Posts Tagged ‘Perennials’

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

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



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!

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

Posted by editor on Sunday, 12 October 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


GH Euro trip: visiting Piet Oudulph’s private garden

Posted by editor on Saturday, 16 August 2014

We were greeted at the approach to the private garden of Piet Oudolph by his wife and gardening partner Anja – Piet was travelling when we visited, “as he so often does now,’ says Anja.  Not the first time that Bridgette and Deborah have visited this iconic garden (they hosted their first GH trip there a few years ago), but certainly a first for the 20 or so garden and gardening enthusiasts visiting Belgium and The Netherlands with The Garden House.

Anja explained that the development of the gardens and nursery at their old farmhouse at Hummelo in eastern Netherlands, and their joint passion for what soon became the new perennials movement, started 32 years ago inspired by nature, art and the passage of time and the seasons.

Having been a nurseryman for many years, Piet’s artistic ability plus his intimate knowledge of plants made his naturalistic planting schemes so directional and effective. Different species blend together in tightly knit, sophisticated plantings to thrive and compete as they do in natural habitats.

It was such a joy to walk around in the sunshine, having the garden to ourselves, just absorbing and wondering at the unexpected plant combinations, varieties and structures.

A new modern building in the garden now houses Piet’s studio and Anja’s private office – again a fascinating juxtaposition to the plantings and to their more traditional brick farmhouse and black-painted outbuildings.

The planting in the various areas of the garden ranges from an open meadow-like area of mixed perennials, annuals and grasses planted in a seemingly artless style, intermixed and fluid – the ‘trial garden’ – to the more formal, but still flowing front garden, hidden from the road by high clipped hedges of beech and yew, and more organic clipped hedges of beech, oak, Amelanchier, Cornus mas and Acer campestre. The much-photographed ‘wave’ hedges sadly are gone, victims of a severe flood some years ago. In this garden you are lead in one direction, only to find yourself drawn in another, the art of surprise and anticipation is very strong; shrubs (especially hydgrangeas, much loved in Belgium) mix with perennials and grasses to create a shimmering blur above and within.

Now an internationally sought after planting and garden designer, Piet has many important private and public commissions under his belt – including New York’s Battery Park and the extraordinary High Line, Lurie Garden at Chicago’s Millennium Park, and in the UK, gardens at Scampston Hall, Pensthorpe, and areas of RHS Wisley – even a one-off enclosed garden at London’s Serpentine Gallery in the summer of 2011.


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 –

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.


Staking Your Tall and Unruly Plants

Posted by editor on Thursday, 3 April 2014

Getting going with your plant supports is such an important activity at this time of year, as suddenly all the perennials are coming to life and seem to be growing an inch or more a day!

At The Garden House we’ve recently run several invaluable workshops on how to create your own natural plant supports using hazel, birch and willow.

Bea Andrews, ex-head gardener at Perch Hill, Sarah Raven’s garden in Kent, led an excellent workshop on the practical aspects of staking using hazel and birch pea-sticks. These materials are excellent for when you really want the supports to become almost invisible once the plants have grown, so while looking very organic and decorative now, they will ‘disappear’ once the plants get going.

Then on Saturday 29 March, a group gathered in the wonderful sunshine to make highly decorative round willow plant supports and curly-top fences with Sussex-based willow and basketry artist Jackie Sweet. These look wonderful and are ideal for keeping plants such as delphiniums, peonies and asters just where you want them!


They certainly require some dexterity and experience to make, but once you’re underway, are remarkably quick to create.  We had a fantastic day – interspersed in true Garden House style with a delicious lunch, and tea and cake!



Jackie recommends buying willow from Musgrove Willows, willow growers and suppliers of all sorts of basket-making materials, based in Somerset.

She also brushes the finished pieces with an exterior grade furniture oil, allowing the pieces to dry for a few days before pushing into position in the garden or vegetable patch.

This is the perfect time of year to begin to stake your tall or unruly plants before they put on a lot of growth, so have a go!




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


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),

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

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


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.



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

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.


Perennial Supports – be creative!

Posted by editor on Thursday, 19 April 2012

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

Of course, not just tall perennials – climbers, certain roses, even vegetables like broad and runner beans will need careful staking to avoid the plants collapsing as they grow in heavy rain and winds.  In March 2011 we wrote a post on decorative staking, CLICK HERE to read it again!

