All posts by Anne Unsworth

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

Friday 17th July 2020


Time to celebrate the end of a rather strange year for Garden House and Friday Group.  Zoom sessions will continue for another 4 weeks, but today is when we say our formal farewells.20200717_135807

So, open the gate….


And come on down into the garden


Let’s check out what’s flowering

Who knew, in September 2019, that “Zoom”, “social-distancing”, “virtual hugs” and “PPE” would become terms we’d acquire over the course of the year?


Actually, I did.

Never mind, let’s think about all the positives. It’s the summertime and the weather is fine. Some say there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues….but we beg to differ


A socially-distanced chat


Time to appreciate the garden


It’s in the pink!

And time to enjoy each other’s company


…not forgetting a little something to eat

…and drink


Here’s to all members, past and present

Now, what’s caught their attention?


Oh, another good story!


Then it’s time for…


The Speech


A celebration of Friday Group!

Au revoirs are always sad – please keep in touch


Some have been coming for years


We’ll miss them terribly!

Farewell for now


Happy summer all!

Be safe.

Friday 10th July 2020

This week, we Zoomed around another lovely garden owned by one of the infamous Friday Group. A real treat. Packed full of interest, from a clever trompe l’oeil effect to a great choice of fence and shed colours, to some wonderful/some weird scented plants. Loads of good ideas for us to take away and try in our own gardens. It’s all gravy! (Or, in our case, cake.)img_20200710_091749657_hdr

Initially, faced with a very traditional rectangular back garden, the owner attended Deborah Kalinke’s course in Garden Design, and then implemented changes. The rear garden is approached from a balcony with steps leading down – offering a change in perspective. A curving sinuous path went in, two grass circles surrounded by beds, a close-boarded fence was painted black (so good), and a mirrored “gate” was installed, which magically appears to open out into another area of garden. A veggie patch was created “all you can eat in 3 square feet”, the tiniest Mediterranean garden, a shady area, the smallest prairie garden in the south-east, a pebble pond, pots, a little greenhouse. Incredible.  And, a darling blue shed; the icing on the cake, and the owner’s pride and joy.img_20200710_122312958

We all want one

Plants a-plenty, of course. We expect nothing less from a long-standing F/G member. Highlights were: Wisteria – now heading for its second flowering of the year; the dry area planted with an Olive tree, Lemon thyme, Euphorbias, Salvias and a fabulous Jasmine; the vegetable area – Tomatoes, Carrots, climbing and dwarf French Beans, Cavolo Nero, Beetroot, Nasturtiums, Strawberries and a Crab Apple tree. And a mahoosive Rhubarb. And Peas growing up a trellis. How is it done? However it’s done, she goes on to do yet more in the shade – with Hart’s Tongue Fern and other varieties planted alongside Phlomis russeliana, Astilbes and Astrantias. Betula ‘Snow Queen’ also makes an appearance along with a dramatically impressive Dranunculus (sounds like Dracula’s uncle and, by all accounts, smells like him). Grasses and Thalictrums sway together in vertical harmony.

The Plant Ident. centred on five of the owner’s favourites:

Buddleia alternifoliaimg_20200604_175514

The slender branches of the Fountain butterfly bush have a weeping habit and are covered with soft purple or pink racemes of flowers in the early summer – flowering on the previous year’s stems. A hardy (A.G.M.) shrub, it will grow in sun or part shade, in pretty much any type of fertile soil, reaching around 4 m  x 4 m. Buddleias are magnets for wildlife – bees, moths, birds and butterflies – and are virtually mandatory in any naturalist’s garden. Probably in naturists’ gardens too, but perhaps for different reasons.

Malus ‘Laura’ img_20200425_182422

Crab apples are such rewarding trees to grow, giving interest over much of the year. Buds and flowers in spring and summer are followed by fruit which can be picked and enjoyed by humans and birds alike. ‘Laura’ is a small, deciduous tree with leaves which emerge as bronze/purple in spring but turn dark green by summer. The flowers are dark pink with lighter centres and remain on the tree for longer than regular apple trees. The crab apple fruits are maroon/dark red and can be used for making jelly, which has a red tint to it. Grows (slowly) to about 2.5 m., upright in habit, (haughty horticulturalists would say ‘fastigiate’), and doesn’t take up much space. A good choice for a small garden.


Speedwell is a tough, long-lived perennial which is deer resistant, drought tolerant and can cope with a range of soil types. There are many different varieties, and although the name of this particular cultivar is unknown, its vivid blue makes it invaluable both in the border and the vase. Attractive to pollinating insects, it satisfies any gardener’s demand for eco-credentials. Best in full sun.

Lupins (mixed)img_20200527_075603

If you can grow specimens like these, then you’d be mad not to. A traditional cottage-garden plant with pea-like flowers which are loved by bees (good) and slugs and snails (bad). Strong vertical spires in a range of mouth-watering colours. Grow in full sun or partial shade in moist, well-drained soil. Deadhead after flowering, and you may get another flush of flowers. Cut back to base in the autumn after seeds have formed. Often lupins will self-seed around naturally; alternatively, basal cuttings can be taken in spring.

Dranunculus vulgarisimg_20200602_191832

The Stink Lily – highly impressive and highly stinky. Has been described as ‘indispensable exotica’. The smell (like rotting flesh) attracts the type of flies it needs to pollinate it. Nice. Lovely colours though. About 1 m tall.

