Friday 29th March 2019

Nearly a quarter of the way through the year.  How did that happen?


The first of the cultivated tulips are opening up.  Exciting times and exciting colours!

Plant ident. 

Prunus serrulata ‘Tai-haku’


The little vase of exquisite blossom belies the fact that, at the moment, the great white cherry – a snowstorm of a tree – is dominating the top garden at Garden House.

The pure white flowers emerge from pink buds on this well-shaped tree and are breathtaking seen against blue skies.  The young leaves are bronze-red in colour, later turning green and then colouring to yellow/orange in the autumn .  It’s deciduous, grows pretty much on any well-drained soil and has an A.G.M.  (no, not an Annual General Meeting, but an Award of Garden Merit, from the R.H.S.).  Will reach to around 6 metres in height, and its spread can be even wider.  This cherry tree was thought to be extinct (even in Japan) until a specimen was discovered in a Sussex garden in the 1920s by Collingwood ‘Cherry’ Ingram.  All ‘Tai-hakus’ are descended from that one specimen.


Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’

A perennial bulb, originally from Turkey, which basks happily in hot, dry situations.  Beautiful lilac petals surround a yolk-yellow centre.  Plant 10-15 cms deep in November to enjoy in March/April.  For the outlay, the returns are exceptional.


Erysimum ‘Old School’


A short-lived perennial wallflower.  Prefers hot and dry locations – definitely not one for wet soils.  Bi-coloured.  Lovely in planting schemes with tulips.  We know Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’ best of all, but tempting new cultivars now appear regularly – this being one of them.

Leocojum vernum ‘Snowflake’ 


Go to Highdown Gardens between Ferring and Goring to see these en masse.  They seem to like chalky/acidic soils, but will grow elsewhere.  Often used in wildflower/woodland planting schemes as they naturalise freely, they can also be successfully grown in bog gardens and near ponds.  Rather like a giant snowdrop, 2 – 6 large white bells are borne above a stem of around 30 cms. and are rimmed with delicate green markings.

Clematis armandii


This is flowering away like mad at the moment in the top garden at Garden House.  Its glossy, evergeen leaves contrast well with a profusion of large, scented white flowers which appear in early – mid spring.  Enjoys a warm aspect – like a south or south-west facing wall or trellis – with a cool root run, and needs something to scramble up or over.  This clematis falls into Pruning Group 1, which means that it flowers on shoots produced in the previous year and really only needs minimal pruning after flowering.  However, the clematis in this group (alpinas, cirrhosas, montanas etc.) can be quite vigorous and may need to be cut firmly back from time to time, to keep them in shape and under control.

And talking of keeping things under control….

Jobs for the week:

  • Plant clematis.  Check to see which of the three pruning categories they fall into, as this will dictate how they should be treated.  It depends on the time of year when the clematis flowers and the age of the flowering wood.

Pruning Group 1: they flower early in the year and should be pruned immediately after that in mid to late spring.  Pruning Group 2:  these are large flowered hybrids which flower in early summer, around May/June. They should be pruned in early spring back to a strong pair of emergent green buds and after the first flush of flowers in the summer.  A few weaker stems can be cut right back to the ground.  Pruning Group 3: the late summer performers, flowering on the current year’s growth.  Includes viticellas, tanguticas, and herbaceous clematis.  Cut hard back in February, when the buds are starting to grow, to about 30 – 45 cms from the ground.  New basal shoots will appear.

Clematis like to have their roots kept cool and will benefit from weekly watering and feeding throughout the season.  Planting deeply helps to prevent clematis wilt, and a layer of horticultural grit around a new planting should deter those hungry, slimy things.


The clematis planters

  • Plant libertias in terracotta urns


  • Continue to make squirrel-deterrent birch structures.

Taking liberties with our libertias, indeed!  The cheek of it.


Grit as well.  That should do the trick.

  • Check through plants in pots; weed; add compost; water


Weeds in the black trug – or you’ll end up on compost heap duty next week.

  • Little Dixter prettification


  • Work on the herb bed

Clip the santolina hedge.  Weed, feed, water.


  • Pot up plants for growing on: hemerocallis, astrantias and red hot pokers


Not forgetting to label them. (As if!)

  • Re-pot young cut flower plants.  Pinch out and cut back.  

These will go in to replace the tulips after the latter have flowered



And water!

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Another job well done

  • Work in the Sunken Garden


Weed; plant anemones and the (already hardened off) sweet peas

  • Seed sowing and pricking out. 


Use the compost in the bin.  It’s in there somewhere.




Time for a break and cake under the great white cherry


Cake? Hmmm…if I hang around long enough, maybe…


Mmmm.  Indeed there are













Friday 22nd March 2019


Spring is sprung, the days are lengthening and plants are getting on with the business of growing.  In the garden at Garden House, it’s spring with zing!  Purple hyacinths amongst the rhubarb above, and euphorbias below.


