Friday 19th March 2021

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

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

Something like this would be fantastic –

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

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

Probably something more along these lines –

Just as miraculous. Just as magnificent.

Yes. We are.

But first the

Plant ident.

Prunus spinosa

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

Prunus cerasifera ‘Pissardii’

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

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

Primula ‘Gold-Laced Group’

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

Narcissus ‘Rip van Winkle’

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

Scilla ‘Pink Giant’

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

Narcissus ‘Elka’

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

Topic for the Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spindle; Wild Cherry; Whitebeam; Willow; Yew.

Didn’t we do well?

Yeah, not bad

Wildflower Meadows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plant dwarf buddleias in pots

Plant at least one tree known to be wildlife-friendly

Grow night-scented plants to encourage moths

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

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

And definitely use peat free compost

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

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

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

Maybe not this…

But, hopefully, this –


and these great Great Crested Newts

Jobs for the Week

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

Plant out chitted Potatoes

Not ‘chipped potatoes’.

Continue to sow seeds

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

You’ll enjoy harvesting the rewards later

Cut down Cornus stems

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

Start planting out hardy annuals

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

Trim deciduous hedges

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

Finish any Rose pruning this weekend

Force Rhubarb

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

Divide Grasses

Prune Salvias

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

Enjoy the Hellebores. It’s their season

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

Friday 12th March 2021

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


Plant ident.

Loveliness to enjoy now.

Primula vulgaris

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

Bergenia ‘Harzkristall’

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

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

Vinca minor ‘Atropurpurea’

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

Veronica umbrosa ‘Georgia Blue’

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

Prunus spinosa

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

You might not.

Topic for the week


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

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

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

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

Shears are essential for hand cutting hedges and topiary.

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

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

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

Reasons for pruning

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

Types of pruning

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

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

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

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

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

Pruning techniques

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

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

When to prune

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

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

Advanced pruning

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

Coppiced woodland

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

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

Jobs for the week

Sow herbs

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

Sow Radishes

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

Sow Spring Onions

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

Pinch out Sweet Peas

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


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

Prune silver-leaved plants

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

Feed and re-pot Auriculas

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

Cut back Pelargoniums

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

Check the weather

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

Friday 5th March 2021

Marching onwards into March

That’s one helluva lot of Hellebores

Plant ident.

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

Iris reticulata ‘Pauline’

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

Muscari macrocarpum ‘Golden Fragrance’

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

Crocus ‘Jeanne d’Arc’

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

Viola odorata

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

Leucojum vernum

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

Topic for the Week

Summer Containers

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

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

Cosmos with Nigella, Cornflower and Nemesia

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

Osteospermum with white vanilla-scented Nemesia and Sutera cordata

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

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

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

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

Friday Group Question Time

A host of horticultural questions and some quickfire answers.

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

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

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

Q. Will Echium pinnata plants seed around?

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

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

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

Jobs for the Week

Take cuttings of tender perennials

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

Continue to sow seeds

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

Check Camellias

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

Plant Strawberries

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

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

But this old waiting game is such a tiring business

While we’re zooming, he’s snoozing

Friday 28th February 2021

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

What is flowering at Garden House at the moment?

Plant ident.

Forsythia x intermedia ‘Lynwood Variety’

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

Cornus mas

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

Hamamellis x intermedia ‘Jelena’

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

Lonicera fragrantissima

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

NarcissusGrand Soleil d’Or

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

A New Obsession

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

Topic of the Week

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

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

Madagascan periwinkle

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

Cepaelis ipeccuanha

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

Cinchona pubencencs

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

Colchicum autumnale

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

Digitalis purpurea

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


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

Filipendula ulmaria

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


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

St John’s Wort

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

Papaver somniferum

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

Rauvolifa serpentine

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


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

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

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

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

Biennial herbs: Parsley, Angelica, Chervil

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

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

Herbs which grow taller than 1 metre: Angelica, Bay

The Task

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

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

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

Here are a few of the suggestions:

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

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

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

And perhaps most enigmatic of all, there is this –

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

Jobs for the week

Prune winter-flowering shrubs after they have finished flowering

Divide bulbs

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

Cut back deciduous grasses left uncut over winter

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

General garden tidy-up-time

Plan your herb garden/pot/container

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

You know it makes sense

Friday 12th February 2021

Really cold. But, in the immortal words of E.L.O. –

‘Sun is shinin’ in the sky, there ain’t a cloud in sight. It’s stopped rainin”

Yes, it has. And, what’s more, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Blue Sky is living here today. Hey hey.

Not only blue skies, but also blue Hyacinths. Garden House really is Keeping Up Appearances. Hyacinth Bucket would love it.

Plant ident.

Good evergreens and ever-greys for pots and borders.

Ballota pseudodictamnus

Square stems – so it must be a member of the Lamiaceae family. False Dittany is a low-growing, bushy, evergreen/grey sub-shrub. Soft, rounded leaves grow in pairs opposite each other on the stems. Small pink flowers appear in the summer. Like most silvery-grey plants, it needs hot, dry and well-drained conditions to thrive, and is at its best in poor rather than rich soils. Rollicks away in full sun and looks great in Mediterranean-style planting schemes.

Ballota roots easily from cuttings – try taking some in March or April when it should be pruned back. Don’t cut into the old wood though, like other sub-shrubs it won’t re-grow from there. Can be shaped into a pleasing dome for a neat finish. Since by now, we are all experienced hairdressers, we should be perfectly able to whizz round and clip anything in our path. Garden House itself is being renamed Maison Enid. Special rates for pensioners on Wednesdays.


With 700 different types of Eucalyptus, you’re never short on choice. They do, however, have a habit of heading for the skies, but can literally be brought back down to earth by chopping them to the ground; they will regrow. Maybe opt for a variety that can be grown in a pot. Lovely blue-grey foliage, especially the juvenile growth which has small rounded leaves and is much used and appreciated by florists. As they get older, the leaves change, becoming longer and thinner as is often the way with polymorphic plants. Whatever, Eucalyptus is total koala nirvana.


