Posts Tagged ‘Winter time’

Wrapping and Rolling!

Posted by editor on Thursday, 29 November 2018

Now is the time to tackle those critical early winter tasks before the really cold weather comes in.  Firstly get more shrubs for free without the need for a glasshouse or heated propagators by taking your own hardwood cuttings (it’s so easy) and protect your most sensitive plants or risk losing them to the coming frosts

Take hardwood cuttings from deciduous shrubs such as Salix, Cornus, Buddleias and Philadelphus, and from fruit bushes such as gooseberries and black currants as well as rambling and climbing roses.

After leaf fall take pencil thick cuttings, about 25cm long of new growth – you can insert them directly into the soil or – our favourite method – use an empty compost sack or thick black polythene to make a roll as in the picture.  Add some perlite for drainage and make holes in the bottom of the roll to stop water from collecting there and causing them to rot.

Stand your cuttings in the corner of the garden and wait for them to root, check them every couple of weeks to make sure they are not drying out- Cornus and Buddleia will root quickly but other shrubs make take a few months.

If you can’t lift your tender plants and take them into a greenhouse there are many ways to protect them in situ.   Wrap with horticultural fleece, cover with cloches or bigger leaves, or making simple structures.  We took these photos, below, at Nymans Gardens at Handcross where the gardeners regularly employ all these methods to put their tender plants to bed before the winter rain, frost and snow.






We love Hippeastrum (Amaryllis)…

Posted by editor on Friday, 2 March 2018

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

Quick Tips:

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

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

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

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

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

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

March gem: Iris unguicularis

Posted by editor on Sunday, 5 March 2017

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

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

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

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

Growing conditions:

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

Be Inspired by Autumn Green

Posted by editor on Saturday, 7 November 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of the many uses of evergreens…

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

Evergreens for a particular purpose:

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

Not quite fifty shades of green, but near enough!


Spring Greens at Denmans Garden

Posted by editor on Sunday, 23 March 2014

A slightly unscheduled visit to Denmans Garden on a grey mid-February day still gave us plenty to look at. Denmans, in West Sussex, is a 4-acre garden owned by garden designer and writer John Brookes and Michael Neve. The sheltered Walled Garden is the first area, where curving gravel paths flow seamlessly between curving gravel beds. In summer this sunny spot is full of old roses, perennials, and self-seeded but – I suspect – carefully weeded colour, but in winter it was much barer, leaving the beautiful shapes of the small trees and the topiary much more evident. Prunus lusitanica was interestingly clipped into a large formal shape. There were snowdrops, aconites, hellebores, and primulas in flower and furry buds on magnolias. The Walled Garden is not very big, but is further divided into areas of planting, seating and focal points, any of which could be inspiration for a small urban garden.

Next is a much larger, more open, grassy area and more gravel forming a ‘dry stream bed’ – though no water runs there – sweeping down to a well-shaped natural pool. The stream bed allows for more random planting, and the gravel ‘allows seedlings to overwinter and not rot. The following year they are thinned or edited, to allow groupings to mature.’ Already interesting shoots were beginning to poke through, and clumps of bulbs in the grass, which is kept at various different levels.

Winter-flowering shrubs looked good: witch hazels (hamamelis), winter honeysuckle (lonicera fragrantissima) and wintersweet (chimonanthus praecox) and viburnum tinus. So were the bare coloured stems of cornus in an open site. At the south end of the garden a stand of viburnum rhytidophyllum shrubs were looking rather brown and sad, but a wind-break of fir trees had been partly cut down or maybe damaged, and round the corner in a sheltered, deeply shady area another specimen was looking very handsome and healthy. The heavily-textured leaves really showed up without lots of later-season growth or flower colour to distract, as did the neat winter frameworks of small deciduous shrubs placed in front of larger dark evergreens. Even the yellow-variegated eleagnus looked very healthy, vivid and handsome in the dull grey light, instead of a bit garish! Bark texture and colour were displayed like wonderful textiles on acer griseum and an unusual birch tree with pinkish-gold peeling bark below and glowing white above.

