All posts by Anne Unsworth


They say that every picture tells a story

This weeks’s story is about houseplants. They don’t pop everyone’s cork. Well, not yet….

And why bother with them? There’s enough to do in the garden. But, take a look outside. It’s raining. It’s grey. It’s freezing. And we still need our horticultural hit.

They’re a great introduction to the world of plants. Cheap and cheerful; decorative; they purify the air, our minds, bodies and souls; make fab presents to give and receive; can last for years and be handed down the generations, like family heirlooms.

Basically, what’s not to like? You could plan a whole house around them – or let them take over completely, once you really get the bug. Imagine –

Monstera deliciosa by the front door

a bit cheesey?


So adaptable. Real fun and games to be had with them.

Time to make a statement in the hallway…

…and a fire in the grate

Cram them into every nook and cranny

Cook up a storm with them in the kitchen

Keep an apron handy

and pray you’re not prey

One or two might look nice on the stairs and landing

A terrarium can offer an aerial perspective

And there’s always room for more to live with you. In the living room

So, let’s celebrate the versatility of houseplants and raise a toast to them

Where’s the drinks trolley?

Make a splash with them in the bathroom

Time for a nice long bath

Or perhaps a shower?

You can just picture it

The care and maintenance of houseplants may seem rather intimidating at the outset. The general approach errs on the side of ‘Treat ’em mean to keep ’em green’. Kindness can kill and hence overwatering is one of the major causes of plant death. Consider where the plant comes from; many have their roots (sic) in tropical forests, so they need warmth and humidity. Many are happy with an occasional wash of water rather than sitting in puddles of the stuff. Some live on air. Some can’t abide draughts. We have relatives like that.

So. Courage! Let the right plant be lovingly put in the right place. And let Google be your watchword. Other search engines are available.

Plant Ident.

Once again, we are much indebted to Liz McCullough for her informative Houseplants essay, which she generously shared with us.

Fatsia Japonica

A splendidly architectural thing. Loves shade. Has superb, large, glossy green leaves. Variegated varieties available too. Apparently, these were originally grown as houseplants in the U.K., and only later were they planted more extensively outside. At G/H there is a specimen growing in a shady bathroom, along with many another plant. Take care not to go overboard with this passion as it will only lead to trouble.

Pilea peperomioides

Aka the Chinese Money Plant. Discovered in China by the plant hunter George Forest. Très trendy en ce moment. Needs a light, bright situation, but not in direct sunlight. Can be propagated from leaf cuttings. Water about once per week.

Senecio rowleyanus

A lovely thing when it dangles from a container. Like most succulents, String of Pearls is drought tolerant. Ensure its pot has drainage holes and a very dry, gritty compost. Water sparingly when the top few centimetres of compost are dry. Each individual ‘pearl’ will root (eventually) if planted. Patience.


Air plants. Fascinating things. They filter airborne particulates – in other words, they clean the air. They don’t require potting soil, and only need a spray of water once or twice a week. If they start to dry up, give them a good soaking and then let them dry off upside down. Now we’re really beginning to see what can be done with some of these houseplants: Christmas baubles? Who knew?

Sedum Morganianum

The Donkey or Burro’s Tail, from the Crassulaceae family. It’s a succulent perennial and has tassel-like blue-green plumptious leaves which trail pleasingly over the sides of a container. Each of the little bead-like leaves will make a new plant if planted, but this will take time, so don’t sit and watch it. Needs a bright location, but not strong, direct sun. Hung in a pot in a particularly inconvenient position over a chair, it will thoroughly annoy people as they stand up. A great talking point.

Platycerium spp.

Stag’s Horn Fern is a plant much beloved at Garden House and a specimen from London’s Garden Museum has been shot and mounted to go on a bathroom wall at G/H. One suspects it’s the last space left. An epiphyte, it loves leaf mould, warmth, gentle light and humidity; in the wild it generally grows on trees in rainforests. Magnificent.

Our own beloved pets

Time for Show and Tell. We shared our own particular favourite houseplants and established that everyone has space for even one or two in their lives. A plant swap-shop to be held sometime in the future will undoubtedly see those numbers rise.

Tillandsia Usneioides

Spanish moss. An Airplant. Initially modelled as a rather splendid beard by its owner, but here seen behaving itself, draping elegantly downwards from a cupboard. Long, silvery grey strands grow like Rapunzel’s hair. Can bear small flowers with yellow-green petals. In the wild it grows hanging from tree branches. Bizarre – but everyone has put this on their list.


The Cast Iron Plant. So-called because they are almost impossible to kill. In the unlikely event that this should happen to you, give up gardening. Embroidery would be nice. The Aspidistra. Keep it flying.

Oxalis triangularis

Known as ‘False Shamrock’, this plant is definitely not Irish in origin – it comes from Brazil. They open and close their flowers and leaves in response to light, and at night look like small, sleeping butterflies. Vivid purple leaves are offset by delicate white flowers. Long-lived and easy to grow, water sparingly when the soil has completely dried out.

Schefflera ‘Nora’

Cruelly abandoned and neglected, this plant was rescued from certain death by its current owner, who restored it to the marvellous condition we see it in today. The Umbrella Plant has long, shiny oval leaves grouped around a series of stalks. Likes indirect light, warmth and humidity. Can be pruned back if it gets too leggy.

Here’s a thought. Perhaps Friday Group should set up the R.S.P.C.H.?

Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’

The Peace Lily. It may be common, but it’s a magnificent plant, and an excellent one for a novice houseplantperson. Copes with very shady spots and helps purify the air. Easy (when it’s not too hot, too dry, too cold, too wet, too draughty or dead). Likes the occasional feed (organic seaweed feed is good) and re-potting into fresh compost as it grows. Produces white spathes held high on stiff stems. Leaf shine makes it sparkle. And that wallpaper sets it off a treat.

Schlumbergera truncata

Christmas Cactus. What a beauty this one is with its white flowers flushed with pink, looking like tiny ballerinas. The branches are made up of flat, glossy green segments. Easy from cuttings, it flourishes in warmth (about 65 degrees), likes its soil to be moist and enjoys a bright position. When buds form, feed every two weeks. Flowers can be red, pink, white, yellow or purple.

Tradescantia fluminensis

Its owner thinks the name sounds like a magic spell. Named after the famous Tradescants who were botanists, gardeners and plant collectors in the 16th and 17th centuries. Small, green leaves with purple undersides scramble downwards. Very attractive on a shelf or table. Easy to propagate pieces of this by placing cuttings in a glass of water, mutter the words ‘Tradescantia fluminensis’ and watch the roots grow.

Sanseveria trifasciata ‘Moonshine’

There are many different varieties of the structural Mother-in- Law’s Tongue, and this is one of the nicest. Can be propagated from leaf cuttings, like Streptocarpus. Low maintenance, drought tolerant, placed in a good light with the occasional drop of water, not too warm, it will stay there happily for a long time. Rather like a mother-in-law, except they like lots of tea and gin.


In the pot on the right. (Oxalis to the left.) This one should be called Lazarus by its owner, because it was resurrected from the dead. Strangely, the theme continues, because these are commonly known as Prayer Plants – their leaves fold together at night like praying hands. (A process called nyctinasty. You heard it here.) Shiny, dark green leaves with a purple underside. Likes humid conditions and bright indirect light. Water every one to two weeks.

