Friday 11th January 2019


It may be a grey January day, but at Garden House, there is always something to put a smile on your face.  And, inevitably, the skies clear and the sun comes out.

We tackled a photo plant ident. at Friday Group today – all images of plants looking good in winter gardens now.  Briefly, these were: Iris unguicularis; Viola odorata; Sarcococca hookeriana; Osmanthus x burkwoodii; Viburnum x bodnantense; Lonicera fragrantissima; Mahonia x intermedia ‘Winter Sun’; Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’; Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’; Daphne bholua.  Seek them out in a nursery or garden near you.  Inhale deeply when you find them; they all have wonderful fragrances.


Having studied, considered and discussed, we moved on to the practical plant ident. for the week.  Bridge brought in stems, leaves and flowers for our delectation.  Starting with:

Rubus thibetanus


Brutally thorny, the purple stems of this brambly thing look as if they have been white-washed.  Its common name is ‘ghost bramble’, and it does indeed have the aura of an apparition in the low, evening light of a winter garden.  Lovely, ferny leaves decorate the stems – there is a golden variety which is particularly pleasing.  Will cope with sun or partial shade and can be propagated from hardwood cuttings in the winter.  Has a tendency to spread, as it will root where its growing tips touch the soil.  Bridge advises cutting the whole lot to the ground in April.  Attractive and easy to grow, but keep your secateurs handy alongside a pair of heavy-duty, protective gloves.

Cyclamen coum Album


These hardy perennials, with kidney-shaped leaves, flower from winter through to spring.  This variety has a wonderful wash of magenta at the base of the white petals.  If grown in fertile and well-drained soil, and left undisturbed, they will naturalise and spread; their seeds are actually carried by ants!  Look out for the ‘Pewter Leaf’ group, with attractive silvery leaves and pink/ magenta flowers.  Stunning in clumps under trees and at the edges of woodland.


Libertia ‘Goldfinger’


Like the Bond villain of the same name, this evergreen plant is a tough cookie.  But there the similarity ends, because libertias are good and desirable individuals.  Adding verticality to planting schemes, the upright green/gold leaves turn golden orange in the winter and enliven borders and pots.   They love a sunny, well-drained position.  Good on chalk and in seaside gardens, their small, white  flowers, borne in summer, are not particularly remarkable.  Old and dead leaves need combing through and removing in the spring.  Propagate by division.

Kerria japonica ‘Golden Guinea’


Belonging to the Rosaceae family, Kerria japonica is an easy, deciduous shrub which grows to around 1.5 m.  Over the winter months, the stunning green stems of this shrub shine when lit by the sun.  By mid-spring, single golden-yellow flowers have opened – they have five petals, like roses.  The foliage is slightly toothed and is a vivid, fresh spring green.  After flowering, kerrias should be cut to the base to encourage strong growth.  Useful in borders when there are gaps to be filled.

Jobs for the week:

Divide up the libertias.  They need potting on and placing on the heated bench in the greenhouse. 



Check over and tidy up the pelargoniums. Currently under protection for their own good

20190111_110014 (1).jpg

Divide clumps of Viola odorata in the top garden; pot up divisions 

IMG-20190114-WA0016 (1).jpg

Remove bulbs of elephant garlic where too prolific


Like here

And weed beds 


She’s weeding

Make paper pots from newspaper


Here’s some she made earlier


Caught on camera reading the newspaper – demonstrating how easy it is for a gardener to get distracted

Pot on cuttings of Muehlenbeckia complexa and stipas.


Muehlenbeckias are as mad-looking as their names.  Scrambly things which can climb, twine and grow as a mound. Will grow anywhere.  Stipas are a genus of grasses, good in gardens generally and especially used in prairie-style plantings.

Prune Rosa ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ 



IMG-20190114-WA0009 (1).jpg

It’s going to look a lot better for it

Feed hellebores and camellias with pelleted chicken manure.  Cut the old leaves off hellebores throughout the garden in order to reduce the risk of fungal disease and to better appreciate the flowers


Hunting hellebores


Found one.  Behind the Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’

Take hardwood cuttings of roses


Hardwood cuttings can be taken from many plants at this time of year (black elder, philadelphus, weigela, roses, dogwoods) and are easy to do.  Rose cuttings should be around 25 – 30 cms long.  Find a dormant bud towards the bottom and make a straight cut below it. Then locate another bud at the top end of the cutting and cut diagonally above it.  Push the bottom end into a pot of gritty compost (or into a trench in an out of the way part of the garden).  2/3 of the cutting should be below the soil.  Water, label, then wait for the magic to happen.