Rosa ‘Wedding Day’img_20200607_091508

A rambling rose that just loves to ramble higher and higher. This one rollicks about on a Lilac and is stunning when it flowers in May/June. Attractive hips are produced in abundance in October. Glossy, dark leaves offset the fragrant, white, single blooms which are borne in clusters. Stand back, as it can get to 10 m+.

Jobs for the week

Meanwhile, back at Garden House, the week’s tasks centre around weeding, watering, feeding, more weeding, staking, taking cuttings (especially of Salvias and Pelargoniums) and labelling. Sow Ipomoeas (Morning Glory) – it’s not too late – and maybe try for another crop of Sweet Peas. Veggies? Go for Pumpkins, Cavolo Nero, Spinach and Chard. They’re good for you. jeshoots-com-l8nlxbhwbw0-unsplash

Sow now for autumn fruition. You’ll reap the benefits.

Friday 3rd July 2020

How very exciting!  Over the course of the day, some Friday Groupers visited the garden in socially-distanced small groups. And found that summer had definitely arrived


Everything’s looking good


And we aren’t the only ones to have been Zooming recently. Look at this –


– and thisimg-20200708-wa0008-1

and these20200703_144816

 The first Act of summer is over20200703_143817

And Act 2 is about to commence20200703_143805

Take your seats

The succulents have already reserved their seating

The show must go on20200703_145708

and it does


Act 2’s happy ending20200703_144424

What a performance! Take a bow…20200703_143954

Act 3 to follow in due course

Meanwhile, unseen activity is going on quietly in the wings20200703_145015-2

Did fruit and veg make an appearance?

But of course!img-20200708-wa0016




And Currant affairs too20200703_144200-1

It wouldn’t be Friday Group without a Plant Ident. 

Salvia Amistadimg-20200709-wa0002

Introduced in 2012, a wonderful Salvia growing to around 1 m. Flowers until November and can remain in the ground over winter. Fabulous purple/blue flowers which look great in a vase, if you can bring yourself to cut them. A warm, sheltered site in full sun suits them best. Deadhead regularly to encourage more blooms. Cut back and mulch in autumn – they will survive most winters, except the one after you have invested in twelve of them.

Salvia microphylla ‘African Skies’20200703_160113

The microphyllas have smaller leaves, but are tough and generally hardy garden plants. Small light blue flowers are produced in quantity from summer through autumn. Dead heading prolongs the display of all Salvias. Prune in late autumn and mulch at the base. Grows well from cuttings.

Salvia microphylla ‘Nachtvlinder’20200709_172110

Translates as ‘Night Moth’. Soft violet/purple flowers. Very hardy in Brighton. Quite a shrubby microphylla and, again, easy to propagate. Take non-flowering cuttings from side shoots, remove the lower leaves and plant in compost. They will root in a few days. Sarah Raven recommends Salvia microphylla as a good underplanting for Roses to discourage disease and blackspot – referencing this cultivar in particular. Fairly drought tolerant once established.

Salvia greggii ‘Royal Bumble’20200703_160022

This one has containers buzzing – due both to the vibrancy of the red flowers and the fact that Salvias are rich in nectar and pollen and will attract insects. This one can tolerate a little shade, though Salvias are usually best grown in full sun.

Salvia ‘Love and Wishes’img-20200709-wa0003

Aromatic leaves, dark stems and striking magenta/pink flowers. Like ‘Amistad’ it’s a stately spectacle, attractive to insects and pollinators, and will flower from June to November. Got one? Get more.

Then there were some socially distant weeding tasks to be done

They look busy


Hmm, not so much…


Oh dear. The pressures of lockdown?