And Friday Group have to get on with the business of the Plant Ident.

Tulipa sylvestris


A firm favourite of Bridge’s – the wild or woodland tulip comes into flower earlier than any other tulip.  It naturalises easily and can be relied upon to return every year.  The yellow flowers are scented and produced in mid to late spring.  For such inexpensive items, the small, shiny bulbs of this species tulip give a disproportionate amount of pleasure.  Plant in the autumn in woodland areas, or in troughs or borders, 8-10 cms deep and about 15 cms apart.

Primula denticulata


Drumstick primulas love moist conditions and prefer a neutral to acidic soil.  They flower in spring and can be white, pink, mauve or purple, the flower heads borne on long stems above the leaves.  The dense, spherical heads make quite a statement, especially where a number of plants are grown together.  Ideal for bog gardens or in a moist soil which doesn’t dry out in the summer.  They can be propagated by division after flowering, or from root cuttings taken in the winter (keep in a cool shady place until the cuttings take.)  Their roots are a source of gastronomic delight for vine weevil grubs – or, as we refer to them, ‘the eevils’.

Fritillaria meleagris


The dramatically named snake’s head fritillary has an almost art deco vibe to it, with its white or purple chequered, nodding flower heads.  Flowering in April/May, it likes moist soil and a sunny or partially shaded aspect.  Perfect for a woodland or wildflower garden.  Plant bulbs in the autumn, 10-12 cms deep.

Kerria japonica ‘Golden Guinea’


In the winter, the lovely green stems of kerrias stand out.  This early, single-flowered variety is particularly attractive – Bridge prefers it to the more common double-flowered ‘Pleniflora’ type. It should be pruned after flowering, when one in three stems needs to be cut back to ground level.  This keeps the shrub in shape, encourages the growth of strong new stems and prolongs its life.



Hellebores are wonderful perennials which can be enjoyed over several months from late winter to early spring.  Some are grown for their elegant flowers, whilst others, like Helleborus argutifolius,  are appreciated more for their evergreen, architectural foliage – although their refined pale-green flowers are delightful too.  These days a wide variety of cultivars are available in colours varying from purple/black through to red, cream, yellow and white fringed with pink.  The problem is in choosing which ones to have… never mind the fact that they can also be single-flowered, semi-double and double.  They grow best in rich, well-drained soil in part shade with some sun and love a dressing of leaf mould in the autumn.  Display flower heads floating in a bowl for complete neighbour envy frenzy.

Jobs for the week:

  • Continue to pot on last year’s dahlia tubers.  Label and water.  


Does Graham know that you’ve got his crate of 1977 vintage port?

  • Work on the “yellow bed”; weed and tidy up; plant grasses to add interest.


Euphoric amongst the euphorbias


They just make you smile.

  • Map out the plants going into the new border 

This needs an expert on the job.  Thank goodness we’ve got one.

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She knows what she’s doing


Goodness!  That’s a lot of plants to get in…..

Well, it’s a metaphor for life, really.  One step at a time.




And this is the map of where they all are in the border.

Commit to memory.  We’ll be tested on these.

  • Continue planting up the new herbaceous border.

Hopefully, there should be at least three of everything.  Including the gardeners.


Exactly.  Four people, but only three gardeners.  That one in the background is only posing.  Front left is the mapping expert.

  • Sort plants under the apple tree.  Re-pot / add compost as necessary

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  • Seed sowing in the potting shed.

Put newly-sown pots or trays on the heating mat.  As soon as the seeds germinate, these should be removed from the mat but still kept under cover to protect from frost.  This has the useful effect of slowing the growth of the seedlings.  These ones came through very quickly –


  • In the greenhouse

Prepare the border for planting.  Cut any remaining salad.  This is a good time of year to sow mixed salad seeds / mizuna / rocket / mustard / pea shoots. The cut and come again varieties are very tasty.


  • Prune cornus (dogwood) and rubus (ornamental bramble) shrubs where established. 

Cutting the stems right back will encourage new growth – and the new stems will have the strong colour which provides winter interest.   If  cornus and rubus plants have only recently been planted, leave them for a couple of years.  Some varieties are not very robust (e.g. ‘Midwinter Fire’), so only the oldest stems should be taken out along with a few others – say one in every three shoots altogether.  You can try taking cuttings from the pruned material.


  • Watering

Don’t forget to water all plants when planted or potted on.  Use rainwater from the water butts, and please refill watering cans ready for the next person to use.  The situation will be closely monitored…..



Whilst this, is exquisite….

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Friday 15th March

A windy, drizzly day but we didn’t let that stop us from getting outside and enjoying the garden.9dc7ae8c-52b4-4602-a193-c6b05c811152.jpg

We started off the morning by having an in-depth discussion about the cultivation of Dahlias.