Have they labelled them?


Ta dah!  By summer, they should be well-rooted

Sow leeks, chillies and sweet peas; place on hot bench in greenhouse to encourage germination

20190111_114359 (1).jpg

It looks snug in there


Then label and …..relax

Plant agapanthus bulbs; try to imagine them in the heat of summer


     Prune and feed roses in the top garden                                                                                                            IMG-20190114-WA0017.jpg

not forgetting to feed the gardeners



Quite literally, pots of work completed

Friday 4th January 2019

Blue sky. Silhouettes. Winter bareness. Skeletal structures.


Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’

And so we are back!  We discussed the joys (family, friends, children) and sorrows (excessive commercialism, oven burns) of Christmas and New Year.  We shared some of the happy times and places we had experienced over the festive season: a visit to the Saltmarsh Cafe after a walk at Cuckmere Haven; trips to Kew and Standen; walking to Rodmell;  riding a pony; open-air cooking over a fire; celebrating New Year doing the conga with neighbours in the street; and – perhaps a particular favourite – drinking hot chocolate with a shot of brandy outdoors.  Somewhat randomly, the phrase “Count the lollipops!” came up.  Random, maybe, but perhaps a good metaphor for life?

Plant Ident.

Winter plants.  There are plenty of stems, scents and flowers to enjoy now.

Clematis cirrhosa var. purpurascens ‘Freckles’


This early-flowering winter/spring specimen at Garden House is spectacular at the moment.  Full of nodding flowers and buds, in due course it will produce beautiful seedheads.  In Group 1 of the clematis pruning brigade, ‘Freckles’ loves to romp about in full sun, but its base and roots need to be planted in the shade.  It requires little in the way of routine pruning, but, if growth needs to be restricted, shoots can be cut back to healthy buds after flowering.  Tie-in plant as required.  Then feed with a slow-release general purpose fertiliser and mulch with well-rotted garden compost.

Camellia japonica ‘Little Bit’


Originating in northern India, China, Japan and Indonesia, camellias are the plant species responsible for bringing tea to the tables of the British aristocracy from the 17th century.  (Tea is made form the leaves of Camellia sinensis).  The British East India Company later brought camellia plants back for wealthy, discerning clients to use in their gardens.   Best in shaded woodland areas, camellias are elegant, evergreen, plants with exquisite flowers, which require acid soils to thrive.  They flower from winter through spring and can successfully be grown in pots, provided ericaceous compost and acidic fertilisers are used.  It’s best to use rainwater for watering where possible, as tap water contains calcium – especially in hard water areas.  Flowers can be single, semi-double or double and have different forms (e.g. paeony, anemone, rose).


‘Little Bit’ has anemone-form flowers.  Grown in a pot at Garden House, it can also be used in the border, against a wall or as a specimen plant.  Prune as required in the spring, after flowering.

Camellia sasanqua ‘White Pearl’


Another early-flowering variety, this one is semi-double.  Glossy, dark green leaves show off the white petals perfectly.  It’s a good idea to avoid an eastern aspect when planting camellias, as the morning sun can burn their buds, leading to a loss of flowers.

Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’

IMG-20181227-WA0005 (1).jpg

This deciduous dogwood looks amazing when planted in quantity, as here at Wakehurst Place.  In recent years, this shrub has become very popular – and rightly so – as the winter garden is lit up by its flame-coloured stems.  Dogwoods love soils which hold moisture and so tend to do well in clay; they are wonderful planted near water or in groups in the border.  Plant in full sun and only prune once the plants are well-established, then cut back hard at the end of March.  Mulch muchly.

Lonicera fragrantissima

Also known as the winter-flowering honeysuckle, this shrubby plant grows quite big, sprawls, doesn’t look particularly beautiful – and yet, and yet.  From January – March small white flowers appear on leafless stems.  Smell them and you’ll understand.  Gorgeous!  Likes a fertile soil which is moist but well-drained.Prune as soon as it finishes flowering.