Viburnum x rhytidophyllum

Elaeagnus pungens ‘Variegata’

In one very shady woodland area the elegant single snowdrop (galanthus nivalis) grew profusely under trees, with arum italicum pictum threading through, along with well-tended clumps of dark purple and slate hellebores and small very fragrant daphnes.

In the last garden area between Denmans Cottage and The Clock House, where John Brookes has his studio, there are larger trees and shrubs, including more magnolias, all beautifully shaped and given room to spread their arms. The whole garden clearly has very carefully chosen specimens, which is why the interest works year round.

Denmans is open daily all year, and has an interesting plant centre and a cafe. It is just off the A27, half a mile west of the Fontwell roundabout.

Check website for details

Written by: Julia Widdows

Main image: arum italicum pictum /

Plant of the Month: Lewisia Cotyledon

Posted by editor on Sunday, 9 February 2014

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

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

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

Propagate by removing offsets in summer.

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

RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Winter Pruning of Apple and Pear Trees

Posted by editor on Sunday, 2 February 2014

Winter pruning of apple and pear trees should be carried out when the tree is dormant, between leaf fall and bud burst (usually between November and early March).

Back in January we held a workshop led by Irene Fletcher of the Ventnor Botanic Garden aimed at de-mystifying the art of fruit tree pruning. Many people believe tree pruning to be a difficult, daunting task, but this need not be the case!

Irene’s lecture and practical demonstrations included information on appropriate tools and a question and answer session.  She started by highlighting the importance of using the right tools for the job – a good quality pair of sharp secateurs, pruning saw and/or loppers.

The most obvious reason for pruning is to ensure a good crop of fruit the following season.  By reshaping to create an open goblet shape with a framework of about five main branches, the tree size is contained, and diseased and damaged branches removed, ensuring a healthy and productive tree that will live for many years. Fruit trees that are not properly cared for often become unproductive and diseased, frequently causing them to die prematurely, they become less productive and congested with old branches.

  • Start by removing crossing or obviously damaged, dead or diseased branches
  • Aim to keep the centre of the tree open (like an empty goblet), if it is necessary remove large branches do this over several winters.
  • Cut back any overlong branches to a vigorous lower branch
  • Check whether your tree is a spur- or tip-bearer – so whether the tree fruits on spurs or towards the tips of shoots made the previous summer


Spur-bearing varieties:

  • Shorten the previous year’s growth on each main branch by about one third to a bud facing in the required direction to encourage the development of new branches and spurs
  • Cut back any young laterals (sideshoots) growing from the main framework to five or six buds if there is not enough space to allow them to grow as secondary branches
  • Remove any badly-placed shoots
  • On older trees, remove any spur systems that have become overcrowded

 Tip-bearing varieties:

  • Prune the previous year’s growth on each main branch and the most vigorous laterals (sideshoots) to the first strong bud. Leave unpruned laterals less than 30cm (1ft) long
  • Cut back a proportion of older fruited wood to a young shoot or leaf bud to reduce congestion

See in the New Year at the inspiring Anglesey Abbey Gardens

Posted by editor on Tuesday, 31 December 2013

As winter slowly turns to spring no plant lover should miss the chance to visit the glorious winter display at Anglesey Abbey.  Situated not far from Cambridge this National Trust property and gardens boasts one of the most beautiful and varied winter gardens you could wish to see.

Join us on Wednesday 19 February for an early spring visit.  The cost will be £38 each (NT members £32), and we will leave The Garden House in Brighton by coach at 9am, and return at approx. 6pm. Refreshments on the coach will be provided, and you can take your own lunch, or visit the excellent restaurant in the gardens.

The Abbey’s winter garden path wends its way for almost a quarter of a mile though the most spectacular skeletal plant forms, with splashes of colour created by groups of dogwood, willow and whitewashed bramble. Scent is provided by winter flowering shrubs including Viburnum, Mahonia, Sarcococca and Chimonanthus.

