Posts Tagged ‘‘Must have’ Plants’

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.


May favourite: Aquilegia vulgaris

Posted by editor on Saturday, 6 May 2017

Our garden is full of columbines (Aquilegia) this year – ‘dancing columbines’ as my grandmother used to call them.  We love their extraordinary shapes, bright and exotic colour – or even black as night colour!

I’m sure we will see plenty of Aquilegia on our day trip and picnic on 8th June, visiting Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plant Nursery and Bere Mill Farm garden. Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants is a small family run independent nursery based in Hampshire, where they grow a wide range of home produced herbaceous perennials.  

Aquilegia are members of the buttercup family; perennial wildflowers whose native habitat ranges from the woodlands of North America, Europe and Siberia to the mountains of China.

There are at least seventy species of Aquilegia, including Britain’s native Aquilegia vulgaris.  When grown together most can form hybrids, producing a bewildering range of horticultural hybrid varieties of uncertain parentage that go under the general name of Aquilegia x hybrida.

Clump-forming herbaceous perennials with long-stalked, ternately divided basal leaves and erect, leafy stems bearing bell-shaped flowers with spreading, coloured sepals and petals with spurs, on branched stems

Common names include granny’s nightcap, granny’s bonnet and dancing columbine.  Names that happily reflect the sometimes garishly coloured hybrids – their delicately pleated flowers waving on tall, wire-thin stems, often with curled and elongated spurs.

Among our favourites are ‘Nivea’ and ‘Black Barlow’.  ‘Nivea’ is pure white; an upright plant to 80cm, with divided, light green leaves and abundant, creamy-white flowers 5cm in width, with short, curled spurs.  It comes true from seed, and looks lovely in small colonies. June-July. 76 cm.

By way of a complete contrast Barlow forms are like spiky pompoms and are actually a full double stellata form. These ancient forms have been cultivated for many centuries, and include Nora, Blue, Black, Purple, Christa, and Rose Barlows.

Black Barlow’ is a particular favourite – an upright perennial, with grey-green divided leaves and distinctive, pompon-like, deep purple flowers in early spring and summer.  June-July. 90cm.


  • South, North, east or West facing
  • Exposed or sheltered


  • Moist but well drained
  • Neutral, acid or alkaline
  • Loam, chalk, sand or clay


  • Propogate by seed sown in pots in a cold frame as soon as seed is ripe or in spring
  • They can also be propagated by division in spring but the plant will be slow to recover

Suggested planting locations and garden types

  • Cottage/informal garden, flower borders and beds
  • They make excellent cut flowers if picked when half open

Though all columbines want well-drained soil, other cultivation needs vary with variety. A. alpina (alpine) types, which grow in mountainside scree, prefer a rich, gritty soil. A. caerulea, which grow naturally on mountainsides and in arid landscapes, can survive in sandy, poor soil, though they thrive in garden loam with a little more water than their native habitat offers. Caerulea varieties tolerate more sun than our native A. canadensis, which is predominantly a woodland plant that likes dappled shade.

Images: ‘Nivea’ image courtesy of / ‘Black Barlow’ image courtesy of

Coastal and Mediterranean Gardening

Posted by editor on Thursday, 16 March 2017

Being Brighton gardeners we’re very conscious of the challenges that face those of us with exposed or  southern coastal gardens. A year or two back we visited the amazing Ventnor Botanic Gardens on the Isle of Wight and met Irene Fletcher who worked at the Ventnor Botanic Gardens and who, over the years, has designed and made a number of coastal gardens on the Isle of Wight and in Sussex.

We thought that now might be a useful time to recap on her advice. At the time Irene showed us many slides depicting everything possible for coastal growing from low spreading succulents to fluffy acacias and epic echiums – she also had a few useful pictures of planting that didn’t work in exposed and chalky sites.

Valerian (centranthus ruber)

Ventnor Botanic Gardens has a stunning Mediterranean garden built on terraces where the soil had earlier been removed to make beds elsewhere in the gardens. Plants there grow in very free-draining chalk and rubble, and are planted to show how they thrive naturally in the wild rather than purely for decoration. The garden has a shelter belt of trees and hedges and is backed by higher ground so has its own microclimate, even within the mildness and optimum light levels of the Isle of Wight.

Irene identified the main characteristics that protect plants from the desiccating effects of sun and salt winds:

*      narrow leaves

*      with waxy or farinaceous layers

*      perhaps covered in tiny white hairs that trap salt

*      white surfaces to reflect the sun and prevent burning

*      aromatic – containing volatile oils that help stop the leaves shrivelling and being eaten

*      flexible stems that bend rather than snap in strong winds

*      shrubs typically have secondary buds in the leaf axil so that if the first set of leaves are damaged others grow readily all along the stems

*      tubular flowers protect the pollen

*      other flower forms may look flimsy, but they are rapidly replaced over a long season to give the plants a good chance of setting seed.

We learnt that salt spray can travel up to 10 miles inland in very windy weather (!) and, settling on leaves, draws out the moisture (reverse osmosis) leading to brown marks and shrivelling.

Yellow horned poppy (glaucium flavum)

Another good tip was that small species tulips from Greece and Turkey, and gladiolus byzantinus, are suited to dry baking sites, unlike our native bulbs. Also, plant Mediterranean herbs like lavender and rosemary in the spring as they do not like to start with their roots in cold or winter wet. All the plants Irene mentioned do better on poor well-drained conditions and may be short-lived if your soil is too well-nurtured. They include many of the native species that thrive and self-seed along the south coast in shingle beaches or chalk cliffs – horned poppy (glaucium flavum), hardy annual poppies, wild thyme, wild carrot, sea cabbage, valerian (centranthus ruber) – as well as more unusual ones from New Zealand and South Africa as well as all around the Mediterranean.

I went away with pages of plant names, many of which I realise are the ones that do best in my garden, so instead of finding them a bit too reliable and boring I am going to treasure them!

Words: by Julia Widdows


March gem: Iris unguicularis

Posted by editor on Sunday, 5 March 2017

Our lead picture was taken today but this lovely miniature iris has been in flower for about a month now.  What a favourite this little gem is!

There are many types of Iris, rhizomatous or bulbous perennials, all with narrow leaves and erect stems bearing flowers – and wonderfully, you can have an iris in flower in late winter, spring or early summer.

Iris unguicularis, often called the Algerian winter iris, flowers in late winter.  It is a vigorous evergreen rhizomatous perennial to 30cm in height, with copious dark green leaves and very fragrant, deep violet flowers 5-8cm in width, the falls marked with white and deep yellow at the base.

It has been given the Award of Garden Merit by the RHS, meaning it has done consistently well in growing trials – and is a real beauty to find flowering in these recent very cold days.

Growing conditions:

  • Requires full sun and can cope with a south-facing, east-facing or west-facing situation but likes the shelter of a sunny wall
  • Suggested planting locations include banks and slopes, city or courtyard gardens, coastal, cottage or informal gardens.  It also grows well in flower borders and beds, making a delightful cut flower.  Patio and container plants or wall-side borders
  • Grow in well-drained or sharply drained neutral or slightly alkaline soil
  • Propagate by division from midsummer to early autumn, plant immediately in flowering positions
  • Comb out the old leaves with a hand fork to expose the flowers
  • Cut back after flowering

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



Be Inspired by Autumn Green

Posted by editor on Saturday, 7 November 2015

The word evergreen can still conjure up the image of an overgrown old-fashioned shrubbery, often under trees, and composed of plants such as laurel and privet. Yet it is really important to appreciate the value and aesthetic appeal of evergreens – especially as they add a richness of texture and hue that deciduous plants cannot copy.

Evergreens bring winter cheer that will keep you going until spring comes, and no garden design is complete without at least some carefully placed evergreens to give structure and depth.

Shades of green are not all that the leaves of evergreens have to offer, a large number have foliage that is bronze, a copper colour or red at the tip – for example Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’.  Other evergreens are grey or grey-green, for example Helianthemums and Hebes.  Eleagnus macrophylla has a silvery underside with a green above (which incidently enables the plant to cope with coastal conditions).

Leaf shape can provide architectural brilliance.  Plants such as Fatsia japonica, Laurus nobils and the beautiful Magnolia grandiflora all have distinctive leaf shapes.

Lonicera nitida, Pittosporum tenuifolium, Griselinia and Prunus laurocerasus ‘Otto Luyken’ among others make fantastic evergreen hedges. Box (Buxus sempervirens) not only makes a fine low hedge, but can also be clipped into topiary shapes that highlight and decorate the garden all year round.

Some evergreens, such as Mahonia aquifolium and Magnolia grandiflora give a fine display of winter flowers, and many have colourful fruits, such as the evergreen Cotoneasters.

Some of the many uses of evergreens…

  • In beds and mixed borders
  • As focal points
  • Against walls and fences
  • Ground cover
  • Hedges and windbreaks

Evergreens for a particular purpose:

  • Hedges: Escallonia; Euonymus japonicus; Ilex aquifolium; Viburnum tinus; Lonicera nitida
  • Windbreaks: Quercus ilex; Abies delavayi; Chamaecyparis lawsoniana; Prunus laurocerasus; Drimys winteri
  • Ground cover: Hebe albicans; Junperus x media ‘Pfitzeriana’; Sarcococca; Viburnum davidii; Mahonia aquifolium
  • Shade: Aucuba japonica; Nandina domestica; Pileostgia vibunoides; Daphne laureola; Choisya ternate
  • Costal sites: Arbutus; Cistus; Phillyrea; Olearia; Eucalyptus

Not quite fifty shades of green, but near enough!


We love: early spring flowers

Posted by editor on Friday, 3 April 2015

With Easter comes the first signs of spring  – buds are starting to open and reveal their bright green leaves or soft scented blossoms.  The insects have become busy, seeking out food after the long winter and seeds have at last begun to germinate.

Plants to look out for at the moment in the garden are the delicate wild or species tulips – these always come back reliably and often self-seed throughout the beds.  Next year they are going to be the ‘must haves’ when we look at the bulb catalogues!

These tulips may have smaller flowers but they are still among the best for value as many of them are reliably perennial in the garden – often spreading to form large displays. The earliest flowering species – Tulip humils and Tulipa turkestanica – start in late February whist Tulipa sprengeri is the last tulip to flower in late May.

Lamium orvala is another early spring favourite.  It’s a wonderful plant with spikes of large, velvety purplish pink hooded flowers, like those of the wild dead nettle. Each whorl of flowers in divided by large, heart-shaped mid green leaves. A spring delight that thrives in part shade in well-drained soil and will give flowers through to June.

Prunus ‘Tai-Haku’, the most lovely of early flowering cherry trees has blossoms usually about 2in across that are at least double the size of the average cherry blossom – huge, pure white, straight-edged flowers.  An ancient Japanese tree, sometimes called the great white cherry, it had become extinct in Japan, but has been revived from a single specimen found in a Sussex garden.

This tree grows well on chalk and has amazing autumn colour – it’s leaves turning yellow and orange.  It  is suitable for a smallish garden, although it’s spread is more than it’s height – and don’t plant too close to paving, cherries are shallow-rooting trees and will cause havoc with foundations and paths if planted too close. Suckers may form at the union with the grafted plant. These are clearly visible about 6in above the soil level and need to be removed.

Also out at the moment in The Garden House garden are clumps of pure white bleeding heart, Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’; arching wands of Solomon’s seal; and, growing under trees, the bright blue flowers of Brunnera and Pulmonaria ‘Sissinghurst White’ (the best cultivar to my mind).

