All posts by annieunsworth

Friday 16th November 2018


November.  Grey.  Drizzly.  Dismal.  But are Friday Group gloomy at Garden House?  Never!  Here, we are always the bright in Brighton.  Even when the squirrels have paid us a special visit and pulled up all the newly planted crocus bulbs (in spite of the chilli flake deterrent).  Those villains must have hot lips.  It’s a belt and braces approach for us from now on:

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Take that, you bushy-tailed varmints.

Today we looked at a variety of horticultural aides and discussed how to use them.



This is a natural, organic, inert material made from volcanic rock.  It is used to help retain moisture, lighten the soil and improve drainage when sowing seeds in modules or pots.  Used 50:50 mixed with a multi-purpose compost, it is great for cuttings as it allows more air around the roots of the plants and adds a bit of “bite” to the compost.  It is possible to use perlite on its own as a rooting medium for taking cuttings such as holly.  Very much recommended.


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At Garden House, vermiculite is used instead of compost as a thin dressing on top of sowings of tiny seeds, such as antirrhinum and nicotiana.  This allows light to reach the seeds and also improves drainage.

Water-Retaining Gel 

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Swell Gel can be used in pots or hanging baskets to improve water retention.  Good for the lazy waterers amongst us, and for very dry situations.  As the name implies, it swells as it takes in moisture which it then gradually releases.  Apparently, the same technology is used in babies’ disposable nappies.  (Smell Gel?)

Horticultural Grit


The cowboy of the group – or True Grit as we lovingly refer to it – this stuff is invaluable.  It can be used instead of perlite, or on newly planted pots as a top dressing.  It helps to open up clay soils and also to improve drainage/aeration generally.  Functional and decorative, it’s a must in any gardener’s kit.

Chicken manure

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This organic fertiliser is high in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and is Bridge’s fertiliser of choice at Garden House.  Nitrogen promotes green leafy growth, phosphorus encourages root growth, whilst potassium is needed for flowers and fruits.  Beds, borders and pots benefit from a spring feeding with these pellets.  (N.B. ericaceous plants, which need an acid soil, require an alternative feed, appropriate for lime hating plants.)

Plant Ident.

This week we focused on the brilliant benefits of biennials in the garden. Biennials are flowering plants which complete their lifecycle over the course of two years.  In Year 1 they are sown and grow leaves, stems and roots; in Year 2 they flower, and produce fruits and seeds before dying.  Sow in May/ June/ July to flower in the following spring and summer

Lunaria annua












We know this fabulous plant as honesty.  It is an easy plant to grow in either sun or shade, and will self seed around the garden.  Purple or white flowers are followed by flat, paper-like, translucent, decorative seed pods.  Both flowers and seed pods are fantastic for flower arranging.

Matthiola incana


This stock, which self-seeded in the mosaic pebble path at Garden House, has wonderful grey foliage and pure white flowers which emit the most heavenly fragrance in the late afternoon/evening.  Good in coastal locations.

Hesperis matronalis

Sweet rocket has fragrant flowers which attract bees and other insects into the garden.  They can vary from white through to an attractive pale lilac and even purple; the scent, like that of the stock mentioned above, is most pronounced in the evening.  Can be grown in full sun or partial shade and particularly useful because it appears in the growing “gap” between the tulips ending and roses starting to perform.  Eventually, they will self seed around the garden.  A good cut flower, they look particularly good in a cottage garden setting.  Like many biennials, the seeds need cold temperatures to break their dormancy (vernalisation).



Wallflowers earn their keep as the backbone of many a spring planting scheme.  Their presence in the garden through the cold winter months imbues the gardener with hope that spring will come! In truth, they are really short-lived perennials, but they are generally treated as biennials, and usually discarded after flowering.  ‘Bowles Mauve’  is well-known, but there are many other varieties, in a wide range of colours – e.g. Erysimum ‘Sunset Bronze Shades’.  Used frequently in plantings with tulips, they are best in full sun.



Another short-lived perennial that is treated as a biennial by many gardeners.  The common foxglove, with its rose-purple, bell-shaped flowers is Digitalis purpurea, but many different varieties are grown today.  The white Digitalis purpurea f. albiflora was made popular by Gertrude Jekyll and, more recently, Digitalis purpurea ‘Sutton’s Apricot’ has become a much sought-after garden plant.  These foxgloves prefer light shade and look good in an area of informal planting.  Take care, because all parts of the plant are poisonous.

The bulb-planting fiesta continues apace.  Faster and faster we plant them.  Prior to getting out into the garden, Bridge revealed the secrets of planting a…

“Bulb Lasagne”


The advantage of this is that you will be able to enjoy flowers from Jan/Feb. through to May.

Take a substantial and tallish pot.  Place crocks in the  base for drainage, then fill the bottom half of the pot with multi-purpose compost mixed with some chicken manure pellets.  Place a layer of 20 tulip bulbs on the compost – Bridge used Tulip ‘Salmon van Eijk’.  Cover with about 10cms of compost.  Put another layer of 20 tulips in – this time ‘Slawa’.  These are both late-flowering varieties and will flower in April/May.


