Posts Tagged ‘Autumn time’

We love Asters: Late Summer Colour!

Posted by editor on Tuesday, 9 October 2018

This year’s extraordinary (maybe even becoming normal?) late summer sunshine reminds us that we can continue to enjoy colour in the garden well into October and even early November.

Here at The Garden House we have many late summer perennials still in bloom – Asters, Hardy Chrysanthemums, Japanese anemones, Crocosmias, Salvias, Penstemmon, Dahlias, Sedums and more – and annuals such as Cosmos, Persicaria orientalis, Cleome, Coreopsis and Ageratum are still enthusiastically flowering.

Many of these are in the hot colour spectrum, adding yet more fire to the Indian summer temperatures – pink, red, orange and yellows – and are perfectly supported by a variety of wonderful late summer grasses, such as miscanthus and panicum, which add structure and movement to mixed plantings.  Also the prettier softly tufted grasses such as Lagurus ovatus ‘Bunny’s Tails’ look great interplanted between annuals.

Shrubs such as Pyracantha, Cotoneaster and Cornus mas are also full of fiery coloured berries at the moment.


We Love Asters in Autumn

Posted by editor on Saturday, 8 October 2016

At a time when many of the garden’s border plants are fading – early September to mid October – in the Garden House garden the many varieties of colourful asters are invaluable crowd pleasers!

Aster is a genus of flowering plants in the family Asteraceae.  Asters are easy to grow herbaceous perennials with daisy-like and abundant starry-shaped flower heads (in fact they get their name from the Latin word for “star”).

The flowers range from white and soft lavender-blue shades to crimson pinks and purples – and are much loved by bees and butterflies!  The plants can be tall and willowy or compact, ranging from 8 inches to 8 feet, depending on the type.



Among many Garden House favourites:

  • Aster x frikartil ‘Monch’ AGM – makes a tidy mound with lavender-blue semi-double flowers
  • Aster x cordifolius ‘Little Carlow’ AGM is bushy with abundant lavender-blue, yellow-centred daisies
  • Aster lateriflorus ‘Lady in Black’ has a more horizontal habit and very delicate white flowers with pink centres

You can find an aster for almost any garden and they have many uses, such as in containers, borders, rock gardens, or wildflower gardens.

  • Like full sun or part shade
  • Will tolerate any aspect, exposed or sheltered
  • Happy on most soils, ideally moist but well-drained
  • May need staking (pea sticks are ideal)
  • Cut back in late autumn
  • Pinch back the blooms early in the season to encourage side shoots
  • Or cut back by about one-third in July to keep the plant more compact
  • Propagate by division in spring for the best display of flowers

Local nursery specialists include Marchants Hardy Plants, Laughton, East Sussex BN8 6AJ

Woottons of Wenhasten also have a great selection available by mail-order



Making valuable leaf mould…

Posted by editor on Saturday, 14 November 2015

In natural ecosystems, autumn leaves are a crucial part of the natural cycle, returning complex chemical compounds to the ground where they are broken down.

The first phase in this breakdown is often carried out by worms, slugs, woodlice and other small animals on the woodland floor.  So just piling leaves in out-of-the -way places, or spreading them under shrubs, will see many of them disappear by spring.

Good things about leaf mould:

  • It’s easy to make
  • It cuts out bonfires
  • It saves using peat
  • It’s free

Good things about using leaf mould:

  • It’s clean and easy to handle
  • It’s good for the soil
  • It cuts down on watering
  • It can be used on any soil
  • It can be used at any time of year

The second phase is helped by invertebrates which are aided by fungi.  These work slowly on tough and nutrient -sparse old leaves, which the bacteria that fire up our summer compost heaps find hard to deal with.  For this reason large quantities of leaves slow down the composting process and are best dealt with separately.

Dry leaves won’t decompose so water them if they are dry to help them rot.  All you need is a secluded corner of the garden or a simple container, to stop the leaves blowing away.  Black bin bags can be used, when full of leaves make a few holes in the bag and tie the top loosely.

Leafmould makes a good winter cover for bare soil; mulch around shrubs, herbaceous, trees, vegetables or dig in as a soil improver for sowing and planting.  Use as an autumn top dressing for lawns.  It also makes a good seed sowing mix – mix with equal parts well rotted leafmould, sharp sand, loam and garden compost.

Leaves on the lawn are easily dealt with.  Run the mower over leaves on the lawn with the grass box off, the shredded leaves will soon disappear into the lawn – OR run the mower over leaves on the lawn with the grass box on, then add the chopped up mown leaves and grass to a leafmould heap.  They will be quicker to rot than whole leaves.

So turn the autumn leaf fall to your garden’s advantage! But remember, don’t disturb drifts of autumn leaves under hedges and other out of the way areas – they may be used for hibernating sites by hedgehogs and other creatures.

Mushrooms, Plant Fairs, GH Courses and all things October!

Posted by editor on Sunday, 12 October 2014

Well, we like to keep busy at The Garden House and the past few weeks have certainly been VERY busy (and highly enjoyable!).

Our Design Your Own Garden: 6-session course, started on 1 October.  The aim of this course is to give enthusiastic amateur designers and gardeners the basic skills, knowledge and confidence necessary to design or revamp their own gardens. Our two other autumn courses covering practical gardening skills are also underway – Gardening for Beginners and The Gardening Year. We’ll track all the activity over the next few weeks and keep you posted as to everyone’s progress!  (Photo below of last year’s students)

On the weekend of 4th/5th October Great Dixter was the ‘go to’ destination for dedicated plant lovers (and ourselves of course!) as this renowned Kent garden opened its doors for the fifth year to leading nursery men and women from across Europe and UK, under the watchful eye of Dixter’s head gardener Fergus Garrett. Among the specialist nurseries was De Hessenhof from Holland, and we were delighted to catch a talk given by De Hessenhof’s owner and nurseryman Hans Kramer, an expert on perennials (video below).

Then yesterday, Saturday 11 October, saw a group of us trekking through the very wet Sussex undergrowth with fungi and foraging expert Geoff Dann! Having primed us the week before with his fascinating talk, Mushroom Magic, held at The Garden House (3 October), Geoff – who is particularly knowledgeable on the more obscure edible species – was brilliant and inspiring, helping us find and identify as many species of fungi as possible, and chatting about fungi and wild food in general.

Finally, to tie-in with all our funghi-related activity, professional botanical art tutor Leigh Ann Gale is holding a one-day botanical illustration workshop tomorrow Monday 13 October with a special focus on illustrating mushrooms – can’t wait to see everyone’s efforts!

Phew, and we’re only half way through the month!

NOTE: we also found this ‘artist’s mushroom’ below – so called as it has a really hard surface and can be used to draw on (as the image from shows).


Introduction to Seed Saving with the Heritage Seed Library

Posted by editor on Sunday, 28 September 2014

What better way to make your garden productive in the autumn than by seed saving now in readiness for next year – look out for our seed saving workshop on Saturday 18 October 2014.

The Garden House is pleased to welcome Sally Cunningham of the Heritage Seed Library to give a talk on seed saving. A lifetime professional gardener, Sally worked at Ryton Gardens in Coventry for over 15 years in a number of roles from advisor to deputy head gardener for the Sowing New Seeds project; she was also responsible for the planting and design of the Exotic Garden.

Previously Sally worked with Kew and Leicester Museums; she is author of Asian Vegetables and Ecological Gardening, and writes for a variety of magazines including Grow Your Own and The Organic Way. At present she is teaching with the WEA (Worker’s Educational Association) in Leicester and continuing to explore exotic crop potential in the UK.

Sally will find out what sort of seeds are being saved already (at The Garden House and by participants), what the group wants to know more about, and how she can help.


Why save seed? – Sally will discuss the increased number of seed companies, EU legislation and how Heritage Seed Library came into being; why you should all try to keep your own seeds going; difference between live and frozen-in-time seed libraries.  Also about the politics of seed saving: about out-breeders and in-breeders and the practical problems between them.

