Mid Week Review


Sometimes it’s the happy accidents that make the all the difference like this Euphorbia characias and Clematis macropetala, what a lovely colour combination.IMG_20170404_173008

Always exciting to see Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’ piercing through the ground. It loves my heavy clay soil.


The Fritillaria imperialis just before I spotted a Lily beetle!


Who says Hyacinths don’t grow well after being forced in pots. This one is five years old and getting better every year.

First Frost

The first hard frost has intensified the autumn colours and the Liquidamber ‘Worplesdon’ is spectacular today.

The dahlias are blackened and will be mush by tomorrow. The climbing fuchsia ‘Lady Boothby’ is now five years old and going strong, shrugging off the cold and continuing to flower well.

Sorbus hupehensis ‘Pink Pagoda’ has berried up well and is attracting the pigeons which balance precariously on the slender branches to gorge themselves.

My Garden This Week – The Best Bits!

DSC_0024I have been trying to take a good photo of Salvia uliginosa and have found it very difficult so this is the best I have managed so far but it really doesn’t do it justice. The colour is simply exquisite and it flowers for months. The bees love it and it is a full 1.8m high and wide which makes a wonderful border statement. Believe it or not, it is thriving in one of the worst parts of the garden overshadowed by trees and in sticky clay soil, all the things it should hate!DSC_0028

Aconitum carmichaelii, the common Monkshood, has got a fearsome reputation for being the most poisonous plant in the garden, particularly since a gardener died of it’s effects earlier this year. It is, however, a rather beautiful and statuesque plant, just don’t touch it and then eat your sandwiches!DSC_0034

The front border is filled with colour from the salvias, echinaceas, monardas and heleniums with the fresh foliage of the asters and chrysanths supporting them. Everything props each other up and avoids flopping. DSC_0036

Amongst the asters is this rather unusual Solidago ‘Fireworks’ which is not your average Golden Rod but a more refined version which works well with the purples, mauves and crimsons of the asters which are now beginning to open.DSC_0046

Best hoverfly attractor plant? This Lysimachia ephemerum, the Willow Leaved Loosestrife, gets this year’s award. Yes, better than Verbena, salvias or scabious and at least on a par with echinacea for attracting pollinators. Never seen it without something crawling over it!DSC_0054

The ever reliable Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii which lights up the borders in August and goes on for weeks and weeks. I wouldn’t be without it. Shorter than ‘Goldsturm’ and a brighter yellow in my opinion.DSC_0057

I do find it easy to ignore the more mundane plants in the garden and take them for granted, particularly those which have been there for years and just perform without fussing, feeding or propping, things like this Echinops ritro, a reliable drought resistant, clay loving plant if ever there was one. Loved by bees, flies, beetles and all manner of creepie crawlies, it must be overloaded with pollen and nectar. It is not until you look closely, really closely at those blue balls that you see why.DSC_0061

Each flower ball is comprised of hundreds of tiny florets, each one packed with food and drink. Isn’t nature wonderful!


DSC_0002Leucanthemum ‘Broadway Lights’ is at it’s best this week. Short and stocky, it opens a creamy yellow and fades to almost white. Never flops unlike it’s tall white cousins which I always have to ‘Chelsea Chop’ to keep them upright.DSC_0008

The Agapanthus africanus lined up in their big pots facing south along the front of the bungalow are getting lots of admiring glances from passers-by. DSC_0003

The Heleniums are in full flow and providing a feast for the bees and butterflies. This one is the shorter ‘Wyndley’ which at just 80cm is very sturdy and it’s beautiful yellow/bronze flowers really shine in the sun.DSC_0005

It seems scabious are attractive before they open…….DSC_0006

and after!DSC_0011

I have discovered that the climbing Fuchsia ‘Lady Boothby’ makes a very good standard which, if supported by a short obelisk forms a good head. Friends tell me they cut it down to the ground like other hardy fuchsias but I find it shoots from the ripe wood each year.DSC_0007

Another first for me this year is Echinacea pallida which I grew from seed last year and easily overwintered in plastic pots plunged up to their necks in one of the raised beds which are well drained. They all came through unscathed and are flowering well. It remains to be seen if they will survive a long wet winter in the beds. Not sure whether I like them or not! They look a bit frail for my taste.DSC_0002

The last Allium of the season to open is Allium caeruleum ‘Azureum’, the only true blue allium. Makes a nice change from all that purple but I just wish they were bigger!