And finally the delightful Epimedium, which has the most delicate of flowers, visible high above the leaves of this aptly named ‘Bishop’s mitre’.  Look closely at the flowers and you will then see why it is related to Berberis and Mahonia – strange but true!

All You Need to Know about Roses

Posted by editor on Sunday, 19 October 2014

We recently enjoyed another truly inspirational and sunny day at The Garden House – our All You Need to Know About Roses workshop was lead by Simon White of Peter Beales Roses in Norfolk, winner of numerous gold medals at both Chelsea and Hampton Court Flower Shows.

Simon began the day with an introduction, which was followed with a demonstration of the best pruning techniques for roses in containers; he also discussed which roses were suitable for those of us with small gardens.  One of which, Rosa de Rescht, Simon then planted for us.  This rose grows to just 60cm so is perfect for the border – it has fuschia-red flowers with tints of purple, fading to magenta-pink.

Simon demonstrated how to prune both shrub and hybrid tea roses and set about our beautiful Charles de Mills which sadly was suffering from mildew due to its overcrowded stems.  Simon’s confidence and smart pruning is something we all hope to be able to achieve in our own gardens!

He also pruned our lovely Dorothy Perkins rose, which is climbing over an arch – and it looked brilliant after his handy work.

After a delicious lunch eaten al fresco (wonderful to eat outside on a sunny September day!), Simon completed the workshop with an illustrated talk on the A-Z of Roses where his passion and knowledge just shone through!

Simon will be returning to the Garden House on Saturday 14th March 2015 with a talk entitled Hands-on Approach to Pruning your Roses, and will include a discussion on Climbers and Ramblers for every situation.



We love Sempervivums: 10 Reasons Why!

Posted by editor on Sunday, 14 September 2014

At the Garden House we love Sempervivums (houseleeks). Here are 10 reasons why:

They are small. Basically, a Sempervivum is a rosette-shaped hardy perennial succulent about the size of a jammy dodger. (Actually, some are bigger than that – picture a blueberry muffin, even a choc chip cookie. You get the idea.) They can be grown – and will thrive – in the smallest clay pots. So if you only have a doorstep, balcony, or window ledge, as long as it’s sunny you can still grow lots of semps.

They are tough. Sempervivum means ever living. It’s not a cast-iron guarantee but unlike many other succulents semps are hardy. They do need protection from excessive winter wet – a good layer of grit, pushing it in under the collar of the rosette, helps – but mine live outside all year and come to little harm.

They are easy to grow. Give them a sunny spot and excellent drainage and that’s all they need. A compost mix of John Innes No 1 or 2 plus 25% grit is ideal. Plant nurseries may feed semps occasionally to bulk them up but it isn’t necessary. They thrive in poor conditions. S. tectorum is traditionally grown between roof tiles to keep them in place and ward off lightning (the latter unproven). You can plant them in poor dry garden soil at the edge of sunny borders or paths but make sure other plants do not spread over them.

They are pretty. Semps come in shades of pink, lilac, bright red, ruby, brown, grey, grey-green, blue, blue-green, jade and lime. Visit a specialist nursery or look on-line and you will see collections of semps like a selection box of chocolates or a display of fondants or pastel macaroons! And these are just the leaves, not the flowers, so you keep the colours all year round.

They hybridise readily. So if you become obsessed with this particular plant – easily done – you will find lots of varied forms to add to your collection. I have more than 50 in my tiny garden at home. There are about 40 different species, and hundreds of cultivars, some with very little to differentiate them (but that has never held back snowdrop enthusiasts.) Leaves may be matte, glossy, waxy, or covered with fine silvery hairs. S. arachnoideum and cultivars have white filaments like cobwebs across the centre of the rosettes. Some, like S. ‘Reinhard’, have dark-tipped leaves. S. ‘Kramer’s Spinrad’ is green with reddish flecks. Many seem to change colour according to growing conditions, light levels etc, so the same named form may look different at different times of the year or stage of growth. The varied colours make a great contrast either in groups of pots or in the same container.

They are easy to propagate. In fact, they do it themselves. Another common name for them is Hens-and-chickens. Each rosette produces small offsets that cluster tightly round the mother plant or reach out on fleshy extensions. These can be detached up and potted up separately – easiest if they are showing fine aerial roots. If you have top-dressed with grit they will root readily in this.

They are generous. Because of Point 6. above, you will always have more semps to swap, sell, donate, and generally spread the love. Although monocarpic – the central rosette throws up a flower stalk and then dies – with luck it will already have produced plenty of replacements. Remove the dead rosette and the baby plants will spread to fill the gap.

They are ideal for containers. As long as the container has good drainage and the soil is not too deep (put a thick layer of grit, crocks or polystyrene in the base) you can be very creative. Lots of inspiration is available in books and on-line. Sempervivums are mat-forming and architectural, and will fill odd shapes and ‘flow’ down the sides or cracks. As well as in pots, they do well in alpine sinks, on green roofs, and in dry walls.

They are cheap. Probably because they are – as above – small, tough, undemanding, and easy to propagate. The opposite of the delicate divas of the plant world! So you can indulge your plant fever without spending much. Canny sempervivophiles (I just made that word up) choose the plants with loads of babies already attached.

They have few pests and diseases. Slugs and snails may sometimes chomp at the leaves, mainly of the softer-textured types. But top-dressing with grit, growing them in full sun on garden tables, wall tops and ledges, means they are out of the way of molluscs’ preferred conditions. Though in my experience nothing deters a slug or snail from going where it wants to! Semps may suddenly succumb to wet and collapse and die; I’ve found those with longer sword-shaped leaves more likely to do so. The dark-tipped spiny ones seem very self-reliant. They do need some water, though. Unlike greenhouse/conservatory succulents which can last for ages when totally dry, semps will go brown and crisp and die off from the outside edges inwards if left where the rain can’t penetrate at all. If grown in a greenhouse they can get greenfly, but simply putting them outside in the weather will solve the problem.

The Garden House has a large collection of sempervivums. We hope we have tempted you to give these plants a try. 

Words by our good friend and fellow gardener Julia Widdows.

GH Euro trip: Zen and the Art of Topiary Pruning!

Posted by editor on Sunday, 7 September 2014

This is our last report on our Flemish adventures back in August – and as we visited the fascinating Topiary Garden in Zedelgem, we thought it would also be useful to talk a little about the art of topiary.

The Topiary Garden in Zedelgem is a large privately owned town garden originally designed in 1991 by well-known Belgian garden designer Chris Ghyselen who lives and works near Bruges. Since then the considerable upkeep of the garden has been in the hands of the delightful owner who says she knows nothing about gardening!  We beg to disagree – this is a truly lovely, calm and creative garden – each ‘room’ offering a different inspiration, perspective and mood.

The front garden and first ‘room’ mix clipped box hedges with perennials, grasses and roses. Certainly many gardens in this area of Belgium boast very crisp front gardens of clipped box often contrasted with hostas or large-flowered white hydrangeas such as Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’.  It’s a really attractive way of creating simple impactful planting, and requires little maintenance bar clipping once of twice annually (depending on the amount of topiary of course!).


In the main garden room great blocks and chess pieces of clipped box and yew are juxtaposed with an erect slightly grey-leaved grass and ranged around open spaces and a formal pond – creating a calming yet dramatic effect.

Beyond this is a much more relaxed garden with large shrubs, fruit trees and perennials around an informal pool.  This space is looser in form and provides relief from the strictness of the former garden spaces.

Topiary gardens first became very popular in Great Britain during the reign of the Tudors and Stuarts when knot gardens and clipped ornate shapes were introduced to gardens up and down the country. The knot garden was formed from different coloured box planted in crisscrossing patterns so that it appeared that the ribbons of hedges had been tied up in knots. Highly scented herbs were also used as hedging plants and planted in and among the gaps to give a tapestry of colour.

Traditional subjects for topiary have usually been evergreens to remain a permanent feature throughout the seasons. Typically box (Buxus sempervirens) and yew (Taxus baccata) are used, however other evergreens such as privet (Ligustrum japonicum), holly (Ilex) and Lonicera nitida can be very effective too.

Generally trees and shrubs can be bought ready-trained from specialist nurseries; these save time and effort but can be expensive. If you have time and a great deal of patience you can train and grow your own – or use a topiary frame to give you a guiding hand.

Traditional topiary forms include cones, balls, half-standards, cubes, pyramids and spirals, but more avant-garde shapes can also be achieved such as cloud forms and of course a wide range of animal and bird shapes.

More information about clipping, rejuvenating, using frames, cloud pruning, box blight etc can be found on the RHS website.

(The Topiary Garden, privately owned by Dr Christiaen Ludovitch; Snellegemsestraat 42, B-8210 Zedelgem, Belgium)


GH Euro trip: visiting Coen Jansen’s nursery

Posted by editor on Sunday, 24 August 2014

Bags and boxes of towering and colourful perennials tucked into the hold of our coach or wedged carefully behind seats – Day 2 of our Garden House trip to Belgium and The Netherlands included a private visit to the nursery of well-known Dutch plantsman Coen Jansen – and who could resist!

This was a very special opportunity as Coen is highly regarded as one of the country’s most innovative growers of unusual, rarely grown species and new varieties, of mainly late summer perennials – mostly selections he has developed and grown in the nursery.

Coen Jansen talking with Deborah and Bridgitte

Hours were spent wandering up and down the aisles, chatting to Coen about the various plants (especially whether they would be suitable for, in most cases, chalk soils!), and sitting in the sunshine enjoying tea and homemade cake, what a joy!


If you would like to see and possibly buy some of Coen’s plants, he will be one of the cream of British and European specialist plant nurseries setting up stall at Sussex Prairies for a day of horticultural heaven, Sunday 31st August.

Their fourth Unusual Plant and Art Fair will be open 11am to 5pm, hosting a record number of stalls selling wonderful unusual plants, garden accessories and art for your garden.

The Garden House will be there too – so do find us and say hello!

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, so will be asked to pay £4.80 on presentation of their RHS card.  Ample free parking.

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


We Love: the Cutting Garden

Posted by editor on Sunday, 6 July 2014

This fabulous picture of our friend Deborah carrying an armful of sweet peas freshly cut from The Garden House inspired me to write about cutting gardens.

At The Garden House we love to bring scent and colour into the house all year long by planning ahead and growing flowers and foliage especially for cutting – bulbs, annuals, biennials, perennials, shrubs trees and climbers.

Summer annuals grown from seed offer the fastest, most colourful and varied blooms – Antirrhinums (snapdragons), Cosmos, Salvias, Gaillardia, Nigellas, Malope trifida, Cornflowers, Sweet peas, Larkspur, Ammi majus, Cerinthe, Scabious  Salvia viridis (annual clary sage), Heleniums – the list is almost endless. What’s more, annuals are generally cut-and-come-again – the more you cut them the more flowers they create as the plants are not putting their energy into creating seed heads.

Add unexpected additions from your border – perennials, tendrils of climbers, alliums, lilies, roses and seedheads. We also grow many different dahlias at The Garden House which make wonderful cut flowers and can be used in many different flower combinations adding drama, scale and colour.

Foliage too is important – cut delicate twiggy branches from shrubs such as pittisporum and young eucalyptus, or use bronze fennel or the limey-green Euphorbia oblongata.

There are all sorts of clever ways to keep flowers that have been cut lasting longer in the vase – searing with boiling water, crushing etc  – but frankly who has the time. Treat your cut flowers as a transitory pleasure, if they survive only a few days, so be it, enjoy them while they last and then cut a new bunch!

Think of the cutting garden as a functional space, You’ll need to find a part of the garden that’s sunny, maybe slightly tucked away; make sure the beds are not too big, so that you can step into the bed or stretch across to cut, and don’t forget to consider a good water source (preferably collected rainwater) for periods of drought.  The RHS website offers some useful advice.