Colour co-ordination


Aeoniums , Angelica and Salvias


Fiery torches of Libertia


Fiery colours of Gazania


Hot stuff


We’ll be back

Friday 26th June 2020

Midsummer’s Day, and time to take stock of those shrubs which have finished flowering. One might say, “in June, we prune”. But why do it at all?
Pruning keeps shrubs tidy and within bounds; it shapes them; it removes the 3 Ds – damaged, diseased and dead material; it helps to maintain vigour in the plant, stimulating new growth; it promotes future fruiting and flowering. But it can be a daunting task for gardeners – some shrubs need barely any pruning, whilst others need cutting right back.  Where to start?  The main thing is to get to know your own plants well, to observe them closely, to learn when they flower and to know whether you are growing them for their flowers/stems/fruit/ foliage. All this will inform your pruning regime.
The basic rule is that early flowering shrubs, which flower before Midsummer’s Day, in spring and early summer, should generally be pruned immediately after flowering. So by mid June plants like Winter Jasmine, Forsythia, Kerria japonica and Ribes should already have been cut back to strong young shoots lower down. If not, do it now. The 3 Ds can also be removed. Other shrubs such as Weigela, and Philadelphus aureus are just finishing flowering around now, and need to be pruned before the end of the month. All these shrubs flower on growth made in the previous season, so over the rest of the year, they have time to grow this new material.
Forsythia intermedia
Philadelphus aureus
In contrast, late flowering shrubs – like Hydrangea, Sambucus nigra, Fuchsia magellicana, Summer-flowering Jasmine, Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’, and Perovskia – produce flowers made on the current season’s growth, and they should be pruned in March/April. These can be cut right back to a pair of buds close to the ground. If congested, 1 in every 3 stems can be taken out completely. Dogwoods are plants which also respond well to being cut back in late winter/early spring – lots of new stems follow with stunning, rich colours varying from yellow through to orange, red and green/black. Magnificent when grown in groups.
Sambucus nigra
Fuchsia magellicana
Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’
Cornus flaverimea
Some plants like to be cut really hard back – Buddleia is one and Eucalyptus another. Evergreens, on the other hand, may only need a light cut in early spring just to keep them in shape.  With short-lived shrubs like Lavender, Salvia and Rosemary, it’s very important not to cut into the old wood when pruning as this will kill them. Just cut back to the point where they flowered and go no further for now.
It should go without saying that all pruning equipment, be it secateurs, pruning saws or loppers, should be cleaned between each task, oiled and sharpened regularly. Polishing them is, frankly, just showing off. After pruning, always water, feed and mulch the shrub concerned. Poor thing, it’s had a shock.
So. Pruning. Part art, part science. Part knowledge, part experience. And, of course, part magic, part miracle. Simples.
Jobs for the week
Prune spring flowering shrubs
Refer to all the above, a good website, good books and other good gardeners.
Take cuttings of Lavender, Sage and Rosemary 
Harvest Lavender for drying. Cut back Sage (above), Rosemary and Lavender to about 5 cms below the faded flowers. (Don’t prune back any further until March)
Cut back any wispy Wisteria growths to 3 buds
From the main stem.
Dead-head annuals
For example, Sweet Peas – this promotes more flowers. Stake. Keep picking them too – so gratifying to be able to throw a handful of your home-growns into an old jam jar. Make sure you have it to hand every time you open the door to someone. ‘Oh, these? Yes, just picked. Charming, aren’t they?’
Pot up Chillies and Sweet Peppers and feed
Plant Chrysanthemums
In the greenhouse, once the Tomatoes have been moved out and there’s a bit of space.
Cut back hardy Geraniums
Once they have finished flowering. Most have by now. Feed and water to encourage fresh new growth, and, hopefully another later flush of flowers too.
Fill in any gaps with Salvias
They are a Good Thing under Roses as they seem to help prevent mildew and blackspot – particularly the small-leaved microphylla cultivars. (see Sarah Raven’s website on this).  It’s also a good time to take cuttings – free plants!
Surprise! Bet you didn’t expect that, did you?!
Cut back leaves of Pulmonarias 
And water them
Sow beans of the French and Runner varieties
These can be sown directly into the soil. Courgettes too.
Watch out for Vine Weevil
It’s evil

Friday 19th June 2020


19th June. And everything’s coming up roses at Garden House….but roses need water….and where’s the rain? How appropriate that this week we Zoomed off to another Friday Group member’s garden in Hove, and were asked to think about the collection, storage and use of water. We’re real Eco-warriors, us Friday Group People


The virtual garden tour was excellent – and challenged us to think about water consumption, especially since April’s weather has morphed into May’s and May’s has become June’s. The garden owner uses mulch and compost extensively to prevent  soil erosion and water evaporation. Planting the right plant in the right place is essential to ensure that it thrives and copes with a minimal amount of watering. Melianthus major, Daucus carota, Alchemilla mollis, Opium poppies, Alliums and Lychnis were particularly striking. A well-managed pond brings in wildlife and much of the ‘planting’ simply arrived unasked. Parts of the lawn are left unmown to encourage wild flowers. The shady end of the garden boasts an Echium forest, prompting numerous requests for seeds.

Various watering-related top tips were suggested: –

Essential to mulch and/or Strulch. Use ring culture pots to grow, for example, tomatoes. Ensure there are plenty of water butts around the garden. One website recommended for its huge range of products is Other butt websites are available, but be careful what you google. Use guttering on sheds and greenhouses to trap/divert rainwater. Investigate the potential use of ‘grey’ water. Use ‘leaky hoses’ around the garden. Think about using permeable surfaces as paths/driveways. Water early in the morning or late at night; water the soil, not the plant. Establish moisture retaining planting holes – should be able to water thoroughly once and then leave the plant to manage. Leave lawns to cope – they will generally recuperate after periods of drought. Investigate Hozelock tanks. Use upside-down water bottles, with a tiny hole in the cap, to water the roots of tomatoes and veg.

Some rather more ‘out there’ ideas: dig a well. Ding dong. And learn how to dowse.

Plant ident.

Six favourites from the owner’s garden – who also supplied the photos.

Eryngium giganteum ‘Miss Willmott’s Ghost’


This highly structural biennial is not yet in flower, but the flower spike can be seen emerging at the rear of the plant. This cultivar of Sea Holly is named for the 19th century gardener Ellen Willmott, who, apparently, secretly scattered seeds of the plant when visiting gardens. The green stems and foliage turn silver-grey as they mature and contrast with metallic blue flowers. A self-seeder – seems appropriate!

Echinops ritro Veitch’s Blue’


The Globe Thistle’s tell-tale spiky leaves are in evidence here – shortly to be followed by its metallic blue flowers. Great in a dry, sunny border and will cope with most soil types. A magnet for insects. Can be divided in spring or autumn.

Allium ‘Red Mohican’


The excitement of an Allium head emerging! The purple/red flower is slightly elongated and has a punk haircut vibe going on. Very attractive and great in flower arrangements too. Note to self: plant more Allium bulbs.

Echium pininana


Best to quote directly from the catalogue for Architectural Plants: ‘Grow this and die happy’. A Tree Echium from the island of La Palma, it’s an astoundingly dramatic biennial which forms a low growing rosette of silvery leaves in year one and, in year two, sends up a mahoosive silvery-grey spike, covered in little blue flowers, after which it sets seed and dies. Bees love it. Will self sow in mild areas, or collect the seed to start it off again. ‘Another example of screaming exotica.

