How Many Plants Can You Fit into a Telephone Box?

Now that there are so few telephone boxes around, you no longer seem to get the regular imbecility of students trying to get into the Guinness Book of Records by cramming  as many people as possible into a phone box without actually asphyxiating anyone. But  every autumn the tradition lives on in my house. Except instead of people, I use plants. More sensible people don’t buy tender plants unless they have somewhere to keep them over winter. I can’t resist exotics such as plumeria, plumbago, oleanders and bougainvillea to name but a few.



The gradual migration of tender plants into the house at this time of the year seems to put a strain on the Pianist’s usual sunny disposition. It starts when he finds the table in the utility room full of succulents.   As he is our chef he seems to consider tables his personal domain. He says he needs them for food preparation. I don’t know why he has to spread himself around so much.

Utility room.

Utility room.

Fortunately, he hasn’t looked into the spare room recently. Let’s hope nobody comes to stay. If they do they will run the gauntlet of various spiky, prickly things and they will not be able to draw the curtains without doing themselves serious harm.

Spare bedroom

Spare bedroom

Those long leggy epipyllums in front of the window are becoming ever more of a problem, but they have such stunning flowers in June.



Downstairs, I have one or two lovelies which I bought on a recent visit to East Ruston Vicarage.  This orange climber, Pseudogynoxys chenopodioides, or if that is too much of a mouthful, ‘Mexican Flame Vine’, looked spectacular winding  through their plants in pots at East Ruston Vicarage. Unfortunately it is tender.

Pseudogynoxys chenopodioides

Pseudogynoxys chenopodioides

And I fell in love with a beautiful blue fern which I am not convinced is hardy.  A friend is trying this outside, so I will watch with interest how it deals with frost. Like most ferns it has a tongue- twister of a name: Phlebodium pseudoaureum. It used to be a Polypodium but now has become yet another plant reassigned by the taxonomists to keep us on our toes. I think it is stunning.

Phlebodium pseudoaureum

Phlebodium pseudoaureum

But I haven’t really got started on the migration yet. I have lots more to come inside. By the first frost our dining room resembles a rain forest. It is a problem, because I have to shame-facedly admit, that I already have twenty- three orchids in the house. It’s not my fault, these Phalaenopsis orchids will just not die and they are ridiculously cheap; £2.99 at our local cut-price store. Every time I need some dog chews or a lavatory brush I come home with another.

Phalaenopsis orchid

Phalaenopsis orchid

So the dining room in particular gets more and more crowded.  One year we had to use a massive red-leaved  banana as a Christmas tree. It has since grown so large that I had to give it to a friend with a conservatory.

I am sure that keen gardeners will understand that as I don’t have a conservatory I have to use the dining room as one.  And all the other rooms too. Before you feel too sorry for the Pianist, I have to add that as he doesn’t have a music studio, he uses our library instead. Apparently this involves ever more keyboards and cables; lots of them snaking all over the place.  The floor looks like a book cover for  Francois Mauriac’s ‘Le Noeud de Vipères.’  He completely blocks the poetry section and  getting to biography is getting increasingly dangerous. He is as crazy about cables as I am about plants. He has suitcases full of spare ones. Which is really odd in my opinion. Very often the postman arrives with yet another little package of cables to add to his collection. He is as addicted to them as I am to jugs. Or pitchers as Americans like to call them. So there we are, we have to live with each other’s eccentricities.

A tiny corner of the writhing snakes of cables in the library.

A tiny corner of the writhing snakes of cables in the library.

The greenhouses are already filled with  far too many plants, packed in with an irresponsible disregard for the dreaded botrytis . Salvias are so easy to propagate that I have far too many.

dsc_0235 dsc_0234

No more room here either.

Pelargonium 'Ardens'

Pelargonium ‘Ardens’

Plumbago auriculata

Plumbago auriculata

Haemanthus albiflos

Haemanthus albiflos

I have no idea where I am going to put this lot.

And of course an increasingly large area of a greenhouse is devoted to nerines. But I will save these for another day.

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A Visit to East Ruston Old Vicarage.

In September I revisited this amazing garden after a gap of many years and I was bowled over by the energy and imagination and I have to say the money that has been spent on it.