For stunning shrubs and trees, nothing can beat their display of dogwood (Cornus) – reds, greens and yellows – and the glade of Himalayan Birch (Betula utilis ‘jacquemontii’) which, with their ghostly white bark and statuesque structure, makes all who come across them pause and reflect.

Many different types of bulb and ground cover plants give added colour and interest, but Anglesey Abbey is particularly renowned for its amazing snowdrop displays.  The garden boasts over 200 varieties of Galanthus, some labelled and therefore identifiable along the main path, and many others in gentle drifts that meander through the woodlands and other areas – enough to satisfy any keen Galanthophile!

There is even a delightful shop to buy your snowdrops-in-the-green and many other gardening goodies!  So do join us for this wonderful day visit – and please get in touch soon as places always go quickly!


Plant of the Month: Sarcococca confusa

Posted by editor on Saturday, 7 December 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: ‪

Plant of the month: Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’

Posted by editor on Thursday, 31 October 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bread Making at Real Pâtisserie

Posted by editor on Tuesday, 12 March 2013

While not exactly gourmet gardening, making your own bread touches on many of the things we love about our outdoor spaces – smell, touch, hard work, wonderful results and something you can share with friends and family!

A couple of Saturdays ago a group of Garden House friends visited the bakery at Brighton’s Real Pâtisserie for another of our highly successful bread-making workshops.

We donned blue hairnets and aprons and under the patient and very informed guidance of head baker Tom enjoyed a unique baking experience, learning about the ingredients and the traditional skills that go into creating wonderful fresh breads for our own family kitchens.

Real Pâtisserie is an independent bakery specialising in traditional French bread and cakes, and renowned for their extensive range of artisan breads – making sourdoughs in the time-honoured way, hand moulding every loaf and creating a range of speciality breads picked from the traditionally popular loaves of France, Spain and Italy.

We made four different bread types – focaccia, traditional French cob, multi-cereal loaf and sour dough – with the opportunity to take some ‘starter’ sour dough home with us.

Hard work, but really satisfying – and on a cold February day, actually rather more fun than gardening!


We love: hardy Cyclamen

Posted by editor on Saturday, 19 January 2013

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

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

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

Facts about Cyclamen:

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

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

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

Plant of the Month: Helleborus niger AGM

Posted by editor on Wednesday, 9 January 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join our Winter Solstice Celebration – Friday 21 December

Posted by editor on Thursday, 20 December 2012

If you are looking for some special last-minute Christmas presents then come along to our Winter Solstice celebration on Friday 21 December, from 4pm – 8pm.

We’ll have original and gorgeous gifts for sale including a range of natural skin products, hand crafted gifts, Christmas breads, preserves, foliage wreaths, plants and fresh flowers.  Winter shrubs and plants will be on sale, also silver birch branches if you are looking for an alternative to a Christmas tree! And for a special gift, why not buy a gardening enthusiast some pre-loved vintage tools?

Garden House vouchers for our exciting 2013 craft and garden-related courses and workshops will also be available!

Pop in on the way home from work – there will be food and mulled cider as well as a bit of carol singing to get you in the Christmas spirit!

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


Christmas Wreath heaven…

Posted by editor on Sunday, 16 December 2012

Our Christmas wreaths are fat and round,

Made of the woodsy things we found.

We tied brown cones upon the green,

And stuck red berries in between.

Upon the wreath on our front door,

We tied red ribbon from the store.  (Anon)





Christmas Shopping in Lewes…

Posted by editor on Monday, 10 December 2012

One of our favourite shopping destinations is characterful Lewes with its many delightful independent shops.  Lewes is certainly worth exploring at any time of year, but with just a couple of weeks of Christmas shopping time left we find ourselves gravitating towards Cliffe High Street, and Malling and South Streets, just over the river in east Lewes, where there is a concentration of interesting stores.

Leadbetter & Good is a small modern emporium chock full of wonderful gifts, cards and papers – contemporary ideas for the cook, gardener, seamstress, or reader – hard to imagine any friend or family member for whom you could not buy the ideal gift here!