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’


Another top smeller.  A beautiful, evergreen shrub with gold margins edging the leaves; it likes a sheltered, sunny site.  The small clusters of pink/purple flowers are wonderfully fragrant.  It’s an expensive plant as it is hard to propagate.  Spendy, but worth it.  Top tip: whilst at Wakehurst, after enjoying the dogwoods, continue on to the Himalayan Glade, where you will be able to inhale the lemony-perfumed deliciousness of these daphnes.

Helleborus argutifolius


The Corsican hellebore is an evergreen, herbaceous perennial and one which garden designers frequently include in their planting portfolios.  Bridge prefers this to the perennial “stinking hellebore”, Helleborus foetidus.  (With a name like that, who wouldn’t?)  Pale green flowers are suspended over dark, glossy leaves with serrated edges.  Can take sun, shade and most soils – but for preference, errs on the side of neutral to alkaline soils.  To appreciate the flowers fully, remove faded or damaged leaves when the buds begin to open.

Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’


This upright, hardy, deciduous shrub can reach around 3 metres, and is another perfumed delight.  Reaching for the skies, its bare stems produce clusters of small, pink flowers before small, dark green leaves reappear.  Not especially exciting later in the year, this fabulous viburnum is a great plant for the winter months as it is so long-flowering.  Plant near a path or gate to enjoy the scent.  Remove old/damaged/weak branches after they have flowered – and mulch around the base.

Jobs for the week:

We need to crack on with work in the garden because Garden House will be opening its doors as part of the National Garden Scheme on March 8th 2019. Do check out the famous Yellow Book for further information, or visit the website

Pot on rooted cuttings


Hedera helix ‘Goldheart’.  Done.  Boom.

 Plant up the newly-prepared, raised vegetable bed


Meticulous planning and execution


Delicate handling


Satisfaction.  A good job, well done.


Broad beans (‘Aquadulce’).  All in a row.

Prick out hardy annual seedlings into 7 cm pots


Ridolfia segetum, unless I’m very much mistaken.

Work on Little Dixter


Think Christopher Lloyd; we want the complete experience.




Weed tulip beds.


Somehow, the phrase “Hoe, hoe, hoe!” comes to mind.

Check the coldframes for unwelcome visitors


 Like this little critter


Pinch out tips of ammis etc. to encourage growth

Pot on sweet pea seedlings


Plant tulbaghia bulbs near viburnums


 Plus various other jobs



Sort veg./ flower/salad/herb seeds 


Now how did they manage to get an indoor job?

Plant out wood anemones and a few more tulips (the last ones!) in the winter bed

Re-pot rooted streptocarpus cuttings

Pot them into a bark/compost mix.  And we also need to check the heated matting is working in the greenhouse.




In winter

all the singing is in

the tops of the trees

Mary Oliver









Friday 14th December 2018

IMG-20181201-WA0002 (1).jpg

The last Friday Group meeting at Garden House for 2018.  A time for reflection, thoughtfulness and deep pondering on the meaning of life etc. etc.  And at G/H it’s time to celebrate the garden and all the beauty in it……


Well, it’s beautiful to some….


Now that’s more like it!


Cheers to the garden, to Bridge – and to Friday Group


To follow? A tricky horticultural quiz


Points mean prizes


Then, food and drink to share…


…and presents to give and receive

Now we look forward to a fresh new gardening year


It’s going to be an exciting one!

  Happy Christmas and a very happy and peaceful 2019

Friday 7th December 2018

IMG-20181211-WA0000 (1).jpg

Rain meant that we were indoors for wet play for the early part of today’s meeting.  We spent a happy time looking at displays set up by participants on other courses.

Then, on to look at this week’s plant ident.

Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’


Such a good, tough do-er in the garden, its yellow-green colouring adds a splash of colour to winter borders, bringing flashes of gold into shady areas and creating interest.  Can grow to 1m high x 1.5 m wide, and will climb if given support. Dependable as ground cover and a good foil for other golden or purple-leaved shrubs.  Any reversions (plain green shoots) need to be clipped out, cutting back to the original branch.  Good in north-facing gardens.  Excellent in most soils in the border and also in large containers.

Helleborus niger 


Named for its black seeds, the Christmas rose was a popular plant with Victorians, who would use cloches to force them into flower for Christmas.  Enjoys partial shade/woodland areas and has lovely white or pink-flushed flowers from winter to early spring.  Cut old leaves right back in January to reveal the flowers better.  Ideally, use leaf mould when planting.  A semi-evergreen perennial, but can be challenging to retain in the garden from year to year  – maybe worth trying to grow them in pots?

