Six on Saturday. 21.7.18

  1. My garden is a hateful, odious, repellant place to be at the moment. Everywhere I look is crisp, shrivelled or lank foliage accusing me of failure. I can take no pleasure in it. So, to cheer me up, here is a picture of a friend’s new Schnauzer puppy (Morris) running to bother my dog ,Pepper. It is in the garden, but that is all I can say of its horticultural connection.


2. It should be the time for Crocosmia “Lucifer” to bring not only light (Lucifer was “The Bringer of Light” before he was thrown out of Heaven), but fire to the borders. Mine came up, did a pathetic turn for three days and then frazzled away. How annoying then to see these in a client’s more shady and moisture retentive spot. I’m happy for them, I really am.


3. Pots are extra hard to keep going in the drought. I am fed up of lugging watering cans around. When you get a lovely display of Gladiolus (or Acidanthera if you want) murielae out of it, I suppose it is just about worth it.


4. Echinops just chug on, being great, laying themselves open to bees, retaining their height and stature and poise on no water whatsoever. They are one of the plants to turn to in these or any other conditions. I love them.

5. These lilys, Stargazer, were nursed through the Winter having been given to me as a 50th birthday present. Not naturally in my “colour swatch” as designers say, they are the brightest thing around at the moment. The smell is just the right side of nauseating. I have only found one lily beetle on them too, who sadly passed away , so that is a bonus.


6. So, I am going around looking for plants that love the drought. In the community garden on Attlee Terrace whilst walking the dog, I saw this. Myrtus communis, Myrtle. It is covered in beautiful fragrant blossom, swarming with insect life, the foliage is very healthy and gives off a pleasant, slightly medicinal smell. Just loving life. It looks a bit like privet most of the year, fairly nondescript (meaning, I hadn’t noticed it before!). I remembered talking to a lady at the Sydney Botanic Gardens at Christmas who said that Aussie Myrtle has been disfigured by rust. Another of the pest and disease problems rife because of globalisation. Still, if these are to be our Summers in future, you could do a lot worse for a shrub. I took cuttings.

14.7.18 High Summer in St Mary’s Border


  1. I am focusing this week on the long border begun in March at St Mary’s church, Walthamstow. Far from perfect and very much a work in progress, there are nevertheless some pleasing highlights. The seed sowing of early to late Spring is paying off now with the rise of several tender annuals. Ammi visagna has risen to about three feet giving rounded, billowing mounds of fresh white, against a backdrop of Helenium.Cleome hassleriana has emerged from Cannabis-like foliage to give a luxuriant, whiskery, complex flowering in white and deep pink. Tiphonia rotundiflora has just popped out with glorious orange trumpets. Trachymene coerulea brings an unusual blue umbel to proceedings. Finally, Nicotiana mutabilis (which gave me scores of plants from seed) has finally grown from the rather dull cabbagey clump of fat leaves to produce delicate white, pink and darker pink trumpet flowers.



2. Rudbeckia lacinata ” Razzle Dazzle”. A plant given to me by the Essex HPS, is now coming into its own. It has needed a bit of watering to stop it drooping (quite tall at about 1.2M and so noticeable if unhappy!) and early on,in the days when we still had rain, it suffered from slug and snail attack, but now it is a really sturdy and handsome thing if you have space to fill.


3. Phlox paniculata “Hampton Court”. Right on cue given the festival it is named after, this Phlox, another HPS gift, is putting on an eye catching display. Rather too garish for my tastes, it nevertheless is a good performer with no sign of mildew whatsoever. Might have to find another home for this next year because there is a nasty clash with Razzle Dazzle behind it.


4. Miscanthus sinensis “Morning Light”. Not much to look at you might think. But the three clumps of this in the border are vital to hold it together and provide excellent foliage contrast. I love this plant for its poise, its ease of care and long season of interest. The first plumes are emerging now and will stand long into Winter, I hope.


5. Combination of Salvia Nachtvlinder and Gaura lindheimeri “Whirling Butterflies. I thought these two would like the sunniest part of the bed, hoped they would look good together, but have been really pleased that they associate so well. The Gaura has stayed low in the drought and gently eased through the salvia. Satisfying.


6. Blue and yellow is one of my favourite colour combinations. Eryngium x tripartitum and Ferula communis have intertwined at a good height to give a colour/texture contrast that will hopefully stand a long time.



Highlights’ package 16.6.18

Too busy to blog in the last month, what with Chelsea Fringe walk, HPS lecture day and mad backlog of work, today is a brief  (World Cup) highlights’ package of the last month. Now the football  is on, I can’t see myself having much more time to write for a while either. What will come first, England’s first win or a drenching downpour for our gardens?

Check out The Propagator’s blog, for more of the same if you really don’t want to garden or watch football:



  1. Spider crossing a Paeony. I was just lucky to catch this moment. I love the slightly sinister contrast between spider and soft petal, with a glimpse of anther inside.


