Plants and flowers

Village Plant Sales, - 5 reasons to buy locally

This weekend the 11th May, between 2 and 4 pm, i'll be at my local village hall helping my Garden Society raise funds by selling plants. - They'll be tea and cakes as well, plus the books and gadgets that tend to get swapped around at these do's. - I know it's not the only one happening locally, - and Twitter is full of planty people potting up, labelling up (4 pint plastic milk bottles cut up nicely into labels!) and sorting through excess seedlings, propagated plants, and layered shrubs.


So why should you go along to your local plant sale, (apart from the promise of cake!)

1) If plants have done well enough for your neighbours that they have seedlings or plants they can split, then they'll be likely to do well in your similar soil too

2) There are always people who've grown the plants for years and years, and can give amazing advice about what will work for you

3) You're supporting a local group, - my garden society plant sale is the main fundraiser for the year, and pays for the hall hire and some of our speakers.

4) There are always unusual gems, that are no longer for sale in most garden centres, or are "out of fashion" Snap these up and be ahead of the trend, - see what's happened to Dahlias and Chrysanths!

5) You can bag some bargains, The odd 50p or £1 will send you away with horticultural treasures to enjoy for this year and those to come.

If you're near to Horsley in Surrey, come along to the West Horsley Village Hall on Saturday afternoon, 2-4pm and say hi, - i've got veg plants, Astrantias, Achillea and Briza Maxima among others that i'm taking along. you can come in for 50p, or 3 plants! - and save room for the cake.

If your hosting or going to a Plant Sale this weekend, - add it in the comments, and lets get growing locally.

Magnolias in all their magnificence

My brief respite for the year is over. My Magnolias will keep me hard at work from now until the last leaf falls in November.

2 magnolias-1
At the front of this photo is my soon to Bud burst Magnolia Soulangeana, - This weekend it started dropping it's bud casings. - These furry covers for the flowers have been sitting on the bare branches all through the winter, waiting for Spring to arrive.

In the back ground is my Evergreen Magnolia Grandiflora. - It may not drop all its leaves at once in the Autumn, but from now on, until the summer when it flowers, it will divest itself of a good proportion of its leaves, all over my border below, - just enough to make it untidy, and clear it all off, where upon the wind blows and a few more fall.

When the flowers of both are finished, Petals rain down, and if not removed quickly, soon become soggy on my beds and lawn. And of course in the Autumn, the leaves of the deciduous tree create piles that my son loves to leap in. But with almost weekly work ahead of me, - would I rather get rid of my 2 week flowering wonders?


Planting Bluebells and Snowdrops in the green

Today's job has been to start creating a Bluebell wood

Hatchlands bluebells-3
This is Hatchlands, - just down the Road from us,  showing very clearly that English Bluebells (Hyacinthoides Non Scipta) like the Alkaline soil found at the base of the Surrey North Downs.

This is some woodland that is in one of my Customers garden.

Very Similar trees, and setting, - so we're starting a Bluebell wood. This year we're just putting in a 1000 bulbs. - They come "in the green" - which means bulbs dug up when they are green, and living, rather than dried off.

Box of bluebells-2
Last year, I did the same with Snowdrops, by a woodland driveway.

and despite the cold wet weather, - they are looking great this spring, - a carpet of white which will spread year after year.

Carpet of snowdrops-2

RHS Shades of Autumn Show

Today I found myself, in the first week of halfterm, with an unexpected morning of childcare, and a few hours not assigned to a client garden.

So I jumped on a train up to London and took myself off to the Horticultural halls to the RHS's Shades of Autumn Show.

The hall was very colourful, with not only Autumnal shades of flowers and Foliage, but hangings decorating the hall.

I wrote about my visit to the February show with my son in tow, which I really enjoyed, but without him being there this morning, I could ask questions about the things that have been puzzling me this season.

I managed to talk to stall holders about Chrysanthemums (should have cut mine back in July, that's why they are long and leggy). Chillis, - apparently my fave Cherry Bomb isn't available any more as its been bought by monsato, - and I should leave the rest of them on the plant to ripen as they won't do as my tomatoes have done and go red on the window sill.

I also introduced myself to the Plantagogo Heuchera gang, who I know through Twitter, and discussed Vine weevil and how to get them to reroot if the little blighters have eaten the root ball off. Plus I had a lovely chat about Dahlias, which I think are my new favourite plant, and I think will definately be, if the advice I've been given gets my plants through the winter and flowering again next year.