Alan Gray and Graham Robeson  have developed it over many years and gradually expanded their boundaries so that they now have 32 acres. They live near the wind- swept coast of North Norfolk and so their first job was to plant a shelter belt.  Now, within these tall trees they have a garden which takes advantage of the maritime climate without suffering  from the depredations of salt-laden winds.  The landscape  round here is flat and uninteresting, but they have cleverly taken advantage of the landmarks of a lighthouse and the church by making holes in the hedges.


Sorry, the above is not a good photo but you can just out make out Happisburgh lighthouse.  In between the blocks of evergreen oak, Quercus ilex, there are Chusan palms, Trachycarpus fortunei.

There are many long green corridors throughout the garden which rest the eye between the different areas. Some of them have glimpses of the church at the end and some of them have unusual sculpture.


I have heard people complain that this garden is ‘too much’ and ‘exhausting’. I wonder what delicate sensitivities people have to find a glorious garden full of treats too much. Another criticism I have heard is that it does not relate to the countryside, which is unfair. The strong winds demand a shelter belt and in any case who wants a view of flat turnip fields? I love the exuberance of this garden and the soaring imagination which has gone into its design. I heard Alan Gray speak this year and I loved his enthusiasm. These are hands-on gardeners who grow things from seed if they cannot find the plants they want. They are always pushing the boundaries of tender and exotic plants  outside.

In the garden by the impressive entrance which they call the ‘Postman’s Gate’, they grow succulents.  I suppose these must be dug up every winter unless the large ones can survive a mild winter.


I loved the way the colour of the succulent matches the verdigris of the copper containers.


You leave this part of the garden through another fabulous gate.


Here are are more succulents, this time displayed in pots.


Alan and Graham have a liking for the exotic. There is an Exotic Garden, a Mediterranean garden and a Desert Wash which is designed to look like parts of Arizona. This is a gravel garden and there are four hundred tonnes  of flint stones. I saw this some years ago when it had just been completed and I thought it looked wonderful. Now it has grown up and many plants have self- seeded, I don’t like it quite so much because it doesn’t look so desert -like.


Here is the entrance to the  Mediterranean garden.  It is surrounded by brick walls and consists of a series of south-facing terraces.  I love the way the Lobelia tupa matches the brick.

At the far end of the Mediterranean garden you can see the pavilion. From the other side of the pavilion the King’s Walk leads back to the house. It is flanked by ten beautifully clipped obelisks of yew.

There is a secluded garden with sixteen mature tree ferns whose fronds meet overhead to resemble a Gothic building. They are underplanted with acers.

Many of us dream of having a walled garden and in 2012 Alan and Graham built a fabulous Diamond Jubilee walled garden. Here there are vegetables and flowers for cutting as well as stock beds.

A lovely little pavilion is built into the corner of the wall.

There are plenty of places to sit. The sitting area in this greenhouse is surrounded by exotic plants.

My favourite part of the garden is the Dutch garden. This consists of eight box-edged beds and topiary in the form of balls cones and a pair of peacocks. The brick paths here set off the garden beautifully.
One of the glories of this garden in late summer is the imagination and flair which has gone into the creation of flower filled pots, some of them huge.


This is a dazzlingly bright blue Commelina dianthifolia in a pot. You can grow it from seed, so next year I shall try some.

Commelina dianthifolia

Commelina dianthifolia

Even round the tea room you can enjoy huge Brugmansias whilst you sip your tea and enjoy some excellent cake.

There is so much to enjoy here at all times of the year. The woodland walk is criss-crossed with paths and it is easy to lose your way. It looks good in September with so many  hydrangeas. I don’t know how they kept them looking good during this year’s drought.
There is a rose garden and an amazing wild-flower meadow for early summer. It is a garden which is worth visiting at any season. And of course there are always new projects. Alan has become very interested in growing fruit. There is a lovely apple walk. I asked what this structure is going to be and was told it is for fruit. They don’t do anything by halves here.
A visit to this garden gets me dreaming about what horticultural delights I would treat myself to, if I had plenty of room and unlimited resources. I think it would be a natural swimming pond and a greenhouse. Not just any old greenhouse, I have two of those already. I am thinking of something on the lines of the Palm House at Kew. OK, maybe a little more modest. But somewhere I could enjoy exotic plants and warmth all year round. It would open up a whole new area of gardening and keep me out of mischief all winter long.  Or, I would be quite happy with a large greenhouse like the one Peter, The Outlaw Gardener  enjoys, even though his greenhouse is rather unnervingly decorated with dismembered bodies. I think I would rather go for a tree top walk and  a cascade and bright, tropical butterflies.

