Six on Saturday

Good morning from a bright and sunny Cheltenham! The Violas gave me a cheery wink when I went out with my camera to see what was interesting enough to photograph amongst the detritus and windblown plants in my garden.

The Alstroemerias are suddenly enjoying the cooler temperatures and producing loads of stems to pull and bring indoors. This one is ‘Summer Break’.

Rosa ‘Darcey Bussell’ is flowering for the third time and, although she is not as shapely as usual, she certainly puts on a show! Most of my other roses are ready for the early winter chop but Darcey just keeps going.

The NIgella damascena has shed millions of seeds into the gravel path which will have to be carefully culled to leave a manageable number to flower next year. I do love a self-seeder as long as the resulting progeny are where I want them!

A few weeks ago I popped a cutting of Tradescantia pallida into a shot glass to root which it kindly has. It has also decided to flower for me! This is the third flower so far and I suspect there are more to come. Isn’t nature wonderful!

I can’t bear to throw good plants away and these bedding pelargoniums which flowered all summer outside in big pots are now tucked up in the cold greenhouse where they continue to flower their heads off. If we have a mild winter they will survive and be used again next year; if not…….compost heap here we come, but only when they have died of natural causes!

Have a great weekend


Six on Saturday

A rather quick six this morning as I have to prepare for our gardening group meeting this afternoon. We are hosting a talk and demonstration by Harriet Rycroft, formerly the Head Gardener at Whichford Pottery. In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy the scarlet flowers of Hesperantha coccinea which are just beginning to flower alongside the Alstroemerias. Talking of which…..

The Alstroemerias are much happier in the ground and in the only bit of ‘moist but well drained’ soil in my garden. They were not happy in pots but have since recovered well and are flowering away merrily now. I have Indian Summer, Summer Break, and Summer Sky.

Not a great picture due to the low sun this morning but cheerful happy faces of Viola and Cyclamen welcoming visitors by the front door.

The narcissus are planted up in their terracotta pots and topped with horticultural grit to deter the rodents and cats. It also prevents the compost splashing up the render! The pots sit on the gravel margin so they have good natural drainage.

The clumps of perennial garlic chives, Allium tuberosum, are brightening up the cottage garden border. We never use the leaves, far too strong for our taste, but I grow them for their wonderful pure white flowers which go on for weeks in late summer. Although they produce masses of seed, they never seem to spread like a lot of alliums do.

Salvia greggii ‘Red Bumble’ still going strong and will flower up to the first frosts. I love these shrubby salvias and have found the best way to prune them is in two stages, like roses. I cut them back by a third in December and down to fresh growth in April, roughly two thirds in all. It seems a bit brutal at the time but it keeps them tight and a good shape, and they flower better for longer.

Finally, an extra pic of Dahlia ‘Star Wars’ in the foreground. A new one this year chosen by my son-in-law for its dark, almost black foliage, and eye-popping flowers with dark centres.

Have a great weekend


Six on Saturday

A day late due to the exceptional circumstances of the death of our beloved Queen Elizabeth II. I was away with our family when I heard the news.

A very sad few days for the whole country and more to come, but our gardens provide us with great solace and a place to think, reflect and draw strength. There is still plenty of colour too, including this rare and special Tradescantia (Andersoniana Group) ‘David’s Blaby Blue’, named after a young man who died in tragic circumstances in Blaby, Leicester.

The ginger lily, Hedychium flavescens, is just coming into flower. The smell is rather like sweet cinnamon but the flowers are here and gone in a flash. It didn’t like the intense heat this summer and needed gallons of water which makes it a very needy plant in my book. Probably not one to grow in periods of drought!

The front border is still performing well and the powder blue Salvia uliginosa alongside the acid yellow of Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ is a nice combo. You can just see the second flowering of the delphiniums which I cut down to the ground only a few weeks ago.

The Fox Grape, Vitis labrusca ‘Isabella’, is almost ready for harvest, the sweet juicy pink fruits gradually turning a dark pink. Not even enough for a few bottles but delicious on my morning granola!