Methods of saving seed – Sally will highlight the importance of isolating plants to keep seed strains true to type; how many plants do you need to save seed from and how do you select the best; wet saving (tomatoes and cucurbits) and drying (beans, peas and others).

Cost: £25 – to include light lunch and refreshments.  11am to 2.30pm.

Location: The Garden House, 5 Warleigh Road, Brighton BN1 4NT.

Catch the Colour at Nymans Gardens

Posted by editor on Saturday, 16 November 2013

Catch the colour before it goes!  If you live in Sussex, Sheffield Park is bound to be on your ‘must visit’ list; but for beautiful colour, fine trees, a wonderful walled garden and a fascinating family history, another National Trust garden, Nymans, is hard to beat.  It’s a Garden House favourite and well worth a visit in any season.


A crisp Saturday morning in November brought out the amateur photographers, all happily catching the extraordinary light as it played through the yellow, orange and red leaf displays.  Fortunately there was relatively little damage here following the mid-October storm that swept across the country (unlike the ‘great storm’ of 1987 which wreaked havoc at Nymans!) – though a beautiful Catalpa (Indian Bean Tree) was a casualty .

Late autumn is an ideal time for a brisk walk in the Nymans woods or gardens; an opportunity to excite the children about nature’s extraordinary variety; and a time to note the last of the late summer’s hydrangeas, salvias and fuschias.  The garden’s ‘winter walk’ is just starting to come into its own, fragrant Viburnum and Sarcococca are starting into flower, and even some very early camellias have opened.

Areas of the garden are being put to bed, borders tidied and tender plants lifted, leaving an emerging skeleton of sculptural seed heads and pods, bringing focus to the structure and bark of the many unusual varieties of trees and shrubs.  The dogwoods (Cornus sanguinea) and the bark of Acer griseum are richly red and coppery.

Nymans is home to 26 ‘champion’ trees – trees that are the tallest, oldest or largest examples of the species in a given region.  It is also home to many plants collected from the wilds of China or Japan by Ludwig Messel, who in 1890 bought Nymans house and its 600 acres, and his head gardener and avid plant-hunter, James Comber.


Don’t forget to check out the well-stocked plant centre – many of the plants are propagated in the Nymans glasshouses, where even now preparations are being made for next year’s displays and plantings.  Or if the weather is less than clement, you’ll find a toasty welcome in the excellent second-hand book-store with it’s log-burning stove!



Plant of the month: Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’

Posted by editor on Thursday, 31 October 2013

You may well be surprised at our choice this month as Pampas Grass is a bit of a ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ plant, especially when stuck out on its own in the middle of a lawn or front garden!

Yesterday we visited Sheffield Park to see the autumn colour (though due to the lack of cold nights and sunny days the trees have been slow to change) and took these photos – and now, having seen this amazing plant at it’s best, we’ve decide that we definitely love it!

Our favourite cultivar is Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’, a more compact and free-flowering variety of this much-maligned ornamental grass. It is perennial and evergreen and forms a compact clump of narrow rough-edged arching leaves 45cm in length, with erect stems bearing dense silvery or pink-tinged flower plumes that are excellent for drying.

Unlike other cultivars this is considered a dwarf form as it only reaches 1.5m (5ft) high in late summer and therefore is better suited to requirements in smaller gardens.

  • Grow in any fertile, well-drained soil in full sun (give it ample space to develop into a specimen)
  • Protect crowns of young plants in their first winter
  • Cut and comb out the previous year’s stems and dead foliage annually in late winter or early spring
  • Always wear stout gardening gloves when working with pampas grass to protect hands from cuts caused by the sharp leaf margins
  • Propagate by division February to April

This architectural plant is suitable for several situations including city and courtyard gardens, gravel gardens, coastal or cottage/informal gardens and prairie gardens.  Also flower borders and beds, and cut flowers.

So happily it’s not just a plant for 60s swingers – why not learn to love it, grow it in your garden and bring the Pampas Grass back into fashion!

Make some Piccalilli this autumn!

Posted by editor on Thursday, 17 October 2013

Here at the Garden House we have been busy making Piccalilli, a British interpretation of Indian pickles that harks back to the mid 18thcentury.  It is essentially a mix of vegetables and spicy seasonings, particularly mustard and turmeric which give its distinct yellow colouring, and is delicious with bread and cheese.

 There are many many versions, but we particularly love this recipe from Pam the Jam – Pam Corbin, who with fellow preserver Liz Neville, now runs the Preserves course at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s  River Cottage.

Ideal for using up all our green tomatoes that haven’t ripened – and, having no yellow mustard seeds, we used black ones which added a little visual ‘extra’. Those of you coming on our courses and workshops may have a chance to sample some!

This great illustration shows the Piccalilli label as used by Crosse & Blackwell around 1867.






  • 2kg washed, peeled vegetables – select 5 or 6 from the following: cauliflower or romanesco cauliflower, radish, green beans, cucumbers, courgettes, green or yellow tomatoes, tomatilloes, carrots, small silver-skinned onions or shallots, peppers, nasturtium seed pods
  • 100g fine sea salt
  • 60g cornflour
  • 20g ground turmeric
  • 20g English mustard powder
  • 20g ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp crushed cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp crushed coriander seeds
  • 1.2 litres cider vinegar
  • 300g granulated sugar
  • 100g honey

Cut the veg into small, even, bite-sized pieces. Place in a large colander over a bowl, and sprinkle with the salt. Mix well, cover with a tea towel and leave in a cool place for 24 hours, then rinse the veg with ice-cold water and drain thoroughly.

Blend the cornflour, turmeric, mustard powder, ginger, mustard seeds, cumin and coriander to a smooth paste with a little of the vinegar. Put the rest of the vinegar into a saucepan with the sugar and honey and bring to the boil. Pour a little of the hot vinegar over the blended spice paste, stir well and return to the pan. Bring gently to the boil. Boil for 3-4 minutes to allow the spices to release their flavours into the thickening sauce.

Remove the pan from the heat and carefully fold the well-drained vegetables into the hot, spicy sauce. Pack the pickle into warm, sterilised jars and seal immediately with vinegar-proof lids. Leave for about 6 weeks before opening. Use within a year.

Main photo courtesy of Humble Crumble where Gareth has posted another excellent Piccallili recipe.



Friday Gardening Group update

Posted by editor on Sunday, 13 October 2013

Many of you may know that The Garden House was previously a market garden, and that when Bridgette and partner Graham bought it 12+ years ago it was completely overgrown and full of junk.  Since then it’s restoration into a working and inspirational garden has been a labour of love – by Bridgette and Graham, and also over the past five or six years by the Friday Gardening Group.

By gathering a regular group of friends, students (Bridgette teaches horticulture at Stanmer College) and gardening beginners to help her maintain and develop this very large urban garden, Bridge has also created a nurturing, gardening, learning space.

Mosaic paving underway

The group continues to meet once a week in term time, gardening and learning with the seasons – and almost as important, chatting and catching up over a Friday morning coffee!

One of the group Sharon Donnelly, has started a brilliant new blog tracking the weekly activities , and on the website we’re going to bring you the monthly highlights.

Cementing in new posts for the raspberries; digging the new spring border

Looking good this month:

  • Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ ( Smoke bush)- a bushy deciduous shrub which grows to 5m – it has deep purple leaves that become redder in autumn and large feathery pink inflorescences in summer. Grow in well drained soil in sun or partial shade
  • Kniphofia ‘Bees Lemon’ – a frost hardy red hot poker that is not so dominated by leaves as other pokers. It has deep green grass type leaves and prefers moist but well drained soil in sun or part shade. It flowers in late summer and early autumn. Kniphofias are native to Africa.

Bulbs: Tulips don’t need to be planted until late October or November. The colder temperatures help to wipe out viral and fungal diseases that may infect the bulbs.

