All posts by Anne Unsworth

Friday 8th October 2021

Great Dixter might have a fab Plant Fair, but our Little Dixter has fab plant fare

Check it out

Plant Ident.

From late summer to autumn, Ornamental Grasses come into their own. They provide tranquillity and calm, colour and movement, structure, texture and sound. Some are light and wifty-wafty, whilst others are dense and authoritative. Like many politicians. Belonging to the Poaceaea or Gramineae family, there really is a Grass for every type of garden.

But, beware. Once bitten by the bug, you’re a gonner. As is all your pocket money.

Stipa tenuissima ‘Wind Whispers’

Also known as Mexican Feather Grass, this is a deciduous, perennial grass which produces tactile plumes from early summer. The plumes start pale greeny-white but become progressively blonder as they age. Looks good through the winter. Can be cut back in early spring which results in fresh green growth, but can also be left. Benefits from a comb-through to remove dead material. Likes full sun to part shade; hates wet, frozen soil. Ht. 0.6 m. Award of Garden Merit. Hem hem.

And look what happens if you plant them in quantity…

Edging. Structure. Movement. Softness. Texture. Beauty. Light. Sound. Wifty-waftiness in abundance.

Sigh!

Hakonechloa macra

Japanese Forest Grass. It has an A.G.M. as well. So there. A perennial Grass which has mounds of bright green leaves topped by airy sprays of green flowers from mid-late summer. The leaves develop autumn tints as the seasons progress; the red-brown coloration lasting through the winter. Copes with most positions, and provides interest over a long period. Ht. 0.5 m. There is also a very desirable lower-growing, golden variety, ‘Aureola’, which is frequently used by garden designers.

Calamagrostis brachytricha

Korean Feather Reed Grass. A.G.M. This genus forms a clump of glossy green, linear leaves which turn yellow in the autumn. Purple-tinged sprays of flower heads open in late summer/early autumn and continue into the winter. The Beth Chatto website describes them as being like elegant bottle brushes, providing “a fine vertical above lower plants”. Most soils; full sun or partial shade; exposed or sheltered. It’s a coper! Propagate by seed or division in mid-spring. Ht. 1-1.5 m

Miscanthus nepalensis

Himalayan Fairy Grass. Who knew there were fairies in the Himalayas? This plant forms bold clumps of elegant, green leaves. Drooping flowerheads, held above the foliage, develop in the summer; these seedheads persist for several months, providing architectural interest. Not reliably hardy, so may need protection from frosts, although it could be grown in a sizeable pot and sheltered in a greenhouse or conservatory. Full sun. Any soil. Ht. 1m. A.G.M.

Stipa gigantea ‘Gold Fontaene’

This fully hardy Stipa is a firm favourite at Garden House. Known as Giant Feather Grass or Golden Oat Grass, this one is even more beautiful when its inflorescences are lit by the sun. Clump-forming and evergreen, the long, golden panicles of oat-like flowers gradually fade to a buff/straw colour. Architectural and then some. Prefers a light, well-drained soil. Ht. 2.5 – 4 m. A.G.M.

Jobs for the Week

Divide Hostas

Hostas have a good root system and can be divided easily in either spring or autumn. Cut the clump with a knife from the crown down to the base. The re-planted division should recover and grow away well, provided it is kept well-watered. And slug-free. Best to add a layer of grit to the top of the pot to deter the critters.

Divide Stipa gigantea

First, dig up your gigantic Stipa. This will take about 3 days. Rest, recover, then split the plant into smaller divisions.

Once the plants have been divided, they can be tidied up – the leaves combed through and cut back, and the roots shortened. As demonstrated below by the stooping Stipa team –

What a lovely, neat job

And, look! The label is ready to go in too. Marvellous.

Hang on a minute. Can we take a closer look at that label?

Oh, very clever. Our esteemed colleague has made a deliberate mistake to keep us on our mettle. She’s purposely left out those all-important single quotation marks. 50 points to Gryffindor. It should, of course, read: Stipa gigantea ‘Gold Fontaene’.

Ah, those crucial single quotation marks! And they say that punctuation is no longer important.

Take cuttings of Pelargoniums

A particular favourite at Garden House. Some might say an obsession. These are tender perennials, and won’t survive outside over winter. Now is the time to take cuttings, to ensure you have stock for next year. These can be rooted on a heated mat or in a propagator (failing that, try a sunny windowsill), then kept protected under glass or indoors until next year, when all danger of frost has passed. This one is ‘Attar of Roses’, and why wouldn’t you want that?

Empty pots preparatory to The Great Bulb Planting Operation

The big heave-ho begins. This one will run and run. In fact, there are usually so many Tulip bulbs that this (below) is likely to be an imminent Job for the Week….

Hardy annuals

Getting them going now will produce bigger, earlier and more robust plants next year. We do like to get ahead at Garden House.

Prick out seedlings in triplicate

Eyes down for a full propagating tray

Sow more hardy annual seeds. And more.

Cover tiny seeds lightly with vermiculite

We really are motoring!

Prune Rosa ‘Charles de Mills’

He’s one prickly customer is old Charles.

Most Shrub Roses tend to flower best on older stems, so generally they only need a little light pruning to keep them in shape. Prune in late summer/early autumn after flowering. Remove the 3 Ds – dead, damaged and diseased wood, together with any branches which cross one another. Take out any older stems which are causing congestion at the centre of the plant – the aim is to keep it as open as possible. Cut back a few of the leggier stems to around 10 cms; this will encourage new, vigorous growth.

Propagate Succulents

Continue the work started last week. You can never have too many Succulents. Sixty Succulents? Seventy Succulents? More?

Here’s one I did earlier

Check the vegetable beds

Oh, I say!

Work on Dry Bed

Dig, weed ad infinitum

The yellow-hued autumn nature table. Pears and pumpkins?

Oh no, nothing so common, my dear…

Quinces and Cucurbitas

After all, this is Garden House

Friday 1st October 2021

Pouring with rain. Outdoor play has been suspended. Everyone’s indoors.

They’re playing cards. What the hecky decky is going on?

Poker? Show no emotion. Masks will help.