The Box Moth caterpillar ridden Box ball featured in my last Six has gone and has been replaced by Teucrium chamaedrys, or Wall Germander, a short, upright and well behaved evergreen flowering plant which, I am assured, is pest and disease free, probably due to its aromatic leaves.

Let’s finish on a dahlia, a delightful hybrid dahlia which I grew from the seed some years ago and whose flowers are different every year. This year the pink has diminished and lemon yellow is the dominant colour. All I know is the bees love it, and so do I.

Enjoy your garden this weekend and reflect on the life of our late wonderful Queen and all those who perished in 9/11 on this day 21 years ago.


Six on Saturday

If there’s one thing I have learned about gardening over the years, it is that it is full of disappointments. You have to learn to roll with the punches, take the rough with the smooth etc. I have had Box bushes in many forms, pyramids, balls, low hedges and spirals but now, they’re all dead or dying. The cause is the dreaded box tree moth caterpillar, which has rampaged through the entire area where I live in Gloucestershire leaving scenes like the one above in almost every garden.

These notorious caterpillars can eat their way through a box bush in double quick time leaving a trail of destruction behind them. Young caterpillars are just over an inch long and a greeny yellow colour with black and white striping. The older caterpillars protect themselves from predators by building a distinctive pale white tent of webbing when they feed. In winter the small caterpillars hibernate in an envelope of two box leaves that have been spun together the previous autumn.

The adult box moth, Cydalima perspectalis, which it becomes is a rather beautiful creature with white wings edged with brown and is just over an inch wide from wing tip to wing tip. It arrived in the UK from Asia in 2008 and has quickly spread to all parts of the country, including Scotland.

No point in spending vast sums of money on expensive treatments unless everybody for miles around does the same, otherwise it will be back next year! No, time for pragmatism, the Buxus has had it’s day and it’s time to find an attractive replacement. I always try to see things like this as an opportunity, not a problem.

I think, on balance, the most admired rose in the garden this year has been ‘Ebb Tide’. It’s colour and fragrance have attracted more comments of approval than all the others, even though it does not have the strongest scent or the best flowers. A strongly growing, healthy and trouble free rose, almost thornless and repeat flowering.

The recent heatwave and consequent drought has badly affected the Crocosmia ‘George Davison’ which is remarkable and disappointing. It has never happened before. I thought they were bombproof! I have certainly had a patch of the old Montbretia in the back garden which I have never done anything with, in dry poor soil, under a tree and they survive anything. Ah well, another opportunity beckons!

The beautiful flowers of Salvia uliginosa otherwise called Bog Sage! It certainly needs a constantly moist soil and lets you know when it needs a drink by drooping its flowerheads, which it does almost daily in this weather! Adored by bees, tall and willowy, it should be grown more in cottage style gardens.

The little Fox Grape, Vitis labrusca ‘Isabella’, has produced a great crop of fruit in just it’s second year. The grapes are becoming a darker shade of green and getting that musty bloom before they turn dark red with their characteristic pink flesh in the autumn. Learning how to prune them has been a revelation, not too dissimilar to wisteria in that you take off the whippy growth in the summer after the fruit has set and then a second harder prune in winter.

The fat red berries on the dark leaved Physocarpus ‘Diablo’ give this shrub an extra appeal at this time of year. Those who hard prune it miss out on this treat as they flower and fruit on the previous year’s wood, a bit like a Philadelphus or Cotinus. I now do a three stage prune to get new stems from the base, new stems from semi-pruned older branches and the height, flowers and fruit on untouched central branches. It seems to work!

Have a great weekend


Six on Saturday

I suspect I won’t be alone in talking about the drought this week! But it is too easy to moan, I like to get on with things and believe it will get better, like it always does! This Silphium perfoliatum is a good case in point. It is a little shorter than last year and the flowers are slightly smaller, but it is coping like it is designed to do in the prairies of North America.