Activities in Bridge’s garden this month:

  • Put in posts to support the raspberry canes
  • Lawn care
  • Take cuttings of tender perennials
  • Prick out wallflowers
  • Cut back Lychnis and Onopordum, pull up Honesty plants keeping the papery heads and collecting seeds
  • Sow more hardy annual seeds and pricking out and potting on ones that have been sown earlier – they need a set of true leaves before they are ready for pricking out
  • Sow more hardy annual seeds – including Cerinthe and Dill
  • Sow winter salad seeds – in the greenhouse in gutters and outside under cloches
  • Sort out plants in the cold frame
  • Pot up sempervivums
  • Work on the two big borders on either side of the hawthorn hedge – one border will be a spring border and the other for later flowering plants. We took out most of the plants to clear the beds and divide up some plants that will go back or be moved elsewhere.
  • Continue work on mosaic step by the greenhouse
  • Dig up onions and earth up leeks to keep them white
  • Cut back box hedge on herb bed and tidy the rosemary

Mel’s method for drying seeds at home; pricking out seedlings


The Magic of Mushrooms

Posted by editor on Monday, 7 October 2013

Foraging fanatic Geoff Dann spends his autumns accompanying small, self-assembled groups (families, groups of friends, couples) on walks in search of fungi, usually on public access land.   He also gives talks, and last Saturday Geoff was at The Garden House talking about mushrooms.

Who knew there were so many and who knew they could be so fascinating?!  Apparently there are 3,000 plus species of fungi in the UK alone.  Geoff had brought with him the most extraordinary selection of mushrooms and a few funghi, all picked in a three-hour session around his home-base Hastings.

Defined by the weather, generally the mushroom ‘season’ runs mid-September to mid-November. Geoff talked us through the legality of foraging, the importance of sustainability (leaving some behind!), responsibility with regard to where and how you forage – and of course, most important, which are edible, which simply don’t taste nice – and, which are deadly – there is no antidote to the fairly common Deathcap and the almost as deadly Destroying Angel (though apparently these are not poisonous to deer or rabbits, though they can be to dogs).

The distinguishing features of fungi are numerous –  smell being very important, to location (certain fungi grow symbiotically with certain trees), the area’s soil type, the way in which certain fungi ‘colour up’ when cut, whether they have gills or pores (from which the spores escape), the spore ‘print’ (when cut in half and placed on paper, how the spores colour and spread) – and so much more.

The evening was made all the more enjoyable as Bridge and Deborah regularly disappeared into the kitchen to pan-fry in butter various mushrooms, really delicious.  Our supper, generously included in the talk, was a simple salad served with a delicious Mushroom Bread (taken from a delightful old cookery book, recipe below), and yet more of Geoff’s sample mushrooms.

Geoff is also very knowledgeable about wild plants – and roadkill!  Not for the vegetarians among you, he says: “I got into eating roadkill without really thinking about it. It was a December 23rd back in about 2002, and I had a few guests coming for Christmas Dinner. I had been planning on popping into the local supermarket on Christmas eve and buying whatever they had left over and going cheap (foraging, sort of…), but on my way to work over the downs from Brighton to Burgess Hill I passed a dead deer. I had to do quite a big circle to get back on to the slip road where I’d originally passed it at 60mph. It was a roe doe, and still warm, which was a big help when it comes deciding how long it had been there. Suffice to say that although I did not poison any of my guests, this first one was very much a learning experience.”

Geoff also collaborates with landowners to offer longer foraging courses for larger groups and is available for foraging and fungi/plant ID sessions at all times of the year.  To check out Geoff’s excellent blog and website CLICK HERE.







Exotic Mushroom Magic

Posted by editor on Saturday, 28 September 2013

Mushroom season is upon us!  Just a reminder that we have local forager Geoff Dann giving an illustrated talk at The Garden House on 4 Oct at 7pm.

Back on 14 Sept Bridgette attended one of Geoff’s master classes at the Brighton Food Festival – an introduction to the edible and poisonous wild fungi of Sussex with– and she said it was really fascinating.

The selection of species available at this time of the season is pretty good, so if you’re already booked on the Garden House workshop do bring any fungi growing in your garden or near where you live – Geoff will attempt to identify anything anybody brings!

Exotic Mushroom Magic:

Join us for a light supper and an entertaining illustrated talk on all things fungal by Brighton-based wild mushroom expert Geoff Dann, and sample some of the more unusual and exotic species of edible wild mushrooms that can be found in Sussex (as well as other more well-known ones).

Cost: £25 – to include a delicious mushroom-themed meal and a glass of wine.

This is an evening talk – 7pm to 9.30pmPlaces are limited so do contact us as soon as possible.

Location: The Garden House, 5 Warleigh Road, Brighton BN1 4NT.

To find out more about Geoff go to

Come to our Macmillan’s Coffee Morning!

Posted by editor on Saturday, 21 September 2013

Come to The Garden House and support the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning, Macmillan Cancer Support’s biggest fundraising event, where donations on the day are made to Macmillan. In 2012 115,000 people signed up to coffee morning, raising a record £15 million.

Have coffee and cakes with us, and bring your friends!

There will be a variety of stalls selling plants, jams and chutneys, mosaics and handcrafted and knitted items.  Open 11am to 3pm.

Location: The Garden House, 5 Warleigh Road, Brighton BN1 4NT.

Plant of the Month: Eryngium

Posted by editor on Thursday, 12 September 2013

Every garden needs contrast – of leaf shape, height and colour – and no plant is more exciting at this time of year than the spiky silver or metallic blue ruffs of Eryngium.

Commonly known as sea hollies, Eryngium are in the family Apiaceae. Some species are native to rocky and coastal areas, but the majority are grassland plants.

Numerous hybrids have been selected for garden use, of which E.× oliverianum and E.× tripartitum have gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM).

These annual and perennial plants have hairless and usually spiny leaves. Their conspicuous spiky basal bracts surround a prominent, cone-like centre of tiny flowers.

  • Hardy and easy to grow
  • Flowers July to September
  • Full sun is essential as is protection from winter wet
  • Grow in dry, well-drained soil that is poor to moderately fertile – acid, alkaline or neutral sand, loam or chalk
  • Height: 90cm
Spread: 45cm

Eryngium look great when planted in bold clumps among grasses, in a sunny border or gravel garden. They also work well in coastal gardens.

The seedheads make a very attractive feature in the garden so are usually left over winter.  Or cut and spray for Christmas decorations.

Sussex Prairie Garden Unusual Plant & Art Fair

Posted by editor on Thursday, 29 August 2013

This Sunday 1 September we highly recommend that you visit the 3rd annual Sussex Prairie Garden Unusual Plant and Art fair.  Garden owners Paul and Pauline McBride will be hosting a record number of stalls selling unusual plants, garden accessories and art for your garden.

Specialist nurseries include:  Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, Nymans Nursery, Phoenix Perennial Plants, Rapkyns Nursery, Usual & Unusual Plants, Blueleaf Plants and many, many others.

We’ll be there too, so do come along and say hello – and find out about upcoming garden House workshops and courses!  

For exhibitor listing and layout of stands CLICK HERE.

The fair will be open from 11am to 5pm on Sunday 1st September 2013. There is ample free on site parking.

Entrance to the fair is included in your garden entry for the day – adults £6, children £3. Family ticket £15 for two adults and up to 3 children all visiting together.

RHS members are offered a 20% discount to the fair, so will be asked to pay £4.80 on presentation of their RHS card.

Sussex Prairies Garden, Morlands Farm, Wheatsheaf Road (B2116), Near Henfield, West Sussex BN5 9AT  0044 (0)1273 495902


Tool Sharpening masterclass!

Posted by editor on Monday, 19 November 2012

Packing up for winter means cutting back, cleaning your pots, washing down the greenhouse, tidying your shed – and also sharpening and oiling your tools all ready for winter!

