My Top Ten July Blooms.

Goodness, a drought like this makes you want to give up gardening and take up something more rewarding like stamp collecting or train spotting. I have been away on holiday and usually having somebody coming in to water pots, veggies and vulnerable plants twice a week will save the garden from disaster.  This summer despite the valiant attempts of the waterers, ( thank you Min and Julie)  and my efforts since I got home, the garden makes me want to weep. Witch hazels,  hydrangeas, delphiniums, ferns and goodness knows what else look dead. There is only one word to describe the landscape round here and that is sere.  Very sere. We have to worry about fires now too. My son had to be evacuated last week after a combine harvester struck a flint stone and caused a fire that gobbled up fifteen acres.

But still there are areas of the garden which are delighting me. My waterers have kept all the new planting in my new project well watered and healthy and this area will have its own post soon. And the Mediterranean garden looks great, although even here there is a dead eryngium which baffles me. I have been to the Cap Ferret peninsula recently and seen eryngiums growing  and flourishing on the dunes in pure dry sand.

Eryngium in dunes, Cap Ferret, France


The Mediterranean Garden.

So let’s start with sea hollies or eryngiums. I love them for the  sheen on their silvery, spiky leaves and some of them have metallic blue flowers too. This one has lovely variegated foliage but even better is the startling colour of the flowers and stems.

Eryngium x tripartitum ‘Jade Frost.

The next one has larger flowers and is perfect for the effect I am looking for in the Mediterranean garden which is lots of form and texture.

Eryngium zabellii ‘Big Blue’

Eryngium planum

Also in the Mediterranean garden and making quite a splash of colour I have the verbascum which is such a feature of Great Dixter. It is one found by Christo and Fergus Garrett, the head gardener in Eastern Turkey. It is called Verbascum chaixii ‘Christo’s Yellow Lightening’. I love it because it doesn’t seem to get the awful mildewed leaves which usually hang limply and unattractively on large verbascums and remind me of damp blotting paper. It does get covered by catterpillars of the Mullein moth in early summer but  I pick them off for the few days when they seem to be active and the damage isn’t too bad.

Verbascum chaixii ‘Christo’s Yellow Lightening’

I love it with the tall Agastache ‘Purple Haze’.

Agastache ‘Purple Haze’

And backed with the giant grass, Stipa gigantea, purple Verbena bonariensis, the huge umbellifer Molospermum decipens and the dainty pink flowers of Althaea cannabina.

My ‘beach’ in front of the shed is looking good right now. The orange sea poppy is still blooming happily and now my seed -grown agapanthus are coming into bloom.

So I will pick agapanthus as my number three July bloom. I grew a lot from seed, the first two are the parents which were a gift from a friend who is a keen agapanthus breeder.

And here are the children. Large flowered agapanthus aren’t reliably hardy but these came through two winters cosily wrapped up in fleece.

And we have lovely white ones too.

The parent of this small white one was a gift from a friend. I am particularly pleased with it because it is tinged with pink which I have never seen before in an agapanthus.

When everything looks dried up and brown then pure white flowers are cheering. Romneya coulteri is a pernickety plant, it doesn’t like being moved and sometimes it will turn up its tail and die. But if it is happy, it races around and takes over. We were alarmed earlier this year to find it had somehow burrowed its way into the house and a piece appeared in the library. But it is so pretty, it has silvery foliage and pure white flowers with a yellow boss

Romneya coulteri

I always try to pick one or two unusual flowers for my top ten blooms so that you can see some plants you perhaps don’t know that  you might like to try. One of these is another pure white flower which is in bloom now. It is a climbing plant, Codonopsis grey-wilsonii ‘Himel Snow’. It dies down to tubers in the autumn and these can then be split up. I have some in a pot but I also have a few round the garden too. It has pristine star-shaped flowers and is an absolute gem.

Codonopsis grey-wilsonii ‘Himel Snow’

Another beauty in a pot grows from a tuber, or is it a rhizome? It is the unusual Sandersonia aurantica. It comes from South Africa and I love it because I adore bell shaped flowers and these are bright orange.

Sandersonia aurantica

I do like orange flowers and this next mallow-like flower is very pretty. Sphaeralcea incana is actually coral rather than orange. It is a shrubby plant with silvery foliage. It is a perfect match with a coral  Kniphofia ‘Timothy’ and the golden seed heads of Stipa gigantea look good with it too.

Sphaeralcea incana with Kniphofia ‘Timothy’ and Stipa gigantea

I also grow it in the Mediterranean garden with terracotta Achillea ‘Walter Funcke’ and Bulbine frutescens which I found in Normandy last year growing on a roundabout.  I just had to have a tiny scrap of it. Alright, I am shameless, but I did risk life and limb and possibly imprisonment for it, but it matches beautifully. Actually, you perhaps don’t go to goal for nicking cuttings off a roundabout in France, but still I could have got shouted at by a gendarme.

Bulbine frutescens

I have to include some fragrant flowers for July. My early lilies get wrecked by lily beetle despite my best and most murderous efforts to keep them under control. But the later flowering tall -growing lilies have tougher leaves and are not so difficult to keep pest free. They smell divine in my secret garden. Lily ‘Lady Alice’ is white and orange with brown spots, some of the flowers are reflexed. It is so pretty.

Lily ‘Lady Alice’

I am also very keen on Lily ‘Late Morning’ which is cream and yellow.

Lily ‘late Morning’

I don’t know who Leslie Woodriff was but this next one is a fabulous lily and is always so healthy and hu-u-u-ge.

Lily ‘Leslie Woodriff’

On the trellis behind Leslie is a trachelospermum which is contributing to the heavenly fragrance in the secret garden. I also grow one on the house wall by French window so that we can enjoy the fragrance even when we go inside, which isn’t very often this summer.

Trachelospermum jasminoides

I love campanulas and I will finish with a bizarre one.

Campanula pyramidalis

I grew it from seed and at three years old it is blooming for the first time. It the Chimney Bell Flower, Campanula pyramidalis. I first saw this used as pot plant, in fact a chimney plant, at Great Dixter years ago. It is supposed to be perennial but as it puts in so much effort to grow very tall I don’t expect it to survive for another year. It is enormous at 210 centimetres tall.

I have another one with two shoots which is not so tall.