This short and stocky little Helianthus ‘Happy Days’ is another one enjoying the heat alongside the Shasta Daisy, Leucanthemum x superbum. It is protected from the fierce heat of the afternoon sun by the shrubs and trees which tower over it and seems quite happy, despite the lack of water.

However, Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ needs her daily drink to survive and I have been determined to keep her happy to enjoy her beautiful big bounty of flowers, the size of footballs. The colours fade quickly in this heat and relentless sunshine and I should probably have planted her in a shadier spot, but I wanted to see her from the kitchen window and for others to enjoy her too.

My potted pineapple lily, Eucomis bicolor, is struggling too but seems determined to put on a show. Her fleshy leaves wilt in the heat but the flower stems stand erect and unconcerned, pulling in the bees all day long.

This gaudy Phlox paniculata is on its last legs, gasping for breath but soldiering on in the mixed border. I chuck a bit of water around the roots if I am passing with the watering can, but there’s a small part of me that obviously doesn’t care if she lives or dies!

Finally, the wonders of nature. I have been monitoring this tiny spider for days as she spins her web over the Euonymus. Truly, a work of art!

Have a great weekend and remember, the rain will come!


Six on Saturday

Blackberry ‘Merton Thornless’, absolutely delicious and currently picking a bowlful every day before the Blackbirds get them. The plant is enormous, far too big to net, but there are more than enough for everyone.

Dahlia ‘Union Jack’ , also known as ‘Star of Denmark’ is one of the oldest known cultivars dating back to at least 1832 but not grown much any more probably due to its lax habit. The flowers are too large and heavy for the spindly stems which droop under the weight. Anyone who has seen the original species dahlias like ‘merckii’ will recognise this unfortunate trait and understand why it went out of favour. I am now its Plant Guardian to make sure it remains in cultivation, despite its unpopularity!

Whilst most things in my garden are dying of thirst and underperforming, the fruit is amazing and revelling in the heat. These Japanese Wineberries are coming thick and fast and provide a welcome treat for topping the breakfast granola. The sticky little berries, like shiny miniature raspberries, are easy to grow and well worth it.

Aster trifoliatus subsp. ageratoides ‘Stardust’, lovely little species aster but terrible name! Another plant which has me as its Guardian but doesn’t need any help from me to survive. A real thug which refuses to stay in one place. A small 1 litre pot acquired 5 years ago is now a border all of its own and still spreading. Its stems root when they touch the ground and it sends out underground runners as well. Pure white starry flowers against mid-green foliage is a winning combination though.

Phlomis ‘Rougemont’, a sport of Phlomis fruticosa (Jerusalem Sage) discovered by chance in the grounds of the Rougemont Hotel in Exeter some years ago and now in my care. Unusual variegated felted foliage and a whorl of bright yellow hooded flowers adored by bumble bees. Only in a pot at the moment but due to be transferred into the garden when I can find the right spot, which is always the problem!

This Phlox paniculata was in the garden when we moved here 13 years ago, has been lifted and divided several times, and is now in several spots. It was destined for the compost heap last year but I gave it a reprieve and now quite like it so it can stay for another year or until I find something which deserves the space more.

Let’s end with one of my favourites and such a pretty flower with impressively large petals, Tradescantia (Andersoniana Group) ‘Red Grape’.

Have a great weekend


Six on Saturday

An unusual six this week to match the unusual weather. I often find Slow worms in the compost heap, totally harmless legless lizards and something I enjoy seeing as I pull back the old carpet. I have no idea how they find their way in or out but they enjoy the warmth and humidity, as well as the endless supply of free food!

Monarda didyma ‘Panorama’ grown from seed many years ago, is not sufficiently robust for my liking. It doesn’t like my clay soil and needs constant watering to put on any kind of show which, in my view, is not sufficient to warrant space in my main border, However, I keep saying ‘one more year’ and she is still there, quite pretty this year for a change but only because I have spent a fortune watering the border constantly to keep everything alive.

