Potted Relief

It’s fair to say that I don’t do well in the heat at the best of times so you can imagine that over the last week or so with temperatures reaching the low 30Cs (high 80Fs) I have been pushed to engage with the garden.

I’m coming to the end of a weeks annual leave when in the past I would have really tidied up the garden ahead of the rest of the summer.  However, this week the most I have managed is to continue with the endless watering of the pots and trying to keep the newer plantings going.  Luckily, I have been distracted by a lovely day out in cloudy damp Wales and two days of embroidery workshops with friends;  the workshop room had a couple of vast ceiling fans which made it more bearable.

Today we have had a rather cloudy day with heavy rain and storms forecast over the next 48 hours.  Whilst it has still been very warm for this time of year the patio is fairly cool first thing in the morning so I spent an hour tidying and potting up my succulent collection.  The above are Agave montana seedlings which have been bidding their time on the patio and in desperate need for potting up.  The seeds were sown in 2016 and I expect that if I had potted them up earlier this year they would be much larger now but I didn’t.  I think they look rather cute in their matching terracotta pots and they are now residing in groups along the edge of the gravel steps.

I also potted up a few other pot bound residents of the patio including a large branching aeonium, a sad pelargonium and my Bird of Paradise seedling which may flower one day.  I finished with potting up two Sempervivums which I bought in Somerset. These are now forming a group on one of the patio tables along with a Daphne which I am trying to revive.  I’m trying to display my pots in more interesting groups, as per the pot displays I saw in Austin but I think I have a way to go yet.

After an hour I was hot and sticky and retreated back to my sewing which I wont bore you with.  Here’s hoping the promised rain arrives soon.

A garden of inspiration

The trouble I find with spending a number of days visiting gardens is the sensory overload.  So many gardens, plants, owners, ideas and experiences and when you then start to try and think about how to distil your experience into a blog post; well sometimes it seems to be a challenge too far.

I have a habit of writing blog posts almost immediately I return from a garden visit but work demands have got in the way and I find myself a week after my return skimming through my photos, only a 1000 in my case, trying to decide what to blog about. What strikes me is the direct correlation between the gardens I enjoyed and the number of photos of them.  In each case these gardens are very much those of enthusiastic plants people.  They are full of texture and form often more from plants than structure and they offer me inspiration on so many levels.

I think Jenny and David Stocker’s garden was the real winner for me.  We visiting on a very wet day, although by the time of our visit the rain was light but poor Jenny had experienced a trying time during the gullywasher earlier in the day.  However, despite the overcast skies the garden sang to me.

Initially, it was the extremely skilled placement of pots and small vignettes that intrigued me.  I can learn so much from these.  My pots end up scattered around the garden, randomly placed, but as you can see from the above a small collection with a mix of leaf shapes, size of pots and a couple of small accessories takes on a whole identity of its own; a small work of art.

The cacti remind us that we are indeed in Texas, and I have included it to humour those of my friends who are convinced I spent the week looking at cacti and tumble weed.  However, as you can see from these photos the garden is far from a barren landscape.  David and Jenny built their home on the side of a hill and enclosed the garden with a wall creating a sense of enclosure and presumably creating a microclimate.  I think I am right in saying that the various spaces between the house and perimeter wall create six different garden spaces each with its own theme. 

I think this is what Jenny calls the English Garden. I loved the exuberance of the flowers in this space.  There is no formal rigid border, instead the plants spill out over the paving creating a very naturalistic space and a space I would love to waste a few hours in, listening to the bird and insects and watching the lizards run along the wall (which we were lucky to do a couple of evenings later).

The first and third photos are of the front planting area which as you can see is full of large succulents.  I am not informed enough to attempt to name any of them but I loved the juxtaposition of the spiky succulents with the surrounding trees which I think are oaks.  I developed a  love of the trees in Austin which seem to have quite broad and open canopies giving much needed shade but also with their small leaves bringing a lovely diffused light to the space beneath. I have been trying to think of a tree I could use to create a similar effect in England.