A very successful morning and worth the hours spent playing Monopoly yesterday to get a while to myself.

The show is still on tomorrow (Wednesday) so if you're near Victoria or can spare a couple of hours to get there, it is well worth a visit

Runner beans, - pretty flowers before the food

When I was child, my parents grew fruit and vegetables. Some like the Raspberries and Apples, I was happy to help them with. Some like the Runner beans seemed to come in such abundance, that I remember with a shudder the huge sessions as a teenager of slicing and blanching beans. (to the point where my sister still can't eat them).

I love them fresh and recently picked from the plant, so I just grow a small tepee of them for end of summer Sunday veg. But now I have a dilemma

Runner beans montage for web
because instead of the plain red flowers that my father always had. There are now fantastic tasting beans with different colour flowers, that make your tepees pretty as well as productive.

The 2 tone flowers on the left are in the School garden, and are from seeds given to me by Thompson and Morgan for getting the answers right in a competition. They have the name of EXP09 (experimental?) and  they were sown by children age 5-8. Only one pot out of 45 failed to germinate. Luckily lots of them wanted to take their beans home, so it was only gardening club children that planted them out.

i'll let you know the results of the taste test next week. I'm hoping they fail abysmally. Otherwise they are so pretty that next year i'll end up growing 2 tepees of runner beans, and my son will also grow to shudder at the thought of blanching them for the freezer.

Hydrangeas - wonderful summer flowering shrubs

Because we've had a wet year, the Hydrangeas in this part of Surrey are looking fantastic.

Large shrubs in Shades of pink, purple, blue and white. Hydrangeas are showy late summer flowers.

The colour of the flower will depend on the soil,whether it is acid or alkaline, and whether it has aluminium ions that the plant can take up. Generally a soil pH of 5.5 or less will be able to keep Blue flowers blue. - Soil pH's above that will go pink. There are some trace element products that you can add to the soil to help the take up of the Aluminium Ions. I havn't found them to work in the long term, and here in Horsley, where most soil are neutral, - pink, white and slightly purple Hydrangeas are the order of the day.

Of course they are not only lovely in the summer. The Macrophylla (mophead) and Paniculata seedheads look fantastic in winter sun.Macrophylla seedhead for web

You don't need to prune off the flower heads until well into spring, because they protect the new growth, so I always wait until Wisley have pruned their Hillside Paniculata, in April, before I get out the secateurs.

After admiring clients Hydrangeas for years, I decided to take the plunge myself last year. - I'll need to water them well in my soil, - but they don't mind some shade, so this Hydrangea Annebelle, is doing wonderfully under my front garden Magnolia. This was grown from a 9cm mail order plant last year.

Hydrangea Annabelle for web


Flowers from the allotment

I'm not going to many clients gardens at the moment. - School Summer holidays and an olympics obsession are keeping me closer to home this month, but it doesn't mean i'm not gardening at all, and at last my 3 times weekly allotment visits are starting to bear fruit, - or in this case flowers.

Cut flowers from allotment

This bunch is a mixture of flowers from my favourite suppliers, and I managed to pick a similar bunch for a friend yesterday.

Black cornflowers from seeds from Higgledy garden

Wonderful Calendula from seeds from Sarah Raven

Rudbeckia Cherry Brandy from plugs from Thompson and morgan

plus wonderful Zinnias from seed, which I think were in the RHS pack from last year, but I notice are on special offer on the Sarah Raven website at the moment.

Now i'm just hoping that the slugs won't eat my second batch of Dahlias that i've planted, and i'll have wonderful auutmn flowers from them.

Hampton Court Palace Flower show 2012 - The show gardens, - my view

So even though it was raining and dull today, - I managed to get round all the show gardens. As a border designer, i'm looking for inspiration in planting combinations, - new plants that I havn't used before, and old favourites used in new ways, or with new props. The Hampton Court show usually means a huge blaze of colour, and some of that was missing today because of the appalling weather conditions of the last few weeks, but I found plenty to look at.

The Summer gardens, small garden category was where I started this morning. - these were my favourites


I spotted the pink and purple teenage characters before I got into the show , the garden they were lounging in is called Social Deckworking, and is encouraging youngsters to get outside to socialise rather than shutting themsilves in their rooms. The grasses, phormiums, Salvias and Achilleas were a great mixture, But my favourite from this category, and the one that got the gold was.

There's a white Trifollium which I spotted Tim from the Garden Network leaving with. Not one i've used before, so one to put on my list for next time a client has the right conditions.

