Jewels in the gardening crown


The sun is shining, the garden has had lots of rain, and its that wonderful tulip time of year again at last!

Last autumn, you may remember, I completely re-vamped my south-facing bed. And then planted a back-breakingly huge lot of tulips – all it seems ‘Queen of Night’, although I could have sworn there were some others too!   Its a real old dependable and a lovely sumptuous colour, so I am not complaining, but I am making a mental note to plant some other associated magentas and wine coloured tulips this autumn to keep these company.



I have also re-planted a lovely tulip that had sort of disappeared in my front garden – it is called ‘Moonlit girl’ and is a lovely gentle yellow.


Sadly only one flower has decided to arrive thus far, but never mind.

I also have the species tulipa sylvestris for the first time as well.


There are, of course, lots of other non-tulip highlights for this wonderful time of year.

All the greens are so fabulously intensely green right now, and all the fresh new colours of spring ‘zing’ even more intensely in contrast to that emerald back-drop – it really is a time of year when something new is popping up virtually everyday and plants are growing  before your eyes within hours.

I particularly adore my box at this time of year – the lovely new growth seems to give the lovely round shapes a look of glowing ‘as if lit from within’, as Dan Pearson once memorably put it.



Ferns are unfurling at this time of year by the minute, and their abundance and lushness is also  joy to behold – ancient yet so contemporary at the same time..


My Acer is a  yellow-green all of its own at this time of year strangely mixed with pink stems, which works well  even though it sounds like it shouldn’t.  (I inherited this wonderful tree so I don’t sadly know its variety name.)



Dependable grape hyacinths are powering back – they thrive on complete neglect in my herb bed and come back every year.


My dicentra spectabilis is always a big star of the shade border  – a really tough and reliable plant.  It appears as my theme title of this blog, but that was in 2012 – here it is again today…



My pots are also coming out of hibernation.


My clematis armandii ‘Snowdrift’ has been very happy this spring, and has flowered abundantly…


and my Chinese virginia creeper (parthenocissus henryana) is coming back into leaf (seen here along with my clematis armandii).


And here is a close up of its amazing ‘feet’ that mean it can self-cling to the wall…


Quite a few plants are completely new to my garden this spring – things I have long coveted, but have only just got around to growing.

The first is the wonderfully named, and equally spectacularly performing, Euphorbia characias wulfenii – its particular shade of acid lime green is the true herald of spring…


I am very pleased with how it has worked in my new front garden bed design.



I have never grown camassia leichtlinii before – but one of the blue form is flowering today – the first of many I hope, as I planted a good quantity of the white and blue forms.


Two other new things.  Firstly a new houseplant.  I have only grown moth orchids to date – but I have now branched out with a ‘ZZ’ plant as its commonly called – allegedly it cannot be killed and survives on utter neglect, but we shall see.


And I have this week planted up a ‘stumprockery’ at my parents’ garden. It started life as a stumpery, but as its not actually in the usual gloomy shaded spot that stumperies favour, it has become combined with a rockery – lots of lovely alpines and the fern dryopteris affinis which can tolerate sun. I look forward to observing its progress…



So,  this is my favourite spring view of my garden from my kitchen at the moment,  as I await the on-coming excitement of Chelsea Flower Show, from which I will be reporting next month, thereby also marking the two-year anniversary of this blog!


Watch this space and happy gardening!!





Finally, spring has sprung…..


So, the weather may have been appallingly wet, and often depressingly grey, this winter, but finally spring is around the corner, and everything in my garden is looking very happy at the moment.   All the new planting I did in the autumn couldn’t have had a better grounding for getting established and everything is just raring to get going.

I’m also quietly pleased today, not only because the sun is shining, but mainly because I have just posted my first assignment off to  KLC for assessment – hurray!  It’s been a steep learning curve, but a fascinating journey which I’ve really enjoyed, especially getting to grips with all the technical drawing.  I love the artistic side of getting  my horticultural knowledge onto paper.


The transition of winter merging into spring is always exciting, especially as there are so many highlights along the way in quick succession – every day brings satisfying discoveries of old returning friends in the garden.


The snowdrops have been lighting up the garden since January and are still going strong.  Here are some of my doubles, against a backdrop of ferns…


And here are some of my mother’s singles against a glossy backdrop of bay.


My hellebores have been getting on very nicely without me during all the wind and rain – when I ventured out at the beginning of February there they were!  They have got going at last this year, after sulking for a while after planting a few years back.  Here are some flowers in a bowl, the better to examine closely the simplicity and variety of the flowers.




My coronilla is looking ever more luminous, and now smelling divinely lemony…


And my eremurus are pushing their way up ready for all those dramatic ‘fox tail’ flowers in May.  Last year each rhizome I purchase gave me one flower spike – this year there are six peaking out for each rhizome…


My trusty bearded irises are really gathering pace now, their first perfect leaf spikes always a most welcome sight.


And these are my verbascums, seedlings raised by my mother, waiting to shoot up their wonderful yellow spires in summer – the leaves are white and furry and architectural.


