity, and quite different from those rather blowsy, overblown Polyanthus one sees everywhere. Likes moist conditions and somewhere which won’t dry out completely during its dormant period.

Bergenia ‘Harzkristall’

Bergenias (‘Elephants’ Ears’) can often be underestimated as plants. Evergreen, rhizomatous perennials with large leathery leaves and erect clusters of flowers, they make quite a statement in the border. Effective when used to ‘punctuate’ planting schemes. Good in shade, good as ground cover, good for producing early flowers. From magentas, through to bright bubble gum pinks, pale pinks and whites, there are many cultivars to choose from. ‘Bressingham White’, from Diss in Norfolk, is a good form, as is ‘Harzkristall’. This has pink-flushed white flowers on dark, upright stems. The glossy, dark green foliage takes on a reddish hue in cold winter weather. Propagate by taking sections of rhizomes in early spring and replanting them to form new plantlets.

The RHS says Bergenias are susceptible to vine weevil, leaf eelworm, bud eelworm, slugs, snails and some caterpillars. Nice. This is where one needs to be less ‘gardener’ and more ‘en garde’.

Vinca minor ‘Atropurpurea’

Such useful plants for groundcover. Valuable, in that they will grow in the challenging circumstances of dry shade once established. Now is the time to give them a light clip with shears, which will encourage more side shoots, and therefore flowers.

Veronica umbrosa ‘Georgia Blue’

Related to the weed ‘Speedwell’. This cultivated form has good bronze foliage and bright blue flowers. Loves hot, dry areas and is good placed towards the front of borders, where it softens edges. Good too in pots,troughs or alpine planters. Can cope with partial shade in well-drained soil. Evergreen (everpurple?). Easy to propagate from tip cuttings.

Prunus spinosa

Blackthorn. It’s the gorgeous, white frothy stuff currently decorating hedgerows and roadsides. Simple white flowers in quantity appear on dark, bare tree stems, presaging spring. The fruit, which follows later, is the sloe berry – that stalwart required for gin making. Nature, eh? The gift that keeps on giving. You might almost say it puts the gin in giving.

You might not.

Topic for the week

Pruning

A science and art form in its own right, and worthy of several dozen tomes for research purposes and several decades of hands-on work for practical experience.

First and foremost, you need the right tools for the right job. Snips are good for deadheading and for intricate work on plants with slim stems. Bypass secateurs seem to be more popular than anvil ones – for pruning jobs dealing with stems up to the thickness of the secateurs’ handle.

A pruning saw is a good investment for tackling larger branches; they can usually be folded up, which is a good safety measure.

Loppers are useful for reaching up to higher stems and branches – there are extendable versions too. Great for pruning back trees and shrubs; those with a ratchet action are preferable, unless you are working towards ab fab abs.

Shears are essential for hand cutting hedges and topiary.

A bow saw may also be something to consider for larger jobs. And then there are chain saws… alternatively, it may be time to put the kettle on and visit checkatrade.com.

All tools should be kept clean, sharp and ideally disinfected between each job. This is to prevent the possibility of carrying disease from one plant to another.

There are a huge choice of manufacturers to choose from – Wolf Garten, Spear and Jackson, Bulldog, Felco and Niwaki are just a few. Try to invest in the best you can afford. It will pay dividends.

Reasons for pruning

To shape or topiarise; to encourage growth; for the health of a plant (removing diseased, dead and damaged wood); to prevent congestion and allow light and air to penetrate; to maintain vigour; to prevent fisticuffs at dawn where trees overhang a neighbouring property; to reduce shade; take a breath here; to cut back plants susceptible to wind rock (e.g. Roses); to encourage better coloured new stems (Cornus, Salix); to remove reversions in variegated shrubs (e.g. Ligustrum and Euonymous).

Types of pruning

Formative pruning: as implied, this is where a plant is pruned when young to achieve a good form/shape. This is a practice frequently followed in Holland, with good results, particularly on things like Lavenders, Hebes, Pittosporums etc. Perhaps we should go Dutch too.

Japan is also well-known for achieving superb shapes through disciplined pruning techniques

Routine pruning: pruning done on a regular basis in order to promote fruiting and flowering. This entails removing all dead, diseased and damaged wood and often deploying the 1 in 3 method, whereby 1 in every 3 stems or branches are removed each year.