Ian Swain collects and restores garden tools.  He started acquiring and restoring more traditional equipment over 15 years ago when, while studying at agricultural college, he simply found many modern tools and gardening items unsatisfactory in use, and aesthetically unappealing.

His recent workshop at The Garden House was a masterclass in good maintenance; Ian demonstrating all aspects of sharpening axes, loppers, shears, secateurs and spades.  Ian explained in great detail the process for each different tool, each tool requiring careful assessment of the angle of the blade edge. Below info gives some of Ian’s key preparation pointers.

Safety comes first of course – Ian advises:

  • Appropriate protective equipment, perhaps gloves and safety boots
  • First Aid kit
  • Adequate equipment to allow you to work without cutting corners, or yourself
  • A quiet place to work free of distractions. Perhaps the job shouldn’t be done on site?
  • If you are in your place of work then you need a Risk Assessment to show that you have considered these issues.

Some signs that sharpening is required are:

  • The tool user is having to apply excessive force to the tool
  • The item being cut is left ragged, or with parallel scratches on its cut face
  • Chips can be seen on the blade edge
  • If looked at head on the blade edge has bright spots that reflect light

Use the right tools for the job; sharpening devices could include:

  • Files
  • Carborundum stones
  •  Treadle whetstones
  • Carpenters bench stones
  • Slip stones
  • Diamond stones/hones
  • Japanese water stones

Most of these can be obtained in various grades from coarse to very fine. Costs vary from a few pounds to tens of pounds, depending on quality, size and shape. Many stones are fragile, and should always be kept in a padded box. Virtually all the sharpening materials should be used wet, because you are removing metal from blade, and water keeps things moving, and prevents the metal particles getting stuck in the rough abrasive. In addition it prevents metal dust being created. Spit does nicely when out on site!

Sit down somewhere quiet and out of the way. Support the tool (for heavy or large items) or the sharpening stone (light items like knives) as appropriate. Depending on what you are sharpening an appropriate support might be your thigh, a stump, a log or the fork of a tree. Improvise, but think through the consequences. A vice can be used to hold the tool, but then you must be vigilant that it stays firmly clamped, take care not to impale yourself, and never leave the tool unattended in the vice.

Wear your gloves, don’t get distracted – look at what you are doing! Unless just ‘touching up’ the tool you may need to start with a coarse abrasive, and use this to cut back the bevel until you have eliminated the damage (i.e. wear, chips, dents). Then refine the edge with a finer stone. Sharpen away from the edge if you value you fingertips. Don’t monitor progress by touching the blade edge.

When you have finished sharpening your tools wipe over the blades with 3-in-1 oil.  Wooden handles can be rubbed over with boiled linseed oil.

Most of Ian’s stock of restored tools harks from the mid 20th century, but he does occasionally have Victorian and Edwardian items. Their quality and design is often exceptional, and is unlikely to be repeated by modern items.  Look out for Ian at various plant and garden fairs in Sussex through the year – and we look forward to welcoming him again to The Garden House!

Plant of the Month: Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’

Posted by editor on Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Our suggestion this month is the wonderful Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ of the Asteraceae family, and common named the ‘perennial sunflower’. 

It is one of those plants that never fails to lift the spirits, and is irresistible to butterflies!  Reassuringly it has also been given the Award of Garden Merit (AGM) by the Royal Horticultural Society, so you know it’s going to perform well.

Helianthus can be tall, erect annuals, tuberous or rhizomatous perennials, with coarse simple leaves and large daisy-like flower heads.

‘Lemon Queen’ is a strong-growing and bushy, with coarse, dark green foliage and a multitude of pale yellow ray florets about a dark yellow central disk 5cm wide, flowering in late summer and autumn.

This delightful and much-loved plant grows best in full sun in any sheltered position (not in shade or north-facing aspect).  It looks beautiful planted in large swathes, prairie style; but equally works well when planted in smaller city or courtyard gardens, coastal, cottage or informal gardens.

Helianthus love moderately fertile, humus-rich, moist but well drained, neutral to alkaline soil in full sun, and need a long hot summer to flower well. They may need support.

  • Hardiness: H4 (hardy)
  • Propagate by division in spring or autumn
  • Pruning: Cut back after flowering
  • Pests: Can get slugs and snails
  • Diseases: May be affected by powdery mildews and sclerotinia diseases


Visit the Great Dixter Plant Fair

Posted by editor on Monday, 1 October 2012

One of our very favourite gardens Great Dixter is holding its annual Plant Fair next weekend, Saturday 6 and Sunday 7 October.

This is a particularly special event as it includes some European nurseries that one wouldn’t normally see over here – Domaine de la Source from France (Asters), De Hessenhof (herbaceous) and Kwekerij Arborealis (shrubs and trees) from Holland, and Chris Ghyselen from Belgium (Perscaria).  Also many excellent UK specialist nurseries.

There will be talks by the nurserymen about their plants throughout the weekend.  Click here for the Timetable of Talks.

For more info email: or check their website


We love: fiery autumn colour

Posted by editor on Monday, 24 September 2012

Heading out in The Garden House garden last Saturday – the last deliciously sunny day for a while I suspect – we were struck by just how much dramatic and fiery autumn colour remains to be picked and enjoyed.  The jewel tones of the season are deep purples, rusts, scarlet and gold.

In between the rustling buff and golden grasses and seedheads: Helenium with their orange-red flowers, the flat heads of golden Achillea (yarrow) and simple sprawling nasturtiums – all looking simple and unpretentious, yet still wonderfully rich and bold.

Sadly the dahlias are pretty much over, though sedums are still looking strong and will go on for a while yet (though this week’s heavy rain is bound to batter them!), asters are still flowering, and happily even a few cosmos remain.

Given that we can and often do enjoy early autumn warmth and sunshine, it is really worthwhile considering interspersing grasses with perennials that will extend the flowering year.

Winter pansies and ornamental chillies make a great display in the front garden pots.



Propagating Pelargoniums

Posted by editor on Saturday, 15 September 2012

Pelargoniums are native to South Africa and are tender perennials – in other words, they need to be kept frost free over winter.  Some of the more common bedding varieties do sometimes survive outside but the rarer types tend to die at the merest hint of a frost.

Propagating pelargoniums is easy, with almost fail-safe results!  If you propagate your pelargoniums rather than growing on last years plants you’ll have more flowers and much stronger plants and September is a really good time to start taking cuttings if you want really good results.

How to do this:

  • September is the ideal time to start propagating as the plants are at a very active stage of growth which means they will root very quickly.
  • Make your cut underneath the node or leaf joint as this is where there is an accumulation of hormones, which will help your cuttings to make roots.
  • Take a 1½in-3in cutting using a very sharp knife (a razor blade rather than a kitchen knife).  You are most likely to succeed if you keep cuttings small.
  • Use a mix of two-thirds peat to one-third grit – this will make a really free draining mix and will stop the plants from rotting off.
  • Do not cover them as you would when propagating other tender perennials – again this will allow the cuttings to develop roots before quickly without getting diseases such as grey mould.

They should root with two to three weeks. You’ll know they have done so by new growth at their tips. Turn over the pot and check for new white roots.

Take them out of the propagator and pot on if before October.

If it is already October, don’t pot on but feed and keep them cold and dry through the winter, to pot on in spring. They’ll grow fantastically and you’ll have lots of plants to put out in the garden.

To see a fantastic collection of Pelargoniums visit Woottens of Wenhaston in Suffolk, it is wonderful and a favourite nursery of ours!

Plant of the Month: Stipa gigantea

Posted by editor on Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Having recently spent the day at the Sussex Prairie Garden plant fair and seen some fabulous plants there, I thought I should tell you about one of our favourites – Stipa gigantea – the giant oat grass.

We find it to be a very useful architectural plant, and you can see this magnificent grass growing in various locations throughout Sussex Prairies.