We love that local and independent stores, often managed by the buyer/owner are so totally committed to great customer service, and offer carefully considered, inspirational and quality ranges – often bought from smaller companies and makers – to explore and discover.

Fur, Feathers ‘n’ Fins is a totally unique pet store come antique shop experience selling as it does  ‘Pets, Dog Grooming, Antiques, Curiosities, Bygone Furniture and all manner of Needful Things’.  In a similar vein, though quite different, are the deeply practical items to be found in Bunce’s Home Hardware store.

Perhaps you’re looking for something pre-loved and a little more unexpected, in which case check out the Lewes Antique Centre, one of many delightful antique markets and shops in Lewes where you can discover all manner of affordable treasures, or check out the Lewes Book Centre for a fine secondhand book.  If you’re looking for a pre-loved party or weekend outfit we suggest you have a rummage in the excellent Roundabout, it is chock full of the best high street and designer labels – secondhand of course, but just great for a bargain!

If you’re looking for a great selection of crockery, pots or pans, take a look in Louispotts Lewes, or if searching for children’s books, there’s the delightful Bag of Books.

Eateries include Bill’s, The Real Eating Company, and for tea and home made cakes we’d happily recommend Le Magasin or The Buttercup Café (tucked away on Malling Street behind Pastorale Antiques).

Meanwhile The Snowdrop Inn and The Gardener’s Arms will provide something just a bit more restorative following a busy afternoon’s spending!

Cool Yule: Taking Orders Now

Posted by editor on Sunday, 2 December 2012

Our favourite festive bakers Cool Yule (the wonderful Steve Bustin and John Williams) are again baking like crazy to fulfill orders for their totally delicious Cool Yule Christmas Cakes, Bread, Jams and Chutneys.  Homemade and richly delicious, all the items come beautifully packaged and make wonderful presents.

Cool Yule will have a stand at our Winter Solstice Fair on Friday 21 December.  Plan ahead – as always we expect their delicious fare to disappear very quickly so we strongly advise pre-ordering to avoid disappointment!  See list below.

To order your Cool Yule Christmas Cakes, Bread, Jams and Chutneys please complete this FORM OR email your order to






































Tool Sharpening masterclass!

Posted by editor on Monday, 19 November 2012

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

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

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

Safety comes first of course – Ian advises:

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

Some signs that sharpening is required are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Don’t forget to feed the birds!

Posted by editor on Monday, 6 February 2012

In the autumn and winter, it is a hard job for birds in the garden to find enough food.  There’s less food available, and less time to find it because of the shorter daylight hours.  Yet because farmers harvest their crops more efficiently (leaving less pickings in the field) and more quickly (leaving less ripe crops out for the birds) birds need more.

If you want birds in your garden all year round make sure you have some late fruit such as crab apples, cotoneaster or pyracantha.  Or, cook up these nutritious bird cakes:

  • 8oz of solid white vegetable fat
  • 1 cup of oatmeal
  • 1 cup of chopped nuts
  • 1 cup of flaked maize
  • I cup of kibbled wheat
  • 1 cup of mixed bird seed
  • I cup of vine fruits, chopped, or 6 cups of ready-made wild bird seed mix

Gently melt the fat in a large pan.  Place the dry ingredients into a large bowl and pour the fat over them.  Stir the mixture until the fat is well mixed in.  You will need sufficient fat to hold the dry ingredients together as the fat begins to cool.  With damp hands,pat the mixture into small cakes and leave to set in a cool place.

This extract taken from the Gardener’s Pocket Companion, edited by Vicky Bamforth

Plant of the Month: Garrya eliptica

Posted by editor on Friday, 13 January 2012

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

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

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

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

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


New Year Gardening Quiz: PART 3

Posted by editor on Sunday, 8 January 2012

Take part in our three-part Gardening Quiz and join us for FREE on our visit to the wonderful winter garden at Cambridge University Botanic Gardens on Saturday 11February OR on our day trip to Woolbeding Gardens at Midhurst, West Sussex on Friday 20 Aprilfirst entry received wins!