Bear’s breeches are vigorous herbaceous perennials with handsome, glossy green, lobed foliage and tall erect racemes of two-lipped flowers. The lower lip is white and the upper bract becomes more purple with age. They love sunshine and well-drained soil, but will cope well in shade, although there may be fewer flowers. Very stately and architectural. The best known varieties are Acanthus mollis (rounded, divided leaves), Acanthus spinosus (spiky edges to the leaves) and the elegant A. ‘Rue Ledan’. The latter has pure white flowers on silver-green spikes and is said to be less invasive than its relatives. This one is good in a north-facing border.

When the new growth starts in the spring, cut back any dead, diseased and damaged leaves to allow the new leaves to emerge. Cutting the whole plant back after flowering will encourage new foliage.

Geranium renardii

Virtually evergreen in sheltered locations, G. renardii produces low mounds of lovely, rounded leaves with scalloped edges. These are a pale sage green and have a soft, velvety quality to them. The flowers are lilac or white with dark purple veins and are attractive to bees and butterflies. Incredibly attractive and useful. Good in sun, but also in partial shade and is an excellent groundcover option.

Hardy geraniums (Cranesbills) are a superb resource for the busy gardener. Tough, easy to grow, little required in the way of maintenance, can be propagated from cuttings and division, flower for months and will suppress weeds. There are a huge number of varieties, some more suitable for shade, some for ground cover and some for full sun. Get loads.

Euphorbia ‘Jade Dragon’

A compact and robust, bushy evergreen sub-shrub, there’s no need to tame this dragon. An exciting new hybrid, ‘Jade Dragon’ is a cross between Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii and E. amygdaloides ‘Rubra’. Its glaucous, lanceolate leaves flush reddish-purple in spring. A magnet for pollinating insects. Beware of the milky sap which can be an irritant to skin and eyes. A new top favourite at Garden House. And no wonder.


Elephant’s ears. Poor elephant. Part of the Saxifragaceae family. These clump-forming, hardy perennials spread by rhizomes, making them easy to split in the spring or autumn and to propagate new plants from the divisions. They are often used in shady positions, but some varieties really thrive in sun and poor soil, especially those grown for their leaf colour. In Beth Chatto’s garden they grow well in the gravel garden as they are very drought tolerant. Lots of cultivars to choose from . Semi-evergreen, although some seem to keep their leaves year-round, like B. ‘Bressingham White’ and B. cordifolia ‘Purpurea’. Flowers can be white, pink or deep red/purple. A good and effective ground cover plant.

Topic of the week: Growing vegetables

A massive subject, and although one which thrills many, it can leave others bored (‘It’s a radish. And?’) or rigid with apprehension. Why bother to grow your own? Well – it’s interesting, it’s good exercise, you can grow unusual varieties, it’s good for pollinators, you can save seeds from year to year, the veg. taste better, you can guarantee no chemicals are used, no food miles….the list goes on and on. As can vegetable growers. Ad infinitum.

There are loads of good books and veg experts out there. Garden House, natch. Charles Dowding (the No Dig Guru) is another, with plenty of video clips available on Instagram to advise and inspire.

Vegetables fall into four basic categories: Legumes (pod growing crops like Peas, Beans, Mangetout, Lentils); Brassicas ( Brussel sprouts, Cabbages, Turnips, Swedes, Cauliflowers); Roots (Parsnips, Carrots, Beetroots); Permanent veg. which remain in the ground year on year (Rhubarb, Asparagus, Artichoke, Cardoons, Alliums).

Crop rotation

It’s important to establish a programme of crop rotation to ensure healthy and productive plants, to preserve soil fertility and health. Specific groups of vegetables must be grown in a different part of the veg plot each year to prevent pest and disease problems. It also means that crops can be grown according to their specific needs and abilities. Different crops use different amounts of soil nutrients – and some actually add nutrients to the soil. Brassicas, for example, are a very leafy crop and require nitrogen to make them green. Legumes are a crop which can fix nitrogen in the soil, and are therefore good to grow in a position which will be occupied by brassicas the following year. Root vegetables, however, don’t need nitrogen so much as phosphorus.

Pests and diseases in the veg garden can be devastating for both crops and the poor gardener. Club root disease, which brassicas can suffer from, can last in the soil for 20 years. A long time to wait for a perfect sprout. Carrot fly prey on carrots, onions have to ward off white rot, parsnips, canker, and potatoes live in fear of blight. It’s war out there. Good veg husbandry will go a long way to preventing famine: crop rotation, companion planting and nurturing the soil with compost and well-rotted manure.

The plot itself

Location is important – it should be sited in an open space, away from overhanging trees, with plenty of light and sun. Think about shelter from prevailing winds and avoid frost pockets. Access to beds should be easy and paths ideally need to have hard surfaces, or at the very least be mud-free. Otherwise the gardener may emerge looking something like The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

This is the right idea

And, as well as providing food for the table, vegetables can also be appreciated for their beauty –

Veg as an art form

And they are a lot of fun to grow

Break out groups

We discussed what vegetables or salads we might try to grow in our own gardens this year. Maybe something tried and tested or maybe something completely new.

Ideas ranged from Tomatoes (Sungold and Gardener’s Delight are good) to crimson-flowered Broad Beans, Spring Onions, edible flowers (Calendulas, Nasturtiums, Borage and Violas), Beetroot (Chioggia, Golden Beetroot and Boltardy), Purple French Beans, Tromboncino (a climbing Squash, not a musical instrument), Tree Spinach, Pink Fir Potatoes, Pumpkins (‘Jill be Little’ and ‘Munchkin’ are dwarf forms), Rainbow Chard and Leeks ‘Northern Lights’. Cut and come again salads in boxes would be good. Maybe we’ll try growing some veg in pots too.

We’re going to be so productive

Jobs for the Week

Bring the outdoors in and enjoy the small miracle of individual flowers.