I think one of the reasons I love this garden is because of the polished combination of very English plants such as the Aquilegias, Geraniums and Poppies with succulents and cacti; I think this one is a Prickly Pear. So often you see plants corralled into a restricted planting scheme – succulents, hardy exotics, herbaceous border – and never the twain shall meet.  Jenny has shown that you can ignore these preconceptions and building on the plant’s cultivation needs and looking carefully at colour, form and texture you an create exciting and intriguing planting.

Although Jenny has been blogging for as long as me, if not longer, I hadn’t come across her blog until this trip but I am now following her assiduously and I feel that I have found a kindred spirit albeit on the other side of the pond.






Early Spring at Ashwoods


Having had a less than good start to the year I was determined to go on a garden visit to John Massey’s garden at Ashwood Nurseries organised through my local HPS group.  Not only was it a chance to get some horticultural inspiration and partake of a bit of retail therapy but also catch up with my HPS friends who I hadn’t seen since November.


I’ve been to Ashwoods at this time of year for quite a few years now as my birthday is in early March and to be honest there aren’t that many good reliable horticultural destinations to head to.  I have also visited John’s garden in early Spring before but it was interesting how the difference of a few weeks and milder temperatures provided a different horticultural experience.


I’ve included some photos in this post of things that inspired me and/or I learnt from.  Firstly, I spoke in my last post about cramming lots of narcissus bulbs in the front garden borders and above is the look I want to achieve.  In between the bulbs there are young leaves of rudbeckia, geraniums and other late summer perennials emerging. I also like the idea of the large pots in the border to bring height and structure in the winter.


John is keen for the garden to look interesting all year round and quotes Christopher Lloyd who says that a garden that looks good in winter will look great all year round (or words to that effect).  This is definitely an approach I agree with and am trying to achieve too.


Part of this approach is to prune the shrubs and trees to create strong shapes.  John practises an approach to pruning which is essentially crown lifting and thinning the canopy of trees and shrubs so you can see through them.  This gives you more space under the tree or shrub for planting. The tree in the above photo is Prunus kojo-no-mai which I also have as a large shrub but I am now thinking I might start removing the lower branches to create a more see through effect.


I don’t remember this area when I last visited the garden.  The focus of this garden is irises – sibirica and ensata.  The gravel forms a sort of river through the border into which the run-off rain water from the greenhouses is piped into.  The inspiration I am taking from this area is about creating the right growing conditions for plants which is something John strongly advocates. I have heard him speak before about the need to give plants the best drainage possible and this will help the less hardy plants come through the winter as it reduces the risk of them getting waterlogged.  In the front of his garden there is a mound of very gravelly soil which is used to grow Southern Hemisphere shrubs and bulbs – another passion of mine.  I have already used this approach when rethinking the planting in the Big Border.


Another passion I share with John is ferns.  The fernery above was planted only a few months ago and already looks good.  I really like the fern panels on the fencing which remind me of some of the boundary treatments I saw some years back in San Francisco.


I also liked the pot display.  I am getting more interested in creating pot displays particularly pots of one species.  I thought these were rather nice as was the display on the patio table…


So all in all a very good visit and it was rounded off with a little plant retail therapy and much pondering on the way home and a determination to visit at a different time of year to see how the borders fill out.

My Garden This Weekend – 7/6/15


I have been home alone for most of the weekend with no real plans and it has been blissful.  I have been pottering in every sense of the word.  I started with weeding the patio which was long overdue and is one of those incredibly satisfying garden jobs.  I use the blade of an old screwdriver, whose handle is long gone, and it is just the right size to get between the slabs.


If I am honest I dislike the patio, I always have, but its well down the list of expenditure and it serves a purpose.  I dislike it because when I pressure wash it the colour of the slabs is revealed and we have a ‘delightful’ pink and yellow checker box effect! Therefore, I rarely pressure wash it.  However now it is weeded and tidied I am rather pleased.  I have never been very good at using the patio for relaxation.  It is normally the home of trays of seedlings and purchases and the small table often houses seedlings etc.  However, in the last couple of weeks my sons have both mentioned that they have sat out in the garden when they have got home and how nice it was.  So I have moved all the trays of seedlings up the garden out of the way and arranged the pots of purchases and other things in a more organised/decorative fashion.  What a difference, even I have sat on the patio and enjoyed a cuppa and read a magazine.