Add another 10 cms of compost on top.  Then 20 bulbs of Narcissus triandrus ‘Hawera’ – tall and elegant creatures – are the third layer in the lasagne.  Another 10 cms of compost (I think we’re getting the idea), and set out 25 bulbs of Iris reticulata.  10 cms of compost over them, and then to finish, (hurray!), a layer of 30 Crocus chrysanthus ‘Romance’.


Complete the project with a layer of horticultural grit – it aids drainage, looks the business and helps to discourage our old adversaries, the squirrels.  Some wire mesh stretched over the pot may add to the defence strategy.

Or invest in a rocket launcher.

Jobs for the week:

Remove the cosmos plants; prepare bed; plant more tulips, wallflowers and the stocks.


Commendably co-operative



Plant bulb lasagnes in the big pots; plant up two further pots. Protect from squirrels.




Bulb lasagne in preparation


And very nearly complete



Now, what’s the betting those squirrels have wire cutters?

Pot on cuttings currently growing in the greenhouse 



A lovely job. 10 points for Gryffindor.

Plant rhubarb and pink hyacinths in three large pots



Now what?


Ah!  I see. We’re even beginning to think like squirrels

Remove strawberry plants from the Lion’s Head bed; weed; plant bulbs 


Plant pansies and bulbs for complete Visitor Enjoyment in Little Dixter


Prune the Cornus Mas tree in the Yellow Bed.  Underplant with yellow narcissi and orange tulipsIMG-20181116-WA0019.jpg

And let’s hope this is the Yellow Bed.

Now we can all go home and dream about bulbs and next year’s treasures and pleasures





Friday 9th November 2018


And so, dear reader, on to the business of planting bulbs for our delectation next year.  For best results, it’s all about contemplation, location, preparation.  A random scheme? Now, where would be best for that?  But, then again, surely tulips look better in a more formal arrangement?  Perhaps in the cleared beds behind the greenhouse.



But we are getting ahead of ourselves…..first, our plant ident. for the week:


And good to see that at least one member of Friday Group is paying close attention.

Cotoneaster horizontalis



This is a spreading, deciduous shrub, familiar at this time of year due to its vivid, small red berries and regular, herringbone-style branches.  Its small, glossy green leaves turn orange and red in the autumn months, before dropping.  Birds love the berries and broadcast the seed around gardens, resulting in plentiful seedlings.  It is, in fact, a bit too successful for its own good, and has now been placed on the Schedule 9 list as “an invasive non-native species”.  However, provided it is kept under control, it is a useful shrub providing year-round interest; in spring, for instance, it is covered with small pink-tinged white flowers which are a magnet for bees.  Drought-resistant, low maintenance and good as ground cover, it is particularly useful on banks and slopes.  If grown against a sunny wall, it will grow upwards to about 2 metres.

Jasminum officinale affine “Fiona Sunrise”


A beautiful, rampant climber which bears scented white flowers over the whole summer.  The stem and leaves are rather architectural, and the large leaves transition from vibrant yellow to orange/gold in the autumn  Attractive to bees, it is an excellent choice for growing up pergolas or fences.  Best grown in sunny, sheltered positions

Vaccinium  corymbosum


Very much basking in its celebrity status as a “super fruit”, (it’s full of antioxidants), the blueberry needs an acid soil to grow successfully.  Acid soils are those with a pH level below 7.0 and, according to the R.H.S., blueberries need a pH of 5.5 or lower to thrive.  (You can measure the pH level of soil in the garden with a soil testing kit.)  Blueberry plants respond well to being cosseted in leaf mould.  If you have alkaline soil, they can be grown successfully in pots (use ericaceous compost), and should be fed with a liquid fertiliser for lime-hating plants.  They should ideally be watered with rainwater, as tap water will raise the soil’s pH level. Some varieties are self-fertile, but others require a different cultivar to be planted nearby for pollination.  A lovely, easy plant whose leaves seem to catch fire and glow in the autumn.  Oh, and delicious fruit, of course!

Three trees to look out for, especially at this time of year:

Ginkgo biloba

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Otherwise known as the maidenhair tree, it is sometimes referred to as a “living fossil” because it is one of the world’s oldest living tree species.  Native to China, it has apparently been found in fossils dating back over 270 million years.  “Biloba” means “divided into two lobes” (easily visible in the above photo); over the centuries, the ginkgo’s leaves have been highly prized for their medicinal properties.  In the autumn they turn a glorious butter yellow before falling.  The trees are “dioecious” – which means that the male and female reproductive organs are on separate trees.  So for pollination, (by the wind), both a male and a female tree are required.  They can grow to 40 metres in height, but smaller varieties are available and can be grown in pots.