Plan ahead for next year by ordering your seeds – we sell many different types at The Garden House shop just email us and we can post to you.

If buying seeds online Derry Watkins’ Special Plants Nursery is a great source of slightly unusual seeds, also Sarah Raven’s website is a good source (her book The Cutting Garden is both inspiring and practical).

If you simply don’t have the space but love the idea of having bunches of fresh garden flowers in your house (rather than those flowers flown in from Europe and beyond), or for a special occasion such as a wedding, then consider buying from local cut flower sellers. Among others, consider Sussex Cutting Garden, Sweet Peas Direct, or The Real Flower Company.


Plant of the Month: Lysimachia atropurpurea ‘Beaujolais’

Posted by editor on Monday, 9 June 2014

Much of the talk at Chelsea Flower Show centered on the purple, plum and maroon colour trend that featured in several of the gardens this year.  One variety in particular stood out for us – the Lysimachia atropurpurea ‘Beaujolais’ (commonly known as Gooseneck Loosestrife).  Above image: Lysimachia atropurpurea ‘Beaujolais’

In their review of the 2014  Chelsea show garden trends, The English Garden magazine’s writing team wrote: “The dark burgundy spikes of Lysimachia atropurpurea ‘Beaujolais’ appeared on Hugo Bugg’s gold-medal winning rain garden and the Brewin Dolphin garden by Matthew Childs, among others. Well-performing dark plants will always be in demand for garden borders with a bit of extra oomph, and this loosestrife is a really special addition, which flower continuously from May to September. Silvery foliage offers a wonderful contrast to the flowers. The plant reaches about half a metre in height and width, and will spread slowly if given a moist soil in sun or part shade. Butterflies and bees love it, and so did we, whether planted with pale blue irises or alongside an astrantia of a similar purple-red tone.”

Lysimachia atropurpurea is a biennial or short-lived perennial of the family Primulaceae and should not be confused with the noxious weed Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria). Its flowers are a rich burgundy-purple shade with contrasting crinkled grey-green leaves marked with pale veins.

  • Easy to grow and fully hardy
  • Mid-to late summer flowering (it makes an excellent cut flower)
  • Full sun or part shade
  • Height: 24-36 in. (60-90 cm), spacing: 
15-18 in. (38-45 cm)
  • Will tolerate pretty much any spoil type from sandy to clay, though it prefers average moisture levels to reasonably moist (incorporate lots of organic matter when planting)
  • Great for border or container planting; looks particularly wonderful if massed together in a swathe through a deeper border
  • It is very attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds

There are many other plants within this dark hued palette that we like to use, either within the border, to accent and show off other colours, or individually in containers.  Some of our favourites are Aeonium arboreum ‘Zwartkop’, Sedum ‘Matrona’, Rosa x gallica Charles de Mills, Cosmos atrosanguineus (chocolate cosmos), Aquilegia vulgaris Black Barlow, the statuesque Angelica gigas – and there are many more – from Dahlias to Heucheras, Phormiums to Sambucus nigra, Ipomoea to Ajuga.




Check them out, we hope you’ll become fans if you’re not already!


PHOTO CREDITS: Lysimachia atropurpurea ‘Beaujolais’; Angelica gigas –

Garden House Specialist Plant Fair – Saturday 7th June

Posted by editor on Friday, 6 June 2014

As part of the Chelsea Fringe we are holding a special Garden House Plant Fair on Saturday 7 June.  Visit us to view a variety of specialist plant stalls, selling all manner of vegetable seedlings, Dahlias, succulents, herbaceous perennials as well as trees and shrubs.

Plus, we will be serving delicious food, homemade and cooked in our outdoor clay oven!

Opening dates: Saturday 7 June, 11am to 5pm. Come with friends and family!

Entrance: £2:50 – children free

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

Naturalistic Plantings in Brighton & Hove’s Parks and Gardens

Posted by editor on Sunday, 1 June 2014

Ever wondered who is responsible for the naturalistic and very beautiful planting schemes in our local parks and gardens?  The gardeners, of course, but what about the design, planning and buying?

 In the City of Brighton & Hove that responsibility falls to Sarah Carlisle.  Sarah has been in the horticultural trade for 16 years, having first studied Fine Art at Belfast School of Art, and is in charge of design, buying and growing for the City Parks Department which involves municipal soft landscape design and consultancy.  She also manages the Stanmer Nursery where she has developed the retail section of the nursery specialising in perennials and chalk downland wildflowers.

Back in March this year Sarah came over to The Garden House to talk to us about her career, and the challenges and satisfaction to be found in her role.

Over the past 10 years Sarah has been instrumental in moving Brighton & Hove’s municipal planting away from the very costly, labour-intensive and old-fashioned annual bedding schemes and towards newer and more naturalistic planting styles using early bulbs, perennials and grasses mixed with annuals.

As Nursery Team Leader, Sarah and her team take the projects from the planning stage through to the final display.  Among other areas you can see the results of Sarah’s planting schemes at Dyke Road Park, by Preston Drove and The Level, around the Old Steine fountain, in the linear beds at Victoria Gardens, and the circular bed at St Ann’s Wells Park where the old rose beds planted in the 1960s and 70s have been completely replanted.

Along the Lewes Road the verges have been machine planted with bulbs in what is called ‘river’ planting, creating dramatic naturalistic swathes of daffodils, muscari or alliums.  Wildflower have also been planted, along the Lewes Road central reservation and in two large ‘meadows’ in Preston Park.

Favourite and much-used plants include Calamagrostis Karl Foerster, Pennisetum orientale Karly Rose, Sedum Maltrona and Sedum spectabile Iceburg, Verbena bonariensis, Nepeta racemosa “Walker’s Low’, Veronica spicata ‘Royal Candles, Ricinus communis (castor oil plants), Ipomoea ‘blackie’, Cleomes and various Rudbeckias, Salvias, Verbascums, Miscanthus and Diascias.

On the whole the public response to the new schemes has been very enthusiastic; people greatly enjoy the softer colour schemes, walking through the taller plantings, or quietly sitting and contemplating the meadows. Volunteer initiatives such as health walks and ‘walk to school’ weeks more directly get adults and children into the parks and encourage healthier outdoors activities. A proposal to create a new outdoor theatre on the site of the former bowling green in the Dyke Road Park has been supported by the city’s council, providing another great way to connect with our outdoor spaces.

The new planting schemes have also been designed to give longevity to the beds across the four seasons – bulbs in the spring, followed by early then late perennials and grasses, inter-planted with annuals.  Finally many perennials and grasses are left in place through the winter months, their seed-heads providing structure and food for wildlife.

As well as providing many of the plug plants for the parks and gardens, the nursery at Stanmer Park is a fantastic resource for the at-home gardener.  The selection of plants has increased considerably over the years to include shrubs, trees, perennials, grasses, wildflowers, vegetable plants and annuals.


Plant of the Month: Tamarix

Posted by editor on Saturday, 17 May 2014

The delightful Tamarix (also known as salt cedar) always reminds me of sunny holidays and Mediterranean fishing villages – so if you are looking for a tree that will tolerate coastal conditions then look no further!

The genus Tamarix is composed of about 50–60 species of flowering plants in the family Tamaricaceae, native to drier areas of Eurasia and Africa. Introduced to this country in 1821, it won the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) in 2002.

Tamarix are deciduous shrubs or small trees; arching in form they have minute leaves and light feathery racemes of very small pink or white flowers in spring, summer or early autumn.  Tamarix make an excellent specimen plant or can be planted to provide a windbreak or informal hedge in coastal regions, growing to between 5 and 10mtrs.

T. tetrandra flowers in spring, and T. ramosissima in summer (this form is evergreen, less vigorous and slower to establish). They flower on new growth so can be pruned hard after flowering; cut all stems back by about half of the previous season’s growth. They are low maintenance and easy to propagate from cuttings taken at the end of May.

They grow best in full sun in well-drained sandy loams, Tamarix not very tolerant of chalk. Minimal watering is required even to establish the plant, and there is no particular need for soil preparation either. It is drought tolerant and can thrive in very saline and nutrient-poor soil.

In certain circumstances Tamarix are considered invasive (similar to Buddleia).  Because of its ability to spread, its hardiness, fast growth, its high water consumption, and its tendency to increase the salinity of the soil around it, the tamarisk has often completely displaced native plants in wetland areas.


Plant of the Month: Lewisia Cotyledon

Posted by editor on Sunday, 9 February 2014

Lewisia Cotyledo (Family: portulacaceae) is an evergreen perennial flowering plant originating in the north-west USA. It grows from a taproot and produces a basal rosette of many thick, fleshy oval- or spoon-shaped leaves. In spring to early summer it throws up panicles of starry flowers in glowing shades of yellow, orange, amber, pink or red on stems 4-12 inches tall.

It needs sharply-drained neutral to acid soil, and so at the Garden House we planted three Lewisias in a large terracotta pan in ericaceous soil mixed with grit. Lewisia must be protected from winter wet, so we planted each rosette at an angle so that rain would not pool in the centre of the leaves.

It can best be grown in alpine house conditions, in containers, or outside in a rock garden or in crevices in a wall, providing the soil is neutral/acid. It needs a free flow of air and grows in sun or light shade. In hot gardens it does better with some shade in summer.

Propagate by removing offsets in summer.

Protect from wet, slugs and snails, and look out for stem rot and mealy bugs.

RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Plant of the Month: Sarcococca confusa

Posted by editor on Saturday, 7 December 2013

Sarcococca confusa (sweet box) is a species of flowering plant in the family Buxaceae, related to the common box and probably native to western China.

This fantastic evergreen shrub, growing to 1m (spread 2m), gives a fountain of green all year round and is a must for the winter or woodland garden or shady border, particularly when under-planted with cyclamen or hellebores. To fully appreciate the fabulous, vanilla-like fragrance plant in moist, well-drained soil close to an entrance or path.

It has simple and lustrous dark green leaves and almost inconspicuous, very sweetly scented, creamy-white flowers from December to March.  The flowers are followed by red, purple or blue-black berries which may persist into the following winter.

S. confusa is one of the largest and bushiest of all the sweet box but is still ideal for as neat, clipped edging borders and works well in containers. It is fully hardy, compact and will eventually form a dense thicket. It has a suckering habit so keep this in check.

  • Likes partial or full shade, any sheltered aspect
  • Moderately fertile, humus-rich, moist, well- drained soil
  • In late-winter or early-spring lightly trim or prune back shoots that spoil the plant’s symmetry
  • After pruning apply a generous 5-7cm (2-3in) mulch of well-rotted compost around the base of the plant.

Photo: ‪

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!

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.

Summer visit to Millenium Gardens at Pensthorpe

Posted by editor on Wednesday, 4 September 2013

A few days ago we were fortunate enough to visit the Millenium Gardens at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve in Fakenham, Norfolk. Designed by Piet Oudolf, this acre of planting displays a magnificent array of colours and textures, demonstrating the effectiveness of planting perennials in large bold and flowing groups.

The design of the borders is breathtaking – swathes of Persicaria collide with billowing Deschampsia; Miscanthus stand tall and erect next to the densely planted Echinacea which are drenched in butterflies and bees; Japanese Anemones grace the front of the borders along with Geranium wallichianums.

The gardens here invite you to simply stand and look – to watch the colours change from the midday vibrancy of the Heleniums to the glistening shades of the early evening reflecting off the Asters.

Set in 600 acres of Norfolk countryside in the tranquil Wensum valley, Pensthorpe is suitable for everyone – if you are visiting Norfolk don’t miss it!