Dahlias are tender perennials/root tubers (not stem tubers, eg. potatoes).  They were first introduced into Europe from Mexico in 1791 and are thought to have been named after the Swedish botanist Anders (Andreas) Dahl.  All the energy for the growing season is stored in the tuber and they are often dug up and taken into a frost-free environment in order to preserve them for the following year.  However, over the last couple of years we have left many of our dahlias in the ground, protecting them with a good layer of mulch.  We have found that this produces fatter tubers and stronger, bigger plants.  (When we want to take up tubers in order to change displays the following year, we leave digging them up until the first frost).

The tubers should be planted up in pots in mid spring in a gritty mix of compost, just proud of the soil, about a couple of centimetres away from the rim of the pot (to enable watering).  Make sure the tubers are firm, not squidgy or shrivelled- somethimes the tubers dry out or rot off whilst they are in storage.  Place in a light, frost-free place and watch out for the first shoots to emerge when you can take cuttings if you wish.

Taking cuttings from a dahlia tuber – With a small sharp knife, remove the shoot growing from the collar of the tuber, making sure there is a small piece of tuber attached.  Plant shoots in a pot filled with gritty compost (to ensure good drainage) at the edge of the pot, encouraging  good root growth and water well morning and evening.  Dahlias grow fast and these shoots will make good-sized plants in one growing season.

When it is time to plant them outside, add lots of well-rotted manure and keep them fed (every couple of weeks) and well-watered.  Remember to stake them early on and protect them from slugs and snails!  Once the dahlias have grown four pairs of leaves, pinch out the tip above the third pair to encourage bushier plants.  Dead head regularly and you will be rewarded all summer long with blooms right up to the first frosts.

Richard told us about his visit to Lake Constance in Germany and the botanical garden on Mainau, an island in the middle of the lake.  Every year, thousands of dahlias are planted which make a stunning display.

Plants looking good in the garden at the moment:

Ficaria verna ‘Brazen Hussy’ or lesser celandine ‘Brazen Hussy’


Part of the ranunculaceae family, this compact tuber rooted perennial has dark, heart-shaped, blackish-bronze leaves with bright yellow flowers in early spring.  It is summer dormant, the flowers and foliage disappearing completely.  It grows well in partial or full shade in moist, humus-rich soil.  Divide or remove the basal bulbils in the spring or autumn to make new plants.

Chionodoxa luciliae or Glory of the Snow


Similar to Scillas, these little blue flowers are one of the first bulbs to bloom in spring.  They naturalise easily and do well under deciduous trees where they flower before the leaf canopy creates shade.  Plant in a sunny spot in well-drained soil and leave cutting back the plants until the foliage has died back, enabling them to self-seed.

Chiniodoxa forbesii ‘Pink Giant’ is another attractive cultivar.


Both hail from the easterm Mediterranean regions of Turkey and Cyprus.

Ribes speciosum or Californian fuchsia

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This medium-sized deciduous shrub has spiny, bristly stems with small, glossy, oval-shaped leaves and drooping, crimson, fuchsia-like flowers in late spring.  It looks good against a sunny wall and benefits from being sheltered and away from exposed sites.  It should be planted in fertile, well-drained soil and would benefit from the old wood being pruned out after flowering.  The new shoots may then be trained along wires on the wall.  It originates from the west coast of America and was thought to be pollinated by hummingbirds.  It arrived here on HMS Blossom back in 1828, brought back by a Mr. Collie who as well as being a naturalist was also a surgeon.  A lovely example can be seen at West Dene near Chichester.

Pulmonaria officinalis or common lungwort

This semi-evergreen perennial grows to 30cm with wide, spotted greeny-white leaves. Blooming from the top down, the pink flowers turn blue when they have been pollinated.  They like moist, humus-rich soil in partial shade and the leaves should be cut back after flowering to encourage growth of fresh foliage over the summer.  P. ‘Blue Ensign’ and P. ‘Saccharata’ are notable cultivars (see below).



Forget-me-nots, brunnera, anchusa and borage are all related to pulmonarias

According to the Doctrine of Signatures written during the 1600’s and arising from folk medicine dating from the Middle Ages, plants looking like parts of the body could be used for treating illnesses of these body parts.  In this case, the blotchy leaves of the Pulmonaria were said to reassemble lungs and so were used for treating lung disease.

Jobs this week:

Despite the miserable weather, we were busy in the garden looking ahead and preparing for the summer to come:

  • Sowing seeds in the potting shed.


We’re taking inspiration from Sarah Raven’s The Bold and Brilliant Garden and The Cutting Garden which includes a plan for a small cutting garden plot.  Today we were sowing Ricinus communis ‘Carmencita’ and annual Dahlia ‘Bishops Children’.  Also sunflowers and nasturtiums for the dahlia bed.

  • Bringing dahlias out of the summerhouse and potting them up for storage in the greenhouse.


  • Weeding the new Tulip Bed.