Prunus “Tai-Haku”

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“Tai-haku” means “big, white flowers”.  Known as the Japanese great white cherry, this sensational, deciduous tree revels in pure white blossom in the spring and provides glorious colour in the autumn.  The specimen at Garden House stands in the top garden and has been there for 18 years; Bridge rates it highly.  Prefers full sun and reasonably fertile, well drained soil.  A.G.M. (Award of Garden Merit).  Between 4 to 8 metres tall x 8 metres plus in width.

Malus “Golden Hornet”


A beautiful tree for a small garden.  This crab apple has lovely white spring blossom, and goes on to produce delightful clusters of small yellow crab apples in the autumn, which last for a long time on the tree. A nicely shaped, small, self-fertile tree, it can tolerate a range of soil types.

Jobs for the week:

Planting bulbs in pots for outside display 


The fabulous blue Scilla siberica are going into this one.  Note those pots in the background – beautifully top-dressed with horticultural grit. 10/10, ladies.

Plant Hyacinth “Woodstock” around the rhubarb plants 


They need to be planted around 10-15cms deep.  Their deep magenta/purple blooms will look beautiful alongside the forced rhubarb’s pink stems.

Sweep, tidy and refashion “Little Dixter” 


Ensure that all tender perennials have been removed and cuttings taken.

Cut back geranium macrorhizum in beds under arches.  Plant alliums in and around the nepeta


Yes!  That jacket is exactly the sort of colour we hope to achieve next year with the allium /catmint combo.

Plant chionodoxa bulbs randomly in prepared bed   


In position and looking good.

Lay out wallflowers in Lil’s bed ready for (random) planting

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Wallflowers are biennials: foliage this year, flowers next year.  Plant firmly and deeply then pinch out the top to ensure a bushy (not leggy) plant.


Tulip bulbs will then be thrown over the bed and planted where they land.  Here’s a (literally) hot tip: sprinkle chilli flakes over the soil to discourage squirrels from plundering bulbs.  That’ll teach the blighters.

Formal planting in the beds near the greenhouse


Wallflowers planted first – about 45 cms apart – and deeply.


Scenes of industry and meticulous planning.


Lay out bulbs ready for planting


Using string ensures straight lines for formal planting arrangements.  Plant around 10 cms apart and at least twice the depth of the bulb.  Some say it’s better to plant even deeper. If you garden on heavy clay soil, putting a layer of grit into the planting hole helps to prevent the bulbs from rotting.


A beautifully made bed – but telltale signs that someone’s been jumping on it….

Clean tools after use and replace where found


Nice pose.  Hang on…. she’s brushing the brush.  Dedicated, that one.


Nature’s sunrise and sunset.  Autumn bliss.







Friday 2nd November 2018

We are back after a break for half-term, and the temperatures are dropping.  But not our spirits.  Blue sky, sunshine and the prospect of fireworks this weekend – what’s not to like?


Just before our regular plant identification session, Bridge drew our attention to a recently published book, “Botanical Illustration” by Leigh Ann Gale.  A leading botanical artist and tutor, Leigh Ann regularly features on courses offered on the Garden House website.  Especially exciting is the fact that the book includes illustrations by Vicky Sharman, an erstwhile Friday Group stalwart and all-round terrific gardener. Congratulations, Vicky!

Plant ident. 

The topic this week is – shrubs.  Here at Garden House, we love a good shrubbery  – very much like Monty Python’s knights who say “ni”.

Fatsia japonica


Such a useful stalwart planted in a shady situation.  It also looks stylish in a black container. Dark green, glossy, architectural leaves which are a matt soft green on the reverse.  If it gets leggy, just prune it back in the spring and it will respond well.  At this time of year it produces small umbel-like flowers, which Alan Titchmarsh has described as looking like tiny exploding fireworks. How appropriate!

Choisya ternata


Best in full sun, the Mexican orange blossom is an evergreen shrub which produces star-shaped, scented white flowers in the summer.  A popular plant, often used in city plantings as it is tolerant of pollution.  If pruned after spring/summer flowering, you may get more flowers in the autumn.  A more compact alternative for smaller gardens might be Choisya “Aztec Pearl”, with much slimmer leaves.  Choisya ternata “Sundance” has bright gold/yellow leaves.  This last one is a bit of a Marmite plant; you either love it or hate it.  Here it is:-


Rosa Frances E. Lester

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Not a shrub, admittedly, but lovely at this time of year.  A wonderful, fragrant, rambling rose, with strong, bushy growth.  It has masses of small single blooms in the early summer and, if left unpruned after flowering, it produces small vivid red hips in profusion in the autumn. Such a great rose, it well deserves its Award of Garden Merit from the R.H.S.


What you might call “a good doer”, this is a very diverse genus of plants, largely native to New Zealand.  They are valuable evergreen shrubs, mostly fairly compact, and are pretty tough characters.  Particularly good in seaside gardens, they like full sun, and are available in a range of colours from white, pink, through to shades of mauve and purple. They can be pruned hard back in spring, right back to a pair of shoots (but don’t cut into old, bare wood).  Softwood cuttings can be taken in the spring and should root fairly easily

Viburnum rhytidophyllum





The leatherleaf viburnum, with its deeply-corrugated, dark green leaves, likes full sun. Hardy, evergreen and easy, it is tolerant of different types of soil, although it does appreciate being sheltered from strong winds.       

