Archive for the ‘Plants & Planting’ Category

We love Hippeastrum (Amaryllis)…

Posted by editor on Friday, 2 March 2018

Early March is not too late to enjoy the gorgeous, elegant, large flowered Hippeastrum (Amaryllis), and it is still possible to find a great range, both in shape of flower and colour from white, pale pink to deep purple-reds, and oranges.

Quick Tips:

  • Planting Period: October until the end of April.
  • Flowering Period: Late December until the end of June.
  • Flowering time is 6 -10 weeks.
  • Larger bulbs produce more flowers.
  • Always store un-planted bulbs in a cool place
  • Submerge  roots and the base of the bulb in tepid water for several hours prior to planting

Amaryllis bulbs are huge, some up to 12 cm across, and they like a tight fit in their pot, soleave only about 2.5 cm between the bulb and the side, if planting only one. They thrive on being crowded. The pot should be twice the depth of the size of bulb.  I plant 3 or 5 (depending on size of bulb) in a Victorian wash bowl for maximum impact!

Amaryllis bulbs have a tendency to rot and drainage is vital so put a handful of crocks in the bottom of the pot.  Using a mix of multi-purpose compost and horticultural grit or perlite, plant the bulbs so that one-third of the bulb remains above the surface. Taking care not to damage the roots, press the soil down firmly to set the bulb securely in place. Water in well, although avoid watering the bulb itself as it is vulnerable.  Use tepid tap water. If like me you are using a bowl without holes in the bottom of it, you must water with great care so as to avoid water logging.

Regular checks need to be made on the moistness of the compost so it doesn’t dry out.  Once leaves start to appear you know that root activity has begun and the plants need regular watering.  You can also give a weak liquid feed every month to build up the bulb so you can enjoy its beauty next year.

As Amaryllis originate from South Africa a warm and sunny position, free from draughts, with a temperature of 15-20c, is ideal for good growth.  The plant should flower within six to eight weeks.  As soon as the flowers start to open, move the plant to a cooler place,   10-15c, to prolong their life.  Supporting the developing plants with a ring of twigs (birch or hazel) will both look beautiful, and prevent the tall stems from flopping. With the largest of the bulbs you should enjoy at least 3 consecutive flower stems.

When they are finished cut the old flower stems down to the base, leaving the foliage to continue photosynthesising in a warm and light situation. Continue watering and feeding until the leaves start to shrivel.  Stop watering and keep the bulb somewhere dry, cool and dark until the late autumn.

We love: Fritillaria

Posted by editor on Monday, 11 April 2011

This fascinating genus contains over 100 species of bulbous perennials, from the tall and dramatic F. imperialis (Crown Imperial) to the delicate F. meleagris (snake’s head fritillary) with its distinctive chequered flower. In the main they originate from around the Mediterranean, Asia and North America (F.meleagris is the one species of fritillaria thought to be native to Britain).

The majority bloom in spring and have distinctive flowers that are generally bell-shaped and pendant. These hardy bulbs need deep, rich and well draining soil and should be planted in autumn to a depth of at least twice that of the bulb.  They can also be successfully grown in pots, which in the case of F. imperilais is helpful, making them easier to move under cover during the winter months.

Other favourites include F. persica, a deep dusky mauve, and F. persica Ivory Bells.  Flowers are held in long racemes of up to 30 narrowly bell-shaped somewhat conical flowers, about ¾” long with a waxy bloom.

Also look out for Fritillaria michailovskyi, it has up to five, pendant reddish-purple bells with a yellow edge on the outside and a shiny yellow interior.  Like F. meleagris it is only 8-10” tall, an exquisite woodland or river meadow gem.

Prop up your plants!

Posted by editor on Monday, 28 March 2011

Now is the very best time to get your plant supports into place.  With growth on most perennials just starting, you can clearly see where the plants are and more easily get stakes or supports into position.

Of course, not just tall perennials – climbers, certain roses, even vegetables like broad and runner beans will need careful staking to avoid the plants collapsing as they grow in heavy rain and winds.

Some of our favorite materials and effects:

  • Simple and relaxed – consider birch or hazel twiggy sticks, bendy and easy to twist around to create loose supports.
  • Dramatic – tall supports like wigwams or tripods – use straight hazel sticks pushed firmly into the ground and tied at the top.  Wrap wide mesh or twist soft twigs around the bottom half of the structure to give seedlings something to cling to as they grow.
  • Metal structures – we prefer rusted metal, though in the right setting stainless steel can look very dramatic – metal can be formed into wonderful natural shapes mimicking seed heads or leaf structures, blending with the plant shapes themselves.
  • Wooden structures – obelisks can look very good in more formal settings, often best painted in soft mid-tones.
  • Arches and arbors – made from young living willow.  Pushed firmly into the ground and watered in well, willow will root very easily to form a living structure.  As it grows, twist and plait in the shoots to form a robust structure.
  • Practical supports – simple grids made using bamboo canes are perfect for the cutting garden where practical considerations are more important than aesthetics.

We love creative and decorative supports – maybe hang small bits of mirror, glass or foil milk bottle tops from your structure to move and glitter gently with the wind.  Paint bamboo canes or panels of wooden trellis in bright colours and use amongst the flowers in your cutting garden – or why not use rusted bed-springs to support your broad beans in the vegetable patch?!

The key thing is to let the support structures flow with your planting, give great thought to which material suits your planting, enjoy building your structures and be experimental.

Plant of the Month: Daphne

Posted by editor on Friday, 18 March 2011

Daphnes are invariably grown for their delightfully fragrant flowers, which most have in abundance, but some are grown for their foliage, fruit, or upright, rounded or prostrate habit.

Daphne as a genus consists of about 50 deciduous, semi-evergreen and evergreen species, from Europe, North Africa and Asia. Their natural habitats range from lowland woodlands to mountains. There are many species and cultivars in cultivation, and some are at their best in the depths of winter, when there is little else to compete with.

  • Family – Thymelaeaceae
  • Height & spread – 1.5m (5ft) high and wide
  • Soil – Moderately fertile, humus rich, well-drained soil
  • Aspect – Full shade to open
  • Hardiness – Hardy in some areas, may require protection in winter

Of the deciduous cultivars D. bholua var. glacialis ‘Gurkha’ displays pink-flushed white flowers. Another Daphne that flowers without the obstruction of leaves is D. mezereum, or mezereon as it is sometimes called. A flush of colour appears in late winter through into early spring before the leaves begin to grow. The purplish pink blooms, or white in the case of D. mezereum f. alba, cover the spreading stems that can reach up to 1.2m (4ft).

Daphne odora is a rounded evergreen shrub and another wonderfully scented example that flowers in the winter and early spring. It has clusters of white flowers edged with carmine and darkly glossy evergreen leaves.

The cultivar ‘Aureomarginata’ AGM has leaves with narrow, irregular yellow margins, it was awarded an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) for its scented flowers and variegated foliage. It bears fragrant, deep purple-pink and white flowers, to 1.5cm (1/2 in) across, in terminal, sometimes axillary clusters of 10-15 or more, from midwinter to early spring. These are followed by fleshy, spherical red fruit.

The hardiness varies as well as the leaf retention, flowering period and shade tolerance.

Daphnes grow well in borders or in woodland settings and once planted do not like to be moved. They will also perform well in containers. To gain the maximum pleasure from growing daphnes, plant them near paths and buildings where both the sight and scent of their flowers can be easily admired and appreciated.

The inner bark of the daphne can be used to make good quality paper, and rope. All parts of the plant are poisonous and skin contact with the sap can cause dermatitis in some people.


Daphne prefers a cool lime-free well-drained sandy loam and a sunny position.

It succeeds in neutral soils and tolerates partial shade. Some species also succeed in quite deep shade. At least some forms, especially the sub-species D. bholua var. glacialis tolerate alkaline soils. It flowers well when grown in dry shade, and likes plenty of moisture in the growing season.

It grows well in urban areas, tolerating the atmospheric pollution. Plants are resentful of root disturbance and should be planted into their permanent positions as soon as possible. Keep pruning to a minimum.

Aphids, leaf spot, grey mould (Botrytis) and viruses may be a problem.

Photo credit:

We love – dahlias!

Posted by editor on Sunday, 13 March 2011

We love their exuberance, their beautiful colours and their form.  If you haven’t yet switched on to dahlias, do it now, I’m sure you won’t regret it!

  • Plant dahlia tubers (or cuttings) in March or early April, in a generous pot.  Plant the tuber stem upwards, 5cm deep, in a light, frost-free place.
  • Alternatively, plant out tubers in the ground after mid-April 5cm below soil level, when danger of frost has passed.
  • Plant dahlias in a free-draining, open, sunny site, avoiding overhanging trees.
  • Add plenty of organic matter and apply bonemeal to the top 5cm
  • Use good quality stakes – one per plant – canes are too weak.  Tie in plants loosely as they grow.
  • Watch out for slugs, snails, aphids and earwigs.  Upturned flower pots , filled with straw and placed on top of the stake will attract earwigs.  Empty out every few days away from the plants.
  • Remove dead flowers to encourage further flowering and mulch around the plant (spent flower buds are pointed, new flower buds are rounded).
  • Lift tubers at the end of the season when frost has blackened the foliage.
  • Store in a frost-free environment in sand or dry compost.
  • By late February remove from storage and pot off to start into growth for cuttings.

On Friday 18 March, we’re opening The Garden House garden for the afternoon. Drop by for seasonal advice, buy plants and seeds – and we’ll have useful handouts to take away with you.

At 3.30pm we’ll be holding a FREE workshop on dahlias and how to look after them.

Also selling the following fabulous varieties:

  • Rip City
  • Karma Noir
  • Bishop of Lancaster
  • Chat Noir
  • Klondyke
  • Downham Royal
  • Red Cap
  • Nuit d’Ete
  • Café au Lait
  • Arabian Night

Bring a friend and enjoy tea or coffee and homemade cake.  The open afternoon starts at 3pm and finishes at approx. 6pm.  We look forward to meeting you!

Seed Bomb Making!

Posted by editor on Tuesday, 1 March 2011

According to global news agency Reuters you can “Forget potted plants and privet hedges; a group of Buenos Aires artists want to make the Argentine capital a free-for-all kitchen garden, turning neglected parks and verges into verdant vegetable patches. Following in the footsteps of “guerrilla gardeners” who have been scattering flower seeds in vacant lots and roadsides in cities such as London and New York since the 1970s, the Articultores group is taking the concept a step further. Armed with vegetable seedlings and seed bombs — seeds packed with mud for throwing into neglected urban spaces, their goal is to provide organic food for city residents.”

Well if Brazil can do it, so can Brighton (and Hove, or wherever)!  Join our Seed Bomb Workshop – on Saturday 26 March – and make seed bombs and seed smudges with Josie Jeffery, followed by a local mapped distribution walk.

Josie runs ‘seed freedom’ – – she recently published a book Seedbombs: Going Wild with Flowers (recently recommended by Alys Fowler in Gardens Illustrated magazine!) – and we love her enthusiasm for spreading the ecological word!

Take a wildflower seed mixture, glued together with a special mud mix, pressed and made into a ball ready to throw into a neglected area of your garden, allotment or urban corner.  There’s no need to even dig a hole – with very little effort you can beautify almost any abandoned or seemingly inhospitable site.