  • Weeding under the apple tree at the bottom of the garden and preparing sedums to plant later.
  • Checking the auriculas in the auricula theatre in the Top Garden, checking for vine weevils and repotting.
  • Sorting out Little Dixter


  • Replanting strawberries in wine boxes and giving them a good feed.


  • Checking the hanging baskets containing succulents, adding plants and topping up with moss and grit where necessary.


  • Sorting out seedlings in the greenhouse and harvesting winter salad leaves.



Let’s hope for some sunshine next week!

Friday 8th March 2019


8th March and our first official opening of the year – for The National Gardens Scheme.  Everything in the garden is lovely – and, more importantly, not under snow as it was last year.

But, before we welcome guests in, there’s time to look at what is in flower in the garden and to do a plant ident.  Useful if you get asked a tricky question by a knowledgeable visitor.


All this and so much more – daffodils, Clematis armandii, Pulmonaria officinalis, Chaenomeles japonica (Japanese quince), burgundy and purple hyacinths, Ribes speciosa (flowering currant)……the list goes on and on.


Artist at work

Back in the Garden Room, there were several plants to be identified.

Viola odorata


A perennial violet, growing from underground rhizomes; it has heart-shaped leaves and five-petalled flowers in late winter/early spring which are scented, and either white or violet in colour.  Deadheading prolongs the flowering period.  Grows best on the edges of woodland in leaf litter or in a shady place in the garden because, like the British, it needs winter sun but can’t cope with the fierce heat of summer.  These plants are “stoloniferous”, which means that they spread via above-ground shoots called “stolons”.  They were especially popular in the Victorian period and over the years their scent has been widely used in the manufacture of perfumes.

Muscari armeniacum ‘Big Smile’ 


Grape hyacinths are delightful, perennial, bulbous plants which flower in spring.  There are many different types – often, but not always, blue in colour – and they form spikes of small bell-shaped flowers.   They flourish in hot, dry conditions.  Plant in early autumn and don’t feed – they are easy to grow, provided the soil is well-drained.  An unusual form is Muscari macrocarpum ‘Golden Fragrance’,  which is golden yellow in colour with a contrasting splash of purple on the upper flowers.  Good in rockeries or containers, it has, as the name implies, a lovely scent.  Maybe of bananas?


Commonly known as spurge, this is the biggest genus of plants in the world.  They are very diverse in character, varying from the Christmas poinsettia to cacti, shrubs and trees.  Their milky sap is poisonous and an irritant to skin , so care must be taken in handling them.  There are a large number of excellent euphorbias useful for planting in the garden – they are drought tolerant, easy to manage and provide long periods of interest.  Don’t be without one, but keep your gardening gloves on.

Here is a small selection, starting with –

Euphorbia myrsinites


This perennial is the myrtle spurge, and is a succulent form of the species.  The glaucous blue-green leaves grow in a spiral around trailing stems and lime-green bracts form in the spring.  Good in dry conditions such as rockeries.

Euphorbia mellifera – aka honey spurge


This magnificent creature makes an impressive statement in the garden, growing to around 2 x 2 metres.  It is an evergreen, with bright green leaves which have a pale vein running down the centre.  Tiny flowers emerge in late spring which, although not particularly beautiful in themselves, do smell deliciously of honey.  Fact.

Euphorbia characias ssp wulfenii


Another no-brainer.  An erect, branching shrub, apparently much loved by Gertrude Jekyll, this is another good architectural plant.  Cut back stems to the base once they have flowered, as this will encourage the growth of new shoots.  Nowadays there are many different garden cultivars available, such as ‘Black Pearl’, ‘John Tomlinson’ and ‘Lambrook Gold’.  A good place to see them (apart from Garden House, of course) is at Beth Chatto’s garden in Essex.

Euphorbia oblongata

Enthusiastically recommended as worth growing as a long-lasting foliage plant in the garden and also as an annual cut flower.  It is actually a short-lived perennial, but is probably best grown as an annual from seed every year.  Fabulous chartreuse bracts.

Jobs for the week:

  • In the greenhouse – tidy and sort out plants.  Cut remaining salad.


  • Pot the antirrhinums on into larger pots.  They may need a tiny amount of feed….



Antirienumm, Auntie Rynum, Anteriori…… Honestly, it would be easier to write ‘Snapdragon’ on the labels.

  • Prick out leek seedlings into paper pots.

Leave in greenhouse to get established – later the whole pot can be planted out into the raised beds.  Ecologically friendly, environmentally friendly, altogether – just friendly.


Sleek leeks


More pots, please!


Coming up

  • Make a seasonal wreath for the entrance gate. 

Use willow, Prunus spinosa (we know it as blackthorn or sloe) and forage decorative ornamentation from winter/early spring flowers.

From this…..P1060753.JPG

to this!