If you are thinking ‘What no dahlias? ‘ I do have dahlias, lots of them but I will save them for August. Right now, I have some watering to do. I am so sick of the Sisyphus-like task of endless watering. I expect you are too. But still one would like to have some remnants of a garden left in the autumn.

If you have managed to save ten or just one or two special July blooms from total desiccation, it would be lovely to see them. Please share them and link to my blog.

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Asthall Manor. ‘On Form’

Asthall Manor

Every year, ‘The Women Who Weed’ go off on a garden- visiting jolly. This year our destination was the Cotswolds. This June has been one of the best rose seasons for years and I can’t think of a better place to enjoy it than the Cotswolds. Roses and the wonderful old honey-coloured Cotswold stone walls are a marriage made in heaven. J.P. Priestley wrote about Cotswold stone: “the truth is that it has no colour that can be described. Even when the sun is obscured and the light is cold, these walls are still faintly warm and luminous, as if they knew the trick of keeping the lost sunlight of centuries glimmering about them.” I can’t think of a better description.

Asthall Manor

Our first port of call was the photographer, Andrew Lawson’s garden which had us ‘oohing’ and ‘ahing’ with delight as it was a perfect marriage of wonderful design and perfect planting. This was the hors d’oeuvre and the next day was dedicated to enjoying the amazing  ‘On Form’ biennial sculpture exhibition at Asthall Manor. This is the UK’s largest stone sculpture exhibition which in itself would be a treat, but for a gardener it is the wonderful setting of the grounds of Asthall Manor which is the icing on the cake. This was the home of the famous Mitford family and for those of us who have read the books of Nancy or Jessica, we have abiding images of  Farve hunting his children round the grounds, Muv’s faith in the Good Body to heal itself and the Hons Airing Cupboard headquarters.  If you haven’t read Nancy’s Pursuit of Love you have a treat in store. Asthall Manor is the fictititious ‘Alconleigh’ and Farve is thinly disguised as the xenophobic Uncle Matthew who thought that ‘abroad is unutterably bloody and foreigners are fiends’ and most of his daughters’ friends were ‘sewers’.

I don’t believe ‘Farve’, Lord Redesdale was a gardener, but the new owners have had the grounds designed by the celebrated garden designers, Julian and Isobel Bannerman who designed Highgrove gardens. They are obviously designed to be at their best in June for the sculpture exhibition. There are so many roses that a rose freak like me was in absolute heaven.

I love the way these two are grown together, an idea I will copy.

The next one is a bit of a mystery. My friend has it in her garden and has never been able to find out its name. We were delighted to find it here, but the head gardener didn’t know its name either. Any ideas? It is a little gem and each frilly flower is a combination of pink, yellow and white.

As there are roses climbing on every wall we asked the gardener how they cared for them. I was intrigued to learn that starting at the beginning of September they go round the walls removing all the leaves and this stops diseased leaves falling on to the ground and causing problems for the following year. This does seem very work intensive and indeed she told us it takes them until the following March to complete the task. But the roses are bursting with health and vitality.

As well as roses climbing the walls, I was taken with this way of training philadelphus.

Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’

And I have never seen phygelius growing like this either.


Other planting ideas that took my eye were these frothy peonies growing with astrantias.

Peonies and astrantia.

The colour of this clematis is the perfect match for the centre of Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’.

And I love the idea of growing frothy Crambe cordifolia which I featured last week as one of my top ten June blooms with Geranium psilostemon.

Crambe cordifolia and Geranium psilostemon

The garden has so many lovely features.  There is a gorgeous courtyard with this amazing little water feature.

I love this box parterre which is on a slope so you can see it properly.

And these stone steps on the side of it going up to the wild flower area.

Wild flowers are a feature as you look across the lovely view towards the Windrush valley.

There are man made- mounds that you can climb on which are a nod to Jencks and his Garden of Cosmic Speculation.

I loved the naturalistic swimming pond.

Even details like this fence hiding the compost heap was something I would love to copy.

The beautiful twelfth century church is right next to the house and some of the sculpture  is exhibited there too.

Asthall church

I loved quite a lot of the sculpture and the beautiful garden showed it off to perfection. I couldn’t help thinking that some of the lovely pieces would give my garden rather a classy look. But there was nothing much under £2000. The Pianist is endlessly indulgent about the fact that I am incapable of leaving the house without coming back with plants, but a £2000 bit of sculpture would be pushing his tolerance rather. Besides there were four of us in the car and nobody would fancy sitting with one of these pieces on their knee the whole way home.

By the entrance and our last glimpse of the garden was this magnificent lime tree in full bloom.

Under it there is a message which I rather liked and makes all my descriptions redundant.
‘When one is in the sphere of the beautiful, no explanation is needed.’

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Ten Favourite June Blooms.

It really is impossible to pick out just ten blooms from all the glories in the June garden, but here goes, I will give it a try. I have already written about roses which are my all time favourites. But I love them so much that they have to come in at number one on my June list.  So here are a few more.

Rosa ‘Blush Rambler’ is scrambling up the trunk of the big cherry tree. I had the tree cut down this year but the trunk remains to give support to this lovely rose. I think it is the best of the multiflora ramblers with masses of flowers and healthy, glossy foliage. It doesn’t hang on to its fading petals either so it always looks good.

Rosa ‘Blush Rambler’

It looks lovely against the dark leaves of Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’.

I love single flowers so I am particularly fond of the Hybrid Musk rambler ‘Francis E Lester’. It has apple-blossom pink flowers which fade to white. Later it has masses of long lasting small hips.

Rosa ‘Francis E. lester’

I adore old fashioned roses but now and then I fall for a modern one, specially if it has single flowers. I couldn’t resist ‘Smiling Eyes’ when I came across it the other day. It is pink with  dark pink centres which turn apricot as they mature.

Rosa ‘Smiling Eyes’

Of course, having bought this rose I couldn’t find room for it, or for any of the other ones that I suddenly find I can’t live without. So here we go, digging up more lawn. Which is no fun in this heat. And anyway it is totally stupid to plant anything in hot weather, watering already takes a large chunk out of my day.

Of my old fashioned roses, the gallica ‘Charles de Mills’ is one of my favourites. It is always healthy and spreads nicely, the flowers are such a glorious colour and shape and it is fabulously fragrant.