Flowers grown from germinated seed bombs also encourage bees into these areas, and by encouraging more bees to our urban streets and gardens they will also be available to pollinate our food crops.

Join us, it’ll be a lot of fun – and you’ll be enhancing your environment at the same time! Check DIARY on this website for more info.

Our trip to Anglesey Abbey…

Posted by editor on Monday, 14 February 2011

We enjoyed fine weather and great company on our Garden House visit to Anglesey Abbey last Saturday. “Just to say thank you for a wonderful day out, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Your organisation and hospitality is matchless. I am so glad I was able to come along!” Vicky D.

We love Angie B’s sketches of the winter garden, and Mandy D. wrote the following piece:

As winter slowly turns to spring no plant lover should miss the chance to visit the glorious winter display at Anglesey Abbey.  Situated not far from Cambridge (not on the Island of Anglesey as most of my friends thought!) this National Trust property and gardens boasts one of the most beautiful and varied winter gardens I have ever seen.

A short walk from the Visitors Centre leads you to the start of the winter garden walk which, even if you did not notice the signs, can be found by following the intoxicating smell of the Sweet Box (Sarcococca), that line the first part of the walkway.

These are swiftly followed by glorious Viburnum, pale pink and sweetly scented, the delightful small yellow winter Aconites and the gorgeous blues of Iris reticulata and deep pinks of Cyclamen coum.

And that’s not all – for those Galanthophiles amongst you (snowdrop lovers to the rest of us!), the Abbey gardens boast over 200 varieties of snowdrop (Galanthus), some labelled and therefore identifiable along the main path and many others in gentle drifts that meander through the woodlands and other areas.  My favourite was Galanthus plicatus ‘Hobsons Choice’ (wondered why I picked that one) and another variety named after Anglesey Abbey itself.

And finally, for stunning shrubs and trees, nothing can beat their display of Cornus – reds, greens and yellows – and the glade of Himalayan Birch (Betula utilis ‘jacquemontii’), with its ghostly white bark and statuesque structure, making all who came across them pause, reflect and for some, stay until the sun went down…

If you add to this a lovely sunny day, good company and even a rainbow on our return, it was the perfect day.   Thanks weather fairy…

Anglesey Abbey: Quy Road, Lode, Cambridge CB25 9EJ / Tel. 01223 810080

Snowdrops at Marchants Hardy Plants

Posted by editor on Sunday, 6 February 2011

As I’m sure you’ll have worked out by now, here at The Garden House we’re big Galanthus fans! So we’re delighted to tell you that on Friday 11 and Saturday 12 February, one of our favourite nurseries, Marchants Hardy Plants, is holding a special sale of snowdrops, together with a cut flower display.

Over 35 different varieties of snowdrop will be available – including the beautiful shaped G. allenii; G. ‘Anglesey Abbey’, a poculiform nivalis type but with bright green leaves; G. ‘Bill Bishop’, a very large flowered and handsome snowdrop; G. ‘Jacquenetta’, the greenest of the doubles; and the more rare G. ‘Wrightson’s Double’, a unique, fat elwesii double (quite scarce and very beautiful).

A number of the bulbs on sale are in short supply and will be sold on a first come first served basis.  Bulbs offered are best quality, and are believed to be true to name.

Location: Marchants Hardy Plants, 2 Marchants Cottages, Mill Lane,  Laughton,  East Sussex  BN8 6AJ / tel:  01323 811 737

Open: Friday 11 and Saturday 12 February / 10.00am – 4pm

Early spring…getting started!

Posted by editor on Saturday, 22 January 2011

Although the weather is still likely to be at its worst there will be plenty of signs that things are beginning to wake up. Bulbs are breaking through the soil, buds are beginning to swell on trees and shrubs, and inevitably you’re anxious to get working.

Begin by tidying old leaves left on herbaceous plants by cutting with shears, and rake out rubbish and leaves that have collected under shrubs.

This helps prevent pests and disease harbouring in piles of rotting vegetation. Do bear in mind that weeds will still grow this time of year, especially if this month stays frost free and damp. Remove these ensuring deep roots of perennial weeds are dug out completely.

If soil is prepared for planting cover it with polythene sheeting, this will stop it from getting wet and warm the soil so that when you do plant they will get away quicker.

It’s an ideal time to plant any new bare-rooted specimens, such as deciduous trees and shrubs along with roses. These will benefit from the addition of slow-release fertiliser to the surrounding soil, which in turn should be applied to all your beds.

It is also time to prune late-flowering clematis. These flower on the current years growth, so cutting the stems hard now will prevent plants becoming tangled and untidy. Cut back to the hard woody stems, removing any green growth from last year.

Take pleasure in the emerging snowdrops, aconites and cyclamen – they may be small, but they are also wonderfully colourful!  Just what’s needed to cheer you up on a cold misty morning.

The best place to be at this time of year is in the greenhouse, but don’t start your annuals to early, it’s a long time for seedlings to be in trays and they could get drawn.

Since we have many frosty days this month, it’s a great time to find a comfy seat, a steaming cup of coffee and cake – and look through the seed, plant and landscaping catalogues to let you imagination run wild and decide how you can improve your garden this coming year…

PART 1 of our Competition! Win a visit to Anglesey Abbey…

Posted by editor on Thursday, 6 January 2011

Take part in our four-part Gardening Quiz and win a seat on our visit to the stunning Anglesey Abbey on 12 February.

The garden’s highlight is its stunning Winter Garden, at its most spectacular in early spring when drifts of white snowdrops and yellow aconites add colour to the frosty landscape…


1) Which plant has the common name of Christmas Rose?

  • Helleborus niger
  • Saracococca
  • Sedum rubrotinctum

2)    What is a terrarium?

  • An ornamental support for growing roses
  • A digging tool
  • A sealed glazed case for growing plants

3)    What colours are the flowers of Camellia ‘Leonard Messel’

  • White
  • Pink
  • Yellow

4)    From which continent does Schlumbergera (Christmas cactus) originate?

  • Africa
  • South America
  • Europe

5)    Perlite and vermiculite are?

  • Pesticides
  • Compost additives
  • Herbicides

6)    What is an ‘iron pan’?

  • A pot used for alpines
  • A way to control weeds
  • A soil condition

7)    Which of the following is a garden variety of holly?

  • ‘Glacier’
  • ‘Sulphur Heart’
  • ‘Goldchild’

8)    A short stump of branch left after incorrect pruning is?

  • A sport
  • A break
  • A snag

9)    What is the usual number of petals on an Aubretia?

  • Three
  • Four
  • Five

10) Which of the following plants can be most easily propagated by root cuttings?

  • Anemone x hybrida
  • Dianthus barbatus
  • Quercus robur


Print off each of the four quiz parts (published through early January), ring around the correct answers, add your name and address (of course!) – and post to Bridgette and Deborah at The Garden House, 5 Warleigh Road, Brighton BN1 4NT

Answers must be received by 25th JANUARY – and we’ll announce the winner by the end of January – best of luck!

Who will be the first to spot a snowdrop?

Posted by editor on Sunday, 2 January 2011

Galanthus is a small genus of about 19 species of bulb commonly found throughout Europe and western Asia in upland woodland and rocky sites. Galanthus bloom mainly from late winter to mid-spring, though in their natural habitat they often flower just as the snow is starting to melt.

The name Galanthus is derived from the Greek words gala, meaning milk, and anthos, meaning flower, in allusion to the colour of the flowers. The plants are more commonly known as ‘snowdrops’, from the German Schneetropfen – this common name refers to a style of earring popular in the 16th and 17th centuries in Germany.

One of the best and boldest of the snowdrops, with rounded bell-shaped scented flowers, is variety ‘S.Arnott’ – a favourite of ours!

  • Family: Amaryllidaceae
  • Height & spread: 15cm (6in) x 8cm (3in)
  • Form: Bulbous perennial
  • Soil: Moist but well-drained, moderately fertile
  • Aspect: Cool shade
  • Hardiness: Fully hardy

This snowdrop is vigorous, with narrow, grey-green leaves 7-16cm (3-6in) long. It has large white flowers, which have an inverted V-shaped green mark at the tip of each inner tepal. They are 2.5-3.5cm (1-1.5in) long, strongly honey-scented and are produced in winter and early spring. They look wonderful planted with dark-leaved plants, like Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ or with bright yellow winter aconites, or carpeting the woodland floor under a flowering witch hazel.

Cultivation: Snowdrops grow well in cool shade in any humus-rich, moist but well-drained soil that does not dry out in summer.

They are prone to narcissus bulb fly, which will tunnel into the bulbs and destroy them, and also grey mould (botrytis), which will appear on the leaves but then rot the bulbs.

Propagation: Sow seed as soon as ripe in containers in an open frame, though as Galanthus species readily hybridise the seed may not come true.

Propagate by twin scaling in summer. With this technique a bulb is cut into pairs of scales, each of which produces bulblets.

Lift and divide clumps of Galanthus “in the green”, as soon as the leaves begin to die back after flowering. Replant each bulb individually, at the same level as before, in holes sufficiently wide to spread out the roots.

When all else is bare, it lifts the spirits when you spot patches of snowdrops appearing under shrubs and trees…

If you want to see many, many varieties of Galanthus growing wild (including many rare varieties) – join us on 12 February for an early spring visit to the stunning gardens of Anglesey Abbey. Truly a garden for all seasons – but particularly beautiful in February when it is at it’s most spectacular, and drifts of white snowdrops and yellow aconites add colour to the frosty landscape (details in the DIARY on this website)…

Plant of the month: Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’

Posted by editor on Friday, 10 December 2010

There are many shrubs that will add colour through these darker winter months, including dogwoods (Cornus) which, if pruned hard in the spring, produce fantastically coloured young stems the following winter as the leaves fall.

A great choice is Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ which has rich orange, red and yellow stems and forms a thick, suckering shrub. This cultivar looks really vibrant wonderful on a clear sunny day.

  • Common name: Common dogwood, common cornel
  • Family: Cornaceae
  • Height & spread: Up to 1.5m x 0.8m
  • Form: Upright deciduous shrub
  • Soil: Tolerates a wide range of soils and locations, but prefers moist soil
  • Aspect: Full sun for best winter stem colour
  • Hardiness: Fully hardy to -15˚C (5F)

The original plant of this selection of Cornus sanguinea was discovered in a German garden by H. Venhorst in about 1980, but wasn’t named ‘Midwinter Fire’ until 1990.

It is a very robust shrub that spreads by suckering to fill spaces. Its winter colour is shown to greatest effect when grown in front of a dark background, also when grown with other colourful dogwoods with contrasting stem colours.

The young stems are a brilliant orange-yellow from autumn through to spring, with red tints on the sunnier sides of the stems. As the new leaves appear, the stems turn a yellow-green, bearing bright green leaves that can turn a brilliant yellow in autumn. White flowers, borne in dense flat cymes, are produced in summer followed by dull blue-black fruit.

Cultivation: Will grow in a wide range of soils and locations, but will give the best winter stem colour if grown in full sun. It is ideal for growing alongside a pond or stream as it prefers moister soils.