The fabulous colour and markings of Iris unguicularis.

Snowdrop martini, anyone?

Prune Clematis in the viticella group

These are an easy group to deal with. Simply cut back the stems to a pair of strong buds about 30 – 40 cms above the ground. This will promote strong growth in spring.

Prune Wisteria again now

Sow seeds requiring a long period of growth

Cleome and Cobaea scandens are two. Also Chillies. Place pots in a heated propagator to facilitate germination.

Weed the weeds

Again and again

Plant radishes in lengths of guttering

This makes them very easy to plant once the seedlings are underway. Or you can just grow them on in the guttering and harvest direct from there.

Plant Broad Bean ‘Crimson Flowered’

Planting the seeds in root trainers allows long root systems to develop. Sow now and pinch out the shoots when 3 pairs of leaves have formed. This is the most ornamental of the Broad Beans – perfect for that parterre you’ve just created.

Late winter posy from Garden House

A fantasy in flowers and foliage

Inside and outside

Friday 5th February 2021

Fffffebruary. And it’s ffffrreeeeezzzing. Snow and everything. Time to keep warm and stay indoors like these Hellebores.

Plant ident.

This week: Tender perennials. Bless.

Tender perennials are plants like this Salvia ‘Amistad’, which can survive from year to year, provided they are protected from frost. If the frost gets them, they are likely to be ex-perennials, so best to take cuttings. Cuttings taken in late summer or autumn should now be doing well in greenhouses or sunny windowsills. They will probably need potting on.

The five examples below are all excellent fillers and spillers for summer containers. Now is just the right moment to start thinking about these so that later on, your pots, troughs and baskets will present a dazzling sight to your less horticulturally-gifted friends and neighbours.

Plectranthus argentatus

This shimmery, silvery sensation grows quite large, with racemes of bluey-white flowers in the summer. Alongside other plants in a pot, generally just one of these will suffice, unless you are going for the full stately home look. From the Lamiaceae (Mint) family, it has the square stems typical of the group. Looks amazing in a white/silver-themed container. Has presence.

Plectranthus ciliatus

Fab in a pot. Fab as ground cover. Fab when planted with orange and purple plants – the underside of the P. ciliatus is a gorgeous purple, contrasting with the vivid green obverse. Easy from cuttings – which will even root in water. Can’t abide the cold though. This really is a tender tender perennial.

Pelargonium tomentosum

Let’s just recap one more time. Pelargoniums are NOT Geraniums. Repeat. Geraniums are hardy perennial plants which remain in the garden all year round. Pelargoniums, on the other hand, are tender perennials, and need to be taken indoors, or into a greenhouse, to overwinter.

However, P. tomentosum is quite a toughie, and has actually been known to survive outside in Brighton, provided it is kept in a warm, dry, sheltered location. Best not to take risks though, so always take cuttings. A lovely Pelly, it has large, soft, furry leaves which emit a peppermint scent when rubbed. Small white flowers appear in the summer. Excellent in a pot; it soon bulks up and is a great filler.

Helichrysum petiolare

A silvery, ever-grey trailer, shown here growing away happily in a metal trough, each emphasising the other’s colour. Small, ovate leaves on white stems act as an attractive foil to many other plants in a wide range of colours, particularly blues and mauves. Can be grown in a border, but is best of all in a container or hanging basket, where its trailing habit can be fully displayed and appreciated. There is a lovely lime coloured cultivar called H. petiolare ‘Limelight’ which is equally desirable.

Argyranthemum frutescens

These gorgeous Marguerites make a stunning show in the summer garden. Great in the border or in pots. This one is ‘Jamaica Primrose’, but they come in many beautiful colours from whites and soft yellows through to deep pinks and purples. Will flower virtually the whole year round in a greenhouse. Take cuttings (about 5 cms long) in the spring – they will grow quickly to become quite large plants. Eventually they will become rather woody, so replace every few years.

Planning summer containers

In Break-Out groups, (so-called, because we all break out in a sweat when asked to report back), we discussed various options for our own gardens. Things to be borne in mind quite apart from the plants themselves were: choice of pot (size, material, shape), soil, aspect and how it might be viewed. Probably best to keep to a maximum of five types of plant, or fewer, per pot to ensure total tastefulness.

There should be thrillers, fillers and spillers – as advocated by Sarah Raven, and hard decisions need to be taken about plant heights, textures and colours. They might be evergreens, perennials, tender perennials, hardy or half-hardy annuals. Additionally, sourcing the plants requires consideration. Will they be raised from seed (when? how?), grown on from plugs or maybe bought as fully grown plants? Seed catalogues are a useful resource, along with gardening film clips.

Delicious plant recipes were offered in the feedback session. Monotone and multi-coloured. Inventive, traditional, contemporary and bizarre. Room for all.

Can’t wait to see the results in reality!

Jobs for the week

Sow seeds

Leave ‘easy’ seeds like Cosmos until much later. Concentrate on those which need a long growing period.

When sowing very tiny seeds, such as Antirrhinum majus ‘Chantilly’ series, it’s a good idea to mix them with a little silver sand (playground sand). Then sow thinly across the surface of a well-filled seed tray of compost; the sand lets you to see where the seeds have fallen. Sprinkle a little vermiculite over the top – this covers the seeds but permits light through for germination to take place. Placing the tray gently in a water bath allows the compost to take up water by capillary action and doesn’t disturb the seeds. Label – and make a note of the colour of the flowers. A covering of cling film aids germination.

Watch some gardening clips

on the topic of summer containers. See websites and Youtube. E.g.:

Sarah Raven: Creating beautiful summer flower containers

Keep on top of weeds

Speedwell (and it does), Hairy Bittercress and Sticky Willy are lying in wait to take over your plot. Remove now, before there are tears.