Abelia x grandiflora

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A good, reliable and long-flowering garden shrub, abelia is semi-evergreen with attractive, glossy leaves.  Rather lax in its growth, it has small, fragrant trumpet-like flowers produced on long arching branches from mid-summer.  Grow in sun, ideally in a sheltered position.

Lonicera “Baggesen’s Gold”


This species of shrubby honeysuckle is particularly known for its use as a hedging plant, and is often used in place of box where a dwarf formal hedge is needed.  It can be planted in full sun or partial shade, but its evergreen, oval, yellow leaves become even more golden in the sunshine.  Another tough plant that tolerates a range of soils.

Griselinia littoralis


Originating in New Zealand, this shrub is a tough cookie – and another good doer.  Often seen grown as a hedge, it can tolerate salty conditions, and is therefore an obvious choice for coastal gardens.  It responds well to clipping and can be propagated by taking cuttings.

Buxus sempervirens


Box.  Used in so many English gardens through the ages, it is the perfect plant for topiary (well, it was until the scourge of box blight took hold).  Its small, glossy green leaves can be clipped and manicured into balls, cones and hedges – but a fair degree of continuing maintenance is required to achieve perfection!  Perhaps a couple of box balls grown in a pair of elegant terracotta pots would be sufficient?  Can be grown in sunny or shady conditions.

Prunus laurocerasus 

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Also known as English laurel and cherry laurel, this is a fast-growing evergreen species of cherry.  Arguably, it’s best given a lot of space so that it can grow unimpeded, showing off its handsome. long, glossy leaves and, in spring, its white candle-type flowers.  Frequently used as a hedge in suburban gardens, it is fairly drought resistant.  Good as a windbreak.

And now for something completely different….


The time for planting indoor bulbs has come.  Narcissus papyraceus “Ziva” (paperwhites), N. “Avalanche” (see above) and N. “Grand Soleil d’Or” make lovely Christmas centrepieces or gifts.  They take around six weeks to come into flower – and what you do is this:-

Take a bowl or possibly even some jam jars; drainage holes aren’t essential here.  Put some horticultural grit or a little polystyrene in the bottom.  Then fill either with grit or a mix of grit and compost. You could use decorative glass.  Plant bulbs with their tops showing – odd numbers work best.  If you like, finish off with horticultural grit or moss as a top dressing.  As the bulbs grow, you can add birch twigs to support them and this adds to the decorative effect.  The bowl needs to be kept somewhere cool and frost-free, but definitely not in a warm room, as they need to grow slowly for best results.  Keep soil just moist.  Then, hey presto!  Your family and friends will be well impressed.


As they grow, the bulbs will straighten up.  Let’s check this out from above.


There we are.  See you in six weeks time.

Jobs for the week:

Dig up dahlia tubers, wash off mud and leave to dry off for a couple of days.  These will be stored in perlite in crates and kept very slightly damp and frost-free in the shed.  It’s important not to let them dessicate – but equally they mustn’t rot off.  No pressure then…




Well-washed and drying off nicely.  Can’t say the same for the gardeners, unfortunately.

Dig up remaining salad crops from outside beds – making more space for planting out tulips in the coming weeks.


Now that’s what I call a salad bowl.

Work on the new fruit bed – remove remaining annuals and Salvia uliginosa

Continue programme of autumn lawn care.  Complete lawn-spiking, then brush in a top dressing.  Scatter some grass seed to improve the lawn.



Note the carefully measured areas – ready for the right amount of top dressing

Put the bananas in pyjamas.  The Musa is cut down to about 30cms, put into a plastic pot filled with compost, then wrapped with fleece before storing it in the frost-free greenhouse for overwintering.

Sempervirens plants need re-potting and put under cover for the winter.   They can cope with lower temperatures but hate getting wet.


These two hate getting wet too.

Prick out and pot up orlayas and other hardy annuals




Enjoy your bonfires and fireworks.  Keep safe!











Friday 19th October 2018


The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is upon us, and with it come squashes, pumpkins and gourds in all shapes and sizes…. I mean, look at this extraordinary creature –



We looked briefly at hardy annuals (sown, flower and die in a year) again this week.  Hardy annuals can be sown now – up until the clocks go back – and then in March/April next year.  Examples are: scabious, marigolds (Calendula officinalis), ammis, sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus), wild carrot (Daucus carota), cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus), Californian poppies (Eschscholzia californica), false fennel (Ridolfia segetum), corncockles (Agrostemma githago) and the white lace flower (Orlaya grandiflora).

H.a. seeds need a warm place to germinate, so, once sown in modules or pots, a small electric propagator is an ideal environment for them.  At Garden House we put seeds in the greenhouse on a heated mat (see below), but you can try them indoors on a sunny window-sill.