Rosa ‘Charles de Mills’

David Austin roses are all gorgeous but if I had to choose just one it would be ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ because of the fabulous colour of the flowers and also the super stems and foliage which set off the flowers so well.

Rosa ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’

The fleeting flowers of the oriental poppies are over now but I have to include them as they are June blooms. One I always grow is the tall, bright red ‘ Beauty of Livermere’ because my father grew it and it reminds me of my childhood, but the scarlet flowers are hard to place unless you like very bold colour schemes. Papaver orientale ‘Patty’s Plum’ is  much more subtle and always a favourite. It is a sumptuous rich plum colour although it doesn’t die elegantly and the flowers turn brown with age.  It was found on a compost heap in the 1990’s.

Papaver orientale ‘Patty’s Plum’

Papaver orientale ‘ Cedric Morris’ is a greyish pink, although it seems to be variable, mine isn’t very grey.  It was one of Cedric Morris’s seedlings although he was rather disparaging about it, he rather rudely said it is the colour of dirty knickers. It is sometimes known as ‘Cedric’s Pink’.

Papaver orientale ‘Cedric Morris’

There are several black and white poppies, I grow one called ‘Checkers’ which has a distinct black cross on the satiny white petals. Here it is with the single white peony ‘White Wings’.

Papaver orientale ‘Checkers.’

Up until the early twentieth century there were only red oriental poppies.  A nursery man in Enfield, Essex, Amos Perry discovered a pink one growing in his nursery beds in 1906 and called it ‘Mrs. Perry’ after his wife. In 1913 he received an irate letter from one of his customers complaining that one of his poppies was white. He swapped it for some montbretia corms, called it ‘Perry’s White’  and began breeding new colours. Today of course, there is a whole range of pinks, reds, oranges and whites and we are spoiled for choice.

Next to ‘Checkers’ you can see the glaucous leaves of the shiny, black opium poppy, Papaver somniferum ‘Black Beauty’. They seeded themselves from last year but I had to weed out the ones that didn’t come true. Some are single, some are double, but all are gorgeous.

Papaver somniferum ‘Black Beauty’

On my ‘beach’ in front of the shed I grow the orange horned poppy Glaucium corniculatum. You see the yellow one Glaucium flavum on the beaches and dunes in Suffolk. They like a poor, sandy soil.  Gerard said that ‘the juice mixed with meale and honey, ruindisieth old rotten and filthy ulcers‘. So that is handy to know if you are unfortunate enough to be afflicted in this way. The orange ones are not long lived but they do seed about.

Glaucium corniculatum

Irises are also flowers that grace early June and they are all too fleeting. In the past I have grown plenty of flounced and frilly bearded irises in amazing colours and I still do.

But nowadays I appreciate the subtler charms of the Cedric Morris hybrids.

And I particularly enjoy growing them from seed because you never know what you will get. Here are four off my own seedlings.

I have grown two very pretty Pacific Coast Irises from seed taken from a rather undistinguished parent. One of them is a lovely shade of pink and the other is buttercup yellow. it is a much brighter yellow than it appears on the photo.

Of course, we have to include full blown peonies which loll about the June garden like pampered courtesans because who would be without them? My favourite is Paeonia lactiflora ‘ Sarah Bernhardt’.  It is sumptuous and fragrant too.

Paeonia lactiflora ‘Sarah Bernhardt’

‘Festiva Maxima’ is another fragrant one. It looks like whipped  cream with a little raspberry juice swirled in.

Paeonia lactiflora ‘Festiva Maxima’

Paeonia ‘Monsieur Jules Elie’

I love white flowers and I would not be without the lovely white corncockle, Agrostemma githago ‘Milas Snow Queen’. It has satiny petals with pretty markings that look as if someone has doodled on it with a brown crayon. It is poisonous but then why would you want to eat it? It is an annual but it seeds itself and the self-sown seedlings are very tall. I grow it with Ammi, delphiniums and the lovely primrose coloured dandelion -like Andryala integrifolia. This actually belongs to the daisy family. It grows wild in Tuscany where I collected a few seeds. I have never seen it offered for sale here which is a pity as it is so pretty.

Agrostemma githago ‘Milo Snow Queen’ with Ammi and Andryala integrifolia.

Corncockle, Agrostemma githago ‘Milas Snow Queen’ with delphiniums.

Another white flower which you don’t see very often is Crambe cordifolia. It throws up a stem bearing a huge cloud of froth consisting of hundreds of tiny flower. Bees love the honey scented flowers. It sets off roses beautifully. It is actually a brassica. Everyone wants to know what it is and nobody believes me when I tell them that it is a Giant Kale.

Crambe cordifolia

Now in late June all my white flowers are disfigured with pollen beetle. I planned to include beautiful pure white Madonna and Regale lilies and I worked so hard for weeks to keep them free of lily beetle. Now just as they are in bloom they are unsightly as they are covered in these little beasts. Madonna lily, Lilium candidum used to grow beautifully in cottage gardens but these days it is tricky. I believe that the whole lot are infested with a virus and they go into a decline very quickly. The only way that I can keep them going is to dig them up and keep them going in the greenhouse in the winter as the leaves keep growing all winter long. In the greenhouse they get fed and watered and cossetted but if left outside they dwindle away.

Lilium candidum

The trumpet shaped flowers of Lilium regale are yellow inside and striped pink on the outside of the petals and  they smell divine. I have found this the easiest lily to grow from seed. I have painstakingly picked off all the lily beetles on this next picture but in minutes they will be back.

Lilium regale

June is the month when the campanulas are ringing their bells all over the garden. Most of them seed around happily so you never need to be without them. The peach-leaved campanula, Campunula persicifolia in blue or white is the most enthusiastic self seeder but is always welcome.

Tall growing Campanula lactiflora ‘Pritchards Variety’ benefits from the Chelsea chop to keep it tidy but I didn’t bother as the border is so densely planted that there is no room for it to flop.

Campanula lactiflora ‘Pritchard’s Variety’

I am fond of the huge deep purple bells of Campanula ‘Sarastro’. It is similar to ‘Kent Belle’ but much longer lasting and I think it is prettier.

Campanula ‘Sarastro’

Very similar but more violet in colour I have Campanula ‘Summertime Blues’. It is a perfect match for Geranium ‘Rozanne’.

Campanula ‘Summertime Blues’ with Geranium ‘Rozanne’

Amongst the smaller ones ‘Wedding Bells’ is pretty and ‘Spring Bell’is a delight.