So true. And I’ve got all spades

(How appropriate)

Actually, it’s a card game featuring plant families. Every plant belongs to a family, of which there are many. Lamiaceae; Asteraceae; Rosaceae; Iridaceae; Scrophulariaceae (sounds nasty)…. the list is long. Plants in the same family share physical characteristics which can assist in their identification. Those in the Asteraceae (Daisy) family, tend to have a daisy-like form, whilst those in the Rosaceae family usually have open, bowl-shaped flowers with five petals and a cluster of stamens in the centre.

So, Sunflowers, Chrysanthemums and Dahlias are in the Daisy family (but, surprisingly, so are Echinops and Yarrow), and Roses and Blackberries are Part of the Rosaceae family (and so are Apricots, Apples, Pears and Raspberries).

Families can be tricky and surprising, can’t they?

Plant Ident.

This week’s focus is on Persicarias (aka Bistort or Knotweed). Part of the Polygonaceae family, they are a varied genus of robust, hardy, herbaceous perennials which flower from mid-summer to autumn. There are about 100 species, so there’s plenty to choose from, and they have become very popular in prairie-style plantings as typified by Piet Oudolf and also by the McBrides at Sussex Prairies. They provide vibrancy and interest in late summer borders and contribute to that season’s rich tapestry of colours.

Generally speaking, they thrive best in rich, moist soils, but they’re pretty adaptable and will manage in poorer conditions provided it’s not too hot and dry. They need room to spread and display themselves, but are low maintenance on the whole, needing only the occasional haircut. The flowers are loved by butterflies and bees and, what’s more, will last for a long time in water when cut and brought indoors.

Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Alba’

Slender tapers of tiny, white flowers are borne on long stems rising above a mound of large leaves. Flowers from summer through to autumn, and grows to around 1.0 m.

Persicaria virginiana var. filiformisGuizhou Bronze’

 More impressive as a foliage plant, this one has large, felted leaves with smudgy dark green markings. Rated by Steve Edney of Salutation Garden fame, it’s got to be a good ‘un.

Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Orange Field’ and ‘Pink Mist’

‘Orange Field’ is a cultivar selected and named by the Belgian landscape architect Chris Ghyselen. It has luminous, slender, coral flowers.Ht 1.0 m.

‘Pink Mist’ is shorter than many Persicarias; soft pink spikes rise above its slim stems, and the plant forms a gently rounded clump. Ht 0.8 m

Persicaria virginiana var. filiformis ‘Alba’

This one has an upright bushy habit. Mossy green leaves have a faint chevron marking and narrow spires of tiny white flowers emerge in the autumn months. Hardy, deciduous and performs best in shady conditions. It’s a good choice for borders where there are Ferns and Hostas, as it will give some height and late colour. It can tolerate quite dry soils once established, but, like other members of its genus, it really prefers moisture retentive conditions. Ht 0.9 m.

Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’

This cultivar is a vigorous, spreading perennial with lanceolate leaves which are purple/green in colour. The silver/green chevron marking on each leaf do indeed conjure up the face of a dragon. Clusters of small white flowers emerge in late summer – early autumn. Can provide good, dense ground cover, as this is one of the lower-growing Persicarias. Cut back after flowering. Ht. 0.5m

Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Fat Domino’

A good, reasonably well-behaved variety, again introduced by Chris Ghyselen, with long spikes of plump, deep red flowers carried on stems above bright green foliage. Spreads freely but tends not to be invasive. Its impressive impact in the garden is largely due to the size, quantity and continuity of the flowers. Looks good with grasses. Ht. 1.0 – 1.2 m

Succulents

A trayful of succulent Succulent cuttings

These cuttings were taken earlier and left in a tray to callous over, which will aid propagation. They may start to grow roots even before planting.

Ready, steady…..propagate!

And they’re off…

Succulents can be divided by removing the little plantlets, or offsets, that have grown up alongside the mother plant. Sometimes it is possible to divide them by root separation, where the plant itself is split into separate clumps.

They can also be grown from cuttings. Here, a leaf can be pulled away, or a stem can be cut (useful when a plant has grown long and leggy). Cut the stem leaving about 2cms on the plant. Leave to dry. Plant in a good, well-drained potting medium – compost mixed with grit or perlite – ensure they are firmly bedded in. Water sparingly.

Here we are propagating by planting the individual leaves of Succulents – things such as Echeverias and Aeoniums. The cut part of the leaf is gently pushed upright into the compost. New plants will grow from the base. It’s all very exciting.

Don’t watch them though; it will take time.

Outside at last!

Potting up cuttings

Propagate grasses

Dig up clumps of Grasses (various). Divide. Pot divisions into fresh compost, removing dead and damaged leaves and shortening the root system. Use of a devilishly sharp pruning saw is advisable.

Count fingers on both hands before and after this job.

But how many fingers did you start with?

Six, seven, eight, nine…..

And what’s happening in the greenhouse?

Lots of green growth

Nicely labelled, Puss. And are they all properly categorised?

“I can categorically confirm that they are.”

Friday 24th September 2021

Blue skies and autumn sunshine reveal the silhouette of the Foxglove Tree at Garden House – Paulownia tomentosa. Magnificent if left to grow and flower, but equally astonishing if cut right down every year; the leaves on the new growth will be impressively huge, providing a jubilantly jungly atmosphere in the heart of Sussex.

And what a difference a week makes! Last week these seeds were sown –

And just look at them now!

Nothing short of miraculous

So, it’s izzy wizzy, let’s get busy… and on to the

Plant ident.

