Echinacea Heaven


Last week I invited myself to Meadow Farm in Feckenham, nr Droitwich in Worcestershire, to see Rob and Diane Cole’s trial beds of Echinaceas. What a pleasure and a privilege! Rob was formerly a Landscape Architect and his attention to detail is evident in everything he does. Their nursery beds and display gardens are immaculate and I am always impressed when I visit. I just wish I had taken my DSLR camera, I only had my phone camera with me so apologies for the grainy low res images.047

If you have never seen Echinaceas en masse, they are an uplifting sight. Rob Cole specialises in selecting open pollinated varieties which could produce the next “Pom Pom Wow Berry” or “Tomato Soup”. The bees do all the breeding work for him and with his well trained eye and years of experience he selects possibles from the thousands produced every year. These are then grown on for a second year and re-assessed to see if they have the right characteristics to make them a distinct variety good enough for the trade. Rob confided that despite assessing literally thousands of plants over several years, he has produced very few that look really outstanding. Rob is a perfectionist and if and when his progeny reach the trade, you can be sure they will be superb.042

The gardens at Meadow Farm are a wonderful way of seeing plants in context and learning how and where to plant certain species to great effect. Diane’s talent for combining colour and form have made this a garden as good as any you will see. Having also seen the garden in early spring when it was full of bulbs and spring flowers, I was struck by the dramatic difference just a few months can make using herbaceous perennials and sheer exuberance of the planting. Rob and Diane have used the contours and slopes of the land to great effect and have produced interesting ‘rooms’ and beds of all kinds which would appeal to gardeners of all persuasions. 043

Considering they have created everything themselves with little or no outside help,carry out all the maintenance themselves, run a highly successful nursery, sow millions of seeds and divide thousands of plants every year, organise group visits several times a year, conduct talks and demonstrations to gardening clubs almost every week of the year, contribute time and expertise to the Hardy Plant Society at national and local level and still have time to see me..I think they are very special people.034

I have learned a lot from my chats with Rob. He is very knowledgeable and a highly accomplished and respected speaker on the gardening club circuit. He has that wonderful ability to make a subject interesting, funny and memorable. I look forward to my next visit with eager anticipation.


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.

My Garden This Week – 1 August

Alstroemeria 'Sweet Laura'

Alstroemeria ‘Sweet Laura’

So what’s new this week? Well, quite a bit actually. Now that we have had some welcome rain and it has cooled down a bit, the plants are enjoying better conditions and putting on a fantastic show. These Alstroemeria ‘Sweet Laura’ are not everybody’s favourite colour but they are certainly eye-catching and prolific. Just seven plants have produced hundreds of tall stems each topped with 8 – 10 flowers. They are in a raised bed of well drained soil with added compost and organic fertilizer. The flowers last 2 weeks in a vase.Echinacea purpurea

The Echinaceas in the front border are in full flower now and covered in bees and butterflies all day; a wonderful sight and sound given their current decline. The hybrids I grew last year did not survive the winter so it was just the purpurea and a few ‘White Swan’ that continue to be hardy and reliable here. They are so easy to raise from seed I wonder why more people don’t grow them.Garlic

All the books say don’t use supermarket garlic because it has been chilled and won’t produce good bulbs. Nonsense! I grow them every year and never have a problem. They might be a little smaller but always come up, regardless of the variety. I have just lifted, washed and dried this year’s crop which look good to me. One bulb produced 10 cloves which produced 10 plants and probably 100 cloves, and all for 30p! Some are for the kitchen but the rest get stored and used for making garlic wash to keep snails off the Hostas.

 Leucanthemum 'Banana Cream'

Leucanthemum ‘Banana Cream’

The Shasta daisies are out and as usual, the tall ‘common’ white form are everywhere. But this year I decided to branch out and grow a couple of yellow varieties. They do so well in my clay soil that I thought they would make a nice change. ‘This is Banana Cream’ and not far behind is ‘Broadway Lights’ which is a darker yellow.

Lophospermum erubescens

Lophospermum erubescens

The climbing foxglove, Lophospermum erubescens has reached the top of its obelisk and is heading for the bungalow roof. Three metres high is not unusual and the continuous display of pink flowers makes this plant very striking. It produces lots of seeds which store well and are easy to germinate in spring. This is last years ‘mother’ plant which overwintered in Paddy’s heated greenhouse but the plants I grew this year and gave away to friends are just as prolific.

Maurandella antirrhiniflora

Maurandella antirrhiniflora

This years newcomer is the climbing snapdragon, Maurandella antirrhiniflora, which is a little more dainty than the Lophospermum but just as beautiful. This one is a twining climber whereas the Lophospermum climbs by wrapping individual leaf stalks around a support. A very attractive dark blue fading to white in the throat.Rudbeckia laciniata

The Rudbeckia laciniata is now 150cm tall with 10 flowers and a lot more to come from the many emerging side shoots. It has an ethereal quality, it’s tall wiry stems waving above most other plants in the border and light yellow swept back flower petals are thin and separated with a bright green prominent cone. I look forward to seeing it again bigger and better next year.Redcurrants & Gooseberries

The Redcurrants and Gooseberries have been wonderful this year and Cathy has been busy making jam, cooking and freezing the surplus fruit. The Blackcurrants were not so good this year and I am wondering if I pruned out the right stems. I will have to read up about it and try again. It looks my pruning and thinning of the apple tree was better because the fruit is swelling and ripening nicely.023