To maintain good winter stem colour, Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ should be pruned down to 2-3 buds above the base in spring. To maintain a good framework only a third of the stems should be pruned each year, and these should be the oldest stems each time.

Propagation: Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ is ideal for taking hardwood cuttings from in autumn.

To see this amazing plant in all its glory join us for our visit to Anglesey Abbey in February – see DIARY on this website for more info.

How to deal with a snowy garden!

Posted by editor on Thursday, 2 December 2010

When did we last have snow in early December?!  Last year it was January, the year before, April – this is becoming a regular if rather unpredictable occurrence!

So wonderful whilst it’s looking fresh, treacherous underfoot when it gets icy – and downright disaster for the garden if you didn’t prepare in good time (I didn’t!)…

On the plus side, it’s a great insulator, and it melts to provide much needed water to dry plants in the winter. However, heavy snow and ice build up can cause devastating damage in the garden if limbs and trunks bend or break. Even hardy plants and tough evergreens can also be damaged by prolonged spells of severe cold when soil becomes frozen.

To protect (I know too late this time, but worth remembering!):

  • Tie up plants: Before the snow, use plant netting to tie up the branches of your conifers and soft shrubs, to prevent them from being misshapen or broken by snow. Tie them in a cone shape, to deflect snow off to the sides.
  • Move containers: Put planters and containers under a shed or porch during snow and ice storms to keep freezing water from expanding and breaking containers.
  • Prevent your pond freezing over: Place a rubber ball in any outdoor ponds to prevent them icing over completely, then remove to allow oxygen into the water.

Post heavy snow:

  • Look after your garden birds: Don’t forget to put out extra food out, clearing snow and ice off bird-tables – and most important, fresh water – if possible de-ice your bird-baths and top up with fresh water.
  • Take care clearing paths: Be careful not to pile snow on your plants when clearing paths as it will then need to be removed and might do damage you can’t prevent.
  • Avoid Salt: Salt can damage lawns and plants when it runs off your driveway. If your plants have been exposed to salt, water and rinse them well as soon as temperatures are above freezing. Next time, use sand or clay-based kitty litter instead of salt.
  • Take care with damaged trees: Tender branches (particularly conifers) may become broken or weighed down with heavy snow. Broken branches should be pruned away immediately to prevent injury and disease. Ragged tears are very susceptible to infection, so remove damaged wood using clean cuts.
  • Remove snow from roofs (if you can safely): Remove the piles of snow that may cascade down onto your shrubs from the roof above. If your shrubs are right in the danger zone under a steep roof, you may want to protect them with a temporary wooden frame.
  • Keep off grass: Snow covered grass is fragile, easily uprooted, and susceptible to fungal diseases under the snow. Avoid walking on snow-covered grass as it will damage the turf beneath and leave unsightly marks on the lawn. 

Try to save damaged plants:

The extent of the damage often won’t be clear until spring, when you find out if your plant is able to spring back into shape. Wait for spring to do any staking or reshaping of bent plants, since winter branches are extremely brittle. In the spring they’ll be much more supple.

  • Cut back frosted growth in spring to a healthy, new bud, to prevent further die back and encourage plants to produce fresh, new shoots.
  • Feed damaged plants with a balanced fertiliser (one with equal amounts of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium) to encourage strong, healthy growth.
  • Dig up small, tender plants and take them into the greenhouse. Many will quickly produce new growth and recover, provided they are not subjected to prolonged periods of heavy frost, wet or cold.
  • Newly planted specimens will often lift themselves proud of the soil surface if there is a hard frost straight after planting. Check them regularly and re-firm the ground around them to ensure their roots are always in contact with the soil.

Finally – just enjoy the sheer beauty of your snowy gardenscape – take some photos and make a note in your September diary to have your own Christmas cards printed!

Plant of the month: Malus

Posted by editor on Friday, 19 November 2010

As the autumn draws in, fruits and seeds ripen creating an exciting range of colours and shapes in the garden.

A great tree for the smaller garden is the Malus or crab apple with its fantastic fruits and autumn colour. One of Bridgette’s favourites is Malus x zumi ‘Golden Hornet’ which bears huge crops of bright yellow fruits that last on the tree well into autumn and winter.

  • Common name: Crab apple
  • Family: Rosaceae
  • Height & spread: 10m (30ft) high by 8m (25ft) wide
  • Form: Deciduous tree
  • Soil: Well-drained, neutral to alkaline soil
  • Aspect: Full sun or semi-shade
  • Hardiness: Fully hardy

The name Malus is from the Greek for ‘melon’, and a name applied to several trees with fleshy exterior fruits. This genus contains about 35 species of deciduous trees and shrubs, found in woodlands and thickets throughout northern temperate regions.

Malus are easily grown, small- to medium-sized trees flowering from April to May. They produce fragrant flowers 2-5cm (1-2in) across, usually shallowly cup-shaped, singly or in umbel-like corymbs.

Edible fruits follow the flowers.  Although some fruits do need cooking to be palatable, the fruit flavour improving considerably if the fruit is not harvested until it has been frosted. The fruit is quite variable in size (2-4cm diameter) and quality. While usually harsh and acidic, some cultivars are quite sweet and can be eaten raw. The fruit is rich in pectin and can be used to help other fruits to set when making jam. Pectin is also said to protect the body against radiation.

Bridgette’s favourite – Malus x zumi ‘Golden Hornet’:

It is a broadly pyramidal, deciduous tree bearing a profusion of large, cup-shaped pink-flushed white flowers opening from deep pink buds in late spring. Small, yellow crab apples follow, and persist well into winter. The display of golden fruit is further enhanced when the dark foliage turns yellow in autumn.

Grow in moderately fertile moist but well-drained soil in full sun, although partial shade is tolerated. Minimal pruning is needed in late winter or early spring, when the tree is dormant. Remove damaged, wayward or crossing shoots.

Problem pests can include – aphids, red spider mites, caterpillars, apple scab, honey fungus, canker, fireblight and mildew.

To propagate, bud in late summer or graft in midwinter

Awarded an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) by the RHS Woody Plant Committee who described it as: “Small deciduous tree with a broad ovoid crown and white flowers followed by a profuse crop of bright, deep yellow fruits 2.5cm long, which persist well into winter”.

Tulips – plan your planting now…

Posted by editor on Sunday, 7 November 2010

Tulips are fantastic spring bulbs.  There is nothing to beat them – for scent, colour and drama. If, like me, you want them to last for at least two months starting in the middle of March and continuing until the Alliums flower in May then you will need to do some planning.  It is such a lovely task on a gloomy evening to sit and look through the bulb catalogues and choose and plan your show!

Combining your tulips with spring flowering biennials, such as the deep red wallflower Erysimum ‘Blood Red’, or the orange, E. Fire King, or honesty, Lunnaria annua, will give a fantastic carpet of colour.

Plant some tulips for an early display, the Fosterianas are good, they have big flowers, and don’t forget the tall stemmed tulips like ‘Purissima’ or ‘Flaming Purissima’.  The Fosterianas are great in pots and they flower in March and early April.

The species tulips such as Tulipa bakeri and T. clusiana also flower early in the year.  ‘Prinses Irene’ is an early tulip with gorgeous orange flowers, that have crimson and red streaks and is perfect for pots.

Make sure that your pots are clean as tulips are susceptible to blight which is transferred by spores and if your pots are not clean then they can become infected.

Next come the Triumph tulips and these will give you the earliest of the deep reds.  A mix of ‘Jan Reus’, the almost black ‘Queen of Night’ and the lovely deep purple ‘Recreado’ look sensational together and will flower around the middle of April.

The beautiful Parrot tulips come into bloom in the middle of spring and the form ‘Rococo’ looks brilliant with lettuces or the blood red Erysimum.  This is a great tulip for forcing and if you plant them in pots under cover you can manipulate them to flower by the middle of March.

The next ones are my favourites – the lily flowered tulips – and one of the most scented is ‘Ballerina’.  It is such an elegant tulip and looks wonderful with ‘Black Hero’, which is a double late form of ‘Queen of Night’ – it’s double flowers look peony like – there is a huge range of lily flowered tulips, ‘West Point’, ‘Burgundy’ and White Triumphator’ and Christopher Lloyds favourite,’ Queen of Sheba’, to name but a few.

Then finally to end the show some of the green-splashed ‘Viridifloras’ are long lasting and often flower year after year, which is a bonus.  The Parrot tulips, ‘Flaming Parrot’ and ‘Orange Favourite’ should see you through to the middle of May when the Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ is poised to take over.

The best time to plant tulips is after the first frost, or preferably frosts as these will kill off any fungal spores which are left in the ground, and is a good organic gardening method for getting rid of the disease tulip fire, (Botrytis tulipae), something that you really don’t want in your garden as it will kill all your tulips.

Try to plant your tulips at least 20cm/8” deep as this will ensure that any spores near the surface will not infect your bulbs.  Planted under shrubs will also allow your tulips to ‘die well’ as the shrub will provide a good foil for the dying leaves.

Order your bulbs on line at or call them on 0161 848 1124 if you prefer to study your bulbs in a catalogue.  This company also supplies A5 pictures of your chosen bulbs, (you can order them with your bulbs).  This is really helpful if showing bulbs to customers or if you are trying to decide on plant combinations.

At the Garden House we still have some bulbs for sale so why not drop by on Friday afternoon between 2.00 and 4.00pm for a slice of cake, a cup of tea and buy some bulbs to brighten up your spring!

Berry-licious! Jamming with The Garden house…

Posted by editor on Monday, 1 November 2010

Right now we’re jamming, pickling, bottling, – producing anything from creamy curds and chutneys to sparkling jellies and fruity jams. Many of us are using fruit and veg that we’ve grown in gardens and allotments or foraged from the hedgerows.

Applications for jam-making courses have soared. Preserving is a skill we’ve lost since the war as a result of having fridges and freezers. Before that preserving the bounties of our fruitful summer and autumn was a necessity. It was essential to stock up the larder for the leaner months when fresh food was scarce.

Today preserves may not be essential, but people are realising the satisfaction both in making them and in seeing them on the shelf.  We think jam-making works like a sort of safety valve – putting us back in touch with the seasons and satisfying our ‘hunter gatherer’ instincts.

Scour the hedgerows in the lanes for berries, hips, haws and crab apples to make Hedgerow Jam. The hedgerows are abundant at the moment and it is a joy to collect berries for preserving.

This weekend we held our Preserves Workshop – below is one of the recipes we made.  It is borrowed from Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall’s book of preserves…

Hedgerow jelly (makes 7-8 x 225g jars)


  • 1kg crab apples (or cooking apples)
  • 1kg mixed hedgerow berries (see above)
  • Around 900g granulated sugar


1. Pick over your fruit, removing stalks and rinsing if necessary. Don’t peel or core the apples as the peel and core are an excellent source of the naturally occurring gelling agent pectin. Just chop them roughly.

2. Place all the prepared fruit in a saucepan with 1.2 litres water. Bring gently to simmering point and simmer until the fruit is soft and pulpy.

3. Remove from the heat. Have ready a jelly bag or muslin cloth and turn the contents of the pan into it. Leave to drip overnight.