2. Single white opium poppy. I sowed a few of these in March and wondered whether they would be worth the effort of transplanting. They were. Just love the simplicity and purity of a single form. I have another deep purple one coming into bloom soon. If you want the pure stains, you have to sow from reliable seed. I chucked a handful of mixed seed in a bed outside Walthamstow Town Hall two years ago and they are a sight right now. Muddy purple and varied, but glorious. Hundreds of them, like an Afghan field. The simple purity of a refined stain is hard to beat though for sophistication.



3. Tagetes Cinnabar. So velvety, I want to roll around in the petals and rub them over myself. I haven’t actually done that, don’t worry.


4. A group of potted Agave sit in the protection of my porch over Winter to keep the rain off. For Summer they go to their owners courtyard in Bethnal Green. They get dust and cobwebs and leaves and grit between their leaves, so before they go I wash them, dust them and vacuum them. With those wicked spikes, it is a job to take slowly and carefully. They contain more than a bit of my dna! I do not want to roll around in them and rub them over myself. I am just not made that way.


5. Garden I am pleased with. Alchemilla, Echium, Salvia, Nepeta, Stipa gigantia, Crocosmia Lucifer.


Cheeky request for help. I cannot id this tree/large shrub. The leaves are similar to Magnolia grandiflora, without the brown underside. It has been there 20 years and never flowered (reportedly, I am not sure about this), looks to be evergreen, is about 5m tall. Any suggestions? Thanks.

Six on a Saturday, 19.5.18 Beth Chatto Special Edition.


  1. Beth Chatto, who died this week, was the most influential gardener in my life, apart from my mum. When I discovered her books and then her garden, I was smitten. I loved her philosophy of “right plant, right place”, now such a cliche, but originally quite new. So, I have rather hurriedly put together six plants which I got from her or originally saw in her garden. The first, is a simple Nigella. So easy from seed and such a useful gap filler.


2. Beth could do it all: dry, shade, bog, woodland. It is what makes her garden so special. Iris sibirica is such a ravishing plant in flower and sits best beside a pond, bog or damp area. It will grow in a moist border and leaves fine seed heads for winter.


3. Epimedium youngianum nivium. Rubbish photo, but I first saw Epimediums in Beth’s woodland garden and had to have them. It took me a while to understand how much shade they need and how much humus, but I have got there in the end. Perhaps this is not quite, right plant, right place then!


4. Gravel garden. This is the one right outside my house, on the Chelsea Fringe tour next Saturday(it’s free, 11-1pm in Walthamstow, why not come?) It is a homage to Beth Chatto. Following her principles of low/no watering and relying on plant choice, I am proud to say that this bed (in its second year) is starting to look really good. The plant to the right, Marrubium labanoticum, was purchased at Beth Chatto’s nursery.


5. Another gravel garden. On a hot hillside round the corner, this garden for my neighbours was planted in March, but is already starting to look good. Again, low/no watering and very low maintenance, I have Beth Chatto to thank for it.


6. Cambrian poppies. Didn’t plant them, didn’t have anything to do with them, just had the knowledge to know not to weed them out. Beth Chatto taught that plants will find their own perfect niches and our job is to let them get on with it, with only a bit of refereeing now and then. I am sad to see her go, but know that she will live on in countless gardens across the world.

Seeds on a Saturday, 12.5.18

Tempting as it is to revel in the glorious technicolour wonder of May, I have decided to bore you this week with a seedling update. I was excited to get  NGS and HPS seed deliveries early in the year. I sowed a lot in February. Quite a few did well, especially Eryngium and Matthiola incana. Yet, it is the ones that don’t or are slow or tricky which fascinate me. Why aren’t you growing? Hurry up! Come on! But they don’t, they take their own sweet time.

  1. Pulsatilla vulgaris. A lovely plant that I want a lot more of. You may remember that back in Feb when I got this seed, I sowed one tray “tails on” and one “tails off” as you are advised to do. Guess what? In this experiment the “tails off” tray won 5-1. They know what they are on about these experts with their advice.That is still a very poor germination rate though. The trays were inside throughout Feb and half of March, then outside.


2. Seeds collected from Piet Oudolf’s garden at the Hauser and Wirth gallery in Somerset. I only collected seed which came from plants which looked like they seeded a bit anyway, had a few seedlings around them. Don’t know what they are, just threw them in some potting mix and left them outside. There are two small seedlings. If nothing else, it will be a nice reminder of my visit.



3. See that little nubbin of green? That’s Baptisia australis, that is! And what a journey to get to this stage it has been! Sowed in Feb, indoors. Nothing. Read a bit more about them and found the seed should be soaked overnight before sowing. Resowed with the rest of the seed in March. Nothing. Took them outside and plonked them in a shady corner and left them to it. This week: seven little sprouts. I really really want to grow this in my churchyard bed, so I am going to give them full attention now.