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They need light to grow; once the seedlings have been potted on and hardened off, a cold frame is perfect for overwintering – open in the day for ventilation, but closed at night for protection.  (Its worse than looking after children.)  The seedlings’ growth slows as winter takes hold, but, come next year, these autumn-sown plants will be bigger, stronger and garden-ready earlier than their spring-sown counterparts.  It is possible to direct-sow some hardy annual seeds successfully into autumn’s still-warm soil, (e.g. nigella, marigolds and cornflowers) but for better control, we tend to opt for protected sowing.

The tender perennial cuttings (such as Plectranthus argentatus), taken at the end of September, have already started rooting, thanks to the gentle heat provided by the soil warming cables in the greenhouse. They must be kept frost-free if they are to survive the winter – maybe in an insulated greenhouse, a conservatory or perhaps in a cold bedroom. The cuttings will be potted on into FP9 pots using a 50:50 mix of compost and perlite.  Topping with horticultural grit helps with drainage, reduces weed growth and acts as a deterrent to slugs and snails.  Looks nice too.


Can’t see any horticultural grit topping here though……

Streptocarpus cuttings


These indoor beauties can be propagated from leaf cuttings.  It’s a miracle!

Mid-rib method: Take one healthy leaf. Place face down on a board. Using a very sharp knife, run the blade down either side of the rib which runs from top to bottom. Take out the mid-rib completely – and two lengths of leaf remain. Place them upright (on edge with cut side down) into a 50:50 mix of compost and perlite.  Firm in and water.  Each vein should produce an offset, which will eventually become a new plant.  Place somewhere warm (in a propagator or on a sunny window-sill with a clear covering over). Try a plastic shower cap, if you’re feeling funky.

Lateral vein method: Take another healthy leaf.  Place face down on board. (So far so similar.)  Using a very sharp knife, cut laterally across the leaf; depending on the length of the leaf, you can get about four cuttings.  Place upright into the compost mix, remembering to put the cut edge downwards. Firm in. Water.  One offset should grow from each cutting.

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Mid-rib cuttings at top; lateral vein cuttings below

Fingers crossed – and let’s hope they’re green fingers too.

Plant Ident. 

This week’s ident. looked at autumn delights such as these astonishing

Nerine bowdenii


A surprising colour at this time of year, these plants originate from South Africa and come in shades of pale and dark pink as well as white.  They love to bake in full sun and do well near south-facing walls; they should be planted with their top halves proud of the soil.  Bulbs can remain permanently in the ground once planted, as they can withstand freezing temperatures. They do need good drainage, however, and don’t like to be disturbed.

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Also looking magnificent in the garden now is the ubiquitous, but nonetheless valuable

                                                              Fatsia japonica


and one from the back, please…


…thank you

Also known as the false castor oil plant, Fatsia japonica is a handsome, evergreen shrub, noted for its beautiful, architectural leaves – dark, glossy green on the front contrasting with matt, soft green on the underside.  Fatsias thrive in a shady position and respond well to being cut back and shaped as required – they grow back easily.  Any yellow/ brown/ blackened leaves can just be removed.  Odd, creamy-white flowers appear at this time of year, reminiscent of those produced by ivy.  Also good in large containers.

Viburnum rhytidophyllum 


The evergreen leatherleaf viburnum gives year-round colour and interest in the garden.  A tough, drought-tolerant plant, producing red fruit at this time of year, and small, fragrant white flowers in the spring.  It has striking, deep-green, corrugated leaves.  Plant in full sun.

Clerodendrum trichotomum



This is a vigorous, deciduous shrub whose starry, white flowers, produced in the summer, are highly fragrant.  They are followed by amazing metallic turquoise-blue berries held in crimson calyces – an arresting sight. When crushed, the leaves of this shrub are said to smell of peanut butter.  Grow in full sun or partial shade.

Symphoricarpos albus 


Snowberry’s white, waxy berries look well in mixed shrub borders in the autumn and early winter months.  They are preceded by small, pink flowers in the summer.  A suckering, deciduous shrub from the honeysuckle family, snowberry can be grown in both full sun and partial shade – plus it tolerates exposed sites, pollution and poor soils. One tough customer.  There are varieties with beautiful pink berries.  Sought after by florists – and definitely a good bet for gardeners who don’t have green fingers..

Jobs for the week:

Sow broad beans, calendula and stipa tenuissima in modules


Empty the compost heap and fill two of the raised beds


Re-think the planting in various beds


 She’s thinking…..


She’s obviously come to a decision.


And she’s hard at it

Propagate streptocarpus plants by taking midrib and lateral vein cuttings. Place in greenhouse; water


Lateral and midrib cuttings. Nicely done. Where do they go?


 In the greenhouse. Excellent.  And have you watered them?


Oh, she’s good.