This week the autumn-flowerers take centre stage

Succisa pratensis

Or Devil’s Bit Scabious, a delicate see-through herbaceous perennial. From a rosette of mid-green leaves at its base, comes a long, branching stem with pale blue/mauve flowerheads, which are almost spherical. Dead-heading will promote further branching and the production of yet more flowers. Gorgeous when seen wafting amongst grasses such as Stipa tenuissima. Any aspect, any soil type, full sun or partial shade, likes a reasonably moist soil. A.G.M. Ht. 0.6 -1.0 m

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘Helen Picton’

A clump-forming, herbaceous perennial. Re-classified from the more easily-spelled and pronounced ‘Aster’, this form glows in the autumn sun. Rich, dark purple petals surround golden-yellow centres and the flowers are held on stiff, upright stems. Disease resistant, attractive to wildlife and great as a cut flower. It’s a must! Named after Helen Picton who holds the National Collection of Michaelmas Daisies at Picton Garden near Malvern in Worcestershire. A.G.M. Ht. 0.9 – 1.0 m

Symphotrichum novi-belgii ‘Vasterival’

Small, pale mauve/lilac daisy-type flowers feature atop the dark stems of this tall, beautiful plant. Forms an airy, upright clump which adds greatly to the autumn border. Good in sun or partial shade; especially good on clay, but does well in the chalky soil at Garden House. Doesn’t die very gracefully (how shocking), but is good as a cut flower. Ht. 1.0 – 1.2 m

Echinops ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’

An attractive Globe Thistle, with metallic blue spiky flowers and leaves. Its architectural shape, height and distinctive colouration associates well with other late summer plants like Grasses, Crocosmia, Cardoons, Rudbeckias and Echinaceas. Attractive to wildlife – particularly to bees. Cut back to the ground once flowering has finished – although it’s a good idea to leave some seed heads for the birds. Full sun, most well-drained soils. Ht. 1.0 m

Hylotelephium ‘Purple Emperor’

Or Sedum, to those of us who find change difficult. A wonderfully vivid autumn plant from the Crassulaceae family. Purple/red stems and flowers glow in the late summer sun. Can be propagated easily from cuttings placed in water or compost, or by planting one of the fat, succulent leaves. Peel off a leaf, leaving a little fleshy heel from the stem, and plant upright in compost. It will rooty-toot root. Can also be divided.

Looking ahead to 2022

Time to think about bulbs of all shapes and sizes. Head for your collection of catalogues – Parkers, Sarah Raven, Avon, Bloms, de Jager and many more. The trouble is, it can all get a bit overwhelming. At Garden House, Bridge makes up a collage for different areas of the garden, making it easier to think about flowering periods, heights and colour combinations. There’s something meditative about paper, scissors and paste. And it’s a system that works –

This year, some precious Tulipa sprengeri seeds have been gifted to Bridge, but they won’t flower for about 4 years. What’s more, they’ll need a cold period to encourage germination (stratification). None of this will deter Garden House. Always up for a Tulip Challenge.

Now, some people have wine fridges. Only a very few have plant fridges.

And here are the T. sprengeri seeds. Already sown and in the fridge.

(But, where are all the wine bottles?)

Jobs for the week

Seed collection

When seed heads have formed and just started to open, a little seed collection is in order. Do this on a dry day. Shake the seeds onto a small tray and remove as much of the chaff as possible, then carefully transfer them into seed envelopes. Label!

For goodness sake, don’t mix up the hardy with the half-hardy annuals. The consequences are too awful to contemplate.

The whispy seed heads of Stipa tenuissima in September…

…and its seeds

Lychnis coronaria seed heads and seeds

Seed heads of Althaea cannabina

and the little beauties within

Ferns

The fern collection is being developed to establish a veritable fernery. Pot the new selections into terracotta pots using a John Innes compost. Water, label and place in a shady area. More research will be done on these fascinating plants in due course.

Foxgloves

Time to plant out some biennials in shade / part-shady areas of the garden. Digitalis need to be planted deeply, firmed in and watered. Space about 45 cms apart and await their glorious evolution.

Divide Auriculas

Tip plants out of their pots to check for the evil vine weevil. Divide, wash, and then re-pot carefully, back into terracotta pots.

Put them in a shaded place and, come spring, they will flower with great dignity, as befits their Victorian elegance. They love being displayed in an Auricula theatre, but definitely not the music-hall variety.

The Auricula is quite particular

Is there time for a Cake Break?

Need I say more?

Succulents

Pot up succulents in a really light compost. Cat litter was suggested as a possible medium to be mixed in with compost. With due diligence, this was given a try. And deemed not a runner. Clumping!

But the finished pots looked marvellous –

Pot on cuttings in the greenhouse

Use a mix of compost and horticultural grit for this.

We’re on it!

They certainly are! 5-star pots of Dianthus cuttings.

Divide hardy Geraniums

Cut back hardy Geraniums, dig up and make divisions of the plants. Re-plant / give away any extras. Tough job, but these Friday Groupers are up for the challenge.

Divide Agapanthus

Their roots will be compacted, so a pruning saw or bread knife will come in handy when splitting them. Come to think of it, there’s a woman in the potting shed with a bread knife.

I think she’s busy murdering someone

Sow Herbs

To sow now – Chervil, Dill, Coriander, Clary Sage, Lemon grass and Parsley. There’s a lot to do.

This is what you might call a division of labour…

Well, I call it management inaction

Take cuttings of Streptocarpus

Time to increase the Cape Primroses. We do love a free plant or two. First, catch your Streptocarpus. Then, dead head the plant and give it a general tidy up.

Cut off a perfect leaf. Then you have two options: cut either vertically or horizontally. If you are of the vertical persuasion, then remove the mid-rib running from top to bottom of the leaf and place the two cut edges in a light compost mix.

For those favouring horizontalism, make several horizontal cuts across each leaf, dividing it into several segments. Place each section upright in a little furrow of compost (see photo below). Make sure the lower cut is the one in touch with the growing medium . Water lightly and don’t forget to label. You think you’ll remember the cultivar’s name in future? You won’t. Place on a gentle heat for around three months to establish roots. Each cut leaf will eventually make a new plant.

Isn’t Nature wonderful?

And so we come to the end of another session. Time to admire Cobaea scandens in the garden: the Cup and Saucer plant.

And maybe have another cup of tea

Friday 17th September 2021

We’ve only just started our autumn sessions, and already we’re thinking about next year’s plantings. These are some fantastic Stocks, with cool evergrey-silver foliage, whose blissful scent we’ll enjoy in 2022.

Plant ident.

This week it’s all about half-hardy, annual climbers. Useful, exciting, dramatic and well worth a go. These begin and end their life-cycle over a twelve-month period; being half-hardy, means they can’t be planted out in the garden until all danger of frost has passed. They are generally sown in the spring and the pots are placed on heat to germinate.