Begonia ‘Black Fancy’

A fabulous form of the type, cascading downwards in leafy profusion. Good in shade, and this one proves it because it’s sitting on a bookshelf next to a north-facing window. Can be propagated by division and also from leaf cuttings stuck at an angle into gritty compost.


The Maidenhair Fern. A spectacular plant if you can provide the perfect environment for it. Bright, indirect light and evenly moist soil are critical. Their roots need moisture (but not puddles).

Phlebodium ‘Blue Star’

A Fern with gorgeous blue/grey leaves which have rippled edges and grow in all directions. Has strange furry ‘feet’ (the roots), hence its other common name, the Rabbit’s Foot Fern. Likes full or partial shade and moist but not wet soil.

Also fondly mentioned were: Haemanthus albiflos, Dracaena marginata, Philodendron, Pachyra aquatica, Aloe, Ficus, Kentia Palm and Anthurium.

Pests and Diseases

Many houseplants love to have a spell outdoors during the warm summer months. A breath of fresh air before they come back in for autumn and winter does them good and helps prevent pests.

Mealybugs can be a problem: sap-sucking insects which leave a tell-tale white fluffy coating on leaves. Cotton wool dipped in alcohol or meths can be wiped over the affected areas – or soft soap. S.B. Invigorator is a spray which is widely used in the horticultural trade – it will also deal with a variety of other pests and mildew and provides a foliar feed. Biodegradable and pet-friendly too. Another alternative is to use biological controls.

Keep plants healthy by not overwatering, feeding judiciously and by repotting them in appropriate compost when required. Talk to them as well.

Jobs for the Week

Plant bulbs for indoors and out

It’s not too late to plant prepared bulbs for flowering indoors. Paperwhites and Hyacinths are particularly suitable. Outdoors, narcissus and tulips can still go in.

Prick out hardy annuals

Cut back Peonies

Tidy up Asters and cut them back

Divide Hostas and other herbaceous perennials

Sow Sweet Peas


Once bitten by the houseplant bug (not literally we hope) care needs to be taken lest one becomes addicted to this new enthusiasm.

In some houseplant households, even the candles are houseplant-shaped

And your bathroom might end up like this –

What’s more, the consequent shortage of space may reduce other residents to sitting on the roof. may be a helpful source of information.

Friday 13th November 2020

This looks like something from the pages of Country Living. Guess the fruit.

Ponicirus trifoliata, of course. 5 points to Gryffindor!

Aka the Hardy Orange, or, Japanese Bitter Orange. Shouldn’t be surprised that there’s a trugful here at G/H, where all things ‘japonica’ are much appreciated. This brings us smoothly on to the –

Plant Ident.

Prunus ‘Tai-Haku’

Where our first item just happens to be, arguably, the most beautiful of all Japanese Cherry trees, the Great White Cherry. The cultivar had apparently died out in Japan and was thought to be extinct, until a single specimen was found growing in a Sussex garden in the 1920s. Reintroduced to Japan by the remarkable Collingwood Ingram, all ‘Tai- Hakus’ owe their existence to that single one. Someone should make a film about it. There’s already a book: ‘Cherry’ Ingram: The Englishman Who Saved Japan’s Blossoms’ by Naoko Abe.

Highly recommended, perhaps too large for a small garden, but such a beautiful all-year tree. Gorgeous spring blossom, good bark, ablaze with colour in the autumn. Officially fantastic. One could imagine serenading it with that classic, “My Cherry Amour”

The Great White Cherry, dressed for spring in the Garden House garden

Betula utilis var. jacquemontii

Another superb, deciduous tree, which comes into its own in the autumn/winter when it reveals its elegant pyramidal shape and stunning white bark. Catkins and fresh green leaves appear in the spring; as the season progresses, they turn yellow/toffee-brown and golden before falling. Looks great planted in small groups, or as a specimen on its own. Can be grown as a single trunk or multi-stemmed tree. Grows to around 10 m. in most soils, provided they are well-drained.

That dazzling white bark

Abelia grandiflora

Highly regarded at Garden House, this evergreen shrub has a graceful arching habit and lovely, glossy, deep green leaves. Very long-flowering, it bears small, scented, trumpet-like flowers from summer onward. In some locations it can be slightly tender and semi-evergreen, but is fine in Brighton. Grows to about 2 – 3 metres, it can be cut back / shaped after flowering. A good border plant.

Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’

Frequently used by garden designers, the cut-leaved Black Elder has very finely dissected foliage which can work as a dramatic foil to other plantings – particularly those featuring golds or yellows. Pollen / nectar- rich, pink flower heads form in early summer, (those of the Common Elder are white), and are attractive to pollinators. Red/black elderberries follow. In spring, the shrub should be cut hard back to the ground; this will promote vigorous growth and better leaves. Easy from hardwood cuttings, and grows in most soils – even very chalky ones.

Cyclamen persicum

Delightful to see planted in containers in the garden now, creating interest from autumn through the winter. Try planting them with ivies to demonstrate the elegant sophistication of your horticultural savoir faire.

Cyclamen hederifolium

Another Cyclamen cultivar, ivy-leaved cyclamen is the most widespread of the species. Hardy and vigorous, this tuberous perennial blooms in the autumn. Best in part shade, will self-seed freely and loves an annual dollop of leaf mould.

Amsonia hubrichtii

Mentioned in dispatches on 6th November, the Amsonia is worth a repeat plug this week as it continues to glow away in the chalk soil in Brighton. Great autumn colour from this herbaceous perennial.

Garden Styles

Moving on from last week’s discussion about the use of colour in the garden, we considered the many and various garden styles currently in vogue. Once again we were assisted and informed by an essay written by Liz McCullough. Huge thanks to her.

Our mission, which we accepted, was to decide on a design type which had influenced us in terms of our gardening, and then think of a tree, a shrub and a perennial consistent with that style, which we might go on to use in our own gardens.

Styles included: cottage; Mediterranean; contemporary urban; exotic/architectural; wildlife-friendly; courtyard; coastal; woodland; prairie-style; vegetable/fruit-based; naturalistic; eclectic; art/sculpture-based. Some members of Friday Group seemed to be sticking with impressive resolve to just one design theme, whilst others had two, three or all elements! Below are a few of our ideas.

Strangely, no one went for the possibility of the full landscape option. No idea why. We’re all perfectly Capable.

We agreed it’s necessary to work with the hand nature has dealt you. Think about the soil, environment and conditions you have, and aim to grow the Right Plants in the Right Place.

The Exotic Garden

Additional plantings might include a Dicksonia antarctica, Fatshedera lizei and Echiums. Perhaps a Musa basjoo (Hardy Banana), Tetrapanax and a Jasmine or Passion Flower. Nurseries such as the Big Plant Nursery at Ashington and Architectural Plants near Pulborough are invaluable.

The Prairie Garden

Perhaps Carpinus betulus (Hornbeam) with grasses such as Stipa gigantea and Calamagrostis x acutiflora’Karl Foerster’ together with Rudbeckias. Visit Sussex Prairie Gardens to get your socks blown off.

The Woodland/Naturalistic Garden

Malus sylvestris (Crab Apple), Ferns and Wood Anemones and/or Heuchera villosa ‘Autumn Bride’. The Beth Chatto Gardens near Colchester are a must.