And note that we’re opening for the first time as one of Brighton’s myriad Artists Open Houses!  Our garden will be host to many wonderful artists and makers showing and selling all manner of garden-related items – including Annemarie O’Sullivan’s willow balls and wigwams, and blacksmith Lorraine Philpott’s naturalistic structures – all ideal as plant supports…

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!


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!




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

Autumn, a favourite season…

Posted by editor on Sunday, 4 September 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark the date: Sussex Prairies Garden, 4 September

Posted by editor on Monday, 29 August 2011

Well worth a visit – on Sunday 4 September 2011 (from 11am until 5pm) a rare collection of exciting nurseries, artists and crafts people will be coming together at the Sussex Prairies Garden. Over 60 stalls will be displaying a great selection of unusual plants and beautiful pieces for you to buy.

The Sussex Prairies Garden also happens to be one of our favourite gardens, renowned for its dramatic drifts of late summer-flowering perennials.

The Garden House will be there – ready to discuss our forthcoming (and very exciting) Christmas and 2012 courses, workshops, garden visits and talks (evening talk with Fergus Garrett at GH on 23 March 2012!).  We’ll also be selling GH-made preserves and a variety of seeds and plants.

Plant exhibitors include:

  • DESIRABLE PLANTS – Specialising in herbaceous perennials, Epimedium and other woodlanders, Galanthus, Watsonia, Gladiolus, Tritonia and other South African Iridaceae, outh African Erica, Sanguisorba, Geranium, Hedychium and Roscoea.
  • SCARECROW PLANTS – Out of the ordinary plants, English Native wildflowers and plants to attract wildlife. Also hand-made local ironwork and trellis. 07939 272443
  • RAPKYNS NURSERY – All grown in their traditional nursery – a unique and exciting range of quality and unusual cottage garden plants. 01825 830065

Art exhibitors include:

  • ANNEMARIE O’SULLIVAN – whose passion lies in all things woven, knotted and netted, will be showing baskets and larger woven forms.
  • FRANCES DOHERTY  – extraordinary ceramics based on the forms of fruiting bodies, flowers and particularly seedpods. Richly glazed to complement the form and often combined with metal and reclaimed sea defence timber.
  • CHRIS BURCHELL COLLINS – A Blacksmith and Green Woodworker whose work is influenced by the wonderful forms and shapes found in nature.
  • JANINE CREAYE – will be bringing many new small sculptures for gardens and interiors. Stylised and patterned wood carving, stone carving and drawings of natural forms.
  • HOLLY BELL – wheel-thrown functional ceramics including jugs, tea-sets and planters.

And many, many more – a great chance to source some amazing plants and artifacts for you, your house and your garden! For more information visit

Diary of a Garden House visit to Berlin

Posted by editor on Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Last week, eight enthusiastic gardeners, led by the wonderfully energetic and patient Bridgette and Deborah, set off for Berlin – our mission, to take in Berlin’s key sights and experiences, and visit some excellent and varied gardens.


Our visit started with an orientation tour of central Berlin, taking in the Brandenberg Gate and Hotel Adlon (site of Michael Jackson’s notorious baby dangling), Unter den Linden, the Tiergarten, some remaining stretches of the Berlin Wall near Checkpoint Charlie with a sobering exhibition about Nazi Germany, and further on a stretch of the wall sporting bold upbeat political murals. We saw the Reichstag, now one of the most modern of government buildings, following a five-year transformation by Sir Norman Foster (1994-1999). We then retired to our delightful Heckers Hotel for a little r & r (and to the bar next door which served possibly the strongest gin and tonic on record!).

Our first meal in Berlin, at a traditional German restaurant, was made all the more memorable by the proprietor Ramona, who not only recommended the best dishes (no short cuts, the roast potatoes must be eaten!) but treated us to a rendition of God Save the Queen as she danced through the restaurant, lights dimmed, brandishing a sparkler. She had once appeared on Birds of a Feather and could recite her lines word for word. It was a hugely entertaining end to our first day!


By bus to the Botanic Gardens to meet botanist Beae Senska, our informative and enthusiastic guide. The Botanisher Garten has the largest plant geography section in the world and with almost dizzying speed we worked our way through Europe, Asia and the Americas. Particularly impressive were twelve unique rock gardens representing different mountain regions, steppe, dune and heathland. There were so many highlights, but one my favourites was the medicinal plants section, beds arranged in the shape of a human body, and the fragrance and touch garden including Mediterranean herbs and pelargonia and the heady scent of the Heliotropium peruvianum.