Thunbergia alata ‘Sunny Suzy Brownie’

The Black-Eyed Susan Vine is a great choice if you need to cover an ugly fence or wall quickly; a twining climber, it will need support. In the summer months it produces very pretty dark orange-red flowers. Grow in a sunny position for best results, remembering to water and feed regularly. H. 2m

Rhodochiton atrosanguineus ‘Purple Bells’

Sow seeds very early (in February) on heat. (Rhodochiton needs a long growing season.) A glamorous climber, which excites a lot of interest both for its bell-like flowers and its tendril-like stems with heart-shaped foliage. Originating from Mexico, it can hang downwards from a balcony, or clamber upwards from pots. Treated as a half-hardy, acrobatic annual in this country (for obvious reasons), it could be considered a tender perennial if kept somewhere sheltered and warm over winter. The obvious answer is to build an orangery. A.G.M. Full sun, any soil. H. 3m

Something like this would do

The Rhodochitons currently performing at Garden House came from seeds collected from last year’s plants. Just saying.

Cobaea scandens

Another one from Mexico which also needs sowing very early in the year – in fact those at Garden House were sown in January. Sow the seeds on their sides to discourage rotting off. They start off their lives growing with quiet innocence, looking so encouraging in their green lushness. By the end of the autumn, they are a chaotic mess, unless trained by a strict disciplinarian. Sarah Raven grows hers over arches at the entrance to Perch Hill, where the white or purple bells of the Cup and Saucer plant dangle down to welcome visitors. However they are grown they are wonderful, as they are fabulously tendrilled creatures with surreal, exotic flowers. A.G.M. Full sun, any soil. H. 10m!

Ipomoea lobata

Spanish flag (its flowers are red and creamy yellow) is a terrific climber and another which will provoke envious glances. Related to bindweed (although its flowers don’t resemble those of that blasted Morning Glory we all know and hate) and to the Sweet Potato, it is in the Convolvulaceae family. Grow in full sun, either in a border or up a teepee of canes in a large pot. H. 5m. Stunning.

Sowing Seeds

Now is the time to get on with sowing hardy annuals, which we’ll be doing over the next few weeks at Garden House. They can also be sown next year in the spring, but by starting now we’ll get stronger plants which will flower earlier.

Hardy annuals are plants which begin and end their life cycle over one growing season – i.e. within a twelve month period. They can withstand the cold temperatures of winter, and can survive outside over the winter months. However, it’s a good idea to give them some protection from storms, winds and torrential rain, so they’re best kept in an unheated greenhouse or coldframe where possible.

Examples of hardy annuals are: Ammi majus, Calendula ‘Indian Prince’, Orlaya grandiflora, Nigella ‘African Bride’, Eschscholzia ‘Strawberry Fields’, Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Ball’, Consolida and Papaver ‘Beth’s Poppy’. Cheap and easy to grow, they are a no-brainer for the keen Friday Group member.

Method

Fill an FP9 pot full of compost and strike off the residue. Sow seeds on top, gently pressing into the compost. Cover with horticultural grit and label. Where seeds are tiny, sow them with a small amount of silver sand mixed in; move the mix across the pot diagonally; turn the pot and sow again. This enables you to see exactly where the seeds have been sown and ensures that germination will be fairly even. Cover with a shallow layer of vermiculite, an inert material which improves drainage and allows light to penetrate. That’s vermiculite. Not cellulite. Label.

Place pots in a water bath so that the seeds won’t be disturbed; water will be taken up by capillary action. Putting pots in the greenhouse on a heated mat will facilitate germination.

Jobs for the Week

Now, who’s on Quality Control this week?

Sorry. Not me. Far too busy looking gorgeous

Aniseed?

ANISEED!

Just resting my eyes. Keep your hair on

Work on Little Dixter

Using some very precious pots. No pressure there then.

Pot up Viola ‘Bunny Ears’. And no rabbiting on. Pot up other autumn-flowering shrubs and grasses to create interest and theatricality at the entrance to the lower part of the garden. Pennisetum and Hylotelephium spectabile will feature spectacularly.

Sow hardy annual seeds

As per instructions (see above). Label the pots. Remove from water tray and place on heated mat in greenhouse for speedier germination.

Pots – 9/10. Quality control – 0/10

Iris unguicularis

Such beautiful flowers, and now is the time to propagate them. Remove the Irises from the under-arch bed and divide them, ensuring that some roots remain on each division.

Some detangling is involved

And then some splitting

Plant up in pots; water; label; place in greenhouse until rooted.

Vegetable beds

Plant out Beetroot, Spring Onions, Radishes, Spinach and Leeks. Rake the beds first; they have already been given some lovely home-made compost.

Leeks in

Label?

But of course!

And a little something to deter those slimy things?

Ah, yes!

But – oh dear!

Look what the team found inside the bag!

Hmm. Disposed of carefully, thoughtfully,

and ecologically

Plant out Wallflowers

These Erysimum ‘Sugar Rush’ have been grown from seed and now need to be set out in the garden. One hand-span apart and planted deeply.

Nicely watered in

Work in the greenhouse

Pot on Florence Fennel and Robert de Niro. Sorry, that should be Cavolo Nero, or Black Kale. The latter is very ornamental in the winter border – especially when there’s a touch of frost to decorate the edges of its leaves. It’s a cut-and-come-again vegetable, useful in stir-fries and salads. Who knows, in time the seedlings may become as statuesque and architectural as this –

Plant out Chrysanthemums for autumn flowering

Keep colour in the garden going throughout late summer/early autumn. A wide variety of Chrysanthemums are now available, and they are coming back into fashion fast. Get ahead of the curve.

Pinch out the tops of the plants to promote more flower heads.

Plant out Foxgloves

In the bed underneath the arches. (Please, no singing.) Foxgloves are hardy biennials, and strong seedlings/plug plants can be planted out in the garden now for overwintering so they will be ready to flower next summer. They are versatile plants, coping with both sun and shade.

And so, Friday Group finish until another Friday. Bidding a fond farewell with a fabulous Fuchsia Finale –

Phew!

Friday 10th September 2021

Whisk out your wheelbarrows! Stand by your spades! Unearth your trowels! Friday Group are back! Now in Year 16.

