Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day. September

Most of my foliage is looking very sorry for itself after such a hot, dry summer. Some of the leaves on the acers look quite crispy and my weeping Cericiphyllum japonicum ‘Pendula’ has shut up shop completely. I noticed a brief whiff of the distinctive toffee apple smell of its fallen leaves and then they were gone.

Cerdicphyllum japonicum 'Pendula'

Cerdicphyllum japonicum ‘Pendula’

I hope it will be all right next year, I love this little tree, but it doesn’t take kindly to drought.

Next month is the exciting one for bonfires of brilliant foliage colour. So far the only things that have coloured up in nicely are Hamamelis x intermedia  ‘ Arnold Promise’ .

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Ppromise'

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’

And the  Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinqefolia  which is sprawling all over the old garage roof along with the neighbour’s Mile a Minute Vine. Both of these horrors should come with a health warning, they have designs on the whole garden.  They have leapt off the roof and and are trying to engulf a nearby apple tree and anybody who stands still long enough. Mile a Minute Vine, Ballopia baldschuanica is a relative of Japanese Knotweed and shouldn’t be allowed in a garden, I don’t know why nurseries sell them. But these horrors  do look pretty at this time of the year entwined with the ivy and completely hiding the garage and old stables along here.


The bargain basement Phormium  ‘Rainbow Queen’ which I planted in the winter garden is already quite big. I hope it doesn’t get too big. I once tried to dig up a huge, mature phormium. It was like trying to dig up concrete with a nail file.
The tree with the lovely cinnamon bark on the left is Prunus serrula. I am pleased at how quickly this tree is maturing.


In the background you can probably see the tree Dahlia imperialis. I have had two of them in the green house for two or three years now. They never bloom because the first frost cuts them down. If they bloomed it would be in November. I thought I would plant one of them in the garden and see what happens. They are far too big for the greenhouse, it is like keeping a giraffe in a rabbit hutch. They grow to about 8-10 metres. They would be good for an exotic garden because of the dramatic foliage. I grew them from seed. I can’t think why now.

Dahlia imperialis

Dahlia imperialis

This part of the garden has too many weedy elder trees which I need to get rid of.  You can probably see a couple in the background. Horrible things, I know they are supposed to guard against witches, but there can’t be that many witches around here. Anyway, I still have protection, because I shall certainly keep the lovely  Sambucus ‘Black Lace’ with its striking black foliage.


I think it looks good with the Hydrangea and Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Atrosanguinea’. I was given this Hydrangea as a pot plant last year. It has lived quite happily in the garden since then. In my soil I can’t think why the blue is still so blue. I took this photo a week or so ago, it is looking a bit more autumnal now.

Now for my pièce de résistance. I have blogged about my son’s jetty garden a couple of times and shown his fabulous tree ferns. He is addicted to them and had 12 at the last count. This June, he and Beatrice came round and brought me a most wonderful present. Not one, but three tree ferns, Dicksonia antartica.  They were just stumps with no roots or fronds. He supervised me planting them and left me with instructions to water them every day. It has been wonderful to watch the fronds appearing and expanding day by day.

A  few weeks ago they looked like this.

But now they are looking  even more wonderful with their fronds all unfurled. Thank you, dear Bertie and Beatrice, what a fabulously generous present. I love ferns and these are the Rolls Royce of all ferns. I am going to have to knit them some blankets for the winter.



Christina of Myhesperidesgarden hosts Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day. Do go and look at her wonderful blog and why not join in and show us the foliage which is enhancing your garden at the moment?

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The Secret Garden Revealed.

In the spring I mentioned that I had a new project in mind. A secret garden.  It has taken all summer to create it and it is still not finished. First of all I had to mark it out and then dig up the daffodils.

Actually, I decided that life was too short and my energy too scarce to dig them all up. The job was backbreaking enough without mining for daffodils..
Having dug it out, with the help of my friends, Paul and Julie, I then had to decide what to plant round it to make it a secret hideaway. I thought about planting exuberant tropical plants to make it an exotic garden with a secluded centre and I also toyed with the dramatic use of grasses. In the end, in the interest of economy, I decided to use some of my ‘maids in waiting‘. These are plants that have been sitting in pots for a long time. Some of them are impulse buys and others were grown from seeds or cuttings that I begged, borrowed or stole. For those of you who are looking very po-faced at the latter, have you never got home and found the odd seed has just fallen into your pocket? I usually ask permission if there is somebody about.

