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Climbers for Shade

April 18, 2014

Hydrangea petiolaris is great for wall and fence cover and it’s especially useful as it self-clings with small suckers on the branches avoiding the need for wires and nails. It drops its leaves in late Winter but puts new ones out early in March followed by these pretty bunches of green flowers which open to dainty cream/white flower-heads in May.


It’s used very effectively round the front door of a house in Peckham demonstrating that it thrives in almost total shade.DSCN0717-001

I have been tackling invasive plants all week starting with lamium which was filling a border near the house. That task was satisfying because it comes up relatively cleanly and left lots of fertile ground to take some bronze fennel and Verbena bonariensis. I then moved on to the celandines which was really tiresome since these tend to break off at ground level leaving tiny white bulbs that will bounce back with vigour next year. But a more satisfying tackle was getting the ivy off the wall at the far end of the garden. There was masses of it but it’s exposed a beautiful stone wall to plant with the shade-tolerant rose Rosa Madame Alfred Carriere…

madame alfred carriere

Once the ivy roots were out there was room in the bed for more hydrangeas and I planted two H. ‘Etoile Violette’  and dotted Macleaya cordata in amongst them. hydrangea etoile violette


I spotted these B & Q containers on-line Inexpensive and stylish they would look great on a balcony or outside the kitchen door and two sets would provide six growing pods for herbs, vegetables, cut flowers or salad leaves. Any of these plants would look great against the black plastic and could replace  smaller pots which tend to look bitty and because of their size dry out quickly in hot summers. There might even be time to round up potatoes for the tall ones and the medium size would take courgettes, squash or beetroots. Add a tripod of bamboo canes for sweet peas, climbing French beans or runner beans to add a bit of height to the scheme. Top up with a good commercial compost for growing produce and feed every three weeks with plant food granules. DSCN2579


The garden is full of Spanish bluebells and Euphorbia robbiae picked here for a pot on my desk.

Spring Blossom

April 11, 2014




Three multi-stemmed Amelanchier lamarkii at the end of the garden are now a frothy mass of pure white flowers. The leaves emerged just six weeks ago and transformed from pale grey into coppery-bronze and these now surround the blossom adding even more to the delicate flowers.  The performance is fleeting but when the flowers drop in a few weeks time the leaves will continue to grow and to gradually turn a fresh green. There’s another fling in Autumn as the leaves turn into shades of soft orange to red with hints of pineapple yellow.  It’s such a lovely shrub and looks stunning under-planted with bulbs of Muscari latifolium below.



Eradicating a pretty but very invasive alpine strawberry that has taken over many of the beds left me pulling out about thirty Saxifrage London Pride that were entwined in the roots. The delicate pink flowers are held on wiry stems and it flowers in mid-April so is welcome for early Spring interest. I re-planted six or so and potted up the rest to give away. DSCN2551



Last Spring I bought 3 perennial Oriental poppies from the Pound Shop. There was no name but the picture showed bright red poppies and at just one pound for three I decided they were worth a try. I planted the lumpy lifeless contents into the border not expecting much but within a few weeks green shoots had appeared. There were no flowers last year but I am very excited to see three healthy clumps have emerged this Spring. I’ll go back for more for the cutting bed on the allotment.




This week the cut flowers are Orange tulips in an Indian brass pot helped with a couple of shrill lime-green Euphorbia characias flowers.DSCN2559



Tulip Time

April 3, 2014

Here in the garden several pots of tulips are about to open and I love this stage as much as when they are in full bloom. These are T. ‘Orange Toronto’ and they were chosen to match an ornate Indian brass vase but I’m not sure I can bring myself to pick them.  DSCN2519



On the allotment the Russian kale along with the flat-leaf parsley and rocket has made a trip to pick each week since Christmas worth the effort.  But last week the kale finally come to an end with all twelve plants flowering and I stripped the bed clear. I got a call from a gardening friend who said she’d been picking her flowering kale stems and that they were tender and delicious so I’m regretting being ahead of myself.  The plus though was that removing the kale left a lovely bed of the finest soil in which I sowed  two rows of beetroot and a row of Little Gem lettuce seeds.


Weeds are coming through fast but are small enough to keep on top of with regular hoeing.  And having weeded I covered three empty beds with black plastic ready for planting courgettes, pumpkin and beans at the beginning of May. And I saved this clump of Forget-me-Nots for the kitchen table…




Spring Bulbs

March 25, 2014

t. turkestanica


Beds and borders were full of this lovely little tulip T. turkestanica in an Oxford garden last week. Planted as bulbs five years ago they’ve naturalised and re-appear every March ahead of other tulips and as a welcome extension to the Spring bulb display.

anemone blanda


In other beds carpets of blue Anemone Blanda were providing  colour and interest  whilst waiting for herbaceous plants- just visible through the soil- to wake up from Winter.




In the garden here several Erythronium Pagoda (Dog’s Tooth Violets)are in flower and have formed sizeable clumps in less than a year.  They fight for space surrounded as they are by the lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) another early harbinger of Spring but not a favourite of mine. I resent its invasive spreading habit and that it’s colonised most of my garden and I look forward to it melting away in May as thankfully it always does. It looks charming in deciduous woodlands and I can appreciate why poets celebrate it but the mat of greenery surrounding the pretty yellow flowers depress my spirits in this small garden. It’s a squatter and I am determined to evict it with a trowel bit by bit.



There’s not much to pick in the garden currently but three hellebore flowers look very sweet sitting in a saucer found at a car boot sale last weekend.

