Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Perfect Gift

There are so many delights that the countryside offers and none so beautiful as a field of red poppies. We glimpsed a flash of red as we travelled along a narrow Sussex lane, with double yellow lines either side of the road and no lay-bys so we couldn't stop. We flashed passed another wider entrance with rutted tracks dried by the June sunshine. And then the vision disappeared behind hawthorn hedges.

We travelled more slowly on our return journey and with great care and trepidation pulled into the entrance of the field bumping over the tractor rutts...what a picture, thousands of poppies growing in a farmers crop...

Two weeks later when we drove by again they field had been harvested and every trace of red had gone. The brief glimpse was for me a perfect gift.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Clematis 'Perle d'Azur'

Clematis 'Perle d'Azur'

Without any prepared borders in which to plant anything, I am drawn, in a 'nursery-fix' moment, to purchase three clematis that looked as if they had seen better days. It is not for the first time that I have entered a small nursery and shuddered at the neglect of the plants in the sale area. Having run my own nursery for eleven years, I am more than aware that there are areas which are waiting with plants needing attention of one kind or another, but in the sales area - never. The plants were toppling over, entangled around each other with old dead-looking tendrils, clinging wherever. Undaunted, I looked at labels and made my selection. Philip was standing back, knowing that to comment would not be wise. Weeding the worst offenders out, I made my purchases, pointing out that in two of the three plants, death seemed more likely than life. The guy must have been standing in for the owner, because he hadn't noticed (nor had my OH) the early signs of new life pushing up from the central crown.

Clematis 'Perle d'Azur' was one of the plants I rescued, paying a minuscule part of the asking price...

Pots are the only answer at the moment in this tiny back 'yard' that we will call garden soon. A tall grey pot seemed perfect, but this clematis is vigorous in its growth, so an obelisk is for the time being its only support. I have wound the stems backwards and forwards, and have been well rewarded with quite a few blooms.  One of the great delights of growing plants in pots, is the ability to scrutinise them at close quarters.

The blue of the flowers is lifted by the hint of pink on the central bars. The tiny hairs on the buds can been seen, and the joy of watching one tight bud gradually unfurl, until for several days the flower bobs proudly in the breeze is special indeed. Then of course is the added joy of watching the developing seedpod.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sollya heterophylla AGM

Sollya heterophylla is a treasure...for me. It is one of my memories, now quite distant, of a friendship with one of the great garden designers Rosemary Verey. After the death of my mother, I was privileged enough to accompany my father to her home 'Barnsley House' in Gloucestershire. The unease that I had felt at meeting someone so important was dispelled by her easy manner and welcoming, homely disposition. After that first meeting I was always invited and during my father's last months she would ring me regularly to enquire how things were. Sometimes we wept in unison over the telephone at the obvious conclusion of the situation. She gave me strength and succour and the enthusiasm and confidence to work in my father's garden and bring it back to life.

Sollya heterophylla was one of the first of many gifts that Rosemary gave me. It hasn't grown to its full potential, but I love it none the less for that. It has like so many of my plants, minimal care, yet it is once again covered with tiny little blue flowers, with darker blue buds. Last year it was overwintered in the shelter of the house wall, which, when the sun shines gets full sun for many hours. It comes form West Australia, and is also known as the Bluebell Creeper, or the Australian bluebell creeper. A twining perennial climber with lance-shaped evergreen leaves, and small bell-shaped flowers in nodding clusters. The cylindrical berries can be purple or blue. With my plant they are deep blue. It will grow in full shun or part shade on an East, West  or South-facing wall and isn't fussy about the soil conditions.

It is a gem of a plant. One that I still treasure 35 years on.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Cliff top flowers

We had already driven past vast swathes of thrift, nodding their pink heads in the sea breeze. There were double solid yellow lines on both sides of the road making stopping impossible to snatch a quick photograph. However later in the evening a walk along the cliff top revealed a myriad of different grass and flower species performing well. 

Briza media

Evening primrose

Lupinus arboreus


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Bramber Castle

There is not a lot to see at Bramber Castle, but close your eyes and feel the history.

The ruin of the wall of the keep/gatehouse looks even more imposing looming above as you walk up the slope to the flat grassy area. There are lower walls showing the craftsmanship of the builders of these walls. Ahead is knoll. There are areas of stonework still standing but for the most part there is nothing to see except marvellous views, which, with the absence of all the trees would have given a panoramic view for miles.

Bramber is a Motte and Bailey Castle. Initially this type of castle would have been wooden, replaced by stone in the 1100s. Motte and bailey are Norman French words meaning mound and enclosed land.