I have quite a collection of pots many of them accumulated during my brief foray into alpine plant showing.  Above are some pans of alpines which live up by the top bench which there is some shade but also sun at some point of the say.


I’m not a huge fan any more of pots of mixed plants, preferring instead collections of individual plants in their own pot.  I like being able to ring the changes as things go over.  This collection is by the door to the shed and I have added some succulents as this is quite a sunny spot so they should do well here.


Round the corner of the shed is what we call ‘quatermass’.  Last year I plunged a couple of pots of zantedeschia into the old tin bath which I was using as a pond and they did incredibly well.  So this year I decided to fill the bath with compost and plant it up exclusively with white zantedeschia.  There is no drainage in the bath so the compost gets very wet when it rains and takes a while to dry out but the plants are thriving.  I did wonder if this was a mad idea but when I visited Brian and Irene’s garden over at Our Garden @19 last weekend I noticed that he had ensata iris growing in sealed pots of compost and they were doing incredibly well too. I had to drag the bath over the gravel this week as it was being engulfed by the neighbouring fern and I see that I need to sort the level out again – opps!


In the very top photo you can see that all the succulents and pelargoniums are out of the greenhouse and in their summer home on the staging.  As I said I don’t really like mixed pots or hanging baskets any more.  Instead I have planted the window box up with herbs which is already proving very useful and the only hanging basket I have is hanging from the tree by the shed and is housing my Christmas cactus.  I went to a talk at the local horticultural group recently on cacti and succulents which was actually really interesting and the speaker advocating treating your Christmas cactus in this way over the summer so I thought why not.


And finally one of my collections of plants by the front door.  I was rather than by the Polygala myrtifolia on a recent visit to B&Q so it ended up coming home with me.  I have under planted with some nemesis  and today added a pelargonium and a pot of oregano.  On the other side of the entrance is a deep pink hydrangea, some violas and a succulent.  I think it looks charming and it makes me smile when I pull up in the driveway, far more than any other arrangement I have done in the past.

So that’s my weekend – a weekend of potting up, moving pots, and sweeping.

End of Month View – April 2015


It’s amazing how much growth there has been in the last month.  The temperatures in April have been higher than normal and there has been little, if any, rain.  There is still a risk of frost so I’m not being fooled into putting tender plants out too early.  Whilst everything is looking lush the ground has developed a bit of a dry crust and I worry that if it is dry this early in the year how will the garden cope if we have a dry summer.  Time will tell.

Above is the main woodland border which has exploded since last month.  I am really pleased with it especially as in the past it hasn’t quite lived up to the image in my mind.  It just shows that you need to be patient and wait to give plants a chance to bulk up and establish.  The highlights in the next month will be Solomon Seal (Polygonatum xhybridum) and False Solomon Seal (Maianthemum racemosum) whose scent I love.  A couple of years ago the Solomon Seal was decimated by Solomon Sawfly and I was pleased last year when the plants reappeared and passed through the year trouble-free.  They have started to spread around the border so fingers crossed this year the horrid sawfly caterpillars won’t return.


The less inspiring end of the woodland border.  This is the area which was previously occupied by the Azalea which died.  I have added a couple of shrubs, some foxgloves, some anemones and I am adding plants as the year progresses to try to create a longer season of interest.


The border alongside the gravel steps is beginning to fill out.  I have been adding some Dianthus right up against the step edges in the hope that they will eventually spread and soften the side of the steps.  The first group of pots are outside the shed and I think there is scope for something bigger and bolder there although the flat space is quite narrow – something to think about.  I have also started to put out pots of things running down the steps, at the moment they are pots of bulbs going over but in the summer the pelargoniums will live here.


The view from the bottom path looking back towards the shed.  The camassias are now flowering and I had forgotten how many there are in the Big Border, I suspect they are starting to bulk up.  I particularly like the way they work with the Euphorbia and the Calamagrostis ‘Overdam’. I am pleased with the border so far this year as the asters are filling out and the aquilegias I added for an early summer interest seem to be doing all right.


Finally the view along the middle path which shows that the grass really needs a cut although the daisies are popular with the bees.  It also demonstrates that we are poor at cutting grass which adds to the argument for removing the front lawn.  The border to the right of the path is much fuller than last year and it feels better this year since I replanted it.