Introduce a new friend to The Garden House and they will receive a 10% discount on their first booking!


1.Araucaria araucana is better known as what?

  • Tree of Heaven
  • Dragon tree
  • Monkey puzzle tree

2. ‘Iceberg’ is NOT a type of what?

  • White arum
  • Lettuce
  • Rose

3. Camellias belong to which plant family?

  • Heather
  • Iris
  • Apple

4. What is a cloche?

  • A cover to protect plants
  • A type of fruit
  • A way of digging

5. Jasper Carrott could be linked to which of these vegetable varieties?

  • ‘Chantenay Red Cored’
  • “Webbs Wonder’
  • ‘Gardener’s Delight’

6. What is the Latin name of the yellow winter jasmine?

  • Jasminum nakediflorum
  • Jasminum nudiflorum
  • Jasminum bareiflorum

7. The traditional Christmas tree – Picea abies – is what type of conifer?

  • Fir
  • Pine
  • Spruce

8. Why would you cover carrots with horticultural fleece?

  • To keep them warm in winter
  • To stop the being attacked by carrot root fly
  • To hide them from view


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

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

New Year Gardening Quiz: PART 1

Posted by editor on Monday, 2 January 2012

Take part in our three-part Gardening Quiz and join us for FREE on our visit to the wonderful winter garden at Cambridge University Botanic Gardens on Saturday 11 February OR on our day trip to Woolbeding Gardens at Midhurst, West Sussex on Friday 20 April –  first entry received wins!

Introduce a new friend to The Garden House and they will receive a 10% discount on their first booking!


1. The cranberry, so popular at Christmas, is botanically known as what?

  • Needlium
  • Injectium
  • Vaccinium

2. What would a gardener do with a dibble or dibber?

  • Scrape mud off spades and trowels
  • Make holes in compost to transplant seedlings
  • Grade soil particles according to size

3. What is meant by resistant vegetable variety?

  • A variety that is resistant to attack from pests or diseases
  • A variety that is not resistant to attack from pests and diseases
  • A variety that doesn’t like being moved

4. The Royal Horticultural Society runs a large garden at Rosemoor.  Which county is it in?

  • Kent
  • Devon
  • Warwickshire

5. What general term is given to trees and shrubs whose leaves fall in autumn?

  • Deciduous
  • Evergreen
  • Ambidextrous

6. What is the popular term for the flowering house plant Impatiens walleriana?

  • Marguerite
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Busy Lizzie

7. What is the name given to the technique of clipping trees and hedges into ornamental shapes?

  • Topiary
  • Bonsai
  • Renewal pruning

8. Why do gardeners practice crop rotation?

  • To grow bigger vegetables
  • To make the garden appear organized and efficient
  • To help prevent a build up of pests and diseases in the soil

9. Which part of a tree can be used to make cork?

  • The bark
  • Root tissue
  • Pulped seeds

10. The love apple is the original name for what?

  • Potato
  • Tomato
  • Quince


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

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

Last thoughts on the past week’s Christmas festivities…

Posted by editor on Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Before we welcome in the New Year (and we’re so looking forward to it, we’ve so much going on!) – a final view on Christmas from all of us here – the words of  Pam Ayres, as ever, amusing, dry and so so right…

Goodwill To Men – Give Us Your Money by Pam Ayres

It was Christmas Eve on a Friday

The shops was full of cheer,

With tinsel in the windows,

And presents twice as dear.

A thousand Father Christmases,

Sat in their little huts,

And folk was buying crackers

And folk was buying nuts.

All up and down the country,

Before the light was snuffed,

Turkeys they get murdered,

And cockerels they got stuffed,

Christmas cakes got marzipanned,

And puddin’s they got steamed

Mothers they got desperate

And tired kiddies screamed.

Hundredweight’s of Christmas cards,

Went flying through the post,

With first class postage stamps on those,

You had to flatter most.

Within a million kitchens,

Mince pies was being made,

On everyone’s radio,

“White Christmas”, it was played.