The next problem was how I was going to look after the large circle of plants that would surround my secret garden. There would be an enormous area of soil to weed if I removed the turf. On the other hand, the Pianist would mutiny if I expected him to weave in and out of the plants with the lawn mower. He was already deeply suspicious of the whole project, suspecting that it might create work for him. He didn’t need to worry, I knew there was no chance of him getting involved with the wheelbarrow.

It’s all right, I like to preserve our anonymity on this blog and never show faces. I don’t show our bottoms either.  Just the bottoms of complete strangers. This is a greetings card which caught my eye. But it is not a scene you are ever likely to see in our garden. The only time the Pianist goes into the orchard, is riding on the mower.

I solved the problem by putting a membrane down and covering it with coir. I made slits to plant in. It has worked brilliantly to keep the plants healthy through this desiccating, dry summer.


I wanted a mixture of foliage plants that would look good all year round and plants with fragrant flowers. I probably planted them too close together, I always do; but I want it to look good soon, not in 10 years time. For evergreens I used the following:

A loquat that I grew from seed found in Greece 3 years ago. It has lovely glossy leaves, it may not survive a really cold winter, but it is worth a try.

Eriobotrya japonica

Eriobotrya japonica

I bought this corokia a couple of years ago and it has been living in a pot for far too long, it is breathing a big sigh of relief to find itself planted out. It is planted here to complement the early -flowering yellow Rosa ‘Helen Knight’.

Corokia x virgata 'Sunsplash'

Corokia x virgata ‘Sunsplash’

Another very pot-bound plant is Pittospermum tobira ‘Variegata’. This is a lovely shrub with really sweet smelling flowers. I had it in a pot by the door to enjoy in winter, but I often forgot to water the poor thing. It still has its ivy  and ajuga skirt. It is looking so much better now it can grow freely.

Pittospermum tobira 'Vareigata'

Pittospermum tobira ‘Vareigata’

The dark leaved shrub on the left is not evergreen. It is Clerodendron trichotomum ‘Purple Blaze’. This poor thing was bought a couple of years ago and has been struggling, neglected and forgotten in the tiny space I crammed it into. It is really happy now. It has very sweetly scented flowers followed by turquoise- blue fruit.

Clerodenndron trichotomum 'Purple Blaze'

Clerodenndron trichotomum ‘Purple Blaze’

For lovely glossy, evergreen foliage and sweet, lemon scented flowers, I planted Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’. It is supposed to be a compact form. I hope it is and I hope it doesn’t mind being trimmed if it gets too big. I bought this last year and wondered where on earth to plant it. It should be fine here as this part of the garden is very sheltered. To the right of it is a lovely double-flowered  Philadelphus ‘Snowbelle’ which I grew from a begged cutting. Also near here, is another begged cutting; a young evergreen Escallonia. I am not keen on them, but this is a white one with lovely glossy leaves called Escallonia iveyi.

Magnolia grandiflora 'little Gem'

Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’

I love the marbled effect of the leaves of Pittospermum tenuifolium ‘Irene Paterson’ and have wanted one for ages. So I bought one.

Pittospermum tenuifolium 'irene Paterson'

Pittospermum tenuifolium
‘Irene Paterson’

Next to it, I have planted another bought plant; the rarely seen Sophora davidii. This is a slow-growing deciduous shrub from China. It has dainty leaves and pea-like flowers.

More free plants were the shrubby honeysuckle; Lonicera tatarica, (I begged a cutting of this because I had never seen it before. If it doesn’t perform well, or gets too big, it will have to go.) Eleagnus  angustifolia ‘Quicksliver’ has silvery leaves and very sweetly scented flowers. It can sucker badly and become a nuisance, but mine has an impeccable pedigree, its parent came from Cedric Morris’s garden, via a friend and it doesn’t sucker at all.

I bought a sunset coloured  rose which I have been wanting for ages. It is Rosa ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’. It has a lovely fruity fragrance and is repeat flowering; in fact it is in bloom again now.

Rosa 'Lady Emma Hamilton'

Rosa ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’

I placed it near the wonderful Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’ which I planted last year.

Koelreuteria paniculata 'Coral Sun'

Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Coral Sun’

To complete the colour scheme in this corner is an Acer ‘Orange Beauty’ and a little  Coprosma ‘Pina Colada’.

Coprosma 'Tequila Sunrise'

Coprosma ‘Tequila Sunrise’

Other plants are the yellow-flowered Magnolia ‘Elizabeth and Itea ilicifolia which is evergreen with shiny leaves and very long tassels of green flowers.

To enhance the intimate room-like feel I was looking for, I have a trellis  all the way round with four arched entrances. I love the way Paul who made it for me, has arranged the trellis to look like rays of  the sun.

This entrance has Magnolia ‘Wada’s Memory’ in the way and I will move it in the autumn.