Philadelphus coronarius ‘Aureus’


The Mock Orange sounds as if it should feature in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But no. It looks quite like a Citrus flower; smells quite like a Citrus flower; it’s not a Citrus flower. Easy to grow and maintain, it’s a hardy deciduous shrub which is good in the border and also as a hedging plant. Fabulous fragrance and beautiful golden leaves, which can light up a slightly shaded spot. 2.5 m (h) x 1.5 m (w)

Hosta ‘Patriot’


Hostas, or Plantain Lilies, are clump-forming herbaceous perennials, and this is one of the most attractive variegated forms. The vivid green, ovate leaves have an irregular creamy-white edge, which light up shady areas in the garden. Spikes of blue/mauve flowers emerge in summer. Easy to grow, it likes shade and moist, well-drained soil and needs to be watered fervently, fervidly and frequently – especially in the first year after planting. It loves being fussed over, fed and mulched. Sounds like great-aunt Agatha.

Jobs for the week

Continue to dead-head roses
Dead-heading takes, and I quote, “frigging ages”. But it’s worth it. They’ll look good, smell good, and, by golly, they’ll do you good. Feed and water them too.
Tie-in tomato plants as they grow
Also applies to cucumbers, if needed. Feed and water. Natch.
Remove Broad Bean plants from your potager 
Only after you have harvested their benison, of course. Enjoy! Then plant leeks. After all, the show must go on. And it does in this G/House bed measuring only 1 m x 2.5 m, containing Tomatoes, Courgettes, Broad Beans, Sweetcorn, Mizuna, Lettuce, Nasturtiums and Calendula.
Continue to sow biennials
Sea Stock, Digitalis, Lunaria, Sweet Rocket, Erysimum, Dianthus barbatus ‘Sooty’ and other Sweet Williams.
Continue to sow herbs and lettuce seed
Water and feed
Dead head and mollycoddle those precious Pelargoniums
Cut flowers to enjoy indoors
Still time to sow annuals
Cosmos, Nicotiana, Rudbeckias and Zinnias. Harden off well before planting out. ‘Growing Success’ slug pellets have lived up to their name. Better than tears.
Don’t stop weeding!
Keep at it, possums
Until next week…

Friday 12th June 2020

There may be a lockdown, but we at Friday Group are able to enjoy virtual tours of members’ gardens. This week, a beautiful garden in Hove hoved into view, featuring a  cleverly designed space, thoughtfully planted and nurtured, with trees, shrubs, grasses, topiary and a pond area. Although the owner felt it was largely a spring garden, it was clear that the wide range of plants and shrubs used provided year-round interest and colour. Structural, well-balanced and proportioned, each area of the garden linked to the next. Surely another candidate for inclusion in the National Garden Scheme?
Highlights were: two Jasmines planted right outside the kitchen door, so their fragrance can be enjoyed; pots of plants arranged on the patio; large box globes atop box hedging; Photinia ‘Red Robin’; Deutzia; Acer; Ferns; Choisya ternata; a white Wisteria; blue Hibiscus; Fatsia japonica; Tamarisk; Cotoneaster….. The owner selected five plants as particular favourites:
Lavatera x clementii ‘Barnsley Baby’
A compact version of the Mallow ‘Barnsley’, an attractive pink/white patio shrub. Undemanding and very free-flowering; excellent in a sunny border or in a pot. Deciduous.
Stipa gigantea
Perhaps the owner’s favourite plant – Golden Oats, or Giant Feather Grass. It glows when lit by the sun. Can reach 2 metres in height, but its arching stems and fountain-like growth make it almost translucent. Very architectural and lasts into early winter.
Rosa foetida
The Austrian Briar Rose  – a glorious species Rose. Its introduction to Europe from Persia was an important moment in the cultivation of roses as there were no native yellow European roses.
Phormium tenax ‘Variegatum’
The New Zealand Flax. Cream variegated leaves. Exotic, luxuriant, explosive. Apparently they do best on clay soils, but this one looks very happy. Architectural Plants claim that this plant is irresistible, even to the most vehement of Variegataphobes.
Melianthus major
The Honey bush. A stunning, architectural plant with serrated edges on its large blue/green leaves. A massively structural presence – looks good with exotics. Loves a hot, sunny site. Needs protection from winter wet/cold (a greenhouse or cover with a dry winter mulch) but will survive in mild areas. Puts on a lot of growth in the autumn. Its leaves smell of peanut butter – who knew?
Pests, Diseases and Disorders
Box hedge. Dish of the day on the box moth caterpillar’s menu.
We spent some time discussing the many challenges faced by the poor gardener and the various possible solutions available. Crying and swearing appeared to be common but ineffective responses. Identification is, as always, key.  To this end, Garden House came up with a so-called…
‘Fun Quiz’
…although what’s funny about mealy bug is debatable.
This area of horticulture requires years of specialist research and expertise to master – and is somewhat difficult to summarise in a couple of paragraphs. Especially when there are over 500 different types of aphid alone. It’s important to look carefully at the damage, identify the problem and to think hard about what kind of action is needed (if any). Use reference books, the internet and resources such as the R.H.S. and knowledgeable gardening friends.
Pests are a pest. There are so many. Deer, rabbits, moles, insects, birds, badgers, foxes, weevils, snails, slugs. Never mind keen five-year-old footballers. The box moth caterpillar has become one of the latest demons to torture growers (see photo at start of this section). Are plants being eaten, sucked, chewed, pecked, trampled, bored into, or slimed on? Try physical barriers, traps, grit/pellets, noise deterrents, organic sprays, nets, cloches, biological controls, companion planting, picking the darned things off by hand. Or, as a last resort, and do please check Health and Safety advice on this, flame throwers. Brutal but effective.
Perhaps the plant is diseased (but not yet deceased). Many diseases are plant specific. For example, blight hits tomatoes in particular, mostly when the weather is warm and wet. Improving airflow, removing lower leaves and watering at the base can help. As can ensuring that plants are well grown, tough, and healthy. Other solutions may range from squirting with something noxious, squirting with something not noxious (organic pesticides or a mix of soap, oil and water), introducing biological controls, cutting off and removing damaged areas, watering, feeding and adding appropriate nutrients. Adopting good garden practices, like cleaning garden tools between each job, can prevent the spread of viruses. Buy disease resistant plants whenever possible.
Disorders may be caused by drought, flooding, wind, erratic watering, lack of nutrients and Acts of God. Fervent prayer is an option. And there are always other interesting hobbies to consider, like golf and embroidery.
Jobs for the week:
Divide Irises after flowering
Continue to sow half-hardy annuals like Zinnias, Sunflowers and Cosmos