Sensationally seasonal


  • Cut back the pelargoniums which have been overwintering in the Summer House.  Reduce plants by two-thirds and pot on in fresh compost.


  • Cut back ferns in the bed under the apple tree outside the Garden Room. 
  • Plant out white hyacinths.
  • Exterminate the celandine.  

And good luck with that.  Use a Dalek if necessary.


Oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my darling celandine…..


Thou are lost and gone forever…….


Oh blast!  There’s another one.  Bring in the Dalek.

  • Weed the plants in pots at the back of the garden.  Re-pot with new compost as necessary.  They are heading for the recently refurbished bed (with the new path going through it).

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  • Plant dianthus in front of the new vegetable (raised) beds.  Weed and add compost to the raised beds

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That girl gets everywhere…..

  • Sow seeds in the potting shed.  Use 3-inch pots.  Cover seeds lightly with compost or vermiculite.  Place in propagator.


This hardy type is normally seen taming the compost heap.


Look, clean hands and everything.

Plants lined up ready for sale


And ready to sell


It’s all very tempting



Now for the Garden Inspection.


It’s a serious business

Let’s hope everything’s up to scratch

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Those cakes definitely are.

And £700.00 was raised for charities supported by the N.G.S.










Friday 1st March 2019


The fine weather may have left us for a short while, but we are stalwart types here at Friday Group and not at all weedy.  At least, we weren’t until Sara did the plant ident. for us this week – all about weeds.  They may just be plants in the wrong place for some – but for many of us they are the bane of our lives.

Pentaglottis sempervirens


Alkanet, in the Boraginaceae family, is sometimes confused with borage or comfrey.  It has bright blue flowers, green bristly leaves and grows (too well) in damp, shady places. The leaves have little white dots on them which is how you can distinguish the plant from its better-behaved cousins.  Traditionally, its roots were used as a red dye – nowadays it is more notable for the fact that you can’t get rid of the wretched thing once you’ve got it.

Borago officinalis


Borage is an annual herb and will self seed in sun or partial shade in most well-drained soils.  The leaves can be used to make a cooling cucumber-flavoured tea, whilst the vivid blue flowers can be used in summer drinks.  Put flowers into an ice cube tray, fill tray with water and freeze.  Serve Pimms with decorative ice cubes and a breezy air of nonchalance.

Symphytum officinale


Comfrey is nature’s way of producing fertiliser for the garden, being rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.  It spreads through its vigorous root system and is hard to get rid of once in a garden.  However, provided it is kept under control, it does produce attractive flowers (white, blue or purple/pink) and its leaves can be used to make an excellent organic liquid feed.  Fill a bucket with water and pack in about ) 0.5 kg of comfrey leaves to 7.5 litres of water.  Cover and leave for about four weeks after which your lovely, smelly (its organic!), black/brown “comfrey tea” will be ready to use as a liquid feed.  You don’t have to dilute this.  Comfrey leaves can also be added to the compost heap.

The plant has traditionally been used for its healing, medicinal properties – as indicated by its traditional name of “knitbone”.

We then went on to play a game of:

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This is set to be a serious commercial success; Sara is patenting the idea as you read.

Ranunculus ficaria


Lesser celandine is a bright, cheerful, yellow perennial herb from the buttercup family.  It loves damp places and woods and is a source of nectar for insects in the early part of the year.  However, its root tubers are invasive and most gardeners view it as a weed.  An attractive cultivar exists called Ficaria verna ‘Brazen Hussy’ with deep black/bronze leaves.  Worth growing for the name alone!

Arum maculatum 


This shade-loving, tuberous perennial, with large arrow-shaped leaves, is also known as “lords-and-ladies” or “cuckoo pint”.  Its attractive berries turn a vivid orange/red in the autumn, but it self-seeds with ease, so it can become less of a plant and more of a weed as far as gardeners are concerned.  Again, a more desirable cultivar is available, Arum italicum ‘Pictum’, which has marbled, white-veined leaves, although even that one needs watching.


Campanula poscharskyana


The Serbian bellflower won a vote of confidence, qualifying as not a weed in our books, even though it too can become invasive.  We were beguiled by its diminutive stature and delicate bell-shaped, purple/blue flowers.  We’re getting soft.

Jobs for the week:

  • Prepare the garden to impress visitors next Friday when it opens for the National Gardens Scheme.  11.30 – 3.30.  It will be wonderful.  Bring friends.  Eat cake.


  • Rake and weed the borders.  Repeat


  •  And repeat 


  Note the fine attention to detail


What’s happening?


Coming through!

  • Meticulous weeding now saves headaches later












  • Sow chilli and tomato seeds; label


A masterclass in seed sowing.  Watch and learn


It’s a hot bed in there

  • Pot on stipas and prick out the chard seedlings











Happy in her work

  • Prune the clematis in the sunken garden; cut down to second buds 




Someone’s keeping a watchful eye on things

  • Replant terracotta urns with golden libertias.  Weave a birch structure for decorative delight and to deter varmints












Serious sculpture going on here, folks











What’s the last date for Turner Prize admissions?