And here are a few more, as you can see, I can’t resist them.

I am now at number ten and I don’t know what to chose. I have not talked about delphiniums or thalictrums and I should have mentioned clematis. But I am going to finish with my beautiful hardy orchids. I read somewhere that Dactylorhiza fuschii destroys honey fungus which is an on going problem in my garden. I bought one at great expense and waited for it to seed around into honey fungus- destroying carpets.  It never has any seedlings at all but it does come back every year and it is beautiful.

Dactylorhiza fuchsii

And my slipper orchid, Cypripedium ‘Kentucky’ is my pride and joy. It blooms in early June so I have a whole year to wait until I see it again.

Cyprypedium ‘Kentucky’

Please do join in and show us your Top Ten June Blooms. Or just one or two if you are short of time.

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Six on Saturday.

So many of my blogging friends are participating in this meme that I thought that I would join the party. It does seem a good way of writing about quite unrelated topics that catch your eye.

Petunia exserta

1. A very unusual petunia. I’m not really a petunia sort of person, they are hanging basket sort of plants, and not my thing. But Petunia exserta caught my eye in the Plant World catalogue this year and I am very glad it did as it is quite charming. If you like the big, blowsy, trumpety ones this is not for you. As you can see it is single, bright red and star-like. And it has a story. It is on the verge of extinction in its native Brazil. In 2007 only fourteen plants were counted in the wild. It is not only endangered by loss of habitat but it hybridises with Petunia axillaris, the parent of all our modern petunias. In its native setting it is pollinated by humming birds. I can’t provide those but I am trying to assist pollination with a little brush. I do grow Million Bells, but this is not a problem as they will not cross pollinate. Do seek out this delightful petunia and try to help preserve it from extinction.


2. Million Bells.  Having been very rude about petunias I am going to feature Petunia Million Bells or Calibrachoa as my second item. I just love it in pots and it comes in a fabulous range of colours.

3. Solomon’s Seal Sawfly.

Sawfly larvae. Symphyta.

I discovered this today and the leaves look terrible, it is amazing how quickly the caterpillars munch their way through the leaves if you are not vigilant. The flies cunningly lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves so you don’t spot them. They are called sawflies because they have a saw-like ovipositor, (great word) and drill holes in the leaves to lay their eggs in. When the caterpillars have eaten their fill they drop into the soil and pupate. These won’t though, they have ended up in a bucket of water. Gardening makes murderers of us all.

4. Pocket seeds. I bet I am not the only gardener whose pockets are full of seeds. Wherever I go seeds just fall into my pocket. I always think I will remember them and what they are. But weeks later when I find them I have no idea so I sow them and label them Pocket Seeds. Sometimes I have a nice surprise. I have no recollection of collecting the seed for this pretty calceolaria.


I sowed this next one three or four years ago. It was not a pocket seed, I found it on the window sill. It must have been a stone from a Medjool date and now I have a nice little palm tree.

I get lots of grassy shoots. Some of them look like grass and others grow little bulbs. This pocket must have had a begonia seed in it as well as some sort of grass.

This has grown a bulb, I can’t wait to see what it is.

This one was labelled long thin pod. I have planted one out even though I have no idea what it is, or even whether it is hardy. I could have picked it up on my travels somewhere. Does anyone recognise it?


These look like tree peonies.

And what on earth are these?

Life is always interesting when you grow the contents of your pocket.

5. Salad on a Table.

My salad on a table has been a great success. The pigeons who fall greedily on any leaves in the raised vegetable beds haven’t noticed these. We have been having salads every day and I have various lettuces, radishes, rocket, mustard, spring onions, pea shoot and lots of herbs.

The grassy stuff is Agretti  or Salsoda soda which is new to me. I have no idea how you cook it or eat it.

On the ground there are potatoes in a bag, carrots, spinach, pak choi, beetroot and chard in boxes and pots. I suppose it is a bit silly when I have a perfectly good vegetable garden but this is very convenient for the chef who can’t be bothered to walk down the garden. And anyway it it is fun.

6. Podophyllum ‘Spotty Dotty’. I have seen this on other blogs and wanted one for ages. I don’t know whether I have the conditions it likes but I will try to pamper it. It likes shade, well that’s easy. It likes a fertile soil so I have been spoon-feeding it with my special compost. Moisture retentive might be problem but never mind I will keep it watered.

Podophyllum versipelle‘ Spotty Dotty’

So there we have it, my random selection of Six on Saturday. Now all I have to do is master the knack of putting six pictures side by side on the top of the post like everyone seems to do.  And then perhaps get to grips with the rules of the meme but I was never very good with rules. Do check out The Propagator who hosts this meme and I had better go over too and introduce myself.

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Everything’s Coming Up Roses.

The roses are at their intoxicating best this year, can you remember them ever being as fabulous as they are right now? Perhaps it’s all the early spring rain or maybe they are always this beautiful but their sheer gloriousness takes us by surprise each year.

Many years ago I visited the garden, ‘Lime Kiln’, of a fanatical rosarian called Humphrey Brooke. He grew over 500 roses in a wonderful setting of 12 acres of woodland and ancient chalk pits.  Mr Brooke was very old when I visited him and his roses had grown unchecked for many years and in parts you really needed a machete to get through where paths were blocked and trees had been brought down under the sheer weight of massive roses. Mr Brooke told me that he didn’t believe in pruning, feeding or spraying. He only grew roses which were capable of thriving without aid. And thrive they did. He had the biggest Rosa filipes ‘Kiftsgate’ I have ever seen and you know how big that gets. The garden was wild and neglected, but such a magical place of enchantment and the fragrance everywhere was amazing. Mr. Brooke  told me that he had suffered all his life from bipolar disorder, then known as manic depression, but his garden and his quest to seek out lost old roses brought him great joy.  When I am a batty, old lady and too old to garden, I like the idea of giving my garden over entirely to roses  and letting them climb and meander everywhere enclosing the whole place in fragrance.