Prune Hedera helix “Goldheart”. Remove reversions and take cuttings


One for the Health and Safety training manual

Remove current occupants from alpine sinks


Out you come

Take out Pennisetum macrourum grass and replant elsewhere


Autumn lawn care – scarifying, spiking, weeding and edging




What a team!

That’s Friday Group for you.















Friday 12th October 2018


Today we started with a fascinating talk given by Judy McClelland, who runs “Flowers from the Field” in Isfield.  Bringing with her a jewel-like selection of late-summer blooms, she explained how to grow cut flowers for the home – and shared with us the best varieties to choose, how to cut and condition your flowers and the secrets behind keeping them looking fresh for longer.


Inspired by the flowers she saw whilst working in the Netherlands, Judy followed her passion and eventually found a plot of land near Lewes, where, in recent years, she has literally reaped what she has sown. Fighting the elements has been challenging, but photos of her raised flower beds and polytunnel were clear evidence of her success.

The how:  It’s important to think about the site; a wind barrier is a good idea if the area is exposed.  Sunshine, good soil and good drainage are essential – Judy uses green compost and horticultural grit to open up and improve her clay soil.  Green waste (recycled compost) is also used as a mulch around the plants, which acts as a weed suppressant and retains moisture. Cut flowers don’t need a lot in the way of nutrients – only the sweet peas and dahlias are given a tomato feed.  Staking is crucial; Judy finds horizontal netting over the plants invaluable and has it in place before everything starts to grow up through it.  Her polytunnel enables her to get a head start on growing things like sweet peas.

More details:  Most of her plants are grown from seed, which is cheap to buy.  She sows into modules to have better control over the seedlings.


Only a few are sown direct (e.g. ammis). Hardy annuals can be sown now, but she sows most in Feb/March.  The half-hardy types are sown in mid to late April; fast growers, they like warmth, so don’t sow too early. (Judy doesn’t have a heated propagator but does use a cold frame.) Light is essential to growing good healthy plants. A cutting patch of 1 m wide x 2 m long takes about 18 plants, with around 30 cms between each plant. More space results in better and bigger plants.  Weed and water and pray for clement sunny weather.  Beware pests! Especially our old friend –

Close-up Photography of Snail

Tips on cutting and conditioning:  Get to know your plants.  Some need to be picked at just the right point in their life cycle.  For example, scabious will carry on maturing, so need to be picked before they are fully open.  Others, like dahlias, don’t open further after picking – their buds remain as buds.  Pick flowers in the early morning, ideally after the dew has gone, but before the heat of the sun affects the blooms. Once cut, remove leaves from the stems, cut the base at an angle and plunge them straight into a bucket of cool water.  Leave for a couple of hours or overnight in a cool place before arranging.

How to keep your flowers fresh:  Bacteria spells death for flowers!  Ensure your tools and vases are spotlessly clean (a little drop of bleach in the water can help).  Change the water completely every couple of days.


A few of Judy’s must-have annuals: 

Salvia viridis, or Clary sage.  A hardy annual that self-seeds. Judy recommends the blue and pink varieties.

Centaurea cyanus, or cornflowers – especially Blue Boy and, even better, Red Boy.

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Top picture:  Zinnia “Dahlia-Flowered Mix”. Bottom:  blue Salvia viridis, the acid yellow/green of Euphorbia oblongata, Sedum “Herbstfreude” and zinnias. 

Zinnias –  half-hardy annuals; especially the “Dahlia-Flowered Mixed” collection.  Good stiff stems.  Cut the flowers above a leaf node and deep on the stem to encourage regrowth.

Consolida ajacis, or larkspur – highly recommended – also thrives on being cut. Judy likes the varieties “White” and “Dark Blue”. Its seeds germinate better after a cold spell (“vernalisation”). Top tip: dampen a piece of kitchen paper; place some seeds on it; fold over; seal in a plastic bag; place in freezer for a week; take out and into a warm place; sow.

Antirrhinums, or snapdragons; another cut-and-come-again plant. Use tall varieties, like the white “Royal Bride”.

Tithonia “Torch” – although she finds their flower heads can flop in the vase.

Ammi visnaga “Green Mist” and “Casablanca” – they form good “chunky” plants which branch well.

Malope trifida “Vulcan” – a good, tall annual which lasts well in a vase.

Daucus carota – the wild carrot, (biennial).  Beautiful – should be sown direct.

Ageratum “Blue Horizon” and Timeless Mixed”.   

Euphorbia oblongata – a fantastic “filler” in flower arrangements.  But, be careful of the white, milky sap which is an irritant to the skin and eyes.

Judy completed her talk by demonstrating how to arrange a hand-held bunch of flowers using annuals, perennials, shrubs, herbs and grasses.  Odd numbers work well.  She made it look easy, but we know it’s all down to magic.

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Arranging a bunch of hand-held flowers, turning it as each component is added.

Jobs this week: 

It’s autumn, and it’s all about preparation.

Dismantle summer displays in the large pots; remove tender salvias and pelargoniums. Take cuttings and place in greenhouse to overwinter. 