The Cottage Garden

An Apple or Holly tree, a rambling Rose and Ceratostigma plumbaginoides or Aquilegia formosa would perfectly accentuate this theme. Visit Alfriston Clergy House or Charleston to experience this type of garden.

The Wildlife Garden

Betula utilis jacquemontii or a Crab Apple, Guelder Rose, Gaura lindheimeri and Echinaceas. Or, maybe, Cratageus (Hawthorn), Lavender, Rosemary and Nepeta. According to Dave Goulson (a wildlife garden guru) this has to be the future of gardening, or we are lost.

Jobs for the week

Cut back any dead herbaceous plants which are looking messy. Leave plants and their seed heads where appropriate. (The birds will love you.)

Divide perennials and replant or you can always give some clumps away. (Your family and friends will love you.)

Chrysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’

Resolve to grow Chrysanthemums next year

On that note, look around the garden and consider what plants you might need in future at this time of year. Here are a couple of possibilities.

Mahonia japonica

Sorbus hupehensis


Still not too late to order and plant bulbs in the garden. At Garden House over 1,000 have been planted recently – entirely without the aid of Friday Group, but with the aid of the indispensible, but rather frighteningly horrible, hori hori knife.

And, by the way, how are those forced bulbs getting on after all this time? We’re really rooting for their success.

My goodness. They’re rooting for us too

A pity that the Crocus bulbs aren’t doing the same. Those darn squirrels have been at it again. The battle is lost, but the war has only just begun.

Friday 6th November 2020

Lockdown Number Two. So, we’re Zooming. But at least we get to see everyone! ‘Every cloud….’ etc. etc.

Plant Ident.

Autumnal delights at Garden House, with the emphasis on colour.

Rhus typhina ‘Dissecta

This one sets everyone on fire as it blazes away now. A small, spreading, deciduous dome-shaped tree which grows to around 3 metres. Female forms have odd upright cone-shaped clusters of red berries which develop after the flowers. The Stag’s Horn Sumach develops a fiery palette of oranges, reds, yellows and greens in the autumn. Gorgeous, finely-cut leaves and tactile furry stems (like stags’ horns, obvs.) – and this one doesn’t sucker. If you have the other variety (Rhus typhina) then you are suckered. It travels all over the place.


A flower which is becoming popular again – and apparently moving away from its associations with old men and allotments. (Seems harsh.) Get ahead of the game and plant some immediately so you’ll be the horticultural fashionista of your neighbourhood. They’re hardy (a word any gardener loves to hear) and easy to strike from cuttings. An amazing array of varieties, from singles to doubles to spiders and beyond. We looked at a lovely white cultivar called C. ‘Old White’, also referred to as C. ‘E.H. Wilson’. Simple and beautiful. Also smitten with a dusky pink one, as shown in the, seemingly, casually thrown together arrangement below. Available from the excellent Norfolk based nursery Plantsman’s Preference. Credit cards at the ready.

Persicaria ‘Marchant’s Red’

One of Graham Gough’s selections, and named for his nursery. Persicarias are related to Dock, and have the rough foliage associated with them. Choose your cultivar carefully and you will enjoy the joyful splash of long-lasting colour that Persicaria can give in shade. Vigorous in growth, so may need taming, but an excellent stalwart. This one has a terrific colour and fatter flowers than others. Fat is good.

Nerine bowdenii

A surprisingly rich, bright shot of pink can be spotted in gardens at this time of year. Situated in a hot spot, often near a wall, the showy Nerines are on display, and flower for at least six weeks. In addition to the bright pink varieties, there are pale pinks, reds and whites. They have strap-like leaves, rather like that of Agapanthus. We admired N. bowdenii ‘Alba’ in particular, with its pure white blooms held above strong stems. Originating in South Africa, it’s not surprising that some cultivars of these bulbs are somewhat tender in our cold, dank, English soils. Hence the need for them to be tucked into the hottest, most sheltered part of the garden, where they can bake happily. Or, if you have such things, put them into a greenhouse/conservatory. Good as a cut flower as well as in the border.


Two particularly stand out at the moment – Salvia confertiflora and Salvia ‘Amistad’. Salvias are part of the Lamiaceae family and have the typical square stems associated with that group. Grow in a sunny position in well-drained soil. Their extended tubular flowers are nectar/pollen rich and attractive to insects. Deadhead to extend the flowering period. Cuttings are easy to take and root.

S. confertiflora (above) is a stunning velvety red with red stems, contrasting with good, green foliage. Half-hardy, but can be hardy in warm, sheltered locations – though it’s always best to take cuttings to ensure plants for the future. Keep the cuttings frost free over winter.

‘Amistad’ has become one of the most popular Salvia cultivars. Very long-flowering (months and months); can be tender, but survives the winter in Brighton and other reasonably sheltered places. The most fabulous deep purple flowers. Don’t cut back Salvias until spring, as it encourages them into growth.

Fuchsia ‘Thalia’

A tender Fuchsia, but so beautiful and still flowering. Vigorous and upright in growth, it displays long, drooping, tubular orange-red flowers and has attractive green/bronze veined foliage. At Garden House, it’s looking good in a sunny position in a pot with Aeoniums. Needs winter protection , but is dead easy from cuttings, so take some. Otherwise it won’t be dead easy. Just dead. A.G.M. and, hopefully, not R.I.P.

Physalis alkekengi

Who doesn’t love a Chinese Lantern? Emblematic of autumn and so useful in the garden now as well as indoors in a flower arrangement. Hardy perennials, they can be invasive; they are in the Solanaceae family, and their white flowers are very like that of the potato. It is their bright orange-red seed pods that are so attractive in the garden at the moment. Some people use them as Christmas decorations, casting them casually yet artfully, hither and thither over mantlepieces, windowsills and tables together with other natural and artificial elements. You can even insert little Christmas fairy lights into the pods and they will glow beautifully. That’s the decs sorted then! You’re welcome.

Rosa ‘Francis E. Lester’

A long-time fave at Garden House where it romps around over an arch near the potting shed. Loved for its prolific flowering, its large, single pink/white flowers and for the plethora of small, vibrant orangey-red rose hips which follow in the autumn. A good rambler, performing over a long period of time. Scented.

Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’

An absolutely lovely, small, deciduous tree, which can be a little tricky to grow. Needs to be placed out of the wind. Clusters of bright pink pea-flowers form on the branches and stems just before the leaves emerge. The heart-shaped leaves are a glorious deep red/purple and have dramatic autumn colour. At this time of year, with a carpet of species cyclamen planted underneath, it’s a beaut.

Colour in the garden

As indicated by the choice of plants this week, colour was very much the focus of today’s Zoom session. It involved more homework. Big respect to our academic F/G colleague, Liz McCullough, who generously shared another of her essays with us. She did the work; we just had to read and absorb.

She emphasised how important colour is for our mental health and how we can all become more aware of it in nature, once we start looking more mindfully. (Thankfully, the term ‘wellness’ was completely avoided.) Colours may be harmonious – where they are located next to each other, on the colour wheel, like yellow and green – or they may be complementary- where they are in opposition to each other, like yellow and purple or red and green. Harmonious colours engender a sense of peace and tranquility, whereas complementary ones tend to create a more exciting, energetic mood. This can be of enormous use to the gardener when it comes to garden design and planting.