What would your horticultural extravagance be if money was no object?


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Crazy about Colchicums.

I was going to call this post ‘Naked Ladies’, but then decided that it would attract the wrong sort of reader. But this is in fact the common name for these beauties because the flowers appear without any foliage.

Colchicums are commonly mistaken for autumn crocuses (or should it be croci?) But there is a difference if you look at the flowers closely. Crocuses have three stamens and colchicums have six. Some people prefer crocuses because they  are more delicate, but I love colchicums; they give the garden a much needed blast of colour in early autumn.

The first one to flower always gives me a shock by appearing in August. It is Colchicum  autumnale which seems rather a misnomer, as by the autumn it has been and gone.

Colchicum autumnale

Colchicum autumnale

It is  the only colchicum which is native to the UK and used to flourish in the west of the country, but I believe it is rare now. Gerard writes that it is good as a remedy for gout. He says it comes from the Isle of Colchis. In fact what was known as the ancient city of Colchis is in the Black Sea area of Georgia. If you remember your Greek mythology, you will recall that Colchis was the destination of Jason and the Argonauts in the quest for the Golden Fleece. Colchicums were said to have sprung up from drops of the poisonous potion brewed by Medea, the daughter of the King of Colchis. In fact she intended it as a love potion, but colchicums are very poisonous.

It would seem that Gerard’s gout remedy is pretty deadly. There have been several recorded accidental deaths by colchicum poisoning. Apparently, people have mistaken it for wild garlic. Incredibly stupid people they must have been too. In the nineteenth century, colchicum was used by  a woman called Catherine Wilson as a poison. The symptoms resembled those of cholera, so in those days, so she had a chance of getting away with it. She was a nurse and persuaded people to change their wills making her the beneficiary and then she killed them with colchicine. She is suspected of murdering her first husband and several other people. She was hanged in 1862. So don’t snack on your colchicums.

The white form Colchicum autumnale ‘Album’ is a bit later and seems to last longer in my garden.

Colchicum autumnale 'Album'

Colchicum autumnale ‘Album’

Much bigger and showier are the lovely Colchicum speciosum hybrids. The most coveted one, Colchicum speciosum ‘Album’ was bred in the late nineteenth century by Backhouse of York. E.A.Bowles tells us that when he first saw it, there were only three bulbs in existence and even years later they changed hands: ‘at a price only suitable for millionaires’. It is indeed a gorgeous bulb with huge goblets of glistening white.

Colchicum speciosum 'Album'

Colchicum speciosum ‘Album’

Another of the Backhouse hybrids is a favourite of mine. It is Colchicum speciosum ‘Atrorubens’. I love the way that it is purple all down the stem.

Colchicum speciosum 'Atrorubens'

Colchicum speciosum ‘Atrorubens’

I have clumps of colchicums scattered all round the garden and I have decided that unless you can afford hundreds of bulbs this is not a great way to display them because they just don’t have enough impact. I was at Beth Chatto’s garden recently and she has them threaded throughout the garden, particularly in the woodland garden. They looked lovely, but the cost of doing this would be prohibitive for most of us.

I also saw them growing in a special bed on a recent visit to East Ruston Vicarage garden. I love this garden and I have been meaning to write about about it for a while now, but I keep getting side-tracked. I will try to make it my next post. But I am not keen on this way of displaying colchicums in all their nudity. And I think the labels are intrusive.