So there is my garden at the end of April.  Any one can join in with the End of Month meme and you can use it as you wish, focussing on one year or giving us a tour – whatever works for you.  Many people have found it helpful as they find it makes them look at their garden more critically.  If you would like to join in all I ask is that you link to this post in your post and leave a link to your post in the comment box below so we can all find you and come for a nose.

My Garden This Weekend – 8th March 2015



What a wonderful weekend it has been.  Saturday was bright and sunny and warm enough for gardening in a T-shirt and for sitting and contemplating with a cuppa.  Luckily I bothered to check the weather forecast for a change and focussed all my energies on outside gardening jobs leaving Sunday for seed sowing and potting up which can be done under cover.


I have dug out the cane domes and placed them over the new peonies that were planted over the last few weeks.  This will help me remember where they are until they put in an appearance and I also think the domes are rather charming.  I have added an Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’ to the border, you can just see it in the top left corner.  I had been looking for one having seen it in ‘The Layered Garden’ but having secured one at the local HPS group I started to wonder why I had been attracted to the plant.  It is rather a strange combination with yellow streaks on the foliage and pinky new growth – it was christened the ‘ugly plant’.  However, when I planted it out I was won over again as it works very well with the pink hellebores so maybe my first instinct was right – I knew where I wanted to plant it before I bought it.


I am pleased with this bit of border now especially when the sun lights up the hellebores.  This border is ‘done’ for the time being while I wait to see how the plants fill out and then the plan is to try to add a little late summer colour.


I’m thrilled that the Hepatica noblis are flowering although I have to admit that they were only bought last month – the test will be to see if they reappearing next year.  I have bought a couple more and I am planting them over the other side of the garden so hopefully at least one group will establish.  However, I also have some hepatica seeds germinating in the cold frame which were sown as fresh seeds last April.

2015_03080015I got myself in a bit of a pickle the other week when I finally got round to doing a soil test and discovered my soil was alkaline, which wasn’t great given I had just bought two small rhododendrons.  I have been dithering around about them and decided to plant them up in pots and display them by the shed.  Once they have flowered and it gets warmer in this part of the garden I will move them into the shadier part of the garden and make sure they are watered well so they produce buds for next year.

I haven’t been very good at using pots in the garden for some years now.  I used to be really good at baskets and summer bedding in pots but I seem to have lost the knack and I do actually prefer the more mono planted pots but with several grouped together.  So the plan is to do more of this to create seasonal displays.

Finally I found enough energy to remove an unnamed and unloved shrub growing near the compost bins which has never really done much and had got battered when the tree surgeons were throwing the large willow logs around.  It came out fairly easily which was perhaps part of its problem.

I had come up with a scheme for this small area the other week when I was having a tea break – its to the right of the bench.  After adding lots of green waste compost I planted white Digitalis, Epimedium perralchicum ‘Wisley’, some lily of the valley, and a Polypodium cambricum ‘Oakleyae’.  I also replanted some self-sown Pulmonaria.  There is a gap left in the middle of the planting for a Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ which is growing elsewhere but has needed a new home; I just need to wait for it to put in an appearance so I know where it is.



It’s only a small area but it is a start to the style of planting I am trying to adopt with lots of texture and contrast and hopefully not much soil showing once the plants get going.  I plan to add some white honesty next year so I will need to remember to show honesty and white digitalis on an annual basis although I may get lucky and they might start to self sow.


Sunday was grey and damp so I used the time to sort out the greenhouse.  The pots of bulbs which have finished flowering were moved out to the cold frames – I am regretting, a little, getting the plunge staging (not in the photo) as I haven’t enjoyed the pots of bulbs this winter and I want to plant them out in the garden.  I am toying with getting some sort of warming cable system for them to create a propagation unit but I am waiting to see how I get on this season before I invest more funds in something I might change my mind about.  There is a sorry tale associated with the empty space but I will share that later in the week when I join in the monthly greenhouse meme.

However, I am happy to say that my seed sowing mojo has returned with gusto and I have sowed quite a few packets today.  I found myself really enjoying the process.  I had forgotten how much I love that sense of anticipation. I also potted up a dozen aquilegia and dianthus and 3 primrose digitalis; some of them might even be good enough in a few weeks to sell at the local HPS group – wouldn’t that be good.