Stipa gigantea is a member of the Poaceae family.  It is one of the largest feather grasses and is said to be one of the most magnificent of all the ornamental garden grasses. It makes a really good ‘see through’ plant and is brilliant for growing with cut flowers, giving a light and airy feel, together with swaying movement.  This plant with its golden colour looks particularly beautiful when the low level sun shines through on a September morning.

Its narrow (3mm) leaves form a large tuft of basal foliage while the loose, open panicle flowers are held high above the foliage on stems 2.5m high during June to August and persist well into the autumn and winter months. Overall height and spread is 2.5m (8ft) high x 1.2m (4ft) wide.

The specific epithet gigantea appropriately describes the tall stems, while the common name ‘golden oats’ accurately describe the oat-like panicles of flowers which are golden when ripe.

Stipa species and cultivars are all easily grown in any moderately fertile, well-drained soil in full sun. Native to Spain, Portugal and Morocco, they happily grow in Britain and northern Europe, and most are hardy to at least -15°C though many will not survive the winter in conditions where the soil is waterlogged.

Plants should establish quickly and, once growing well, need little attention apart from cutting back of the foliage during the winter to tidy it up before the new flush of growth appears in the spring.

Once established Stipa gigantea is drought resistant and not troubled by pests or diseases.

Like many grasses Stipa can be propagated from seed or division. Sow seeds in container in a cold frame in spring, or divide plants in mid-spring or early summer.

Do give it a try – even in a small garden it can provide a real wow factor!

PHOTO: thank you to Woottens of Wenhaston


Sussex Prairies; plant and art fair

Posted by editor on Saturday, 8 September 2012

Last Sunday the wonderful Paul and Pauline McBride invited over 60 specialist nurseries, artists and makers to set up their stalls dotted in and around the vast perennial beds that make up the Sussex Prairies landscape.

On the left, Bridgette Saunders with Paul Seabourne

We set up our stall to meet and talk with new people, happy to tell them about the exciting upcoming Garden House workshops, courses and talks – everything from our 8-week Gardening for Beginners courses, to an evening talk with Ed Ikin, head gardener at Nymans, and a Green Roof Workshop where you can not only learn about green roofs, but actually plant and take away your own green-roofed bird box!

On Saturday 29 September we’re returning to Sussex Prairies for our Designing with Plants at the Sussex Prairies Garden Workshop – an exploration of what makes for dream planting partnerships – looking at colour, shape, texture and architectural forms of plants.  See DIARY for more details.

Our stand also featured mosaic pieces by Brighton-based mosaicist Sue Samway and a great selection of specialist perennials propagated by Paul Seabourne.

Hard to believe, but the borders at Sussex Prairies were planted only 4 years ago in 2008, and all 30,000 of 600 different varieties have been carefully logged and recorded!   The sweeping beds planted in the shape of a spiralling nautilus shell encourage exploration and adventure and visitors are able to roam through narrow pathways in amongst the mighty plants to further enjoy the experience. The plantings consist of large groupings of each variety, planted in a free flowing style, which contrasts leaf forms, stems, stalks, flower shapes and textures.

Even as some of the planting fades and begins to go over, there remains the rusty and blackened colouring of the seedheads and grasses.  In many ways quite as attractive as the late summer Heleniums, Rudbeckias and Sedums.

On the weekend of 15/16 September another unusual event is taking place at Sussex Prairies: the Blackfoot Lodge and Spirit of the West will be camping in the garden with their teepees, totem poles and buffalo skins. Visit and talk with them about the native American way of life anytime between 1pm and 5pm

Sussex Prairies, Morlands Farm, Wheatsheaf Road, Henfield, West Sussex, BN5 9AT

Mistletoe Market at The Garden House

Posted by editor on Sunday, 13 November 2011

MARK THE DATE! Saturday 26 November, 12 – 5pm.  Come and buy your Christmas presents while enjoying home-made food, lunches and teas, mulled wine and festive delights as well as carol singing.

  • yummy Christmas breads, cakes and preserves
  • beautiful plants, bulbs and seeds
  • marvelous mosaics
  • gorgeous knits
  • stunning jewellery
  • amazing art
  • stylish ceramics
  • hand-crafted gifts for the gardener

And a whole lot more besides!  Enjoy a wonderful festive afternoon – bring friends and family to The Garden House, 5 Warleigh Road, Brighton BN1 4NT


Our Favourite Plants for Dry Shade

Posted by editor on Thursday, 10 November 2011

Dry shade is one of the most difficult parts of the garden – here at the Garden House we are always being asked for advice on plants that will tolerate this situation. 

All the plants that we are recommending come with the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM); that means that they have been tried and tested and have come out well thriving in dry shade conditions.

They will all need lots of watering in their first season to settle them in and you can also help by mulching well with compost and manure or bark chippings.  You can even plant through cardboard – water well first to make it more flexible and then using a knife, cut holes in the cardboard for planting through.  Cover with bark mulch to weigh the cardboard down and to make it look more attractive.

Our favourite dry shade plants:

Brunnera macrophylla – a member of the borage and comfrey family, it is a really good weed suppressant.  It has rather rough, heart-shaped leaves above tough, slowly spreading roots – the effect is rather like a rough-textured hosta, but unlike hostas doesn’t get eaten by slugs and snails! Known as the perennial forget-me-not, it produces very dainty pale blue flowers. The silver form called ‘Jack Frost’ really lights up a shady corner and is lovely cultivar. Height 45cm (18in)

Dryopteris filix-mas – I’m always surprised that this plant is tolerant of dry, shady conditions. If like me you have problems remembering what fern goes where, the clue is in the name DRYopteris!  It is known as the shuttlecock fern and once established, its finely dissected widely splayed fronds make a really good contrast to broader foliage. You have to wait for a while for it to reach maturity but it is worth the wait. Two favourite AGM cultivars are ‘Cristata’ and ‘Grandiceps Wills’ – both have crests at the tips of their fronds and of their leaf divisions. Height 1m (39in)

Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’ – the poor old Euonymus always seems to get a bad press – maybe because it is often used in places where it doesn’t get looked after very well.  It is a great winter plant and when the cold gets to it the small dark leaves, edged in gold, develop a lovely pink tinge.  It can be pruned hard in spring and clipped to shape, or if left will also climb walls.  It also looks good in containers in a shady position.  Height 50cm (20in)

Epimedium x perralchicum – evergreen epimediums, commonly known as bishop’s mitre, are good in dry shade, this one makes a dense clump. This form was found at Wisley, RHS gardens in the 1930s. It is in the same family as Berberis and Mahonia, and has the same yellow roots as these two cousins.  In spring sprays of very dainty, dancing, pale yellow flowers cover the foliage. It makes a good weed-smothering hardy perennial cover which is attractive all year. Height 40cm (16in)

Narcissus ‘Jack Snipe’ – now is bulb planting time and some of the small narcissi are brilliant in dry shade.  ‘Jack Snipe’ has strong stems and small flowers and look great gown in clumps, add plenty of compost before planting to give them a good start.

Geranium macrorrhizum ‘White-Ness’ – this is a lovely cultivar of the hardy geranium.  It has a very interesting aroma, also has rather good autumn colour – and it is sometimes evergreen here in Brighton!  It flowers May and June when it’s white flowers light up the shade, it’s a really good form.  Height 30cm (12in)

Lamium maculatum ‘Ghost’ – such lovely plant, its green-edged silvery foliage really catches the eye so ideal for dry shade.  This is a very vigorous growing form.  Height 30cm (12in)

Iris foetidissima – the ‘stinking iris’ is a great perennial for tough situations (fear not, it only smells when you crush the leaves!).  The heavy-duty long grass-like evergreen foliage is a good feature, and although the flowers are not terribly exciting I love the orange fruits, held in fat pods, that appear in autumn and last for ages.  Height 45cm (18in)

Vinca minor ‘Argenteovariegata’ – I love Vinca, its windmill-like flowers are very delicate and it comes in so many different colours and forms.  Great for suppressing weeds as it forms a very dense carpet.  If you cut it back in March with shears it will produce lots of flowers on the side shoots.  It often tends to get neglected but with care it will produce some lovely pale purple flowers in spring, and the leaves are evergreen. Height 10cm (4in)  NOTE: Vinca major is best left to larger gardens as it can be quite invasive!