The little golden Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’ planted in the grass will be coppiced each year so that it grows enormous leaves.
Two opposing arches have the rose ‘Phyllis Bide’ growing up them. This is a delightful rambler which doesn’t grow too tall and has an abundance of the prettiest flowers which are yellow flushed with salmon. They smell lovely and they are repeat flowering. It is in bloom again now.

Rosa 'Phyllis Bide'

Rosa ‘Phyllis Bide’

The other two arches have wisterias. One of them pink and the other white.
Of course I have to have fragrant climbers. There are two jasmines, one of them is ‘Inverleith’ which has dark pink buds and the other is a golden leaved one called Jasminum officinale ‘Fiona Sunrise’. Next to Fiona’s Sunrise, I have the most fragrant honeysuckle I could find. This one passed the sniff test. It is Lonicera periclemenum Scentsation. It bloomed in June and here it is having another go now.

Lonicera periclemenum 'Scentsation'

Lonicera periclemenum ‘Scentsation’

The other fragrant climber is a Trachelospermum which has the most delicious smelling star-shaped flowers.
It is wonderful to have space for some of my favourite clematis. These include the unusual Clematis florida ‘Sieboldii’. The flowers always remind me of passion flowers. It bloomed in June and this is what it looked like.

Clematis florida 'Sieboldii'

Clematis florida ‘Sieboldii’

On the same panel I have C. ‘Miss Bateman’ and Clematis ‘Purpurea Plena Elegans’. These lovely, double, dusky pink flowers started in July and it goes on and on flowering.

Clematis 'Purpurea Plena Elegans'

Clematis ‘Purpurea Plena Elegans’

Clematis rehderiana was a favourite of Vita Sackville West and I can see why. It has primrose yellow bell-shape flowers that start blooming in early summer and go on and on. Mine is very new, but I am hoping that next year that it will look like this.

Clematis rehderiana

Clematis rehderiana

Another new one which I have been waiting anxiously for is Clematis koreana ‘Amber’. This is a new one for 2016 introduced by Taylors and I had my name on the waiting list for it. I will show it to you next year when it blooms. It is very special.
I love Clematis viticella and ‘Madame Julia Correvon’ is a great favourite and is another long-flowering one.

Clematis viticella 'Madame Julia Correvon'

Clematis viticella ‘Madame Julia Correvon’

Finally, an impulse buy, I had to have ‘Tie Dye’ when I came across it selling for half price. The flowers are so eye-catching.

Clematis 'Tie Dye'

Clematis ‘Tie Dye’

I have to have a seat in my secret garden of course. The one I designed and had made by a blacksmith has been hiding in a dark corner of the garden and so here it sits now and I think it has really come into its own.
I decided to edge the paving stones with Lavender ‘Hidcote’.

I also thought the little lead putto which belonged to my parents looks good here.



Until June, he used to spurt water into the pond from his conch shell. Unfortunately, he met with an accident. On our Garden Open Day, I thought the flow of water was a bit sluggish so I poked a pointy stick down the hole and it broke off and jammed. Telling me how silly I was, the Pianist decided to drill it out with his electric drill. The drill bit broke off and got stuck inside. Which I thought was even sillier. Anyway, sadly the putto’s fountain days are over, but I think he looks very nice in my secret garden. I decided to give him some plants to preside over.

The sedum om the left was a present from lovely Christina. As you can see the black membrane still shows round the edges. This will have disappeared next time you see the secret garden. As I said, it is not quite finished off yet.
One of the other  plants is the gorgeous grass Pennisetum ‘Red Buttons’.

Pennisetum 'RedButtons'

Pennisetum ‘Red Buttons’

I aim to have fragrance here all year round and so for summer, lilies are essential. I find that the tall growing Orienpet lilies do not get so badly eaten by lily beetle. I have Lilium ‘Leslie Woodriff’

Lilium 'Leslie Woodriff'

Lilium ‘Leslie Woodriff’

And the pretty Lilium ‘Beverley’s Dream’

Lilium 'Beverley's Dream'

Lilium ‘Beverley’s Dream’

Now I have just about finished the planting I have to be patient and wait. I have spent a lot of time and thought in this part of the garden this summer and it gives me a lot of pleasure. I was a bit crushed when a garden visitor said ‘What are you going to do here?’ a while ago. In my mind’ s eye I have done it;  it is already there, fully mature, fragrant and beautiful.  But never mind, watching things grow is part of the fun.



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Wednesday Vignette. Starfish Plant.

Six years ago, my lovely friend  from Martinique brought me a tiny bit of a succulent from her mother’s garden. I have nurtured it ever since in the greenhouse.

dsc_0780 One year it had tiny buds which dropped off. Then a few days ago I noticed this.