My Garden this Weekend – 26th May 2014


For a change the weather gods have been kind to me and the forecast rain has  held back and allowed me to garden to my heart’s delight.  In fact I stopped when my back was aching after some five hours of happy pottering and contemplating.  The garden is going through one of its lulls of transition from the spring bulbs to the summer perennials.  All the colour seems to be coming from Aquilegia and the odd Geraniums at the moment.


You have no idea how happy this view makes me despite the weeds in the patio.  The 2014_05260023whole patio has been covered in pots of one sort or another for weeks.  There was no way you could use the table which was also covered in trays of annuals and the seats didn’t even have anywhere to go.  I have spent the morning potting up the dahlias and the last pelargoniums and set them around the garden. This is the first year in ages when I haven’t planted up hanging baskets or mixed pots but they have been such a faff in recent years that I have decided not to bother.  However, I needed a home for the dahlias which were in the Big Border last year and had come through the winter stored in wood shavings in the garage so I decided to plant them up one per pot.  Hopefully they should look quite stunning once in flower.


The new seating area also has a small selection of pots but as you can see I need to get more gravel to do the rest of the steps but thats a job for a few weeks time when my son is here to move the bags for me.2014_05260026I even bought a new pot for the Acer I won in a raffle recently.  I have positioned it on the bottom of the top steps adjacent to a large weed which I have obviously overlooked and need to sort!  What you can’t see is that my original Acer which has been in the ground for some six or more years and is in the border to the left has died for reasons unknown.  I am a little upset as the boys bought it for me with their late Aunt but plants come and go and I am seeing it as an opportunity to try something new in this area.


I spent the afternoon weeding, dead heading and staking in the Big Border.  I am really pleased with this border considering that it was only created last year and wasn’t planted up as it is now until this Spring.  I dithered for a while last year trying to decide on how to plant the space but needing to relocate the asters and calmagrostis from the back slope helped clarify my thinking.  The main focus of the border is late summer but I have added peonies and yet more aquilegias to give it some interest earlier in the year.  Today I added some border auricula which I have grown from seed and which are very run of the mill to the edge of the border as well as some annual scabious and corncockle to fill gaps.


I think there is lots of texture and interest in the border even without lots of flowers but then I have  a bit of a thing about foliage.  I thought through the planting carefully and I am hoping that as the year progresses it will match the idea in my head – only time will tell.


Let the bulb planting start!


I do like planting bulbs, even more so than I like sowing seeds and with bulbs you don’t have to prick things out, pot up etc.  I think bulbs are wonderful, its amazing how much is packed into them.  You pop them in the ground, walk away and in six months time you have beautiful flowers – whats not to like.

In previous years I have been a little cautious in my spending on bulbs mainly from having to be thrifty for years and years as a single parent.  However, times they are a changing and I am in a position now to indulge my passions a bit more so I have bought far more bulbs this year, although my inherent caution still held me back a bit.  Also as anyone who has read this blog for a while will know I have been discovering the world of alpines and showing plants this past year so back in April I ordered a whole load of miniature bulbs with the express view of, hopefully, having some plants to exhibit.

Over the last few weeks the parcels have started to arrive, so far from miniature Bulbs, Peter Nyssen and Buried Treasure – Avon Bulbs are still due.  Conscious of how many bulbs I have to plant today was set aside to beginning the task, although it isn’t really a task.  I had the benefit of using my new workspace in the garage which my eldest son has been creating for me – this is my reward for giving up a corner of the garden for his workshop.  Having bought up the local nurseries supply of small pots I did the show bulbs, with the exception of the tulips, first.  I am leaving all the tulips until well into November to try to limit the chances of them getting tulip fire.


So far I have planted the following:

Narcissus Joy Bishop
Narcissus Sun Disk
Narcissus Pacific Coast
Narcissus Beryl
Narcissus Assoanus
Bulbocodium vernum
Iris histriodes
Lady Beatrix Stanley
Sternbergia greuteriana
Brimeura fastigata alba
Iris stalonifera
Colchicum davisu
Allium bollandieri

I am planting them in a very gritty mix of horticultural grit and John Innes No 2, almost 50:50 and with a handful or two of horticultural sand thrown in to help with drainage.  At one of the talks I have been to this year the speaker, well-known for his prize winner displays, was saying how he planted bulbs straight onto grit and then filled in around the bulbs with the compost.  I couldn’t quite bring myself to do this but after some research I decided to go for a super gritty compost so we shall see if it works – if nothing else the weight of the grit will stop the pots falling over!