Stake / support plants as necessary (it’s often necessary)


Sow poppies such as Papaver ‘Ladybird’ and ‘Lauren’s Grape’ direct into the soil – scatter the seed. Thin out as they germinate

Deadhead perennials and annuals

Remove Honesty from the garden and dry out the seed heads


Hang them upside down; the dried seed heads will be useful in flower arrangements. Leave one choice plant in the garden to collect seed from (e.g. ‘Chedglow’)

Remember the motto: Feeding Friday. Give a dilute organic liquid seaweed feed to shrubs/plants/pots

Plant Gladioli

Take pipings (cuttings) from Dianthus; sow seeds of biennials


(Pipings are in the three pots at rear. Biennial seeds in front.) Taking pipings is easy to do and a cheap way to increase your stock. Alternatively, you can buy Dianthus plants – ‘The Plantsman’s Preference’ nursery is a good source. Chiltern Seeds are good for biennials.

Cut back Pulmonarias now, removing old leaves. Also Oriental Poppies


Feed and water. Keep the seed heads to use as decorations later in the year

Cuttings of Lavender, Helianthemum, Rosemary, Sage etc. can be taken now.

Keep going

Continue to sow Lettuce; plant out Leeks after Broad Beans have finished; plant out Runner beans

Tend your tomatoes tenderly


Think Helicopter Parenting. They need attention! Tie-in, pinch out, feed and water.

Buy relaxing foam bath; apply expensive hand cream; download whale music; breathe in aromatherapeutic (?) scents. Zone out.

Next week? Friday Group is off to Zoom around another garden plus we’ll be thinking about liquid assets: the collection, storage and use of water.

Friday 5th June 2020

The exquisite Geranium phaeum


The Little Dixter corner at G/H was looking exotic, with Abutilons, Ginger, Tetrapanax – but, sadly, technical hitches prevented us from viewing the rest of the garden. (Maybe Garden House has secretly had the whole place covered in tarmac as a low maintenance option.) Undaunted, we shared our Pot Planting Prescriptions; some for sun, some for shade, some in pots, some in window boxes. Their progress over the summer will be interesting.


We were reminded to consider the following when planting up containers:

a) Aspect Sun? Shade? Choose the right plant for the right location. How will the pot be viewed? It’s a piece of theatre, darling, so think about your audience. Will it be seen from the front? the side? all round? Think also about the size of the planter and its material.


b) Compost G/H uses multi-purpose compost with grit or perlite, perhaps with some home-made compost mixed in. Some prefer soil-based composts, some like to add well-rotted manure to the base, some add water retaining granules.

c) Drainage is important. Don’t let your containers get waterlogged. Make sure they have drainage holes and use some broken pot pieces to prevent those holes from getting blocked. Pot feet are a good idea too.

d) Feed! Maybe add a little pelleted chicken manure to the compost when filling the pot, and thereafter feed regularly with a diluted liquid seaweed fertiliser. (Monty Don suggests adopting the phrase ‘Feeding Friday’. As opposed to the one we seem to have adopted at our house, ‘Feeding Frenzy’.)

e) Regular dead-heading  Of everything. Encourages and prolongs flowering, like these Felicia amelloides.


f) Water regularly Consider using upside-down plastic bottles (make a small hole in the lid) filled with water and pressed into the soil. Efficient, effective, economical, everso clever.

Plant ident.

A few drought tolerant plants:

Lotus hirsutus


A mat-forming shrub with very pretty pale pink flowers in the summer. Beautiful silvery foliage. Needs free-draining gritty soil. Easy from cuttings, which is just as well, because it’s wise to take some in case it freezes/rots to death over the winter. Also, on a topical note, its common name is the Hairy Canary Flower. Obviously unable to get a cut, like the rest of us in lockdown.

Phlomis italica


This is the Balearic Island Sage. A hardy, evergrey plant growing to around 1.5 m with lilac-pink hooded flowers. Full sun, front of border, drought tolerant. Soft, felted leaves. Excellent seed heads.

Euphorbia seguieriana subsp. niciciana


A delicate, upright, clump-forming perennial. Fine blue-green leaves. Lovely in a pot in a sunny area. Beware the sap!