Over the last three days the bud has ballooned up and got fatter and puffier and I have been getting more and more excited. Today it has opened. Wow!  Its name is Stapelia gigantea. The word ‘gigantea’ is not an exaggeration.
I read on line that these flowers can be 30 cm in diameter, but I just measured it from tip to tip and it is 40 cm. You can see why it is called Starfish plant.


What you can’t see and what my friend didn’t tell me, is that it is also called Carrion Plant, for a very good reason. It must be one of the worst smelling plant ever. Think Dracunculus vulgaris and then intensify it. Of course you wouldn’t have Dracunculus in the greenhouse and so you wouldn’t get the whole rotting flesh-stench experience. It is pollinated by flies and there are plenty buzzing around. Not only the stench, but the the fleshy petals are designed to fool them.

Ok, it is stinky, but I am so glad to have seen the amazing, furry, brown flowers. Obviously I won’t be bringing it into the house. But I do have to keep holding my nose and going for another look. It just doesn’t look real; more as if someone has knitted it out of hairy yarn.

This plant is native to South East Africa and so has to be kept frost free. In the winter it lives on my landing window sill. Fortunately it doesn’t flower in winter.

Wednesday Vignette is hosted by  Anna at Flutter and Hum blog. This meme celebrates exciting  plant combinations, so strictly speaking my Stapelia doesn’t qualify. But I am sure Anna will be indulgent. Anyway, it does combine drama, exoticism and a cunning way of attracting pollinators. Obviously, a flower that looks and smells like rotting flesh isn’t on everyone’s ‘Must Have List’.  But I like it.

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In a Vase on Monday. Hollyhocks.

Actually, they are not proper Hollyhocks; the correct name is  xAlcalthea suffrutescens ‘Park Allee’. But that isn’t a very zingy title.  One of its parents is a Hollyhock, Alcea rosea and the other is  Marsh Mallow, Althaea officinalis. They were bred to be resistant to the dreaded hollyhock rust. They bloom in August and September when ordinary hollyhocks are long gone. They grow bigger and better every year and are easy from cuttings. I wrote about them last August. If I promised you cuttings last year and forgot, please remind me.

Today is a beautiful warm day and they will sit on the table outside so that we can enjoy them over dinner.


The colour of these flowers is difficult to describe. Beth Chatto calls it creamy apricot -pink, but actually, I think it is more café au lait, although the insides are pink. The stamens are purple and so I picked Lavender, Lavendula angustifolia ‘Hidcote Blue’ and violet- tinged Solanum laxum ‘Creche ar Pape’ to go with them.  A bumble bee hitched a lift on the Solanum and was far too busy to fly off even when I was arranging the flowers.

I also used Pennisetum alopecuroides  ‘Hameln’ to add a bit of silvery fluff.


To go with the coffee- coloured flowers I used my little brown jug which is made by Pearsons of Chesterfield.

Cathy who hosts the meme ‘In a Vase on Monday’ is thinking of the seasonal start of the new school year in her post today.  Because of the Chesterfield jug, my post also reminds me of being a small child and  dreading going back to school. My Grandmother always used to take me to Chesterfield to buy my new school shoes. Thank goodness that I never have to go near a school again, as a child, parent or a teacher. Growing older has its advantages.

Do look at Cathy’s post and see what flowers she and other people have found to put in a vase on Monday.

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In a Vase on Monday. Water Lily.

Cathy who hosts In a Vase on Monday is back from her travels and this week  has featured her Jack and the Bean Stalk Lily which towers over her head. My lily is of  a different sort all together. I have never picked water lilies for a vase before, but for a super quick arrangement for the table I can’t think of anything better. Unless you fall into the pond whilst you are picking it of course. Which I did, but only with one leg. The pot of pelargoniums didn’t appreciate being sat on, but it is all in a good cause. I picked a bloom which isn’t fully open so that I can watch it opening in the vase.

Water Lily. Nymphaea.

Nymphaea.  Water Lily.

When Christina and I were at Beth Chatto’s nursery recently, I bought the pretty Gypsophila ‘Rosenschleier’. I think the delicate pink flowers make a nice lacy frame for the flower. And with the bold water lily leaves, that is all it needs.

I have never realised how beautiful the stamens are close up.
So if you have a pond and want a quick arrangement for the table, a water lily fits the bill perfectly. As long as you don’t fall in.

Please see what Cathy and all the other vase fillers have been up to. A lot of bloggers have become so enthusiastic about this meme, that they have made cutting gardens so that there is always an abundance of blooms to pick. The annuals are all coming into their own right now and people are showing us some wonderful vases.