I love the colour of this Monarda didyma, a soft mauve purple which goes surprisingly well with the adjacent clump of Heleniums018

and the dark pink Echinacea ‘Purple Magnus’017

Even though I have grown nearly everything in my garden from seed or cuttings, I still forget what and where everything is. It’s nice to get surprises now and again and today,hidden in the back of a border amongst the tall Physostegia stems I discovered this little beauty.015

I am assuming it is a very small Inula or Helianthus, although I can’t remember growing either. It is only about 30cm high so not what I would have expected from either species.007

And then there is this which I think must be a form of Cosmos I got from a seed exchange but I seem to have lost the label! It is an unusual fluorescent orange which certainly stands out.031

Finally, a success story. Some readers may recall that I discovered a couple of fuchsias buried in the compost heap that were showing new shoots. I rescued them and planted them up and here they are! No worse for wear and twice as beautiful as last year. Now I’m not sure whether to throw them away again or try to overwinter them!


Garrya elliptica catkins in the snow

Garrya elliptica catkins in the snow

After 3 bitterly cold days, it warmed slightly and the snow arrived. Not much, 10cm or so, but enough to keep us indoors. Most low lying shrubs and emerging bulbs are now sleeping under a warm blanket but tall shrubs like the Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’ look even more stunning when the long catkins are covered in snow.

Eranthis hyemale, the Winter aconite

Eranthis hyemale, the Winter aconite

These little aconites are reliable early winter stalwarts, emerging before everything else and gradually spreading to all parts of the garden. I must have disturbed them during the renovation because they are appearing in the strangest places. I think this one must have been in the root ball of the primula I transplanted last year.

The woodland path!

The woodland path!

Just outside our bungalow, the one you can see in the distance in this photo, there is a lovely woodland path which winds it’s way up the hill on to Charlton Kings Common and then into the old stone quarry and beyond. Most of the year it is an enjoyable, dry and interesting walk but in recent winters, and particularly this one, it has turned into a stream bringing flood water and debris down from the hill and depositing it on to the road. More worrying is the fact that the first storm drain it reaches is the one outside our drive, 200 metres from the end of the path. By the time it reaches that, it is more of a raging torrent than a stream. So far it has not caused any significant damage but ……….. we’ll see!

Echinacea seed heads stripped by the birds

Echinacea seed heads stripped by the birds

I only saw the finches a couple of times but it seems they made a meal of the  Echinacea purpurea seed heads I left in the front border. We also had some strong winds which must have blown more away to be eaten by the Wrens, Dunnocks and Pied Wagtails which are always scratching around looking for stray seeds. Who knows, some may even germinate and give me some free plants.


Frosted Echinacea

This image is not one of mine but I thought it was nice to end this piece. I guess this must have been taken in a place which suffers very early frost because all my Echinaceas lost their petals weeks before our first cold snap in October. It reminds me of crystallised fruit dusted with icing sugar!

Happy Accidents & Pleasing Combinations

The weather is cold and wet and so I’ve been indoors looking back over this year’s photos and deciding what needs to change in the coming year. One thing that struck me was the number of good plant combinations, some planned and some ‘happy accidents’.

Lychnis coronaria alba with Knapweed

Lychnis coronaria alba with Knapweed

I was pleased with the Lychnis amongst the birches and the staddlestone but had nothing to do with the Knapweed which chose just the right spot to add a touch of colour.

Purple Beech and Clematis

Purple Beech and Clematis

I have no idea of it’s name but this clematis was £1.99 from Morrisons and I decided to let it mingle with the young Beech hedge and the colours worked beautifully together. Being a viticella variety I should prune it right back to a pair of buds in February but I’m just going to let it do it’s own thing and see how it performs.

Echinacea with Ricinus communis

Echinacea with Ricinus communis

I wasn’t sure about this combination but the daisy flowerhead of the Echinacea mimics the large palmate leaves of the Ricinus and the colours compliment each other well.

Cosmos bipinnatus with Hesperis matronalis

Cosmos bipinnatus with Hesperis matronalis

The Hesperis matronalis was supposed to be the usual lilac colour but this one turned out to be pure white which acted as the perfect foil for the dark pink Cosmos.

Lychnis coronaria alba with Borage

Lychnis coronaria alba with Borage

Another accidental blue and white combination, the pure white Lychnis with the unique purple and blue of Borage.

Cosmos 'Seashells' with Bupleurum

Cosmos ‘Seashells’ with Bupleurum

These two were planted a metre apart but, as often happens, as the summer wore on they fell into each other creating an unusual but pleasing combination.

Bells of Ireland with Echium 'Blue Bedder'

Bells of Ireland with Echium ‘Blue Bedder’

The Echium grew exceptionally well and was covered in bees all summer. I wasn’t sure about the Bells of Ireland (Molluccella laevis) but the yellow/green bracts work with the blue and the touch of bright white from the Echium.

Echium 'Blue Bedder' with Zinnia 'Lime Green' and Bells of Ireland

Echium ‘Blue Bedder’ with Zinnia ‘Lime Green’ and Bells of Ireland

The addition of Zinnia ‘Lime Green’ and Nicotiana langsdorfii brought a ‘zing’ to the same combination.

Geranium pyrenaicum 'Bill Wallis'

Geranium pyrenaicum ‘Bill Wallis’

This is one of those unplanned but pleasing combinations where two colours of the same variety appear side by side and look good together.

I am sure all these could be planned but I am just as pleased when it happens by accident!