Watch the weather

and plan work accordingly. Some shrubs, like Cornus, can be moved now, especially if there has recently been rain. Once safely re-planted, take out any dead, diseased and damaged wood, remove old woody stems and cut new growth back by about one third. They look fantastic with Snowdrops and Daphne. Very cold snaps can damage your plants and your gardening confidence. Very cold schnapps, taken liberally, will restore your nerve.

On stage now: Snowdrops and Crocuses

If you don’t have any, buy some and plant them! Snowdrops are best established when bought ‘in the green’.

Seek out the intoxicating scent of Daphnes


Friday 29th january 2021

Hello Hellebore

The last Friday Group zoom meeting of January 2021. Days get longer, light gets morer, grammar gets worserer. This week involved thinking about the life cycles of plants and the importance of Latin in the 21st century. Stay tuned.

Celebrating the benefits that come with being outdoors and in nature, we began with Wendle Berry’s poem, ‘The Peace of Wild Things’. It ends with the words – ‘For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.’

Then a quiz. Death or Dinner? You get the picture. The killers are in bold

Borago officinalis

Euphorbia pulcherrima

Aconitum napellus

Musa cavendishii

Ipomoea batatas

Ricinus communis

Cynara scolymus

Tropaeolum majus

Citrus limonum

Nicotiana sp.

Diospyros kaki

Pisum sativum

Daucus carota

Solanum tuberosum

Plant ident

All these plants can form part of the backbone of a garden, but not necessarily a menu. Good, all-year performers, they are evergreen, evergrey and eversouseful.

Helichrysum italicum

The Curry Plant. Its scent isn’t to everyone’s liking, but its pretty, delicate form goes so well with a wide variety of plantings, and adds a silvery focal point of interest. It’s a sub-shrub, meaning that it has a woody base and soft top growth, so, when pruning, (March is a good time), it’s essential not to cut back into the old wood, as it will not re-grow from there. Trim back and shape to about 5 – 8 cms above the woody base. If the outer leaves are cut a little lower than the centre ones, the plant will take on a soft domed shape. Very designery. Easy from cuttings and best in a dry garden setting. Lovely now in pots, with Snowdrops and Cyclamen.

Pittosporum tobira

Such a great doer. Beautiful and utilitarian. A compact, evergreen shrub with deep green, glossy, paddle-shaped leaves which are matt on the underside. Small white flowers appear in May, fragrant with the scent of orange blossom honey, followed by woody fruits which split to reveal red seeds. Grows in most soils and likes full sun or dappled shade. Can grow quite large (to 4 metres) but can be clipped hard back. Or buy a dwarf version ‘Nana’ – for a pot or in the border. Rated highly at Garden House.

Teucrium fruticans

A species of flowering plant in the mint family – Lamiaceae – the Tree Germander has the square stems typical of its relations. Long white stems contrast with dark green leaves and with its beautiful, lilac-blue summer flowers. Lax in habit, it responds well to being cut hard back (in March). Loves a Mediterranean-type garden setting – full sun, sheltered and happiest in well-drained neutral to alkaline soil. Good news for those who garden on chalk and those also lax in habit.

x Fatshedera lizei

Unkindly known as Fat-Headed Lizzie, or more kindly, as Tree Ivy, this is botanically unusual because it’s a bi-generic hybrid. Not common. It’s a cross between two genera: Ivy (Hedera helix) – a climber, and Fatsia – a shrub. Awkward. How does it cope? How does it grow? Answer: very well indeed.

Climbs away happily, with support and tying in, looking good and rather exotic all year round. Its glossy, green leaves (and the spherical white flowers) are smaller than those of a Fatsia, but larger than an Ivy, and are at their best when the plant is in semi-shade. Training and clipping will result in smaller leaves and a denser plant – as recommended by Architectural Plants. Can also be grown as a houseplant.

Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata Aureomarginata’

The Irish Yew. Highly toxic. Botanically-speaking, it’s a mouthful, but a real beauty when planted. Columnar in shape, with deep green needle-shaped leaves typical of Yew, these have the additional attraction of golden margins. The clue’s in the name. Often used for topiary, as Yew is tough and responds well to cutting, becoming denser the more it is cut. Plant in any well-drained soil, though chalk, sand and loamy soils are best. Ideal as pillars planted either side of a doorway entrance or pathway; they have such great presence and structure. Can be grown from cuttings.

The Academic Bit

So, what’s with botanical names and all this dead language stuff?

It may be worth searching for this sort of book….

It will provide you with all sorts of fascinating information

Using Latin to give plants botanical names is essential to gardeners and botanists the world over, as it provides a unique identification for each and every plant, which is internationally recognised. As Latin is a dead language, it will never vary or change. (Although the names of the plants sometimes do if they are reclassified!)The use of Latin can give an insightful description of the plant itself as well as indicate relationships and common features between plants.

Botanical names place plants in botanical groups

The ‘International Code of Botanical Nomenclature’ is based on a binomial (two-name) system first developed by the botanist Linnaeus in the mid-eighteenth century. Each plant is given a first and last name unique to each species.

In the Papaveraceae family, there are many different forms of Poppy, from annuals and biennials through to perennials. E.g. Papaver nudicaule; Papaver orientale; Papaver somniferum ”Black Peony’; Glaucum flavum; Eschscholzia californica; Meconopsis baileyi. By giving each plant its proper botanical name, rather than the far too general term ‘Poppy’, it can be quickly, easily and specifically identified.


A group of botanically related plants, having many features in common. It equates to a surname, and is the name by which a plant is most familiar. For example – Papaver (Poppy); Aquilegia (Columbine); Ilex (Holly). The name is always written with a capital letter followed by lower case.


A group of botanically related plants within a genus that can hybridise (cross-breed) to produce fertile offspring. The species name often describes the plant’s colour, origin, leaf shape or maybe the place where it was found, or even the person who found it. For example – aurea; sinensis; palmatum; wilsonii. The species name is always written in lower case.