Pittosporum tenuifolium


A wonderful evergreen shrub, hailing from New Zealand. Stylish, responds well to clipping and has the most fabulous fragrance, emanating from tiny black flowers which are virtually invisible.  This variety (and there are many) has an attractive black stem.  Loved by flower arrangers.  Get one.  Or more.

20181213_153250 (1).jpg

Getting up close and personal with those lovely stems

Eleagnus ebbingei


This fast-growing, bushy, evergreen shrub is a common sight both near the coast and as part of many a local authority planting scheme. Basically, it’s a tough cookie.  It copes with sun, shade, wind, salty air and works well as a dense hedge.  Any soil will do.  Its motto? – “Bring it on”.  Long oval-shaped leaves are dark green and glossy on top, and an unexpected silvery-grey beneath.  In the autumn, small bell-shaped white flowers, (flowering on old wood), impart a delicious perfume, similar to that of dianthus.  It’s another shrub that scrubs up well, once in the capable hands of a topiarist.  There are a couple of other well-known varieties: the variegated E. ‘Gilt Edge’ and E. pungens maculata.


Sarcoccoca confusa


Christmas box is an easy to grow evergreen.  Beautiful fragrant flowers are followed by dark, glossy berries.  It does well in shade and looks good in containers – perhaps place a couple on either side of your front door over the winter months so you can enjoy the winter perfume?  Smart – and shows off your horticultural know-how.  Got to be done.

20181207_121723 (1).jpg

Jobs for the week:

More bulbs.  More planting.  In pots.


Turn the compost heap.  Put fresh compost on new beds


And it’s her birthday too!  Imagine her delight.

Remove euphorbias from near the vegetable beds  



Prune Euphorbia mellifera


Take care with the milky sap of the honey spurge, as it is an irritant to skin.  Removing old growth encourages fresh new shoots, which will rejuvenate the plant.

Prick out seedlings in the greenhouse


… and pot on plants which have rooted


Now is an ideal time to plant out broad beans, onions and garlic – although perhaps a more comfortable job when it’s not raining.  This year, we shall ensure there is a pattern of crop rotation in the new raised vegetable beds.

Make a Christmas wreath from birch stems


Decorate with hazel catkins and honesty and clematis seedheads; sumptuously seasonal

Prune climbing roses


Decorate large pots with cornus stems



Stylish.  And a known squirrel deterrent.

Let’s check back on those next week, shall we?


Meanwhile. it’s all looking very festive in The Garden Room



Friday 30th November 2018


Eleven twelfths through the year.  2019 on the horizon.  Surely a time to reflect, take stock and get the Brussel sprouts on.  You can never be too prepared.

Anyway, Christmas preps. are well advanced at Garden House, with wreath-making courses underway.  Mountains of foliage, berries and flower heads are spread out ready for craft action.  Here’s one she made earlier….


It’s a beaut.


It’s a good time to take a look at the multitude of roses in the garden, now that their frameworks can be seen more easily.  There are many types of rose here – shrub, ramblers, climbers – and it’s useful to know a little about each.  As part of the programme of Garden House events, Simon White, from Peter Beales Roses in Norfolk, recently came to give a talk on the subject.  Apparently, he was inspirational.  Pruners and secateurs at the ready, then.

(Special thanks to Peter Beales Roses for permission to reproduce these wonderful images of roses from their website) 

Roses like rich, loamy soils which are deep and well-drained – they tend to do well on clay.  Adding a lot of decayed organic matter when planting gives them a great start.  They like to be planted deeply.  When growing roses, watering, feeding and air circulation are of vital importance, and in hot weather they can need watering up to twice a day.  Mulch and feed in the spring.  During the growing season, feeding should be carried out every couple of weeks with a rose feed such as Uncle Tom’s Rose Tonic.