And somebody is very pleased to see us…

“You may stroke one’s neck very gently.”

First we shared info. about our various summers – discoveries, visits, excitements. Sussex Prairies Garden, Great Dixter, Oxford Botanical Gardens, the roses at Regent’s Park, Sissinghurst, Rousham Gardens, One Garden at Stanmer Park, the Yeo Valley Organic Garden and Pelham Plants were all mentioned. The importance of having a shed to hide in was discussed and approved. Growing vegetables for the first time was a highlight for some as was experimenting with ‘going wild’. Sort of not-gardening gardening, if you will. Some had realised their dreams of growing annuals –

That’s one hell of a Helianthus

Others had planted up super-duper summer containers. One person was maintaining a watching brief over a newly acquired garden and another had grown their first Cucamelon. Cripes!

Plant ident.

It’s autumn, and the grasses are coming into their own. This week we looked at Pennisetum; all from the same genus of plants, but all very different.

Pennisetum macrourum

Looking absolutely stunning at the moment at Garden House, growing with Verbena bonariensis. This African Feather Grass was grown from seed obtained from Gravetye Manor, a fantastic hotel and garden in West Hoathly, Sussex. It makes a loose, spreading clump of narrow leaves which turn yellow in autumn. The grass heads are long, slender and cylindrical, starting light green and turning a pale oat-yellow as they age. Wonderful waftiness. H. 0.5 – 1 m

Pennisetum is the genus and macrourum is the species. This one will come true from seed and is hardy at Garden House.

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Little Bunny’

Pennisetum (=genus); alopecuroides (= species); ‘Little Bunny’ (= the cultivar name, meaning that it is a hybrid). Because this is a hybrid, it needs to be divided for propagation purposes; it won’t come true from seed. This variety loves clay soils, but may not be fully hardy through the winter. H. 0.1 – 0.5 m

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’

If you are on a chalky soil, this cultivar is a better option for you. It performs best in a well-drained soil, and, as it is semi-evergreen, it may lose some of its foliage in winter, but will produce fresh new growth in spring. Again, it won’t come true from seed, so divide in the spring to make new (and free) plants. H. 0.5 – 1 m

Pennisetum orientale ‘Shogun’

Genus? Species? (Good this, isn’t it?) And, the cultivar name is ‘Shogun’. Note that the cultivar name always starts with a capital letter and is placed within apostrophes. Like ‘Hameln’, ‘Shogun’ is also good on chalk. It produces mounds of upright, narrow leaves with silver-pink panicles in summer, growing to around 1.2 m. Good in a group in a gravel garden. A deciduous perennial.

The four different Pennisetum above, highlight the fact that although plants may be from the same genus, they can be quite different. Pennisetum can be annual or perennial, evergreen or deciduous grasses, clump-forming or spreading in habit. In order to identify them exactly, we need their species name and a cultivar name if there is one. Hence, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Black Beauty’ is this one:

H. 1 – 1.5 m

And Pennisetum setaceum ‘Sky Rocket’ , H. 0.9 m. (note the variegated leaves) is this one:

Here endeth the first lesson in binomial nomenclature. All thanks to the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus. Eighteenth century. (No television.)

It’s a serious business and was given our full attention

Only one in five fell asleep. You know who you are.

Labels

In view of the need to name our plants accurately, labelling is a skill to be learned early on in a gardening life – and one which should become a habit. Date the end of the label; write the genus name of the plant, beginning with a capital letter; write the species name in lower case; write the cultivar name within quotation marks, using a capital letter for each word. Write using an indelible pen such as an ultra-fine Sharpie. Other felt tips are available.

Homework: Produce a label for a plant of your choice. No pressure.

Jobs for the week

This week it’s about looking carefully at what’s growing, what needs hoicking out and what needs cutting back. Hardy Geraniums, for instance, have become lush and overgrown after flowering, and will benefit from a severe haircut.

We collect tools and trugs (green for ‘good’ waste, which can be put on the compost heap; black for ‘bad’ waste, weeds etc., which need to be put in the recycling bins at the front of the house). Then heigh-ho, it’s off to work we go.

Work on the Herb bed

Trimming, clipping, clearing, composting

Work in beds underneath the Rose arches

Ditto

Dry Bed Project

Bottom Terrace bed

Rhubarb bed

It’s all Rhubarb, Rhubarb, Rhubarb

The Cake Break

Still an essential part of the session. Thank goodness.

It’s good to be back!

Friday 23rd July 2021

The last Friday Group of the year 2020 – 2021. And what a year it’s been! Zoom has been a boon, we’ve all become vaguely I.T. literate and our Latin is coming on apace. By this stage, using Latin phrases to look smart is our modus operandi.

Oh, ita quidem, my dear!

However, it’s not merely a party-session for us. By no means. Today we need to ensure the garden is going to look at its best for the Macmillan Garden Trail (Brighton), which it is participating in over the weekend of 24th-25th July. Cakes have been made, volunteers have signed up to help with refreshments, rain-dancing is due to take place later on (making sure to use the deterrent version of the choreographic score)

Paul Seaborne, of Pelham Plants fame, has brought in a variety of delectable things for sale, thus providing us with the opportunity to lighten our purses and, of course, do the

Plant Ident.

Fuchsia ‘Hawkshead’

A hardy Fuchsia with delicate, dangling flowers in quantity, which are white with a faint green wash to the tips. A seriously classy plant. Tasteful even. A true example of haughtyculture. 90 cms tall.

Dianthus deltoides’Erectus’

Aka the ‘Maiden Pink’. Has small, vivid red/cerise flowers held high over a mat of deep green foliage. Delicate and wafty. Nice in a pot – and easy from cuttings. 15cms tall. Very desirable.

Hylotelephium ‘Black Grape’

Hyloyouwhat? A Sedum by any other name is still a Sedum. Except, admittedly, this one is rather special, as it’s a very dark seedling from Pelham Plants. Rich, black-purple foliage and stems, the flowers emerge as deep purple, fading to an attractive old rose colour. 40 cms tall. Be odd: get 3, 5 or 7. Good in growth, in flower and dies well.