4. The next day, measure the juice – you will probably have about 1.2 litres (though this will depend on the berries used). For every 600ml juice, allow 450g sugar. Put the juice into a large pan and bring slowly to the boil. Add the sugar as it just comes to the boil and keep stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Boil rapidly, without stirring, for 9–10 mins until setting point is reached. Test this by dropping a little jam onto a cold saucer. Allow to cool for a minute then push gently with your fingertip. If it has formed a skin and crinkles a little, it’s set.

5. Skim the jelly, pot and seal as quickly as possible.

Berries that can be eaten and were included in our hedgerow jelly include: sloes (Prunus spinosa)crab apples (Malus sp)hawthorn (Crateageous mongyna), rowan berries, medlars and quinces.  Also the gorgeous orange berries of the sea buckthorn can be cooked and eaten.

Other autumn berries – not be eaten but which look fabulous in a vase – include Euonymus europaeus (common spindle), Ligustrum ovalifolium (Privet) with black berries, and Viburnum opulus (Guelder Rose)

We hope to run another preserves course early next year – we’ll let you know when!

We’ve converted to Rooibos tea!

Posted by editor on Thursday, 14 October 2010

On our recent travels around the Western Cape of South Africa with a group of GH friends and enthusiasts we visited a Rooibos tea plantation. Rooibos is a fynbos species, a scruffy little bush endemic to the Clanwilliam/Cederberg area from where it is processed, packaged and despatched worldwide.

Although in origin and cultivation completely unlike the tea we are more used to drinking, South African bush tea or red tea has so much going for it – it’s a delicious infusion packed with antioxidants and reassuringly caffeine-free.

Elandsberg Eco Tourism, run by Chris and Annette du Plessis, operates an independent Rooibos tea estate with its own processing plant. Chris talked us through the whole process of Rooibos cultivation – from propagation (we learnt that propagation from seed is certainly not an easy task!), to the processing of the plant, to the final packaging…

Aside from tea, all manner of useful products are now made using Rooibos as a key ingredient – soaps, body creams, therapeutic creams to ease muscular pain – even bread!  Annette du Plessis made the tastiest Rooibos bread for our lunch – she was kind enough to email us the recipe below:

Annette’s Rooibos bread

  • 875ml wholewheat flour
  • 500ml bran
  • 500ml oats
  • 175ml sunflower seeds
  • 125ml cake mix or raisins
  • 2 sachets of Rooibos tea (we assume she means 2x tea bags)
  • 5ml salt
  • 10ml baking powder
  • 500ml buttermilk
  • 375ml milk

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.

Mix the dry ingredients, including 1x sachet of Rooibos tea, but excluding bicarb and baking powder.

Mix the latter two with buttermilk and shake up, then add to dry ingredients.

Rinse the buttermilk container with the milk and add to the mixture.

Mix well and divide into two bread-tins.

Sprinkle 2nd sachet of Rooibos tea evenly over the mixture in tins and bake for 1 hour.


The Garden House in South Africa…

Posted by editor on Thursday, 7 October 2010

Dear readers – just a taster of what’s to come…

We’re in South Africa with a group of Garden House friends and enthusiasts travelling around the Western Cape area, visiting the wildflower fields of Namaqualand and touching on many of the other flora and fauna, sights and scenes that this extraordinary area has to offer.

Later today we’ll be visiting the world famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens just outside Cape Town.  We will be  guided by specialist Val Thompson – and come rain or shine, I’m sure we’ll all be filling yet more memory cards with amazing photos!

On our return we’ll be updating you further on our journeys…so look out for further Garden House in South Africa tales over the next few weeks!

Celebrating autumn: upcoming events

Posted by editor on Sunday, 26 September 2010

We love autumn!  It’s always hard to choose between the joy of new growth in spring, the pleasure of a warm summer (if we’re lucky!), and the season of greatest change – autumn…

Autumn smells different, it looks stunning (I’m thinking the drama of leaf colour change), and it’s time for wrapping up warm and putting the garden to bed.  But of course, nothing stops, we’re also thinking ahead – forcing bulbs to flower at Christmas, propagating our favourite plants, sowing hardy annuals, and planting bulbs and new plants whilst the soil is still warm.

At The Garden House we have some great autumn workshops and visits coming up.

On Wednesday 20 October, a visit by coach to Sheffield Park and Garden to savor the stunning colour change as the many rare trees and shrubs turn yellow, gold and red…(10am to 3pm / £25 pp for National Trust members and £34 pp for non-NT members).

Then on Friday 22 October we have two events:

  • Firstly, The Garden House will be open from 3pm to 6pm. Do come along with a friend – we’re offering FREE demonstrations on seasonal tasks like propagation and bulb-planting, with useful hand-outs to take away with you – and we’ll have a variety of bulbs for sale, also tea or coffee and homemade cake for sale (£4.50 pp).
  • Following that, in the evening, one of our favourite local artists, Jo Sweeting, is holding a pumpkin carving workshop (6.30pm-9.15pm / £42 pp, or £40 each for two people booking together – supper and wine included).  This will be a brilliant evening – Jo is an amazing sculptor, working more typically in stone – and her carved pumpkins are just so different and inspiring!

All the details of these and other great autumn/winter workshops and courses are in our DIARY…check it out!

Autumn favourite: Aconitum

Posted by editor on Monday, 20 September 2010

The hooded, helmet-shaped flowers, which consist of sepals rather than petals, give aconitums the common name of monkshood. It is also known as wolfsbane, leopard’s bane, women’s bane, Devil’s helmet or blue rocket – and is one of our favourite late-flowering herbaceous perennials.

Not only do we love its colour – various shades of purple and mauve, though it does also come in white forms – we also love its stature (1.5 to 2m or more!), adding a certain dramatic grandeur to the late summer border.

Aconitum are also highly poisonous, as to some degree are other members of the same buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) family – larkspur, Delphinium and Aquilegia amongst others.

It is tolerant of some shade, and makes a great cut flower.

Late summer hot favourites…

Posted by editor on Saturday, 14 August 2010

Just because summer’s coming to an end, there’s no need to give up on vibrant colour and plants that flower well in the autumn – and it’s often the warm and rich colours of late flowering perennials that look best at this time of year.  From warm yellows, through vibrant oranges, to rust and mahogany tones…

Amongst others our favourite plants for hot yellows and oranges include the lofty Inula magnifica, Crocosmia species (think Emily McKenzie), Helenium (Moerheim Beauty is a must), Hemerocallis (Corky is a favourite), Kniphofia (shown here is Tawny King) and the statuesque Eremurus (the foxtail lily).

For rusty and terracotta tones look to Achilleas; for deep mahogany tones consider Helianthus, these rich and stunning sunflowers will flower through to October. All sit well with ornamental grasses, especially as they dry and go amber and gold.

Deadhead fading flowers of herbaceous perennials regularly to stimulate new blooms and prevent plants from self-seeding. Once you know there’s no likelihood of further blooms, leave the last flower heads in place – not only can they look great, but they’ll provide perfect food for the birds in your garden as they prepare for winter.

An evening at Marchants…

Posted by editor on Friday, 2 July 2010

As part of The Garden House Plant School we spent Wednesday evening at the quite gorgeous Marchants Hardy Plants, Laughton, in the knowledgeable company of proprietor and plantsman Graham Gough and his partner Lucy Goffin.

Following a short career in classical music as a gifted tenor, Graham’s love of plants was re-awoken by a cathartic trip to Sissinghurst Castle in Kent where his eyes were opened to the artistic and creative process of gardening at its highest level; Lucy is a textile artist.  It is palpably apparent that creativity flows through their fingertips – everything in the garden and nursery is beautifully considered, immaculately laid out and personally attended come rain or shine.

What Graham doesn’t know and feel about plants seems hardly worth knowing.  He is one of a small group of passionate plantsmen and women, always exploring, propagating, exchanging ideas – citing amongst others the late Christopher Lloyd, plantswoman Marina Christopher, and writer Noel Kingsbury as friends.  His passion and creativity has created a unique nursery, one where you can guarantee finding that special ‘must have’ cultivar, where you know you’ll be inspired…

At the end of a long day, glass of wine in hand, he walked us around his garden highlighting key plants, indicating where planting has worked brilliantly and where it has not (rare!), infecting us with his philosophy and enthusiasm.

“At Marchants, the nursery drifts almost imperceptibly into Gough’s rich, dramatic sweeps of herbaceous planting: sanguisorbas, daylilies, masses of grasses, achilleas, dark agapanthus…” Anna Pavord, The Independent Magazine.

For Graham gardening and creating the nursery is the best therapy one can get.  He tries not to go with the trends, but takes a more subjective view, relying on intuition.  He advocates “going it alone, keep your eyes open, and make personal choices”.

Key messages from the evening:

  • In a small space you have to be selective; achieve a visual calmness by narrowing the number of plant types used
  • Find peace in clear spaces; a simple water feature with little around it, creates a sense of sanctuary
  • For colour inspiration look to 20thC paintings
  • Set aside an area of the garden where you can ‘play’, doing something different each year, trying new plants

Marchants Hardy Plants,
 Mill Lane,
East Sussex 

Tel/fax: 01323 811737 (check website for opening times)

Garden Design with expert Peter Thurman

Posted by editor on Sunday, 20 June 2010

Last Wednesday, we were delighted to welcome Peter Thurman to our second Plant School evening. Peter is Kew trained, has tackled thousands of design projects in over 30 years as a landscape and garden designer – from small town gardens, to country estates and commercial developments – and teaches at the London College of Garden Design.

Peter lives in Sussex, and has what is clearly a marvellous garden.  He brought along a wonderful selection of plants from his garden to illustrate his talk, including some rather unusual cultivars.  His focus for the evening was on Designing with Plants – it was inspirational, encouraging us to consider different ways of selecting plants for our gardens to enhance the visual impact we can create. .  The focus not only on colour combinations, but on shape of plants and flowers, and how to successfully put groups of plants together.  One of many tips is to work together “something similar and something different”.

The evening was a wonderful taster for the Garden Design course he will lead in October at The Garden House. The course runs each Monday, for eight weeks starting on 18 October – a practical and inspirational study programme designed to appeal to those thinking of changing direction into the professional world of garden design, or for those of you who would like to design your own private outdoor space.

For more information on our October course, or to make a booking, check the DIARY on this website.

Chelsea Flower Show favourites – glorious Irises!

Posted by editor on Saturday, 29 May 2010

Brighton-based designer Andy Sturgeon won both gold and Best in Show Garden at CFS with his contemporary gravel garden. A wonderful and adventurous garden in many respects – the free-standing rusted steel structures framing stunning planting.  Our eyes were particularly drawn to three large dramatic bowls of bronze coloured irises (Iris ‘Action Front’).

We also loved the stunning display put on by Cayeux, the French Iris specialists. The logistics of exhibiting at Chelsea Flower Show were quite a challenge for Cayeux – their nursery in France has no poly tunnels, all irises being grown in 55 acres of open fields. Thus the plants shown at Chelsea were grown in England by the nursery Iris of Sissinghurst, in pots from rhizomes sent over in August 2009 from the Cayeux fields in France.