  • And now.  Turning to the engine of the garden: sort and tidy the compost heap.  Sounds innocuous enough, but people hide when this job is being given out


She’s really getting on top of it.


Magnificent.  Queen of the Heap.


It’s a work of art, really, isn’t it?

As is Team Friday Group.






Friday 15th February


At last a dry day and a bit of sunshine to brighten up the winter garden.  It really feels like Spring is on its way with the early Spring bulbs just beginning to emerge to produce a beautiful tapestry of colour. (All the backache of those countless Autumn Fridays really was worthwhile as we are able to admire the fruits of our labour!).

Continuing the theme, Julia and Clare talked about some of the bulbs we can be planting in the garden over the next couple of months for Summer and Autumn flowering displays.

The term “bulb” refers to all bulbous flowering plants which include corms, rhizomes, tubers and true bulbs.  All bulbous plants have a part of the plant which is swollen into a food storage organ.   This enables the plant to survive when dormant or when conditions are unsuitable for growing.

Corms eg. Crocosmia ‘George Davison’

Crocosmia is a small genus of flowering plants in the Iradaceae (Iris) family and its bulb is an example of a corm. It is also known as Montbretia in the UK or Coppertops in the USA and is a perennial with branching heads of flowers and sword shaped leaves. Originally from the grasslands of Southern and Eastern Africa they were introduced to the UK 125 years ago.  C. ‘George Davison’ is a clump-forming perennial with branching stems carrying light orange-yellow flowers from orange buds.

They grow from a corm which is a swollen stem base, with the new corm growing on top of the old one, taking energy from this year’s foliage. Corms have a basal plate and one or more growing points at the tip and have no rings when cut in half.

They should be planted in spring when all danger of frosts has gone.  Plant with the pointy end up and water weekly.  Spent flowers should be removed by cutting back the whole stem to where the leaves are and they should flower for five to eight weeks. They flower best in full sun or partial shade, in fertile humus-rich well drained soil and do not like hot dry sites.

There are many varieties available which vary widely in height and colour: Jackanapes and Canary Bird can be as small as 69cm or 24 inches whilst Lucifer and Columbus can reach 120 cm or 48 inches.

Other bulbs grown from corms are gladiolus, crocus and freesia.

Rhizomes – eg. Canna ‘Wyoming’

Canna Lilies grow from rhizomes or underground stems which are swollen and lie almost horizontally.   C. ‘Wyoming’ is a strong growing plant with an erect stem, deep bronze ovate leaves and rich orange flowers  Growing to almost 1m and blooming from mid summer through to early autumn, it adds good structure to the garden and adds a tropical, exotic look to displays. It also looks good in containers.  This has been awarded a RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM).


For best results, plant in full sun in a sheltered spot, (4 inches deep) in humus-rich but well drained, moist soil. (The rhizome should be planted with the tips facing up).  Keep dead-heading regularly to encourage new blooms and an addition of a good mulch would benefit by keeping down the weeds and conserving moisture.

For those of you with a heated greenhouse, it can be started off in late March planted in a 20cm pot with its young shoots exposed.  It should be watered lightly and then moved to an unheated greenhouse in April to harden off until the danger of frost has passed.

Tubers – eg. Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ and Anemona coronaria De Caen Group

Dahlias are tubers which are irregularly -shapped underground storage organs for nutrients, providing energy for the plant throughout the growing season.  They are tender perennials and so will require protection during the winter months.

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ is one of the most well know dahlias and was bred in Cardiff in  1924 by Fred Treseder for the then Bishop of Llandaff, going on to be awarded a RHS AGM in 1928.  It has dark blackish-red stems and foliage with semi-double bright red flowers and will flower from June through to September/October.  It grows to approx 1m.



The tubers should be firm and plump when planting and so discard any that are shrivelled or soft.   In April they can be planted in pots in a mixture of good potting compost and well rotted manure and kept under cover in the greenhouse until all danger of frosts has passed (usually in May).  They can then be brought out of the greenhouse and either left in their pots (in which case they would benefit from a good feed) or planted deeply in the open garden in a sunny spot.  They are greedy and so will need regular watering and feeding over the growing season.  Although they like a humus-rich soil, they also like good drainage and so an addition of horticultural grit when planting is good for heavy soils.  It is a good idea to stake them when planting.

Anemone coronaria (also known as windflowers, poppy anemones and Spanish marigolds and are native to the Mediterranean region) are tuberous herbaceous perennials growing to 40cm, blooming from April to June. The De Caen Group have finely-dissected, palmate leaves and red, blue/violet or white flowers.  They are valued by florists as they can be available nearly all year round.  Gardeners can achieve a similar long season of flowering by planting the corms during different seasons, eg. April for June and in June for September flowering.  They can be lifted after flowering but if left in the soil, they will naturalise to flower annually during the spring.