Rambling roses 

Have long, whippy growth and (guess what?) they ramble – far and wide.  Their stems are long and lax and they usually flower only once in the year, normally around June, on old wood from the previous season.  They produce masses of smallish flowers in bunches.  Often (but not always) they are single-flowered and tend to be rather wild-looking.  They produce lovely autumnal hips which are attractive in themselves and to wildlife.  Examples are: Rosa ‘Rambling Rector’; R. ‘Alberic Barbier’; R. ‘Albertine’; R. filipes ‘Kiftsgate’; R. ‘Francis Lester’; R. ‘American Pillar’.  Very useful for covering unsightly buildings, strong arches, pergolas or for growing into trees.

Pruning: Ramblers can be pruned between now and February – remember to enjoy the hips before you decide to cut.  Take out dead and damaged growth. Remove the oldest fattest, thickest stems to promote new growth.  The long, new, flexible branches should not be cut.  Remove stems that have flowered and tie in new ones.  Shorten side shoots by two-thirds.

R. ‘American Pillar’ 

American Pillar (Rambling Rose)

Climbing roses

These are repeat-flowering, and flower on new wood grown that season.  Their flowers tend to be larger and more shapely than those of ramblers – and they have stiffer stems.  Best if grown against a wall (using wires to secure them) or an arch.  Clematis is a good companion planting as it can use the rose to clamber upwards.  Examples are Rosa ‘Compassion’; R.’Dublin Bay’;  R.’Aloha’.

Pruning: Climbers are generally pruned between December and February.  Remove dead and diseased wood and cut out any old branches from the base. Tie in new shoots and train horizontally to encourage new growth.  Prune flowered side shoots by two-thirds.

Rosa ‘Compassion’

Shrub roses:

The range of shrub roses is huge – from old and modern to species and groundcover.  They generally flower on older wood.  These are wonderful for growing in garden borders.  Good examples are: Rosa ‘Madame Isaac Pereire’ – said to have possibly the best fragrance of all roses; R.’Cecile Brunner’; R. ‘Gertrude Jekyll’.

Pruning: Dependent on the type of shrub rose.  Most require only light pruning, in late winter (February).  Remove dead and diseased wood.  Repeat-flowering shrub roses should be cut back by about one-third.  Some of the older stems on mature plants can be cut back to the base.

Rosa ‘Mme Isaac Pereire’

Roses with a good display of hips:

Some of the best must surely be the rugosa roses.  Late single, fragrant flowers contrast with large red hips. They are as tough as old boots and notably good in coastal areas.  Impressive as windbreaks and hedges too.  But watch out for the prickles.  Others are Rosa moyesii ‘Geranium’; R. pimpinellifolia.

Rosa rugosa Alba

Rosa rugosa Alba (Shrub Rose)

Rosa moyesii ‘Geranium’

Rosa moyesii Geranium (Shrub Rose)

Plant ident.:

This week it’s all about conifers.  A boon in the winter garden – and very much coming back into fashion, after a lengthy period out in the cold.  As it were.  At Great Dixter, the family home of the late, great Christopher Lloyd, conifers in pots stand sentry in the porch entrance at the front of the house.   And at Bressingham Gardens in Norfolk, conifers reveal the particular glory they can bring to a winter garden.

Taxus baccata


The yew has been described as our most venerable native tree, and very old specimens can often be found on church grounds in this country.  It is long-lived and hardy, and responds well to hard clipping and shaping, so it has long been a favourite with garden designers who often use it for topiary, or to create impressive hedging and “garden rooms”.  An evergreen conifer, its distinctive, needle-shaped leaves grow in rows along the sides of twigs.  Yew is dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers grow on separate trees. Unlike many other conifers, its seeds are not held in cones, they are contained in “arils” – the small red berry-like fruits which are open at one end.  All parts of the tree are poisonous except for these fleshy fruits – but beware!, the seed inside them is highly toxic!  The taxanes in yew are extracted from summer clippings and converted into the anti-cancer drug Taxotere, used in chemotherapy.


Cedrus atlantica Glauca Group


The blue Atlas cedar is a large evergreen with silvery blue/green needles and large brown/purple upright cones.  It gets BIG – over 12m high and 8m wide, so only opt for this if you have an estate, as opposed to live on one.   Other, smaller varieties of cedar are available – for instance the little weeping tree C. atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’, which can be grown in a pot.

