Soggy on a Saturday 1.12.18

Yo, ho, ho! Let the festivities begin, with a dank, wet December Saturday. Today’s post has a business like feel to it, largely because it is that time of year when practical jobs and projects replace the joy of plants.


  1. Compost. Tepid compost. Inspired by our glorious leader’s hot composting post a week or two back (, I tried my own bay. Never short of compostables, I felt I had a good chance to get the temperatures up into the 40s and 50s needed for fast and then weed seed free compost. It is labour intensive (four turns of the heap so far) and requires regular monitoring, but I am moderately determined to give it a good go. After a fast start and three days the temperature peaked at 35 degrees, then declined to 30 or below. I am a bit miffed really as it has had ten days and plenty of the right stuff in the right ratio, with turning and water and covering. I will give it the same treatment for a week, but if there is no change, I might have to subside into cold composting and spend my turning time on weeding.


2. Leaves. A client has a big, healthy Ash tree which overlooks his garden from a neighbour. There are always lots of leaves to collect up in Autumn. He doesn’t want to compost or make leaf mould (weirdo, right?), so I came up with the solution of spreading a thick leafy mulch under his well established hedge. There are only so many leaves you can effectively do this with: Ash, Lime, Chestnut would be my favourites. They break down quickly. Better than letting the council have them.


3. Bird box. I had a spare couple of hours yesterday, so I went raiding one of the many loft conversion skips of Walthamstow and came up with some floorboards. This is my Mark 1 bird box, with three more in the pipeline. I have ordered those metal entrance cover things to stop Woodpeckers and Magpies raiding. They will be adorning some of the trees in the churchyard soon. Emma was delighted to see old floorboards and tools all over the recently cleared decking.


4. Just when I thought it was safe to put away the bulb planter, Helen Lerner offered me a job lot of free bulbs from the London Parks and Garden’s Trust (250 of them!). Never one to look a free bulb in the mouth, I gladly accepted. Three types of Tulip, two of Hyacinth, Allium Graceful Beauty, Camassia Leichtini (white), Ipheion Alberto Castillo, Triteleia Aquarius. So now the fun of finding little spots for them. Not today, it’s too wet.


5. Oh, ok then, a few plants, then. I quite like this little Winter combination of Cornus Midwinter Fire, Ophiopogon Nigrescens and Rubus Cockburnianus (my favourite plant name ever). This is a rubbish photo, but the combination works well over Winter in a slightly shady spot, even surrounded by big shrubs. Snowdrops come through it in early Spring. In Summer you have to prune out straggly Rubus stems.


6. Have I told you about Cypress spurge, Bonaparte’s Crown, Graveyard Moss, Kiss me Dick, Love in a Huddle, Welcome to our House or Euphorbia cyaparissias before? Well any plant with that many common names is going to be a prolific spreader. On poor dry soil, it will tick over, but in a lush bed it can be rampant. I keep this one tame in a pot by the front door where it gets no attention, no new compost, very little water and does really well. The Spring display is nice, like you would expect from a Euphorbia, but the Autumn colour is the best thing about it. Like little firework rockets going up. Recommended (in a pot).


Six on a Saturday 17.11.18


  1. Cotinus Grace. Just shining out in my shrubby corner. I love the way that there are pinks and oranges and reds in its beautifully veined leaves as the chlorophyll breaks down. This will be over in a week or so, but I have absolutely loved every minute of its display this year.


2. Beautiful zig-zagging berries on this Cotoneaster. It sits in a dark recess barely earning its keep for most of the year, if I am honest, but now it looks absolutely fabulous.


3. This is the newly made architectural wonder that is The Drawing Shed, Attlee Terrace, E17, a community garden and space for arts projects on the estate. I was invited to the opening and look forward to working with them on garden workshops for the community in the next year. Nice lights.


4. Free plants one. Bamboo. Phyllostachys Aurea. The well behaved one. It is good time of year to crown lift, thin and divide these. I spent a merry couple of hours doing just that to this clump, harvesting about forty stout canes and lots of compostable material. I also dug around each clump and ended up with five nice culms which I have potted up for the next client who wants some bamboo. These go for £50 each in my nursery, so that was worth doing!