Also in Norfolk is one of our favourite nurseries, Woottens of Wenhaston.  They’re currently offering the Woottens Wildlife Selection – a collection of late flowering plants specifically selected to attract bees and butterflies into the garden.

One of each of the following in 2 litre pots for only £24.68. That is 20% off the normal prices:

  • Agastache Black Adder – lilac flowers open from dark purple black buds July-Oct. Ht 75cm. Any well drained not bone dry soil. Sun. Useful for its vertical lines. Unlike many Agastache this is reliably perennial.
  • Echinacea purpurea Magnus – wide, purplish red reflexed petals with a prominent bronze boss. July-Sept. Ht. 90cm. Sp. 25cm. Sun, well drained soil, beware of slugs, good with grasses, handsome brown seedheads, loved by bees.  AGM (Award of Garden Merit).
  • Sedum Matrona – purplish green leaves, red stems and pale pink flowers. Aug-Sept. A stately matron indeed, much used by Piet Oudolf, good seedheads. Ht. 50cm. Sp. 40cm Sun. Any well drained soil. AGM.
  • Aster x cordifolius Little Carlow – wonderful lavender blue flowers Sept-Oct. Ht 120cm. Sp. 50cm. Sun, moist soil, mildew free. AGM. This is a stunning plant and looks great with Nerine bowdenii.
  • Verbena bonariensis – endless small mauve flowers July-Nov on a tracery of tall branching stems. A lovely see through plant. Ht. 150cm. Sp. 60cm. Sun, good drainage, self seeds. In cold areas take cuttings in autumn. AGM.

Woottens Plants, Blackheath Road, Wenhaston, Halesworth, Suffolk IP19 9HD. U.K. Telephone: 01502 478258 Fax: 01502 478888

email : web:


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


We love: dahlias!

Posted by editor on Friday, 9 August 2013

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – we love their exuberance, their beautiful colours and their multitude of exotic forms.  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 flowerpots, 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.


We love: Summer Roses

Posted by editor on Saturday, 20 July 2013

What an unexpected bonus, following the cold spring, lots of rainfall and the recent gorgeous sunshine, our roses at The Garden House are still looking spectacular and with the sun shining on them many are beautifully fragrant!

We have so many varieties here, many of them climbers scrambling happily over the row of old iron arches, all that’s left of the market garden greenhouse that once stood on this site – some of our favourites:

When choosing climbers look carefully at their habit – some have very stiff stems and are not very suited to arches, for example Guinée, the darkest of crimson climbers with the rich and powerful fragrance.  However the wonderful Dorothy Perkins (soft pink but with little fragrance) for example, has quite flexible stems and makes an excellent rose for an arch. Try the beautiful creamy-white Albéric Barbier for a north facing situation or Cecile Brunner with its numerous palest pink buds opening to exquisite blooms it is happy in any position.

To read previous posts on Roses, CLICK HERE


Plant of the month: Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’

Posted by editor on Sunday, 14 July 2013

This species has long been a favourite of ours. It has a long flowering period, from June to October, so gives great value in the garden, and it’s racemes are brilliantly coloured, from violet to purple, or white to pink. They have purple bracts, up to 1cm (0.5in) long.

Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ grows from Europe to central Asia, is an erect, compact perennial with many branches and simple, oval to oblong, notched, wrinkled, mid-green leaves up to 10cm (4in) long.

We also love it for it’s near black stems, and it is really useful as a ‘see through’ plant in the borders. The name nemorosa means growing in groves or woods – that said it prefers a sunny position in the border. Bees and butterflies love it, and with grey-green foliage which is wonderfully aromatic, this is definitely a must have plant!


  • Soil: Light, moderately fertile, humus-rich, moist but well-drained soil
  • Aspect: Full sun
  • Hardiness: Fully hardy

To prolong flowering remove the flower spikes as soon they start to fade, it will flower again in October if it is cut back hard in August.

Apply a generous 5-7cm (2-3in) mulch of well-rotted garden compost or manure around the base of the plant in spring.

Basal or softwood cuttings can be taken in spring or early summer, or semi-ripe cuttings in late summer or autumn.

Photos: (top image),

We love: the alliums in Hove Park

Posted by editor on Sunday, 9 June 2013

What a delightful surprise to see swathes of alliums in Hove Park this month.  Earlier fields of snowdrops and rivers of golden daffodils have been followed by hundreds of alliums standing above meadow-like grass and feathery cow parsley in a beautifully naturalistic planting.  Well done to Brighton & Hove City Parks Department.

In B&H we have six Green Flag Award winning parks – criteria being: a welcoming place; healthy, safe and secure; clean and well maintained; sustainability; conservation and heritage; community involvement; marketing; and management.  The parks are Easthill Park, Hove Park, Preston Park, Kipling gardens, Stoneham Park, and St Anne’s Well Gardens.

Of course we’re huge fans of alliums at The Garden House – they are so easy, and keep coming back year after year with little or no trouble once planted.  Back in May 2011 we feature Allium cristophii as our Plant of the Month – it’s definitely one of our favourite perennial ornamental onions!




Garden House Plant Fair Weekend, 11 & 12th May

Posted by editor on Sunday, 5 May 2013

 Next weekend we’re joining in the spirit of the Brighton Festival, but in a uniquely Garden House way!  Visit us on 11 & 12 May, 11am-6pm, for a wonderful weekend of specialist plant buying.

We have invited many of the best Sussex nurseries to bring along many of their wonderful and often ‘hard to get hold of’ plants – trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, vegetables and succulents.   This is the perfect time to top up and refresh your planting plans, and the growers will be on hand to offer their knowledgeable advice as to the selection of right plant, right place!


We also have a small selection of makers selling ironwork, plant supports, pots, restored garden tools and a variety of garden paraphernalia.

Plus a pop-up cafe selling delicious homemade food – and a plant swop – bring along a plant to exchange!

  • Blueleaf plants – wonderful succulents
  • Big Plants – exotics
  • Garden House plants – shrubs, perennials and annuals
  • Paul Seabourne – perennials and annuals
  • Sussex Prairie – grasses and perennials
From left: Lorraine Philpot, Adele Scantlebury, Chris Burchell Collins


  • Adele Scantlebury – woodblock prints
  • Amanda Saurin – specially made Garden House soaps and scrubs
  • Chris Burchell Collins – contemporary nature-influenced ironwork
  • Deborah Goodwin – all manner of gifts and garden paraphernalia
  • Ian Swain – beautifully restored tools and garden equipment
  • Lorraine Philpot – naturalistic ironwork garden supports

Bring friends and family, and enjoy a great day out!

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

We love: early spring at the RHS London Show

Posted by editor on Thursday, 21 February 2013

Early spring is a wonderful time to visit the RHS London Shows held in the RHS Horticultural Halls at Greycoat Street and Vincent Square. They are always a real treat, with beautifully considered displays, books, garden paraphernalia, plus of course specialist nurseries often selling rare, unusual or hard to get hold of plants and bulbs.

Several stands were bulging with spring bulbs – all looked stunning with many new cultivars on display.  We also loved the hellebore displays.

Pennard Plants were selling heritage and heirloom seeds – some with fantastical names, such as a lettuce named Fringe-Headed Drunken Woman – it will be interesting to see how that turns out!  A sweet pea name Mumsie also took our fancy.

Being plantaholics we enjoyed a great day out and reminded ourselves not to leave it too long before another visit.  The next spring show will be the RHS London Orchid & Botanical Art Show, 12-13 April 2013. To buy tickets in advance, CLICK HERE



Snowdrop time…

Posted by editor on Sunday, 10 February 2013

A visit to Marchants Hardy Plants nursery for their ‘snowdrops weekend’ was a wonderful way to kick-start our spring garden visits (though relentless rain on Sunday proved a bit of a dampener to our enthusiasm for the new season!).

The Marchants garden itself was awash with delicate swathes of snowdrops peeking up over the mulch and lighting up the beds and bare hedgerows; and in the ‘potting palace’, an exquisite display of special varieties set in moss, with nearly 40 varieties available for sale.

Galanthus are more commonly known as snowdrops. They are perennial, herbaceous plants which grow from bulbs and are found growing wild from Italy to Turkey, mostly flowering in the depths of winter.  They are very hardy. The common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, is in fact not native to UK. It arrived during the 17thC and has made itself at home here, often spreading to form huge colonies.

True collectors, Galanthophiles, relish the subtle and not-so-subtle differences of the many single and double forms – the plant and leaf form, the central green markings, the way in which the bloom hangs from the thread-like pedicel, the shape of the six tepals (three outer, three inner tepals – it has no petals).

If you would like to receive the Marchants snowdrop list by email, please CLICK HERE for their contact & catalogue request page making sure you tick the ‘Snowdrop availability’ box.  For more information on this wonderful nursery visit

Here at the Garden House we’re also enjoying the quietly emerging early spring buds and flowers.  At this time of year, it’s like a game of hide-and-seek as you have to move leaves and trim away spent grasses to reveal, not just snowdrops, but early crocus, anemone, narcissi – and just starting to push up are the leaves of miniature Iris reticulata and of Iris “Katharine Hodgkin’ (one of our favourites). Our many varieties of beautifully subtle hellebores are in flower now too.

Planting & growing snowdrops:

  • Snowdrops are best bought and planted while actively growing – growers call this planting ‘in the green’ – ensure they are planted at the same depth as they were growing before they were lifted from the ground – the point where the green leaves start to turn yellow should be level with the soil surface
  • With pot-grown plants, the surface of the compost should be level with the soil
  • They do not like hot, dry positions preferring part shade
  • Snowdrops can be naturalised in grass under trees where they look spectacular alone, or mixed with crocus. They will make handsome clumps in a shady border or under a hedge or among shrubs
  • Plant in well-drained, moisture-retentive soil with plenty of humus
  • Where bulbs are planted in grass do not cut the grass until after the leaves have died back. Divide large colonies immediately after flowering while the leaves are still green
  • Flowering period: January and February
  • Hardiness: fully hardy

Diary dates:  

Join The Garden House special visit to the Winter Garden at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden: Friday 22 February.  This is a daytime coach trip, for more info CLICK HERE

Snowdrop Days at Pembury House: NGS Open Garden – Pembury House, Ditchling Road (New Road),  Clayton, nr Hassocks,  Sussex,  BN6 9PH: See the snowdrop displays on 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 21 February.  Special Hellebore Day, Friday 8 March (all dates 11am-4pm).  CLICK HERE for more info on Pembury House

Marchants Hardy Plants, 2 Marchants Cottages Mill Ln, Laughton, East Sussex BN8 6AJ Tel: 01323 811737 / web:

We love: hardy Cyclamen

Posted by editor on Saturday, 19 January 2013

Cyclamen are looking wonderful at this time of year.  They have been flowering their hearts out for several weeks now at The Garden House, their brilliant pink (though some are white) flowers highlighting the more monotone shades of the winter garden.  In terms of flowering time, they are simply brilliant value for money at this time of year and are incredibly easy to grow!

Despite the weather we’re working in the garden and there are signs of growth everywhere.  We have Cyclamen for sale as well many other typically winter shrubs and perennials, including Sarcococca, Skimmia, Cornus mas, Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’, Helleborus niger (our January plant of the month) and evergreen Euonymus. The plants are priced at between £4.50 and £6.00.  If you are interested in buying then please email us to arrange a time to visit the garden and make your purchase.  We are also selling some very striking ironwork plant supports made by Lorraine Philpot at the Firle Forge.

Even our Garden House cat Aniseed can be seen admiring them!