It was also about this time that I first visited Mottisfont Abbey and Sissinghurt  and became truly hooked on old roses. Vita Sackville West’s delicious descriptions of old- fashioned roses utterly beguiled me. At Sissinghurst I studied her way of growing them over hazel benders so that they were igloo-shaped and covered in blooms. Religiously, every year I would renew the hazel in my rose igloos and feed and pamper and spray the roses so that I could replicate the wonderful effect.  But that was in another garden and another life; these days I am a bit more laissez-faire when it comes to training my roses. If they want to tumble about or climb trees, they are allowed to. I like them growing in an abandoned luxuriance. I feed them, but mostly I let them do what they want with just a bit of support if they need it. And hypochondriacal  prima donnas that always look sickly with black spot or rust are simply evicted. Of course you never get rid of black spot entirely but as the famous rosarian Jack Harkness once said:’What’s a bit of black spot between friends?’ Actually, I once read that Christopher Lloyd claimed to have totally eliminated blackspot by having a three -inch layer of grass cuttings round each rose. This makes sense as the spores lie around on the ground.

Sometimes roses that are left to their own devices surprise you by climbing when they are not supposed to climb. Lovely ‘Grace’ is climbing up an apple tree and today I just noticed ‘Gentle Hermione’  at the top of a holly tree where she had no business to be, but good for her.

Rosa ‘Grace’ scrambling up an old apple tree.

Of course all roses are lovely, but I don’t much care for Rosa rugosa hybrids. Even though they are always nice and healthy with glossy leaves I cannot love them. With a few exceptions I eschew Hybrid teas and floribundas.  Old-fashioned roses make you swoon with their wonderful scent and beautifully shaped flowers. But like everyone else, these days I grow a lot of David Austin rose because they have all the charm and fragrance of old -fashioned roses and come in gorgeous colours.

Much as I love the sumptuous double blooms of old fashioned roses, I also love single roses and of course the bees do too.

My favourite single climber is Rosa cooperi which has enormous snowy white flowers and healthy foliage. It is said to be a bit tender and it needs a south facing position. I grew mine from a cutting and it has taken off beautifully.

Rosa cooperi. (R. laevigata.)

I have two single China roses which are not supposed to be totally hardy but I never have any problem with them. The first is the glorious Rosa mutabilis which changes colour from honey to orange to pink.

Rosa mutabilis

The other Rosa chinensis which blooms right up until November is the cherry red ‘Bengal Beauty’. I love this one. It looks good against the dark leaves of Cotinus coggyria.

Rosa ‘Bengal Beauty’

But for pure health and vigour in a single rose you can’t beat the modern shrub rose ‘Sally Homes’. And she flowers on and on.

Rosa ‘Sally Holmes’

Some of my ramblers are still to bloom. I showed lovely ‘Phyllis Bide’ in my secret garden in a recent post. The multiflora rambler Veilchenblau’ is just coming  into bloom in the weeping pear.

Rosa ‘Veilchenblau’

Last year I bought ‘Goldfinch’ because it is one I didn’t want to be without. This one was a great favourite of Vita Sackville West. She called it her pet and her darling. And you can see why, it is a combination of egg yolk and honey and has a delicious fragrance.

I have not bought the monster Rosa filipes ‘Kiftsgate’for this garden but I did bring a seedling from my previous garden which clearly has filipes blood in its veins, it is trying to take over every tree in its path.
I have another beautiful but vigorous rose with Rosa filipes ‘Kiftsgate’ in its heritage. It is the lovely ‘Treasure Trove’. I first saw it in my friend Anne’s garden. But Anne is a master pruner and her rose is beautifully trained and doing exactly what its told and looks superb. Mine has very quickly reached the top of its tree and goodness knows where it will head next. But it is so pretty.

Rosa ‘Treasure Trove’

One of my prettiest ramblers is one which I fell in love with in Humphrey Brooke’s garden all those years ago. It is ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’. It grows absolutely enormous, to about 30 feet and although half of the plum tree it is climbing sheered off in the gales last winter, it is quite unconcerned and has decided to head for a nearby apple tree.

Rosa ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’

Climbers aren’t so territorial and so are better for growing up walls. Pale pink Rosa ‘New Dawn’ is an old favourite from 1930. It is healthy, repeat -flowering and easy from cuttings. I have it growing on the front of my house.

Another healthy rose is the German -born  ‘Karlsruhe’.(1957)  It is a deep pink and  has healthy foliage and a lovely scent. It looks good growing up a yew tree.

Rosa ‘Karlsruhe’

Ok you are getting rose indigestion so I will just mention two more climbers.
Zepherine Drouhin is thornless and has a superb perfume. It is a Bourbon though and like lot of its tribe, it can suffer badly from black spot but I forgive it because it is so lovely.

Rosa ‘Zepherine Drouhin’

And just one more, ‘Lady Hillingdon’ is a real aristocrat and although she hangs her head languorously, you forgive her because the apricot colour and the fragrance are superb.

Rosa ‘Lady Hillingdon’

So there we have some of my current favourite roses, but there are plenty more for another day.

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Recently I entertained a group of charming American garden enthusiasts in my garden. Many of them were intrigued by my sisyrinchiums  and were unfamiliar with them. Perhaps they are not widely available to buy in the States, although I think they are native to America. It is a large genus including both herbaceous and alpine plants. They are part of the iris family and have fleshy roots arising from rhizomes. Many of them seed  around so enthusiastically that they can become a nuisance. The most commonly known one is Sisyrinchium striatum which will seed to produce large groups . It has iris-like leaves and creamy yellow flowers.

Sisyrinchium striatum with iris

Thinking about sisyrinchiums reminded me of a lovely planting I saw on a garden visit a few years ago. I can’t even remember where the garden was, but I was really taken with it and filed it away in my mind for future use. Trawling through my photographs I found a picture of the garden that had taken my eye.

I am going to borrow the idea and plant up a new bed with a ribbon of strappy- leaved plants edging it.  The blue flowers  edging the path in the photograph are alpine sisyrinchiums. The plants in my new bed will include  Sisyrinchium striatum, some irises which I am growing from seed, (all children of Cedric Morris irises,)  and Libertia grandiflora like those in the photograph. Here is a libertia with the lovely dark Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’ which Cathy from Rambling in the Garden blog kindly gave me.

Libertia grandiflora

To the left of the Sisyrinchium  striatum in the first picture is a variegated one called ‘Aunt May’. This doesn’t seed about but it is very pretty. Here it is in my garden. The winter frosts blacken some of the leaves, this one needs tidying up a bit.