And so, we come to The Tasks:

Water. Weed. Worry

Feed plants regularly


We all love a good feed and grow heartily as a result.  Pelargoniums respond in exactly the same way, and, in fact, will happily enjoy a double strength organic seaweed feed.  Give your summer containers the same treatment – they will love you for it.

Dead heading


It pays dividends. Do it, and you’ll achieve results like this Rosa ‘Albertine’

Continue to harden off seedlings and plant out. Take cuttings of tender perennials to increase your stock

Make a wigwam for runner beans; plant the beans out and protect from slugs


Heap big wigwam. Heap big slugs

Plant up your pot/container.

Keep a note of the plants chosen. So far we have these:

Large wooden container with planted olive tree. Pelargonium ‘Pink Capricorn’; Lavendula stoechas (French Lavender); Erigeron karvinskianus. A Mediterranean planting – best enjoyed with an Aperol spritz

The Cobbled Together pot. Nemesia ‘Framboise’; Petunia ‘Surfinia Sky Blue’; Pelargonium ‘Pink Capricorn’; Helichrysum ‘Blue Green’


The ‘Lockdown’ container. Cephalaria gigantea; Salvia viridis ‘Blue Monday’; white trailing Fuchsia; Viola cornuta ‘Penny Orange Jump Up’


Terracotta pot in full sun for most of the day.  Pelargonium ‘Terry’s@G/H’; Osteospermum ‘Serenity Blue-Eyed Beauty’; Calibrachoa ‘Can Can Black Cherry’


Window box in a north facing shady courtyard. Plectranthus ciliatus ‘Nico’; Heuchera ‘Autumn Leaves’; Fuchsia ‘Patricia Hodge’


Terracotta pot. Salvia farinaceae; Osteospermum ‘Gelato Cranberry’; Saxifrage

A pair of terracotta pots. Fuchsia’Bella’; unnamed Fuchsia; Salvia ‘Nachtvlinder’; Gaura lindheimeri ‘Summer Breeze’; Felicia amelloides; trailing Fuchsia


Trough. Heliotrope ‘Dwarf Marine’; Cerinthe major purpurascens; Nicotiana alata ‘Lime Green’


Terracotta pot. Stipa tenuissima; Persicaria microcephela ‘Red Dragon’; Plectranthus purpureus; Pelargonium ‘Pink Capricorn’


Terracotta pot. Verbena ‘Homestead Purple’;Pelargonium ‘Lord Bute’; Plectranthus argentatus; Helichrysum petiolare ‘Silver’

Large terracotta pot. Rosa ‘Francis E. Lester’; Perovskia atriplicifolia; Lamium


Vintage animal feeder. Does this mean it fed old animals? Aeonium arboreum ‘Schwartzkopf’; Ophiopogon planiscapus; Geranium pratense ‘Midnight Reiter’; Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’; Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’


Vintage metal tank. Aeonium ‘Schwartzkopf’ (there’s a theme going on here); Diascia (orange); Dahlia (single, orange); Angelica archangelica; Tagetes ‘Burning Embers’


Black ceramic planter. Salvia ‘Black and Blue’; Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’; Panicum ‘Frosted Explosion’; Verbena ‘Homestead Purple’

Looking forward to our next Zoom session and a virtual tour of another F/G garden.

Friday 29th May 2020

We seem to have Zoomed through May and spring. Can June really be next? The evidence suggests it can and will….


This week we were given a virtual tour of another Friday Group member’s garden.  We’re learning so much from these – and clearly Group members have learned an enormous amount from Garden House. Call it, ‘The Garden House Effect’. This large, sloping garden in Woodingdean, is beautifully laid out, planted and maintained. It contains colour-themed borders, roses, beds of grasses, raised vegetable beds, a newly dug pond, a greenhouse, compost bins – the list goes on and on. As does the gardening. Thanks to the owner for a great visit – and for supplying brilliant photos.

Here are five of her favourite plants:

Geranium maderense


The Madeira Cranesbill. This terrific geranium is sited in a border filled with ‘hot’ colours. A robust but sometimes short-lived perennial, it has large, deeply dissected leaves and pink-purple flowers with a deep magenta centre. Remove flowered stems and old leaves to encourage further growth. Keep frost free over winter. Loves the sun, but copes with shade. Has an A.G.M. and is attractive to pollinators. A favourite at Garden House too.

Argyrocytisus battandieri


Pineapple Broom. Fragrant. (You can guess what the scent is like – delicious.) Here planted with the glaucous foliage of Euphorbia beneath it. Silky, grey-green trifoliate leaves and golden-yellow pea-shaped panicles of flowers make it an attractive shrub to grow; particularly good against a sunny wall where it can reach over 4 m. Suits most soils. Hardy, but appreciates some shelter. Drought tolerant. A.G.M. Tick, tick, tick, tick – that’s all the boxes.

Rosa ‘Fighting Temeraire’


A David Austin English Shrub Rose, with a wonderful, fruity fragrance, reminiscent of lemon zest. Large flowers open to a rich apricot colour, with a soft yellow centre just below the stamens. Repeat-flowering and grows to 1 m (h) x 1.5 m (w). Good in a mixed border, but would also fit into a wilder planting scheme as the flowers have such a relaxed, informal shape. Attractive to bees. This garden owner absolutely loves hers!

Stachys byzantina in front of Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’


Such a wonderful colour combination; the soft, silvery-grey foliage of the Lamb’s Ears with tiny mauve flowers borne aloft on spikes works beautifully with the wallflower behind.