My Garden This Week


Centranthus ruber (Red Valerian) in all three common colours

Now that I have got back in the stirrups again (also see later racing metaphors) I thought I would do a quick tour of new stuff which I like and you may find of interest.

Centranthus ruber has the confusingly common name of Red Valerian and although in the same family, Caprifoliaceae, has nothing whatsoever to do with real Valeriana officinalis from which the root extract has been made into a sleeping potion for centuries. It literally grows like a weed here in the limestone walls of the Cotswolds and most gardens ‘suffer’ it. I have managed to collect the three main colours of dark pink, lilac pink and white which are all reliably perennial and do not hybridise so I guess they must be specific varieties.


Sweet Pea ‘Sir Henry Cecil’

Picking up the reins with Sweet Peas again this year, I was pleased to acquire ‘Sir Henry Cecil’ which I have trained up my trellis (okay, that’s the end of the racing jokes) and I think it is destined for greatness just like the man himself. In Sweet Pea circles this frilly Spencer variety is known as a ‘flake’ due to its splashed colour veining and it has outstanding scent. Definitely one to go for in my opinion.

Thalictrum flavum subsp. glaucum (Meadow Rue)

Thalictrum flavum subsp. glaucum (Meadow Rue)

The Thalictrums are looking wonderful this year and none more so than the frothy flowers of the glaucous leaved flavum. They are 2m tall and kept upright at the back of the border by their more sturdy companions in front and below and the white Rose Bay Willowherb, Epilobium angustifloium ‘Album’ alongside. The other Thalictrums in my little collection are also performing particularly well interplanted with Hostas. Incidentally, I can strongly recommend the tip of putting slug pellets out on Valentines Day to kill off our overwintered slimey friends which then halts the second wave later on. My hostas are virtually untouched.

Salvia 'Hot Lips'

Salvia ‘Hot Lips’

It’s going to be a good year for Salvias. Already the small leaved microphylla reds are out with ‘Hot Lips’ and ‘Royal Bumble’ covered in flowers and bees.

Salvia 'Trelissick'

Salvia ‘Trelissick’

My favourite pale creamy yellow ‘Trelissick’ loves the position I have found for it in my rich but well drained south facing border.

Salvia patens 'Blue Angel'

Salvia patens ‘Blue Angel’

My favourite patens variety grows to 30″ and extends its spikes of beautiful gentian blue flowers all summer and into early autumn. I also have Cambridge Blue, Pink Ice and Chilcombe but I prefer the strong colour of Blue Angel. This one stays in the ground over winter and comes back better every year, so not as tender as the books would have you believe. It sits next to a Canna indica which also overwinters here.

Briza maxima

Briza maxima

Another first for me this year is Briza maxima or Greater Quaking Grass which is a hardy annual grown for its attractive seed heads which apparently look like rain drops in the sun and are used in flower arrangements. Early days for mine but watch this space!DSC_0044

In the fruit garden the little Japanese Wineberry bought at Barnsley House last year is covered in tight clusters of flowers which I am hoping will all turn into fruit. The bees are certainly all over it so that is a good sign. By nature it seems to prefer to scramble about like a bramble with long arching stems which root as soon as they touch the ground, good for making new plants but not for picking fruit.

Japanese Wineberry

Japanese Wineberry

So I popped it inside an obelisk and made it grow vertically which seems to have had the desired effect. All the fruit should be visible and pickable and it is contained in a manageable space. In the winter I will haul the obelisk off over the top, cut out the fruited canes and reposition the obelisk over the new canes. Definitely a job requiring leather gauntlets!DSC_0053

I have moved my autumn raspberries to make room for more veg and this year it is peas, climbing French beans, celeriac and one courgette. The peas are ‘Twinkle’ and ‘Hurst Green Shaft’ and we picked our first pods this weekend.DSC_0059

The beans are  ‘Monte Cristo’,  ‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’ and  ‘Ryder’s Coco’ which are favourites along with Cobra and Blue Lake. I have followed a tip from an allotment holder and planted some nasturtiums with the beans. The nasturtiums attract the blackfly and the beans are untouched. It works!DSC_0054

The celeriac is another vegetable we discovered last winter for the first time. It always reminded me of turnip or swede to look at, both of which I hate, but actually it is delicious. It makes great mash, on its own or mixed with potato and roasted celeriac chips are just wonderful. It tastes mildly of celery and is an ugly swollen root but is easily peeled and sliced. I am growing the variety ‘Brilliant’ which has pure white flesh. It needs a long growing season, at least eight months, so the tiny seed was sown in early February in heat, transplanted into modules in early April and planted out in mid May. The seed is really small, like dust, and I had a damping off problem and lost 8 plants in March. However, 16 plants are growing away well now in the old raised bed where the raspberries were.DSC_0058

Just one courgette plant this year. We always have too many! And this year it is a yellow one so we can see them!