Facts about Cyclamen:

  • in the Primulaceae family, and therefore are surprisingly related to primulas and cowslips
  • they are tuberous perennials with rounded, sometimes angular, leaves which are often attractively mottled
  • the nodding, characteristically shaped flowers have 5 reflexed and twisted petals, often with dark markings at the base
  • most species need shelter from the wind and driving rain, also shade in varying degrees – all need well-drained soil
  • they are normally seen under trees, in lightly wooded areas, in rockeries, or against hedges
  • they self propagate fairly quickly eventually creating beautiful drifts
  • most common is Cyclamen hederifolium, but we particularly love Cyclamen coum
  • C. coum is a perennial to 10cm, with rounded leaves sometimes marbled with silver on the upper surface, it’s flowers are 2cm in width, deep pink, with a purple blotch at the base of each lobe, open from late winter

Join us on our outing to Cambridge University Botanic Garden on Friday 22 February to see early snowdrops and narcissi and so much more. This tranquil and inspirational garden has over 8,000 plant species and nine national collections and is particularly worth visiting in the winter as it is designed to showcase a remarkable array of plants with interesting bark foliage, stem colour, flowers and fragrance.  CLICK HERE for more INFO.

We visited Pelion in Greece in late October and were delighted to find cyclamen growing in the wild.

Plant of the Month: Helleborus niger AGM

Posted by editor on Wednesday, 9 January 2013

This herbaceous, clump-forming plant is a really welcome visitor at this time of year – this picture was taken in December in Brighton! – it is very unusual for this plant to actually be in bloom at Christmas, or indeed early January, despite its common name of Christmas Rose. This particular specimen is in a container against a wall and presumably this is why it is in flower so early.

Helleborus niger is a hardy plant in the Ranunculaceae family (the buttercup family). It is a semi-evergreen perennial growing to 30cm, with leathery, dark green leaves and 1-3 pure white or pink-flushed white, bowl-shaped flowers up to 8cm in width and has won the Award of Garden Merit.  As with all plants in this family if ingested it may cause severe discomfort and can also be a skin irritant.

The Victorians used to cover their Helleborus niger plants with bell jars to force them into flower at Christmas.

  • Ultimate height – 0.1 – 0.5 metres
  • Ultimate spread – 0.1 – 0.5 metres
  • Time to ultimate height – 2-5 years

Unlike most Hellebore varieties that tend to thrive in shade, the H. niger prefers some sun.  It enjoys neutral to alkaline soils that are moist, fertile and humus-rich, so is ideal for heavy clay in partial shade. Provide shelter from strong, cold winds.

Mulch annually in autumn and remove as the flowers appear. As the plants may be affected by hellebore leaf spot like all plants in this genus, it’s a good idea post-Christmas to get out into the garden and remove all the faded or damaged foliage that are showing signs of damage.

Although not the easiest Hellebores to grow but it is really worth having a go as they bring cheer in darkest January. We love them for their pure white flowers; they look beautiful if brought indoors in January when we support the heads with some hazel or birch twigs.

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

All about roses…

Posted by editor on Friday, 8 June 2012

I doubt if there is anything about roses that Simon White does not know. He has worked for multi-medal-winning Peter Beales Roses in Norfolk for 30 years, but said that when he started there he didn’t care much for roses, but was just looking for a job! This was Simon’s second workshop for The Garden House, and he is a storehouse of rose-related facts and insider stories.

We began with a comprehensive A-Z of Roses, accompanied by lots of pictures, which gave us a good grounding in the many different types of rose. Already we were noting down the names of old favourites, must-have unfamiliar ones, and desirable new introductions. Simon’s message was that roses are a very versatile plant: there is something for every situation. Particularly useful was the knowledge that shrub roses grown against a wall or fence will climb up while still flowering beautifully from the base.

From where I was sitting, the fragrance from a bucket of cut roses standing just outside kept wafting in. They had featured on the Peter Beales stand at Chelsea the previous week and were still in amazing condition. We passed them round to look at their colours and forms and tried to describe each one’s distinctive scent. Then we were given a demonstration of the professional method of propagating roses from tiny buds on to rootstock. We were also shown how to plant a rose to get it off to a good start, especially in our local chalky soil or to avoid rose replant disease – apparently the secret is all in a cardboard box.

The very full and informative day ended with a walk around Bridgette’s garden, rose-spotting. Although I’m very familiar with the garden from working in it each week with the Friday group I was still surprised by the number and variety of roses growing there – although Simon was reluctant to spend time on any that had been bred by their famous rival rose-growers (whose initials are D.A.)

Plant of the Month: Epimedium

Posted by editor on Sunday, 22 April 2012

April is magical time as plants emerge from their winter dormancy, some producing a beautiful show of flowers.

One such, and a favourite of ours, is Epimedium x perralchicum ‘Fröhnleiten’ – with its thin, wiry flowering stems that uncurl from the base of the dormant plant and produce small, deep yellow flowers. As the flowers begin to fade the emerging foliage has bright, coppery red shading between conspicuous green veins, creating an impressive effect.  This Epimedium grows in a wide range of conditions and will tolerate shade beneath trees making it an effective groundcover plant. It is evergreen, but in late winter the previous season’s foliage should be cut back so the emerging flowers can be seen to their full glory.

Common name: Barrenwort, bishop’s mitre – you will soon see why – the emerging leaves look just like a bishops hat!

Family: Berberidaceae – this is the same family as Berberis and Mahonia, and one way of recognising plants in this family is the yellow pith in the centre of their stems.

Epimediums are clump-forming rhizomatous perennial that like moist, fertile soil and thrive in partial shade.  They are fully hardy.

They are found in two main areas of the northern hemisphere – the Mediterranean, where four species grow in light woodland and shady, rocky places, and temperate eastern Asia, where they grow in similar situations to the western group but require more shade and moisture (33 species come from China, four from Japan and one from Kashmir).

In spring the fresh green foliage is often tinged with pink, bronze or red. In summer the leaves are deep green, turning to rich tints of yellow, red and bronze in autumn. Small saucer- to cup-shaped flowers are borne from spring to early summer in various colours including yellow, white, pink, red and purple.

The name Epimedium, first used by the Greek herbalist Dioscorides in the first century AD, derives from epi, upon, and Media, the country of Medes, south west of the Caspian Sea.

Even though it was named by a herbalist and appears in several herbals, Epimedium was not widely used in the west. The Oriental species have been used medicinally for centuries – even in modern Chinese herbalism several species are still used to treat ailments including paralysis of the legs and high blood pressure, while in Japan they are used to treat hypertension.

E. x perralchicum is a robust, evergreen hybrid with glossy, deep green leaves which are an attractive bronze when young. Bright yellow flowers up to 2cm (3/4in) across are produced in spring, showing above the foliage for some time before leaf growth tends to cover them up.  It tolerates dry soils in sun or semi-shade (producing fewer flowers under these conditions). On moister soil it will tolerate more sun.

‘Fröhnleiten’ is a German cultivar selected by Heinz Klose and has bigger flowers.

  • For the best display of foliage and flowers clip back the old leaves in late winter or early spring before the flower spikes have formed. Where frosts are prolonged or severe provide a deep winter mulch to protect the rhizomes close to the surface.
  • Mulch and feed regularly.
  • Divide and replant tight clumps every three to five years to ensure good foliage and flower displays.
  • Vine weevils are the worst pest, attacking the roots in particular. Slugs, snails and rabbits will also feed on the young growth.
  • Propagate by division in autumn when roots can establish quickly and the foliage is tougher and less prone to damage. Young leaves are brittle and easily snap off.

Marchants Hardy Plants in Laughton has a great selection of Epimedium varieties – it is also an exceptional nursery and garden, do visit…

Marchants Hardy Plants, 2 Marchants Cottages, Mill Lane, Laughton, E. Sussex BN8 6AJ

Below are nursery-owner and plantsman Graham Gough’s personal descriptions – take your pick, they’re all great!

  • E. ‘Amber Queen’ – a cracking E. flavum hybrid, the main body of the large flower being amber coloured with hints of pink, pale yellow and white. 40cm.
  • E. grandiflorum ‘La Rocaille’ – ivory white suffused with palest celadon green, long spurred flowers. 35cm.
  • E. g. ‘Lilac-Pink Form’ – a form with small leaves and pert, spidery lilac-pink flowers.
  • E. g. ‘Lilafee’ – dark tinted new leaves act as a harmonious foil to the dainty violet-purple flowers. 25cm.
  • E. g. ‘Rose Queen’ – inappropriately named, the large spurred flowers of this strong growing form are actually a fine crimson-purple. 25cm.
  • E. g. ‘White Queen’ – a large flowered pure white form, yet to bettered. This, the true plant, is said to becoming rare. 30cm.
  • E. membranaceum – a beautiful Chinese species with burnished spiny margined foliage and insect like, long spurred pale yellow flowers for months. Evergreen. 30cm.
  • E. x oemeiense ‘Myriad Years’ – a naturally occurring hybrid in the wild (E. acuminatum x E.fangii) with handsome foliage and extraordinary, huge pale grey-pink and purple-spurred flowers. Requires a sheltered spot. 45cm.
  • E. ogisui – introduced in the 1990’s from the flora rich province of Sichuan, China, this beautiful large white flowered species remains uncommon and is further enhanced by the bronze tinted new foliage. 25cm.
  • E. x perralchicum ‘Frohnleiten’ – airy racemes of unspurred lemon yellow flowers in spring. The handsome evergreen leaves remain unblemished throughout winter, making it an altogether classy garden plant. 35cm.
  • E. sp. Yunnan – a refined and incredibly free flowering soft yellow, long spurred species from China with noticeably pale foliage. Patiently awaits a name.
  • E. versicolor sulphureum – evergreen foliage, copper and crimson tinted in winter, which should be removed in February to enjoy the clean yellow flowers in spring. 40cms.
  • E. versicolor x versicolor – subtly contrasted flesh pink and amber-yellow flowers, a perfect match for the young copper coloured foliage. 30cm.


Euphorbias, so useful in the garden

Posted by editor on Monday, 9 April 2012

Spring in the UK has been wonderful, certainly in the south, with extremely warm weather enjoyed, but at the same time rather troubling with the hosepipe ban, along with freezing temperatures on a couple of mornings this week!  Our gardens and the countryside have changed dramatically over the last ten days.

I spent the last week of March in the Pelion, Greece where the change in season has been slower, more typical and less extreme, with warm days, cool evenings and a recent history of plenty of rain.  The wild meadows were glorious.  One of the main contributors to this visual treat is the Euphorbia characias, with its zingy green punctuating the blooming of more delicate flowers.

Euphorbiaceae is the name given to one of the largest families in the plant world, with about 300 genera and 7,500 species and sometimes commonly known as spurges. Euphorbia range from annual to perennial plants, and from woody shrubs to trees – all share one feature in common, a caustic, poisonous milky sap.  The botanical name Euphorbia derives from the Greek Euphorbus, the name of the physician to king Juba II of Numibia (52-50 BC – 23 AD), whose stomach disorder may have been treated with Euphorbia resinifera (one of the more “cactus” looking species).

Euphorbias can play a many roles in the garden, with a species for most situations: Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae brings early interest in a woodland border, with its bright green, unfurling, tips; architectural, tall, clumps of Euphorbia characias sub. wulfeniiJohn Tomlinson can give structure, form and focus in an early spring border; Euphorbia griffithii ‘Dixter’ with its brilliant red/orange bracts adds colour and drama to a summer border; the Euphorbia myrsinites is low growing, offering soft grey/green sharply defined leaves and great contrast to more colourful plants in a gravel garden or in a very sunny border;  Euphorbia polychroma, with its acid- green star shaped flowers looks wonderful coupled with maroon planting, and the  Euphorbia oblongata is a great background staple in your cutting garden.