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The Norfolk Coast Path and the Scandalous Tale of the Vicar of Stiffkey.

The Norfolk Coast Path is one of the loveliest long distance paths in England. It takes you along 46 miles of salt marshes , creeks and  long, sandy beaches.  Inspired by my daughter and her friends doing it in  less than 4 days, we thought we would have a go. The first day went quite well and the views were wonderful.

The salt marshes were a haze of sea lavender, Limonium vulgare.

The beaches were so inviting on a hot day.

Onday two our good intentions didn’t last longer than 2 miles. It was so very hot. So we decided to take a boat trip and see the seals basking on Blakeney Point.
This is the largest seal colony in England and there are both Common and Grey Seals. They are quite unconcerned by the boatfuls of nosy people .

I hope they remembered their sun cream. I felt like taking a leaf out of their book,  but we bestirred ourselves to have a crab lunch and go and have a look at some of the pretty villages with their flint- built houses.  In Stiffkey we saw the Great Hall built by Sir Nicholas Bacon in 1576 for his son. He was the The Keeper of the Great Seal for Queen Elizabeth 1 and he intended to build a hall with 10 towers. In the end only 6 towers were built and some of them are ruined.

IMG_1753 IMG_1752

The village of Stiffkey has a nice pub called the Red Lion and it was here that the Pianist suggested that we have a look at the church, and had I ever heard the story of the Vicar of Stiffkey? Looking at old churches and hearing a good story; this is a winning combination for me.


Apparently, this story was something of a cause célèbre in the 1930s, but now nobody has heard about it.  Apart from the Pianist, of course, who has a brain as big as planet and like Mr Toad of Toad Hall,  knows  ‘everything there is to be knowed.’

The Vicar of Stiffkey, Harold James Davidson was born in 1875. He spent some time as an actor before he became a vicar. The living of Stiffkey was a good one with a beautiful Georgian Rectory, 60 acres of glebe land and a stipend of £503 per annum, which was very good for  the time, 1906.  His particular obsession was saving fallen women and with a village of only 300 souls there was not much scope for this work in Stiffkey, so he took the train to London each week and  spent his time there, only rushing back in time for the Sunday service. He served as a naval chaplain during the first World War. When he came home he was upset to find his wife had fallen a bit herself and was 6 months pregnant after becoming too friendly with the lodger.  But he forgave her and they had several more children. After the war he resumed his weekly visits to London and styled himself the Prostitutes’ Padre.  He worked tirelessly with women who had fallen and pretty girls who seemed to him likely to fall. His finances suffered because he gave them money and took them for dinner or for tea at the Lyons Cafe.  He was barred from some cafes because he was a bit of a nuisance with his importunate pursuit of girls who needed saving. Sometimes, his work took him to Paris. Despite his neglect of the parish, the villagers all liked him and nicknamed him ‘Little Jimmy’ because of his small stature. They were probably entertained when as many as 20 young girls were living at the Vicarage whilst they were being saved. This went on for some years until  the gossip reached the ears of the tabloid newspapers. He was causing annoyance in some quarters because of his neglect of his parochial duties. The final straw was when he was late for an Armistice Day service. Eventually, in 1932 he was prosecuted by a church court for ‘immoral behaviour’ and he was publicly disgraced and defrocked. The case, with all its details was much enjoyed by the tabloids. Of course, he had been neglecting his parish, but some of the evidence given was rigged and although incredibly eccentric and very naive, he probably wasn’t as bad as he was made out to be. His behaviour was probably in the  weasly, modern term, more  ‘inappropriate’  than immoral.

No longer a vicar and with a family to support, Davidson went back to acting for a while. But then he had the idea that he would raise money by declaiming his innocence in public.  He decided the best place for this was on the Golden Mile in Blackpool alongside the bearded lady from Russia, the three-legged boy and the dog-face man. He sat in a barrel with a little chimney for his cigar smoke and charged people twopence a peep into his barrel. He presumably saw himself as a modern day Diogenes, although I imagine the classical reference would  have not been obvious to the frequenters of the Golden Mile.  He then tried being frozen in a glass case followed by sitting in an oven being prodded on the buttocks now and again by a mechanical demon. For his final show he moved to Skegness as he was tired of ‘the blatant vulgarities of Blackpool’. Here he would passionately assert his innocence and his appalling treatment, in front of a cage with two lions. He would then enter the lions’ cage and carry on with his rant in there. One day, possibly because he accidentally trod on the lion’s tail, or possibly because he was fed up with the rant, Freddy the Lion attacked  Davidson. He had no teeth, but he picked up Davidson and mauled him, or gave him a jolly good gumming. The crowd thought it was part of the act and cheered. The lion tamer rescued him but he died later in hospital. His funeral at Stiffkey church attracted a crowd of 3000 people, so at last he had the audience he craved. Friends and well wishers paid the funeral expenses and for this headstone.