Last week, I visited the wonderful garden of the bulb specialist, Rod Leeds who lives near me. He wrote the three books which are my bulb bibles. ‘Autumn Bulbs’, ‘The Plantfinder’s Guide to Early Bulbs’ and ‘Bulbs in Containers’. Not only does he have varieties of colchicums that I have never seen before, but the display in a bed alongside his drive made a big impact. It inspired me to write this post and to contemplate making an autumn bed of colchicums myself. I am not sure where yet; I can’t quite face digging up more lawn. But I am definitely going to dig up all my colchicums and place them in a bed together. As they are so naked when they flower, I loved the  way Rod gave them frills of the parsley fresh  Polypodium cambricum ‘Richard Kayse’.

Polypodium cambrian ''Richard Kayes'

Polypodium cambrian ”Richard Kayes’

I found a nursery on line which stocks this gorgeous fern and I bought it along with a Polypodium cambrian ‘Pulcherrimum Addison’ which is one Bob Brown of Cotswold Garden Plants recommends.

The problem with colchicums is the fact that in spring, they have the most enormous leaves which can  be a nuisance, and they don’t die back prettily. I might borrow some of Beth Chatto’s ideas for companion plants. The white spotted pulmonaria foliage is perfect with the gorgeous flowers of Colchicum speciosum ‘Album’

Colchicum speciosum 'Album' with Pulmonaria.

Colchicum speciosum ‘Album’ with Pulmonaria.

Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy’ can be invasive, but it too looks good with the white colchicum. The native fern  Asplenium scolopendrium crops up all over my garden and how nice it looks in this group.


Whoops, this next one is a combination I will not be copying . Ground Elder is the bane of my life. I spend my life trying unsuccessfully to eradicate it. Even if  this is the variegated form, it is not welcome in my garden. The double Colchicum ‘Water Lily’ is not one of my favourites. Almost as soon as it blooms it collapses untidily.

Colchicum 'Water Lily' with Aegopodium podagraria 'Variegata'

Colchicum ‘Water Lily’ with Aegopodium podagraria ‘Variegata’

I don’t think I would use the invasive periwinkle either.

So what would I use? I already have plum-coloured  heucheras planted with some of them and they look good together. The foliage of Alchemilla mollis sets them off well too, as long as you keep it neatly trimmed.


I may also plant a few autumn flowering Liriope muscari with them.

Liriope muscari

Liriope muscari

And in a sunny spot what about some lovely yellow Sternbergia lutea? Although I must admit that so far I have not had much success at getting them to bloom every year. These are  in Rod’s garden.

Sternbergia lutea

Sternbergia lutea

I shall certainly borrow Rod’s idea of planting Cyclamen hederifolium along the front of the bed. I think this bed is going to be great fun to make and it will be a chance to acquire some different colchicums. By the way, if you want to move colchicums, the best time to do it is after the leaves die down and they have gone dormant.

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In a Vase on Monday. Cyclamen hederifolium.


I found a little colony of this little beauty, Cyclamen hederifolium hidden away under some overgrown shrubs, so it seemed a good idea to bring a few into the house to enjoy.

You can see why they are called ‘hederifolium’ which means ivy-leaved. There is a tremendous variation of patterns on the leaves.
Some bloom without any leaves at all and the leaves come later. This clump has been flowering for ages.

They come in dark pink, pale pink or even white.

Cyclamen hederifolium 'Album'

Cyclamen hederifolium ‘Album’

The following combination was accidental, but I think they look good with the leaves of Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’.



They seed around prolifically and as they age the corms become enormous. I have several huge ones that I have had for years and I always bring them with me when I move.
There is also a pretty silver-leaved form. I was lucky enough to be given some seeds of this one.

Some of them look as if they have crossed with the green one.
There are other autumn flowering cyclamen, I keep mine in the greenhouse because I don’t know how hardy they are. I am told Cyclamen purpurascens is hardy, but I am not going to risk it. This beauty starts flowering in the summer and is still going on. The flowers are beautifully perfumed. I love the dark green, marbled leaves.

Cyclamen purparescens

Cyclamen purpurascens

The other one is the dainty little Cyclamen cilicium which comes from Turkey.

Cyclamen cilicium

Cyclamen cilicium

Cyclamen cilicium

Cyclamen cilicium

The red petals in the pot have dropped off Pelargonium ‘Ardens’ which is one of my favourite pelargoniums. Unfortunately it is very hard to propagate.
I am enjoying having these little cyclamen in  a vase. They are so pretty and lightly scented too which you might not notice unless you pick them.