Renovation/remedial pruning: carried out when a shrub has lost its shape and/or become overgrown. Think ‘us as we come out of lockdown’. Will look a bit skeletal and scary for a year or two, and flowers will be forfeited, but worth doing to rescue rather than lose a mature plant.

Here, for example, a wisteria seems to have got a little out of hand. There’s a house there somewhere.

Pruning techniques

Know your shrub. Look at it carefully. Are the buds opposite or alternate? If opposite, make a clean cut just above a pair of buds; if alternate, cut at an angle sloping away from an outward pointing bud. Cutting too high above a bud will result in dieback; too low and the bud may be damaged. It’s got to be a Goldilocks cut – just right.

Once it’s all done, don’t even think of going indoors. Now you have to spend twice as long again getting the whole lot tidied up, forced into brown-topped bins and taking the rest of the bally stuff to the recycling centre in trugs.

When to prune

An R.H.S. course in itself – that royal institution lists a total of 13 pruning groups! Broadly speaking, if a shrub flowers before midsummer’s day, it should be pruned immediately after flowering (Forsythia, Kerria, Deutzia). If it flowers after midsummer’s day, then it can be pruned in the early spring of the following year (Hardy Fuchsia, Hydrangea paniculata, Buddleia davidii). Worth checking those aforementioned research tomes.

Winter flowering and evergreen shrubs generally only need minimal pruning. Some shrubs respond best to being cut right back to the ground (Cornus and some Eucalyptus), whilst others only need a light clipping (Ericas). Knowing your plant material means you can ensure your pruning is carefully planned and meticulous, not just blindly hopeful and potentially disastrous.

Advanced pruning

Techniques such as coppicing and pollarding require a little experience. The former is when young tree or shrub stems are regularly cut right down to ground level, forming a ‘stool’. New shoots grow from the stool; these multiple-stemmed trees provide a sustainable supply of wood. Hazel is a typical example of a small tree which can be coppiced; it is typically used for pea-sticks and poles.

Coppiced woodland

Pollarding, on the other hand, occurs when standard trees are cut close to their head (knuckle), on top of a clear stem.

It is often seen in France, where the practice creates an easily identifiable shape resulting eventually in a ball-like canopy. Hornbeam, Willow, Lime, Chestnut and Beech are trees which are frequently pollarded.

Jobs for the week

Sow herbs

Basil, Chervil, Coriander and Parsley can be started off now.

Sow Radishes

Try using gutter pipes. It’s a convenient method to adopt, and you won’t be without a Radish. Good for those who relish Radishes.

Sow Spring Onions

Sow seeds in small amounts in modules; this makes it easier to plant them out in small clumps later.

Pinch out Sweet Peas

Once they have produced at least 3 pairs of leaves. Encourages bushy, sturdy plants.

Feeding

Give shrubs and plants a general purpose feed in early spring. Pelleted chicken manure is a good slow-release fertiliser. A handful every square metre distributed around the garden just before rain would be terribly efficient. And do remember to feed with chicken manure, not manure with chicken feed. That way disaster lies.

Prune silver-leaved plants

As part of your routine pruning schedule, to keep them shaped and bushy. Prune back to where the new growth is visible – but not into old wood, or your plant will soon become an ex-plant. Fondly remembered, but no more. Artemisia, Santolina, Perovskia, Helichrysum italicum and Hyssop are good candidates.

Feed and re-pot Auriculas

Why not go all theatrical and display them in the old Victorian way?

Cut back Pelargoniums

Cut back all leggy growth and dead leaves. Feed and water. Keep under glass or in a warm, bright place indoors.

Check the weather

Then stay indoors in a warm bright place. Feed and water regularly.

Friday 5th March 2021

Marching onwards into March

That’s one helluva lot of Hellebores

Plant ident.

Straight to it – this week we looked at small seasonal delights. Best planted in groups for maximum impact in the garden, although a couple of flowers brought into the house will provide huge enjoyment.

Iris reticulata ‘Pauline’

A beauty; a dwarf Iris with slender, green, erect leaves. Scented, velvety dark purple flowers appear in early spring. A perfect little perennial for pots and rockeries. Propagate by dividing the bulbs between late summer and autumn. Such a pleasure to see in the garden now.