Think about bringing Euphorbias into your garden – the biggest warning being to be take care of the sap!

Fergus Garrett at The Garden House

Posted by editor on Monday, 26 March 2012

A hugely inspiring and very relaxed talk by Fergus Garrett took place at the Garden House on the strangely warm evening of 23rd March. This was about as far as you could get from a formal talk followed by Q & A in a conference room or village hall. We began with a drink, while the palest of spring flowers around us in the garden lit up the dusk, then moved inside to share a gorgeous meal as Fergus talked and showed slides of plants, plants, and yet more plants!

Many of the photos were taken at Great Dixter, where Fergus is director, having taken on the mantle of Christopher Lloyd after his death in 2006. Others were of striking plant associations and gardens from all over the world. Some were of the same small areas as the seasons progressed, showing how forms and colours changed as clever successive planting moved on with a mix of annual bedding and perennial framework. The bleached and frosted colours of late autumn and winter were particularly impressive. This style of gardening needs good planning and intensive input, but Fergus was keen to show the experimental side of Great Dixter, the importance of observing, reviewing and changing things in a garden to keep it fresh, in the spirit of its idiosyncratic creator, but not preserved in aspic. 

We were surprised to discover that Fergus was originally a local boy, and once worked for Brighton Parks Department before moving on and up, through National Trust gardens and the South of France, before being head-(gardener)-hunted by Christo. Both shared a love of bold colours, which Fergus jokingly put down to his early Parks experience. We were treated to a shot of a pile of Christo’s shriekingly colourful polo shirts, and heard that he yearned for a black-and-yellow wasp-striped number. We also learned of his love of tucking new plants into odd corners and crevices to “see how they did”; and the important role of self-seeders in the garden at Dixter, letting things place themselves and fight it out, and culling if necessary. All this was very heartening to hear.

Fergus is supremely knowledgeable and without hesitation reeled off the names of numerous plants, many of which were new to me, though often species cousins of more familiar garden plants. I scribbled notes in the semi-darkness and was amazed to find them readable next day. Well, sort of. Some of his favourite plants included: the architectural Ferula communis (a giant fennel that does not seed around like its relative foeniculum), Miscanthus ‘Cosmopolitan’, Echium rusicum,  Agave attenuata (swan-necked agave), and loose-formed plants which thread their way through others, such as Erigeron annuus, Ammi visnaga, Tagetes patula ‘Cinnabar’, and Campanula patula. Not forgetting the little daisy which is everywhere at Great Dixter, Erigeron karvinskianus.

We came away impressed by the enthusiasm and energy of a very famous gardener, and in such a friendly and intimate setting – altogether an unforgettable evening.

Words: Julia Widdows; photo of Deborah, Fergus and Bridgette: Dulcie Lee

Growing Perennial Vegetables

Posted by editor on Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Something to think about at this time of year is making a perennial vegetable bed; that means vegetables that will continue to grow year after year.  Some examples are asparagus, globe artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, sea kale, cardoon, chicory and varieties of broccoli, and onion.  Check out the internet or nursery/garden centre for crops available as ready grown plants or we like to grow plants from seed – that way you get a better choice and some more unusual varieties.

Globe artichokes – fantastic plants that give great architectural value with their silver, jagged edged leaves, and also give you edible flowers.  The artichoke is a really stunning plant – at The Garden House we use it as our logo and sell the seeds too.  It is easy to grow from seed, it should then be planted in well-drained soil in the sunniest possible site as they are slightly frost tender.  You may need to cover them with fleece during severe weather.  It is possible to propagate them now so if you have a friend with an established plant ask them if you could have a cutting.  All you need to do is to take a side shoot from the parent plant, use a knife and remove a side shoot far down as possible – preferably with a piece of root attached.  Pot up your cutting and water it well and keep it well watered until it has settled down, cut down the leaves if they are really long, to about half to reduce water loss. The variety we like at the Garden House is Violetta de Chioggia – it produces fantastic heads to eat or to just enjoy in the border and is great for bees.

Cardoons – similar to artichokes, but they are grown for their edible leaf stalks not their flower heads.  They are the wild parent of the artichoke and were very popular in the Victorian era.  Cardoon plants can reach up to 2m (6½ft) and is usually grown as an ornamental.  They must be picked when young, before spines develop.  They require blanching, like celery, this means gathering all their leaves together and excluding light with black plastic or cardboard in later summer for two or three weeks.  The midribs can then be steamed or boiled.

Asparagus – a real favourite and there are many wonderful varieties to try. ‘Gijnlim’ have masses of thin spears and have got a really good flavour, and  ‘Violetto d’ Albenga’ is an Italian variety and has lovely purple spears. If you have prepared a bed for your asparagus now is a good time to plant them.  Asparagus is expensive to buy in the shops but it is easy to grow and tastes delicious when freshly harvested.  Once established, twelve plants will produce an average crop of 10kg (22lb) annually for twelve year or more.  Try to buy one-year old crowns as these will establish quicker.  Space the plants 38cm (15”) apart in row 1m (3ft) apart.

Chicory – can be treated as a perennial and the bitter leaves can be gathered early or late in the season, after any hearting rosette has been cut.  It can grow to about 60cm (2ft).

Jerusalem artichokes – grow to 9ft and make a really good wind break; related to sunflower they are covered in bright yellow flowers.  You can make delicious soup or roast their fat, knobbly tubers. To grow, plant the tubers 15cm (6”) deep and 30cm (12”) apart.  Draw up the soil around the bottom half of the stems when they are 30cm (12”) tall to give them some support.   In mid-summer cut most stems – leave a few so you can enjoy their flowers – back to about 5ft.  Prune the plants to leave 8cm (3”) stumps above the ground when the foliage starts to turn yellow later in the year.  You can harvest them between autumn and late winter.

Perennial onions – try something a bit different.  The tree onion forms clumps of edible bulbs at the ends of the flowering stems that can be used like shallots, They also make offsets around the base of the plants which you can use instead of spring onions.  Welsh onions are lovely and look a bit like chives but they can be pulled from the ground to use in salads.

Sea kale – we think that sea kale looks lovely, especially growing in a seaside city. It is an old Victorian vegetable and is hard to get hold of but you can grow it from seed. It appears in late winter when few other fresh vegetables are ready – this is because it is traditionally forced, like cardoon and rhubarb. It is another easy plant to grow from seed (it is illegal to harvest it from the wild).

Many of the perennial vegetables can be found at Delftland Nurseries, or Victoriana Nursery Gardens  You could also try the Real Seed Catalogue, if you are looking for some unusual tubers to grow, and of course we have seeds at the Garden House.

We love: heavenly Hellebores

Posted by editor on Sunday, 26 February 2012

Hellebores (sometimes known as the Christmas or Lenten rose) are perennial garden plants with beautiful, elegant flowers. At the Garden House we have some wonderful varieties and we increase our stock by buying a couple of new ones every year.  We also collect the seeds and hope that one day we will have a cultivar that is worth naming!

Hellebores are brilliant for brightening up shady areas during late winter and early spring. Some species are grown for their striking evergreen architectural foliage such as H.foetidus and H.argutifolius. They also have a long flowering period so, although often expensive, they certainly earn their keep!

Hellebores prefer to grow in rich, well-drained soil in dappled shade. Avoid planting in very dry or waterlogged soil. Provide shelter from strong, cold winds. Try to plant them on high ground so that you can appreciate their flowers, which are often hanging down – the story being that when Christ passed the hellebores on his way to the cross they hung their heads in shame.  Much breeding work is being done to try to raise their heads so that we can enjoy their subtle and very elegant flowers!

These flowers are often hidden by the large leaves, so ensure they can be seen clearly by removing a few older leaves from the centre of the clump (traditionally this is a job that is supposed to be done on Boxing Day!).  At the same time remove any dead, diseased or damaged foliage that can harbour hellebore leaf spot, an unsightly fungal disease.  The other reason for exposing the flowers by removing the leaves is that this will also help insects to pollinate the flowers and ensure good seed set for new plants that can be propagated from the resulting seed.

Keep them well watered during dry spells and mulch them every year with leaf mould, chipped bark or other organic matter in autumn. This is really important, as with many plants that flower in the winter they can be neglected.  If they don’t produce many flowers apply pelleted chicken manure or fish blood and bone in the spring.  They make great container plants, but again don’t forget to feed them with a high potassium fertiliser such as Maxicrop to encourage flowering.

The best way to look after Hellebores is to cut the flowered stems to ground level for H.foetidua and H. argutifolius and with oriental hybrids deadhead them as with other perennials.

Buy Hellebores from Ashwood Nurseries  – they specialize in raising many beautiful cultivars.  Our favourite way to display them is by cutting a few flowers and floating them facing upwards in water – a real February treat!

Plant of the Month: Pulmonaria

Posted by editor on Tuesday, 14 February 2012

We are all eagerly awaiting the first herbaceous perennials of the year and the Pulmonarias always come up trumps! Pulmonaria rubra AGM (Award of Garden Merit) is always the first to flower, and needs to be observed at close quarters to see how lovely it is.

Pulmonarias are members of the borage family, (Boraginaceae). Along with their cousins, comfrey, borage, brunnera, forget-me-nots and anchusa, pulmonarias have hairy leaves and small funnel-shaped flowers.  The common name is lungwort – The name Pulmonaria comes from the Latin ‘pulmo’, the lung. The plant was considered to be an effective remedy for diseases of the lung because the spotted leaves were supposed to resemble diseased lungs.

Pulmonarias are evergreen perennials and thrive in humus-rich, moist but not waterlogged soil and do well in full or partial shade, which is an added bonus. They make brilliant ground cover plants in woodland or at the front of a border and the bees love them!  They are very hardy. Height & spread of up to 40cm (16in) x 90cm (36in)

The leaves are hairy and often spotted with white or silver. The leaves that develop after flowering have the best markings. Flowers can be pink, red, violet, purple, blue or white. They are funnel-shaped, 5-10mm (0.25 – 0.5in) across with 5 petals.

  • ‘Redstart’ has coral-red flowers and is often the first Pulmonaria to flower in midwinter. ‘Barfield Pink’ has pink and white striped flowers and grows up to a height of 30cm (12in).
  • P. r. var. albocorollata syn. alba has white flowers and ‘David Ward’ has white-variegated, sage-green leaves with cream margins and coral-red flowers. Both reach a height of 30cm (12in).
  • ‘Bowles’s Red’, developed by Edward Bowles, has coral-red flowers and leaves faintly spotted pale green. It grows to 30cm (12in) and is similar to ‘Redstart. Remove old leaves after flowering and divide every 3 – 5 years.

To propagate Pulmonarias, divide plants in autumn or after flowering or take root cuttings in mid-winter. Powdery mildew may be a problem in dry conditions and slugs and snails may damage new growth – but don’t let this put you off, they are super-useful plants to have in the garden!


Valentine’s Day, and thinking of roses…

Posted by editor on Saturday, 11 February 2012

Here at The Garden House we have many lovely roses – climbers, shrubs, ramblers, miniatures – we’re passionate about them!  But we also know that roses carry a certain mystique with regard to care – when to prune, how to prune, when to feed, with what etc…

If you know someone who would love to know more about roses and their care, why not buy them a Garden House Voucher (£10 upwards)?  The Voucher can be put towards any workshop, course or garden visit – but would be especially appropriate right now put towards our “All You Need to Know About Roses” workshop, taking place Saturday 2 June. The workshop will be led by rose expert Simon White of Peter Beales nursery in Norfolk.