The inscription on the cross is a Robert Louis Stevenson quote: ‘For on faith in man and genuine love of man all searching after truth must be founded’. So that is the sad tale of the gloriously eccentric vicar of Stifkey.

As as this is a gardening blog and there have been no plants, I will show you what I came home with. On the way home, we stopped at the wonderful nursery at West Acre. There are unusual plants here at very reasonable prices. The angelic Pianist sat in the car and read whilst I enjoyed myself.

Helenium 'Fuego'

Helenium ‘Fuego’

Crocosmia 'Golden Ballerina'

Crocosmia ‘Golden Ballerina’

Delphinium elatum 'Sweet Sensation'

Delphinium elatum ‘Sweet Sensation’


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Gravetye Manor. The Wild Gardener.

William Robinson was a pioneer in gardening and introduced so much that we now take for granted.  For some reason, he is not remembered in the same way as innovators such as Gertrude Jekyll, but he was just as influential. He was  a vociferous advocate for the overthrow of the bedding out system and the adoption of a naturalistic method of planting. He was not unique in his views, in fact he jumped on a bandwagon that had alreay been going for several years. But he popularised them through the medium of his books and his gardening journals.  He started several journals, including The Garden and Gardens Illustrated. In the latter, he included an advice column and must have startled his readers, when his suggestion for dealing with cats in the garden was to trap them and drown them

He was incredibly opinionated and he had a talent for stirring up controversy and making enemies. At different times he attacked ‘ landscape architects’, (his particular bugbear), botanists, topiarists as well as advocates of carpet bedding. He particularly hated botanists: ‘ The stock of bad Latin which  we owe botanists leads to some people to cut capers with that language with fearful results- the terms which issuing from the mouths of botanists are bad enough, when descending into those of gardeners are grotesque indeed’. In fact, Robinson’ s insistence on using English names causes confusion in his book, not only did he use English names, but he made them up too. One of his last books was called: The Virgin’ s Bower, which baffled me, coming from a confirmed bachelor, who presumably had no interest in virgins. The book is actually about clematis, one of his passions. The texensis hybrid, ‘ Gravetye Beauty’ is still popular today, as is Clematis montana ‘‘Earnest Markham’  named after his head gardener.

When Canon Ellacombe, a noted gardener of the time, mildly suggested that gardens are a matter of taste and everyone should please himself, his outraged response was: ‘the old notion of tamely acquiescing in the belief that all things are ‘a matter of taste’ will not do. The future of our gardens depends on calling ugly things by their names... That it is a matter of taste is the expression of hopeless and blind weakness’. That was telling him. 

 I love the description of him by Edward Lutyens: ‘ Been for a long walk with W.R. I left him because he bores so. He starts for a walk, never says where he is going and then stops here and there and goes off at tangents- his conversation wayward and he contradicts himself every two minutes until one feels inclined to explode.’ Despite his irritating ways, he had a wide circle of illustrious gardening friends, although they were mainly confined to letters and short visits.

His contradictory nature lead him to make odd claims.  He had firm ideas about what he called ‘wasted effort’ and wrote scathingly about moving earth as being a total waste of time. But on another occasion, he explained how to make a beautiful lawn by removing the’ top foot of the soil, draining 12-18 inches with the addition of burnt ballast, digging to a further foot depth, then adding a foot of good soil… on this the turf to be laid and top-dressed with fine ballast, wood ash and the top 2 inches of soil from the woods, all sifted and mixed up well’. Right, now I know where I was going wrong, I’ll give that a try tomorrow.

One of his  other bugbears was what he called ‘book learning’. He hated it, which is odd as he wrote so many books himself. He also hated greenhouses and the whole business of growing bedding plants. Robinson grew up in Ireland where he progressed from being a garden boy to the position of foreman. There is a story, probably apocryphal, that he argued with his boss and walked out, but not without damping down the fire and leaving all the windows open in the greenhouse and so killing all the plants. If true, how neat that with one fell swoop he could attack greenhouses, bedding plants and someone who had the temerity to disagree with him.