Muscari macrocarpum ‘Golden Fragrance’

Another scented, reliably perennial bulbous plant. This particular cultivar is bi-coloured – the flowers emerge pale violet/purple, then gradually turn a soft golden yellow. The scent is said to be reminiscent of Gardenias. Very attractive and unusual. Likes sun and fertile well-drained soil. Divide clumps in the autumn.

Crocus ‘Jeanne d’Arc’

A must. Add to the (long) list of Garden House ‘musts’. Big, bold and beautiful, this white, goblet-shaped Dutch Crocus has lovely bright yellow stamens and is very attractive to wildlife. Especially bumblebees. Plant the corms in any well-drained soil in full sun and they will put on a fabulous display in early spring.

Viola odorata

Sweet violet. And it really is! A pretty little perennial which is best in dappled shade. If your estate stretches to having a woodland, plant it there. Small, strongly-scented, violet flowers will spread to form a ground-covering carpet. Pick individual flowers and put them in tiny green vases next to your bed. Change your name to Vita Sackville-West too, if you are so inclined.

Leucojum vernum

The Spring Snowflake. This one likes full sun but moist conditions. Highdown Gardens in Worthing is a good place to see them, where they grow at the edge of a pond in damp soil. White, nodding, bell-shaped flowers, with green markings on their tips, are held over upright stems. They are taller than Snowdrops – growing to about 30 cms. Again, best planted in clumps or, more poetically, ‘in bold drifts’.

Topic for the Week

Summer Containers

Full disclosure of our plans for our own pots of delight. Homework involved a measure of glueing and sticking, so we were prepared to come to share and discuss our ideas. Additionally, to think about where and when we might source our plant material: whether by sowing seeds, taking and growing on cuttings, ordering plugs or, failing all that, by purchasing a ready-made pot from the garden centre and saying three Hail Marys.

Break-out groups endeavoured to keep to the horticultural theme, rather than share Netflix suggestions and recent good reads. It was tough, but so are we… Here are some results from Project Concept Containers:

Cosmos with Nigella, Cornflower and Nemesia

Salvia ‘Amistad’ with Argyranthemum frutescens ‘Grandaisy Pink Halo’, Verbena rigida ‘Santos Purple’ and Erigeron karvinskianus

Osteospermum with white vanilla-scented Nemesia and Sutera cordata

Cosmos ‘Purity’ with Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’, Gaura lindheimeri ‘The Bride’ and Plectranthus ‘Nico’

Gaura lindheimeri (above) and Plectranthus ‘Nico’ (below)

Good places to buy and order from: Ebay; B and Q; Notcutts online; Supermarket seeds; Homebase; Miranda’s at Florence Road Market, Brighton; Pelham Plants; Staverton Nursery; Garden Sage Nursery, Hassocks; Bolney Nursery (good for pots); Marchant’s Hardy Plants

Seeds: Chiltern Seeds; Just Seeds; Sarah Raven Seeds; Higgledy Garden Seeds; Seedy Sunday in Brighton

Friday Group Question Time

A host of horticultural questions and some quickfire answers.

Q. How do you know when a shrub should be pruned?

A. First, know your shrub. The general rule of thumb is, if a shrub flowers before midsummer’s day, then prune it straight after flowering. This gives it time to make the growth needed for next year. If it flowers after midsummer’s day, then prune the shrub the following spring.

If it only flowers on midsummer’s day, then get rid of it.

Q. Will Echium pinnata plants seed around?

A. Yes. (This from Friday Group’s very own Queen of Echiums.)

Q. A Tree Mallow has been hit by frost. Will it regrow?

A. Cut it back and see what happens. Lavatera maritima plants can get quite woody over time and are not known for being particularly long-lived. Take cuttings as a precaution.

Jobs for the Week

Take cuttings of tender perennials

By purchasing just one plant, several cuttings can be taken and grown on in warmth. Things like Argyranthemums, Marguerites, Plectranthus and Salvias if started off now, will quickly grow and be ready for planting out in May. Nemesia and Sutera are two examples of annuals which can also be propagated from cuttings. It’s a financial no-brainer.

Continue to sow seeds

Stand by your germination stations! Take it slowly, easy does it. You don’t want to be swamped by too many seedlings at once and have nowhere to put them. Cosmos, for instance, can be started later than many other seeds – they’ll grow very quickly.

