Gardening and Gardens

Each Month in my Garden: September by the Seaside

September is one of my favourite months. Partly because it is ‘autumn’ but nearly always behaves as if it is still summer; it feels like stolen time, a sort of permanently sunny bank holiday. At the end of the month I went to Devon and, driving there, I was surprised how autumnal the countryside looked. It may still have been summer in London but the fields and woodlands of Hampshire, Dorset and Somerset all had a distinctly golden tinge. It was lovely but in a slightly wistful way. As I was driving, in the interests of safety, there are no photos.

My friend lives by the seaside and this too had tipped from the buckets and spades of summer to deserted expanses of sand. But it was still warm enough to paddle.

This has nothing to do with gardens but it was one of the best puddings I’ve had for a long time. It was called something like ‘Every Child’s Worst Nightmare’ and tasted every bit as good as it looked. Thank you Relish in Ilfracombe



Each Month in My Garden: August

For the last few years the kerria has overtaken my long shady bed. In spring it looks wonderful and it blocks next door’s conservatory but by mid summer it has always grown too tall so the yellow pom-pom flowers are on stems 10-12ft tall. From a single stem it has spread the length and, more crucially, the width of the bed. Nothing else really grows here apart from some Welsh poppies and an aquilegia, which wasn’t very happy this year. The neighbours have ‘done’ their garden and we need a proper screen above the wall between us. When asked, I tend to say that flowers are the priority in my garden, followed by places to sit but, if I’m honest the order is privacy, seating, flowers.

On two sides ivy, kept reasonably under control, provides the garden with a beautiful green screen above the walls. Some years, when I’m organised, sweet peas, morning glory or cucumbers grow up the front.  The plan for the gap above the remaining stretch wall is ivy (kept very under control) with a rose in front which will the arch over the summer house roof, meeting the one that is already there on the other side.

The bed is not deep; about a foot down it turns into impenetrable rubble, so large plants go into bottomless flower pots to give them a bit of extra soil. I picked out every single piece of kerria root, leaving just a thin row of stems at the back of one end of the bed. Some of these stems probably won’t survive as I’m sure I will have damaged their roots but I’ve left enough, and the plant is tough, so I hope I’ll retain a slim, wafty screen.

The list of requirements for the rose is rather alarming: shade tolerant, soil tolerant, climbing but not too rampant, repeat flowering, fragrant, ideally not pink (the other one which arches over the summer house is a mixture of pink and yellow). David Austin’s ‘Claire Austin’ does all these and, by good luck rather than good management, the flowers are exactly the same shade of cream as the edgings on the ivy leaves.

I’ve replanted the aquilegias, alchemilla and a rather sorry-looking hardy geranium I found lurking between a mass of kerria stems. None of them looked particularly happy but with watering, food and a layer of mulch they have all recovered.

I have a very small shed, roughly the shape of a sentry box. The theory is that all my gardening paraphernalia lives in it, thus ensuring that the summer house does not become a dumping ground. Slowly, over the last three or so years, the roof of the little shed has disintegrated. I botched a repair with a couple of bin bags weighted down with old hoses. It worked but was not very sightly and clearly wouldn’t last for ever. Thanks to my friend David it now has a new roof which is waterproof and attractive. The photos show the spectacular difference between before and after.


Each Month in my Garden: July

July seems a long way away. Partly because it is a long way away but also because I’ve done a lot in the garden this month, which has rather blocked out what happened in July. Luckily I have photos. I have never taken photos of the garden consciously each month and it is interesting how much it changes in character as the year progresses.

So, briefly; the self-seeded evening primroses in the front garden were (and still are) amazing. A colony has established itself and there are already plenty of rosettes forming which will be next year’s flowers. This is undoubtedly due to the hose as the whole area gets well-watered on a regular basis. There is a particularly fine group where the hose doesn’t fit onto the tap properly and drips. Also in the front my new David Austin rose, ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ flowered; it will look stunning once it grows round the front door.

I finished the patchwork cover for the extremely-pretty-but-staggeringly-uncomfortable-bench and I now have five seating areas in my very small garden: wooden bench by the kitchen door for elevenses in the sun (shared with a sundial and basil), blue and white round and Provencal rectangular tables for meals in the sun or shade, as required, the summer house for writing, painting, reading, sitting with the cat on my lap and now a delightfully secluded and almost comfortable bench for reading and admiring the flowers.

For the first time the buddleia flowered; I moved its pot into the sun and it is clearly grateful. The blueberries and mulberry are still thinking about whether to fruit. Clearly none of them have read their labels which specified fruiting quite early in their lives. But the Japanese wineberries provided a long harvest of deliciously tart berries which are the perfect accompaniment to my morning porridge. And the long evenings were perfect for suppers in the garden.


Each Month in my Garden: June

I have just realised that with the excitement (and smugness) at having completed the Hundred Day Project I forgot about my garden in June. Luckily I took photos as I realise the garden changes a lot each month at this time of year. The main bed looks positively empty compared with how it is now.