We visited The Jewish Museum that afternoon. It is housed in a spectacular building designed by Daniel Libeskind, the concept of which is to show both tragedy and continuity in the Jewish experience and by means of changes in perspective and floors and walls which slope, to show a world out of balance. It was a very moving visit and our remarkable guide Karin Grimme brought alive the experience of Jewish women through history, with quiet passion and dignity.


Potsdam today – to explore the very baroque Schloss Sanssouci, with its breath-taking south facing terraced walls covered with fig trees and vines, and the open vistas, formal gardens, fountains and marble statues of the Sanssouci landscaped park.

Two of us went to the Orangery, first noting the beautiful herbaceous planting and ornamental vegetable borders, then visiting the royal living quarters with original 18th century parquet floors across which we had to slip and slide in our enormous grey felt slippers (good wheeze to get the tourists doing the polishing for them we thought). Then on into a whole gallery of copies of Rafael’s master works, before climbing the spiral staircase to the top of the observation tower to be rewarded by a beautiful view of the formal symmetry below.

The afternoon was a special treat – a visit to the nearby private garden of nurseryman and plantsman Karl Foerster (1874-1970), little known outside Germany but very influential in his own country. We were shown around the garden by Professor Norbert Kuern – who was in part responsible for the restoration of this inspiring yet very accessible garden, with its sunken garden, spring walk, wild and rock gardens. He talked of Foerster’s interest in the naturalistic planting of William Robinson and in the work of both Jekyll and Lutyens, and of Foerster’s passion for cultivation – Foerster bred many perennials including grasses (the very well-known Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, and I rather liked Carex caryophyllea ‘The Beatles’).  We also admired his hemerocallis hybrids – ‘So Lovely’ really did speak for itself.

After sampling the local bus, tram, overground trains and U Bahn we arrived back at our hotel. Our evening meal was at a particularly impressive vegetarian restaurant, not dissimilar to Brighton’s own Terre a Terre – so little coincidence to find a Brighton woman working there who had previously worked at Terre a Terre!


The Bauhaus Archiv today.  The building, itself an example of Bauhaus aesthetics, contains an enormous collection of work from the Bauhaus School (1919-1933), including architecture, design, art and photography – work by famous Bauhaus artists including Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Lyonel Feininger and Oskar Schlemmer.  It was a fascinating reminder of just how influential this movement, started in Germany by Walter Gropius, has been on modern art forms.

This was my first visit to Berlin. I saw and learnt so much, and yet I felt I’d barely touched the surface. Always good to leave wanting more, I’ll be going back for sure! Many thanks to Deborah and Bridge (seen here outside the Bauhaus Archiv) and everyone in the group for making it so special…

Written by Ruth Harris

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.

We love: Fritillaria

Posted by editor on Monday, 11 April 2011

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

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

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

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

Prop up your plants!

Posted by editor on Monday, 28 March 2011

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

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

Some of our favorite materials and effects:

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

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

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

Autumn favourite: Aconitum

Posted by editor on Monday, 20 September 2010

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

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

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

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

Late summer hot favourites…

Posted by editor on Saturday, 14 August 2010

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

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

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

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

An evening at Marchants…

Posted by editor on Friday, 2 July 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key messages from the evening:

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

Marchants Hardy Plants,
 Mill Lane,
East Sussex 

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

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)

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!

Sussex Prairie gardens, Henfield

Posted by editor on Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Today we visited the 6-acre Sussex Prairie garden near Henfield – – absolutely inspirational if you love late-flowering perennials. Here the large borders have been planted in a free-flowing naturalistic style by owners Paul and Pauline McBride. The garden is sited on a farm and despite this being a relatively new garden, it’s maturity and connection with the the wider landscape is just sublime. A real advantage to using perennials: they mature and fill the space quickly, creating impact in a relatively short time.

Sussex Prairies

The garden features many unusual varieties of herbaceous perennials – Veronicastrums, Thalictrums, Persicarias, Sanguisorbas, Kniphofias and Hemerocallis. Plus huge drifts of ornamental grasses and Asters, and many varieties of Miscanthus, Panicums, Molinias, Sporobolis and Penisetum.

For further inspiration on late-flowering perennials, read Noel KingsNatural Garden Style; Noel Kingsburybury’s Natural Garden Style. A very informative book – and I just love the cover design, an illustration by printmaker Angie Lewin