Sisyrinchium striatum ‘Aunt May’

I have already chosen the spot for this new bed. There is already  a Mount Etna Broom, Genista aetnensis here and a very unusual pine tree.  I have an Abutilon vitifolium which would look lovely here.

Abutilon vitifolium

In the greenhouse I have a very rare Echium webbii grown from seed  by my green -fingered friend.  Echium webbii is rather tender but it is spectacular in flower so it can  be molly-coddled in the greenhouse for another year and then I will risk it down here in this sheltered part of the garden.

This is the spot earmarked for the new bed on the left. Don’t you think that all that boring old lawn is a waste of space? And I prefer to have as many trees as possible safely ensconced in large beds. The Pianist is like Attila the Hun when he gets on his ride-on mower. I have already had at least six rare trees succumb to his enthusiasm. I seem to remember reading somewhere that Attila the Hun once said: ‘There where I have passed, the grass will never grow again’. Here in my garden, for grass read , trees. See that hole in the grass? It once contained a rare Polstead Black Cherry. Still I mustn’t complain, my  Mower of Grass and Slayer of Trees is a treasure and an absolute lamb when he’s not on the mower. And I have learnt a good way of sealing up the wounds of trees that aren’t terminally injured with candle wax.

Some of the smaller sisyrinchiums can be invasive but so far mine are very well behaved. I grow them in gravel in the new Mediterranean garden. They include a pure white one called ‘Iceberg’ which closes its eyes when the sun goes in.

Sisyrinchium ‘Iceberg’

And this little dear with sky blue flowers called appropriately enough ‘Stripey’.

Sisyrinchium ‘Stripey’

This one is rather unusual, it is called ‘Quaint and Queer’.

Sisyrinchium ‘Quaint and Queer’

Until my sisyrinchiums were commented on by my visitors I had rather overlooked them . Now I am all fired up with ideas to feature them in my new bed which will be next year’s project. It is lovely to look at other gardens and get the germ of an idea. My next year’s bed will not be a copy of the one I saw, that would be boring. I shall use it as a starting point.  After I have spent a few months mulling it over, it will probably turn out quite unlike anything I am thinking about just now. That is how projects evolve in the mind, and what fun it is.  But for now I am going to concentrate on maintenance, I have just finished a new area which I will post about later in the summer.

But I will be looking out for some different sisyrinchiums, they are charming. I really covet Sisyrinchium ‘Raspberry’.  And I believe there is a new lavender- coloured hybrid called ‘Marion’, I have to have that. I shall see if I can find Sisyrinchium ‘Devon Skies’ which is a lovely blue. There is a similar blue one called ‘Californian Skies’. Either of these would do for an edging for my new bed. I had better get busy and grow some from seed.

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The Mediterranean Garden.

Three years ago I made my secret garden surrounded by a trellis to grow fragrant plants like roses, jasmine, honeysuckle and trachelospermum. At first it didn’t look very secret and everybody asked me what I was going to do with it, which was discouraging as I had already done it.

Now at last it is how I planned it and is a lovely place to sit.

The honeysuckle is Lonicera periclymenum ‘Scentsation’. It smells wonderful. The rose on the arches is ‘Phyllis Bide’ which is a very pretty rambler which smells gorgeous and unlike other ramblers keeps right on blooming.

Last year as I love having a new project I decided to make a Mediterranean garden. There is nothing so much fun in the garden as planning a new area. I thought my secret garden looked a bit lost sitting in the middle of the lawn with nothing to anchor it to the rest of the garden.  So now you walk under the rose arch into a Mediterranean garden.

To my surprise I found a lovely old grape vine at the local supermarket. When I went home and told my lovely Pianist about it he straightaway said ‘Come on, let’s go and get it’. And as it was the only one we jumped in the car and rushed back. After planting it I felt quite Mediterranean.

It’s such a pretty shape and not at all what you expect to find when you go to buy a pint of milk and some potatoes. Now what I needed was a 2000 year-old olive tree. I had to make do with this one; it is quite pretty and didn’t break the bank.

I used willow screening  behind the garden to create a feeling of intimacy. It was a shame to hide the trunks of the silver birches but beyond them is a bonfire and general grot area. In any case I wanted to enclose it. It is very sheltered down here and a real suntrap. I didn’t dig up the turf; I had learnt my lesson after digging up lawns in my front garden and for the winter garden. This time I used a membrane and covered it with gravel.

I had fun choosing the plants. Some of them bloom in late summer so I will show you another time. Looking good right now is a lovely  cistus with large white flowers with a maroon blotch. It is called Cistus x purpureus ‘Alan Fradd’.

Cistus x purpureus ‘Alan Fradd’

Also looking good are the alliums I planted. The white philadelphus on the right is a  nice compact one with double flowers called ‘Snowbelle’

Of course there have to be lavenders. This one is Lavendula stoechas.

Behind it is the gorgeous silky, silvery foliage of Senecio candicans ‘Angel Wings’ I was told that it was a tender perennial when I bought it last year, but it came through the winter very well with just a bit of fleece to protect it.

I also bought a perennial antirrhinum last year which is a bit tender but easy from cuttings. It spent the winter in the greenhouse and now it has been released into the garden it has decided to climb the fence. It is called Antirrhinum ‘Pretty in Pink’

Antirrhinum ‘Pretty in Pink’

Obviously for a Mediterranean garden you need plants that the bees enjoy. As well as the lavenders and alliums they are enjoying the prettiest little calamintha that I have ever seen. It is called Calamintha grandiflora ‘Elfin Purple’.

Calamintha grandiflora ‘Elfin Purple’

You don’t have to enter the Mediterranean through the secret garden there is another path alongside  it.

This is the view looking back towards the secret garden.

Long lists of plants are a bit tedious so I will finish with a few pictures and we can come and have another look later in the summer.


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My Top Ten May Blooms.

‘For May wol have no slogardie a-night. The season priketh every gentil herte and maketh him out of his sleepe to sterte.‘ ‘The Knight’s Tale’. Geoffrey Chaucer.

Indeed Chaucer had it right, there’s been no slogardie* in this house  because how could one bear to miss one second of this fabulous month of May, the crown of the whole year? The beauty certainly priketh my heart; is May always this beautiful, or is this year specially green and flowery? The colours seem extra sparkly and the birds sing louder and more joyfully than usual.  The Pianist and I have cycled for miles and the countryside has never looked so lovely with meadows full of buttercups and every lane frothing with cow parsley. And in the garden the flowers are all shouting for attention.  My self-imposed task of featuring just ten blooms is really difficult this month. But here goes.