My next port of call was the Large Show gardens. - I was so unimpressed with them this year, that I didn't even realise there were 2 categories, - Show gardens and World of Gardens.


I liked the Horn player on the Swiss garden, - but the plants reminded me of the Chelsea rock bank in the 90's. The Gold winning Jordan garden did nothing for me, - and the bridge above although nicely planted didn't really make sense (one of those ones you have to watch the interview on TV, then you go Oh Yeah, - I hope!) The Badger beer garden had some lovely Beer bottle sculptures, but the wild flowers were done better last year by Copella.

The Concept gardens were my next stop. - I have to admit, usually i'm not a fan, but this year, there were great plant combinations everywhere.

Simon Websters Do not adjust your set, had wildflowers in the centre, and silver leaved plants that worked really well with the dark paving, especially after the rain. The Free Fall grass combination was lovely and there was great movement as the wind was blowing. - I wasn't sure about the bubbling tubes (especially after comments about dead goldfish, - thanks Sara!) The best planting by far was on the Light at the end of the tunnel by Matthew Childs. - Lots of my favourite simple plants, combined in a perfect way to give a soothing effect.

My favourite gardens of the whole show were the Low cost High impact gardens. Personally, I don't think between £7000 and £13000 is particularly low cost, - it's the kind of budget most of my clients are working too, and I get the planting part of that after the hard landscaping is done, but I'm really happy to see that the RHS is realising that the show gardens have to relate to every day.

This was Our First Home, Our First Garden, - created on a £7000 budget by Landform Consultants, - and I think the semi sunken area, the chimnea cooling space, and the planting are all lovely.

I'm lucky enough to be going back again tomorrow, - so it's Floral Marquee and Roses time on Tuesday

Plant combinations to love - Alchemilla mollis and Allium Christophii

I have to admit to pinching this plant combination from Sarah Raven.

the wonderful photography in her magazines and bold and brilliant book, persuaded me that sulphur yellow may be the colour i'm most asked to avoid in planting displays, but that it can look fantastic.


This photo was taken in a garden i've only been developing for under 2 years. The Alchemilla was propagated from seedlings last year, the Allium planted the Autumn before.

Alchemilla mollis is one of the cottage garden perennials that is scorned for being slightly common. It is however, easy to get hold of. It self seeds itself, so is cheap to propagate, and looks wonderful with water on the leaves (and lets face it, with the amount of rain this year, we need plants that look good in the rain). The floaty flower edge a summer border beautifully, and if dead headed when its flowers start to fade, will give a second flush of shimmering yellow at the end of the summer.

Allium Christophii is one of the easier (and cheaper at around 70-80p each) Allium bulbs to get hold of. Although it likes to be planted fairly deeply, after that, it is very little trouble, flowering again and again. The heads are larger than Purple sensation and later, so I often plant them at different places in the same border to get succesion of the Onion flowers, but Christophii is one of the longest to last as a dried flower head, and lasted for almost a year as a dried flower arrangement in my hall.

This year i'm also trying a variation of this combination with Obsidian Heuchera for year round colour, and daffodils for early colour and Nerines for late flowers. - I' ll let you know if it's an improvement on an already excellent combination.

Papaver orientale - stunning and easy border perennial

When I started in Horticulture, Papaver Orientale was one of the plants on a college Plant ident. - I remember not being nearly as impressed with the blousy blooms that were almost hidden by Aqueligias, as I was by the stunning Wisteria (must have been floribunda because we learnt about clockwise twisting), or the scented rose hedge.

4 years ago though, I was bowled over by this combination in a client garden


I was even more amazed to find out that this border had been left to it's own devices for years, and throughout that time the early spring to summer show of bluebells, then Poppies and aqueligias looked stunning. (a complete mess later on in the year, but.....)

Since then, Oriental poppies have become an essential part of my planting arsenal, used to fill that colour gap after the tulips, and before the summer penstemons and heleniums.

Here are a couple of my favourite shots taken in client gardens this week


Here punctuating the purple of alliums and foxgloves with scarlet.

And here, even after being beaten back by rain, adding lovely purple and red shades to this border.


I use them teamed with later flowering perennials, so that the tatty foliage of late summer is hidden, - Asters and Sedums can also provide some support for heavy seed heads. i've found the white coloured varieties take a couple of years longer to bulk up, but as reliable early June sparks of colours, in any free draining soil, they are well worth a try.

My Current favourite. - Papaver Patty's Plum