That’s all for now. More updates and news coming soon. I am enjoying my blog again!

Currant Affairs


I didn’t think we would ever beat last year’s soft fruit harvest but we have. The Redcurrants in particular have been truly prolific and we decided to take the covers off today and strip the bush of it’s delicious fruit before the inevitable blackbird and pigeon invasion. We only have one large bush but with careful pruning to maximise fruit production we get enough fruit for several pots of jam, jelly, sauce, pies and crumbles and still have loads left over for freezing. 020

This year we got 14 lbs (6.35 kgs) off this single bush which we find simply amazing! When they are picked over and rinsed they will be frozen on flat trays which helps to separate the currants from the sprigs.032

Truly scrumptious!

What Sort of Winter Do You Call This?!

086                                                                                                                                          Well, here we are on 21 December, the first day of Winter and the shortest day of the year. Cathy is wrapping up the last few prezzies and I have been outside washing down the paths and tidying up. The weather has been unseasonably mild and I have actually been looking for jobs to do outside rather than sitting indoors. The weather pundits are predicting a long hard winter which will delay Spring and confuse the heck out of the garden again. But, already the bulbs think it is February! The weather guys might be right though because I have never seen the trees and shrubs so laden with fruit and berries, a sure sign of a hard winter to come…..or so the old wives tale goes.Sorbus hupehensis

The little Rowan tree, Sorbus hupehensis, is bent double under the weight of it’s luscious pinky white berries and the Blackbirds are perching precariously on the spindly young branches to get at them.


The Blackthorn tree, Prunus spinosa, is covered in ribbons of juicy sloes, so heavy that the branches are likely to snap. Already, the road beneath is stained blue with the remains of squashed fruit and I am amazed the foragers and gin-makers have not discovered it.


The wormery, which is normally asleep by now is still active and busily taking all our tea bags and veggie peelings to turn into next years ‘special’ addition to potting compost for the very best plants. It can’t last….something has to change soon to send the worms burying for cover deep in the lower trays.036

Even the fish still think it’s summer and expect to be fed twice a day! Get down and go to sleep I say! The pump is off and the food is packed away until next year!003

In fact everything is cleaned up, tidied up and packed away. The cold frame is empty and ready for a bit of essential maintenance to the lid, the cheap plastic ‘overflow’ greenhouse is full of pots and trays..all washed and cleaned. Where is the snow? I’m ready!Leaf composter

The compost bins are full to bursting with leaves and herbaceous shreddings and, apart from a few last minute weeding jobs, the autumn clean-up seem to be finished for a change.006

All the tulips are planted and the only thing remaining to go in the ground is a tray of Cyclamen hederifolium purchased, believe it or not, from our enterprising milkman who buys them in from Pershore College. Two pints of semi-skimmed and a tray of Cyclamen please!

I hope you all have a jolly good Christmas and a wonderful and productive New Year.

What’s Not To Like?

033A garden designer giving a talk at our Plant Heritage meeting on Saturday told us that some of her clients simply refuse to have anything yellow in their gardens. I have mentioned this before and I am still puzzled as to why some garden owners dislike the colour yellow. Is it because it is brash or simply too strong a colour? It would certainly not work in a garden filled with pastels and muted tones.

This Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ makes me smile every time I pass it and Bidens aurea ‘Hannay’s Lemon Drop’ does the same.'Orange Allouise'

This Chrysanthemum, ‘Orange Allouise’ is rather more yellow than orange and for some reason always reminds me of dripping melted butter!022

Surely, no garden would be complete without at least one Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’?

Looking at my garden today and looking back over the year, I realise that it is full of yellow, red and orange. Strong, bright colours which bring my garden to life, even on a dull day. Perhaps it’s all about the gardener and not the garden!

Death & Decay


It is all too easy when writing a blog like this to talk about how good things are and to only put up your best pictures of flowers and foliage on sunny days and in good light. But we all know gardens are not always like that! So, just for a change, I thought I would post some images of my garden on this miserable wet mid-October day.