Check Camellias

Camellias need an acid or ericaceous soil with a pH of 5.5 – 6.5. They will benefit from a dollop of composted bracken or leaf mould at this time of year – or you can always add some ericaceous compost. Ideally, they should be watered with rainwater, as it is slightly acidic. Tap water can contain too much calcium – especially in hard water areas.

Plant Strawberries

Maybe in containers? This will help to protect them from the depredations of woodlice, who are partial to a strawberry or two. Grow early, mid-season and late Strawberries for maximum yum.

Meanwhile, somebody is waiting patiently for lockdown to come to an end… and for Friday Group to return to the garden. Looking quite meditative. Almost catatonic.

But this old waiting game is such a tiring business

While we’re zooming, he’s snoozing

Friday 28th February 2021

Vaccines are rolling out. Skies are blue. Bulbs are emerging. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Unless it’s a train.

What is flowering at Garden House at the moment?

Plant ident.

Forsythia x intermedia ‘Lynwood Variety’

Ubiquitous, but, treated properly, it can look magnificent and be a glorious herald of spring. In Beth Chatto’s woodland garden, its natural, arching habit has been emphasised by careful pruning, rather than by a butchering cut-back, which is the more widespread approach. This has resulted in splendid shrubs, revealing their graceful beauty. Annual pruning prolongs the life of early-flowering deciduous shrubs, and as Forsythia flowers on wood made in the previous year, it needs to be pruned shortly after flowering. Cut flowered growth back to where strong young shoots are growing lower down the stems. Additionally, removing one third of the older stems every year, allows light to penetrate more easily and facilitates the growth of new wood. Feed and mulch. Many varieties available.

Cornus mas

The fabulous Cornelian Cherry at Garden House is much treasured. It’s the focus of a ‘yellow bed’ in the corner of the garden and is valued for the soft, yellow blossoms which decorate its bare branches now. Amazing against a blue March sky. Raising the canopy has enabled more plants to be grown underneath. (More plants? At Garden House??) Good on chalk, where growing Hamamelis is problematic, so a brilliant choice for chalky soils in late winter/spring. Although the insignificant fruits don’t bring much to the party, its attractive bark does. Highly recommended.

Hamamellis x intermedia ‘Jelena’

Witch-hazels are another early flowering deciduous shrub, providing late winter/spring and autumn interest. They are mostly found on clay, loam or sandy soils, preferring a neutral/acid soil, and so are very unlikely to do well on chalk. This one grows in a pot at G/H, making it easy to add appropriate amounts of ericaceous compost to the planting mix and also to shove it into the wings during the summer months – when, frankly, it looks dull. Beautiful now though, when highly scented, spider-like flowers are borne on its bare branches. Beautiful autumnal foliage. 4 m x 4 m.

Lonicera fragrantissima

Heaven sent, heavenly scent. It’s luvverly. The tiny, white flowers of Winter Honeysuckle throw out an exquisite fragrance for weeks on end from December onwards, attracting early pollinators like winter-active bumblebees. Will grow in most fertile, well-drained soils in full sun or dappled shade – but make sure to plant it near a path or window, so you will be able to appreciate the scent. Lovely with Crocuses – maybe a carpet of these –

NarcissusGrand Soleil d’Or

A beautiful small-flowered narcissus, which can be grown outside or forced indoors. Deliciously scented. Multiple bi-coloured blooms are held aloft on each stem. Good in pots, troughs, in the border or at the edge of a woodland area. After flowering, dead-head the plants, but let the foliage die back naturally, as this helps the bulbs to store energy for next year.

A New Obsession

Snowdrops. Garden House has finally succumbed in a big way and become keenly galanthophile. Galanthomaniac even. Could be dangerous. Good places to see Snowdrops en masse are: Anglesey Abbey Gardens in Cambridgeshire and the Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex. More locally, try Southease Churchyard.

Topic of the Week

Herbs. Who doesn’t love a herbert? A plant whose seeds, leaves or flowers have a medicinal, aromatic or culinary use to people. A fascinating and extensive topic, so experts are well worth consulting. The queen of herbs is, of course, Jekka McVicar.

The use of herbs can be traced back thousands of years. Some have changed the world:

Madagascan periwinkle

Catharanthus roseus. Alkaloids found in this plant have proved to be effective in the treatment of a number of cancers, such as Hodgkin’s disease and leukaemia.

