Six on Saturday

Another very cold and frosty morning in Cheltenham. Not a lot of activity at the moment other than rose pruning when the day warms up and assessing jobs to be done when February comes around. February is my weed/feed/mulch month and I am itching to get started.

These Chaenomeles japonica fruits are hanging on before they finally wither and drop off. In my garden, nothing seems to eat them. I have tried putting them out on the lawn for blackbirds, pigeons and other fruit eating birds but they are always ignored. Strange when you consider they are perfectly edible and apparently make good quince jelly.

Lots of fat buds on the Photinia fraserii ‘Red Robin’ bushes promising a good flush of red tips in April

The purple Honesty has almost shed all it’s mother of pearl seed discs, just leaving their ghostly outline. I am hoping for a good show next year if they decide to germinate. It is one of those plants that only seems happy if it decides where to grow itself. This one arrived by chance from the adjoining hedgerow where it revels in the poor soil and total lack of maintenance.

Even too cold for the snowdrops this morning and I don’t blame them. It was -5°C at 8am.. They will perk up once the sun warms them.

Such a beautiful clear blue sky silhouetting the birches. They had their annual trim this week to keep them looking good.

The prunings make good plant supports too!

Have a great weekend


Six on Saturday

Surveying the damage!

The snow of a week ago disappeared in just 24 hours leaving behind a trail of death and destruction. Anything remotely tender left in greenhouses, porches or sheds has been lost to the minus 10C we experienced here in the chilly Cotswolds.

Shrubs and perennials. normally robust and capable of withstanding ‘normal’ winter temperatures, were struck down under a thick blanket of snow which then froze for 7 days straight. This Penstemon ‘Hidcote Pink’ which I have had for 10 years is probably no more, the emerging shoots having been killed off.

Even the top growth of Pittosporum was frosted to death which is so unusual here, even in a relatively hard winter.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Amongst the death and dying, there is new life emerging from the cold soggy ground which provides hope of better times to come. The days are now getting longer, Christmas is nearly upon us and I have given myself a present to help to work off the turkey and keep me occupied next week when the family goes home.

Yes! A ton of fresh willow woodchip! My friend Tom, the local tree surgeon and all round good guy, turned up as promised with a load of free mulch for under the established trees and shrubs. Willow, according to Tom, is perfectly safe used fresh like this due to its lack of anything resinous or toxic, which is a problem with anything coniferous. Willow has a high water content and does not leach anything nasty into the soil as it breaks down.

And it looks like my Tradescantias have come through okay, their snow duvet having melted to reveal bedraggled but living foliage.

They may take a little tidying up and a good feed in the spring to coax them back into action, but they all seem to have proved they can withstand pretty bleak weather.

A very Merry Christmas to you all.


Six on Saturday

It has been a very cold week in my part of the Cotswolds. Hard frosts followed by glorious blue skies and warm sunshine. I have friends who tell me that’s why they go skiing. I hate the cold and would never go skiing! But I do like frosty mornings and the way plants take on a new look.

Rosa ‘Darcey Bussell’ and Penstemon ‘White Bedder’

Iberis sempervirens and Erysimum linifolium ‘Variegatum’

I popped outside to chase away next door’s cat from my bird feeder and came across this fuchsia which, I readily admit, I had completely overlooked this year. It was hidden by dahlias and agapanthus but was obviously fine with that as it grew into a fine plant which I will endeavour to look after better next year. It was one of a pair that I planted some years ago but is now a singleton. Supposed to be hardy and up to 5′ tall but I have been routinely hacking it back to the ground in my annual February border clearance!

Fuchsia ‘Whiteknights Pearl’

Sometimes, foliage is enough. This is particularly true if it is variegated, evergreen and glossy like this beautiful Osmanthus which is part of the ‘bones’ of the front border and is gently expanding into an attractive and trouble free shrub.

Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’

I hear from all quarters that it has been an exceptional year for Hesperantha. Gardeners are reporting it to be the best year ever and I must agree, mine have never looked so good.

I know I have mentioned this before, but when it’s as beautiful as this it deserves another plug. Hesperantha coccinea ‘Pink Princess’ is simply gorgeous and is today’s star performer. She shrugs off cold and rain and opens her pretty blush pink flowers as soon as the sun shines. One of this years best buys and will hopefully spread and perform as well as this next year.

Hesperantha coccinea ‘Pink Princess’

I love watching the early morning frost turn to water droplets which hang like pearls on flowers and foliage. These are some examples from Thursday morning.

Salvia ‘Trelissick’ and Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’

Photinia ‘Red Robin’ and Euphorbia characias


A few years ago I gave up on Poinsettias for Xmas. They hate draughts and central heating, are fickle about watering and humidity, and almost always drop their leaves and go leggy by The Big Day and are consigned to the utility room. However, I am weak and prone to whims, so this little beauty found it’s way home with me. Pretty don’t you think? Like someone was painting nearby!

Have a great weekend and stay safe


Disaster Strikes!

Ailing Garrya

South side

Just when you think you’ve got everything in the garden under control, Mother Nature slaps you in the face to remind you she is in charge! One of the key shrubs in the middle garden and an essential part of the structure planting is Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’. It was already established when we moved here so I guess it might be forty years old. Unusually, it is planted as a free-standing specimen and not against a north wall as was the tradition. In my re-design, I have worked around it to create a sweeping bed under-planted with Japanese Anemones. It also provides a permanent backdrop to the ornamental pond and casts late afternoon shade which the fish enjoy in summer. This is known to be a tough shrub capable of surviving sub zero temperatures for sustained periods despite it’s origins in the temperate regions of the western USA and central America. Indeed, it chooses to flower in the depths of winter which is a big part of its appeal, the long pinky green catkins giving it the common name of Silk-tassel bush. However, over the last month, the southern and west facing sides have turned an alarming dead brown colour.

North side

North side

The north and east aspects are fine and healthy new growth is already appearing.So what’s different all of a sudden? Could it be last four winters have gradually taken their toll and weakened the ageing plant beyond its pain threshold? But if so, why only on the south and west sides? Perhaps it was the harsh pruning last year to re-shape and lift the canopy to promote the under-storey? Given the sustained cold weather for three months followed by a sudden period of warm sunshine I am going to assume it is frost damage and nothing more serious at this stage. There is new growth appearing from behind the crispy brown exterior so I think it’s out with the ladder and secateurs and keeping fingers crossed time!


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!