Dividing up Herbaceous Plants

March 17, 2014

In un-seasonal warmth and full sun I’ve just had a really satisfying weekend in the garden. It started with a tidy up of the main flower beds cutting back last year’s growth on herbaceous plants, pruning the roses and cutting out any branches that rubbed across each other. There were  Autumn leaves still to clear lurking at the back of the borders from climbing hydrangeas and I gave every shrub and climber a good handful of 6X at the base. I gave a specially good feed to the Osmanthus burkwoodii  below which is full of tiny cream flower buds about to open and flood the air with the scent of jasmine.DSCN1108

Herbaceous perennials are only just emerging but it was great to find aquilegia, heuchera, tellima, poppies, hardy geraniums and catmint showing signs of life just visible through the soil. The pulmonarias below are looking good providing great ground cover and welcome colour in early Spring.


Then came the best bit. Some friends on a tight budget has asked for help  improving their new garden. It’s in a terrace of houses back to back with another terrace so quite sheltered and with sun on most of it half the day.  French windows lead on to decking down the side return which is the sunniest aspect and a row of planters along one side of the decking will be used for culinary herbs and tomatoes.  The decking leads into the main garden, currently  a patch of lawn measuring 6m by 5m and surrounded by walls and high fencing so fairly private. They decided to spend the budget on plants rather than hard landscaping and they’ll make 1m deep beds round the lawn to make three decent sized planting areas.  Beds this size offer a great opportunity for texture and contrasting leaf shapes and there will be ample room for a tree in one bed and a variety of shrubs, climbers, perennial plants and bulbs to fill out the rest.

So with their budget in mind and whilst tidying the beds here I lifted and divided and potted into 9cm pots about 60 plants for the new garden. These included Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, Geranium macrorrhizum, Vinca major, Euphorbia robbiae, Ajuga reptans, Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, Phlomis russeliana and all are now in trays in the pop up greenhouse. Perennials are relatively fast growing and all of the above tolerate part shade. It was very satisfying especially since the budget can now be spent on substantial sized shrubs and climbers and more herbaceous plants for infill planting.


It’s a perfect time of year for dividing and planting and over the next four weeks as the soil begins to warm up these newly planted perennials will rapidly increase in size. By late summer most of the beds will be full and in flower and any spaces can be sown with nasturtiums and other annual seeds.

Growing Pains

March 11, 2014

I knew it was far too early for sowing seeds but I couldn’t resist and started with courgettes. The plan was to put the pots in the heated propagator and to catch them just as soon as they emerged through the soil. Then I would keep them indoors in the warm and light for the next six weeks. This below was the stage I had hoped to catch them at…


…but when I returned from four days away four of the seedlings had shot up to an ungainly 20cms.  They are all now in the cold frame sheltered in a porch and sitting on bubble wrap where I hope the growth will slow down and the root systems will steadily increase but I may well have to start again.DSCN2485

It’s so tempting in this warm weather to try to get ahead yet it’s essential to wait another six weeks before sowing most seeds. Hardy annuals are the exception and a row of French Marigolds are now sown direct in the soil on the allotment next to the broad beans.  Another pot of broad beans has just come through in the propagator and these will be planted next week with the marigolds growing between the two rows.

I keep picking my lovely crop of flat leaf parsley sown last September and that and the rocket have made a trip to the allotment each week worthwhile over the last three months. I have put a reminder in my journal to sow both again in early September this year.


This inspiring book by Louise Curley, with lovely photographs by Jason Ingram, has just arrived and after a 30 minute read I am so excited and I can’t wait to get sowing.  I started to clear a patch on the allotment on Sunday inspired by her article in the Guardian Weekend which opened with a lovely statement ‘ Flowers make us feel better’.  I know this to be true and I share her reluctance to buy imported when it’s possible to grow them in the UK for most of the year.


The Helleborus argutifolius are looking lovely in the garden here …


I sowed seeds from this plant last Autumn from a crisp brown seedhead and they sat quietly in the cold frame all Winter until a month ago when they began to grow a pace.


This week I pricked them out into individual pots and placed them in the cold frame to establish some sturdy roots. I want to increase all my hellebores especially the ones below with double flowers,  these emerge every year in almost total shade and there’s room for more.


Inner City Planting

March 3, 2014

In London last week I was struck by the amount of attention and care people put into greening up outdoor spaces whatever the space available.  Below was a raised wooden planter built to 90cm high and covering the outside wall of an architect’s office at the end of a suburban street in Peckham. The weathered wood had turned silvery-grey which combined beautifully with the soft creamy-pink flowers of Bergenia stracheyi.  And the leathery evergreen leaves made a strong contrast against the grey concrete render of the building walls.  Bergenias survive in dry and shady areas so need little attention and it was subtle and pleasing planting that lifted the spirits as I turned into the street.


A bit further along there was an unusual hedge of Senecio ‘Sunshine’ that had been clipped regularly to achieve a dense barrier between the neighbouring garden. It was cool and refreshing and suited the scale of the house and the colour of the front door beautifully.


Outside a block of flats six huge plastic containers had been planted full and simply with Cyclamen coum. The plants were dramatically limited to carmine red and purple and set off by their mottled silver leaves it was an awesome colour combination for early Spring.


And although not a lot was happening in the garden below the symmetry was pleasing.  Spring tulips filled each section ready to flower next month followed by roses and herbaceous plants that bloom in Summer. It’s a very low maintenance solution that manages to give pleasure all year round.



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