Liz took us on a journey of the imagination, covering three of her most recent walks, to explore the colours she found in the natural world.

1. Southease/Rodmell

Buff coloured reedbeds, massive blue skies, the greens of the South Downs, the sparkle of water and its browns, greens and blues. A harmonious, peaceful palette of muted, gentle colour reinforced by the quiet, rustling of the reeds. Sometimes a limited number of colours work beautifully together: creams, browns and earthy tones. Bear in mind the way in which a plant fades and dies. Piet Oudolf was one of the first plantsmen to use the ability of a plant to ‘die gracefully’ in his planting schemes.

Amsonia hubrichtii fading brilliantly

2. Sheffield Park Gardens

Reds, oranges, golds and yellows contrasting with greens and glaucous blues. Trees and shrubs reflected in the lakes and water features around the park are set alight by the low autumn sun. Carpets of leaves on the woodland floor serve to emphasise the complementary colours. Layer upon layer of interest.

3. Nymans Gardens

Walking along the South African bed in the sunshine, with its planting of Phormiums, Agaves and Chamaerops humilis, revealed a harmony of blue, green and silvery tones. Island beds of ornamental grasses brought further harmony, as well as textures and plumes of more colours. Colour was also apparent in bark, berries, hips, leaves, fungi.

The remarkable hips of Rosa Roseraie de l’Hay

Single colour gardens, such as the White Garden at Sissinghurst, can be a relief as well as a challenge, although even these will have green as a background. A purely monochromatic garden in greens is also possible. Much will depend on the ultimate vision of the gardener. A cottage garden, for instance will have a very different design paintbox from a slick, contemporary urban garden, or one destined to be a paradise for wildlife.

We discussed colour in break-out groups, and agreed that it can be used to help create a more coherent garden space, creating links and points of focus throughout the year.

Thrilling, yes – but how exhausting! Let’s get back to:

Jobs for the week

Sow sweet peas and harden off the seedlings. Pinch out the tops when three sets of leaves have formed. Half-hardy, so protect from winter frosts.

Plant tulip bulbs

As below. If you haven’t got them yet, there’s still time to order them. In quantity.

You know it makes sense

Plant up pots for winter interest

Now that’s what I call interesting….

Love the plant support

Friday 23rd October 2020

A hot, zingy Salvia with a cool blue-grey Eucalyptus. Colour rocks at Garden House.

The Plant Ident.

The topic for the week is succulents. A wonderful, tough group of plants, they store water in their leaves as a way of surviving dry, arid conditions in the wild. Here, they will tolerate cold and heat, but not wet. As in The Great British Bake Off, soggy bottoms are to be avoided at all costs. Keep inside in a light place or in a greenhouse or, at the very least, covered with plastic or glass lids over the wet months. Now is the time to start protecting them and other tender plants.

Succulents: Succour them. Sustain them. Support them. Shelter them. Now search for succulents starting with “S”. Ah! Here’s one…

Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Moonshine’

Spectacular and architectural, the Silver Snake Plant has lovely, broad pale silvery-green leaves lightly marked with horizontal bands. Can be propagated from individual leaves, by cutting them horizontally and inserting the cut ends into gritty compost. Alternatively, offsets will grow around the base of a plant; these can be removed from the mother ship and planted up.

Check out the smart black label inscribed with white pen. Posh.

Gasteria armstrongii

Slow-growing, it has splendid dark green leaves which are distichous (!) They grow in only two planes. Easy – and a good houseplant. Not to mention an ideal present for Mr, Mrs or Ms Armstrong.

Haworthia pumila

A very attractive low-growing plant with fab raised white markings on its fleshy leaves. Bright light, some moisture in the summer months and little, if any, in the winter. Easy.

Aloe ‘Cleopatra’

Soft pale green leaves rise in a rosette form, their serrated edges are pale orange. Bears orange flowers from June – September. Legend has it that Cleopatra used aloe gel as a skin softener – and this natural product is still used as a soothing balm by the beauty industry today. A well-known TV programme was named after this plant: ”Allo Aloe’.

Echeveria elegans

An interesting and beautiful genus of plants in the Crassulaceae family. Its glaucous, geometric foliage develops pink tips in sunny, bright conditions. Stunning small orange/pink flowers with yellow edges are produced on long stems in winter and spring. Fills a pot or bowl beautifully.

Jobs for the week:

Rapt attention being paid as the jobs for the week are described

After the first three hours, however, one member of the group seems to have drifted off…. (back left). Bless.

But she’s soon up and at it. Spade at the ready!

Remove Roses

In preparation for the new dry garden, plants have been removed from the bed near the lawn. Now the Roses need to be taken out.

And… begin!

Tackle first on one side

Then on the other

The Rose arises

The gardener, on the other hand, gently subsides

Those plants removed last week have been paddling in the specially provided pool. This week, they need to be lined out and heeled in temporarily until they are re-homed permanently.

We’re looking for nice straight lines

Like this

A line of white, blue and pink Hyssop

ditto Agapanthus

ditto Kniphophias

or Red Hot Pokers, if you will

Spot the frog checking on work in progress

A whole new meaning to the phrase’Do your lines’

What do you mean, they’re not in a straight line?

Come here and say that

I’m saying nothing

Remove Miscanthus

Cut back to about 18cms, split into 3 and re-plant. Some grasses have a tendency to become (and here we use technical horticultural language) ‘doughnut-like’ as they age. To avoid the hole in the middle getting bigger and bigger, it’s necessary to split them from time to time. Best done in the spring, but this one is a large, established plant, the soil is damp and still warm and we have prayed to Saint Fiacre, the patron saint of gardeners. And crossed our fingers.

Plant tulip bulbs in the bed near the greenhouse

They’ll be deeply purple, darkly maroon and darkest burgundy: T. ‘Black Parrot’, T. ‘Queen of the Night’, T. ‘Ronaldo’, T. ‘Paul Sherer’, T. ‘Black Hero’

First prepare the (newly created) bed. Remove lavenders, weed bed and add copious quantities of compost

A three – pronged attack

With hand to hand fighting

and four – pronged forks

and a spade

Everybody digs Friday Group

Here are the bulbs

And here, and here and here

Keep at it!

It’s a great spectator sport

Plant Iris reticulata and Crocus bulbs in pots

Finish with a layer of horticultural grit – and netting

Protection from those pesky squirrels

The war starts now

Round One to Friday Group

Friday 16th October 2020

Sing a song of seasons!

Something bright in all!

Flowers in the summer,

Fires in the fall!

(Robert Louis Stevenson)

This week the whole group met for another virtual gardening session on Zoom. The format still started with our old favourite, the

Plant Ident

Stalwarts for the winter months ahead featured this week. Good doers, so to speak. Evergreens, evergreys, everblues… We’re after shape and texture as well. Very designery.

Fatsia japonica

This one’s a real good doer. Great at the back of a shady border, but also magnificent in a big pot; grows to 2.5 – 4 m. Very architectural. Beautiful, glossy palmate leaves. Can be used as an indoor plant too. Produces interesting flowers in the autumn, slightly reminiscent of ivy flowers, which the RHS describe as ‘terminal compound umbels’. Prepare the soil well when planting. Can be prone to vine weevil (eurghh) – try treating with nematodes. Propagate from soft tip cuttings in the spring, or just go mad and buy one if you are after some instant impact. There’s another variety called ‘Spider’s Web’, which looks as if it’s been dusted with icing sugar.

