Going state-side 2017


I’m rather thrilled that I have registered this weekend to attend the 2017 Garden Bloggers Fling which will be hosted in the Capital Region of the US.

I loved the 2013 GB Fling in San Francisco and made lots of new friends, who I am still in touch with and who are, wonderfully, also going in 2017.  It also opened my eyes to different gardening styles and plants that I wouldn’t normally encounter here in the UK. I came home inspired and enthused and to a degree liberated from UK traditional gardening approaches.

Places are limited but if you are a garden blogger and fancy meeting up with lots of other garden bloggers for 3.5 days of intense garden visiting then check out the website.  I’m planning on extending my stay to at least 7 days so I can take in some of the Washington DC sights as well.


Suffolk and N Essex Garden Tour – Day 1

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Our first day started with torrential rain causing delays on the motorway  causing us to be late for our first garden of the four day garden visiting extravaganza that we were embarking on.  Due to the awful weather, the owners of The Moat House generously invited us into their home for morning tea and cake.  I think it rakes a real generosity of spirit to invite 38 soggy strangers into your home with their damp shoes and dripping umbrellas and coats particularly given the pale green carpet.

Moat House, Little Saxham

Moat House, Little Saxham

Being hardy gardeners, having refueled, we were keen to explore the first garden.  The Moat House is a partially moated garden of two acres which has been developed over 2 years. The garden is very much your traditional country garden with herbaceous borders full of roses, generally in pastels shades, alliums, geraniums, delphiniums, and peonies.  IMG_5343

As you would expect with any English country garden there was plenty of box edging and topiary around the garden.  Personally, I’m not that keen on box edging but I can see that it provides a nice edge and has the benefit of hiding the legs of plants and the bare soil but you need to have the discipline to keep them looking sharp in order to achieve the best effect.


And we had the first of many parterres filled with herbs and plants for cutting.

Fullers Mill Garden, West Stow

Fullers Mill Garden, West Stow

With the rain abated and the sun shining we moved on to our next garden – Fullers Mill Garden, West Stow.  The garden was created by Bernard Tickner who has gardened here for some 50 years and has now placed the 7 acre garden in trust for the charity Perennial. Bernard is a plantsman and his approach is to create a garden which is very loosely designed, giving a natural feel, and providing interest all year round.  The garden is almost on an island created by the diverted mill stream which powered the Fullers Mill.  The Fulling Mill has existed on the site since 1458, fulling is a process through which you make cloth thicker by passing it through a series of wooden mallets, the fabric is then stretched out on the drying ground.


I quite liked the looser planting style to the previous garden and it was the favourite garden for many that day.   generously  borders with gentle curves are planted up with shrubs and perennials merging together in soft mounds.


However, the real feature of Fullers Mill Garden is the stream and mill-pond.  The inclusion of water in the garden was a real theme of the gardens we visited this week which was interesting as we constantly heard that we were in the driest part of the country.  Presumably this is because when the houses were built there was no water on tap so the properties were located close to streams in order to have easy access to the little water that was available.


I think Fullers Mill Garden is one that would have benefited us having a little more time to explore but we spent the day trying to catch up the time lost in the morning on the motorway.

Bellflower Nursery, The Walled Garden, Langham Hill

Bellflower Nursery, The Walled Garden, Langham Hill

We ended the day with our first real plant buying opportunity at Bellflower Nursery.  The nursery specialising in Campanula, hence its name, and hold a national collection.  I have to admit that I’m not that keen on Campanula as they never grow very well for me but I really enjoyed visiting this garden purely due to its location within a walled garden.


The owner of the nursery, Sue Wooster, not only has her nursery to run but also the ornamental side of the walled garden to maintain and she shared with us that she has also just taken on the tenancy of the edible part of the walled garden. She was doing a sterling job is maintaining the borders which I think also act as stock beds for the nursery but what I enjoyed was the slightly dishevelled aspect of parts of the garden which Sue admitted had a habit of getting the better of her.  There is something particularly romantic about a walled garden especially one that has the ghosts of its past still evident.


So day 1 having started a bit wet under foot ended well with us in high spirits and our coach driver rapidly becoming aware that he was going to have to develop skills in packing plants.




Suffolk and North Essex Garden Tour 

I am currently away on a four day tour of gardens in Suffolk and North Essex. The trip has been organised by one of our HPS members and she has been organising an annual trip for her garden friends for the last 7 years and this is my first time in the trip. Now I have photographs, not as many as is my usual habit as I have been busy talking, of the 6 gardens we have visited so far but I wanted to start with sharing with you the wonderful location of our hotel in Sudbury.

We are staying in a former water mill which overlooks water meadows and my room overlooks the mill stream so my down chorus this morning was full of the gentle quacks of the ducks with their ducklings and we have been thrilled to watch a heron standing right below the hotel window.