So this is my garden as of now – waiting for the abundance of summer, but showing definite signs of all the powerhouse of energy that is surging up from underground as all the bulbs and herbaceous plants return to life.




And finally two ‘mottos to live by’, that keep me company at my desk…happy gardening, until next month.


Happy New Gardening Year!


Alchemilla mollis with frost

Welcome to 2014!  Even if it’s already feeling quite a familiar thing by now…

Many apologies for having been absent from my blog for so long – November and December were frantically busy with garden studies, my son’s birthday, and, of course, the delights of Christmas.   However, a few horticultural highlights need to be noted.

In November I was very lucky to attend a lecture by Fergus Garrett of Great Dixter fame, given by the Friends of Cambridge University Botanic Gardens. He was a wonderful and inspiring speaker, with an amazing slide collection, which he just talked us through in an engaging and informal style, (without a single note!) and many great jokes. He is such a hands-on plantsman, with such a wealth of knowledge and expertise. It made me realise I must go back to see Great Dixter again – I last went about 15 years ago.


Acanthus leaf outlined with frost

I also attended my first Society of Garden Designers conference in London in November, as a newbie student member, and it was excellent. A great venue at Imperial College, wonderful catering throughout the day (mini cheesecakes with tea break!) and some fascinating speakers. I particularly enjoyed Cleve West‘s modest and hilarious talk on how he became a garden designer and where he gets his inspiration from, and Andy Sturgeon‘s no less self-deprecating and witty analysis of his design style and influences. To see two great designers whose writing and work I have admired for many years live on stage was a real treat. It was a great day and I look forward to attending more SGD events in the future.

But mainly I’ve been working hard to finish my first submission project for my KLC course (almost there!), of which more in subsequent posts. This post is therefore rather short this month, I’m afraid.

So, today I had a quick check to see what’s doing well after a heavy hore frost this morning and surprisingly quite a lot is going on out in the grim January depths ….

My white Helleborus niger is emerging


My Coronilla valentine ssp.glauca ‘Citrina’ is flowering,


As are my primulas


My Clematis armandii is about to flower, with swelling buds


And my Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii is developing its splendid buds on nodding heads, getting ready to do its spectacular thing in the spring.



But my snowdrops are not yet really producing any flowers – only one, growing sideways!


So, all and all, its quite exciting, even for the quiet month of January. Although, of course, January is a great month to do plenty of garden reading, dreaming and planning and assessing the ‘bare bones’ of your plot from the central-heating comfort of your sitting room.

Finally,  I must share with you my mother’s wonderful artistry, inspired by J R R Tolkein’s original illustrations – here is her Hobbit birthday cake she made for my youngest son – Bilbo on his barrel going down stream…


(It is gardening related because the forest is made of real Koelreuteria and Yew tree branches!).

Happy gardening until next month.

Mellow fruitfulness and autumn works


Penstemon ‘Raven’ in the late autumn sunshine


Our lovely quince tree with six glowing fruits


Clematis tangutica  ‘Bill Mackenzie’ having its big moment


The japanese crimson glory vine (Vitis coignetiae) living up to its name

Since I last wrote I have been extremely busy.


Now is the time of year to re-organise anything that is unsatisfactory about your garden, and it is most gratifying  to tackle the garden in the autumn – you know the plants are dormant and happy to be divided or moved, and all the while you are setting up the best possible start for all your plants.  Plant or re-plant everything well, with lots of compost and bonemeal, set them up for getting really nicely settled before the winter, and sit back and watch them do their stuff next year, with the happiness of knowing you did everything at the right time.


This year I had big plans for my sunny long border, and for my front garden, both of which have been niggling away at me as needing a re-think.


A happy chance composition of box balls awaiting planting

The back garden sunny border has always been a bit random in its evolution, with some ‘wrong’ plants I’ve just been putting up with.  This is how it looked in June…


The front garden had got far too untidy and wasn’t really doing very much – a lazy mix of planting that didn’t quite work either.  The irises, whilst lovely, always got bashed down a few minutes after being photographed – it just wasn’t sheltered enough out the front for them.  This is how it looked in June…


So, time for big changes.

The weather throughout my intensive seven separate days of tackling my big project was wonderful – in fact on some of the days it was a little too hot and I had to don a sun hat and sunglasses…


but since I completed all my works it has rained a lot which is just what everything needs now.


So, day one started with a big clear out of the mess that had become the inside of the shed over the summer. Even the cat could sense a deal of excitement in the air.


A huge clearing of dead or failing plants also then took place, and packing away of summer furniture.


Day two was removing bearded irises from the front garden and trimming them and replanting them in the back garden (they were in too much of a wind tunnel at the front.) This is a fiddly and time-consuming task, but important.