Chamaerops humilis

A.k.a. the Dwarf Fan Palm, the most cold-hardy of all the palms and the only native European palm. Adds exotic flamboyance to any garden, emphasising a properly tropical vibe. Probably not best in a cottage garden setting, but placed in the right location, it’s a wowser – especially if there’s a small group of them. Can cope with a certain amount of wind, presumably because of its tough, fan-like leaves. At Garden House it’s in a pot in a north-facing situation and always looks good. There’s a blue form available too.

Euonymous fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’

A small, bushy evergreen shrub with a creamy-white margin around the leaves. Often develops pink highlights in the cold, winter months. Grows in most types of soils. Will climb if planted against a wall, and is also a good hedging plant. Easy to take cuttings from and responds well to being gently shaped or tightly clipped. Tough.

Polystichum setiferum ‘Herrenhausen’

A variety of our native evergreen fern, the Soft Shield Fern. Now that we’re all shielding, surely this is one to try? In the Crocus catalogue it’s described as having ‘filigree-fine fronds that form a lacy rosette’. Fabuloso! Total textural triumph. Likes fertile, humus-rich soil and is good in a shady border where its wonderful shape can be appreciated, or, if you have that kind of garden, it would be marvellous in a woodland area. Can be propagated from bulbils which grow from the stem; pin the fronds down ensuring the bulbils are in contact with the damp compost, and new ferns will grow.

Phormium ‘Black Adder’


Apparently, Phormiums (New Zealand Flax) have a reputation for being rather thuggish. Keep them encased within the confines of an attractive pot, however, and you’ve got a magnificently structural statement plant. A container may be the way to go if you have chalky soil, as these flourish best in clay. ‘Black Adder’ has long dark leaves and doesn’t get too big – growing to around 1 m. Easy to maintain, does well on a north-facing site, looks exotic. Essential.

Soil types

Our task this week was to split into break-out Zoom rooms (I always thought a ‘break-out’ involved prisoners or spots) and share our thoughts on the pros and cons of different soil types. Vastly assisted by an elegant essay written by one of our colleagues, here is a summary:

All soils benefit from improvement, so a compost heap is a must if possible. Good, weed-free, well-rotted horse manure is worth seeking out (but don’t apply it too near to established plants as it will ‘burn’ them). Leaf mould is worth making as it improves soil texture. Mix all three together, apply to well-watered soil, and you’re rocking!

Clay soil

Heavy, sticky, hard to dig, wet, solid and cold in the winter; baked dry and cracked in the summer. Heartbreaking. Don’t work on it or walk on it in the winter as it’s easy to compact the wretched stuff. Made up of small, fine particles. Takes time to warm up in the spring.

But. It’s more fertile than many other soils – and a wide range of trees, shrubs, roses, climbers and many bulbs are easier to grow in it.

Improving clay soils can be done by: digging in plenty of organic matter; adding grit, sand or gravel, which helps to open up the structure; using raised beds to assist drainage and avoid compaction; and (best of all) adopting a no-dig approach.

Top plants: Roses, Ribes sanguineum, Malus, Viburnum, Euphorbia, Mahonia japonica, , Hydrangea, Sorbus, Geranium

Chalky soil

As on the South Downs. Highdown Gardens is a good example.

Can be light or heavy, depending on location, and is characterised by the quantity of calcium carbonate present. It’s alkaline, so will not support ericaceous plants that need acid soil conditions to thrive. Generally speaking, this type of soil is shallow, very free-draining and low in fertility. Best to relish and cherish chalk, if this is your lot; go with the flow and plant accordingly. Things like Lavandula, Geranium, Ceanothus, Campanula, Clematis and Dianthus will do fine.

Sandy soil

Derak Jarman’s garden is certainly an extreme example of sandy soil, but he succeeded in growing a range of interesting plants even in these conditions. Although easy to cultivate and work, these soils are low in nutrients, dry out quickly and are often acidic ( the Fens). They’re very free draining and liable to be washed away by wind and/or rain. On the other hand, they do warm up earlier in the spring . Adding loads of organic matter helps to bind the light, loose sand into more fertile crumbs. Fertilisers are often necessary to assist growth.

Top plants: Lavandula, Buddleia, Choisya ternata, Geranium ‘Rozanne’, Verbena bonariensis

Silty soil

Intermediate sized particles typify this soil and it has a light, grainy texture. Possibly one of the better soils to have, (apart from loam), although it may suffer from wind erosion. Organic matter will improve what is already a good base and also help to prevent waterlogging and compaction.

Top plants: Cornus, Hellebores, Galanthus – but there are many others

In all cases, research the best plants for your particular location. Don’t fight nature, choose the right plant for the right place. Or use pots.

Jobs for the week

Succour your succulents and ensure they are in a dry/sheltered spot over the winter. Too much rain will drown them. Maybe take them into a conservatory or greenhouse.

Earth up leeks

This will help to produce lovely, long white stems. These leeks can be lifted as and when needed by the kitchen staff

Check Chrysanthemums

C. ‘Ruby Mound’ growing in the Garden House greenhouse border.

Begin to lift Dahlias for overwintering

At Garden House, the dahlias are taken out before the cold weather bites to make room for other plantings.  Remove the plants from the soil, digging deeply to ensure that the tubers are kept in a clump. Cut back the top growth, as shown above, and store in a cool, dry place to allow the tubers to dry off (but not dessicate).  Keep the right labels with the right tubers!

Meanwhile… a dark cupboard not far away…

where the Hyacinth bulbs were stashed a couple of weeks ago…..

Look what’s happening

They’re putting their roots down

It’s a miracle!

I wonder if there’s any space for me in that cupboard?

The annual bulb-planting bonanza will start very soon. Rest up and prepare yourselves!

Friday 9th October 2020

Question not the quality of these queenly quinces. They qualify as quite the best quartet in the garden today.

The tree from which they come, is Cydonia oblonga, currently bearing quantities of quinces; when mature, they turn a bright golden yellow. Quintessentially autumnal.

And, speaking of autumnal – this month, the RHS magazine features Asters in all their glory, with recommendations from top plantspeople.

Plant ident.

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘Helen Picton’

One of the recommended varieties in The Garden is this magnificent semi-double variety, named for Helen Picton, the holder of a Plant Heritage National Plant Collection of Aster and related genera at Old Court Nurseries. In September/October, rich, violet-purple flowers adorn this upright plant which needs little in the way of staking. Plant in full sun. 1.2 m tall. A stunner and holder of an A.G.M.

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Silver Heart’

A good clump-forming hardy herbaceous perennial for shade, with heart-shaped silver leaves which are edged with green. Delicate deep blue flowers appear in the spring – reminiscent of Myosotis (Forget Me Not). The soil needs moisture and good preparation for this to flourish – improve it with compost and leaf mould. Good ground cover and lovely in a woodland garden. Another good variety is ‘Jack Frost’.