William de Braose, founded the castle as a defensive and administrative centre for Bramber, following the Norman Conquest. Sussex was divided into six administrative regions known as 'rapes', each 'rape' controlling a vulnerable point of the strategically important Sussex coast. Each region was controlled by a castle.

The de Braose family and his descendants held the castle from its foundation in 1073 to 1450 except for a brief period, when it was confiscated by King John. Bramber defended the then important Adur harbour and the Adur gap through the South Downs, where the river Adur flowed to the sea.

Following substantial subsidence during the 16th Century, the castle lay in ruins.

Wild flowers abound on the edges of the 'bailey'

The Parish Church of St Nicholas does still stand although not entirely in its original form: it did once form part of the castle wall.

The ditch that was originally dug to raise the motte and bailey even higher has now become an enchanting woodland walk.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


The strange 'bottlebrush' shape of the flowering raceme gives rise to the common name of the callistemon, reminiscent of a traditional bottle brush.

Callistemon flower and developing seed pods

   Long stamens carry pollen at the tip of the filament, all but obscuring the inconspicuous petals. Most flower heads are red, some are yellow, orange or white. Some of the stamens hang on to the bitter end whilst triple-celled seed capsules develop. In most species these will remain enclosed, though a  few species release the seeds annually. What I haven't seen before are the callistemon flower buds.

Callistemon buds resting on pelargonium leaves

   So many plants hold distant memories of places or people. In the instance of the callistemon, although I am certain I saw it at Tresco Gardens when I was a child, it was a visit to an old family friend of my father's who encouraged me horticulturally whilst still a young woman. Tom Edridge was a giant of a man with a shaggy mariner's beard. He lived with his wife overlooking the water at Newton Abbot. Sadly they never had children because he would have made a tremendous father. We walked around his garden one day and already an avid gardener/propagator I picked the hard, rigid seed pod from his bush. He smiled indulgently...'if you have any success with those let me know,' he remarked with a twinkle in his eye. He did eventually divulge that the seed pod required a fire of some intensity to release the seeds. 

   So, I took the seed pod as a reminder of a day with Tom. A habit I still have, be it a leaf, a seedpod, shell or a stone.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Aeonium arboretum - syn. Sempervivum arboretum

Aeonium species

Aeonium arboretum – syn. Sempervivum arboretum, is an erect succulent subshrub. The cultivar A. arboreum ‘Zwartkop’ has rich, almost black-purple leaves. I am not sure that this is the cultivar that I saw in the late 1980s in a park in southern Spain, but the image of its deep maroon almost black foliage really excited me then and remains a tangible memory.

   I first saw a deep maroon almost black plant of Aeonium in a park in southern Spain.  Always a lover of sempervivum, the colour really excited me, as did the height of the plant, so I am guessing that it was a form of Aeonium arboretum. My picture shows a dark form of Aeonium growing in the long greenhouse at Walmer Castle, unfortunately few if any of the plants are labelled.

   However my first sighting of Aeonium and many other sub-tropical species was several decades ago in the gardens of Tresco Abbey in the Isles of Scilly. My memory and fascination of this garden is still very clear and it’s my intention to repeat the experience with my husband in the not too distant future.

   Always a lover of sempervivum from an early age, and kalanchoe also the large grey leaved echeveria that my mother grew - planted outdoors during the summer and reinstated in the greenhouse for the winter months. Sempervivum were, for me, an early introduction to propagation as the mother plant sends off numerous offsets around her. These offsets can be repotted if required or left to make a large mat. One species S. arachnoideum appears to be coated in a web of fine hairs like a spiders web. Once the mother plant has flowered it will die, leaving all the little offsets to grow on.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Paulownia tomentosa

A visit to the hospital was made even sweeter with the sight from the bus of two large trees of Paulownia tomentosa used as a street tree which edged one of the hospital carparks.

Paulownia tomentosa has several common names, Empress tree, Foxglove tree and Princess tree. If I had the space it is a tree I would grow.

After a gruelling hour inside the hospital, a brief walk to smell the uplifting fragrance of this beautiful tree was the best medication for me.

I have never seen the flowers closely before. My father grew a specimen tree which struggled to grow well in his garden and the sparse flowers were always well out of reach. Here by the side of the road some of the branches dipped down to make photographing them easy. The light wasn't perfect but the memory lingers still.