Irises are well suited to dry, hot conditions.  The following planting/care info is taken from the Cayeux website:

  • When to plant: July to mid-October. It is important that the roots of newly planted Irises are well established before winter.
  • Where to plant: In full sun – 
Irises need sun at least two thirds of the day. The soil must have very good drainage. Plant either on a slope or in raised beds. No water should be allowed to stand in iris beds.
  • Soil preparation: If your soil is heavy, coarse sand or humus may be added to improve drainage. Lime is also good to improve clay soils. The ideal pH is 7 (neutral), but irises are tolerant in this regard. Remove all the weeds before planting.
  • Distance apart: Plant 30 to 40 cm apart. Closer planting will give an immediate effect, but the irises will need to be thinned often.
  • Depth to plant: Irises must be planted so that the tops of the rhizomes are exposed and the roots are spread out facing downward in the soil. Just after planting, water to pack down the soil around the roots.
  • Watering: Newly set plants need moisture to help their root system become established. Once established, irises do not need to be watered except in arid areas and it is always better to under-water than over-water.
  • Dividing old clumps: Irises must be divided every 3 to 5 years before they become overcrowded and begin to flower less. Thin by removing the old divisions at the centre of the clumps and leaving new growth in the ground. Alternatively, dig up the entire clump and remove and replant the big new rhizomes.
  • Feeding: Depends on your soil type but bone meal, superphosphate or 5-10-15, or 6-8-12 are effective. Feed once in early spring and then one month after flowering.
  • About the foliage: During the growing season healthy green leaves should be left undisturbed, but diseased or brown leaves must be removed. In the late autumn, trim off old dying foliage and cut the leaves back to about 15 cm. Flower stems should be cut off close to the ground after blooming.

Particular Peonies: Paeonia mlokosewitschii

Posted by editor on Monday, 24 May 2010

This excerpt from the late Geoffrey Smith’s Easy Plants for Difficult Places (David & Charles 1967) is featured in Garden Wisdom by Leslie Geddes-Brown, a wonderful compilation of writings by many of Britain’s best admired and loved garden professionals:

“Of all this beautiful genus, Paeonia mlokosewitschii is my particular favourite.  Not only is it the first to flower in this garden, but from the glaucous-green leaves to the primrose-yellow flowers, 5-6″ across, it is a breathtaking sight when in full bloom.  Compared to the species already described this is a dwarf, only 15-18” high.  The flowers appear in May, rather than later in other more sheltered gardens. Propagation, as with other species, is by seed.  A word of warning when sowing seed of any peony, make certain the mice cannot gain access to them or nothing will be left but empty husks.”

Geoffrey Smith (1928-2009)

Inspirational garden: Houghton Lodge

Posted by editor on Thursday, 20 May 2010

Visit the delightful Houghton Lodge gardens with The Garden House!  On Wednesday 23 June we’ve a great day planned – visiting Mottisfont Abbey to see the collection of old-fashioned roses, and Houghton Lodge to see the inspirational garden.

Houghton Lodge is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful privately owned houses and gardens in Hampshire. The house is a picturesque late 18th Century Grade 2 listed gothic cottage orné, idyllically set above the tranquil waters of the River Test.  It is set in extensive grounds, with fine trees and lawns sweeping down to the banks of the river.

The garden is described by Tamsin Westhorpe, editor of The English Garden as “one of the most romantic gardens I have ever experienced” and offers a myriad of charms as inspiration for the gardener.  There is a fully restored chalk cob walled kitchen garden with greenhouses run on hydroponic principles (thus using less water and space) – also a long herbaceous border, orchid house, topiary parterre and a lovely wildflower meadow leading down to the river.

In late June the roses and peonies will both be in full blossom and should be looking wonderful.

For more information on this delightful visit, or to book, go to DIARY on this website.

A Little Budding Rose…

Posted by editor on Sunday, 2 May 2010

Roses have a long and colourful history – from the early damask rose, to the old-fashioned China roses, to the modern shrub – and now this much-loved plant is increasingly being used in more contemporary settings. Versatile and easy to grow, they come in many different types, in every size and shape, and are suitable for almost any aspect and situation.  They look wonderful scrambling over arches and clothing walls, work as ground cover around shrubs, and as focal points in containers – we could all find a place in our gardens for a rose (or two!).

A Little Budding Rose

It was a little budding rose,
Round like a fairy globe,
And shyly did its leaves unclose
Hid in their mossy robe,
But sweet was the slight and spicy smell
It breathed from its heart invisible.

…by Emily Bronte

If you’re a lover of roses, or a beginner wanting to know more about this fascinating species, join us here at The Garden House on Saturday 05 June for our workshop All About Roses with Simon White.  Simon, an expert from the Peter Beales specialist rose nursery in Norfolk, will give an in-depth illustrated talk, plus demonstrations on caring for roses.

Continuing the rose theme we are visiting Mottisfont Abbey to enjoy their national collection of roses on Wednesday 23 June.   Why not join us for both?  See the DIARY on this website for more information.

Question Time for Gardeners!

Posted by editor on Sunday, 25 April 2010

To  introduce the annual Garden Gadabout, the organisers have put together a real treat – Question Time for Gardeners…

If you are wondering what to plant, considering growing your own vegetables or need to identify a pest or disease, then come along and join what promises to be a fun and enlightening evening. Thursday 13 May 7.30pm – 9.30pm.

The panel of horticultural experts is second to none:

  • Graham Gough – who, supported by his partner Lucy Goffin, created the magical garden and nursery at Marchants Hardy Plants in Laughton, Sussex.
  • Ed Ikin – head gardener at Nymans Garden and a strong advocate of biodynamics, planting according to the lunar calendar.
  • Liz Dobbs – London-based gardening writer and editor of Gardens Monthly, whose books include Garden Makeovers and The Essential Garden.
  • Julie Hollobone – is assistant editor of Gardens Monthly, a horticultural lecturer and author of an excellent book on propagation, Propagation Techniques.
  • Robert Hill-Snook – head gardener at the Brighton Pavilion, and responsible for the restoration of the Regency gardens following organic and nature-assisted principles.
  • Jim Miller – horticulturalist and lecturer at Brighton’s City College.

This event promises to be a great introduction to the Garden Gadabout – when, over two weekends in June/July, over 70 private gardens from Shoreham to Lewes and everywhere in between throw open their garden gates in aid of the Sussex Beacon charity.

Box Office: 01273 736222 / 
Box Office Opening Times: Monday to Friday 10am – 5pm

13 May 7.30pm – 9.30pm / 
£6.00 (£4.50 Concessions)

Location: The Old Market, Upper Market Street, Hove BN3 1AS

The Garden House Plant School

Posted by editor on Monday, 19 April 2010

We’re very excited to tell you about The Garden House Plant School.  For the first time, we’ve created a course designed specifically to help you further develop your knowledge of plants and their families.

The course starts on Weds 9 June, and runs over six Wednesday evenings, from 6.30 to 9.00pm.

This will also be a very special opportunity to talk with the experts!  We have invited plant experts Graham Gough, Julie Hollobone and Peter Thurman to each lead one of the evenings as guest speaker.

Julie Hollobone – is assistant editor of Gardens Monthly, a horticultural lecturer and author of an excellent book on propagation, Propagation Techniques.  Julie will start the course by reminding us how plants work, investigating several different plants from a botanical point of view, and identifying their characteristics to aid classification into plant families.

Peter Thurman – is a horticultural and arboricultural expert, who has used his knowledge of plants to create thrilling borders and garden designs.  Peter will be talking about ‘designing with plants and planting plans’. (note our lead photo of his stunning Betula/Cornus border!).

Graham Gough – supported by his partner Lucy Goffin, Graham created the magical garden and nursery at Marchants Hardy Plants in Laughton, Sussex. He is a great speaker and hugely knowledgeable, and will talk about plants he couldn’t survive without!  That evening will be spent at his nursery, where we can see his ‘can’t live without’ plants in situ.

The course will also focus on selecting plants for the appropriate site – in Beth Chatto’s words finding “the right plant for the right place” – and on how to use colour to its best advantage in the garden.

And finally there will be a session of exchanging information about plant families where each participant, having home-studied a plant family in depth, will share their knowledge with the group.

The course starts Weds 9 June and runs for a total of six weeks.  The cost is £280 to include a light supper and glass of wine on each of the evenings.

This very special course is limited to eight people only, so please do book early.  For more details and booking form, go to DIARY on this website.

Sowing seeds: Part 2

Posted by editor on Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Pricking out seedlings, hardening off and sowing outdoors.  There’s still time to sow more half-hardy annuals and vegetables. If you haven’t already, sow under glass courgettes, marrows, pumpkins, sweetcorn and greenhouse cucumbers.  Outdoors, sow beetroot and turnips, peas and broad beans, broccoli, cabbage, carrots and chard amongst others.  Continue to sow lettuce and salad leaves.

Seeds sown a few weeks ago should be sprouting now and ready for pricking out.

  • Fill a seed tray with moist John Innes No 1 potting compost or similar.
  • Firm the soil then mark out planting holes with a pencil or dibber, approx 1-1-1/2” (2.5-3.5cms) apart each way.
  • Gently ease out a small clump of seedlings, with some of their compost (a small plastic plant label is ideal for this delicate task).  Hold each seedling by one of its leaves and tease it away from the others (never handle by the stem).
  • Lower the individual seedlings into their planting holes and firm the compost around each.  Take care not to damage the roots.
  • Label, then water with a fine mist sprayer.  Place out of direct sunlight for a day or two, then move into the light.  Keep the compost moist, but not wet.

Once established – four to eight weeks after pricking out – harden off young plants.

  • Move the tray or pot to a sheltered spot outdoors in fine weather, bringing back indoors at night.
  • After a week or so, leave outside permanently, but protect from harsh weather and shelter at night.
  • A cold frame is an ideal place to harden off young plants.  For the first few days, open the frame slightly, during the day only.  Increase ventilation gradually, until by late spring the cold frame is completely open.

All hardy annuals and most half-hardy annuals can be sown directly outdoors.

  • Prepare the soil: In autumn, work in some compost or well-rotted manure.  Come spring, as soon as the soil is reasonably dry, break up the soil further, sprinkle in a good general-purpose fertilizer, then rake thoroughly creating a fine, crumbly tilth.
  • In dry weather moisten the soil a day or two before sowing, then again two or three days after sowing.
  • Sowing in drills: Make shallow drills approx 1-1.5cms deep (for planting distances check the seed packet carefully). Sow thinly to avoid too much thinning later.  Cover seeds by running the tip of the hoe along the ridge of the drill, then tamp down to lightly firm the soil.
  • Once seedlings appear, start to thin out the weaker seedlings.
  • Sowing in borders: Prepare a sketch plan of your desired layout, and mark out the sowing areas with a trail of sand or the edge of a hoe.
  • Scatter seeds over the area, then rake over gently.
  • As with sowing in drills, water the area in advance then again a few days after sowing if the weather remains very dry.

The Garden House sells many hardy and half-hardy seeds – see SHOP on this website for more details.  Our seed packets are beautifully illustrated by Brighton illustrator Vicky Sharman – see PICTURES on this website to view the individual seed packets.

Sowing seeds: Part 1

Posted by editor on Thursday, 8 April 2010

Simple, affordable and productive – now is the time to get seed sowing! The only successful means of propagating annual plants is from seed.  Most perennials also grow well from seed, however cuttings or division are usually quicker methods of growing these plants.