The hard black corms are very different from dahlia tubers and often benefit from soaking in a bowl of tepid water before planting.  This is said to encourage them to sprout faster and develop a good network of roots. They should then be planted in full sun or partial shade in moist, well-drained soil and mulched with well-rotted manure or compost.

True bulbs – eg. Nerine bowdenii ‘Ostara’ 

True bulbs are formed from swollen leaf bases and are made up of concentric rings of scales attached to a basal plate. (Some have a dry protective layer or skin, eg. daffodils and tulips).

Nerine, commonly known as the Guernsey or Jersey Lily is a species of flowering plant in the Amaryllidaceae family of herbaceous perennials such as daffodils and snowdrops.  Nerines are summer dormant perennial bulbs and have six narrow petals and prominent stamens.  There are 30 species although only a couple are hardy outdoors in the UK –  bowdenii and undulate. All are native to South Africa, particularly the Drakensberg mountains and were introduced in 1903 by Cornish Bowden, hence the name.   They are sometimes known as Guernsey Lilly as Nerine sarniensis became naturalised when a ship from Japan carrying the bulbs was wrecked on the coast of Guernsey – hence the name Guernsey Lilly.

Nerine bowdenii are the easiest to grow and can be planted outdoors or in a sunny sheltered position from autumn through to early spring.  Disappointingly, flowering is often poor in their first year.   They are fussy plants – disliking shade and do not compete well with other plants.  They dislike being moved and actually flower better when the bulbs become congested.  Leaves appear in the spring and then die down in summer, going on to flower in autumn. They are great additions to any garden as they extend the flowering season from September into November.

Nerine bowdenii ‘Ostara’ grow to 50cm high and have rich green strappy leaves which die away ro reveal erect stems bearing clusters of pale pink lily-like flowers.


Jobs this week:

Pruning was the order of the day this week as we sought to control and tidy before things really start growing.

  • Pruning the honeysuckle and rose over the arch near the potting shed.


  • Pruning the two apple trees, particularly looking out for water shoots – this is where a branch has been pruned previously and several whip-like shoots or “water sprouts” have grown up in its place.


  • Constructing a support out of bamboo canes for the cherry tree at the back of the greenhouse.


  • Securing down the old moss rose shoots and tying up Rosa ‘William Lobb’


  • Pruning and tying in Rosa ‘Albertine’ and Clematis ‘Alba Luxurians’.
  • Pruning the red and black currants along with the quince tree to open up the garden and reduce the risk of disease.


  • Potting on the chard and stipa in the greenhouse.


So good to be outside again and fingers crossed winter is on its way out…..




Friday 8th February 2019

No snow this week, but biting cold wind and grey drippy skies.


Our plant ident. this Friday was done by Liz (thank you, Liz), who presented us with a series of grasses, rushes and sedges.  Useful in the garden in so many ways: giving structure and interest throughout the year; good in borders and pots; providers of sensational sensory encounters (sound, movement, light, texture); attractive to wildlife; stabilising; giving continuity and unification to planting schemes. Why not give them a try?

Phragmites australis


The common reed belongs to the Poaceae family.  Not really suitable for most gardens, unless you live on An Estate as opposed to an estate.  They are often seen in areas of wetland across the U.K., where extensive golden-brown reed beds are a haven for wildlife, particularly birds.  Growing from 2 – 4 metres tall, the reeds have hollow stems which grow from a system of spreading rhizomes, and produce long, feathery, purple plumes.  They are still harvested for thatching – especially in the Norfolk Broads – and scientists are also interested in the possibility of using reed beds as water filters.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’


A compact, deciduous, perennial grass with long, narrow, green blades finely edged in creamy white.  It grows to a height of about 1.2 metres and its elegant form adds height, movement and interest to borders.  In the autumn it produces reddish pink panicles of flowers which gradually bleach through the winter.  Cut back to ground level in February.

Stipa gigantea


Also known as giant feather grass or golden oats, this evergreen perennial is one of Bridge’s favourite grasses.  Reaching 2.5 metres, it has a powerful presence in the garden, producing oat-like flower heads on arching stems in the summer months which persist into the winter.  Plant in a sunny position in well-drained soil and it will shimmer; it looks particularly effective when back-lit by the evening sun. It has a transparency which enables one to see through it, so it can be planted towards the front of a border – either singly or perhaps in groups of three.  Easy to grow and requires little maintenance, other than to cut back in early spring.

Panicum elegans ‘Frosted Explosion’

A half-hardy annual which is easy to grow from seed.  Much sought after by florists and flower arrangers for its airy, textural appearance, it has been described as looking like a fibre optic lamp!  Poaceae family.