A cultivated variety of a plant. It’s one that has been bred and do not occur naturally in the wild. The name is given after the Genus and Species names and gives more information. It may be a name indicating the breeder, or perhaps one dedicating the new plant to a specific person. It’s not Latinised, but is written with a capital letter and put in single quotation marks. E.g. – ‘King Edward’; ‘Alan Titchmarsh’; ‘Black Peony’


A naturally occurring variation in a plant species, often found by chance in the wild. Variation may occur due to geographical isolation, resulting in the development of new and unique traits. The variety name is written in lower case with no quotation marks. For example – the Japanese ornamental cherry Prunus nipponica var. kurilensis is a variety from the Kuril Islands, north of Japan.


At this point we all felt the need to immerse ourselves in botanicals

Now conversant in Latin, we can move on to learning insulting phrases. So useful in the current circumstances. Should someone get a little too close at the garden centre, just yell,

“Utinam barbari spatium proprium tuum invadant!”

(Translation: ‘May barbarians invade your personal space.’)

Here Beginneth the Second Lesson

Life Cycles of Plants

Mostly concentrating on hardy and half-hardy annuals.

Annuals are plants which complete their life cycle in one growing season. This means they germinate, grow, flower, set seed and die within that period. Most annuals need to be replanted each year. They split into two groups:

Hardy annuals

Lathyrus (Sweet Peas), Tagetes (Marigolds), Helianthus (Sunflowers), Centaurea cyanus (Cornflowers) and Cerinthe are examples. They can cope with year- round climatic conditions, including frost, and will often return year after year if the seed heads remain and they are allowed to self-sow.

Half-hardy annuals

E.g. Nicotiana sylvestris; Cosmos; Cobaea scandens (the Cup and Saucer plant). These have to be sown indoors and placed under cover; they need heat to germinate. Frost is a killer for them, so they need protection until all danger of frost has passed before they can be planted out. Garden House operates on the tried and trusted 15th May system. Some half-hardies require a long period of growth and should be sown around now – Antirrhinums and Cobaea scandens are two. Otherwise, hold off until the days are longer, or you will be swamped by seedlings. 14th February is a good date to work by.

End of Academic Session

Us, but without Zoom and Social Distancing Regs. in force

Jobs for the week

Enjoy the plants in your garden. Bring some indoors!

Order more seeds

Drool over seed catalogues. Plan your seed sowing – what, where, how. Empty that piggy bank. Order seeds. Gloat over them.


Strawberry runners can be planted up into pots. To guarantee a long period of enjoyment, get early, mid and late season strawbs. Investigate where the best cream can be obtained from. You can’t actually start that too soon.

Friday 22nd January 2021

It’s starting

Stand by your flower beds

Plant ident.

Astelia chathamica ‘Silver Spear’

Fearsomely spear-like, this is (big breath…) a clump-forming, evergreen, rhizotomous perennial. From New Zealand, and, surprisingly, a plant which likes the shade and moist but well-drained soil. The sword-like silvered leaves have a strong architectural presence and look good planted in a container; stunning if planted with white Cyclamen now.

Arum italicum ‘Marmoratum’

A summer dormant plant, and very striking in the garden now, showing off its lovely, deep green leaves with creamy-white marbling. The leaves are glossy and arrow-shaped. Pale green spathes appear in the spring, followed by bright red berries in the autumn. Has a tendency to be invasive, so needs watching. Remove any clumps that revert to the plain green form. Grows best in shade, and likes a heavy, moist soil – looks good in a woodland situation. Plant with Snowdrops?


Another spear-shaped leaf. A real roughty-toughty plant which needs to be grown in full sun and well-drained soil. Very pointy. Very sharp. Do take care. A great winter feature as it looks properly glamorous in the garden now, when lit by sunshine. Drought tolerant, requires little in the way of maintenance, it throws up a long spike covered in panicles of creamy white flowers. There are several different species, some plain green and others with variegated foliage.

Brachyglottis ‘Sunshine’

Yet another plant which has had a sneaky name change. (Used to be Senecio ‘Sunshine’). Brachyglottis sounds more like a throat problem. A small, spreading, ever-grey shrub with contrasting felted silvery undersides. Tolerates drought and coastal conditions, so is often found in seaside plantings. Lovely ovate leaves, but sadly the flowers don’t get too many Brownie points – dull yellow and daisy-like, they somehow seem a mismatch to the foliage.

Euonymous fortunei ‘Silver Queen’

OK, you may see this everywhere, and therefore be somewhat immune to its charms. Look again. An excellent winter plant that can do everything. It can be grown up a wall, used as ground cover or grown as a hedge. Oh look, there’s one here! (Needs a trim, but most of us do) –

It can be encouraged to grow tall or will cope with being pruned back hard. Often used in formal plantings and as topiary, but can fit equally well into a more relaxed planting scheme. A terrific skeleton shrub, evergreen, with white margins to its leaves, the tips of which blush pink in very cold weather. Like so –

Lovely with Snowdrops and white Narcissi. Everyone needs one of these. Or more. A.G.M.

Time for Trees

The name of Barcham Nursey’s wonderful book on tree species available for supply and planting in the U.K., but also the focus of the Lesson for Today. Liz McCullough’s handout provided a succinct overview of points to consider when thinking about buying a tree. So useful to have a starting point!

Space available, site, aspect and specific location, proportions (height, spread and relationship to the rest of the garden), soil type, seasons of interest and decorative value, purpose, deciduous or evergreen, proximity to buildings / pavements / neighbours. Basically, will it be the right plant in the right place?

Possibly not

Liz suggested drawing a scale plan of the garden/location and plotting the size of the tree at maturity, not forgetting the shade thrown by its canopy.