Briefly, the Gladiolus ‘Nanus Nymph’ (another triumph from de Jager Bulbs) were spectacular. The photo doesn’t do them justice at all, partly because it kept raining on them. Next year I shall order lots more and have a striking pink garden in June.


The Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ was planted years ago and I have spent ages trying to get rid of it as it’s a bit of a thug in my one sunny (and small) flowerbed. But the buds are beautiful and I love the way the brilliant flowers swoop above everything else. I think it’s earned its place for another year.

Matilda is taking her gardening duties very seriously; she has almost learnt that she can eat her grasses but nothing else. 

Sadly she hasn’t yet learnt that you shouldn’t stand on plants whilst eating them.






At the time I thought the garden was looking very full, only now, a month later, I realise that at this point it was actually very neat and controlled.


Each Month in my Garden: May

It seems hard to remember that May was warm, and sunny, and really rather nice. But my photos prove it was, and the Chelsea weather was perfect. The garden performed brilliantly with, it has to be admitted, not that much help from me. I’m worried that the pink rose in the front garden (unknown, fragrant, flowers from May to Christmas but already old when I moved in nineteen years ago) may be on its last legs. It has always had too long a main stem so I can’t cut it back properly. This year it sent up ridiculously long shoots which swayed hysterically in the wind and, in several cases, snapped. Now it’s finished its first flush of flowers I’ve deadheaded it quite hard in the hope that the next batch of flowers will be at eye-level rather than reaching for the roof.

Also in the front, the geraniums – hardy and otherwise were lovely, especially when viewed close-up.

In the back garden it was all a bit shaggy but the aquilegias flitted about like little coloured aeroplanes, the Welsh poppies seeded themselves charmingly all over the place and the red valerian managed to stand up reasonably straight. Only the blueberries sulked, which is unreasonable of them as I repotted them, religiously save rainwater for them and give them more tlc than most of the other plants put together.

Even so, all in all it was a really good month.


The Hundred Day Project Day 61: It’s Summer

For me summer is driving with the roof open (and not having to have the heater on and wear a coat, scarf and gloves), wearing plimsolls and using the summerhouse. It (the summerhouse) is small, old and ramshackle, and takes up a lot of premium growing space (where the sunniest beds would be) but I absolutely love it. From now until autumn I shall write, make, read and sit here whenever I can. It is never too hot and gets the evening sun as it sinks down over the roof of the house. I have to share it with seedlings, deck chairs and Matilda but all that adds to its charm.
















The Chelsea Flower Show 2019: NEW DISCOVERIES & OLD FAVOURITES

Californian poppies were everywhere (The Greenfinger Garden, The Wedgewood Garden and all over the Great Pavilion); they are delicate, Ivory White is particularly nice, they seem to go with everything (in particular Orlaya grandiflora) and Monty Don photographed them so they have the ultimate seal of approval.

I’m not sure whether I like Eqisetum hyemale (The M&G Garden and The Resilience Garden) but it’s very interesting in a sort of meercat-popping-up way.

There were fancy foxgloves on The Resilience Garden; short, robust, deep red and fabulous. Research revealed they are Digiplexus (a cross between ordinary purple foxgloves and Canary Island foxgloves), so very fancy, and I want them.

The Snow-Melt Garden had brilliant red and green Chenopodium, which I grew years ago and had forgotten about, and charming yellow Trollius, which I’ve never grown and now want. Chris Beardshaw’s Morgan Stanley Garden was a lesson in how to combine perennials; cornflowers and gladioli, and salvia and verbascum aren’t earth-shattering discoveries but they would look marvellous in my garden (if I ever manage to create space).

There were pretty lights in the trees of the Dubai Majlis Garden, a metal kite flying merrily over the showground and a flower-covered van selling St-Germain elderflower liqueur, a truly delicious drink, especially when mixed with rose and fizzy water. 

There are plants I have written down so many times at Chelsea it’s become a joke: the hydrangea Fireworks Blue with its starry flowers, the majestic-looking rose Souvenir du Docteur Jamain and the wonderfully stripey tulip Carneval de Nice. I don’t have room for the first two but there is no reason why my garden shouldn’t be awash with red-and-white tulips next spring. I love alliums but never seem to grow enough. Early Emperor and His Excellency are my current favourites, along with the rather sweet mini ones – Little Den and Powder Puff.

Lastly, the stand I always love is the Stone Balancing display by Adrian Gray. He makes seemingly impossible sculptures by balancing stones and fossils. It sounds simple as everything must have a point of balance but I’ve tried with small stones and, whilst amazingly therapeutic and ultimately very satisfying, it is incredibly hard. His sculptures have an air of mystery about them as they stand serenely amidst the hubbub of the flower show.