  • Take cuttings from osteospermums and plectranthus in the top garden. Place in greenhouse.



Nicely labelled!


  • Plant out chrysanthemums in greenhouse


  • Prune summer-fruiting raspberries – out with the old canes and tie-in the new 



Oh dear, who is taking out whom?



  • Little Dixter: pruning, sorting, tidying. For a tip-top Visitor Experience. 


They certainly look busy.


Yes, magnificent!

  • Weeding and digging over beds preparatory to planting. 


You do actually need spades…….

  • More weeding, digging and generally improving the soil


  • Remove dahlias from Lil’s bed – keep plants for drying out prior to storing tubers. Remove ammis; pot some up some for next year’s display. 



  • Work in the new raised beds area


There are blackcurrants there somewhere.

  • Remove plants from Paul’s bed and pot up



……..not forgetting to water them, of course.

  • Sow salad in the greenhouse


They look pleased. Must have had a handshake from Bridge.

  • Attack the plot


  • And add to the compost heap


………for some, this is a truly beautiful sight.


Friday 5th October 2018


Autumn is upon us: crisp days and earlier nights.  At Garden House we are enjoying the harvest and delighting in the dahlias… and thinking about the bulb programme for the year ahead.  Nothing stands still here.

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Our plant ident. this week focused on the flower of the moment, the dahlia.  It’s amazing to think that something so beautiful can grow from such ugly root tubers.  We looked at their many shapes, sizes and colours – from single to ball to cactus and beyond.  They have come back into fashion in recent years, and are now much prized by gardeners and florists alike.  Sometimes elegant, sometimes blowsy, their presence is invaluable in both vase and garden, providing colour and interest from late June through to the frosts.  They belong to the Asteraceae family and are tuberous, tender perennials.

Tubers can be potted up in February (in a heated greenhouse) and stem cuttings can be taken as they come into growth. (These will not flower until the following year.) Meanwhile, the potted tubers will have become bushy plants and can be planted out once all danger of frost has passed, usually in May, at a depth of about 20-30 cms.  Dahlias flourish in rich, fertile well-drained soil in full sun.  They are hungry plants and benefit from good well-rotted compost and a scattering of fertiliser when they are planted.  Slugs love them – so take precautions – and they also require staking with bamboo sticks or similar to prevent them flopping over.  Once flowers appear it is advisable to give them a liquid feed every couple of weeks, as this will encourage more flowers – as will pinching out the main growing shoot to just above a pair of leaves.  Don’t forget to deadhead too!

As dahlias die down  in November they should be cut back.  At Garden House we dig up the tubers, and store them in a frost-free, airy environment, keeping them slightly damp so that they don’t dry out completely.  This leaves the ground free for further planting schemes. Some gardeners, however, leave dahlia tubers in the ground to overwinter – covering them with a bucket of mulch.  It is said that this promotes more and better flower growth the following year – as long as winter wet doesn’t kill the tubers.

High maintenance they may be, but dazzling dahlias definitely repay the effort put in.

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’

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This vivid red peony-flowered dahlia, with its contrasting dark stems and foliage, is a favourite of bees and other pollinators; it holds an R.H.S. Award of Garden Merit

Dahlia ‘Jowey Mirella’


A dramatic ball dahlia; its long strong stems make it wonderful as a cut flower. Ball dahlias are prized by flower arrangers for their perfect round flower heads and their clear colours.

Dahlia ‘Tahoma Moonshot’


This stunning Honka variety has deep burgundy, velvety, single flowers  with a rich  yellow centre.  Attractive in growth, Bridge finds that it is not particularly good as a cut flower as the petals tend to fall.

Dahlia ‘New Baby’


This little Pompon beauty may be small, but it is a real delight.  Good in hot borders and works well with dark red and magenta dahlias – such as……….

Dahlia ‘Chat Noir’


A fabulous semi-cactus dahlia, with spiky garnet-red petals and a nearly black centre.  Dramatic in a tropical-style border.  And below is another semi-cactus dahlia –  again, it has a spiky flower head (magnificently magenta), but this one has petals which split at the end – like a deer’s antler.

Dahlia ‘Ambition’ 


And now, from semi-cactus to full blown cactus……….

Dahlia ‘Karma Bon Bini’


A stunning bi-coloured dahlia whose inner petals are golden-yellow, turning to fiery red-orange on the outer layers. Spectacular!  And there’s more –

The Collerette-flowered Dahlia ‘Pooh’  – these dahlias have a little collar of shorter florets which surround the centre disc.


Dahlia coccinea, a delightful single flowered species, loved by bees.                                                                                                            COCCINEA.jpg

Jobs this week:

  • Continue to clear beds of eschscholzias, ammis and self-sown grasses
  • Label all the various dahlias in the garden so that when lifted, we will be able to correctly identify the tubers as we prepare them for winter storage.


I think that’s actually a cosmos you’re looking at ……..

  • In the greenhouse, check progress of recently sown seeds.  (Looking good.)