One plant that has flourished in the heat is Scabiosa atropurpurea and I am blessed with a veritable forest of the stuff! I mentioned this last week but it is worth mentioning again due to it’s incredible tolerance of heat and parched soils, something we are likely to encounter in future years. It is also a prolific self seeder so, as long as you are prepared to weed out the ones in the wrong place, this is one you ought to be growing and once established, you will have it forever.

Rudbeckia laciniata, the tall species which needs a little support in windy locations but loved by bees and butterflies. I find it wilts in the heat of the day but recovers in the evening so I tend to water it in the morning rather than the evening, if I remember! It provides stature and presence in a mixed border, and even if you are a bit sniffy about yellow daisies, it has its place alongside blue things like my Agapanthus in the background. I have seen it with Eryngiums and tall blue Campanula lactiflora which is a great combination.

Dahlia ‘Mystic Illusion’ is a terrific cultivar with the darkest leaves of any I have seen. The bright and cheerful yellow flowers are a brilliant contrast and make it an outstanding combination from a distance. High water demand though and must be fed constantly to perform throughout the summer into autumn, so not easy to plant and leave for more than a few days. The deadheading is a chore too but, like Sweet Peas, is the secret to keeping it flowering.

I have never experienced heat like it in the UK, but on Monday & Tuesday, it was sufficiently strong to scorch the leaves of my white Lilac and has probably killed my Viburnum plicatum mariesii which is now frazzled and has dropped most of it’s leaves.

That’s my six for this extraordinary week. I look forward to reading the trials and tribulations of other Sixers!

Hope you have a good weekend


Six on Saturday

The Agapanthus africanus have been wonderful and made a real statement across the front of the bungalow drawing admiring glances and comments from passers-by. Due to the recent very hot days, they are going over now but they will make way for the herbaceous ones in a few weeks time.

My favourite summer flowering onion, Allium angulosum, or Mouse Garlic. Possibly the best bee plant in the garden. Long lasting flowers, doesn’t seed about, short, stocky and utterly reliable. Just five small bulbs have produced this clump in three years.

Another David Austin creation, rose ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ and she certainly is. Beautiful tight creamy buds opening to a creamy white frilly powder puff with a gorgeous citrus scent. A late bloomer to enjoy when some of the early roses have gone over.

Cichorium intybus, the common native Chicory, arrived in my garden a few years ago and is now a permanent resident. I treat it with caution as the seedlings put down a serious taproot very quickly after germination and are difficult to remove. The new plant rosettes look a lot like Dandelions but with slightly more rounded serrated leaves. The roots are roasted, ground up and made into a chicory essence. You might remember Camp Coffee which is a brown liquid, consisting of water, sugar, 4% caffeine-free coffee essence, and 26% chicory essence. It is generally used as a substitute for coffee, by mixing with hot water or with warm milk in much the same way as cocoa, or added to cold milk and ice to make an iced coffee. I grow it just for it’s unique blue flowers, I hate the coffee!

I lost all the first flower buds on my early flowering Wisteria sinensis ‘Prolific’ to an April frost so I am enjoying the second flush of rather smaller, but no less beautiful lilac-blue flowers.

Tradescantia virginiana ‘Brevicaulis’, meaning. rather unkindly. “short necked”, is in full bloom and very healthy compared to most of my other cultivars which are now looking exhausted, having completed their intensive 8 week flowering and seed setting.

Finally, Echinacea pallida, the species with the droopy petals and enormous cone which attracts bees and butterflies like no other. I grew it from seed a few years ago and was so pleased with myself for getting it to grow because they are not that easy to germinate. They need that awful cold/hot/cold/hot process known as ‘stratification’ which involved space in our fridge, much to the disgust of my long suffering wife!

Have a great weekend. I hope you can find a way of keeping yourself and your gardens cool and hydrated during this exceptional weather.


Six on Saturday

The evergreen Agapanthus africanus have just begun to flower and they look stunning this year. I have reduced my stock to just three plants in 20 litre plastic pots which are now in their third year since splitting them. 16, 18 and 20 flower stems which is the most ever. The heads are fully 30cm across on stems 1.2m high. They make quite a statement!