At The Garden House our favourite annuals are those we come back to time and time again – that we love for their special colour or variety, and that are good easy performers.

Hardy annuals – amongst others consider Ammi majus, Cornflower Black Ball, Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’, Eschscholzia californica, Marigold Indian Prince, Nigella damascena ‘Miss Jekyll’ and Sweet Pea Matucana – these do not need heat, so a cold greenhouse is fine.

You can also sow Verbena bonariensis and Nicotiana mutabilis Marshmallow now, but only if you have a propagator or heated greenhouse as these need heat to germinate.

Half hardy annuals – like Cleome Helen Campbell, Sunflower Earthwalker, Cosmos Sensation Mixed, Erigeron karvinskianus and Zinnia Envy can also be sown now until early May.

And don’t forget salad seeds – fast growing and ideal for sowing every fortnight are Lettuce Freckles, Lettuce Marvel of Four Seasons, Lettuce Red Salad Bowl

Raise seedlings indoors:

By sowing under cover in a cold greenhouse or on a warm window-sill, plants can be brought to flower a few weeks earlier.

  • Scrub out your pots and seed trays and rinse thoroughly
  • Use specially formulated seed compost (never use potting composts which contain fertilizer that might burn delicate seedling roots
  • Sow seeds thinly over the surface – generally sow seeds at a depth equal to their thickness – very small seeds need only a fine covering of soil, larger seeds can be planted deeper
  • Very small seeds can be mixed with a little sand before sowing – this makes them easier to see and spread evenly
  • Sweet peas prefer minimal disturbance so we sow seeds singly in cardboard toilet roll ‘pots’ – once germinated and 4-5” tall, they can be planted outdoors in their toilet rolls  – these soon disintegrate
  • Water the compost from below, standing the tray in water until the surface of the compost appears wet, then remove the tray
  • Don’t forget to label your seeds!
  • Cover with glass or polythene (wipe daily to remove condensation), or newspaper (for warmth without the condensation)
  • Stand container in a warm place (possibly an airing cupboard) checking daily until the first seed leaves appear, then remove the cover and move container into the light, maybe on a bright window-sill
  • As soon as the first true leaves have developed, the seedlings are ready for pricking out

In a few days time, look out for our Sowing Seeds: Part 2 – pricking out seedlings, hardening off and sowing outdoors.

For certainty, buy your seeds from reputable suppliers – for fun, swop seeds with friends or use the seeds you salvaged dry from your plants last autumn.

The Garden House sells packets of all the above seeds, and many more – see SHOP on this website for more detailsOur seed packets are beautifully illustrated by Brighton illustrator and Garden House friend Vicky Sharmansee PICTURES on this website to view the individual seed packets.

Helen Dillon’s radical philosophy…

Posted by editor on Friday, 2 April 2010

“Dig it up and throw it away” was the title of a talk given by the much-admired gardener Helen Dillon at last Sunday’s Hardy Plant Society (Sussex Group) meeting.

Drawing on over thirty-five years’ experience in her Dublin garden, Helen amused the audience greatly with her tales of plants that simply wouldn’t behave as she wanted or perform as she wished! “Love, nurture, let go” is her philosophy.

Her illustrated talk encompassed many aspects of gardening that ring true for us all.  She is a most impressive plantswoman, yet she also completely understands the issues, angst and frustrations we experience in our own gardens.

Helen’s ideas could be considered a little left field (we love that!).  Refreshingly she’s all for rethinking the expected, happy to make room for new ideas…

  • Having grown tired of the huge box balls cornering her borders, Helen boldly sliced off the tops like boiled eggs and scooped out the centres – creating box bowls instead.
  • Helen uses dustbins to great effect – filled with tulips, cannas and verbenas, or runner beans!
  • She ties her plant labels to the looped ends of wire coat-hangers – a great idea, we loved that one.

Helen talked of some of her favourite plants – Bengal Crimson Rose (R. chinensis var. sanguinea), Isoplexis sceptrum (a spectacular evergreen shrub, native to Madeira), Bergenia purpurascens (“the only plant I ever stole” she told us) – amongst many many others.

We’re currently re-reading Helen Dillon’s GARDEN Book (ISBN: 978-0-7112-2710-1).  It’s so typically Helen, a book divided into thoughts rather than chapters – Sitting in the garden, Why did it die?, Plants worth searching for, Hiding the neighbours, Scent, Burglar-proof plants – and so on.  Delightful.

NOTE: At The Garden House we are great fans of The Hardy Plant Society – it exists to inform and encourage the novice gardener, stimulate and enlighten the more knowledgeable, and entertain and enthuse all gardeners bonded by a love for, and an interest in, hardy perennial plants.  If you are interested in finding out more visit

Alys Fowler at The Garden House…

Posted by editor on Saturday, 20 March 2010

We’re delighted to welcome Alys Fowler to The Garden House on Saturday 10 July. Alys, the well-known writer and horticulturalist, and Gardener’s World presenter, will lead a workshop on the ‘edible garden’.

“I want a beautifully productive garden that weaves together flowers, fruit and vegetables in a way that mimics natural systems, – so that nature and I can get along peacefully together”

Alys’ philosophy chimes perfectly with ours at The Garden House – it will be great to hear her ideas on how to grow flowers and vegetables together – ideas and practical demonstrations on how to achieve success in our own back garden or allotment.

It promises to be a very special day here at the Garden House! Do book early as places will be limited.  Go to Diary on this website for full details and booking form.

Alys started gardening in her early teens and after leaving school trained at the Royal Horticultural Society, the New York Botanical Gardens and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. She started working at BBC Gardeners’ World as a horticultural researcher, appeared at the Gardeners’ World Live show last summer and is currently filming the new series of Gardeners’ World.

She writes for all those who are interested in transforming unexpected spaces, like urban locations, into thriving gardens.

In her new book, The Edible Garden (BBC Books, £18.99), which coincides with a six-part BBC television series starting early April, Alys shows how to grow flowers and vegetables in any back garden, without worrying too much about the rights and wrongs of what you may be doing.

“I would argue that what I’m doing is really, really old school. Veg and flowers growing together is the ancient way of doing agriculture, it’s the traditional cottage garden.” (quote: 13 March )

Go to Diary on this website for full details and booking form.

Garden details…

Posted by editor on Saturday, 13 March 2010

In winter and early spring whilst you’re holding your breath waiting for some signs of new growth, it is all to easy to get impatient and despair.

Yet we love this time of year – the garden is laid bare, and the skeletal structure of trees, shrubs and plant supports take on a beauty of their own – occasionally dusted with frost or dripping with rain.  Instead of bemoaning the late start, look closely and review how your garden looks now.  Even take a few photos as a reminder – does it need more evergreen shrubs to give winter structure, some Cornus sanguinea or Salix for bright winter stems, should you have left the tall grasses standing, not just for the insects and birds, but also for height and drama?

Good structural plants include clipped box (Buxus sempervirens) used for low hedging, clipped cones or spheres.  Also Sedum, Euphorbias, Phormium and Fatsia Japonica.  The white bark of Betula Utilis var. Jacquemontii (Himalayan birch) looks spectacular, great for uplighting in winter.

Look too at the small details that give your garden its early season personality.  Maybe bird-feeders made by local artisans, pieces of carved stone lined up against a wall, or mosaic paving stones giving a flash of colour?  At The Garden House we cut bright red Cornus branches and use them to edge the vegetable garden, and small pots of bulbs are lined up on little tables.

Take this opportunity to tidy up scrappy fences, fix trellises that have suffered the previous season, oil or stain outdoor furniture or sheds.

Now is the time to think about creating some dynamic new plant supports, using hazel, birch or willow – it’s easier to get them into place now well before a burst of growth makes it hard to get onto the borders.  Join our Creative Plant Staking workshop on Friday 16 April – check this website’s Diary for details.

All too soon this elegant buff-coloured bareness will be overtaken by lush green growth – so enjoy it while you can!

Ornamental grasses with Monica Lucas…

Posted by editor on Wednesday, 10 March 2010

“Rushes are round, sedges have edges, and grasses are glorious”. So said expert grower Monica Lewis at last Saturday’s Garden House workshop!

Enthusiastic and hugely knowledgeable, Monica talked the group through the seemingly endless and largely irresistible variations.  So, why grasses?

Grasses are versatile, an almost essential component in any modern planting scheme. They rustle delicately in the wind (the larger the leaf the more noise they make) and change colour according to season, light levels, sun and shade, rain or frost.  They can be used as hedging, as low-level edging for pathways or beds – they can be planted as ribbons through beds to give visual continuity, or used to create a stunning backdrop for contrasting perennial planting.  Some are evergreen, some deciduous. Many grow well in containers.

There are also annual grasses, easily grown from seed, which mix beautifully with hardy annuals in the cutting garden.

The last ten years has seen grasses return to fashion in a big way. Naturalistic prairie-style planting – developed in Germany, Holland (think Piet Oudolf) and North America – sees blocks of tall grasses and statuesque perennials mingled together to form flowing borders of late-flowering colour.

To see this style of planting at close-hand, visit the stunning 6-acre Sussex Prairie garden near Henfield, Sussex (featured on this website 24.11.2009).  Here the large borders, planted by owners Paul and Pauline McBride, combine perennials with huge drifts of ornamental grasses, including varieties of Miscanthus, Panicums, Molinias, Sporobolis and Penisetum.  For open days check

Monica Lucas talks about ‘cool growers’ and ‘warm growers’.  Cool growers flower in late spring and early summer (propagate in spring and autumn), whilst warm growers flower in summer and autumn, keeping most of their dried flowers all winter until broken down by the weather (propagate in spring and early summer).

In general grasses need a free-draining moisture-retentive soil – and whilst there are always exceptions to the ‘rules’, and many other options, Monica suggests the following:

Grasses for chalk:

  • Koeleria glauca
  • Melica ciliata

Grasses for clay:

  • Calamagrostis x acutiflora cvs.
  • Deschampsia caespitose cvs.
  • Elymus glaucus
  • Phalaris arundinaria cvs.

Shade tolerant grasses:

  • Briza media
  • Calamagrostis acutiflora Karl Foerster
  • Calamagrostis brachytricha
  • Carex (most cultivars)
  • Deschampsia caespitose cvs.
  • Hackenochloa macra cvs.
  • Milium effusem aureum
  • Miscanthus sinensis purpureus
  • Molinia caerulea (all cultivars)
  • Stipa arundinaria

Key learnings from the workshop:

  • For long term container planting, use ½ John Innes soil-based potting compost No2, ½ soil-less compost, a good deal of ½” grit for drainage, and a controlled release fertilizer (such as Osmacote).
  • Don’t over-feed (they won’t flower well) – grasses prefer a low-nitrogen soil – so go easy on the chicken pellets or manure, in preference use well-rotted garden compost.
  • If you like a plant, but are unsure if it will grow on your soil, buy three and plant them in various locations in the garden.  Wherever they grow best, transfer the others – they will have found their home!
  • Propagation involves digging out the plant and setting to (carefully!) with a variety of knives, saws, or even an axe, to cut the root ball into small sections ready to pot up for a few weeks before planting out.
  • Use a wide-toothed comb to ‘preen’ (not ‘prune’) evergreen grasses – combing out the dead stalks to clear space for new growth.