Time to grow next year’s Sweet Peas

Posted by editor on Saturday, 15 October 2011

This has been a fantastic year for sweet peas, we’ve been picking them since the end of June and here we are in mid-October and there are still plenty left for a few bunches before we finally pull the plants out of the ground!

Now is also a really good time to start your next year’s sweet peas, so here is our growing guide:

  • you could sow your seeds next March, however we prefer to sow anytime from October until Christmas, (growing sweet peas over winter will produce stronger, more robust plants)
  • sow two seeds to a pot – we usually use card toilet-roll tubes or long thin pots as sweet-peas really like a long, cool root run (as do all plants in the Leguminaceae family)
  • push seeds in to about 1” below the surface of multi-purpose compost and water in well
  • you can cover them with newspaper to keep the light out – if you have a heated propagator this can speed up germination but we don’t usually bother – they always germinate really well with a bit of warmth, fingers crossed, from the sun at this time of year!
  • mice love the seed and could easily eat your whole crop overnight (!), so if you’re troubled by mice we suggest you soak the seeds in liquid paraffin, or for a more organic solution use seaweed fertilizer or lay holly leaves on top of the pots
  • check for germination every day.  Once the seedlings appear, keep them cool at about 5 degrees centigrade – this promotes root and not stem growth. A cold greenhouse, or cold frame is ideal, but your plants will be fine in a light potting shed
  • when there are three or four pairs of leaves, pinch out the leader (the growing tip) using your finger and thumb.  This will reduce the height of the plant and encourage side shoots making the plant bushier.
  • try not to molly-coddle your plants too much – growing them on ’hard’ will help them to be much tougher plants and will also be less susceptible to slug damage.  Keep them in a cold frame, greenhouse or sheltered spot until next March when they can be planted out

We have some fantastic cultivars of sweet pea available at The Garden House, including L. Mattucana, the original sweet pea and quite special.  Come along on Friday between 3pm and 6pm and we can show you how we grow ours.

Our sweet peas are £2.00 for 15 seeds.  We also have the following varieties for sale:

Angela Ann – attractive almond pink sweet pea on a white back ground – it won the National Sweet Pea Societies Clay Cup in 1993.

Beaujolais – truly beautiful lightly scented flower with large rich deep burgundy maroon colour


Elizabeth Taylor – large, clear mauve flowers with wavy petals, heavily scented

Charlie’s Angel – outstanding blue overlaid lavender and very good for cutting.  Large blooms and classic sweet-pea fragrance

Geranium Pink – slightly scented salmon pink blooms

Claire Elizabeth – relatively large, scented white flowers, slightly ruffed with pink edge picotee.  Flowers age to darker shades.

Cupani – sometimes known as the original sweet pea, the oldest known sweet pea and is thought to have been sent to England in 1699 by Sicilian monk Francisco Cupani. Cupani still bears it’s original characteristics of delicate bicolour blooms and intense perfume

Diamond Jubilee –pure white flowers grown in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Come over to The Garden House on Friday, 3-6pm, and find out more!

Location: The Garden House, 5 Warleigh Road, Brighton BN1 4NT.

Time to Sow Hardy Annuals

Posted by editor on Monday, 10 October 2011

Autumn sowing is suitable for hardy annuals (plants which are sown and flower and die in one year). Some of these annuals can be sown directly in the ground, and will withstand most frosts. Others are not quite so robust – they can be direct sown, but covered with cloches or horticultural fleece when frost is forecast. Alternatively, they can be sown in pots and kept frost-free over winter.

The benefit of sowing in autumn, and not spring, is that you’ll have a much earlier flowering display.  At The Garden House we sow ours over the next couple of weeks in cell trays and leave them in the greenhouse until they have germinated.  When they are big enough, about 5cm, transfer them to individual pots such as 7cm square pots and then leave them outside all winter – if really bad weather is forecast we put them in a cold frame or back in the greenhouse.

This way you get really hardy plants that flower for months on end.  We plant them out in March.  Ten plants in each variety you choose is enough for most gardens, but sow fifteen of each in case you lose any over winter!

We’re selling hardy annual seeds at The Garden House – do come along any Friday afternoon to buy seeds or plants or for advice about growing hardy annuals.  Spend time looking at our books for inspiration, and enjoy a cup of tea and some homemade cake!

To Autumn by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;

To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease,

For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Plant of the Month: Ceratostigma plumbaginoides

Posted by editor on Tuesday, 27 September 2011

This delightful plant is a member of the Plumbaginaceae family and comes from comes from West Sichuan, in China.  Its common name is hardy plumbago or blue-flowered leadwort.

It is a sub-shrub or herbaceous perennial with a clump forming habit putting on a fantastic burst of rich blue flowers from late summer.  The foliage, which is green in spring and summer, turns to rich purple and red in autumn.  It grows to about 30cms (1ft) high and has a spreading habit.

It deservedly has won the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM).  This plant enjoys a south or east facing situation and needs shelter and grows in moist but well drained soil. It will tolerate most soils but does well on chalk.  It looks good on banks and slopes, city or coastal gardens, cottage/informal gardens, flower borders and beds, Mediterranean climates or wall-side borders.

Cut back to ground level any shoots that get frost damaged, or you can cut the whole plant down in March if it hasn’t remained everygreen (depending on where you grow it) and it will shoot again ready to flower again next year.

This is a very useful plant for attracting late butterflies coming to feed, and humming-bird hawk moths are also efficient at extracting its nectar.

The plantsman E.A. Bowles suggests two possible ways in which C. plumbaginoides could have arrived here. The first is that a Mr Smith collected the seeds from the ruined ramparts of Shanghai; the second, which Bowles much prefers, is that seeds were plucked by a soldier as the British Army moved into Beijing.

Christopher Lloyd recommended growing it in dry-stone walls, where its colonising habit eventually results in a cascade of blue.

The Garden House is selling Ceratostigma plumbaginoides plants for £4.20 at our Friday Pop Up Garden Shop. We open every Friday afternoon between 3 and 6pm for tea and homemade cakes.  Entrance is free – take a walk around the garden and buy one of our home-propagated plants!  Location: The Garden House, 5 Warleigh Road, Brighton BN1 4NT

Pop up Garden Shop Fridays!

Posted by editor on Thursday, 22 September 2011

NEW! Starting Friday 23rd September, every Friday from 3-6pm we’ll be opening our garden gates and inviting you to enjoy our Pop Up Garden Shop!

We’ll be selling seasonal fruits and vegetables, a great selection of plants, seeds, preserves, eggs (from our own chickens!), mosaic gifts and other garden paraphernalia.

We have a large range of garden books and magazines in our cosy Garden Room – you are welcome to browse and enjoy a relaxing cup of tea and some delicious homemade cake – and of course ask all your gardening questions!

This week’s seasonal produce: apples (cooking and dessert) and pears all picked in our garden.

We look forward to seeing you!

Location: The Garden House, 5 Warleigh Road, Brighton BN1 4NT

Now’s the time to forage and preserve!

Posted by editor on Sunday, 18 September 2011

There is so much to be foraged in the hedgerows at the moment, including sloes, crab apples, haws, rowan berries, wild apples, plums and damsons and of course, black berries.

My favourite thing to do with my ‘forages’ is to make hedgerow jelly.  You can use all of the fruits above and just chop them up, stalks and all (wash them first) – use more apples than anything else, about 50% crab apples or cooking apples and 50% of sloes, blackberries, haws, rosehips, rowan berries etc.