Tricyrtis formosana ‘Empress’

Its botanical name looks much more impressive than its common name: Toad Lily. Its big virtue is its ability to thrive in dry shade. Small, white lily-like flowers are splashed with purple spots and emerge from July -September. A Japanese species, it’s hardy and can be propagated by division in the spring. h. 0.65 x w. 0.40 m

Hylotelephium ‘Matrona’

‘Sedum’ was too simple a name for this garden stalwart, so the Botanical Boffins decided that ‘Hylotelephium’ would be more challenging for the poor gardener. And it is. Another hardy herbaceous perennial, the Stonecrop is a magnet for bees and hoverflies, provides a good splash of autumn colour and the seed heads give continued interest through the winter. The succulent dark leaves are held on pale magenta stems; flower heads are soft pink becoming dark red with age. Needs sun.

Giving these plants the ‘Chelsea chop’ in May (when the Chelsea Flower Show is held) helps guard against them becoming too big, flopping about and exposing their midriffs (I ask you). For goodness sake, cut one in three stems back by at least two-thirds to keep them compact and save them from embarrassment. A.G.M.

Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Dark Knight’

A terrific deep blue form of Caryopteris, loved by bees and butterflies. An autumn flowering shrub, good in the garden and as a cut flower. Needs sun. Glaucous (not raucous) foliage. Cut back to a shaped framework in March. Grows to around 1 m. and can be propagated from softwood, semi-ripe or hardwood cuttings. Very obliging of it.

Jobs for the week

Complete picking tomatoes if not already done

All can be used in different ways

Prepare and plant the beds underneath the arches

First, the beds are weeded

and plants are removed and stored for use elsewhere

The soil is improved with compost –

combined with leaf mould and some pelleted chicken manure

by the barrowload

It’s all about teamwork

Smile, team!

Hollyhocks are planted towards the back of the bed

and white foxgloves are added as well.

Hardy geraniums go in. Good ground cover and pretty

Plant bulbs deeply, in groups of 3, 5 or 7

Narcissus ‘Jack Snipe’ and species Tulips will be lovely

A kind person organises and delivers all the planting material

Put your best foot forward and it will all get done…


Take root cuttings of Papaver orientalis. New plants for free!


Read a colleague’s essay on the subject of soil. (It’s filthy.) We need to gen up on this subject – it’s central to everything that goes on in a garden. What are the different types of soil – sand, silt, peat, chalk or loam? How can you test for the pH value of your garden’s soil? How can one go about improving soil? What sort of plants are best grown in these different situations?

Questions will be asked.

And answers expected

Now, who is this essay writer?

Who’s responsible for all this extra work and stress?

Hmm. Someone’s looking suspiciously innocent.

Paulownia tomentosa, the Foxglove tree, gradually losing its stunning heart-shaped leaves. Perfect against a literally sky-blue background

Don’t forget the homework!

Friday 2nd October 2020

October? Already?

So, what’s the story, Morning Glory?

That bygone duo, Flanders and Swann, had it about right –

‘Then October adds a gale

Wind and slush and rain and hail…’

Well, at least it’s not too cold. Yet.

So here we are for another socially-distanced Friday Group session.

Wave, please, everyone! No? Suit yourselves.

Plant Ident.

This week it’s all about autumn performers. Invaluable to the gardener, as they extend the season right through to the first frosts. And beyond! Zingy colours, seed heads, panache – others may be putting their gardens to bed, but why? There’s still so much to enjoy.

Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Orpheus’

Previously known as Asters, these late-flowering herbaceous perennials come into their own now. Vibrant lavender-blue flowers surround a central yellow disc and are borne in clusters above lance-shaped leaves. Apparently, the yellow centres turn pink when pollinated by bees. A kind of traffic-light communication system. Isn’t nature wonderful? Clump-forming and better for being staked; likes full sun or part shade. Dies back in the winter.

Rudbeckia fulgida var sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’

The photo fails to do these beauties justice. En masse (e.g. at Sussex Prairies) they are breathtaking. Another member of the Asteraceae family and a herbaceous perennial as well. Once the sunshine-yellow daisy-style flowers are over, the brown cone-shaped seed heads add interest to the winter garden, especially when touched with early morning dew or frost. Tough as old boots, and essential for the autumn. Thrives in moist, well-drained soil in full sun or light shade. Increase by division. A.G.M.

Fuchsia magellicana

Such a beautiful, hardy shrub. Deep purple sepals are enclosed in delicate crimson petals, the delicate flowers dangling gracefully like earrings. They are small but plentiful and are a terrific addition to a garden border. Can grow to 2.5 m high, and will cope well with being pruned back to the ground in April. Manages in pretty well any soil, but likes to be sheltered and out of the wind. Don’t we all?

Salvia rosmarinus

Many herbs are sub shrubs (having a woody base and soft upper growth) and Rosemary is one such. A fantastic plant for the dry garden, with many culinary uses. Lovely to use in a cut flower arrangement, as its evergreen needle-shaped leaves are aromatic. Its flowers can be blue, white or pink, depending on the variety, and appear in spring/summer.

Calendula ‘Indian Prince’

One of the best hardy annuals – plants which can be sown now (but get your skates on), grown into small plants, then overwintered in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse. They can cope with the cold, but not with incessant wind and rain. Who could? Plant out in February/ March 30cms apart. Other hardy annuals include Sweet Peas, Ammis, Cornflowers. Fab for cutting.


An annual. But a half-hardy annual. These plants cannot survive outdoors until all danger of frost is past. They are sown, grown, set seed and die all in the same growing season. So put these packets of seed aside until next year. Phew! Petunias are brilliant for bedding schemes, patios, pots, troughs, baskets and borders. They take ages to germinate, so need to be started earlier than many other half-hardy types like Cosmos and Nicotiana.

Ginkgo biloba

Also known as the Maidenhair Tree, the Ginkgo is an ancient and venerable species, one which has survived for thousands of years. So old, it is sometimes referred to as a living fossil. As is this blogger. Trees are perennials with trunks, supporting branches and leaves. Surprisingly, this one is coniferous and, as its name suggests, its fan-shaped leaves are 2 -lobed. They turn bright yellow in the autumn. Slow-growing and much loved in the Garden House garden.

Jobs for the week

Masked and mysterious, Friday Groupers distributed themselves around the garden to get on with all the little jobs on hand.

Some enjoyed it

Whilst others,

it’s fair to say,

weren’t quite so enthusiastic

But did a lovely job, nonetheless

Terrific terrarium a-go-go

Seed sowing

Salads for overwintering. Who knew? Mizuna, Mustard, Lamb’s Lettuce, plus herbs like Coriander, Rosemary and Oregano.

Fill wine box with compost. Sow seeds thinly. Sift soil to cover lightly.

Covering the box with cling film encourages germination

Place in greenhouse until the seedlings start to grow.

Great interest was shown in the impressively extensive number of wine boxes at Garden House

Make autumn wreaths

Assemble a cornucopia of autumnal delights: cones, rosehips, physalis, greenery, toffee apples, whatevs.

Wind into, onto and in-between a prepared twig wreath

And, hey presto! A wreath magnifique!

Now eat the toffee apples.

Pot on Pansy seedlings

One plant per small pot

Now, where did those toffee apples go?

Hyacinths for indoor flowering

If prepared hyacinths are established today, they will be in flower in 3 months time – so should be ready by 2nd January. Start the timer now.