When pressed Monica told us her personal favourite is Miscanthus Nepalensis – common name: Himalayan fairy grass!

Visiting RHS Wisley with my father…

Posted by editor on Saturday, 27 February 2010

Having been on a visit to RHS Wisley last week with The Garden House I decided it was so amazing that I visited again this week, this time with my father (who is nearly 90) in tow.

RHS Wisley has such a wealth of information and this time – only a week later , there were different things to see and new plants emerging , despite the dreadful weather!

The alpines were certainly one of the stars of the show and they are a group of plants that I for one tend to forget about – an alpine is mainly grown between the tree line and the line of permanent snow and the conditions they have adapted to are many; altitude, cold, wind, free draining soil, poor soil and also a short growing season.

It is because of these conditions that they tend to be low growing and have leaves that have adapted to reduce moisture loss, so consequently the leaves are often small, rolled up, hairy or succulent.  Some are evergreens which reduces the amount of growth they have to make each season.

Alpines are associated with rockeries, this is an attempt to recreate their natural environment but Wisley have them growing in the alpine houses , this is so they keep dry.  They really dislike poorly drained soil and damp conditions.

RHS Wisley also has a wonderful educational value – the labelling is fantastic and seeing so many young children really enjoying themselves in the glasshouse was very hopeful – budding horticulturalists!

Do pay Wisley a visit – anytime of year there is so much to see – whatever your age!

Early spring at RHS Wisley…

Posted by editor on Saturday, 20 February 2010

We had a great visit to RHS Wisley last Saturday and were delighted with some very positive feedback from those of you who joined us.

“Thanks for a lovely trip.  You guys have a knack of making everyone feel so welcome…”

Wisley is the RHS’s flagship garden, and within its 200 acres it is possible to find plants suitable for almost every UK garden situation, irrespective of size, soil or location.  We focused on winter interest – whether in use of evergreens, coloured stems and barks, fragrance and winter flowering shrubs, perennials and bulbs.  It is always surprising how much beauty there is on a chilly, rather dull, February afternoon.  Being such a cold winter many of the plants were late in their display, so we would highly recommend a visit in the near future.

The Salix alba ‘Golden Ness’, Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’, Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ welcomed us on arrival, and walking round the gardens we saw wonderful Hamamelis, and Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’, and lots of snowdrops.  It was bitterly cold and so to dive into the Glasshouse and spend time warming up while discovering this wonderfully tranquil paradise where exotic butterflies take flight among the plants was exceptional.  It certainly whetted our appetites for plants we may see in South Africa in October on our Garden House Tour.  Do join us! The tropical plants were extraordinary and we imagined what they will look like in their native surroundings.

Coming up: On April 17th we have organized a coach trip to Beth Chatto’s garden, details will be on the website soon; and on June 23rd we are visiting Mottisfont Abbey, where our main focus of interest will be the walled garden, home to their national collection of old-fashioned roses.

Snowdrop sale at Marchants Hardy Plants…

Posted by editor on Friday, 19 February 2010

If you’re a Galanthus fan look no further.  Friday 19 and Saturday 20 February, one of our favourite nurseries, Marchants Hardy Plants, is holding a special sale of snowdrops, together with a cut flower display.

Many Galanthus species and hybrids and forms will be available – including the beautiful shaped G. allenii; G. x gracilis, Marchants own hybrid selection, with inner segments of solid deep green; G. ‘Bill Bishop’, a very large flowered and handsome snowdrop; G. ‘Jacquenetta’, the greenest of the doubles; and the more rare G. ‘Wrightson’s Double’, a unique, fat elwesii double (quite scarce and very beautiful).

However a number of the bulbs on sale are in short supply and will be sold on a first come first served basis.  Bulbs offered are best quality, and are believed to be true to name.

Plantsman and nursery owner Graham Gough writes:

“Snowdrops are not difficult to grow. In fact, it might be said that they are relatively easy provided a few rules of thumb are observed. They do not enjoy dense shade. Nor do they like stagnant, badly drained soil. Good drainage is therefore a must. Acid or lime soils seem to make little difference – we have seen them flourishing on both. That said, our own Snowdrops have relished growing on a thin chalk soil for many years which should be encouraging for those of you who happen to garden on this ‘hungry’ alkaline type soil. Dappled shade can also be advantageous though many Snowdrops will also prosper in full sun. As you may have gathered, they are really very amenable creatures and associate well with virtually all late winter and early spring flowering plants.

When the bulb you have purchased begins to increase and clump up (2/3 years), you can engage in the pleasure of increasing your stock by dividing the clump. (Clumps left to their own devices sometimes have a habit of ‘going back’ or dying out altogether). Division usually takes place in Feb/March when plants are ‘In the green’. This can be during or after flowering ( though most books will tell you to do it after). We have noticed little difference. Having gently teased the clump apart, it is important to plant at the same depth or perhaps a lttle deeper if the bulbs have risen to the surface, adding a little bone meal if you like to give your snowdrops a treat. On heavy soils the addition of sharp grit is efficacious. Any remaining nurture should be patiently left to Mother nature.”

Location: Marchants Hardy Plants, 2 Marchants Cottages,  Mill Lane,  Laughton,  East Sussex  BN8 6AJ / tel:  01323 811 737

Open: Friday 19 and Saturday 20 February / 10.00am – 5pm

Garden House visit to South Africa…

Posted by editor on Thursday, 18 February 2010

Join us on our visit to South Africa, 1-10 October 2010.  Spring – when the Cape is covered with field upon field of flowers in bloom – is a wonderful time for gardening enthusiasts to visit…

Key aspects of the visit are highlighted below, for full details:

  • Ten-day trip
  • Direct flights to Cape Town (overnight)
  • Four nights at The Vineyard Hotel & Spa ( a beautiful hotel set in its own glorious gardens)
  • One night at the Paternoster Lodge (
  • One night staying at Clanwilliam, staying at St DuBarrys Guest House or Clanwilliam Lodge
  • Two nights at the Aquila Private Game Reserve (

Travelling at all times with horticulture specialists, and an experienced and registered local guide.

We will also have a specialist field guide walking us through the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.


  • Cape Town orientation tour – includes cable car to Table Top Mountain, District Six and Museum, Company Gardens
  • Peninsula tour – includes a guided tour of the stunning Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
  • Winelands tour – includes a visit to KWV Emporium for a cellar tour and tastings!
  • Community tour of the Cape Flats – visiting the community food gardens at Langa Township
  • Drive up the West Coast through Namaqualand’s amazing wildflower fields, to visit the West Coast National Park
  • Visit to Elandberg Eco Reserve for a Rooibos Tea Tour
  • Visit the Rock Art trails and the Wine Estate in the Matzikamma
  • Evening game drive at Aquila Private Game Reserve
  • Morning game drive at Aquila Private Game Reserve

Just a brief summary of this exciting Garden House tour, 1-10 October 2010.  Contact us for the full details . All costs are included, bar a few meal times when you are free to wander and make your own local choices.

We do hope you’ll be inspired to join us!

Article image by Daan Loth – Image © DaanL aka Daan Loth 2009

Shrubs for free – hardwood cuttings!

Posted by editor on Saturday, 13 February 2010

Now is just about the last opportunity you’ll have to take hardwood cuttings (it is preferable to start in November, but any time before the new spring leaves start to unfurl, is fine).

Today in The Garden House we were taking cuttings of Sambucus nigra, Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’, Salix alba and winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum).   Any of the tougher shrubs work well, including forsythia, buddleia, euonymus, kerria, hydrangea, rosemary, yew, willow, dogwoods, weigela, berberis and pyrancantha.  Soft fruit bushes too, such as gooseberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants and whitecurrants – and some roses: Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, and certain shrub and patio roses.

So collect long straight stems, about pencil-width is ideal, and about 12-18” (30-45cms) long.  Make a clean straight cut directly below a leaf node and a sloping cut about 8-10” (20-25cms) above it, cutting just above a leaf node.  Snip off any small twiggy side-shoots.

You could dip the cutting into hormone rooting powder, but it’s not strictly necessary.

Plant your cuttings into ordinary garden soil or compost – either directly into a sheltered bed or border about 6” (15cms) apart, or into some fairly deep pots – plant deeply, so that only the top 1.5” (2.5cm) or so is left sticking out.  Firm in.

Come late summer, when the cuttings have grown 4-6” (10-15cms) shoots, nip the growing tips out, to encourage bushy growth.  Keep watered and leave undisturbed until this time next year, when you should dig them up and space out, or pot them up.  Give them another 6 months to a year before planting in their final position.

What better way than to grow your own shrubs as gifts, or for plant sales – it couldn’t be easier – this is also a great way to produce plants in bulk if you want to create a new hedge!

We love bees!

Posted by editor on Monday, 8 February 2010

On the last Saturday in January The Garden House hosted a talk by bee keeping expert Pam Hunter, a committee member of the BBKA (British Bee Keeping Assoc.)  It was certainly fascinating stuff, but be under no illusion – amateur beware!

Many of us have been seduced by the idea of bee keeping – we’re keen to aid sustainability and pollination, and we love the idea of collecting and bottling our own honey.  Also magazines are talking about bee keeping as a way of countering the decimating losses in honey bee populations caused by the Varroa mite and changes in weather patterns.

However those of us amateurs with romantic illusions of bringing rural bee keeping into the suburbs or inner city, were quite rightly challenged by Pam. Her view is that bee keeping has in some ways become a ‘fashion’ (a little like hen keeping), a hobby that gardeners are embarking on without realizing the commitment, experience and support needed, and in many cases without first thinking about the issues around safety (for your family, pets and neighbours).

Bees are not necessarily dangerous, but as Pam pointed out they are ‘wild’, we cannot contain them (swarming potentially is an issue), and they need to be treated with care and respect.

If you are seriously interested in keeping bees Pam recommends joining your local BBKA group, taking one of their in-depth courses, and using their knowledge and support before deciding.

For most of us, the pleasure of encouraging bees into our gardens is enough. Bees depend entirely on plants, using scent and sight to identify pollen-rich flowers (they tend to prefer yellows and blue flowers). So fill your garden with bee-friendly plants and you’ll be doing your bit to sustain bee populations and encourage local honey production (honey bees fly up to 5 miles radius in search of food).

Bees prefer single flowers – double flowers are of little use, because they’re too elaborate. The single-flowered rose family, which includes crab apple, hawthorn and potentilla, seem to be irresistible to our buzzing friends, as are the flowers of fennel, angelica and cow parsley, and sedums. Tubular-shaped flowers, such as foxgloves, snapdragons, penstemons and heathers, are also favourite feeding places for bees.

Early flowering plants for bees:  Winter aconite, snowdrops, crocus, Daphne bholua, Hellebores, Clematis cirrhosa, Chimonanthus praecox, Sarcococca confusa, Mahonia, Hamamelis.

Spring flowering:  Bluebell, bugle, crab apple, daffodil, flowering cherry and currant, forget-me-not (Myosotis), hawthorn, hellebore (Helleborus corsicus, 
H. foetidus), pulmonaria, pussy willow, rhododendron, rosemary, viburnum, thrift (Armeria maritima).