The crab apple, (Malus sylvestris) often found by the roadside is sometimes rather scabby but has a very high pectin content, (that’s the stuff that helps things set).  Lots of the berries are low in pectin and so using this method will help it set well.

The reason I like to make jelly is that it’s so easy!

  • You just boil up all the fruit, use 1kg of mixed berries and 1kg of crab apples.
  • Then you can leave if over night to drip through a jelly bag or a piece of muslin and the next day add around 900g granulated sugar to the juice and slowly, (so you don’t burn it) bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Then boil rapidly, without stirring, until setting point has reached, this should take about fifteen minutes.  I put a saucer in the fridge and take out a teaspoonful of the jelly, put it on the saucer and if it wrinkles when pushed with your finger it is done.

You can also do this with blackberry and apples – it is absolutely lovely!  A real autumn treat.

If you would like to discover the delights of how to make jams, chutneys and jellies then come along to our Preserving Workshop – on Friday 28th October – see our website for more details.

A favourite poem: Wormwood Jam by Tim Cresswell

Before the devil pisses on berries.

Late September Blackberrying down the

scrubs – by high high helixes of razor

wire.  Filling peanut butter pots

with black red fruit.  Brimful.  Soursharp – Inky,

Imploding sweet – squashed by over- eager

Fingers – gashing hands on brambles that could

pull the wool from sheep.  Gambling on low fruit

slashed by Shepherds and Rottweilers.

The kitchen filled with blackberry.  Cauldrons

Of red black boiling glop. I tried to catch

the setting point – risking burns and blisters –

my fingers forming surface crinkles through

bloodthick syrup on a frozen saucer.

Our favourite Apple Chutney

Posted by editor on Friday, 9 September 2011

With thanks to Garden House friend Chris Batt for giving us his recipe for Apple Chutney – a delicious way to use up your glut of autumn fruits, and to give away as gifts for Christmas…


  • 2lb onions, peeled and sliced
  • 1 ¾ pints vinegar
  • 1lb dates or sultanas
  • 4lb apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 1tbls ground ginger
  • 1tbls ground cinnamon
  • 1teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1tbls salt
  • 2lb sugar


  • Place onions in pan with 2tbls vinegar.  Cook gently until soft.
  • Stone and chop, if used.
  • Add the apples, dates or sultanas, the spices and half the remaining vinegar to the pan.
  • Cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until soft.
  • Add the salt, sugar and remaining vinegar, stir until sugar is dissolved and continue cooking until thick, stirring occasionally.
  • Pour into warm, sterilized jars and seal.  Makes about 5 ½ lb.


Apple and Apricot Chutney: Use the same recipe as for Apple Chutney, but replace the dates or sultanas with 8oz dried apricots.  Soak the apricots overnight in enough water to cover, and chop before adding to mixture.

Autumn, a favourite season…

Posted by editor on Sunday, 4 September 2011

The first signs of autumn are upon us.  Somehow the air just smells different, and rain aside, September and October are just about my favourite months in the garden. Although there is much in flower (in fact a wonderful time of year for all those late flowering perennials), things are gradually closing down.

Having had a fairly lazy summer in the garden – my ‘to do’ list for the next few weeks is getting longer and longer…

The vegetable garden needs clearing of the almost finished runner beans, courgette and squash plants are tired and sprawling, the onions have been pulled and although this season’s tomatoes have been excellent I can see I’ll only have another week or so of cropping.  We’ve eaten the plums and pears, made jars and jars of crab-apple jelly, and now the apple trees are weighed down with fruit and I’m trying to work out how to preserve them (luckily I’ve just found a Sarah Raven recipe for Apple & Mint Compote that looks delicious, so will get cooking tomorrow).

Seeds need to be collected, and seeds need to be sown.  The flowerbeds are still colourful and abundant with big blowsy dahlias, neat little zinnias, verbena bonariensis, persicaria and many other late-flowering perennials.  So we’ll have another few weeks of fresh flowers for the house, but then they’ll have to be cleared and dahlia tubers lifted (a real palaver, but the ones I left in the ground last year did not survive, so it has to be done).

Earlier today at the Sussex Prairies Garden’s open day (rain, sun, wind, a typical approaching-autumn day!), temptation was all around.  The various specialist nurseries all had great plants for sale – it’s so worthwhile seeking out specialist nurseries in your local area, their knowledge, helpfulness and beautifully raised young plants just make buying such a pleasure (even when there really, really is no room left in your garden!).  So, even though there really, really is no room left in my garden (!), I bought three Agastache foeniculum ‘Golden Jubilee’, three stunning dark magenta Lobelia ‘tania’, a delightful Japanese Toad Lily (Tricyrtis formosana), a light mauve Physostegia virgina variegata, and some pretty white-flowered garlic chive plants (allium tuberosum) for the veg patch.

The Garden House stall caught everyone’s notice, with its display of herbs and preserves, mosaics by Sue Samways, and posters highlighting all the GH autumn workshops and courses, and the events for 2012 – including an evening talk with Fergus Garrett, a spring visit to Woolbeding Gardens at Midhurst, and a four-day trip to see Beth Chatto’s garden, the gardens at East Ruston Old Vicarage in Norfolk (inspiration at every turn!), and the truly wonderful Woottens of Wenhaston nursery!

Whilst at Sussex Prairies I also bought a beautiful old spade (a ladies border spade) restored to its almost original glory by Michael Ristic whose stall was a treasure-trove of pre-loved garden tools.  It feels quite unique and nothing like the garden-centre variety.  Hopefully it will also last a lot longer too (I managed to break two border forks this year!) and encourage me to get going, lifting and dividing!

And the spring bulb catalogues have arrived – another sign that autumn is definitely here.  As always the catalogues look so tempting, and it’s sensible to try and do your planning and ordering sooner rather than later.  I noticed that several of September’s garden magazines have inspirational photos of spring pots, showing varieties of narcissi and tulips mixed with various other bulbs, winter-flowering pansies and evergreens – useful if you’re feeling stuck for ideas and new combinations.

So…whilst enjoying the last of late summer, and contemplating an abundant autumn, I also find myself happily looking forward to next spring – what joy!

Inspiration: Karl Foerster

Posted by editor on Thursday, 24 February 2011

We’ve noted a huge shift in planting style in the past 15 years. Known variously as the ‘new perennials’ style, or as ‘prairie planting’ – a phrase that tends to conjure up a wide-open American landscape.

Yet the movement evolved in Europe, and has inspired many of today’s great garden designers, such as Piet Oudolf, and strongly influenced British garden design. It is now known as the Dutch Wave a style of planting based on ecology, habitat planting and perennials – and a style that was originally inspired by German nurseryman, plant breeder and writer, Karl Foerster (1874-1940).

Foerster began his career studying under a famous landscape architect and botanist, Ludwig Winter, of Potsdam, Germany, and was revered for his promotion of ornamental grasses and perennials.

He created his own garden in Potsdam-Bornim in 1912. The garden was designed after Karl Foerster’s ideal: a place of beauty, joy and conciliation with nature, and made use of architectural plants and relaxed late-season perennials chosen for their form and structure rather than their colour.

Today this smallish but very special and influential garden – the size of a slightly larger than average suburban garden – is managed by Foerster’s daughter Marianne Foerster and is part of the UNSECO World Heritage Site Potsdam-Sanssouci.

NOTE: Join our four-day visit to Berlin, starting 17 July, to in search of great gardens and new experiences. Amongst other highlights, we’ll be visiting the Sanssouci Palace and gardens at Potsdam, and also the influential Karl Foerster Gardens. Check DIARY for more info.

Karl Foerster was also responsible for many of the plants we use today.

Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ – this very useful grass can be planted en masse to form a feathery screen or in small groups to add height and definition to a perennial border. Fast growing, fully hardy and tolerant of partial shade. Low in maintenance, it simply needs to be cut down to the ground in February. The wheat-coloured stems add drama and strong winter presence to the garden.