I have to start with a paean to peonies.  The Gansu mudan as we have to call Paeonia rockii now have been fabulous. Followers of my blog will know that I am extra proud of mine because I grew them from seed under the impression that I was growing the fabled white Rock’s peony with the deep purple blotch. But of course bees get busy with them so you never know what colour  your seedlings will be. I have a magenta one and two pale pink ones. They are about nine years old now and full of exquisite and enormous blooms.


When I can drag myself away from contemplating these sumptuous beauties I am enjoying the masses of pure white blooms of a late flowering magnolia called Magnolia laevifolia ‘Gail’s Favourite’. This was formerly listed as  Michelia yunnanensis and it needs a sheltered spot. Michelias generally are not totally hardy.  Having said this, it came through a terrible winter unscathed. The flowers open from brown buds which look like suede. The blooms have a central boss of yellow stamens and they are sweetly scented.

Magnolia laevigata ‘Gail’s Favourite’

I don’t know who Gail was but she had good taste. Nearby is another plant which is not supposed to be reliably hardy but again it is absolutely fine. It comes from New Zealand and is called Sophora microphylla ‘Sun King’. It has clusters of claw-like bright yellow flowers.

Sophora microphylla ‘Sun King’

I have another sophora which is a shrub rather than a tree. It comes from China and it is called Sophora davidii. The flowers are pea-like and white with blue-purple calyxes. It is not showy, but nevertheless rather pretty with its ferny foliage.

Sophora davidii

May is the month of the the various forms of Clematis montana. It always amazes me with the extent which it will travel if it is happy. My fastest growing one which is really a mile- a -minute vine is ‘Warwickshire Rose’. It is very pretty but only plant it if you have lots of space.

Clematis  montana ‘Warwickshire Rose’

Two other favourites are both double ones. Clematis montana ‘Marjorie and even better Clematis montana ‘Broughton Star’.

Clematis montana ‘Marjorie’


Clematis montana ‘Broughton Star’

I wouldn’t be without two fragrant ones, Clematis montana ‘Elizabeth’ which is a lovely pale pink and the last to flower is Clematis montana ‘Wilsonii’ which has white star like flowers. This last one travels a long way too. In fact mine has travelled so far up into the trees that I can hardly see it.

Clematis montana ‘Wilsonii’ making a bid for freedom.

A new clematis I bought  last year is the very unusual double yellow one called Clematis koreana ‘Amber’. I am delighted with it.

Clematis koreana ‘Amber’

The backs of the flowers are pretty too.

Of the large flowered ones the earliest to flower in my garden is ‘Miss Bateman’. It has been around for years and is understandably popular with white flowers and a lovely maroon centre.

Clematis ‘Miss Bateman’

The buds have just opened on  the shrub, Calycanthus x raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’ which is a  beautiful cross between a Calycanthus and a Sinocalycanthus. It has glossy foliage and delightful wine-red flowers. They are supposed to smell of cinnamon  but I can’t detect it.

Calycanthus x raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’

If you have damp soil then the round flowers of trollius  are delightful. Many years ago Beth Chatto told me about a very special one called ‘Alabaster’ and I have grown it ever since, it really is the aristocrat of trolliuses, or should that be trollii? Beth Chatto died recently and she will be greatly missed in the horticultural world . Her garden has been an inspiration for gardeners everywhere. She was always happy to share her knowledge and over the years I have learnt about many fine plants from her. I think the pale lemon of this flower goes beautifully with the dark leaves of the acer.

Trollius x cultorum ‘Alabaster’

Another plant I learnt about from Beth Chatto, is a beautiful and very elegant gladiolus which I used to keep in the greenhouse as I believed it was only borderline hardy. I planted it in the garden and forgot to bring it in for the winter but it has come through unscathed and is blooming prettily. The flowers are the palest yellow and it is fragrant in the evenings. It is nice in a pot but it needs a bit of support because the leaves are rush-like and grow throughout the winter.

Gladiolus tristis

In winter, carpets of little Corydalis solida or C. cava seed around and are very welcome when there is not much else about.  By now they have disappeared. But there is a May- flowering tall corydalis which is my absolute favourite. If you have ever  tried to grow  the sky-blue Corydalis flexuosa you have probably loved it and lost it; it doesn’t hang about. If you want a blue corydalis (and why wouldn’t you?) try Corydalis ‘Spinners’; it is a cross between Corydalis elata and Corydalis flexuosa. It doesn’t seed around but the clumps get bigger every year, the flowers are electric blue. And  scented too.

Corydalis elata x flexuosa ‘Spinners’

The biggest corydalis of all starts out with beautiful bronze leaves in winter. It is called Corydalis temulifolia ‘Chocolate Stars’. The leaves go greener in summer but it still looks good with its lilac flowers next to Epimedium ‘Amber Queen’ which I featured last month and it is still going strong. Behind is Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’.

Corydalis temulifolia Chocolate Stars’ with Epimedium ‘Amber Queen’ and Euphorbia ‘Fireglow’

Red Campion, Silene dioica is looking wonderful at the moment in all the lanes round here. The damp- loving Silene flos cuculi, commonly called ‘Ragged Robin’ is one of my favourite silenes. I grow some by my pond alongside the ‘Sticky Catchfly’, Lychnis viscaria ‘Splendens’.

Silene flos cuculi with Lychnis viscaria ‘Splendens’

Well I had better finish with some geums as they seem to be all the rage this year. The bright red ‘Mrs. Bradshaw’ has been around for years but  for a long time was eschewed by many gardeners as being too bright and garish. But now primary colours are fashionable  we can embrace ‘Mrs. Bradshaw, and indeed she is a fine geum.

Geum ‘Mrs. Bradshaw’

Some of the modern hybrids come in some gorgeous shades. I have been wanting ‘Totally Tangerine’ for ages after seeing her on other blogs. And now I have it.

Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’

Geum ‘Mai Ta’ is a semi-double frilly apricot one which is very pretty.

Geum ‘Mai Tai’

And who can resist ‘Flames of Passion’? Specially with a name like that.