Phlomis fruticosa


Jerusalem sage, a small semi-evergreen shrub in the Lamiaceae family. Provides verticality (love that word!) and architectural interest; yellow flowers grow in whorls around the stems, and grey-green lanceolate leaves are soft to the touch. The seed heads are attractive too, and can be left over the winter; they look stunning when frosted. Grow in full sun in fertile, well-drained soil – it flourishes in chalky and sandy soils. Drought tolerant. A.G.M.

Pondering upon ponds

The pond which has recently been created in this garden has seen almost immediate benefits, with frogs carelessly flouting all social distancing regulations. As well as an increase in wildlife of all sorts, the prospect of choosing appropriate water plants is exciting – although it seems that these will often arrive of their own accord out of the ether. Ponds need to be in full sun, in a secluded part of the garden, away from trees, have a deep area of about 60 cms, shallow shelves for marginal plants and some easy means for creatures to access and leave the water.


Oxygenating plants such as False watercress are needed in the deeper parts of the pond. Rafting plants like Waterlilies are beautiful, and their floating leaves create shade, inhibiting algae. They also provide hiding places for fish and other aquatic creatures. Equisetum hyemale (the Lego plant) is a dramatic, upright plant with hollow bamboo-like stems. Best contained in a pot or basket (it is set on world domination), it is a good choice for boggy and marginal shallow areas. Upright plants are essential for supporting the life cycle of dragonflies. Another excellent marginal plant is the Marsh Marigold, Caltha palustris, as is the glorious native Iris pseudacorus.  All sorts of flowering plants can be grown in and around water, from the impressive Pontaderia cordata to the delicate Water Forget-me-Not, and their presence will attract a wide variety of insects.


To have or not to have a pond, that is the aquatic question. They have a whole vocabulary of their own – emergent, submerged, marginal, rafting, oxygenating… Fortunately, there are specialists who can help; Waterside Nursery is one such, with an informative website: The Wildlife Trust is also good:

Jobs for the week


The general message is: water, water, water, weed, feed, water, water, repeat

Keep an eye on tomatoes

See instructions above and follow religiously. Indeterminate tomatoes need pinching out and are generally grown outside up canes, or in ring-culture pots in the greenhouse. Determinate tomatoes are squatter in growth, like bush tomatoes; plant in grow bags or large pots. Stake.


These bush tomatoes are being watered by a fiendishly clever, terribly complicated and expensive system. Cut off the top half of a plastic bottle. Leave the screw top on and make a very small hole in it. Turn upside down and press into soil next to tomato plant. Fill with water. Hey presto: water drips onto plant’s roots. Lie down for rest of day.

Plant out dahlias

Make sure your plants have been properly hardened off. Like characters in a Guy Ritchie film, they should be well hard. Can go into the ground or BIG pots Cut out all but five strong stems in order to promote large blooms. Stake. Pinch out the first flower bud at the top of the plant (down to a node) to encourage side shoots and more flower production. Goes against your instincts, but it will pay dividends.

Sow Radishes regularly – in clumps of four or five seeds


Pot Aubergines on into the next size pot


Sow mini squashes

They will replace the Sweet Peas once they are over. They will be happy to clamber up the supports left behind, including wigwams and obelisks.

Tie-in Clematis

Wire ties covered in brown paper are especially useful for this job. Do the whole feeding and watering thing. Obvs.

Dead-head roses and other flowers to extend their flowering period

Create an exotic area

Why not? At Garden House, Little Dixter has become a haven for exotica. Not erotica. As far as we know. Tetrapanax, Cannas, Hedychium… all cry out to be grown and spelled correctly. Maybe try a Banana (mustafaMusa) – or a Citrus plant, perhaps? At the very least, sit in the hottest spot in your garden and eat a Bounty.

Protect your crops from birds and wildlife

Unless you are planning to grow your fruit and veg. solely for their benefit. Use netting or wire cloches.

Plant up a pot


And share the planting recipe with Friday Group in next week’s Zoom session.  Note down any cultivar names. Plantings can be real or virtual, but preferably real.  Take a photo now and another later in the season.

Then sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour. Until that weed over there in the corner catches your eye.



Friday 22nd May 2020

Everything’s looking lovely in the Garden House garden. Purple Alliums sing against magenta Roses and chartreuse Euphorbias.

For our virtual meeting today, we zoomed all the way to Eastbourne to discover the delights of another member’s garden and the fruits of years of hard work.  Our hosts garden more or less directly on chalk, with just a few inches of topsoil, and also have to cope with a sloping rear garden which is exposed and windy at the top. Rebuilding wide, attractive steps which lead onto terraced areas and improving the soil with £££ of compost has improved matters considerably, and now the informal, naturalistic planting is a haven for wildlife of all sorts.

Roses abound. We were introduced to ‘Princess Anne’, ‘Alan Titchmarsh’ and the ‘Rambling Rector – all of whom were looking magnificent – demonstrating the importance of pruning, mulching, feeding and watering. A recently planted Rosa ‘For Your Eyes Only’ left us shaken and stirred – part of an ongoing planting project. The chalk bank at the top of the garden has Geraniums, false Valerian, Cotoneaster and Lavenders. Here the grass is only cut every 3 – 4 weeks and there are areas of long grass left uncut too. Wildflowers seed around – Vetches, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Clovers.

An island bed is planted with purple Thalictrum, orange Escholzia, Nepeta, Sweet Rocket, Cerinthe and the impressive, silvery Verbascum olympicum, which thrives on alkaline soils and is home to the mullein moth in its egg and caterpillar stages.