His two most well-known books are The Wild Garden and  The English Garden which was extremely popular and went into many editions. Later editions had illustrations by Alfred Parsons.  Several contributors wrote articles on various subjects for the book and in later editions, when the authors were conveniently dead, he claimed the articles for his own.  There is a long list of desirable plants in the book (the names are in alphabetical order, in the despised Latin.) I know he loved dramatic foliage, but I was surprised to see him recommending  Japanese Knotweed, Fallopia japonica. He  probably helped to popularise this scourge of the countryside. He also admired the viciously dangerous Giant Hogweed, Heracleum mantegazzianum for its stature.  He called it Giant Parsnip, which makes it sound rather endearing and possibly edible. I hope nobody tried it. Another decorative plant I was surprised to see him mention is Cannabis sativa, as being a fine, graceful plant for the back of the border.  It would certainly have to be right at the back of the border these days.

For a former garden boy from Ireland he did very well for himself. From his writing and some canny investments he was able to buy the beautiful Tudor Gravetye Manor when he was 46. He devoted the rest of his life to restoring the house and creating the most beautiful grounds.

Today, Gravetye Manor in Surrey is a luxurious hotel with a Michelin star restaurant. The head gardener, Tom Coward used to work at Great Dixter with Fergus Garrett. The gardens have been brought back to their former glory and are staggeringly beautiful.
A great feature is Robinson’s walled kitchen garden. This is elliptical and I believe this shape for a walled garden is unique. It means that there are no frost corners. The sandstone for the 12 foot walls was all quarried from the estate. Here vegetables and flowers for the hotel are grown.It is beautifully maintained.
A visit to Gravetye manor has been on my bucket list for years. On our recent jaunt to Brighton, we stopped here on the way home. We enjoyed Sunday lunch in the beautiful wood-panelled dining room and spent the afternoon strolling round the fabulous garden. I now want to come back here for afternoon tea, the tables are dotted around the garden and look very inviting.
Spending time here is like going back in time and being on an Edwardian weekend house party. I felt as if I had stepped into a P.G. Wodehouse story and quite expected to see Gussie Fink-Nottle looking for newts in the the pond.
Actually, never mind afternoon tea, I want to spend a weekend here. In fact I want to live here.

The title for this blog post came from a great book about William Robinson. It is written by Richard Bisgrove and is called: William Robinson: The Wild Gardener. The book is sumptuously illustrated. It was published in 2008 and is out of print now. It is sometimes offered for silly prices, but if you look around you can still find it for quite reasonable prices. William Robinson still remains an enigmatic figure because not much seems to be known about his private life. I know that has nothing to do with his gardening work, but I am nosy and love biographies about writers and gardeners that reveal all. You don’t get that here, but  it is still an interesting book.


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Monk’s House, Rodmell and Brighton Pride.

Leonard and Virginia Wolf bought this 17th century, weather-boarded cottage  for £700 in 1919 as a weekend retreat. In 1940 they moved here permanently. For 22 years Virginia found the peace and isolation here which she needed to keep her fragile mental state in balance.

Monk House, Rodmell.

Monk’s House, Rodmell.

The house was comfortless and primitive, with no running water or electricity, but they both loved it. They entertained leading lights of the Bloomsbury set here and the lack of comfort is often mentioned in their records. The food was bad and there was no wine. T.S. Eliot said that it was the most uncomfortable bed he had ever slept in and E.M.Forster burnt his leg trying to get as close as possible to the meagre fire . The walls were painted in Virginia’s favourite green and there were books and papers everywhere.  The house was inconvenient and lacking in mod.cons, but it was the garden and the orchard which particularly delighted Leonard and Virginia. Virginia wrote of it: ‘There seemed an infinity of fruit-bearing trees; the plums crowded so as to weigh the tips of the branches down; the unexpected flowers sprouting among the cabbages…  I could fancy a very pleasant walk in the orchard under the apple trees with the grey extinguisher of the church’s steeple pointing my boundary.’ Leonard was to become passionate about his fruit trees and even tried his hand at grafting.

The shed on the left was Virginia’s writing room and she became so successful, specially after ‘Orlando’ was published, that they were able to make improvements to the house.

Leonard became a passionate gardener and although Virginia was not so fanatical she found pleasure in weeding. All gardeners will understand when she says that when weeding she felt: ‘A queer sort of enthusiasm  which makes me say this is happiness’.  She  enjoyed playing bowls and feeding the fish and she was proud of what they achieved.’Our garden is a perfect variegated chintz; asters, plumasters , zinnia, geums, nasturtiums and so on: all bright, cut from coloured papers’. (I’m not sure what she meant by ‘plumaster’.)

There are two fish ponds and a croquet lawn . The  walls of old buildings divide the garden into rooms and  Leonard laid down brick paths everywhere.