I have also planted the first Narcissus in the garden. Narcissus Pipit and Narcissus Minnow have gone into the Cottage Border which is now ready for Spring – so that’s one part of the garden ticked off for a while.




Pot Amalgamation

Finished pot
Finished pot

I  have the strange and unusual experience of sitting down on a Saturday afternoon to do nothing.  I have been busy though, the last two weeks at work have been very very busy physically and mentally and I think I did lots last weekend on the back of the adrenalin rush I got from being involved in a very successful week of graduation ceremonies at work (or commencement ceremonies as I think they call them in the US).  However, now I am feeling a little weary so it is time to listen to my body and put my feet up.

Saying that I have managed an hour in the garden today to get my fix and to feel like I am getting through all the jobs I need to do.  Having  sat in a cold hall this morning at the Allotment Association AGM I needed some sort of physical activity to  warm me up so I decided to amalgamate some pots that I have been looking at for a few weeks now.

The raw ingredients
The raw ingredients

The first pot contains a bay tree which I bought for a couple of pound at a garden club plant sale probably 4 years ago.  The bay has grown well and withstood two very cold winter (-18C) but is looking too top-heavy for its pot.  When I looked at the bottom of the pot the roots were emerging so definitely well over due for some potting up.

The second pot which I forgot to photograph before starting is a large grey pot with two sprawling ivies in it. It did have something else in the middle, I forget what it was now, but whatever it was it died over winter and the pot has been looking forlorn and in need of something ever since.  I have been looking at it and wondering what I could add to contrast with the ivy, which I wanted to keep, and to add some height.  Suddenly I thought of the bay tree and the penny dropped.  This was during one of my middle of the night mental plant moving sessions which are proving to be quite inventive although a little tiring.

underplanting of violas
underplanting of violas

Anyway this afternoon I decided this would big a quick and easy job to do before I sat down.  Silly me!  It took ages to get the bay tree out of its pot and involved a lot of compost moving and much huffing and puffing but I did it in the end.  I am pleased with the result I think the bay tree adds the needed height  and its new pot will allow it to grow more without it being swamped by compost.  I had the foresight to buy a tray of violas at the garden centre yesterday and these have gone in to finish off the pot.  They are white and pale yellow and I think they pick up on the white variegation of the ivy well.  I  deliberately decided not to include bulbs as I think it would be too much.

I also planted some  more violas in a pot on the table of delights and some bargain bucket tulip bulbs are planted in spare pots for  an extra bit of  spring colour  I can sit down.

Pots of joy!


I’m pleased with my pots, baskets and tubs so far this year.  Above is a trough that is outside my kitchen window.  I’m slightly concerned that if the plants continue growing at the rate they have been that my kitchen may get very dark.  In this trough there are some geraniums that I bought as tiny plug plants, Salpiglossis and Verbena – all grown from seed. 


I have two of these baskets planted up at the back of the house.  They have the same combination of plants as the trough but also have some Lobelia.  However for some reason everything is merriloy growing upwards and nothing seems to want to trail over the edge! 

I have for some while gone off Petunias which have been described by some bloggers as granny plants.  I just dont like their sprawling nature and their sticky leaves and stems which make deadheading a pain. Plus I think their colours are often a disappointment.  This year I have discovered Salpiglossis and I think they are a wonderful alternative.  I have grown them from seed and they were very easy.  I particularly like the markings on the inside of the flower.  The seed mix I have is called Bolero and there is a combination of shades from this vibrant purple through to yellows and pinks.

The following two pictures show my pots on the patio.  I have planted them up with a mixture of flowers and vegetables and the Sweetcorn is doing particularly well. 

But my very favourite basket at the moment is the one full of strawberries.  The bugs and birds dont seem to have found them and as the basket is hanging above the water butt I graze on the strawberries as I wait for the watering can to fill up.  Think I might have more than one next year.