Scabiosa columbaria

Scabious are cracking herbaceous perennials for use in summer to early autumn. They may be comparatively short-lived, but they flower well, are attractive to pollinators and add so much to a border. This variety’s pale lilac-blue pincushion flowers dance above the filigree foliage. Given a position in the sun with good drainage, they will seed around, and especially so in a gravel garden. Upright in habit, they grow to about 60 cms.

There are also many other types of Scabiosa available now, of which ‘Moondance’ is one. Pelham Plants says of this cultivar that it has “clouds of palest yellow pincushion flowers for a sunny well-drained spot. Outstanding compact hybrid with prolific flowering performance.” Sold! H. 50 cms and loves chalky soils.

Cosmos sulphureus ‘Bright Lights’

A half-hardy annual – so remember to collect its seed at the end of the season, so that you can re-sow it and enjoy its bright lights once again next year. Attractive to pollinators. Keep it going for longer by continually dead-heading. And don’t be lazy! Time taken doing this properly will be well repaid. Cut the dead flower head off right down at the next leaf joint. “A zesty orange gap-filler”. Wear sunglasses.

Jobs for the week

Dead-head flowers in the Top Garden. See instructions above.

Continue planting in the Dry Bed

Scabious and Verbena bonariensis to be dotted through the border. Dead-head, weed, water. As per. For more information about gardening in dry conditions, read Beth Chatto on the subject. On which note, here is a recent newsletter from the Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex :-

Rainfall! Beth always paid very close attention to rainfall, and we have continued her tradition of monitoring the rainfall at the Gardens. This year has felt wetter than others, but what is the reality? 

According to our measurements, annual rainfall in Elmstead Market, known as one of the driest areas of the country, has averaged 54cm a year for the last 5 years. Even though we saw an intense heatwave in 2019, rainfall still reached 56cm for the year. 

In April this year, we recorded no rainfall at all – last year it was only 0.2cm. But this year we have had more rain in May, June and July (17.1cm compared with 7.6cm last year). Is there no longer such a thing as April Showers?!

What does this mean for planting and plants? In some ways it means the planting season is extended – more rainfall in warmer months lends itself to planting outside the ‘spring’ planting window. But it also means that you must be prepared to water your plants frequently when you first plant them, even if you plant in spring – they need good soakings (not the occasional sprinkling) to allow their roots to go deep and establish; this is one of their mechanisms for drought survival.

It also means that if you live in a drier area, you would do well to consider plants that cope well with drought
Sustainable planting is at the forefront of everything we do and we are delighted to announce that 30 years after it was first published, Beth’s popular book, the Green Tapestry has been updated with beautiful new images and information.
 Garden and Nursery Director David Ward and Head Gardener Åsa Gregers-Warg have contributed to this new edition and we are very much looking forward to holding a launch here on 27th September; more details to follow!July and August are wonderful in the Gardens – when hot, the Water Garden often feels a few degrees cooler than elsewhere and there is an incredible summer stillness and calm that is so rejuvenating. 

Rejuvenate alpine troughs

Plant alpines in a well-drained, gritty compost. Add horticultural grit to the surface as a finishing touch. Discourages slugs and snails, aids drainage, keeps the plants’ foliage away from any dampness and stops compost being washed about when watering. Oh, it looks properly posh too. Bonus.

Seed sowing

What’s being sown? Beetroots, Carrots, Radishes, Cavolo nero, Salads. Keep ’em coming.

Work on Little Dixter

Think about using more shade-loving plants in that area; the pansies and violas have been fantastic. Maybe Hydrangeas would be good? Perhaps Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ ? Or maybe the wowser that is Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’?

She’s very belle indeed

Meanwhile, Bridge has forged ahead with the peat-free compost trial. Not one to do things by half, she’s trialling 19 (!) different composts. Some have also had a dollop of magical G/H compost added. Echinacea ‘Primadonna’ and Verbascum ‘Southern Charm’ plug plants have been potted up. Monitoring is ongoing. With clipboards and everything.

Time for a break, to celebrate the Friday Group year 2020-2021.

By gad, this gazpacho’s good!

So, everything in the garden’s lovely.

Now, are we on target for the weekend’s visitors?

Very much so

So, until we meet again….

May the road rise up to meet you,

May the wind be always at your back;

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

And the rains fall soft upon your fields.

Friday 16th July 2021

This week, we dished the dirt on compost. Keen to adopt the peat-free route, there are many options out there on the market. Which to opt for?

We brought samples from bags we are using at home and compared texture/formulation/success rates/cost. Some came from nurseries and garden centres, some from supermarkets, some from community compost schemes or home-made compost. And one was from home-produced well-rotted horse manure. Very literally, The Business.

But it’s no good just discussing the theory – we decided that a proper, practical experiment should be carried out. To be continued….

Plant ident.

Identification – not just of the plant concerned – but also its life-cycle. Thankfully, there are people in F/G who really know their Onions – and can tell their Ammis from their Alliums.

So, this bit was a breeze…

Ammi majus

Ammi = the genus; majus= the species name. Apiaceae family (the Carrot or Umbellifer family). Life cycle? A hardy annual. A plant which goes through its entire life cycle in one growing season. Can be sown in the autumn for planting out in March the following year (this gives stronger, more robust plants), Will successfully overwinter outside, unless floods and arctic conditions deem otherwise. Alternatively, sow in the spring of the same year. They may even self-seed if they feel like it.

Comos bipinnatus

Cosmos = the genus; bipinnatus = the species. Family? The Daisy family, Asteraceae. Life cycle? Half-hardy annual. This is one that you can’t leave out over the winter months. No, no, no. This type of plant needs a little coddling and cuddling. Heat to germinate, please. And, absolutely no frosts. The reward? Fab flowers forever and a day. Well, for quite a long time. Many different cultivars are available nowadays – from the sumptuous ‘Antiquity’ to the cool ‘Kiko’ and on to the sweet ‘Candystripe’ (above). Difficult to choose which to grow, but they are easy.

Allium sphaerocephalon

Called the Drumstick Allium, for obvious reasons. People bang on about how good it is. Genus = Allium; species name = sphaerocephalon. Life cycle? A bulbous herbaceous perennial – it returns every year. A favourite with garden designers as it is one of the last Alliums to flower, and brings new energy and interest to late summer borders as they begin to gasp and fade a little. Fantastic with grasses woven through borders, brilliant as cut flowers, cheap to buy. It’s a no-brainer: you need hundreds of these.