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ almost at full throttle now with her big beautiful creamy flowerheads being cradled by hazel supports beneath. I love this shrub but it does need a lot of water and support to do well. Quite a needy plant in my garden. Others tell me it is trouble free in theirs. It’s all about the soil!

Just behind Annabelle sits pink Linaria purpurea ‘Canon Went’, alongside his common purple cousin and the indestructable and long lasting pink Diascia personata which should definitely be grown in more gardens. I haven’t met anyone who knows this plant which is such a shame as it is such a good doer.

This is an extra pic to show how well the combination works.

This was controversial at my garden opening recently. It is the true Valerian, Valeriana officinalis, the root of which has been used since Roman times to treat insomnia. It is a very tall plant, 1.8m high, with a beautiful pinky white umbellifer flower which has an odd sweet smell which, as I found out, is not to everyone’s liking! I think is is rather musky and spicy but one visitor described it as the smell of “wet pants”!

The Petchoas (a cross between a Petunia and a Calibrachoa) in the basket are doing rather better now but not showing much sign of trailing yet. The colours still don’t excite me, I find them too subtle and a bit dull for the impression a basket by the front door is supposed to make. I think they work better in pots at low level. I won’t be using them in baskets again!

Some years ago I grew seeds of common Scabiosa atropurpurea, a distant cousin of the common field scabious, which thrives in my dry summer clay and self seeds everywhere. They now pop up in every variation of red, pink, purple, white and cream. One of the best plants for pollinators, tall and self supporting, long lasting, unfussy and beautiful. All from a single free packet of seeds on the front of a gardening magazine.

That’s my six for this week.

Have a great weekend


Six on Saturday

The paths in the cottage garden are slowly merging into the beds which makes for a better appearance but more difficult to walk on. The plants soften the edges and lean out for more light.

I love the way plants mingle and merge with each other, jostling for position and trying to outdo each other for light and space. Geranium ‘Rozanne’ is an expert and uses the other plants to give her a leg up.

This little patio standard rose from T&M was supposed to white but turned out to be a lucky mistake as I just love the soft peachy apricot colour. It sits in a pot by the patio table and has a subtle fragrance. If anyone knows what her name might be, I would be grateful for a comment please??

Dianthus carthusianorum, a tall pink with clusters of gorgeous dark red buds which break out into pale pink flowers over a long period in June and July. I spotted this in the long borders at Hidcote and bought three in the plant shop. One has since died but the other two are romping away and clumping up well with more flower stems each year. Thriving on neglect, they love my dry alkaline clay in summer, not too keen on my wet clay in winter!

My camassias have not flowered well over the last few years and a quick internet search revealed that, although they don’t like being moved, they don’t flower well if they are congested. This was obviously the reason because having dug up what I thought would be the five bulbs I planted 7 or 8 years ago, there were now over fifty! I have cleaned and dried them in the greenhouse and will re-plant them, farther apart this time, in September. They like damp heavy soil and do well naturalised in grassland but I am going to try them in pots of loam based compost where I can regulate the water and see if I can get them to flower with narcissus. I think the blue and yellow will look lovely together in spring.

Petchoas, a cross between a petunia and a calibrachoa, which I was recommended by the editor of Which? Gardening magazine last year. I’m not sure about them! I bought Caramel and Cinnamon but I find the colours too subtle and dull for what should be a bright and zingy hanging basket. It is claimed that they don’t need deadheading but I have found that not to be the case and pick off the dead flower heads every morning. However, as my favourite training consultant used to say, “try a lot of stuff, keep what works!”

Finally, Delphinium requienii, or perennial Larkspur, which is a tall, unusual stately plant acquired from a friend who has it on her allotment where it seeds around freely. Seems to flower in it’s second year from a rosette of shiny leaves which slugs and snails leave alone! I rather like it and look forward to passing on some seeds and seedlings for others to grow.

Have a great weekend