Paulownia tomentosa flowers

Not one but two Paulownia tomentosa

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Crambe maritima

If I were a forager one of my favourite green vegetables grows in large clumps in the shingle beach nearby where I live, just ripe for harvesting: but Richard Harrington at the Marine Conservation Society urges people to cultivate it themselves. With a new garden - not yet planned, but with an increasing number of ornamental plants already purchased - the space for many vegetables is becoming more limited. However the structure of the leaves allows it to be incorporated as a 'structural' plant somewhere in the scheme of things and this is almost certainly what we will do.

In Victorian times it was a popular vegetable. I remember being served curly kale as a child. The Victorians piled stones and sand around the plants so as to harvest the whitened stems for market. It is labour intensive and fiddly if grown for the commercial market.

I have read that the plant should grow for three years before being harvested. With a mixed flavour of asparagus and cauliflower it is - apart from it's vitamin C content a useful addition to the table. The tough leaves should be blanched before frying...I have yet to try.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Centaurea montana 'Amethyst in Snow'

It was the picture on the label that did it for me - bought from Archers Low Nursery a couple of months ago, with the buds not even formed. It has not disappointed me even though there is only one flower in bloom, with many more to come.

I have always loved Centaurea montana; especially 'Parham' but it is possible that this cultivar is my most favourite to date...

Centaurea montana 'Amethyst in Snow'

Monday, April 28, 2014

Is this the way to do it?

Do you save old pots? Especially old terracotta pots - I do, until the narrow crack widens and the need to repot is essential. The old plumbago - a present from a friend of many years had weathered the winter outside in the shelter of the wall, where any winter sun would have warmed it. It looked dead but the stems were still flexible. A diligent picking over of all the browned leaves revealed new leaf buds pushing through. Lifting the pot to a table to do this job edged the crack of many years standing to open further.

We brought a new pot from Archers Low Nursery just as they were trying to close on a sunny spring day. Sarah, ever helpful and accommodating allowed us a late purchase of a lovely square brown pot.

The plumbago was reluctant to give up its position in the cracked pot without some persuasion. With hammer in hand OH dealt with it swiftly - almost too swiftly for me to take a picture!

This is not a conventional way to repot a plant. There were several reasons for the destruction of the pot. One we had no crocks left - now we have enough to last us years. Two I feared damaging the plumbago if I tapped it out the usual way and three I wanted to pick over the topsoil carefully before the muscari bulbs tumbled out. And apart from that it just wouldn't budge from where it had grown happily for many years.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tiarella 'Pink Skyrocket'

These will look beautiful when planted out
together...seedling acer and Tiarella '
Sky Rocket'

I found this little gem in a nursery sale a couple of weeks ago. I am not sure what delighted me the most - the attractively marked leaves or the beautiful flower stems, with the deeper pink buds opening to a soft pale pink, fading to white.

I have always been a lover of Tiarella but in my Sussex garden they quite often succumbed to the dreaded vine weevil; fingers crossed it won't happen again. 

Tiarella's common name is Foamflower. It grows well in full or partial shade, with average to moist soil conditions. The beautiful deeply-cut leaves are marked with deep red in the centres and along the veins.

Evergreen and easy to grow and maintain, with the removal of dead leaves and flower stems in spring rather than autumn or winter. If you want to cut it back do so between April and July.

Close up of the beautiful flowers

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Recycling Plants

I have always been a recycler of plants, be it the trimmings from stems brought in from the garden; these placed in the tiniest of vases if necessary to live out their last hours still being admired rather than thrown in a bin, to viable cuttings taken from prunings of shrubs or climbers in the garden. Always an avid propagator, it may well have been one reason why I opened my own nursery in the early 1990s and with over 7 acres to fill I had plenty of  places to move shrubs that may have outgrown their original space. But now with a new garden to ‘design’ and plant, my views on recycling plants have altered. 

   It is easy to be cynical about other peoples’ choices and planting. I scratch my head and wonder why, with such a small space would anyone plant three of the same conifer, (especially when we dug them out from a narrow border to find that it had all of a few inches in which to grow before the roots hit a thick layer of plastic, which sent them running underneath all the slabs), two identical hebes, a weigela left unpruned for so long it was a tall gangly, tangled mess.

Raised bed with hebe & conifers.
 Ivy on the wall, weigela to the righthand side

Our rear garden (call it that at the stretch of the imagination) is, (so I was told) approximately forty feet in length, with a well-built brick building at the end. We own one part of the long length of it, as it runs into the neighbouring garden and is then converted into a couple of small dwellings. Our other neighbour has a longer garden with a tall boundary brick wall at the end, as do the other neighbours on our terrace, all backed by the same boundary wall.