Geranium ‘Ann Folkard’

Geranium = the genus. The cultivar name is ‘Ann Folkard’, and this Cranesbill is a vigorous hybrid of Geranium procurrens and Geranium psilostemon, with a strong spreading habit and a wonderfully punchy magenta colour. Family: Geraniaceae. A very useful herbaceous perennial, which contrasts well with golden plants, evergreens, glaucous blues and even dark burgundies and blacks. Lasts for ages. When it goes leggy, just cut it back to near the base of the plant, feed and water, and it should regrow and maybe even flower again before heading back underground for a well-earned winter sleep.

Escallonia ‘Iveyi

Genus? (Insert your answer here……………) Species? (……………..). The Escallonia is a great plant for coastal locations. Lifecycle? An evergreen shrub, which means it keeps its leaves all the year round and is one of those plants which can be the backbone of a garden, providing structure and year-round interest. Very versatile, this can be used in a hedge, as a windbreak, on its own or as part of a border scheme. E. ‘Iveyi’ is particularly striking as it produces long panicles of scented, white flowers from June to September. Small, dark green leaves shine underneath the flower spikes. Deadheading will prolong the flowering period. This one likes full sun and a sheltered location. Frost hardy – but mulch well over the winter.

Plant of the Week

This week the focus is on Clematis. Plants which can provide year-round colour in the garden, if chosen with care. Not only are the flowers exquisite, the seed pods are ethereal.

They like to be planted deep, which helps to avoid the dreaded problem of ‘Clematis wilt’. Cool bottoms and hot tops is the ideal arrangement.

When it comes to Clematis, there are three different pruning groups. They are fiendishly named: Group 1, Group 2, Group 3. Roughly speaking, don’t prune your Clematis if it flowers before early summer; if it flowers from late June onwards, then prune in mid to late February.

Group 1 The early-bloomers

E.g. C. alpina and C. macropetala. These are the spring-flowering Clematis, which flower on shoots produced in the previous season. They require little in the way of pruning – perhaps a light trim after flowering once the risk of frost has past, and maybe a little thinning out in some years.

Group 2 The summer flowerers

These are the spectacular large-flowered types, which bloom from May to June, on shoots developed from the previous year’s growth. Some may flower once again in late summer. Cut dead flowers off after flowering, back to a large bud. In spring, remove any dead shoots. Otherwise, nothing drastic is required.

Group 3 The mid- to late-summer varieties

These flower on the last 60 cms of their current year’s growth. To prevent a tangled mass from developing and a lot of bare lower stems, these are the ones which need a firm hand. They should be cut back hard each February, right back to the lowest pair of healthy buds – at the same time as we normally prune Roses.

Here are three late-summer varieties of Clematis currently performing at Garden House. Gorgeousness in flower-form.

C. ‘Ernest Markham’

C. texensis ‘Princess Diana’

C. ‘Perle d’Azur’

Jobs for the Week

Check progress on the new Dry Bed

Sort out the compost bins

A mucky but essential job. Empty out the bins and turn the compost heaps. Applications only from strong-armed people. And we have exactly the right applicants…

Although, one of them seems to be using the bins as a platform for yoga practice. Still, good for the back.

Work on the vegetable beds

Use compost provided by the yogis to add to the beds, filling them to the top.

Create an obelisk for vegetarian climbers. Useful and designery.

Work on the herb beds

Cut back Mints, Salvias etc. to harvest the herbs and encourage fresh growth. Perennial herbs can be used fresh, dried or can even be frozen. Jekka McVicar is the doyenne of all things herbal and a wonderful source of advice.

Cut back the chives to about 2 cms from the ground. Make hundreds of cheese and chive sandwiches. Check over the Rhubarb and harvest any remaining stalks. Weed; water.

Jolly up Little Dixter

The theatre of pots in this area.

Weeding/dead-heading

All Health and Safety checks completed, natch.

Cut back and divide Irises

Creates new stock for free and tidies up the flowered stems.

Say a sad but very fond farewell to a wonderful colleague

We’ll miss her greatly

Friday 9th July 2021

Fresh from our successes transforming areas of our colleagues gardens, we returned to Garden House this week. And floriferousness abounds.

The G/H opening for the National Garden Scheme on 18th June put the fun into fund-raising and raised over £1500.00 for charities. Many thanks to all who baked cakes and even more to those who stayed to help out for the afternoon. And people just loved the garden! Why wouldn’t they?

With the arrival of these long, hot summer days, someone (undisclosed) has been getting slower and slower in producing the blogs on time.

But, after all, doesn’t slow and steady win the race?

Certainly!

‘Hakuna matata’ is my motto

Just put one word steadily after another

But, do try to keep up, dear

Plant Ident.

This week we are focusing on scent. It adds so much to the atmosphere of a garden, and of course plays an essential role in attracting pollinators to different plants at various times. Bees and butterflies during the day and bats and moths at dusk and night. Clever things, these plants.

Rosa ‘Compassion’

A favourite of Geoff Hamilton’s, and therefore a favourite at Garden House too. A repeat-flowering climbing Rose with good scent and real presence. Dark green, glossy leaves show off the large, fully double apricot/pink flowers. Likes full sun, fertile and well-drained soil. Good on a wall or pergola. Water lots, feed and dead-head and this plant will be compassionate to you, giving weeks and weeks of pleasure. 3.0 x 1.8 m. A.G.M.

Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’

More compact than many Philadelphus varieties, this single-flowered Mock Orange has a gorgeous orange blossom scent and is very attractive to pollinators. Very low-maintenance (always an excellent selling point), it is a good choice for a sunny mixed border. Prune as soon as it has finished flowering and cut back one in four of the oldest stems to the base. Remove any dead, diseased and damaged wood. 1.2 x 2.5 m A.G.M.