Out in the frozen countryside

Men crept round on their own,

Hacking off the holly,

What other folks had grown,

Mistletoe on willow trees,

Was by a man wrenched clear,

So he could kiss his neighbour’s wife,

He’d fancied all the year.

And out upon the hillside,

Where the Christmas trees had stood,

All was completely barren,

But for little stumps of wood,

The little trees that flourished

All the year were there no more,

But in a million houses,

Dropped their needles on the floor.

And out of every cranny, cupboard,

Hiding place and nook,

Little bikes and kiddies’ trikes,

Were secretively took,

Yards of wrapping paper,

Was rustled round about,

And bikes were wheeled to bedrooms,

With the pedals sticking out.

Rolled up in Christmas paper

The Action Men were tensed,

All ready for the morning,

When their fighting life commenced,

With tommy guns and daggers,

All clustered round about,

“Peace on Earth – Goodwill to Men”

The figures seemed to shout.

The church was standing empty,

The pub was standing packed,

There came a yell, “Noel, Noel!”

And glasses they got cracked.

From up above the fireplace,

Christmas cards began to fall,

And trodden on the floor, said:

“Merry Christmas, to you all.”

Mistletoe Market at The Garden House

Posted by editor on Sunday, 13 November 2011

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

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

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


Entertain in our Garden Room!

Posted by editor on Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Looking for somewhere very special to celebrate Christmas or the New Year with colleagues, family and friends?

Our Garden Room is a unique space in a beautiful garden setting, ideal for relaxed and informal social gatherings.

We cater for lunches and suppers for groups.  Delicious food freshly cooked using, where possible, produce from the garden or locally sourced ingredients.  The Garden Room and tables beautifully decorated with foliage and berries from the garden.

Contact us to view our Festive Menus – £28 per person to include a welcome drink.  Bring your own wine to accompany the meal.

We’re taking bookings now.  Do get in touch and find out more!

Falling Snow: a favourite poem

Posted by editor on Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Falling Snow – by Alan Williams

See how they fall

An infinity of heavenly aspirations

Come to convert the world

With a deep and even purity.

Sent to nullify and cleanse

To enhance and beautify

To muffle and calm

With the tranquillity

Of a gossamer eiderdown.

To cloak in a mystery

Of endless variations

Of the same tonal theme;

Converting everything

To a glistening coalescence.

Tidying up the farmyard

Smoothing out the fields

Transmogrifying neglected gardens

Into dazzling showpieces,

Cluttered garden sheds

Into sparkling summer-houses,

Making abandoned bean sticks

As elegant as sculptured crystal,

And fondant death-traps

Of old familiar ponds

Enhancing the weary timothy

In the sad neglected churchyard.

Cheering up the stories

On the long forgotten grave stones.

Turning distant spires

Into alabaster space rockets

And drooping telephone lines

Into crystal mooring ropes

For ocean going bungalows.

The purification is complete, unblemished,

Save for the prints of wandering spirits

Fading in the gentle cascade.

Plant of the month: Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’

Posted by editor on Friday, 10 December 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to deal with a snowy garden!

Posted by editor on Thursday, 2 December 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Post heavy snow:

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

Try to save damaged plants:

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

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

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

Great Dixter; winter inspiration

Posted by editor on Tuesday, 30 November 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plant of the month: Malus

Posted by editor on Friday, 19 November 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To propagate, bud in late summer or graft in midwinter

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

Garden details…

Posted by editor on Saturday, 13 March 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ornamental grasses with Monica Lucas…

Posted by editor on Wednesday, 10 March 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grasses for chalk:

  • Koeleria glauca
  • Melica ciliata

Grasses for clay:

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

Shade tolerant grasses:

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

Key learnings from the workshop:

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

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

Visiting RHS Wisley with my father…

Posted by editor on Saturday, 27 February 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early spring at RHS Wisley…

Posted by editor on Saturday, 20 February 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Snowdrop sale at Marchants Hardy Plants…

Posted by editor on Friday, 19 February 2010

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

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

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

Plantsman and nursery owner Graham Gough writes:

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

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

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

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

Shrove Tuesday – get flipping…!