Plant ident. (practical)

Acorus gramineus ‘Variegatus’


A semi- evergreen perennial which can actually be grown anywhere, including wet or very moist soils.  It grows to around 0.3 metres from rhizomes and has creamy yellow/ green variegated leaves.  Good as ground cover, but it spreads slowly so you may need to invest in a few to make an impact.  Propagate by division.


Festuca glauca


Poaceae family.  A decorative fescue grass which forms a compact tuft with blue needle-like foliage.  There are several named forms, such as ‘Elijah Blue’ and ‘Blaufuchs’ which are hardier and bluer than the original Festuca glauca.  Good in containers, gravel and rock gardens – but also borders, where they look better planted in a group.  Odd numbers, please.  About 0.6 wide x 0.3 metres tall.

Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’


A dwarf form of evergreen pampas grass which is very hardy and wind resistant.  Grows in any sunny situation in well-drained soil.  Narrow rough-edged leaves accompany stiff stems which, in the summer, carry creamy-white flower panicles up to 1.2 metres tall.  Cut back to the ground in early spring – or you could always do what Sussex Prairies do with their grasses and set fire to it!  (N.B. Not advised!)  


Phyllostachys nigra


The black-stemmed bamboo can grow to 8 – 9 metres tall.  Needs light, nitrogen, plenty of water, and not much in the way of competition from other plants.  It’s a spreader, so beware!  Keep it in a pot or ensure it is contained in some way when planted.  Chop off runners before it takes over the garden – and the house.


Cyperus alternifolius


The umbrella plant.  Cyperaceae family.  It’s a sedge with an edge. Growing by the pond at Garden House, as it simply loves a watery location. Think Moses in his papyrus basket.  The stems are round, smooth and a beautiful green.  A local Sussex garden owner reports that his dwarf papyrus grows just fine away from any water margins, but that it needs plenty of light to grow well.  Good in a large pot.  An evergreen perennial, it forms a clump of stems which reach a height of about 0.6 metres ending in palm-like green bracts.  Can be grown indoors.


A seedy discussion

Vicky then did a presentation on seeds, bringing in a wide range for us to examine and marvel at.  All so different and all so miraculous.


From the top and going clockwise, these are seeds from the sycamore, marigold, French bean, clematis and pumpkin.  In the centre is a pine cone, which opens to release its seeds when they have ripened.

And then, these:

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From left to right, the seeds of sweet pea, black scabious, Japanese anemone, Erigeron karvinskianus (Mexican daisy).

All seeds grow in much the same way, given light, warmth, food and water.  They grow roots first, to take hold, then a small plant begins to emerge.  This process is known as germination.  The roots take nutrients from the soil and then light gives the plant energy to begin photosynthesis.

In her own garden, Vicky uses seed compost when sowing seeds – although it is perfectly possible to get good germination using a good multi-purpose compost.  Smaller seeds can be fiddly and tricky to sow as it is difficult to see them.  Many gardeners add a little silver sand to the seeds before sprinkling them over the surface of the compost, making it easy to see where they have fallen.

Some seeds need a period of cold to help them germinate (vernalisation), whilst others  require soaking in water.  Some need to be sown immediately, when fresh, whilst others will remain viable for years.  Variety is the spice of life.

Containers for seed-sowing.

You can, of course, make your own.  Cheap, environmentally-friendly and the pack also comes with a free halo.


Three taps of the magic wand….


Et voilà!

There is also the option of using peat free compost discs


Add water and stand back…..


Quite quite magical.

Some seeds are best sown in root trainer modules – like sweet peas.


Others do better in small modules


Or larger ones


Or sprinkled sparingly in a tray


Fill the container with compost.  Strike off the soil on top to create a flat surface.  Tamp down lightly.  Use a finger or a dibber to make a hole, if the seed is big enough to need one, and cover lightly.   Best not to water from above as smaller seeds can get washed about – stand in water until damp.  You can apply a thin layer of vermiculite on top of the compost, as it lets light through.  Place in a warm, light environment.  A heated mat in a greenhouse is perfect.

Seed potatoes

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Nowadays, specially bred disease-resistant seed potatoes are available.  Early, second early and maincrop – the choice is yours – along with a huge range of varieties.  Seed potatoes need to be “chitted” (allowed to sprout) before planting.  Somewhere cool and airy, like a garden shed, is ideal.  Dig a shallow trench in a sunny place in the vegetable garden and mix the soil with lots of good garden compost / well-rotted manure. Add an organic slow- release fertiliser, like pelleted chicken manure.  Plant the chitted potatoes (not chipped potatoes) about 0.3 metres apart, with the shoots facing upwards.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell which way is “up”, and Vicky suggests that you try to find the “eyebrow” where the bud is and ensure that this is underneath the bud as you plant. (See photo above.)

Whilst your potatoes are growing, you merely have to keep earthing them up and conducting extensive research on exactly how you are going to cook them.


Mmmmm, potatoes……








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