In reality, at this time of year I am surrounded by a scene of death and decay. 074

Last weekend a friend introduced me to the concept of plants that ‘die well’. I don’t know who originally coined this phrase but it is very apt. Some plants do seem to die better than others. This Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ dies badly in my book and smothers everything else in the process.

The leaves of this Amelanchier lamarckii. on the other hand, die back well with interesting colours and a gradual decline before dropping in November. My alkaline clay is not well suited to it but a generous annual mulch of leaf mould seems to be doing the trick.041

Echinaceas die well because they continue to stand tall and straight and maintain their cones filled with seeds which the finches love. 038

Of course, there are a few bright spots as well. The Verbena bonariensis collapsing into the waiting arms of Bidens aurea makes a lovely chance combination051

And despite the atrocious weather today, my Granddad’s Chrysanthemum which I have named ‘George Simons’ after him, still looks fabulous.025

Some foliage always looks better adorned with raindrops and Cotinus coggygria is one.040

The impossibly named Aster ‘Andenken an Alma Potschke’ is definitely not dying but it doesn’t like the rain. If it wasn’t held up by all around it the metre high stems would be horizontal now.062

Already horizontal and revelling in the wet conditions, the lawn is looking magnificent.

Had to end on a high note!

My Garden This Week

014The summer phase of the garden is coming to an end and the bright colours are fading. The Monarda and Echinacea which have been so dominant and a magnet for bees and butterflies are gradually being replaced by the emerging Asters and Chrysanthemums.010

The Echinops ritro which spreads itself around the dry poor soil alongside the trees is doing well this year and is always buzzing with bees. The purple beech hedge is a good combination.001

Agastache in it’s many forms and colours has been a feature of the garden this year, mainly because the seed was freely available from all the seed exchanges I take part in and because it is so easy to grow. This A. ‘Liquorice Blue’ is 120cm high and enjoys its spot on the patio with white climbing Lophospermum and blue Maurandella.004

These rather unassuming bulbs go by the name of Tritelia ‘Queen Fabiola’, a complete waste of £2 from Tesco! Commonly known as Californian Bluebells, they don’t hold a candle to our own Spring native and they will be unceremoniously plonked in a corner to live or die depending on their desire to return for more insults!016

In the cutting garden the forest of Dahlia ‘Arabian Night’ has proved once again that they need more room, at least 80cm between them otherwise this is what happens! It is impossible to stake and tie them properly and watering and feeding is hit and miss. However, the gorgeous dark red velvet blooms are simply stunning and rise above the foliage just waiting to be admired.019

The ‘Twining’s Smartie’ have also surprised me with the sheer number of flowers they have produced. After a very slow start they have performed very well and will be kept on the list for next year. The stems are short but the flowers look best on their own in a short vase. I take it all back, they are not the pathetic weedy plant I accused of being and the inconsistent colouring of the petals adds a certain charm.021

We have started picking Blackberries and get about a punnet a day off ‘Bedford Giant’. Reuben is a complete disaster and steadfastly refuses to grow in the partial shade of the Thuja trees. ‘Black Satin’ looks promising with big fat juicy fruits just beginning to turn. The apple of unknown origin which I have spent four years gradually training into a manageable tree with winter and summer pruning has produced masses of fruit this year after a barren year in 2012. Either it is one of those varieties which has a ‘rest year’ occasionally or it was the lack of pollination last year. There was plenty of blossom but no bees around due to the cold temperatures in April. I thinned the fruit in early July this year which seems to have worked because the remaining apples are forming well and should be ready in a few weeks, wasps permitting!017

Despite all the plant sales and giveaways I am still left with 20 – 30 ‘leftovers’ again. This is probably not bad considering I have probably produced about 350 plants this year for myself, various friends, plant sales and shows. The Dahlia merckii are probably my biggest disappointment but only because my expectations were so high. They are big ugly and untidy plants with small plain flowers which need constant watering and feeding for very little return. The flowers don’t last in a vase and the plant takes up too much room.024

The Salvias, on the other hand, have been a real success story and despite selling dozens of them at plant sales, I have managed to keep one plant of the nine different varieties I grew from seed this year: Salvia patens ‘Cambridge Blue’, Pink Ice’, ‘Chilcombe’, and ‘Blue Angel’, Salvia greggii ‘Serpyllilifolia’, ‘Christine Yeo’, ‘Royal Bumble’, Salvia coccinea and Salvia przewalskii ‘Out of the Mist’.

Last weekend was dominated by the Cheltenham Horticultural Society Summer Flower and Craft Show which is the subject of my next post.