Geum ‘Flames of Passsion’

I know I have left out some quintessentially May flowers, how could I omit lupins, aquilegias and alliums? And the first roses and irises are already in bloom. Never mind they will have to wait until June. And now it’s back to work, May is the most beautiful month but it is also the busiest, specially for gardeners whose eyes are bigger than their stomachs when it comes to ordering seeds and dahlias. And the weeds are all on steroids. And of course, there is the latest project to work on. Which reminds me I never got round to posting about last year’s project which is looking very pretty right now so I will write about it in my next post. In the meantime, it would be lovely if you could find time to share your favourite May blooms and link with me.

* ‘Slogardie‘ means slothfulness or laziness and it’s my current favourite word.

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In a Vase on Monday. ‘Gather Ye Rosebuds while Ye May’.

My first roses are in bloom. Sometimes Rosa xanthina ‘Canary Bird’ blooms in April but this year it has waited until May. It is a large shrub and it is covered in primrose yellow single blooms.

Rosa xanthina ‘Canary Bird’

Also in yellow, but with slightly larger flowers and  a deeper buttercup yellow, I have Rosa ‘Helen Knight’. It is a seedling of Rosa ecae and has lovely ferny leaves like those of ‘Canary Bird’

Rosa ‘Helen Knight’

Rosa ‘Helen Knight’

I have picked a few of each but once in the vase they look pretty similar.

In case you are thinking that the little figures on the jug are rather rash frolicking naked in early May, it is unusually hot and sunny and just the sort of weather for gathering rosebuds and dancing in one’s birthday suit. But one doesn’t want to scare the neighbours and get a reputation for being eccentric. Besides, at my age it’s not very dignified.  So I am decently attired, but still dancing because the weather is heavenly and the garden is wearing its best party dress.

And as well as gathering rosebuds, ‘We’ll gather lilacs in the Spring again’. At least I will; gathering lilacs isn’t the Pianist’s idea of a fun morning.


I have no idea which lilac this is, it was here when we came and every year I threaten it because it has such encroaching ways and is so uninteresting for most of the year. But when it blooms I forgive it everything. It shows such generosity in producing  its fleeting flowers and of course, it has such an exquisite scent.

Just bury your nose in this. Heavenly.

Thanks to Cathy at ramblinginthegarden for encouraging us to put something in a vase on Monday. I expect everyone will have beautifully bountiful vases now that May is here. Do go and look.

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In a Vase on Monday. The Last of the Daffy -down-dillies.

30th April is a special day, it is my wonderful daughter’s birthday.  So today’s Vase on Monday is dedicated to my lovely girl.  Big blowsy daffodils might ‘come before the swallow dares and take the winds of March with beauty’ but I love the later narcissi which are amongst the daintiest and the prettiest of the whole tribe and many of them are deliciously fragrant.

The poet, John Masefield said:

‘I have seen the Lady April bringing the daffodils,

Bringing the springing grass and the soft warm April rain’.

Unfortunately the Lady April is a capricious lady and today the rain is far from soft and warm, it is cold and cruel, accompanied by a bitter north easterly wind. I hope these daffodils will bring a little sunshine to the day.

The daintiest of all is the fragile looking Narcissus ‘Segovia’.  It has pure white petals and a flat lemon cup with frilly edges. One of its parents is the tricky, pure white Narcissus wateri which comes from the High Altlas mountains of Morocco. I can’t grow Narcissus wateri but I can grow this little beauty and I wouldn’t be without it. It is good in a pot too.

Narcissus ‘Segovia’

Narcissus ‘ Segovia’ centre, Narcissus ‘Bell Song’ left.

Just as dainty and with an incredible fragrance we have the jonquil, Narcissus ‘Bell Song’

Narcissus ‘Bell Song’

Narcissus ‘Bell Song’ with yellow ‘N.’Sun Disc’

  Narcissus ‘Sun Disc’ above is another jonquil with a delicious scent, it has small flowers and a flat corona like a little face.  I think it is ‘Sun Disc’, the bulbs were labelled as ‘Sweetness’ and it is certainly not that. I keep it in a pot by the pond.

Narcissus ‘Sundisc’

The pretty Narcissus ‘Pipit’ is yet another in the jonquilla group. The lemon and cream flowers have a delicious fragrance. And aren’t they cute?

Narcissus ‘Pipit’

Narcissus ‘Katie Heath’ is a tiandrus narcissus.  It is larger flowered than the little treasures I have featured so far. If you are interested in daffodils you will know that they are divided into different groups or divisions. Tiandrus is Division Five and all the daffodils in this group are very delicate looking with pendant flowers and reflexed petals and they usually have two or three flowers to a stem.  The popular white ‘Thalia’ is in the tiandrus division . I love ‘Katie Heath’ for its pinky- peach coloured.  It is in the top right hand corner of the above picture. It is larger than ‘Bell Song’ and the coronna is chunkier with a stronger colour.


Narcissus ‘Katie Heath’

The pure white Narcissus ‘Petrel’ is another in the Tiandrus division. It is multi-headed and beautifully fragrant. You can see it on the  lower right hand side of the photo below.

I like to grow Narcissus ‘Petrel ‘ with the showy Epimedium ‘ Amber Queen’ because they are looking good at the same time.

Narcissus ‘Petrel’ with Epimedium ‘Amber Queen’

I am very fond of one I bought as Narcissus ‘Elka’. I bought quite a few bulbs and gave a potful to a friend last year. The worrying thing is hers don’t look anything like mine. I have read that ‘Elka’ is early flowering but in my garden it is one of the latest, so perhaps it is wrongly labelled. Can anyone tell me if  they recognise it as ‘Elka?

Narcissus ‘Elka’

I put  some frothy Spiraea argutea ‘Bridal Veil’ in with the vase but once inside it drops its petals very quickly .

The little  round vase has the tiny trumpets of the hoop petticoat Narcissus bulbodicum with Epimedium versicolor ‘Sulphureum’.  This little narcissus will seed around if it is happy and the seedlings are very variable and always a delight.

Narcissus bulbocodium


And to finish here is my daughter’s beloved Hector  and a Vase on Monday painted  specially for the occasion by my other best girl, my daughter-in-law, the amazingly talented and totally adorable Beatrice.

Thank you to my lovely friend, Cathy at Ramblinginthegarden for hosting this meme and for giving me the chance to send love and best birthday wishes to my Golden Girl.

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