Posted by editor on Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Just think – fresh eggs from your own hens, a great pancake mix, and a delicious filling – Shrove Tuesday heaven!

Well whilst we can’t supply you with the first (although of course, we’ll be enjoying the delicious eggs from our Garden House hens ourselves) – we can encourage you to join our Hen Keeping Workshop on Saturday 13 March – and we can suggest the recipe below!

  • 125g (4oz) plain white flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • about 300ml (1/2 pint) milk
  • 15ml (1tbls) oil
  • oil for frying

1. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and make a well in the centre.  Break the egg into the well and add a little of the milk.  Mix the liquid ingredients together, then gradually beat in the flour until smooth.

2. Beat in the oil and the remaining milk to obtain the consistency of thin cream (or use a blender). Ideally, if you have time, cover the batter and leave to stand in the refrigerator for about 20mins.

3. Heat a pancake pan (or shallow frying pan), when hot brush with the minimum of oil.  Add a little extra milk to the batter if it is thick.  Pour a small amount of batter into the pan and swirl around until it is evenly and thinly spread over the bottom of the pan.

4. Cook over a moderate to high heat for about 1min or until the edges are curling away from the pan and the underside os golden.  Flip the pancake over using a palette knife and cook the second side.

5. Turn the pancake out, fill, roll, and eat!

6. Lightly oil the pan between pancakes and do the same as above until all the mixture is gone.

Handy tip: You can freeze pancakes; once cooked turn out, allow to cool and place non-stick baking parchment in between each one.  bag, seal and freeze, then reove however many pancakes you would like to consume at your leisure!  they take seconds to defrost and can be reheated with ease in a microwave or pan.

Toppings: (the best bit…!)

  • Drizzle with freshly squeezed lemon juice and sprinkle with sugar  – or try lime juice for something different, perfect!
  • Place 2 scoops of vanilla ice cream on one side of the pancake, fold over and drizzle with fruit coulis, delicious!
  • Drizzle with maple syrup and roll up, irresistible!
  • Sliced banana and chocolate sauce, naughty!
  • Fill with berries (fresh, or defrost from frozen) – just add ice cream or cream to ensure you’re not being too healthy!


Shrubs for free – hardwood cuttings!

Posted by editor on Saturday, 13 February 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’

Posted by editor on Saturday, 23 January 2010

Looking for a winter-flowering tree for your garden?

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

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

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

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

Be inspired by RHS Wisley…

Posted by editor on Friday, 22 January 2010

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

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

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

Plant of the moment – Sarcococca

Posted by editor on Thursday, 21 January 2010

Sarcococca – common name, Christmas box or sweet box

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

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

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

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

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

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

Definitely a desert island plant for me!

Snowy gardenscape…

Posted by editor on Sunday, 10 January 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Festive wreath-making!

Posted by editor on Sunday, 6 December 2009

The aroma of mulled cider, the scent of eucalyptus and pine – what else could it be but wreath-making at The Garden House! Bridgette and Deborah’s festive wreath-making workshops mark the start of Christmas for me – once my home-made wreath is on the front door, I’m ready to tackle the tree, cards and presents!

047Piles of winter foliage, richly colourful berries and dried seed-heads, all culled from Bridgette and Deborah’s gardens – and local car-parks! – are ready and waiting. Everything we’ll need is laid out in the garden workshop, the wood-burning stove is on, we’ve had our coffee and stollen (mulled cider comes later!) and we’re ready to go. Deborah shows us how to prepare the base – moss tied to the circle of strong wire – and how to bind with any of the great selection of ivies, then how to prepare and pin on the smaller bunches of berries, foliage and seed-heads. Then it’s simply a matter of choosing what you want to use from the winter bounty, all piled up outside under the wooden shelter.

073The end results are fantastic – every wreath is different, and so creative – and everyone is happy, smiling, and delighted with their individual achievements. It’s a great way to catch up with friends, and to mark the start of the festive season…