These pink bulbs are H. ‘Fondant’

Leave about one third of the bulb above soil level. Water sparingly, label and put into a cool, dark place like a shed or garage until the hyacinth shoots are about 5 cm high. (They need to be below 9 degrees C. to force them into growth.) Then bring indoors into a fairly cool room to bring them gently into flower. After flowering, the bulbs can be planted in the garden.

These white bulbs are H. ‘Aiolos’

Hyacinth bulbs can also be placed on top of glass forcing vases filled with water. The base of the bulb should barely touch the liquid. Keep an eye on them as they will need a little topping up as they start to grow, but be careful not to add too much, as the bulbs may rot. Same treatment as above: into a cool, dark place until shoots reach 5 cm.

Work in the greenhouse

Sow hardy annuals in pots, pick any remaining tomatoes, remove tomato plants, plant Chrysanthemums. It’s all going on in here.

Looking good

Cut back the Ficus carica

Some like this job

Others couldn’t give a fig

Prune the Rosemary

Prune the Raspberries

These ones are summer fruiting, and bear fruit on growth made the previous season. They need to be pruned now to remove old, dead and diseased wood and give the new wood plenty of time to grow for next summer’s crop.

Pruned and perfect!

Don’t get muddled and blow raspberries at the summer prunes


Some even found time to enjoy the traditional Friday Group Cake Break. After all….

friday 25th september 2020

Wet. Chilly. Are we deterred? Are we heck as like. This is Friday Group we’re talking about.

Still plenty of beauty in the garden

So true

And at Garden House, preparations for a new project are already well underway. The rather sick box hedge around the border in the lawn area has been removed; the box has been boxed up and is gone. Now the rest of the plants need to be dug out before work goes ahead on the planned dry garden.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves; first it’s time for the

Plant ident.

This week it’s all about plants suitable for dry conditions. How timely.

Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spire’

Russian Sage. Such a great plant for this time of year. Long silver-grey branching stems and delicate foliage contrast wonderfully with blue flowers which shimmer in the sunshine. A sub-shrub, with a woody base and soft upper growth, and part of the Lamiaceae family (commonly known as the Mint, Sage or Deadnettle family) many of which are culinary and/or aromatic. Square stems are a characteristic feature of this group. Attractive to birds, bees and other insects. Grow in full sun and well-drained soil; cut hard back in March. ‘Little Spire’ is an attractive smaller version of the type.

Atriplex halimus

Related to Red Orach, this evergrey Tree Purslane has strikingly beautiful silver-grey oval leaves, which are its main attraction. It grows to around 2 metres, creating an effective anchoring point in a Mediterranean-style border. Thrives in hot, dry conditions and enjoys a saline environment – hence, good near the coast. Try taking cuttings…

Ballota pseudodictamnus

Soft silver-grey leaves make this a very tactile plant. Known as False Dittany, this sub-shrub in the Lamiaceae family can often be confused with Phlomis. Whorls of pink flowers emerge on the stems in the summer. Likes full sun and flourishes in poor, well-drained soils. Easy from cuttings. So take them!

Gaura lindheimeri ‘The Bride’

Easy from seed, this popular but short-lived perennial is useful in any herbaceous border and especially in cottage garden planting schemes. Can also be grown from cuttings (from non-flowering side shoots). Spectacular when grown as a combo en masse with Erigeron karvinskianus. Wildlife friendly, simple, effective, a must! Don’t cut back until March.

Glaucium flavum

The Horned Poppy, familiar in eastern seaside locations in the U.K., has ephemeral, brilliantly coloured flowers and amazing, long, curved seed pods. Flowers can be orange or yellow, whilst the ruffled leaves are silver-grey-blue. Great in gravel gardens.

Jobs for the week

The same as last week, but groups swap their jobs. The Digging Group were tasked with removing Red Hot Pokers from the border and taking out the bottom branches of an Olive tree.

Clearing the border

Plants set aside and ready to be re-located

Pruning the Olive Tree

Do it mindfully

But of course!

Ah. He’s clearly relishing a bit of pruning. Looks rather jolly for our liking

Hmm. Much too jolly

Meanwhile, the Cuttings Group continue to take cuttings of tender perennials, like Salvias, Fuchsias and Plectranthus, as well as other perennials.

Plectranthus ciliatus

Needs care with pronunciation, but propagation is easy from cuttings.

Gently insert the cuttings into a free-draining 50:50 mix of perlite and compost. Try to ensure the bottom leaves of each cutting are just touching the soil’s surface. In a propagator they should root in 1 – 2 weeks. Over the winter months, they will need protection in an unheated greenhouse or cold frame

Sometimes it’s hard to communicate whilst wearing a mask

So alternative forms of communication are evolving

Sorry. Absolutely no idea what’s going on there.

Sometimes it’s helpful to discuss concerns with a friendly face

It’s very cathartic

The Jiffy 7s which were sown with seeds last week are on a heated mat in the greenhouse. More will join them this week

They’re doing well

Quality Control checks the temperature is exactly right

Looks purrfect

A well-prepared Friday Group member reveals her work/health & safety bag.


Although a low tub trug such as this is also useful, for taking home any Garden House goodies. There always seem to be some.

Better than sweets – and less calorific

Friday 18th SEPTEMBER 2020

We started our session this week by thinking about plants we love, together with a wish list of things we’d like to learn. Featured were: old Roses and Pelargoniums, zingy yellow Rudbeckias and purple Asters, Grasses of all sorts, Geraniums, Cottage Garden plants. Also: propagating, pruning, planning and design, continuous development and learning, extending the season, gardening in pots, plantings for dry gardens, annual tasks, perennial plants…

Garden House is always looking ahead to the next Big Thing. Spring bulbs are currently high on the list. Hence the digital display board showing ideas for future planting schemes –

Perhaps not a digital display board

Two new Japanese gold standard additions were introduced:

We really dig them

Plant Ident.

This week it was all about weeds. What is a weed? Now, here we could go all philosophical and say it’s a wild and lovely plant, not in quite the right place. But, basically, they are plants that we humans don’t like or want in our gardens. Out they must go. They may be highly invasive, poisonous, stingy, pernicious, prickly, or – heaven forfend – inferior to cultivated varieties.

Where do they come from? Perhaps from next door; dropped by birds or other wildlife; in plants you have bought or been given; blown in on the wind; brought in on boots and shoes; carried on dirty tools. The message is clear: be vigilant at all times. Body searches may be necessary. But there may be court cases.

So, what to look for? Here are a few for starters:

Euphorbia peplus

This annual weed is from the Spurge family, and is also known as Common or Petty Spurge. Euphorbias are generally highly desirable garden plants, but this isn’t one of them! Will seed itself around unless controlled, but can be removed fairly easily if pulled gently. Like all Euphorbias, it has a toxic, milky-white sap which is a skin irritant, so wear gloves. Make sure you get all the root out.

Calystegia sepium

Hedge bindweed. Lovely! Such a pretty flower. White and innocent. Don’t be fooled. It’s a perennial weed and devious in the extreme. This stuff is horrific once you get it in your border. It will make itself quite at home there and grow ten times better than anything else. Can climb with ease (see picture below) and does so vigorously, entirely without the aid of a safety net. Climbs anti-clockwise – check it out! Pull long skeins of it out by the roots – fast. Will re-grow from any smidgeon of root left behind.