I do have these charming little cyclamen scattered in clumps all round the garden and I have wondered whether to dig them all up and have one huge colony. But I would miss coming across them here and there on my rambles round the garden. They tolerate dry shade so they are lovely under trees. I give mine some bonemeal and a good soak in August. I used to give them a top dressing of peat, but  now we have to learn to manage without it.

Cathy at Rambling in the Garden hosts the meme ‘In a Vase on Monday’. It is great fun, do join in . Quite a few bloggers have been inspired by this meme to create cutting gardens. Their early October vases are a joy to be seen.

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29th September. Michaelmas.

Today is traditionally the first day of autumn. Although it is sad to see  the end of another summer, there are some exciting flowers to be enjoyed at this time of the year.

Autumn  flowering gentians have always been a problem for me. I  know they like acid soil and so I keep them in a pot or a trough. But still they die. The spring flowering Gentiana verna might linger for a year or two, but the autumn ones disappear. For years I averted my eyes when I saw them looking so enticing in the nursery. But one day when I was reading  the poem, Bavarian Gentians by D.H. Lawrence, I  had the idea of enjoying them in a pot on the table and then not worrying whether they survived another year or not. After all, they are cheaper than a bunch of flowers and you throw  those away after they have bloomed without a thought .

This is one of the last of  Lawrence’s poems and he wrote it shortly before his death. The idea of the death of the summer and  Persephone’s return to the underworld in the Greek myth,  was clearly conflated in his mind with the thought of his own approaching death.

Bavarian Gentians.

By D. H. Lawrence

‘Not every man has gentians in his house
in Soft September, at slow, Sad Michaelmas.
Bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark
darkening the daytime torchlike with the smoking blueness of Pluto’s
ribbed and torch-like, with their blaze of darkness spread blue
down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of white day
torch-flower of the blue smoking darkness, Pluto’s dark-blue daze,
black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue,
giving off darkness, blue darkness, as Demeter’s pale lamps give off
lead me then, lead me the way.

Reach me a gentian, give me a torch!
Let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of a flower
down the darker and and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness
down the way Persephone goes, just now in the frosted September
to the sightless realm where darkness is married to darkness…’

I haven’t tried growing Bavarian gentians, Gentiana bavarica, as even the great Farrar found them miffy, although he planted them on the river bank where they should have been happy. He said that shortly after planting he found; ‘like the miller’s daughter, there a lovely corpse she lay’.  If he had trouble with them, then I haven’t a hope. The autumn ones that are supposed to be easier come from Japan or China. So on my table, I have Gentiana sino-ornata which George Forrest found in Yunnan in 1904. I believe it is supposed to be one of the easiest, which doesn’t say much for the others. I had never thought of them as looking torch-like until I read Lawrence’s poem. Unlike poor tubercular Lawrence,  I don’t see torches to guide me to the underworld. The colour is such an intense blue, I feel as if I have a bowl of  jewels on the table to brighten up my day.

Gentiana sino-ornata

Gentiana sino-ornata

In the spirit of hope over experience, I am trying a Japanese Gentiana ‘Blue Sapphire’ outside. At least I can enjoy it this year, even if it  won’t stay around for next autumn.

Gentiana 'Sapphire Blue'

Gentiana ‘Sapphire Blue’

But gentians aren’t the only Michaelmas pleasures. Now is the time for Michaelmas Daisies. Even if we now have to call them Symphyiotrichum we can still enjoy them.  ‘A rose by any other name ..’ If you avoid  Aster novi-belgii and go for Aster novae-angliae you don’t get troubled by mildew. They brighten up the border at this time of the year. And bees love them.

And as if these Michaelmas treats aren’t enough, we have chrysanthemums to look forward to and the nerines are just starting.  This Nerine bowdenii is hardy,  but in the greenhouse are all the tender ones. But my  lovely nerines deserve a post to themselves.

Nerine bowdenii

Nerine bowdenii

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The Education of a Gardener.