If you want your bearded irises to perform well every autumn you should cut away old leaves, and neatly trim the leaves to prevent rocking in the wind which can unhinge the rhizomes from the surface of the soil. Make sure all rhizomes are nicely on the surface of the soil so they can bake, but also well anchored in the grit which you should surround them with to ensure that they don’t get waterlogged in the winter. If the roots haven’t anchored enough to be very firmly embedded when you touch them, give them a helping hand with a little stake just until they are firmly rooted. (Occasionally my cat digs one up and it needs to be re-settled!). All this effort will be well worth it, come May.  This is the same patch of bed as seen above, in its prime…


I also dug up all my front garden crocosmia ‘Coleton Fishacre’ which had got congested and non-flowering and moved it to the back garden. Carol Klein describes them as growing like a sixties bobble necklace, and it is a very apt description – I unpicked vast bucket loads of the necklaces, and replanted them. The plants will now put on new vigour (I hope!)

I then planted more of the species daylily (hemerocallis liliosphodelus) and hemerocallis ‘Stafford’ as both performed so well in the summer.


On day three I removed all dead and non-performing plants from my long sunny back garden border, and cut back all large plants so that I could work unhindered.



On day four I removed all the perennials from the bed, and divided all those I wanted to replant.

I have some lovely nepeta, penstemons and geraniums, but instead of just having a clump of each I wanted to have more repetition and rhythm to the bed by repeating those plants.  I then replanted these with some lovely new plants  – a second pink buddleja, a caryopteris, a mock-orange, and a new penstemon called ‘Raven.’




New hardy geranium ‘Brookside’ happy in the new planting scheme

Hopefully a dreamy combination of blues, pinks and purples will come forth next summer – watch this space!


On day five I cleared the front garden completely and dug in compost and grit.


On day six I completely replanted my front garden with a mixture of euphorbia, lavender and sisyrinchium. I have a blue wisteria and a yellow clematis on the front wall, so I decided to stick strictly to yellow and blues in my new bed, with box balls for structure in the winter.


I also cleared the enormous pile of debri from my back garden into twelve bags of the heavy duty variety to go to composting (the boring bit, and hard work!)


And finally on day seven I planted all my bulbs in the front and back garden, and on my balcony. What has been refreshing is planting bulbs properly for probably the first time ever – instead of just popping them in here and there in my borders (often digging up other forgotten bulbs in the process) this time I was able to add them into newly planted borders, exactly and precisely, laying them all out where I wanted them to be planted first, and then putting them in,  in one clean planting schedule – hurrah!


Lots of daffodils in the front garden, and lots of tulips, alliums and camassias in the back garden. Fingers crossed they all come up well.

Then a final mulch of grit and compost, and a weed of the entire paving  (hated job), and my garden is finally ‘put to bed’ for the winter.


I have so enjoyed being out all day long gripped by the task in hand – it is what I love most about gardening – getting your hands dirty, tending your plants in a caring and exacting way, and knowing you are creating something lovely for the spring – it gives you something to keep you going through the winter months, and gives you a unique glow of having done the right thing by your garden.

Back to school summer review

P1070684Stipa gigantea and fennel in late autumn sun

Since I last wrote, ages ago on 1st July, when the cold weather was just about to finally leave us and be replaced by a perfect summer ( sunny and warm days, plenty of rain at night ) there’s been a few non-gardening things going on.

There was some of this -


and quite a lot of these -


and even one of these!


But gardening has never been far away, even whilst entertaining two young sons all through the school holidays.

For instance we have done lots of admiring and enjoying of -

my parents’ garden,


and the wonderful plantings at  Cambridge University Botanic Gardens,



And we’ve even admired ‘shell art’ at Wiverton Hall Farm cafe and thought about adding some of our own back at home…


But now it’s back to school, for my children and for myself, with my first project for Klc to get under my belt, and various re-plantings of my own garden to get under way (more of which in other posts).

So it seems a fitting time to review some good high-to-late summer performers which I’ve been pleased with in my garden, some of which I’ve grown for the first time.

Achillea ‘Terracotta’ has been gorgeously burnished as ever -


Asphodeline have been a joy – my first time growing these, and they are super – easy to plant in grit (they like the same conditions as my irises) and pretty stunning in the growing…


Hemerocallis ‘Stafford‘ has come into its own at last – a great recommendation of Dan Pearson and many others – a classic for a very good reason


Agapanthus seem to get on well in my garden, and I resolve to grow more next year – I have several blues I’ve planted and a white one I inherited



My Clematis ‘Blue Angel’ (also inherited) is rather lovely for a long period in late summer.


My herb garden I replanted in June has filled out nicely (here seen with an unusual stone we picked up in Norfolk affectionately known as ‘Mr Torso’)


My new red alpine Lampranthus brownii has a name that gives nothing away as to how stunning it can be – it was quite conventionally letter box red in July…


…and is now rather wonderfully orange/pink in the hot sun.


And finally my Crocosmia ‘Emily Mckenzie’ has got into it’s stride after several years of simply sulking – I think it might be the definition of the glowing, burnished September effect!


And to top it all we have a few quince fruits on our tree (Cydonia oblonga ‘Vranga’ Nenadovic) which we planted three years ago – at last! We have had none thus far, but that looks set to change.


So now it’s onwards and upwards into autumn…..