Also Molinia caerulea arundinacea Karl Foerster’ – a tall ‘moor grass’ – a tall cultivar with erect habit and wide open flower spikes held aloft in June, and mounds of green arching foliage turning bright yellow in the autumn.

In the 1940’s Foerster introduced his first Helenium ‘Kupfersprudel’ and over the next seventeen years his output was prolific and included Goldlackzwerg (1949), Rubinkuppel (1950), Zimbelstern (1956) and the lovely Konigstiger(1964).

There are many others of course – don’t you think it interesting to consider the heritage of our favourite plants?  We look forward to finding out more on our visit to Berlin in July!

By the way, one of our favourite local   ‘prairie gardens’ are the Sussex Prairy gardens near Henfield, West Sussex

Great Dixter; winter inspiration

Posted by editor on Tuesday, 30 November 2010

“If Dixter always remains loved and retains its own identity, everything else will fall into place.” Christopher Lloyd, January 2006

If you are a gardener then you absolutely must visit Great Dixter, near Rye, East Sussex.  I was lucky enough to go there yesterday for the Christmas Fair (27/28th Nov only).

The incredible spirit of this wonderful garden still lives on and is a testament to the words of the great horticulturalist Christopher Lloyd who lived and gardened at Great Dixter all his life, leaving the estate to The Great Dixter Trust on his death in 2006.

Great Dixter is a Tudor house bought in 1910 by Nathaniel Lloyd, father of Christopher and author of books on brickwork and topiary, and was restored by Edwin Lutyens. Nathaniel designed the framework of the garden and it was initially planted by Daisy Lloyd, Christopher’s mother, who taught Christopher how to garden.

The house is surrounded by the now world-famous garden that was Christopher Lloyd’s lifelong passion; his influence since the war on amateur gardeners in this country can scarcely be overestimated.   He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of plants, together with a love of form and colour – and together with his great strength of trying something new Great Dixter was always evolving, always fresh.

In 1996 he became bored with his rose garden, which had been designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and established for more than 70 years, he simply uprooted it. The replacement, a brazen kaleidoscope of sub-tropical plants, sent shock waves through the gardening world.

It is the most inspirational garden, clearly loved and still gardened by Fergus Garrett who was Christopher Lloyd’s head gardener, and who continues as the garden’s creative head.

Yesterday on a cold November day the late autumn structure was astonishing – the yew hedges and topiary, grasses, trees and shrubs looking beautiful in the low November light.

The fires burning in the grates were welcoming – doubtless the timber in the great hall could tell a thousand stories, Christopher Lloyd was alive today I think he would have been delighted to see his extraordinary home filled with people having fun and enjoying the spirit of Great Dixter.

For a great read try: Colour for Adventurous Gardeners; The Well-Tempered Garden; or Cuttings (a collection of writings for the Guardian) – all by Christopher Lloyd.

See the website for events, opening times, and admission costs and location (if you sign up for their newsletter, you’ll be first to hear what’s upcoming!)…

Christopher Lloyd – “The right time to do a job is when you are in the mood to do it.” What wise words!

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!

Wine tasting with Henry Butler!

Posted by editor on Friday, 22 October 2010

Following our amazing trip to South Africa where we visited vineyards and sampled some gorgeous wine, we would like to offer you the opportunity to come and try some fine wines supplied by Butlers Wine Cellar.

On Friday 29 October Henry Butler will be here to guide us ’round the world’ with eight different wines to taste from various parts of the world.  This will include fizzy, whites and reds, as well as something sweet or fortified.

Henry will guide us through different grapes, countries, styles and prices. He has a fantastic range of wines in his cellar: he is a great character and passionate about his subject so this should prove to be a fun evening!

The Butlers Wine Cellar – – is a family run, independent wine shop that was established in 1979. Henry Butler and his mother, Gillian, aim to provide knowledgeable, personal service and stock a wide range of interesting, affordable wines as well as wines for special occasions.

”We try to break down the stereotypical snobbish attitude that is often associated with wine by making our service informative and fun. Wines are stocked from most countries; we tend to focus on wines made by smaller producers as opposed to large brands – wines that excite us or have a story to tell.”

The cost is £20 pp, with the tasting session starting at 7pm until 9pm.   Spaces are limited, so get into practice for Christmas and book early!

Get into the autumn mood…

Posted by editor on Sunday, 17 October 2010

To get us all into the autumn mood, we’ve decided to open The Garden House for FREE on the afternoon of Friday 22 October. We’ll be offering demonstrations on seasonal tasks like propagation and bulb planting, with useful hand-outs to take away with you.

We’ll also have a variety of bulbs for sale, also tea or coffee and homemade cake for sale (£4.50 pp). Do come along with a friend – the open afternoon starts at 3pm and finishes at approx. 6pm.

The same day, local artist Jo Sweeting will lead our evening workshop, showing us how to create a unique and personal pumpkin carving – and what could be more evocative of autumn than a carved Halloween pumpkin?

Jo typically carves stone but her pumpkins are a sight to behold!  Think of making a carved pumpkin ‘soup bowl’, a richly carved table centerpiece – or a pumpkin, beautifully carved and lit from within!

Do book now, as the course is almost full – cost: £42 (or £40 each for two people booking together) – to include a pumpkin (of course!), and a delicious light supper and a glass of wine.  The Pumpkin Carving workshop starts at 6.30pm and finishes at approx. 9.15pm.

Location: The Garden House, 5 Warleigh Road, Brighton BN1 4NT

Blackberry eating…

Posted by editor on Monday, 11 October 2010

I love to go out in late September

among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries

to eat blackberries for breakfast,

the stalks very prickly, a penalty

they earn for knowing the black art

of blackberry making; and as I stand among them

lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries

fall almost unbidden to my tongue,

as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words,

like strengths or squinched or broughamed,

many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,

which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well

in the silent, startled, icy, black language

of blackberry eating in late September.

Galway Kinnell 1927-

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!

Apple Day at Stanmer Park…

Posted by editor on Friday, 24 September 2010

If you’re at all interested in apples – growing, eating, cooking, pressing – get yourself over to Stanmer Park, Brighton, this Sunday 26…

Check out the display of Sussex apples, buy a rare Sussex apple tree, or bring along your mystery apple for identification. Look out for cookery demos and orchard tours, watch traditional apple pressing and enjoy apples (of course!), cakes, cider and apple juice, or visit the tea garden.

The event has been organised by Action in Rural Sussex and Brighton Permaculture Trust as part of Local Fruit Futures – a three-year project to train over 1000 people in fruit tree planting and care and in fruit cookery, plant a further 36 small school and community orchards, propagate hundreds of Sussex variety apple trees, plant examples of all these apples at Stanmer Park orchard and make it more accessible, and produce two publications, based partly on research by the University of Sussex into the history of fruit growing in Sussex.

Open: 11am – 5pm

Location: By the farmhouse/orchard/church at stanmer park

Travel: Travel by public transport if you can.  Bus 78 from Brighton.  Trains to Falmer, a mile’s walk away.

Further details:

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.

Pumpkin carving with Jo Sweeting…

Posted by editor on Monday, 6 September 2010

Our ‘taster day’ last Saturday was very successful.  Many thanks to all of you who visited – everyone was so enthusiastic about the wide variety of workshops we’re running this autumn – thanks also to those who signed up, we look forward to meeting you again!

It was a great opportunity to meet up with some of the workshop tutors, and find about more about them and their skills.

One of our favourite local artists, Jo Sweeting, was there.  Jo is a sculptor and stone-carver, working mainly in British limestone.  Her work is bold yet incredibly sensitive, and works so well in a garden setting.  Her bowl forms are particularly striking, and we also love her small pebbles, carved with hearts, feathers or letters.

Jo will be running stone-carving workshops at The Garden House in 2011 – however this autumn, I’m happy to report, she’ll be turning her skills to pumpkin carving!

The evening workshop is on Friday 22 October, go to DIARY on this website for more info…