There are long views over the Downs where Virginia loved to walk. ‘The garden gate admits to the water meadows, where all nature is to be had in five minutes’.

Sadly in 1941, faced with the horror of another bout of madness, Virginia put a heavy stone into her pocket and drowned herself in the nearby River Ouse, the scene of so many happy walks. Leonard stayed on at Monk’s House until his death in 1969. The house is now cared for by the National Trust. Even today, with so many visitors thronging to pay homage, their ghosts seem to linger in the garden that they loved.

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf

Leonard Woolf

Leonard Woolf

If  you would like to learn more, there is a great book about Monk’s Hall called ‘Virginia Woolf’s Garden‘ written by Caroline Zoub who lived there as a tenant for 10 years and cared for the garden.


By  way of a total contrast, we arrived in Brighton for the weekend, to find the whole town en fête.


We wondered what all the carnival atmosphere was about and on Saturday we found that Gay Pride was having a party and we joined in the crowd of more than 200,000 people to watch the parade, which this year was called ‘The Carnival of Diversity’. And what a joyous occasion it was.

Getting ready...

Getting ready…

Getting ready...

Getting ready…

...and off we go.

…and off we go.

Around the world there are still hate crimes against the LBGT community  as the recent shooting in Orlando proves. At the party in the evening, there was one minute’s silence to honour the Orlando victims and the many other victims of hate crimes across the globe.

We didn’t intend to be here for this event, but we were glad to stand shoulder to shoulder with these people and make a stand against the politics of  fear and discrimination and support them in their celebration of diversity and tolerance.


“Society, as we have constituted it, will have no place for me, has none to offer; but Nature, whose sweet rains fall on unjust and just alike, will have clefts in the rocks where I may hide, and secret valleys in whose silence I may weep undisturbed. She will hang the night with stars so that I may walk abroad in the darkness without stumbling, and send the wind over my footprints so that none may track me to my hurt: she will cleanse me in great waters, and with bitter herbs make me whole’.

 ‘De Profundis‘. Oscar Wilde.

If only he could have been there on Saturday.

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Wednesday Vignette. Shakkei.

I don’t have much borrowed landscape in my garden apart from trees and this suits me fine. I like to be in my own green world in the garden with the world shut out. But from a couple of places, if you position yourself carefully, the tower of the fifteenth century church is just visible.  And there we have it; a tiny bit of shakkei, as the Japanese call borrowed landscape.

In the forefront self-seeded Verbena bonariensis has thoughtfully provided a beautiful frame. This is a trouble- free plant that always seems to place itself where it looks good. It is tall and elegant and enhances any other plants it decides to spend the summer with. You can buy a shorter version called Verbena bonariensis ‘ Lollipop’, but I really can’ t see the point of a dwarf version. The joy of this verbena is its stature. Bees and butterflies love it. Unfortunately, butterflies are scarce in my garden this year, but I live in hope. And in the meantime, there are bees.

Nothing to do with Wednesday Vignette’, but if anyone was surprised to see a post called ‘June Delights’ appearing here rather inappropriately on the first day of August, I must apologise. WordPress has a habit of dropping the photos from older posts and I was replacing a nice Papaver orientalis ‘Patty’s Plum’ which had disappeared from an old post. I had no idea that I had republished it until a few people commented. I have removed it now. But for the ShrubQueen who asked me, I will say that the gorgeous Delphinium elatum ‘Alice Artindale’ does not set seed as it is a double and so infertile. And as it is so gorgeous, I will show it once more for those who didn’t see it and don’t know it.

Delphinium elatum 'Alice Artindale'

Delphinium elatum ‘Alice Artindale’

Now back to August. ‘Wednesday Vignette’ is hosted by Anna at FlutterandHum .  I’m off now to look at her blog and to see other Wednesday Vignettes.

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In a Vase on Monday. Zingy Zinnias.

Many of my annuals got eaten by slugs at the seedling stage this year whilst I was in Italy. But the zinnias managed to avoid their depredations. Slugs adore them, so they were given special protection. And it was worth all the care lavished on them. Because for the first time I have zillions of zingy zinnias. Well, not zillions, but enough to stuff a vase with.

I grew mixed colours because I couldn’t decide which I liked best and the colours are all so bright and jolly that I thought I would go for a kaleidoscope effect. Some are large, some are small, but they are all lovely.
I put them in my Corsican pottery vase, which brings back memories of a golden holiday in the sun. These flowers aren’t made for tasteful pastel coloured vases.
As everybody knows ‘In a Vase on Monday’ is hosted by the inimitable Cathy at Ramblinginthegarden. Do pop over there and see what Cathy and all the other vase fillers have been up today.

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