Plant Ident:

Argyranthemum ‘Jamaica Primrose’


A member of the Aster (not Astor) family, and native to the Canary Islands, this joyous daisy is a half-hardy perennial. Primrose yellow petals contrast with a darker centre and grey/green leaves. Its long-flowering period from May onward is aided by regular dead-heading and its height makes it useful in the border. Take cuttings in the autumn.

Nepeta gigantea ‘Six Hills Giant’


Lamiaceae family (sage/mint).  This perennial Catmint attracts bees and mint moths, smells great when crushed and can be pruned easily by giving it a number 3 razor cut. This will encourage growth and a further crop of flowers later in the season. Enjoys light, well-drained soil in full sun. Cats love it. Divide in the spring. The plant, not the cats.

Cerinthe major purpurescens


Aka, Honeywort.  A self-seeding annual; great in the border. Grey/green leaves and purple/blue drooping bell-like bracts. Good in borders, pots and vases. A fantastic plant to put alongside orange Californian poppies. A real zingy thingy.

Cistus x hybridus


Hybrid Rock Rose. A bushy, evergreen shrub with white flowers which last for only one day, although this is compensated for by the fact that it flowers for ages over the summer. Good on chalk – as you can see! Needs full sun, preferably a west-facing aspect and some shelter – should then be hardy.

Erigeron karvinskianus


Somehow ‘Mexican fleabane’ just doesn’t sound as good. Masses of small daisies are borne in profusion, which is also the name of a cultivar, starting white and maturing to pink. Loved by bees and butterflies. Flowers vigorously from May to October; self-seeds; great in nooks and crannies but not crooks and nannies. Full sun.

Jobs for the week:
Check your roses
Check. Looking good! Keep feeding and watering them.  As they go over, why not collect the petals and dry them in the sun? Make confetti or a wonderful potpourri.
Enjoy your Pelargoniums
Especially if they are Regal ones and live in a Pelargonium Palace.
Look after your tomato plants – there are various ways of growing them
1. Bush tomatoes need BIG pots (as big as a bucket) if they aren’t in the ground. No pinching out required. Full sun. Water and feed. This method is suitable for determinate tomatoes – ones which tend to ripen early, have a compact shape and ripen all around at the same time (usually over a period of about two weeks).
2. Peat-free Grow Bags can be used to plant determinate bush tomatoes against a hot sunny wall – no staking required.
3. Indeterminate tomatoes have a longer growth period, and can produce fruit until the frosts arrive.  They need pinching out, so check their armpits regularly. At Garden House, a frame of ten poles has been constructed in an outside bed and a cordon tomato planted at the base of each, to be trained upward.
In the same bed are crimson-flowered broad beans, courgettes , Calendula ‘Indian Prince’ (companion planting) and Nasturtiums (a somewhat scarily named sacrificial planting). The idea is that the Nasturtiums will attract the blackfly. Let’s hope someone’s told the blackfly. Use organic slug pellets, or you may find that the entire planting has been guzzled overnight by slimy critters.
4. Ring culture is a good way of growing indeterminate tomatoes in the greenhouse
Suitable for vine tomatoes such as Sungold, Gardeners’ Delight and Costoluto Fiorentino. There are two reservoirs, one for water and the other for feeding. The tomatoes produce feeder roots up their stems. Tomatoes planted 18 inches apart.  Note the companion planting of Tagetes – to discourage whitefly.
Plant Hydrangeas in a partially shady area 
Cuttings can be taken now. Cutting under a leaf joint, take a non-flowering shoot about 10 cms long from new growth. Cut the leaves in half to reduce moisture loss. Insert the cutting into gritty compost mixed with perlite. Place pot into a propagator. Spray with water, being careful not to soak the compost. Or rotting will ensue.
Continue to sow vegetables
Like Runner Beans. These are ‘Wisley Magic’; sow and stand back: Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum.
Prick out seedlings
As plants grow, consider whether they would benefit from staking.  Ammis and Cornflowers would. Cut out the first flower as it appears in annuals; this will encourage multiple side shoots, bushiness and floriferousnessessss.
Pot on established small plants.  Sow seeds.  
You can do a second sowing of things like Calendulas, Zinnias and Cosmos now.
Sow biennials for flowers next year   

First, order your seeds.  Hmmm….someone’s been busy.  

Try Foxgloves, Sweet Rocket, Sweet William, Anchusa ‘Loddon Blue’, Papaver nudicaule, Wallflowers. Plant the seedlings out in October to flower in May/June/July 2021. In their first year, they form a rosette of leaves; they then need a period of cold over the winter months (vernalisation) to induce flowering in the following year. Over the winter they don’t need any protection, as they are very hardy. A good choice for those without a greenhouse. The Sweet William Dianthus barbatus nigrescens ‘Sooty’ (below) is a lovely biennial to grow, and a favourite at Garden House. 
Equipment for the garden
Sometimes it’s good to research other aids to gardening which are now available.  Hotbins, for instance. A sealed, insulated unit designed to make compost very quickly at high temperatures. Eventually, you should be able to dispose of cooked food in the bin – something not advised in a regular compost heap. Can be sited (discreetly! – it’s not a thing of beauty) near the house for convenience. Needs careful management. One to think about.
Friday Group Challenge
Write a recipe for a container you have planted up in your garden. Note down the exact names of the cultivars. Think foliage, spillers, fillers and thrillers. Go wild! Take a photo now – and again later in the season.
So, until next week….. happy gardening!