Cryptomeria japonica


This “fluffy” looking conifer, with reddish-brown bark, is also known as the Japanese cedar.  It changes colour as the season progresses and has distinctive, horizontal branches.  This one gets big!  When buying conifers, it is important to ensure that you bear in mind the size of your garden

Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’ 


Junipers come in a wide range of types, from erect, like ‘Skyrocket’ (it does what it says on the tin) –  to prostrate, which are especially good for ground cover.  This particular variety is a compact, dwarf, evergreen shrub with attractive blue-grey foliage.  Grows in pretty well any kind of soil and will tolerate most conditions, including hot sunny sites.  At around 0.4m high x 1m wide, it’s good as ground cover and also in rockeries; it needs very little in the way of pruning.  Has an A.G.M. too.  Sounds perfect.  Buy several.

Ginkgo Bilbao



Who would have thought that this is, in fact, a conifer?  And a deciduous conifer too.  Ginkgos have been around since the Jurassic period (though not in this particular garden!)  Their fan-shaped leaves turn a wonderful butter yellow in the autumn and they have fleshy, edible seeds.

Jobs for the week:

The war against the squirrels continues.  Our seasonal weapon of choice is holly; let’s see how Squirrel Nutkin deals with this little lot.

20181130_114853 (1).jpg

It’s time to wrap up any tender plants being left outdoors



Hand-made jackets for tender tibouchinas and salvias; winter protection guaranteed.  And service with a smile!

Prune rambling rose in tree outside Garden Room


Careful now.  Watch those pruners. And hang on to some hardwood cuttings for propagation, please.

Weed path to Garden Room: to infinity and beyond!


Sharp edges!  Looking good.  And the lawn got edged too.

Work wonders on winter bed



Prune Rosa Charles de Mills

IMG-20181203-WA0002 (1).jpg

If the stems are pruned back at different heights, the roses can be seen and enjoyed more easily.  No pressure then, ladies.

Prune blueberries and plant in metal tanks


(Did anyone remind them that blueberries need to be in ericaceous soil?)


Fully galvanised.  Lovely

Prick out the seedlings in the greenhouse


Plant tulip bulbs in Paul’s bed


What, more tulips?

Prettify the pumpkin panorama


Plant Dutch irises in archway bed


….. and decorate pots with Cornus stems


which will add height and interest to the pots as we await their spring display


Clearly pleased with progress.

Prune roses under the arches



Label writing



 There must be a lot of plants needing labels

Such diligent workers everywhere; all working under the blue skies over Garden House


The sun shines on the righteous

Friday 23rd November 2018


Berries abound at this time of year – here is the fabulous Cotoneaster horizontalis revealing why it is sometimes called the fishbone cotoneaster.

November continues – grey, chilly – but the log burner here at Garden House is toasty.  Provided you KEEP THAT DOOR SHUT!

Thank you.

Today we are planting garlic cloves and onion sets into pots which then go into the cold frame.  The garlic comes from the Isle of Wight Garlic Farm, which is a veritable treasure trove of garlic gorgeousness.  It’s important to buy from a reputable source to ensure that the garlic is virus-free.

  20181123_100524.jpg              20181123_100551.jpg



Garlic likes a period of exposure to winter cold to push it into growth – this is called vernalisation.  Take one bulb of garlic and separate the cloves; each clove will grow on to become a mature bulb.  Plant one clove per pot, at a depth of about 5 cms, in multi-purpose compost.  The top of the clove should not be visible.


Onions are best grown from onion “sets” (very young onions) and, if planted at this time of year, they need to be the Japanese overwintering varieties.  Traditionally, they are sown on the shortest day of the year and eaten on the longest; so pop that job into the diary for 21st December 2018 and 21st June 2019.  Here are two which we will be growing.











Plant one small onion per pot; pull off the wispy bit at the top of the onion, then plant it up to its neck in compost.  Only the very top of the onion should be showing.

Plant Ident.:  this week it’s all about Winter Interest.

Salix erythroflexuosa



A popular tree with Bridge, this makes a fine small tree or large shrub with decorative orange/orange-yellow bark.  It has contorted branches and shoots and narrow, twisted willow-like leaves.  In the spring there are silvery catkins.  Offcuts and shoots will root easily if pushed into the ground or left in a bucket of water.  Its winter outline is beautiful – and branches are popular with flower arrangers.