   A very narrow border runs down one edge of this length, more shady during the day than the north side and is (was) planted with a ‘dwarf’ conifer – one of those that is sold in a three inch pot and in truth stays fairly well behaved until suddenly after a decade (do trees have a similar life span to a cat i.e. one of our years to seven of theirs) they grow steadily at about two feet or more a year. This has not been recycled. 

   By the time I reached the opposite side of the garden where a small area of raised bed, in which two identical conifers was growing rapidly from their early modest beginnings, I was becoming used to the idea of not recycling plants. The guilt I would have felt in my old garden in Sussex quite absolved. 

Tangled Weigela
   The large tangled weigela suffered the same fate; I know I could have pruned it hard etc etc but those days are over. However I had mixed feelings about removing the two ivies that grew either side of the outbuilding door, but once again, badly neglected over the years it was shabby once pruned back and full of dead leaves and dust. And once again, we have this area earmarked for espalier fruit trees… although OH has announced he would like a wisteria! Compromise has to be made in such a small space…only time will tell who leans heaviest!

   But it's too late for second thoughts…only one ivy remains as we wait for the plant to die back sufficiently to remove it from the wall without damage. We cut away a large section in the middle of its growth, removing the stems that were clinging to the bricks and mortar by only a few inches, until they dried a little and we can cut more…as soon as the leaves look a little pallid we will be back to pull them off the wall.  We felt glad that we found no nests in the ivy (often a favourite place for small birds, especially wrens). In the long term it is a good thing because the facia needs painting and the gutters are no longer littered with ivy growing along its length. 
Two fuchsias, weepy in habit remain in the narrow border. I need to buy a suitable pot to take them both. So they too will be recycled. Two large variegated hebes have already been repotted and we hope will be integrated into the design of the back garden.

Dying ivy being removed from the wall

The large specimen of box was recycled. This grew against the low wall. It had no ‘back’ and a very large pop belly. Whilst it waited for clipping we dropped it into the biggest pot we could find and covered with compost. As it was going against the wall of the house, the lack of ‘back’ didn’t matter.

A low growing conifer, also sadly neglected over the years, leant forward across the front pathway looking for light.  Within an hour and a half we had the sprawling mess, cut down, chopped and bagged and the stump removed… I love this kind of gardening…it leaves you with a huge sense of satisfaction. On this piece of dividing wall grows a Hydrangea petiolaris, which I had already pruned back against the wall…two new clematis are now planted to grow up and through the stems. The box has a new home in the front of this planting. Primrose and winter aconite are planted nearby.

So do I advocate recycling? Yes if at all possible…

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Delightful Gift

Remembering me from thousands of miles away, my lovely daughter Sorcha, arranged a gift with a nursery who I follow both on twitter and facebook. A welcome email from Pollie Maasz included a couple of enticing photographs of her wonderful stock plants, along with a message to purchase plants for my Mothers Day gift. Wise daughter to send this such a present ...

Hemerocallis en masse at Pollie's Nursery
With very little notice, Pollie and her husband were gracious enough to allow us to drop in. It was lovely to meet a virtual friend. Who in the spirit of a true gardener was willing to share both time and knowledge. It was the late Rosemary Verey who told me that from every garden visited, you will come away with an idea, and or a piece of knowledge - maybe not to be used immediately but to always keep it: in your head, your heart or better still for most of us in a notebook.

Whilst discussing daylilies, three of which I inherited from my father's Sussex garden I commented on the fact that the 'orangey' one, (I guessed to be Hemerocallis fulva) which was always the earliest to flower, succumbed to Hemerocallis Gall Midge every year. Pollie was able to explain to me the life cycle of this little pest, go to the RHS website to read. If you are introducing daylilies into the garden for the first time it is always best to avoid the early flower varieties.

The garden is full of promise and I am really glad that I've agreed to return to collect my plant/s later in the year, thus (hopefully) affording me the opportunity to save on postage and buy more. AND see Pollie's plants in all their glory.

Pollie's Nursery bed
The selection on Pollie's website, is almost too enticing to make a choice. My original (draft) list doubles my gift, well there is no problem in treating myself is there? The first plant Jelly Dancer took up the cost of my already generous gift. I could easily double the order. I have held back with only 40' of garden, still not designed, common sense must prevail...

A further ponder on the choices made and I've changed my list again. There are so many things to consider but I will very soon send in my order, even if I have to wait another year to collect the plants

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Field of Yellow

Yellow en masse has never been a favourite colour for me, but watching the development of this enormous field of rape has made me smile each time I've passed by. Maybe it is the the sharp contrast of the black windmill. The rape grows beside a narrow but very busy road with solid white lines either side. Each time we passed we looked for a place suitable to stop to take some shots before the rape was harvested. Swinging into the field keeping to the tractor wheel ruts we were able to take a few pictures.