Cepaelis ipeccuanha

Ipecac is an evergreen shrub from Brazil which has been used in the treatment of dysentery for centuries. Apparently, it’s the most common ingredient in all proprietary cough medicines. a syrup is made form the tuberous roots.

Cinchona pubencencs

Quinine was discovered in the early 17th century, probably by the Jesuits, as a treatment for malaria. It was the first drug that Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, tested on himself.

Colchicum autumnale

Autumn Crocus. Highly toxic, but an important element in the treatment of gout. Cells from this Crocus are used in the genetic modification of plants

Digitalis purpurea

The Foxglove. Known for its toxicity, but important as a medicine for regulating the heartbeat in patients with heart disease

Coca

An evergreen shrub from South America and the source of the drug cocaine. Erythoxylum coca is extremely important medicinally as a painkiller.

Filipendula ulmaria

Meadowsweet. In the early 19th century, the painkiller salycin was discovered in its leaves. This is the basis for acid, from which aspirin was first produced. Used also in the treatment of diarrhoea (dire rear?), ulcers, pain, stomach ache, fevers and gout.

Hamamelis

Witch hazel has been used for centuries in Europe and North America to treat bruises and sore eyes. Also used today for colitis and other gastro-intestinal disorders.

St John’s Wort

Hypericum perforatum. Traditionally used to treat mild forms of depression. In 1652, the herbalist Culpeper recommended the herb as a remedy ‘against melancholy and madness’.

Papaver somniferum

The Opium Poppy. Possibly the oldest painkiller in the world. Opium, extracted from these Poppies is used in the manufacture of morphine, codeine and methadone.

Rauvolifa serpentine

Serpent Weed, or Indian Snakeroot, is native to Myanmar and is a source of reserpine, the first tranquilliser. Used in the treatment of hypertension and mental health conditions.

Betony

Stachys officinalis was used by the Romans to cure many ailments, from respiratory and gastro-intestinal disorders, to gynaecological and skin problems and difficulties with the nervous system.

Then…… A Quiz. Looking at the various headings in bold type, supply the names of appropriate herbs. Between us, we managed an impressive number of answers –

Annual herbs: Marigold, Coriander, Opium poppies, Rocket, Basil, Borage

Herbaceous perennial herbs: Chives, Marjoram, Sorrel, Tarragon, Mint, Lemon Balm, Camomile, Primrose, Oregano.

Biennial herbs: Parsley, Angelica, Chervil

Sub-shrub herbs: Rosemary, Lavender, Hyssop, Artemisia, Helichrysum italicum, Lemon verbena, Sage

Herbs for shade: Parsley, Coriander, French Sorrel, Chervil, Rocket, Dill, Angelica

Herbs which grow taller than 1 metre: Angelica, Bay

The Task

Bridge and Liz then set us to work to design a herb pot/container for full sun. Essential to provide really good drainage and a gritty soil. They opted for a mahousive 3 metre wide galvanised metal container, and went for the following planting:

This had thrillers, fillers and spillers. Useful culinary herbs, good colour combinations and attractive. Over to us in groups –

Frankly, Friday Group was masterful. Exuding lots of ideas. We’re as keen as mustard, although, mustard wasn’t actually one of our chosen herberts.

Here are a few of the suggestions:

Look good. Chives, French Tarragon, Golden Oregano, Trailing Thyme

Chives, Marigolds, Curry Plant, Creeping Thyme. A symphony of orange, silver and purple.

Here’s a superb rendering of another group’s concept –

And perhaps most enigmatic of all, there is this –

Clearly, this group have amazing plans, but seem to be reluctant to share them. Very untypical of F/G. Nul points.

Jobs for the week

Prune winter-flowering shrubs after they have finished flowering

Divide bulbs

Such as Snowdrops and plant those bulbs which need to be dealt with ‘in the green’.

Cut back deciduous grasses left uncut over winter

At Sussex Prairie Gardens they set fire to their island beds. Not an advisable approach in most home situations. Now is also a good time to remove dead grass from clumps of evergreen grasses (aka: Give them a ‘comb through’)

General garden tidy-up-time

Plan your herb garden/pot/container

Teucrium chamaedrys (Wall Germander) may be a good alternative to box as edging hedging around your herb garden. Don’t forget to include edible herbs in the scheme!

You know it makes sense