Contact us now and we can email a voucher to you before the 14th…!

If you’re thinking of planting some new roses this spring, remember that, as with all plants, it is so important to consider ‘right plant, right place’ – below is a list of some of our favourites:

Climbers for north-facing walls:

R. ‘Alberic Barbier’ AGM (Climber/Rambler). Flowers rich cream, apple fragrance, some repeat flowering, some winter leaf persistence. Ht 6m (20ft).

R. ‘Dortmund’ AGM (Climber). Single, blood-red flowers; repeat-flowering. Ht 2m (6½ft).

R. ‘Félicité Perpétue’ AGM (Climber/Rambler). White flowers, buds tinged red, some winter leaf persistence. Ht 5m (17ft).

Very vigorous roses for climbing into trees:

R. filipes ‘Kiftsgate’ AGM (Rambler). Slightly fragrant; one flowering period; creamy white flowers. Ht10m (30ft).

R. longicuspis (Climber). Slightly fragrant; one flowering period; white flowers; semi-evergreen, tender. Ht 6m (20ft).

R. ‘Seagull’ AGM (Climber/rambler). Slightly fragrant; one flowering period; white flowers with golden stamens. Ht 4.5m (15ft).

Roses for training up pillars: (Need to be flexible-stemmed, produce flowers at the ends of all current seasons growth, and preferably be of moderate vigour.)

R. ‘Compassion’ AGM (Climber/Rambler). Double, fragrant, repeat flowering; pink, shaded apricot blooms. Ht 2.4m (8ft)

R. ‘Danse de Feu’ (Climber) Double; repeat flowering; orange to scarlet flowers. Ht 2.4m (8ft)

R. ‘Golden Showers’ AGM (Climber/Rambler). Double; fragrant; repeat flowering; golden yellow blooms. Ht 2.1m (7ft).

Patio climbers are useful for smaller structures up to 3m (10ft) or so high: In a sunny spot, try pale cream, pink-tinged ‘Penny Lane’ (‘Hardwell’), or mauve-pink, heavily-scented ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ (‘Ausbord’).

Roses with ornamental foliage:

R. ‘Highdownensis’. Large, single crimson flowers, ferny leaves. Ht 3m (10ft).

R. multibracteata. Pink, single flowers; neat rounded leaflets. Ht 3m (10ft).

R. primula AGM. Pale, small, yellow flowers; shiny aromatic leaves; one flowering period. Ht 1.8m (6ft).

R.  sericea var. pteracantha. Red thorns; creamy-white flowers; small ferny leaves. Ht 2.4m (6ft).

Some roses suitable for hedges:

R. ‘Cornelia’ AGM. Double, fragrant apricot pink blooms. Repeat flowering. Ht 1.5m (5ft)

R. ‘Roseraie de l’ Hay’ AGM. Double, fragrant wine red blooms. Repeat flowering. Ht 2.1m (7ft).

R. ‘Zéphirine Drouhin’. Semi-double, fragrant carmine pink flowers. Thornless and repeat flowering. Ht 3m (10ft).

Roses with very decorative autumn hips:

R. ‘Fru Dagmar Hastrup’ AGM. Silvery pink single flowers; large red fruit. Ht 90cm (3ft).

R. rubrifolia.  Pink flowers once a year; scarlet globular hips. Ht 2.1m (7ft).

R. rugosa. Cerise or white flowers once a year; scarlet globular hips. Ht 1.8m (6ft).

Roses for ground cover:

R. ‘Nozomi’ AGM. Single pink flowers; one flowering period. Ht 30cm (1ft) and spread 1.5m (5ft).

R. Snow Carpet ‘Maccarpe’ Single, double white flowers throughout summer. Ht 15cm (6in) and spread 90cm (3ft).

R. Surrey = ’Korlanum’AGM. Double pink blooms from early summer until late autumn. Ht 60–90cm (2-3ft) and spread 90cm-1.2m (3-4ft).


Plant of the Month: Garrya eliptica

Posted by editor on Friday, 13 January 2012

Garrya eliptica is more commonly known as the Silk Tassel Bush, an excellent evergreen shrub providing a long period of interest throughout the winter, and especially good for January colour. It has attractive leathery leaves and from November to February produces decorative silky tassel-like grey-green catkins measuring 20-25cm long, a wonderful sight on a cold winter’s morning.

Garrya should be grown in more sheltered sites, in a shrub border or against a wall, in full sun or partial shade – it will thrive in any soil. It is fully hardy, will tolerate pollution and is well suited to coastal conditions and may even tolerate temperatures as low as -10 c. Height and spread of 4m (12ft) x 4m (12ft)

It was named after Nicholas Garry, Secretary of the Hudson’s Bay Company who assisted David Douglas in his explorations of the Pacific North-West in the 1820s, and can be found growing naturally in woodland in western USA, Central America and the West Indies. The name eliptica means eliptic, referring to the shape of the leaves. There are 13 species in the genus, the females produce purple brown berries on separate plants from the male, but the male catkins are what make this plant so appealing.

Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’ is a particular favourite – a lovely form with dark sea-green, slightly larger leaves and silver-grey catkins up to 20cm (8in) long.

Pruning, if needed, should be done in mid spring to remove shoots that spoil symmetry and dead or damaged growth.  It can be susceptible to fungal leaf spot and also wind burn.


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.

We love: Sempervivums

Posted by editor on Sunday, 2 October 2011

We love sempervivums (houseleeks) – they are such easy plants to grow, tolerating cold temperatures but not liking wet weather. Sempervivum means ‘always alive’ – a reference to the fact that houseleeks tolerate extreme temperatures and drought. The hardiness of Sempervivum, and the closely related genus Jovibarba (also known as hen and chickens), makes them excellent, easy-to-keep garden plants.

Sempervivum and Jovibarba species are commonly grown in containers, but they can thrive in engineering bricks with holes, driftwood and tufa rock, because of their ability to grow in very little compost. South-facing rockeries, gravel gardens and vertical walls also make good habitats. The also look good in broken pots.

They thrive in a sunny, outdoor position, in well-drained compost, such as John Innes No.1 or No.2, with 25% sharp horticultural grit for added drainage. A layer of grit should be added to the surface of the compost to further aid drainage.

Houseleeks are most valued for their distinctive rosettes of succulent, spirally patterned foliage, although they also bear attractive flowers from spring to summer. Each rosette is a separate plant, and is monocarpic – it flowers once then dies, but is soon replaced by other new rosettes, called offsets. These offsets can be separated and planted up, and will then grow into new clumps.

Sempervivums don’t need feeding, but do benefit from being repotted each year into compost containing slow-release fertiliser.

  • S. calcareum – bears very striking, large, grey-green rosettes, which shade to reddish-brown at the leaf tips.
  • S. calcareum ‘Extra’ – bears large numbers of blue-green leaves in each of its rosettes, each with a distinctive reddish-brown tip.
  • S. arachnoideum – possibly the most famous species, also known as the cobweb houseleek, due to the network of white hairs at the leaf tips. These hairs protect the plant against dehydration and intense sunlight.
  • S. ‘Irazu’ – the attractive purple rosettes of ‘Irazu’ are offset beautifully by their silver leaf margins. The leaves can fade to a duller pink during winter.
  • S. ‘Reinhard’ – a vigorous variety, which forms clumps of upright green rosettes, thrown into sharp relief by the almost black leaf tips.
  • S. ‘Fernwood’ – similar in colouring to ‘Reinhard’, ‘Fernwood’ has larger, more open rosettes. It maintains its colour well throughout the year.
  • S. ‘Squib’ – red houseleeks generally require high light levels to maintain their colour, but ‘Squib’, a dark purple variety, keeps its colour well in winter.
  • S. ‘Moerkerk’s Merit’ – the velvety appearance of ‘Moerkerk’s Merit’ is due to the tufty hairs that adorn the leaf tips. Related to S. arachnoideum, its leaves are a delicate silver-green.
  • Jovibarba heuffelii ‘Angel Wings’ – whereas sempervivums mostly produce red or pink flowers, Jovibarba species produce yellow, more bell-like flowers. ‘Angel Wings’ is a vigorous variety with sharply pointed brown and green leaves.
  • Jovibarba allionii – has long, tapered leaves.  Jovibarba offsets separate from the clump much more readily than those of Sempervivum, and the rosettes are generally more sturdy.

We have some stunning ‘Semps’ for sale at the Garden House – really worth a look for a special present or if you are starting a collection.  Also check out Sempervivums By Post (our main image is from their wonderful website) 

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

Flower of the month: Passiflora (the passion flower)

Posted by editor on Sunday, 14 August 2011

At this time of year, hardy Passiflora are in full bloom.  A wonderfully exotic-looking plant, the Blue Passion Flower (P. caerulea) has large white flowers and central filaments of purple, blue and white, followed by egg-shaped, orange-yellow fruit, and flowers from July to September. The fruit are edible, but not very tasty and not to be confused with ones you can buy in the supermarkets!

This vigorous, trouble-free climber looks really good in a tropical planting scheme, and will grow best at the base of a sheltered wall in full sun, although they can tolerate some shade. Even the leaves and tendrils look other-worldlly, deeply lobed, dark green and glossy. It is frost hardy but may need some winter protection in cold areas.  The eventual height is 10 metres.

The “Passion” in “passion flower” refers to the passion of Jesus in Christian theology. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish Christian missionaries adopted the unique physical structures of this plant, particularly the numbers of its various flower parts, as symbols of the last days of Jesus and especially his crucifixion:

  • The pointed tips of the leaves were taken to represent the Holy Lance
  • The tendrils represent the whips used in the flagellation of Christ
  • The ten petals and sepals represent the ten faithful apostles (excluding St. Peter the denier and Judas Iscariot the betrayer)
  • The flower’s radial filaments, which can number more than a hundred and vary from flower to flower, represent the crown of thorns
  • The chalice-shaped ovary with its receptacle represents a hammer or the Holy Grail
  • The 3 stigmas represent the 3 nails and the 5 anthers below them the 5 wounds (four by the nails and one by the lance)
  • The blue and white colours of many species’ flowers represent Heaven and Purity.

There are many other beautiful passion flowers but many of them need to be protected and are best grown in a glass house or conservatory.

Being easy to grow they require little maintenance, but if you don’t want them to reach too high, plant in pots or tubs and let them grow up and cascade over an obelisk.

Choose three to five of the strongest shoots, tying them in to horizontal wires. Once the plant is established, cut back the flowered shoots immediately after flowering to within two or three buds of the permanent framework of the plant. In spring remove dead, misplaced or overcrowded stems.

If you want to find out more about passion flowers, Passiflora: Passionflowers of the World by Torsten Ulmer and John M. MacDougal is a really good read.

We love: Ammi majus ‘Graceland’

Posted by editor on Thursday, 14 July 2011

Our plant of the month for July is the hardy annual Ammi majus ‘Graceland’ which has been attracting a lot of attention at the Garden House for several weeks now. It really is a favourite – a ‘good doer’ and its dark green feathery foliage makes the perfect background for an unusually long lasting display of flat, lace-like heads of dainty white flowers opening from green buds.

The upright plants are ideal amongst perennials or other tall annuals, and are especially attractive to bees, butterflies and other insects. They also make valuable cut flowers where they bring a lightness and airiness to displays of bolder flowers in pastels or brighter shades.

Ammi is really easy to grow from seed – we sowed ours in a cold greenhouse in September, they were then potted on into 9cm pots and kept outside over winter to harden off in the cold frame.This makes for a very hardy plant and this treatment has really paid off as they have been in flower for about 8 weeks now.   Ammi are about 1.4m tall and hold themselves up well against other plants but need staking if they stand alone.