In the centre of the field on the opposite side of the road, a copse stands in a recently ploughed field.
A scene which is just as magical - full of expectation.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Secret No More

The Broadwalk - Walmer Castle Gardens

Walmer Castle Gardens. For me this garden is a gem, with a mix of planting that will please us both. 

Philip more of the ordered, clipped, neat tidy persuasion and me the wild, natural look: there is plenty of both styles of planting in this garden. Having said that he loved the clipped ruggedness of the yew hedges that formed a backdrop to The Broadwalk. 

There is a wooden seat at the end of The Broadwalk, where you can sit and view not just the length of the twin herbaceous borders, but a distant vista across a croquet lawn and out into the wildness.

I can see a string of elephants in the undulating yew hedge. This hedge, neglected during the war, then damaged by the harsh winter of 1947, was cut into this interesting shape. I am assuming that prior to this it was a neat line. 

Old photographs of the mirror herbaceous borders in their full flowering glory, are a treat that will have to wait. I was informed by a member of staff that one of the borders has been left fallow, in order to tackle a bindweed problem. However this garden has a wealth of trees and plants to enjoy.

There will be further posts about this delightful garden.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A River of Red

I am almost certain that this is Photinia x fraseri 'Red Robin'. It is a shrub that I coveted in the Italian gardens that grew it as a hedge in place of the laurel that surrounds the garden of No 3 and the majority of the town's gardens. There is something enticing about this glorious display of bright red new growth. I have seen it locally in rivers of red, blocks of scarlet and specimens, clashing with bright pink cherry blossom. 

It has to be forgiven for any is a delight and can not only make me smile, yet begs me to stroke the soft young leaves.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Clematis 'Brunette'

What a delight this Clematis is. New to me - it was flowering gaily in a small independent garden centre I happened upon. It is a little shy about showing its flowers to me but then it is only small. Next year with more growth I should be able to snap the flowers without sitting down. Planted next to Exochorda x macrantha 'The Bride' the two plants are on their way to give lots of spring contrast.

Clematis 'Brunette'

Exochorda x macrantha 'The Bride'

Friday, March 28, 2014

An Ongoing Education

Imagine my delight when attending a recent HPS Group meeting, I came across an Amateur Gardening book on Plant Propagation edited by A. G. L. Hellyer. 

Published nearly sixty years ago, in 1955, I know that many of these Amateur Gardening Books were 'compiled' from various articles previously printed in the magazine.

Although I knew it was there, I was delighted to turn to the inner flap of the back dust sleeve cover to see a picture of my father, sitting at his desk, looking very handsome, smart and exactly how I remember him all those years ago.

I am certain that, if I had this book on my shelf when I began propagating I would have used it.

As I know that his garden in Sussex was used for 'photo shoots' I am certain that the apple trees are at Orchards and my mother's hands feature in some of the illustrations.

The lady who owned the book assured me that although very old the propagation methods were current. I was buying the book anyway, it is one that I do not have on my shelves.

I was intrigued by one method of propagation that I knew nothing about. Polythene film, as another method of taking root cuttings. An ideal method for those with little space for propagation. 

What a neat little bundle...

Picture copyright to W.H. & L. Collingridge Limited London

Monday, March 17, 2014

Exochorda x macrantha 'The Bride'

A mouthful of name for such a simple flower; a plant that takes me back to the late 1970s.

Exochorda macrantha 'The Bride' was one of the first shrubs I bought when I moved into Orchards (the home and garden of the late Arthur Hellyer and his wife Gay). I remember bringing a tiny pot with a twiggy growth back from a show at RHS Vincent Square.  It was planted on the top terrace at Orchards in full sun; in this position it thrived. By the time I left Orchards it had matured into a glorious mound with weeping branches that had to be trimmed back to stop it smothering smaller plants beneath.

It has the potential to grow 6ft high and spread to 10ft. 

In my new garden I was delighted to recognised a well clipped specimen, planted in a sunless corner between the wall of the house and the boundary wall. I identified the seedpods before the flowers and leaves emerged...

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Power of Enhancement

I have used Photoshop many times but never to such dramatic effect...

The day was grey, rays of watery sun broke through the high cloud onto a grey sea (P1)...I pressed enhance and was amazed at the difference (P2)...for an experiment I enhanced once more...(P3).

In some ways this has left me feeling a little disappointed because P1 was how it looked and how the day looked too...

Monochrome of Grey

1st Enhancement 

2nd Enhancement  
However, I find all three photographs very beautiful.