This classic book of garden literature by Russell Page should be on every gardener’s bedside table.


I re-read it every few years and always enjoy it. Russell Page was a garden designer and landscape artist and he was probably the most influential of his generation. He designed gardens for all the great and the good in his time.( Well, not necessarily the good, he designed one for those well- known Nazi sympathisers, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor). He was heavily influenced by the formality of Eastern and French gardens. He insisted on restraint in planting. He is still so highly regarded that his style of gardening has become the paradigm for good taste. I blame him for the vogue for box hedging and geometric garden designs. He was very aware of his influence and importance and although I love this book, I dislike the way he patronises us and instructs us as to what is tasteful and what not. It is all very well repeating Pope’ s dictum about consulting the genius of the place and designing a garden that is in keeping with the house, but his commissions were for grand places, not for the 1930 s semi.

For instance, to be in keeping with a Victorian house you would have to give your garden over to bedding out which only municipal parks adopt these days. Here is an example of carpet bedding in the Abbey gardens at Bury St Edmunds. What private gardener could or would want to attempt this?

The Abbey Gardens, Bury St. Edmunds.

The Abbey Gardens, Bury St. Edmunds.

And what about my higgledy piggledy house built in 1500? How should my garden look to be in harmony with an early sixteenth century house that would have belonged to a yeoman farmer? I suppose I should have chickens and a pig sty and a midden. My front garden should be full of cabbages and herbs of course. Everyone grew herbs, or simples as they were called, for self- medication. I grow culinary herbs but I am not interested in growing herbs to heal the dropsy. I recently bought a Devil’s Bit Scabious because it is beautiful and bees love it. I didn’t buy it because Gerard tells me that ‘Divel’s Bit ‘clenseth away slimie flegme that sticketh in the jaws‘. If I am unfortunate enough to find myself with slimie flegme sticking to my jaws I will go to the doctor. And I will never grow horrible Hypericum or ‘Saint James his Wort’ as Gerard calls it. Even if a ‘decoction of it gargarised‘ is a remedy against swellings and ‘impostumations‘ of the throat.

A friend of mine has a little sixteenth century cottage and she is determined that her garden will be authentic. She only grows sixteenth century plants, preferably ones mentioned by Shakespeare. In her front garden she has a pretty knot garden and she is very proud of that. In fact, it is entirely inappropriate for the garden of a small cottage. A knot garden was the fashion accessory for the rich. Here is one looking just right in the grounds of the Tudor Helmingham Hall.

Knot Garden. Helmingham Hall. Suffolk.

Knot Garden. Helmingham Hall. Suffolk.


I really think it is an affectation to grow only the plants that were available in the sixteenth century. We are so lucky to live in an age when we can grow plants from all round the world and we no longer need to use our gardens to scratch out an existence. Our gardens have a completely different purpose. I have had friendly disagreements with a friend about having a garden in keeping with the period of the house. She thinks that a cottage garden is appropriate for a house like mine. And although my front garden is what you might call a cottage garden, I don’ t think this is authentic for a sixteenth century house and I am planning on a complete makeover next year.
The idea of a picturesque cottage garden is a Victorian and early twentieth century construct. It represents an imaginary past seen through the eyes of artists such as Alfred Parsons, Helen Allingham and Earnest Arthur Rowe.

Off Marketing. Helen Allingham

Off Marketing. Helen Allingham

I once read a gardening book and I cannot remember who wrote it, where the author objected to Eucalyptus trees in an English garden. He said they are as inappropriate as an ostrich on a grouse moor. And I wondered why pick on Eucalyptus trees? We grow plants from all over the world and our gardens are enriched by them.

So whenever I read Russell Page, I find myself picking an argument with him. I can’t have and do not want a garden that harmonises with my house. And neither do I want it organised on a geometric grid pattern like a Persian carpet. And I don’t want box hedges, I loathe the things. I want my garden to take you on a roundabout path that meanders here and there and never in a straight line. I don’t want long vistas; I want a surprise round every corner. I don’ t want blocks of colour or a restricted palette of plants that are repeated. I don’t want restraint. I want a rich tapestry of horticultural delights. And I don’t want to be sneered at and told that I am a plant collector and not an artist and have no aesthetic sense. I wrote a post about the thorny problem of  taste and another one to foster a debate about whether the garden is an art form, both of which provoked much comment. I think most of us object to the implication that our beloved gardens are not aesthetically pleasing. I know Page trained at the Slade under the great Tonks and without doubt he designed beautiful gardens. But the implication that he is the arbiter of good taste in the garden and that any garden that doesn’t measure up to his standards is not artistic, is annoying.