This evening we went for a walk after diner over the water meadow which is a nature reserve and grazed by cows who earlier we had watched cooling off in the mill pond – there is a real bucolic feel to the view which is incredibly restful. And as for the sunset it was quite magical.

End of month view and time-out


I’m afraid it’s a short and sweet (hopefully) end of month view post from me this time. I have decided to take some sort of break from the blog for a while but the end of month meme was upsetting my plan so at the last minute I have decided to post some pics of Hugh’s border which as you can see is looking very lush at the moment, though the pink Sweet Rocket (I think ) aren’t what I planned and will be shortly replaced by some Crocosmia Lucifer which will tie in better with the rest of the planting here.


The reason for my sabbatical from the blog is nothing more sinister than work commitments. My new role is developing rapidly and as I said to the Vice Chancellor today there isn’t much of a curve in my learning curve! But it is exciting and I am enjoying the challenge and learning loads. However I am working longer days and to be honest the last thing I want to do when I get home is look at a screen or try to write something even vaguely interesting – before this new role the blog was one of the only outlets for my whitterings and thoughts; now I have to write numerous policies and reports so I have no energy for the smallest of whitterings. All I want to do with my spare time is potter, mainly in the garden, and sew.

So instead of making myself blog because I feel guilty for not blogging I thought I would take some time out for an undefined period of time. I don’t want to say I will stop blogging or make some grand announcement, but I didn’t want anyone thinking the worse.

Back to Basics

Pots of blue and lilac primulas

Pots of blue and lilac primulas

I have a habit these days of trying to catch up with garden magazines over a cup of tea in bed on a Sunday morning. This morning, for the first time in years, I had a copy of the Gardeners World magazine to read.  I have shunned the magazine as being full of the basics and instead have chosen to read other horticultural magazines such as the English Garden and Gardens Illustrated but over the last 6 months or so I have found myself flicking through them looking for something to engage with; they are full of amazing gardens but with little of the horticultural detail I have sought. I think my struggle to find the right sort of horticultural literature is indicative of the changes in my approach to my garden and horticulture which has crept up on me over the last year.

For some years now I have charged around the country visiting gardens, attending shows, talks and workshops many of which have featured on this blog. I have been lucky in receiving invitations to all sorts of events; helped, albeit briefly, build a Cheslea show garden; exhibited plants in shows, including RHS shows; had posts published on a national newspaper website; had a regular monthly slot on the local BBC radio gardening programme; been paid for a number of years to write a weekly blog on gardening; and recently had the blog mentioned in Women’s Weekly.  I have enjoyed it all but now looking back I wonder how I managed to find the energy and I know deep down inside that whilst I have been charging around doing all of this there has been a little voice in my head expressing concern and a dis-satisfaction at the standard of my own garden.

Lamprocapnos spectablis 'Valentine' emerging

Lamprocapnos spectablis ‘Valentine’ emerging

I know now that the energy came from a lack of fulfilment in my previous role at work.  It was not stretching me mentally and I seemed to have a lot of nervous energy and had seriously started to wonder if I was hyperactive.  Having my role change at work drastically, particularly over the last 6 months, has made me understand that I’m not hyperactive I was just bored.  I now have a challenging and demanding role which I am loving, although the learning curve is rather steep, which means that at the end of the day and particularly the end of the working week I am mentally wrung out and this is clearly being reflected in my approach to this blog and gardening.  I have said before that I don’t want to spend much time on social media any more and it’s because I don’t want any more stimulation as I don’t always sleep well.  So since Christmas I have made a conscious effort to avoid social media apart from in small doses and I try to make that early evening and it seems to have

Buddleja salviifolia flower buds forming

Buddleja salviifolia flower buds forming

What I do want to do is practical things.  I suppose as a result of being stretched mentally it is natural to want to do something with your hands and particularly something which doesn’t require too much careful thought.  So in the evenings I sew which I find calming and hopefully as the evenings get longer and warmer I will be able to potter outside.  Pottering in fact is my new gardening mantra and the driver behind this blog post, although I think I may have wandered a little.   My enthusiasm for my garden is as strong as ever but I no longer feel a need to conquer the world; I just want to be a very good gardener and plants person.  I want to grow good healthy plants and I want to create a garden that showcases the rather eclectic mix of plants I have accumulated to their best advantage and that is beautiful.  I want to get my orchids to re-flower, I would be thrilled if my tree peony flowered and if I can nurture the meconopsis blue poppies into flowering I will be elated.

What I don’t seem to have a desire to do is charge around the country visiting and seeing things.  I know it is good for a gardener to see other gardens to get inspiration and I am sure someone famous said something along those lines but I feel my head, the blog and my picture archive is full of inspiration – so much inspiration that it is now overwhelming.  Interestingly when I ran a little survey on this blog asking what sort of posts readers liked the overwhelming first choice were posts about my garden rather than about other people’s gardens and certainly no product reviews.  I found that quite striking and it has been at the back of my mind for a while – it was almost like being given permission to stop!