Viburnum opulus


The Guelder rose is a hardy deciduous shrub which flaunts these stunning jewel-like berries in the winter months.  Shining capsules containing the seeds of future plants sparkle in the sunshine.  When there is some.  Clusters of snowball-type flowers are produced in late spring and the vibrant red berries follow in the autumn.  It has a long season of interest and makes a good choice for hedging.  Does well on all soils, and especially on its native chalk downland.  Likes plenty of moisture, great for attracting wildlife and good as a cut flower in the spring.  What’s not to like?


Cotoneaster x watereri 


Cotoneasters  are actually members of the rose family and a number of varieties are available for the gardener to choose from.  This one is evergreen and is a large, dense shrub/tree which can grow to 5m x 5m.  It has clusters of white flowers in May/June and, later, masses of small, pendulous, red berries form along arching branches.  These last through the autumn and on into the winter months.  Bridge rates C. x watereri highly; it grows in sun or partial shade and tolerates a range of soil conditions.

Pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’


And glow it does.  Firethorn is a strong-growing, spiny, evergreen shrub.  This one is particularly attractive with its glossy leaves, small, white, summer flowers and long-lasting, vibrant berries.  It is good when grown against a wall, where it can be trained by judicious pruning.  Cutting new growth back to two buds in late winter/early spring will keep these shrubs in check, and the resulting display will ensure you are the envy of the neighbourhood.


20181123_113638 (1).jpg

Basically, the horticultural equivalent of a rottweiler.  The barberry is guaranteed to repel burglars of all shapes and sizes – and is, (true fact), often recommended by the police for planting as a deterrent against intruders.  Extremely spiky, but nonetheless attractive, it has small, attractive, yellow or orange flowers in spring, followed by lovely red/orange, translucent berries (barberries) which are edible.  Maybe serve them to your burglars, as you all wait for the police to arrive.

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’



An upright, evergreen shrub with striking, glossy, green leaves; it prefers a shady position in the garden.  Mahonia ‘Charity’ bears racemes of fragrant, sunshine-yellow flowers in late autumn and winter and the scent (akin to lily of the valley) is most marked in the evenings, when the plant’s main pollinators (bats and flies) are about.  Small, deep purple berries follow on from the flowers, and these are enjoyed by birds.  Unsurprisingly, the R.H.S. recommend this shrub as attractive to wildlife.  Just think of the good you would be doing by planting it – after all, Charity begins at home.


Jobs for the week

  • Plant up more bulbs for indoor flowering at Christmas and afterwards.


You can never have too many.


My word.  Nicely top-dressed.

  • Write labels for the tulips.  


                With artistic flair, if possible.  In good hands here.

  • Remove mint from large metal troughs. Replant with blueberries and bulbs


  • Plant garlic cloves and onion sets in cells


  • Plant up the pots in the front garden


There will be a white/green theme here.

  • Plant Narcissi ‘Thalia’ and ‘Minnow’ with muscari in troughs


  • Plant species tulip bulbs in the alpine sinks and on the rockery


Groups of five or seven bulbs will look great.

And no yodelling in the alpine area.

  • Remove salvias and plectranthus and plant Rembrandt tulips in the metal planter in the top garden
  • Plant black parrot tulips and wallflowers in the three large pots by the greenhouse


  • Plant alliums in quantity outside the Garden Room


She’s painting a picture of the allium fest to follow….


They’re going in here, here and…



And now, we’re back where we started at the beginning of the day


The onion sets are set, and ready to go into…


…the cold frame, which awaits the little beauties.

So, that’s game, sets and match to Friday Group.







Friday 16th November 2018


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

20181116_115406 (1).jpg

Take that, you bushy-tailed varmints.

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



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


20181116_130924 (1).jpg

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

Water-Retaining Gel 

20181116_130855 (1).jpg

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

Horticultural Grit


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

Chicken manure

20181116_130834 (1).jpg

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

Plant Ident.

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

Lunaria annua












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

Matthiola incana


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

Hesperis matronalis

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



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



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

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

“Bulb Lasagne”


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

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


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


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

Or invest in a rocket launcher.

Jobs for the week:

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


Commendably co-operative



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




Bulb lasagne in preparation


And very nearly complete



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

Pot on cuttings currently growing in the greenhouse 



A lovely job. 10 points for Gryffindor.

Plant rhubarb and pink hyacinths in three large pots



Now what?


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

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


Plant pansies and bulbs for complete Visitor Enjoyment in Little Dixter


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

And let’s hope this is the Yellow Bed.

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





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