The RHS has an extensive list of trees suitable for smaller gardens, focusing on height, spread, form, flowers, fruits, bark, blossom/foliage in spring and summer, autumn colour, winter interest. There are also recommendations for containers, the top six being: Japanese maple, Olive, Bay, Pinus pumila ‘Glauca’, Sophora microphylla, Apple or Pear (grown as an espalier, cordon or fan)

In break-out groups, we considered suitable trees for specific sites. Vivacious discussions ensued, and we came up with the following suggestions:

A school or community garden – Family Apple tree

A wildlife garden – Hawthorn (Cratageus x lavalleei ‘Carrierei’)

A street tree – Ginkgo biloba

A front garden – Prunus serrullata ‘Pink Perfection’ or ‘Little Pink Perfection’

A celebration tree – Sorbus commixta ‘Olympic Flame’

A container – a Crab Apple – ‘Evereste’ may be too big, so perhaps the deep pink Malus toringo ‘Aros’.

Jobs for the week

Education, education, education

Use this period to look carefully at tree outlines, bark, twigs, berries, catkins and buds. Before long you will find you’ve become an expert on dendrology. Imagine that. ‘Oh, the tree over there? It’s a Horsechestnut. Aesculus hippocastanum, if you will. A large, deciduous synoecious tree….’ So impressive. Although you may lose all your friends.

Plant Eranthis hyemalis

Winter Aconites are one of the earliest flowering delights and a joy to behold in the winter as they shine out in the border. (Hyemalis means winter-flowering.) Part of the Buttercup family, they have bright, sunny yellow flowers surrounded with a ruff of green. They thrive in damp, chalky woodland, flowering before the tree canopy develops to shade the soil below. Give them some leaf mould or well-rotted compost in the spring to keep the tubers happy. Also good in pots/boxes for display now.

Plant Snowdrops

Order quantities of Snowdrops ‘in the green’ (with roots, in leaf, and possibly also in flower) and plant them immediately in groups of 3 – 5. Easier to establish than just the stored bulbs alone. New bulbs (offsets) will grow as the clump gets established, and can eventually be lifted, split into small groups and re-planted. Snowdrops will also spread by seed

Plant Sweet peas

Root trainers are ideal as they encourage a long root run. Broad beans will benefit from this too.

Room for 32 in this little lot. Carefully monitored by the snoozing feline, top right.

These even come with their own lid. Wonderful stuff.

Prune hybrid tea and shrub roses now

Collect seed catalogues

For a future cutting and pasting session. We’ll be planning designs and a sowing calendar for ‘pretties’ and ‘infill’ plantings in our own gardens

Check the veg. plot

Harvest. Enjoy.

Some splendidly frondy Florence Fennel

So, no vegging out. Time moves on. Izzy wizzy, let’s get bizzy and help make the magic happen!

Friday 15th January 2021

Snow? No. Snowdrops? Yes.

Not so much Dry January, as Very Wet January. It’s enough to drive you to drink. Perhaps a calming cup of green tea would be a good idea as we head into another Friday Group zoom session….

…and enjoy some lovely stems and bark arranged in a simple jug. A really seasonal bouquet.

But what’s in the jug?

Plant ident.

Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’

Such a winner in the garden at the moment. It’s a must-have plant in the Garden House Book of Must-Have-Plants. (Quite a big book.) Planted so that it catches the sun’s rays, it will light up the garden for months, especially if grown en masse. Actually, it provides vivid colour even on the greyest of grotty days. Dogwoods are grown primarily for their stem colour, and this one is outstanding. Once the leaves have fallen in autumn, its brilliant flame-coloured stems are revealed. Grow in full sun, ideally with other dogwoods, to contrast with their purple and red stems. Grow from hardwood cuttings once the plant has become established.

Corylus avellana contorta

A lovely winter feature, and a beautiful sight when its bare, curled branches and twigs can be seen against a clear sky. Yellow catkins emerge in late winter, presaging the spring to come. Unfortunately, it’s not so attractive in the summer months. The original Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick was found in hedgerows in the 19th century, and every plant grown since then comes from a graft taken from the original specimen. It can’t be grown from cuttings.

Male and female catkins form on the same tree, and are visible from now. Remove any straight pieces of growth, as these are reversions. The aim is to keep it going curly wurly. (Curly Wurly. Mmmm.) The twigs are good for staking and as decorative embellishments – see the bowl of Hyacinths later – and will basically add a classy air to your house and garden. Maybe try growing one in a largish pot, which can then be moved somewhere more discreet in the summer. Harsh, but fair.

Malus x robusta ‘Red Sentinel’

January. And still the fabulous fruits hang on. The lovely, small, red crab apples look great on this tree in the garden just now. The Malus is a real all-singing-and-dancing performer, with fresh leaves and blossoms emerging in the spring, fruits in the autumn, autumnal colour and then the little apples often remain through the winter months. A true contender for a long-season-of-interest prize.

Salix babylonica ‘Tortuosa

Its Latin name makes it look as if this poor thing was tortured by the Babylonians. Better to think of it as the Twisted or Corkscrew Willow. Can grow (fast) to become a large tree with twisting horizontal branches, so take care unless your property is more estate than garden. The leaves turn a beautiful, buttery yellow in the autumn before falling. Seeing one grown to its full height and potential is a fantastic thing – especially if its intricate shape can be seen silhouetted against a bright blue wintery sky. Can be coppiced, but better to go for a smaller cultivar – like Salix ‘Nancy Saunders’. Easy from hardwood cuttings.

Prunus spinosa

A deciduous tree with personality. The Sloe, or Blackthorn, is a real indicator of spring, flowering in April before its leaves appear. The prolific white blossoms stand out against the dark blackness of the stems, and is a common sight in hedgerows. It has spiky thorns to protect itself from all those who have designs on its Sloe berries. Not generally suitable for small gardens as it can get quite large, but small pieces of it are wonderful to enjoy indoors as they are frequently covered in lichen.

Jobs for the week

Recycle those Christmas wreaths

And create a feast fit for birds of all sorts. They’ll love it, and you’ll love them. At Garden House, even the bird food is presented decoratively

Sort out seeds to sow in January and February

Reading, dreaming, planning and ordering are half the fun. Everything is possible. Nothing is off limits. Some seeds need to go in early, as the plants need a long period of growth – like Rhodochiton atrosanguineus, Cobaea scandens (the cup and saucer plant), Cleome and Nicotiana. Tomatoes and Aubergines too. Hence the need to get things organised sooner rather than later.