Just to note for future reference – we will be selling the seeds of Ammi at The Garden House from September!

Plant of the month: Cranesbill ‘Orion’

Posted by editor on Sunday, 12 June 2011

At The Garden House we have a variety of geraniums in bloom, many looking fantastic and coping well with the drought – one of them is a favourite, Geranium ‘Orion’.  It is planted prominently in our herbaceous beds, its striking violet-blue flowers really stand out, supporting the gorgeous roses (especially wonderful next to Rosa mundi) and other herbaceous perennials.  What a special and easy plant, it flowers superbly all summer long…

Common name: Cranesbill ‘Orion’

Family: Geraniaceae

Cranesbills, Geranium, comprise a genus of around 300 species of annuals, biennials and herbaceous, semi-evergreen, sometimes tuberous perennials. They are sometimes confused with the genus Pelargonium, commonly, though mistakenly, known as geranium.

Herbaceous perennial: Fully hardy, it is in the Pratense group of hardy geraniums.

This stunning cultivar has attractive, highly dissected leaves (medium green, slightly hairy with paler more hairy reverse) that almost disappear from sight when the plant is in full bloom.

It bears large violet-blue flowers up to 5cm (2in) across, with fine dark red veins with white at the centre. It starts flowering in May and can go on until the autumn.

Height & spread: 80cm (31in) high x 170cm (67in)

Soil: Fertile, well-drained to moist

Aspect: Full sun or partial shade.  Cranesbills are found in all except very wet habitats in temperate regions. They are generally easy to grow. Compact perennials, to about 15cm tall, are good for a rock garden; trailing, spreading or mat-forming plants are effective as ground cover in a woodland or wild garden. Taller, clump-forming species and hybrids are suitable for a border or among shrubs.


  • Perfect for underplanting roses or filling the front of a border, coping well in full sun or partial shade.
  • Water freely in the growing season. This plant is fast-growing and will benefit from a late summer chop to tidy up its habit and encourage production of fresh foliage and extended flowering.
  • Plants may be damaged by vine weevil and sawfly larvae, slugs and snails. In dry conditions powdery mildew may be a problem.


  • By seed – sow in containers outdoors as soon as ripe or in spring.
  • Lift and divide large colonies in spring.

It has deservedly received the Award of Garden Merit (AGM).

We love: Boraginaceae (the borage family)

Posted by editor on Thursday, 19 May 2011

At the moment many members of the borage family are looking wonderful – we love their simplicity, the way they flourish – popping up everywhere and so easily – and we love the often bright blue borage flowers, which look wonderful in salads!

This is a family of around 2000 species, occurring mainly in Europe and Asia, especially in the Mediterranean region. Most of them are herbs, although there are some woody plants. Many are grown as ornamental plants, although some are a source of dye or have medicinal uses.

Take a look at some of the plants from this family in your garden and look at the characteristics.

Members of this plant family usually have:

  • Blue flowers in a coiled inflorescence – the lower ones always opening first
  • Stems and leaves covered in rough hairs
  • Four seeds

There are many different cultivars and most of them seem to have blue or pink flowers. The most well known include Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis), Heliotrope (Heliotropium), the Comfreys (Symphytum), Borage (Borago), and Hound’s Tongue (Cynoglossum).  Brunnera and the Anchusa are also in this family…

At the moment Anchusa ‘Loddon Royalist’ is looking fantastic – it is one of our favourites and is growing well in the garden.  It is grown as a biennial so don’t forget to sow it in June or July to look good next year.  The Garden House will soon have the seeds for sale.

Plant of the Month: Allium cristophii

Posted by editor on Friday, 13 May 2011

The Garden House currently has a stunning display of different kinds of ornamental onions – hundreds of blooms, and flowering around three weeks early!

Our mass plantings include: Allium ‘Mont Blanc’, A. hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ AGM, A. atropurpureum, A. nigrum, A. schubertii and our favourite – Allium cristophii.

  • Common name – Star of Persia
  • Family – Alliaceae
  • Height & spread – 30-60cm (12-24in) x 15cm (6in)
  • Form – Bulbous perennial
  • Soil – Fertile and well-drained soil
  • Aspect – Full sun
  • Hardiness – Fully hardy, but may be tender when young

The name Allium comes from the ancient name for garlic, which is part of the genus. There are estimated to be around 700 species within the genus, and many cultivars.

Allium mainly come from dry and mountainous areas in the Northern Hemisphere, and have adapted to live in almost every plant habitat, from ice-cold tundra to burning, arid deserts.

There are perennials and biennials, ranging in height from 10cm (4in) to 150cm (5ft) or more – the taller species looking particularly good in groups in a border. After the leaves die back tiny pink-purple star shaped flowers appear clustered together at the top of the stalk, giving this Allium its characteristic ‘lollipop’ look, which in botany is called an umbel.

Typically they have upright to spreading linear-shaped leaves. The tubular based flowers are bell, star or cup-shaped and are borne in spherical umbels 1cm (3/8in) to 10cm (4in) across.  Many take on a metallic colour in early summer.

In most species, a single bulb produces clusters of offset bulbs around it, which gradually form clumps. Many Allium give themselves away with the distinctive smell of onions when the bulb or foliage is bruised, and several species have culinary uses, including A. sativum (garlic), culinary onions, shallots and chives.

The Romans are sometimes held responsible for their wide distribution, while the whole group was valued by ancient civilisations as possessing medical and aphrodisiac qualities plus flavour.

Flower stalks dry well and can be used in arrangements or they can be left outside to provide frost-tinged winter interest.


  • Grow in fertile, well-drained soil in full sun
  • Plant bulbs 5-10cm (2-4in) deep in autumn
  • Plant clump-forming species with rhizomes at or just below the soil surface in spring
  • Alliums are susceptible to white rot, downy mildew and onion fly.


  • Propagate by offsets, removed when dormant, or by seed in spring at about 13°C (55°F)
  • Keep moist and well ventilated, and dry progressively as foliage dies back
  • Prick out and pot on when dormant. Seed grown plants, however, may not come true to the parent
  • Alternatively, divide clumps of spring-flowering species in summer

The RHS Herbaceous Plant Committee awarded Allium cristophii an Award of Garden Merit (AGM).

Lift your tulip bulbs for next year

Posted by editor on Sunday, 24 April 2011

Some bulbs, like daffodils and jonquils, are fine to leave in the ground season after season. However tulips are best dug up and left to dry out. Some tulip bulbs are not winter hardy, hence in cold climates those bulbs should be lifted and stored to be used the next season.

After flowers have finished, cut off the spent flower stems but do not cut back the foliage. Ideally leave in the ground for 2-3 weeks as the period of time after blooming is when tulips use energy to build strong bulbs for next year’s blooms. If you cut off the leaves before they died down naturally, the bulb will not have the reserves to grow and flower the following season. Tulips, unlike daffodils, do not require foliar feed in order to build up the bulb.

With a garden fork carefully prise them from the soil. All physically damaged bulbs should be discarded.

Wash any remaining soil off the bulb and then place as a single layer in a basket or tray that has enough air move through it. The bulbs can also be stored in a paper bag. Carefully label each bag or tray especially if you have different varieties.

Store in a dark, cool and dry place that is well ventilated. Make sure that the temperature is constant. Check regularly and remove any bulbs showing signs of mildew or rotting. Shaking the bulbs in a plastic sack with a little fungicide is a good measure of prevention.

Store until autumn when you can begin to divide the bulbs and replant. The best way to nourish your tulips is to lay down a top dressing of bone meal in the autumn to enrich the soil.

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.

Our favourite flowering cherries…

Posted by editor on Sunday, 3 April 2011

In Japan, where the cherry blossom is respected, there is an annual festival in its honour, where everyone goes out into the countryside to sit beneath the blossom and picnic and party with very un-Japanese abandon.

Cherries are one of the most attractive and versatile of garden trees, giving delightful spring colour when they are in full blossom and, in many cases, outstanding autumn colour as well.

At the Garden House we have a stunning Prunus serrulata ‘Tai Haku’.  Its spindly branches hanging with extraordinary bundles of huge white blossoms, delicate explosions of petals freeze-framed in mid-air.

‘Tai Haku’ is a cherry with an astonishing story too: a legendary tree in Japan until it disappeared at the end of the 18th century, it was apparently unknown anywhere else in the world.  Then, in 1923, the owner of a Sussex garden showed Captain Collingwood Ingram – an expert on Japanese cherries – an unidentified cherry with gorgeous white flowers. He was unable to recognise it but took grafts and passed the resulting saplings around.

The next time he went to Japan he was shown an 18th-century book of flower paintings and recognised the unidentified white cherry from the Sussex garden.  As far as the Japanese were concerned, however, ‘Tai Haku’ had disappeared and could not possibly have popped up a hundred years later in England. It really does appear, though, that every ‘Tai Haku’ in cultivation – which vanished from Japan 200 years ago – inexplicably comes from that Sussex tree found 87 years ago.

  • Prunus ‘Kursar’ AGM – this stunning small tree was one of the best trees raised by Captain Collingwood Ingram. It has masses of small deep pink flowers and fantastic autumn colour.
  • Prunus incisa ‘The Bride’ – in spring this small cherry, which has a dense shrubby growth habit, is smothered with large single white flowers. The anthers of the flower are a very vibrant red colour and this is emphasized against the white petals.
  • Prunus ‘Shogetsu’ AGM – this is one of the finest Japanese cherries and has a wide spreading growth habit. It has large double pink flowers which hang from the branches in clusters providing a breathtaking display. The double pink flowers quickly fade to a beautiful pure white.
  • Prunus ‘Accolade’ AGM – this cherry has a spreading growth habit. During April the tree is covered in masses of large light pink semi-double flowers. It will also add value to your garden during the autumn when its green leaves turn a vivid rich orange/red colour.
  • Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ – this delightful small cherry is very slow growing and compact making it suitable for growing in containers. Its branches have a fascinating zigzag growth habit and these are covered in small blush pink flowers. In the autumn this cherry will reward you with great foliage colour.
  • Prunus ‘Pink Perfection’ AGM – this stunning cherry has bright double pink flowers which hang in drooping clusters from the branches. The leaves are a delicate bronze colour when young, before turning green and then a bright fiery red and orange in the autumn.

More cherries for small gardens:

  • Prunus x subhirtella ‘Fukubana’ – this is an elegant miniature tree to about 3m that will fit into a small space and give it scale.
  • Another good choice is Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ (winter-flowering cherry) – this is a real harbinger of spring that will repeat flower in any mild spell between January and March. It makes an elegant small tree of about 6-7m with an open head casting light shade. The single white flowers have pink centres and the bark is dark brown and shiny.’
  • Prunus incisa ‘Fujima’ – this shrubby-crowned small tree is smothered in masses of pink-tinged flower buds, followed by stunning white flowers. It is very free-flowering, quick to establish and adaptable – it grows on heavy clay. The cultivar also offers good autumn colour.
  • Prunus ‘Spire’ AGM – a fine choice for a small garden. This cultivar is no more than 2m wide when it is 20 years old. It has an upright crown meaning it will fit into the smallest space and give height or screen a view. The pale pink blossom covers the tree in spring and the autumn leaf colour is orange to yellow.

It is worth noting that ornamental cherries budded on to wild cherry rootstocks have large root systems, whilst trees on their own roots have much smaller root systems and are therefore better for smaller gardens.

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!

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

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

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.

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!

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.

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)

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)

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.

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.

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

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!

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

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!