Good luck

Oxalis corniculata

What a pretty name – and its common name is even more charming: ‘Sleeping Beauty’. Also known as Creeping Woodsorrel. The clue is in the ‘Creeping’ part of the name. Tenacious, persistent, annoying, stubborn. Like many a teenager, in fact. It’s a perennial pest, growing from miniature bulbils and also spread further by its tiny seeds. An utter joy for the weary gardener, it’s virtually impossible to shift. Worse still if you are of the organic persuasion. Dig out by hand, ensuring you remove every morsel of root/bulbil/stem. Or resort to the flame-thrower. Or explosives. Cake can be useful as a sedative.

Senecio vulgaris

Groundsel is an ephemeral weed with branching stems holding clusters of yellow flowers which turn into white, fluffy seed heads. Catch those seed heads before they drift off in a romantic fashion. Better still, pull out groundsel before it flowers. Make sure you are not pulling out a rare specimen of something else in the Asteraceae family which you’ve been trying to grow for the last five years. Just saying. By the way, ephemeral weeds are even better than annual weeds in that they germinate, grow, flower and set seed several times in one growing season. Just think, millions of seeds per year. Marvellous.

Veronica chamaedrys

Germander Speedwell is really quite inoffensive as far as weeds go. Easy to remove, it has small, pretty blue flowers. Perennial and a member of the plantain family.

Anchusa officinalis

Alkanet or Common Bugloss is an upright perennial weed with lance-shaped hairy leaves. Related to Borage, Myosotis and Pulmonaria, a perennial weed with attractive blue flowers and a tap root which is heading for the centre of the earth. Try to get the whole of it out, or it will re-grow. Tough stuff this weed business.

Jobs for the week

Another new piece of kit. Very exciting. What could it be?

A paddling pool?

Certainly not! It’s a holding pool for plants recently dug up and divided and awaiting their new home in the garden.

Tasks this week involved removing/dividing geraniums from the border adjacent to the lawn and taking cuttings of tender perennials.

Dig up and divide geraniums

Try to dig up a large clump. Cut the foliage hard back before placing the plant in the holding pool. Green waste can go into green trugs for the compost heap.

Attention to detail is everything

Everyone’s bent on doing a good job

Take cuttings of tender perennials

A tender perennial (usually herbaceous) is one which will generally not survive the cold winter months unless given protection. Left outside, it will likely die. Taking cuttings of plants which fall into this category both insures against loss and increases stock for the following year. Plants on today’s propagation list: Salvia ‘Nachtvlinder’, Salvia confertiflora, Salvia ‘Amistad’, Linaria ‘Peachy’, Plectranthus argentatus and Plectranthus ciliatus.

Remove a few non-flowering stems from the plant in question and place immediately into a damp plastic bag. The stems should be soft and ‘flippy-floppy’ (technical term), not woody. Fill a 3 cm pot with potting compost, then strike off any excess. Cut beneath a leaf joint with clean, sharp snips or a knife, making a cutting of about 4 cms. Remove any large leaves to reduce transpiration and all lower leaves to prevent rotting.

Plectranthus argentatus cutting

Cover with vermiculite or horticultural grit and water lightly. Label. Place in a warm spot (a greenhouse or window sill) until they have rooted as in the photo below

Then they can be potted on into 7 cm pots.

All work will be scrutinised

That cat will never find out who we are now that we’re wearing masks.

Over winter, the rooted cuttings can be kept in a cold frame or cold greenhouse to keep them frost free and out of the rain and wind. Like us, they are averse to freezing conditions.

Sow seeds in Jiffy 7s

These are little compressed pellets of compost which swell when submerged in water. So, they went for a swim in the not-a-paddling-pool. Nicely plumped, they were then ready for seeds to be planted.

The propagation adventure continues

More next week!

Friday 11th September 2020

It’s September. We’re back! Sharpened pencils at the ready; new pencil cases; pristine notebooks; clean fingernails. All ready to set off on a new horticultural year at Garden House. Happy days.

Some changes, due to the Challenging Times we’re living in. We meet in smaller, socially-distanced groups. We are experts in Health and Safety and can discuss the pros and cons of any number of hand sanitisers with you. Mask fashionistas too: it’s a veritable Venetian Carnival here. Plus, our briefcases are choc full of tools, gloves, snips, secateurs, shears, hair clippers… (oh, wrong tool) and cake. Everything needs to be clearly labelled. Like so…

There are plans afoot to create a dry garden area in view of the current need to conserve water. This will mean researching drought tolerant plants and how to further improve soil to aid water retention. Other items on the menu for this year’s curriculum will be lawn care, pruning, plant identification, ideas for planting combinations, taking cuttings. A heated propagator would be a good addition to one’s home gardening kit, for obvious reasons.

Plant ident .

This week the topic was grasses, which belong to the Poaceae family. A fabulous addition to any planting, there are grasses for all shapes and sizes of garden, providing interest for much of the year. Colour, movement, structure – they have it all – as well as being extremely tactile. And as for susurration? My dear, they’re a must. Being wind-pollinated, they don’t need flowers to attract pollinators.

Pennisetum macrourum

African Feather Grass grows to around 1.5 m and looks great in a dry, sunny position, providing a strong vertical statement in the border. Hardy, but not evergreen, it carries long, compact, soft cream flower heads over clumps of grass-like leaves from late summer to autumn. A.G.M.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferner Osten’

The slender, narrow leaves of this ornamental grass hold spectacular dark red plumes aloft from summer to late autumn. The leaves themselves also colour to copper and red. Deciduous, but maintains interest through the winter months. Cut back hard in February/March as the new growth starts to appear. Grows to around 1.8 m and is best in a sunny, open position with plenty of space to display its magnificence. A.G.M.

Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’

A much smaller grass, but equally eye-catching, with vivid bright yellow/green striped leaves. Grows to about 35 cms. Deciduous and fully hardy. Has a modern minimalist vibe, and looks great in planters as well as at the front of the border or as an under-planting. Best in sun or part shade in moist, well-drained soil. A.G.M.

Anemanthele lessoniana

Try saying that with a mouthful of cake. A wonderfully ornamental wind grass, providing interest throughout the year. Initially emerging green, the foliage later colours with streaks of red, orange and yellow. Likes full sun/partial shade and moist but well-drained soil. Evergreen. Comb its hair through in the spring (we should all be experts in this by now) to remove dead grass. Divisions can be made in spring/early summer. Grows to about 1 m. A.G.M.

Stipa tenuissima ‘Wind Whispers’

Taller than the general species, growing to around 90 cms, the fine hairy leaves of this Stipa waft gently in the breeze. Best grown in quantity to reveal its graceful elegance. Hardy and poetic.

Stipa gigantea

It’s a big ‘un. And an all-time Garden House favourite. The spectacular Oat Grass can grow to 2.5 m. Not so much a statement, more an exclamation. Arching stems of golden oat-like flower heads shimmer in the sunlight, floating above slender grey-green foliage. Majestic. Grow one as a specimen plant – or several if you have the space. A.G.M.

Jobs for the week

Easing us in gently, the main task this week was weeding. Just to make sure we could remember the difference between plants to go and plants to keep. Green trugs for compostable refuse. Black trugs for bad thugs.

Others were set to cutting back shrubs. And they set-to with vigour.

A second summer

It’s hot stuff

It’s good to be back