Start sowing Sweet Peas

These don’t need heat or light to germinate. Use root trainers or cardboard tubes to encourage long root growth. Put newspaper over the tops to increase warmth, keep in moisture and reduce light. Once there are three sets of leaves, pinch out the top set to prevent the plants from becoming leggy.

Sow chillies

A good range of chilli seeds can be found at The Victorian Nursery. These plants do require a long season of growth, so start now! Good drainage is important, and they germinate best in a heated propagator or on a heated mat.

Keep checking the Hyacinth bulbs

Looking good

Grow Hyacinth bulbs in bowls

And decorate a la mode. Adding Twisted Hazel provides a good support for the flowers and looks simply divine.

Take hardwood cuttings

January is a good time to take hardwood cuttings. There is less to do in the garden, allowing plenty of time to make plants for free. Many deciduous shrubs can be propagated using this method – Sambucus nigra, Hydrangea, Philadelphus, Forsythia, Cornus, Roses – as well as Blackcurrants and Gooseberries amongst others.

No special equipment is necessary. No heat. No propagators. The cuttings can stand outside. Why not have a go?

First, cut your stems from one-year old wood. Pencil-thick.

Here are a variety of Cornus cuttings. Lay them out and then prepare by making a slanted cut at the top of each cutting, above a leaf joint, and then another cut straight across at the bottom, underneath a leaf joint (a dormant bud).

Place a mix of perlite and compost on top of a long rectangle of black plastic and tuck the cuttings in.

I think in Austria they make apple strudel more or less along these lines, except with filo pastry, loads of butter and a spiced apple filling

Roll it all up

Tie the rolls securely and label

Et voila!

Make sure there are drainage holes at the bottom of the plastic rolls. Don’t let them dry out. Now all you have to do is wait patiently.

Cuttings can also be placed in a deep flower pot.

Plan a planting scheme for your garden

Once again, Liz McCullough provided a brilliant outline guide to help us on our way. We were encouraged to think about Specials (the Prima Donnas or star performers); Skeletons (plants that form the green background for year-round enclosure and give shape and form to the space ); Decoratives (Seen at the front of the skeleton, providing structure and a wow factor); Pretties (perennials for flower and foliage interest in spring and summer); and Infill plantings (transitory splashes of colour as the seasons change, invaluable gap-fillers adding extra drama). Design is an intimidating and extensive topic, but we started gently with a brief to design a new bed of 3 m x 2 m, backed by an established deciduous hedge, in semi-shade on chalk soil.

Break-out rooms formed to discuss the possibilities. And we soon found ourselves confronted not only by choices of plant material, but also of colour/ height/ spread / season / style….Oh, heck!

Specials came in as: Malus, Sorbus, Sambucus; Skeletons were: Osmanthus, Sarcococca, Daphne, Skimmia, Viburnum davidii; Decoratives might be: Ferns, Vinca, Euonymous, Grasses for shade, Euphorbias; Pretties: Geranium phaeum ‘Lily Lovell’, Heuchare ‘Autumn Bride’, Astrantias, Anemome ‘Honorine Jobert’, Pulmonarias; Infill planting: Crocus, Cyclamen, Hellebores, Snowdrops, Foxgloves

This was the plan Liz and Bridge came up with:

A daunting topic, but take it easy. Considering just one area of the garden is helpful to start with! There are good online tools available too: Crocus, The Beth Chatto Gardens and Rosie Hardy all provide online plans, advice and suggestions via their websites.

And…. relax. Time for more green tea. Or something.

Maybe that Curly Wurly?

Frosted Euphorbia provides euphoria

It’s the icing on the January cake

Friday 8th Dryveganuary 2021

A cold but light and bright January morning saw Friday Group reassembling virtually, if not virtuously. Sharing the highs and lows of our Christmas and New Year celebrations revealed that certainly more than a couple of tins of Quality Street had disappeared over the period. Many were quite certain that naughty neighbours had taken the liberty of dumping empty bottles into their recycling bins. How else to account for the volume of glass?

So, the highlights. Spending time with, and cooking for, those family members we were able to see in lockdown, yet at the same time relishing the fact that this year most of us actually had less washing up to do as a result of participating in the ‘Lockdown Numbers Game’. Appreciating gifts such as gardening tools, a heated propagator, an insect house, plants, trees, and Raspberry canes. Looking forward to taking part in a garden safari at Knepp Estate in 2021. Getting out into the garden – applying mulch, manure and leaf mould; planting bulbs; starting to clear and prune. Finding new podcasts to enjoy, like Monty Don’s on the Gardeners’ World website:

Ordering seed and plant catalogues (or horticultural porn as it’s known). Buying pots from local nurseries; bird-spotting; watching hyacinth bulbs grow in forcing jars and Amaryllis unfurling indoors.

Walks and reading featured strongly. Books recommended were: The Almanac 2021, by Lia Leendertz; The RHS Propagating Plants Book; The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben; The Overstory, by Richard Powers; Gardens Illustrated magazine; A History of Plants in 50 Fossils, by Paul Kenrick; Natural Garden Style, by Noel Kingsbury; The Garden Jungle, by Dave Goulson; Wilding, by Isabella Tree; My Garden World, by Monty Don; Derek Jarman’s Garden book. Also mentioned was Meera Sodhal’s vegan cookery book East. (N.B. Audio books are available to borrow free of charge via many libraries now.)

On to the next topic: The New Year Quiz. Now. The thing is. We Friday Groupers are team players and definitely prefer to work in groups! So, without further ado, we’ll move swiftly on to the –

Plant Ident.

The first of the year. We looked at what’s performing in the garden at Garden House right now.