Cyrtomium fortunei seedlings

Cyrtomium fortunei seedlings

So going back to my morning reading I really enjoyed the Gardeners World magazine.  Yes there were the obligatory sections on taking cuttings but I hadn’t thought of taking Dianthus cuttings, which I plan to try this week, nor have I ever really had a go at basal cuttings so I will also be trying that on my Lamium.  I was reminded to sow some annuals when the ground warms up a little and I was heartened by an article encouraging us to forsake the straight lines of parterres and other popular design solutions in favour of curves – more of that another day (probably).  Importantly, for me, there were no articles on amazing gardens that I, with a small garden and not being able to afford a gardener, will never be able to aspire to – instead I felt encouraged and reassured with some new things to try, just enough to get me outside to enjoy the sunshine and shouldn’t that be what gardening is all about? I will of course go to the Malvern show, and probably Chelsea (particularly as I have a free ticket) and I have a garden visiting trip with friends to the east of the country in June but in the meantime I will potter and go back to the basics.

Notes from the garden – 6th March

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There is nothing quite like a few stolen hours working in the garden on a chilly early Spring Sunday to make you feel heroic and pleased with yourself. The choice of task on such a day needs to be given careful consideration; this is not the time for slow and pondering chores but for those tasks that will warm you up and encourage you to stay outside just that little bit longer.

One of my favourite jobs at this time of year, although to be honest at any time of year, is sowing seeds and potting up tubers. This week saw me potting up half a dozen dahlia tubers, agapanthus corms and sowing sweet peas. These small achievements are particularly significant to me as they signal a step change in my approach to the garden. I am revisiting my original floral loves. Dahlias haven’t graced my garden for one or two years and sweet peas haven’t put in an appearance for possible five years. I love sweet peas they were one of my earliest love affairs with flowers. When I got married back in the 1980s I wanted sweet peas in my wedding bouquet but was told the end of May was too early so instead I have sugar craft sweet peas in a floral arrangement on my wedding cake. I  grew them successfully in a previous small garden when I lived in Berkshire but they have been a real battle since I moved to the Midlands. This year I am determined to succeed, just as I am with dahlias which should do better with more space in the Big Border when I have relocated the asters to the front garden.

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It was interesting to read the comments on the border which I am featuring this year as the End of  Month View. Many couldn’t see why it needed improvement but for me it is lacking a sense of cohesion, as is much of my garden. I believe the garden has suffered in recent years from my dabbling with various plant groups such as alpines and over zealous undirected plant buying. It just isn’t right and it niggles at me.  Whilst I have a good working knowledge of plants I don’t have much of an idea about design. Not so much how to organise the space as I think the layout of the garden works and I have a pretty clear plan for the front garden. What I need to learn is how to put plants together to get the effect I am striving for.

Crocus 'Pickwick'

Crocus ‘Pickwick’

I have tried planting in terms of colour, seasons of interest, exotic, cottage and nothing seems to meld the bitty components together. The garden is neat and tidy and pretty but it doesn’t excite and it doesn’t have that generousness that I admire in my favourite gardens. I  have read and listened to many a talk on succession planting etc but this isn’t what is missing either. I read two articles today in a copy of Gardens Illustrated that talked about planting. One was by Troy Scott Smith, head gardener at Sissinghurst which described how Vita Sackville West’s approach was to pile on the planting to create a  wow moment and not worry about later and the other article was by Arne Maynard on a planting scheme at Cottesbrooke where he talks about deciding on the atmosphere you want to create. Somewhere between the two there was an almost light bulb moment – I could sense the eureka moment just being beyond my grasp.

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I have decided to start by writing a list of all my favourite plants, things I have to have in the garden. Then I will organise those by season of interest and growing conditions and see where that takes me. Initially I can see something quite relaxed in the front garden with a late summer focus of asters, grasses and salvias with iris and poppies earlier in the year. In the back garden I want to focus on roses, peonies, sweet peas, foxgloves (all very cottage garden) but then move into dahlias and cannas (very dramatic and exotic) – I’m not sure how those two different styles will combine or whether I will have to sacrifice one for the other.

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While I plan I have started to tidy the garden and to make the changes I have already decided on.  Some ferns from the back slope have been potted up ready for the shady part of the front garden.  They have been replaced by a division of a persicaria which should help knit the slope together and provide a good under-storey to the taller shrubs. I also emptied out the old tin bath which was home to some zantedeschia last year – they have been planted out on the slope to add to the lush foliage I am trying to cultivate in that area – I will wait to see how water tight the bath is as I am hoping to try a small water-lily in it, something a bit exotic maybe.