4. Common or garden Snapdragon, given to me by someone. Scattered in a tray (too thickly) a couple of weeks ago. They are up like a rash. Some seeds are just so easy and reliable and I should reign in my dismissive tone. They will fill a load of gaps soon.


5. Never grown Cleome before. Apparently they like heat. They were behind the sofa next to the radiator for ages, doing nothing. I moved them above the radiator in the front room in full sun as soon as there was space. Five have germinated. Not a great return. Maybe it was still too cold or variable for them.


6. This came free from the HPS. Nicotiana mutabilis. Never heard of em. I put them in a tray and left them in the front room, next to the Cleome . About three weeks ago they started as minuscule sproutlings. Now there are hundreds of them. Intrigued, I read about them. They are Argentine, apparently and as an annual can get to five feet high! That is some impressive growth. I will be pleased with one or two feet. The mutabilis is because the flowers change colour from pink to white to mauve or some combination of those colours. They flower til the frosts profusely. I am now officially excited at the prospect. Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we grow seeds.

Six, Late on a Saturday, 5.5.18

If you have about ten hours to kill in a very pleasant and informative way, get over to The Propagator’s website to read his and everyone else’s blogs from around the world:

Unusually, these pictures all come from my own garden this week. I hope you enjoy them.


  1. Molly the witch has opened. A day much anticipated for owners of this lovely Paeony. The blooms will only last a few days, so enjoy her while you can. This year I only have one bud, whereas last year there were three. Not quite sure why, but I love her all the same.


2. So metallic you could take a brass rubbing off it, this is the new foliage of Rogersia podophylla. Really needs shade and moisture to thrive, especially in August, but very hardy and reliable. I might have to move this over Winter from the foot of a slowly creeping bamboo which will suck up all her moisture over the Summer.


3. I am enjoying this new combination of Allium Purple Sensation and Geranium macrorrhizum. Sometimes I think alliums are better in bud than in flower.


4. Aquilega were in this garden when we came here thirteen years ago. I love the way that each year they are different due to their promiscuity. The predominant theme is blue and purple, but this one is a new one: pink and burgundy.


5. Isn’t he cute? Well no, actually, he is a box tree caterpillar with whom I have been waging a losing war over the last three years. Not fatal to a hedge or topiary, but very disfiguring. I tried some judiciously applied pesticide last year. They just laughed at me from inside their tightly spun cocoons. I will not plant any more box in East London as the whole area is riddled with them and I do not want to go down the pesticide drenching route. It is a shame, but there are alternatives: Lonicera nitida, Ilex crenata. Neither of which is quite the same as good old box, but neither of which are susceptible to blight or pest as far as I know. Bummer.

Six on Saturday, 28.4.18

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  1. Still in love with tulips, like everyone else. This week, the turn of Queen of the Night, such a reliable and classy performer. Here in combination with Euphorbia polychroma, another great plant, in my opinion. I keep meaning to take cuttings from this and always forget. Maybe this year.


2. The Queen again, this time in pots, just looking pretty good for one of my clients.


3. I have been slow to recognise the virtues of deciduous Azalias. This was already in a client’s garden and is about to burst into a yellow/orange profusion of bloom. It is absolutely spectacular. The rest of the time, it needs little attention, minimal pruning and holds its space nicely. Underplanting with bulbs is a must, I reckon. It is a bit of a martyr to mildew in Summer, but that is all I can hold against it.


4. Trachelospernum jasminoides. What a plant! Great for year-round foliage, which colours nicely in Winter. Lovely flowers and scent. Trouble free. Just needing a light prune around now if it is a well established one. This is one I put against a client’s new fence, with Hakonachloa macro Aureola to hide its feet.

I really hate those green plastic strips which bind up climbers in garden centres. So many people leave them on, it drives me mad. I take a particular pleasure in cutting them off and fanning a climber out.


5. Burials in Bloom update. It has been very satisfying to see such an appetite among the citizens of Walthamstow for adopting graves. 23 are now taken, and there is some lovely progress being made all over the site. We are currently swamped by Cow Parsley and Cherry blossom, which is delightful in itself, but it is the mundane bits of grass cutting, weed pulling and tidying that pleases me most: less work for me, innit?


6. Chelsea Fringe walk on May 26th, 11-1pm. Along with two other community gardeners, I have been planning a guided walk around the street gardens of Walthamstow. The photo above is a bed we planted last year.It is a golden time in the area for community projects and little strips of improved land. We were much encouraged to be mentioned in Gardens Illustrated this month, P.22. The details are on the Chelsea Fringe website, if anyone is interested. You would receive a warm welcome and have an interesting two hours, I’m sure.