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata

One of the most beautifully scented shrubs you will find. Expensive, because it’s not the easiest to propagate, but so worth it at this time of year. Evergreen, with gold margins, the glossy, lanceolate leaves provide a lift to winter borders. The small, pale pink flowers emerge from dark magenta buds – and their fragrance is divine. Take a sprig into the house to keep the party going. Can eventually reach 1.5 m x 1.5 m. Full sun or partial shade.

Sarcococca confusa

Another winter-flowering, hardy, evergreen shrub. It will grow in sun but is best in shady conditions, making it an extremely useful addition to a planting scheme list. The lance-shaped leaves are dark green, whilst its small flowers are pure white, and deliciously scented. Long-lasting, shiny black berries follow. Grows easily in most types of soil, to around 1.5 m.

Lavandula x intermedia

The soft silvery-grey leaves of this Lavender stand out on a frosty winter’s morning and shimmer in the early light. Beautiful when snipped and brought into the house as part of a small bouquet, as the leaves are so aromatic. The Intermedia group tend to grow larger than other Lavendula varieties and produce more flower spikes. They bloom later than their colleagues and the flowers last through to late summer

Helleborus argutifolia

Much loved by Bridge, this variety has strikingly architectural foliage and structure. Grows to around 45 cms, it has quite solid, robust stems, and produces bright lime-green flowers. The leaves are a lovely soft blue- green with spiny, serrated edges. Essential in the winter garden, and performs well in a shady border.

Eleagnus x ebbingei ‘Gilt Edge’

Seen everywhere, and therefore probably not appreciated as much as it should be. (It’s been awarded an A.G.M. after all.) An evergreen shrub, whose glossy dark green leaves have golden splashes and margins. In the autumn it produces tiny, almost invisible, silvery-white flowers which have an intoxicating fragrance – followed by small red fruit. It’s hardy, tough and is often used by landscapers in urban locations, like supermarket car parks. Drought resistant, it can be used for screening, as a hedge or trained against a wall.

Iris unguicularis

A striking shot of blue, this winter-flowering iris is a tough cookie, appearing in the coldest months of the year. Evergreen, grass-like leaves contrast with clear blue flowers. The fall petals are marked with white and deep yellow. Known as the Algerian Iris, it is a vigorous, rhizomatous perennial – and is a delight to cut and enjoy in a small vase indoors.

Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’

The deciduous Dogwood comes into its own in the winter months when the small oval leaves fall and its bare stems are lit up by the sun. Planted en masse, the effect can be breathtaking – especially when reflected in nearby pools of water or offset by groups of the white trunks of Betula utilis Jacquemontii and dark evergreens. This variety is especially attractive, and lives up to its cultivar name. Best grown in full sun and moist soil, once it has become established, it should be pruned hard back in March and then mulched.

In our gardens

In small groups, we discussed those plants which are currently giving us pleasure at home. Huge variety, of course, but as an example, one trio came up with: Malus ‘Red Sentinel’; Corylus contorta; Rosmarinus officinalis; Laurus nobilis; Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’; Miscanthus zebrinus; Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’; Trachelospermum jasminoides. In fluent Latin too.

Fun to cut some pieces and arrange individually in small jars, or as one mammoth display.

Jobs for the week (It’s a long list!)

Check for dead, diseased and damaged wood on deciduous shrubs

Cut this out and get rid of it.

Prune Wisteria back to four buds from the main stem

If you want to keep your Wisteria in check and encourage floriferous flowering later in the year, now is the time to prune.

And cut back other vigorous climbers such as Vitis coignetiae to maintain shape and structure

Prune Climbing and Hybrid Tea Roses at the end of the month

Cut back to an outward-facing bud and remove any crossing or diseased branches. They can be cut hard as they are as tough as old boots. Feed them and add a mulch of delicious compost/well-rotted manure. They’ll love it and you will reap the benefits in the summer.

Keep an eye on forced bulbs

You can never have too many

Remove old leaves on Hellebores

This will help to expose the flowers, gives them air and space and helps to prevent blackspot. Leave the fresh new foliage to grow. A good source of Hellebores is the Twelve Nunns Nursery, selling Harvington Hybrids.

Check plants to ensure they are not dying from being left standing in water. This may cause rot to occur and that would be rotten.

Plant fruit trees

And prune Apples and Pears, but never more than by a third.

Force established Rhubarb plants

Excluding light will result in delicious, long, pink stems. So, if you have been given new terracotta Rhubarb forcers for Christmas, now is the time to deploy them. Dead posh, and will arouse deep envy in all and sundry #iwantoneofthose. The downside is: you may have to mount a 24 hour guard to prevent theft. The upside is: rhubarb crumble. And custard.

Sow Sweet Peas

They don’t need light to germinate, so can be covered by a sheet of newspaper to keep warmth in and light out. Germination in 10-12 days.

Sow seeds of plants which require a long season of growth

These will include: Cleome, Iceland Poppies, Cobaea scandens, Antirrhinum, Chillies, Nicotiana. They will need to be sown on heat. Get those electric propagators plugged in and ready for action.

Sow vegetable seeds under glass

Try hardy Broad Beans, Leeks, Spinach, Peas, Swiss Chard

Plant deciduous hedging now

Take hardwood cuttings of shrubs

Deadhead plants in pots

Like Pansies. This will prevent them from going to seed, encourage more flowers and prolong your display

Potatoes can be placed on a windowsill to chit

Clean pots, seed trays and greenhouses

What do you mean, you’ve got other things to do? Get on with it.

Feed the birds

This little lot will cost more than tuppence a bag, but it is one of the most important things you can do for wildlife at this time of year.

A variety of wildlife will be attracted to the feast

But it’s the birds we really want to feed…

Remember to ensure there is also a supply of drinking water for them to access – check it hasn’t frozen over.

Sedum spathulifolium ‘Purpureum’ AGM, looking jewel-like and gorgeously frosted in an alpine sink at Garden House. Proof that it can tolerate the cold.

But it doesn’t like a soggy bottom

Who does?

A weekly account of the activities of the Friday Gardening Group at the Garden House in Brighton