Early summer flowering: Aquilegia, astilbe, campanula, comfrey, everlasting sweet pea (Lathyrus latifolius), fennel, foxglove, geranium, potentilla, snapdragon, stachys, teasel, thyme, verbascum.

Late summer flowering: Angelica, aster, buddleia, cardoon, cornflower (Centaurea), dahlia (single-flowered), delphinium, eryngium, fuchsia, globe thistle (Echinops), heather, ivy, lavender, penstemon, scabious, sedum, Verbena bonariensis.

One last comment from Pam – buy local honey whenever you get the chance – not only does it support local bee keepers, but it is hugely beneficial to our health!

Trees for small gardens…

Posted by editor on Saturday, 6 February 2010

Choosing a tree for a small garden takes a good deal of thought and planning. If you choose a tree that is too large it may need to be removed and this can be very expensive – it will also make growing other plants in the garden difficult as there will be competition for moisture, food and light.

It is possible to grow a tree in a container but this will restrict its overall height and spread and often spoil the eventual shape of the tree.

Selecting a tree:  Trees up to 8-10m (25-35ft) in height are usually reasonable for most small gardens, although in some cases a taller tree with a narrow habit may be better.  A narrow tree can give a more formal look with spreading trees offering shade.  If you only have room for one tree make sure you choose one that gives more than one season of interest – such as fruit, autumn colour and of course, flowers.

It may help you to draw a scale plan of your garden and then plot the size of your tree when it reaches maturity.  Don’t forget that if you are planting it in the corner of your garden that the canopy may shade your neighbour’s garden too.

Below are some suggestions for trees for small gardens.  Before making your choice make sure you check soil requirements and aspect (sun/shade/shelter from winds etc):

Acer palmaum ‘Sango-kaku’ – 6m

Amelanchier lamarckii – 10m

Cercis siliquastrum – 10m

Cornus kousa var.chinensis – 7.5m (photo above)

Crataegus laevigata ‘Paul’s Scarlet’ – 8m

Malus ‘Evereste’ – 7m

Malus tschonoskii – 12m

Prunus  ‘Pandor’ – 10m

Sorbus hupehensis – 8m

All of the above trees have received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM).  This award indicates that the plant is recommended by the RHS.

With more than 100,000 plants available in the UK alone, the AGM is intended to be of practical value to the home gardener, helping gardeners to make the best and most appropriate choice. It is awarded therefore only to a plant that meets the following criteria:

  • It must be of outstanding excellence for ordinary garden decoration or use
  • It must be available
  • It must be of good constitution
  • It must not require highly specialist growing conditions or care
  • It must not be particularly susceptible to any pest or disease
  • It must not be subject to an unreasonable degree of reversion in its vegetative or floral characteristics

Trees add structure, contrasting height and beauty – key components of every successful garden design.  Even in the smallest garden, well-chosen trees offer seasonal interest, shelter – and a great place to hang your bird-feeders!

Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’

Posted by editor on Saturday, 23 January 2010

Looking for a winter-flowering tree for your garden?

During the rather dreary months from late autumn to early spring there are a small number of woody plants that dare to flower and bring colour into the garden.  The Autumn Cherry is one of them, Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’.

Most of our winter-flowering trees are types of Prunus.    From Japan and China, there were first talked about in the 18th century by the Swedish botanist Carl Thunberg, but it is only in the last 100 years that have become widely available in the West.

Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ forms a small, open-branched tree with a spreading canopy; and even when it is in full leaf it does not cast a lot of shade.  It is a great choice for a small town garden.  The flowers are small but delicate and they are semi-double, pink when in bud, opening to a creamy white which continue to open during mild spells until the end of March, which is amazing as the frilled flowers first appear in November.  It is lovely for cutting and brining indoors.

Another added feature is that in autumn the leaves often turn a rich red and bronze.  I prefer the white form but Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’ has rose pink blossom while ‘Fukubana’ has the most colourful deep rose coloured flowers.

Be inspired by RHS Wisley…

Posted by editor on Friday, 22 January 2010

I was so pleased to read Elspeth’s Thompson’s article in last Sunday’s Telegraph  (14 January extolling the joys of visiting RHS Wisley in the winter time, it chimes so perfectly with our planned visit on 13 February, when we are taking a group on a guided tour around the gardens.

For her it’s the best time to visit, to appreciate the Piet Oudolf borders, plus the variety of winter flowering plants, especially the Hamamelis (witch hazels).  We find it a great garden for inspiration for one’s own garden, particularly as all the plants are meticulously labelled.

Do join us if you can (check the Diary column for details). Driving there on one’s own can be rather gruelling along the M23 and M25, and so much easier in a coach!

Plant of the moment – Sarcococca

Posted by editor on Thursday, 21 January 2010

Sarcococca – common name, Christmas box or sweet box

What a plant – this evergreen shrub has so much going for it – it is evergreen, fragrant, graceful, good in shade, suitable  for both containers or to grow in the garden border. It has one of the strongest scents in the winter garden and if planted on mass can be quite overpowering in a rather lovely sort of way!

The plant originates from western and central China, and is hardy, tolerating temperatures of -15C.  It is happy in most soils, from acid to alkaline but does need a good feed to do well.  It is ideal for leafy woodland.  It will even tolerate deep shade although will cope in full sun as well, it becomes more open and lax in the shade. They will be fine in dry shade as well, even coping under conifers!

There are a variety of species to choose from, each bringing something special to the garden.

Sarcoccoca confusa is a neat evergreen bush that grows to about 1.2m high, and as much across.  The white tassel-like flowers are arranged along the stem and these are followed by black berries, another added bonus.

Sarcococca ruscifolia is similar but has thicker dark green leaves and produces red berries.  This is a real beauty.

But best of all in my opinion is Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyma.  Definitely worth learning the name! It has a suckering habit but is not invasive. It has narrow medium green leaves with reddish stems; its flowers are larger than the others, with pink on the backs of the petals, and has a fantastic scent.  The cultivar ‘Purple Stem’ has particularly fine purples stems and leafstalks, and even the leaf midribs are flushed with purple.

Definitely a desert island plant for me!

Snowy gardenscape…

Posted by editor on Sunday, 10 January 2010

Pretty though the garden is under a layer of fresh snow, aren’t you just panicking about your plants?! Wondering whether they’ll recover, whether the border-line tender plants you never got around to protecting will survive – in fact wondering if you should get out there and do something about it!

alex2Well the first thing we should do is look after the birds as they struggle to find food. Remember, these same birds will help you by eating grubs and insects when it’s warmer, so why not help them when it’s colder.

Fat balls and fat cakes are good for a range of birds. Seed mixes work well for blackbirds, starlings and sparrows, while peanuts and pieces of dried coconut will suit nearly all small birds in the garden in winter. Remember also that birds need water, so break the ice on your bird-bath or pour on hot water to defrost.

This winter we have watched as weeks of seemingly endless rainfall was followed by two bouts of snowy weather and heavy frosts. Now snow may seem bad but one small benefit is that snow acts as an insulator, protecting plants from the cold and frost.

Nonetheless some damage limitation is sensible. Brush off snow from the branches of large trees, shrubs and hedges.alex4 By doing this you will help prevent them from becoming disfigured by the weight. Clear snow from the roofs of greenhouses or cold frames so that light can get through and so that the weight will not damage the structure.

Try not to walk on the grass. Walking on snow-covered grass can cause damage to the turf beneath and leave unsightly marks on the lawn, and can also encourage the growth of fungal diseases which thrive in the cool damp conditions.

Finally – just enjoy the sheer beauty of your snowy gardenscape – take some photos and make a note in your September diary to have your own Christmas cards printed!

By the way – these photos of The Garden House were taken by our friend, professional photographer Alex Stryczko!

Allotment Gardening by Bridgette Saunders

Posted by editor on Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Allotments are not only functional places to grow vegetables, they are also peaceful havens in which you can relax, meet friends and exchange produce and tips.

Bridgette Saunders is an experienced horticulturalist, planstwoman and lecturer. She runs courses on allotment gardening from her home in Brighton and teaches at City College, Brighton and Hove, where she enjoys inspiring her students to grow a variety of plants, both edible and ornamental.

Bridgette’s book Allotment Gardening, published this month, deals with all aspects of the allotment ‘experience’.  How to plan and design your allotment, whatever its size and aspect; considering the soil quality; what fruit, vegetables and flowers to plant; how to tackle pests, diseases and predators; and most importantly, what to do when – the seasonal calendar.

The history of allotments is also covered: the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign during the war years, the subsequent decline of allotment-keeping in the 1960s and 70s, and the extraordinary rise in popularity in recent years.

Allotment Gardening is beautifully illustrated with photographs taken by Rhoda Nottridge.

ISBN: 9781847970220

Published: 22 October 2009

Publisher: The Crowood Press Ltd

All About Roses with rose expert, Simon White

Posted by editor on Monday, 5 October 2009

Last month The Garden House invited rose expert Simon White to give a talk on roses – and, having worked at the renowned Peter Beales Roses nursery for almost twenty-five years, Simon certainly knows a thing or two!

He’s a great character, amusing us all with anecdotes from the nursery, and scarey tales of setting up the beautiful – and mammoth! – Peter Beales stand at The Chelsea Flower show! Simon took us on a fascinating visual journey through the A-Z of roses, their history and types; how to propagate roses, how to plant to avoid disease, and how to prune climbers and ramblers.

Simon WhiteHe also had some good tips on how to grow roses in pots and containers. Most roses cope well with shade and are happy enough in pots– so great news for those of us with smaller shady gardens!

– Pots should be minimum 20” diameter, filled with John Innes no3 (NOT multi-purpose compost, as once dried out this never gets properly wet again). After planting cover the top surface with horticultural grit.

– If planting a larger shrub rose or climber/rambler, create a robust obelisk or tripod out of bamboo, willow or hazel (Simon told us that, amazingly, even ramblers can be happy in a large pot!)

– Water every day April to October, and feed with Tomorite fortnightly (or weekly at half-strength).

– Bare-root roses can be planted anytime from Nov-Jan. The soil-level should be above the root-stock union, and the rose should be pruned hard in Feb (3-5” from the ground!).

– Container-grown roses should be planted in June – if you buy your rose before June, simply plant in position WITH the plastic pot, then plant properly into the soil in June.

– As the plant grows tie stems loosely around the obelisk, spiralling the branches gently in both directions.

– Every year in Dec/Jan, scrape out any loose exposed soil and replace with fresh John Innes no3. In the third year, again in Dec/Jan, re-pot completely (not necessarily in a larger pot, the aim is simply to refresh the rose with new soil).

– Organic care: grow chives as companion planting, and spray with 50/50 skimmed milk and water once a fortnight to protect against mildew, and an occasional spray with diluted washing-up liquid to keep greenfly at bay.

P1000854Finally a great tip for planting a new rose into soil where roses have grown before – use a cardboard box! Dig a hole large enough for the box (a good sized box large enough to take the roots without cramping), position box in the hole, position plant in box, and fill with a mix of John Innes no3, some well-rotted manure and a small handful of bonemeal (and Simon recommends a sachet of Root Grow) – then water well!

A highly informative hands-on day – we all went home with boundless confidence, armed with some good advice and a long list of ‘must-have’ roses!