I wouldn’ t want a painting by Mark Rothko or even Mondrian, even if I could afford them. Give me a Breughal scene or a Bosschaert flower painting any time, or even a painting by poor, mad Richard Dadd. Paintings that you can gaze at for hours and get lost in the detail. And it’ s the same with gardens; I don’ t want broad strokes or geometrical regularity. I want intricacy, a tapestry of beautiful flowers. I believe we should follow our own eyes and create a garden that pleases us without worrying whether it matches Page’ s criteria.  I have to point out that Page didn’ t even have his own garden. In my book, you can’ t call yourself a gardener if you don’t garden, anymore than you can be an artist if you don’t paint, or a writer if you don’ t write.

I set out to do a book review and end up doing an iconoclastic rant. I looked on line to see whether amongst all the reverential descriptions of this book anyone felt like me. I found one written by Beth of GardenFancy, a blog I now follow, but didn’ t know about back in 2014, when she wrote this book review. Beth seems to agree with me on many points, but instead of a rant she gives an excellent and measured review.  So if you want to know more about the book, here is where you can find the information. If you read this Beth, please give us a link.

Last week I went to see an amazing garden, East Ruston in North Norfolk. It has been criticised in some quarters by the taste police, for being too flamboyant, a mishmash of styles and not restrained enough. I love it and will write about it in my next post.
In the meantime, after all I have said; if you haven’t already, do read The Education of a Gardener. It is elegantly written and full of information. Even if like me, you don’ t agree with all he says, you have to read it to know what you are disagreeing with. And after all, it is a great book.

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In a Vase on Monday. Stars and Bells.

This week I decided to fill my vase with little golden bells of Clematis tangutica and leave it at that.  I cut this clematis back each year, but  by the end of the summer it is sprawling everywhere. Still, it makes quite a nice picture with Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’.

Having picked the flowers I thought how nice they would look in my favourite white vase with a frill of the white Solanum jasminoides with its prominent yellow stamens picking up the yellow of the clematis. I then couldn’t resist popping in a flower or two of the white Anemone x hybrida ‘Andrea Atkinson’.

Anemone x hybrida 'Andrea Atkinson'

Anemone x hybrida ‘Andrea Atkinson’

And then the lovely Colchicum autumnale ‘Album’ has yellow stamens too, so I had to add a couple of these beauties.

Colchicum autumnale 'Album'

Colchicum autumnale ‘Album’

Ok, I have never got the hang of less is more.dsc_0047

My favourite aster is ‘Little Carlow’ and that has yellow stamens too which I thought would go well. And anyway, why not have stars as well as bells? I went to a fascinating talk by the plants woman, Marina Christopher on Saturday. She said that when bees have pollinated the flowers of this aster the stamens turn from yellow to red. I looked at mine and indeed the stamens were all red. I grow a lot of asters, but none of them are so full of bees as this beauty. It is absolutely buzzing.


Symphiotrichum 'Little Carlow'

Symphiotrichum ‘Little Carlow’


If you only have room for one aster (we have to call it Symphyotrichum now) I would recommend this one. It is absolutely gorgeous and I cannot think why I only have one. I want to fill my garden with it.

To carry on the lilac theme I used a lilac-tinged Solanum laxum ‘Creche ar Pape’.


As the stamens of ‘Little Carlow’ have darkened to a deep red which is almost purple, I thought a few sprigs of the gorgeous dark purple Salvia x  jamensis ‘Nachtvlinder’ would look good with it.

So that is my vase this Monday.

Cathy who hosts this meme has picked some nerines for her vase. I have to say, I don’t think I could bring myself to cut mine. I obsessively count the buds and flowers in each of my pots. But they do look lovely in a vase. Do go and see.


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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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