The Chelsea Flower Show 2019: The Gardens

I had planned that this post would be very disciplined: one garden, one plant I had discovered and one other thing. Within minutes of arriving at the show the plan went awry; there were too many things I liked and I had completely forgotten about the plants I see every year, note down to grow and then promptly forget about till the next year. There were so many things I liked I’ve split them into two posts. Firstly, here are the gardens.

Andy Sturgeon’s M&G woodland garden was the first one we looked at and at first I thought ‘Yes, fine, green, dull, burnt-oak ‘rock’ sculptures’ (I like flowers and I’m rarely keen on large sculptures of any type). Then I looked properly and discovered the magic of the garden. Pale green new growth against the dark rocks, greens in every shade, shape and texture you could imagine. And the most magical path I have ever seen on any show garden. If I remember one thing from this year’s show, it will be wanting to wander down that path and discover the magic that was surely waiting at the end.

The newish category of Space to Grow Garden had my other real favourite. The garden was called Kampo no Niwa and showed a system of South East Asian herbal medicine based on garden plants. For me it was The Snow-Melt Garden. The two designers come from Hokkaido in northern Japan and a stream of melt-water fell gently down the wall and round the seating area. Impractical as it may be, I have always wanted a moated patio in a garden (the fact that, in my garden, this would involve flooding the kitchen has, so far, restrained me from putting my plan into action). The stonework was lovely and the planting beautiful, with ‘streams’ of violas. I didn’t like the wooden pavilion much but you can’t have everything.

The Donkey Sanctuary garden looked rather like a piece of Provence but for me that was no bad thing. And clearly everyone else liked it as it won the People’s Choice award for the Artisan Gardens. There was a garden with a lovely old Morgan, Mr Ishihara had provided his trademark staggering attention to detail, a forgotten and rusted quarry garden showed me how beautiful oranges can be and Sarah Eberle’s Resilience Garden had a wonderful meadow, and thrift charmingly nestled on the steps.

For some years now there have been fewer sponsors prepared to spend the huge amounts involved in creating a show garden; last year I read that they cost a minimum of £2-300,000 and can require up to £1 million, presumably the figure this year is proportionally higher. Fewer gardens don’t necessarily mean less to look at and the Royal Horticultural Society had filled the gaps with gardens that weren’t judged, a bit more space round the Artisan Gardens (which was a huge improvement as it meant you could see them properly) and a few installations. One of these was the letters RHS sitting in a piece of ‘Scottish meadow’ with a ‘crumbling’ wall and ‘wild’ animals. Close up the wall was made of decidedly un-crumbling fibreglass and the animals weren’t all instantly recognisable but the planting was lovely. I doubt it would have been awarded a Gold Medal but it was an attractive gap filler.


Each Month in my Garden: April

Last month I wrote about de Jaeger bulbs. Most of my bulbs have now flowered and I am convinced; they are the place to buy bulbs. Hardly any blind ones and only a couple of short, weedy ones and the flowers have lasted brilliantly. The purple tulips (Passinale and Negrita) lasted for ages and then faded gracefully, as did Spring Green. The parrot tulips were stunning as individual flowers but I bought a mixed pack, which I think was a mistake. They came up at very different heights and, if I’m honest, looked a bit of a mess. Next year I’ll just choose one cultivar, probably Estella Rijnveld, which I love for its name as much as for its crazy red, white and green petals. I have no idea who the original Estella was and a hunt on the internet has revealed that the tulips are also sometimes called Gay Presto, which I think suits them rather well.

The miniature daffs (Minnow and Rip Van Winkle) were lovely and the taller daffs (Jonquilla Lieke) lasted well. My only slight quibble with the tall daffs was that they hung their heads a bit but Sarah, my neighbour, pointed out that they probably did that so Matilda, the cat, got a better view of them.

The undoubted stars are still Allium cowanii. They have weaved their way between other plants, are the most beautiful pure white and last for ages. And they were a bargain. I think they look best in raised containers in between dark green evergreens which contrast against the pure white and hide the rather messy leaves. I squashed the bulbs around little hebes in a window box and the end result was (more by good luck than good management) completely perfect.

If the cat has a fault, it is that she eats grass. Not ordinary lawn grass, I could forgive that, but my pretty ornamental ones. Two years ago she kept my Imperator rubra neatly trimmed to two inches. I moved the grasses to the front garden (where she wasn’t allowed) and they flourished. This spring I thought the imperator was slow to get going and then I saw Matilda, on the front window sill, neatly biting it back to the required two inches. Slightly embarrassingly, my neighbour’s grass has ‘stopped growing’ too. I tried to blame too much/too little water/sun/nutrients but then Matilda was caught red-pawed tucking in. Adopting a stick and carrot approach I sprinkled pepper on the forbidden plants and bought Matilda her own grasses. The nursery was waiting for Imperator so I bought Briza media Limouzi and Festuca glauca Intense Blue. So far the plan seems to be working although I hope Matilda gives the plants time to settle in before she trims them too rigorously.

And even though most of my pots were still empty, and the ivy slightly out of control, I had breakfast in the garden, several times.