Trachelospermum jasminoides

A must for its perfume alone, although its glossy evergreen foliage is also highly desirable, as are the small, white, star-shaped flowers which emerge in the summer. The foliage turns a warm scarlet/bronze over the winter months. Star Jasmine needs full sun, feeding and watering to thrive. As do we all. Good drainage is also essential. Pollinated at night by moths when its scent is at its most tantalising, carried on the warm air. How romantic! Hardy in the south-east, but ensure it is kept as frost free as possible. 9.0 x 6.0 m. A.G.M.

Aloysia citrodora

This may not look much like a scented plant, but, by jove, when you rub those slender, elongated leaves and breathe in, you get a sensational sensory surprise: lemon sorbet! Simply gorgeous, and much more zingy than that old stalwart, Lemon Balm. Grow in a sheltered spot in front of a sunny wall and your Lemon Verbena may make it through the winter months. If cut down by frost, they often regenerate from the base in late spring. Take cuttings to be on the safe side. Don’t be without it. 2.0 x 2.0 m. A.G.M.

Dianthus ‘Old Square Eyes’

Dianthus, or ‘Pinks’ are best grown on very free-draining soils such as chalk. Flowers tend to be white and various shades of pink through to magenta and red. Cut stems back after flowering, or the plant becomes leggy and looks grim. Gorgeously perfumed, they have a clove-based scent. The cultivar ‘Old Square Eyes’ was discovered as a chance seedling in about 1980. It grows to around 30 -40 cms and looks good at the front of a sunny border. Increase your stock of Pinks by propagating from pipings (effectively, these are Dianthus cuttings). They can be taken now and put into an open compost mix. In fact, this is one of our –

Jobs for the Week

Take Pipings from Dianthus

Pipings can easily be pulled from the main plant. After removing the lower leaves, the piping can then be potted into a good open mix of compost and horticultural grit.

Never forgetting…?

The all-important label

If you can’t find the name of the plant, then a description is helpful

Stand back. Allow time to pass and nature to take its course, and…

Look what happens!

Work on the Rockery

By July many plants need a bit of a tidy-up. Helianthemums, for example, really do need taking in hand; H. ‘Wisley Pink’ and H. ‘Henfield Brilliant’ in particular. They are free-flowering and low, spreading Rock Roses. Cut the straggly growth back to give a mounded shape to the plants; whilst doing so, use the opportunity to take cuttings. Plants from cuttings are Always A Good Thing.

Pot up Sempervirens and Succulent plantlets

Sempervirens, or House Leeks, are hardy evergreens. They are sometimes used in the making of ‘green roofs’, and when planted in groups, look like little jewel-boxes. They can be appreciated throughout the year, with fairly minimal input required. They don’t like being soggy, however, so it’s a good idea to give them some protection from prolonged rainfall.

Carefully remove any ‘babies’ by pulling the little rosettes away from the mother plant, together with a piece of root. Push gently into a gritty compost with good drainage. Water. Label. Done.

Below, a pink/burgundy colour palette made up of hardy Sempervirens

Tasteful. NOT tasty.

Succulents, on the other hand, are not hardy. They need a hot, dry situation and shelter from the wind. And the rain. And the frost. Ideally, they need to be undercover in the winter and definitely protected from the wet.

Echeverias are Succulents. Beautiful things, which can be propagated in the same way as House Leeks. Their rosettes are altogether fleshier, meaning that they have thicker leaves. More plumptious, if you will.

Cut back Geraniums

Many have almost finished flowering, but if cut back now, and then fed and watered, the regrowth will be virtually immediate. And often, there will be another flush of flowers too. Worth doing!

Although it does entail a lot of bending

Go On The Offensive On Lil’s Bed

We’re all for wildlife at Garden House, but there are exceptions. We don’t relish slugs. Nor snails. Nor resident foxes on a mission to dig to New Zealand. This bed needs some TLC after these critters have wreaked havoc. Stake Sunflowers, Salvias and Ammi. Pull out anything dead, dying, half-eaten. Plant some more mature annuals, stake and grit them. Water in well. Pray. And mount a 24-hour watch with a flame thrower to hand. Other weaponry is available.

Praying and gardening go hand-in-hand

Time to get up onto two feet now.

Upsy daisy

Friday 2nd July 2021

Week Two of Friday Group’s Transformation Challenge.

What’s in store for them this week?

They don’t look exactly focused, do they? 10.35 and still discussing what to do.

This is more like it.

Before

And after

Before

And after

During

My goodness, it’s all action

They obviously needed that coffee. This work is all caffeine-fuelled.

Some must have had two cups

Oh. Now, that what I call a transformation!

Congratulations. A job well dug.

Well-deserved, team.

Literally, the icing on the cake.

Meanwhile, in another corner of Brighton….

There are people in that shrubbery!

Are they playing hide-and-seek?

Good heavens, no! They’re pruning the Griselinia. Do they look the type to muck about?

Well, yes they do, actually

The snails, which were carefully coralled together, appear to be making a break for it.

Although, someone’s keeping a beady eye on them…

Lunchtime?

Back to base next week. Who knows, The Garden House may have become The Garden Jungle by now.

Friday 25th June 2021

It’s that time of year where we divide into sub-groups and head off to colleagues’ gardens to effect totally top-notch transformations.

We may have dreams of turning this situation…

…into something approaching this

Maybe a little showy?

Or this

into this

Possibly a little fussy for our tastes; we prefer a simpler look. And a lot less bedding, for goodness sake.

But how about this

into this?

A wildlife pond? In Horsham? An area with notoriously heavy clay? Are you joking? And the weather forecast is dire.

Well, it’s a big ask, but these are big-hearted types, full of vision and enthusiasm. Give them a challenge, and they’ll dig deep. Quite literally in this case.

First lay out the shape of the pond with a hose. Discuss with team. Re-lay hose. Consider aspect. Re-lay hose. Think about orientation. Re-lay hose. Stop for coffee.

Re-lay hose. Stop for downpour. You get the picture.

And they’re off!

Turf off. Turf stacked.

Mountains of earth appear from the depths

Once they started there was just no stopping them. Even when the weather took a turn for the worse

While some dug, others were on border control.

The obligatory cake-stop

Brilliant work, team! Underlay now in place. Just waiting for the rain to stop so the butyl liner can be positioned. Once that’s happened, you can guarantee there will be a drought.

There will be updates

Next week, fearless Friday Group fettle a new set of challenges