  • Pot on cuttings.  Good job!


  • Take tomatoes out of the greenhouse. Plant up chrysanthemums for Christmas flowering









  • Prune roses under the arches and compost any waste material


A woman happy in her work…….

  • Weed the beds under the willow arch


  • Remove plants from flowerbed and put into liners for temporary storage


  • Make an Autumn wreath from willow and treasures from the garden


  • Prune the muehlenbeckia on the wall


  • And most importantly of all, enjoy the rewards of all that hard work



Just beautiful.




Friday 14th September 2018

And so, old friends and new faces meet to enjoy another year of happy gardening.  This weekly blog endeavours to track our activities, and share some of our horticultural joys and sorrows at Garden House.


The coming year promises: exciting new projects, speakers, outings, mastering the science of propagation, proficiency in the theory and usage of the binomial system of naming plants, achieving competence in placing right plants in the right place – and so much more.  No time for lists – we have work to do!

Labelling  Bridge stressed the importance of writing out plant labels correctly, using a fine, black, permanent marker.  Plant names are in Latin, as this unchanging language enables scientists throughout the world to classify and identify plants according to the naming system established by Linnaeus in the 18th century.  Common plant names can vary from place to place, but “binomial nomenclature” is a means of uniquely identifying plants.

Written on the label below is the name of a maple tree.  The first word gives the plant’s genus (a bit like a surname) and the second gives the species.  The species name (or specific epithet) tells us something about the plant – perhaps its colour/form, where it is from or maybe the person the plant is named after.  Here we can see that this maple tree (Acer) has leaves shaped like the palm of a hand (palmatum).  And we know that it is different from other types of maple tree.


The genus name is written starting with a capital letter, but the whole of the species name is written in lower case.  Other examples of the two-name system are: Helleborus orientalis; Campanula pyramidalis; Lavendula dentata.

When plant breeders develop new plants, often a third name is added, which shows that the plant has been bred by someone.  This cultivar (or variety) name, is written with a capital letter and is in single quotation marks.  For example: Betula utilis ‘Jacquemontii’ and Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’.


At Garden House we place labels in the 12.00 o’clock position, behind and under plants. When sowing seeds or planting seedlings, we also date the label.

Plant ident.

This week we thought about the differing life-cycles of various plants, starting with the the thoroughly upright biennial bellflower, Campanula pyramidalis:

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“Biennial” means that a plant completes its life cycle over a two-year period. It germinates and forms a rosette of leaves in the first year, then flowers and dies in the second, surviving only through its seed.  Well-known biennials are: honesty, forget-me-not and wallflowers.

Tithonia rotundifolia, the Mexican sunflower, is a showy half-hardy annual.  Annuals are plants which complete their life cycle in one year and survive only through their seed. Half hardy annual seeds need heat to germinate (we use a heated propagator in the greenhouse) and seedlings can only be planted out after all danger of frost has passed.

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Other half hardy annuals include nicotianas, cosmos and zinnias.  They are excellent for prolonging colour in the garden as summer turns to autumn.

Pelargonium sidoides  Pelargoniums are often mistakenly called geraniums, but are actually a different genus. The latter are hardy herbaceous plants that can live outside in the garden permanently, whilst pelargoniums are tender perennials that will not survive the winter outdoors – they need to be kept frost free in a greenhouse or conservatory. During the summer, however, they love to be out in the sun. Don’t we all?

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Geranium ‘Rozanne’. This excellent prize-winning cultivar, is a hardy herbaceous perennial, which means it is a non-woody plant that dies down in late autumn/early winter.  It tolerates the frost and overwinters underground, then regrows in the spring. Being perennial, it can live in the garden for many years. ‘Rozanne’ is a sought after variety which flowers for months on end; cutting it hard back after flowering encourages fresh growth and more flowers.


Plectranthus argentatus This lovely tender perennial, with its soft, grey, downy leaves and square stems, is used extensively in container planting for summer display.  Below it can be seen featuring in pots at East Ruston Old Vicarage Garden, Norfolk.

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It belongs to the Lamiaciae family, which boasts rosemary, lavender, and salvias amongst its members, and it thrives in hot, dry conditions.  Plectranthus argentatus.jpg

Tropaeolum majus, commonly known as the nasturtium, is an easy-going popular hardy annual.  Hardy annuals are plants which are sown, flower, set seed and die within one year. They are generally sown outside in early spring where they are going to flower, and can survive frosts without protection.   Cornflowers, nigella and california poppies are all hardy annual flowers. They frequently self-seed around the garden.


Jobs this week

Getting to know what’s where in the garden IMG-20180916-WA0003.jpg

Please note: weeds are to be put in black trugs and not in the compost bins. IMG-20180916-WA0005.jpg

Weeding the vegetable bedsIMG-20180916-WA0004.jpg

Spot the half hardy annualIMG-20180916-WA0007.jpg

It’s all going well…


……so far


Something for next week’s plant ident.?


A great start.  Introductions made, we can’t wait for next Friday……