5. Free plants 2. Eriobotria japonica (thanks, Jim for the ident.) You may remember this relatively new garden from the Summer and the fine tree which I couldn’t identify. I only go once a month at the moment, but I found a lovely seedling of it which I was allowed to take. Need to find a good home for that to now.


6. Seeking a bit of natural inspiration earlier this week, I had a short walk in Epping Forest. This Birch clump just sang out to me with its lovely golden leaf and bracken underplanting. Beautiful.

Six on a Saturday 3.10.18

After weeks of blogging inactivity, due to helping my sister in law, Laura Marshall become Enduroman 35 (check out her simply awe-inspiring achievement here: ) and sowing a meadow in the churchyard, I return to the task refreshed. There is still plenty going on, thanks to a warm and long Autumn. There will be a bountiful harvest of other world wide blogs at the head honcho’s site:




  1. Tis the season of the Chrysanthemum. I was lucky to be given three varieties from the Essex HPS to grow in the churchyard (unknown variety, Picasso and Albert’s Yellow). I have no experience of growing them. They tend to sit around a long time doing not a lot (that’s a lifestyle I aspire to!). Then, this. I like it a lot. However, I think for next year, I will dig them up, place them elsewhere to grow, pinch them out much harder and transplant them in July  ready for showtime.


2. Silphium mohrii. An impulse buy from Beth Chatto which I didn’t expect much from this year.Like a small sunflower, but perennial, with attractive hairy leaves. I reckoned I had a sheltered, sunny, free draining spot for it, but was really pleased to have this late show. It is a rare plant from the southern states of the U.S of A.


3. Rosa moyseii hip. Makes you wanna spend the afternoon cooking up a rose syrup, doesn’t it? Or maybe you just haven’t got time. Still, these hips are a bit special and I am pleased I moved the plant from my garden where it was becoming too big for its space into the St Mary’s bed where it can go as nuts as it wants to. I believe it wants to, and will next year.


4. Anyone remember that little roadside verge that we sowed with annual meadow seed in April? Did rubbish because it was too hot and dry? Well here it is in all its (knap)weedy glory. Seeds just know.


5. So, the tsunami of Autumn leaves hasn’t really started yet and this is the haul so far. This is one of three compost sites in St Mary’s that we are making. The Community Payback team have been great in clearing and gathering debris, now we need to get busy one-time making proper bays. Gratifyingly, some of last year’s compost haul will be going to new planters that some local residents who featured on the Chelsea Fringe walk are constructing near by. This is very much part of my vision for the churchyard: that is become a community resource rather than a “maintenance problem”.



6. Leaf. One of my big beds at home is going to undergo a transformation over the next year. Inspired by my visit to Dan, The Frustrated Gardener, over the Summer, I am going to make it a tropical border. The Melianthus major, first photo, is a lovely plant which loves the cooler moister weather of Autumn (sulking rather in Summer). Beneath is a newly acquired Tetrapanax papyrifer, whose foliage is rather glorious. That’s a start, but more to come.

Six on Saturday 29.9.18


  1. A time for Asters to take centre stage. This is Little Carlow, planted in a client’s garden in March. It has done really well and is looking stunning right now. Farncombe Lilac (I passed through Farncombe in Sussex last weekend and went, “Oh, where the Aster comes from”) in the churchyard has succumbed to mildew and another unnamed variety I got from a friend is yet to bloom. I really like them, but am thinking of splitting and dividing them over winter to colonise wilder ground in the churchyard.


2. Cyclamen hederifolium. Just such a lovely thing, especially in this garden where there are self sown dozens established. I cut down the Leucanthemum stems to let them peep out, but should have done so more thoroughly. Mental note to self: cut stems to the ground, ya eedjut.


3. When holly trunks embrace. This rather ancient holly has a characterful trunk reminiscent of elephant legs or a giant’s knuckles. The two trunks have fused in the middle in a rather appealing way.


4. I love both these plants: Euphorbia characias and Stipa arundinacea. They go well together, especially now in Autumn when the grass tints attractively. I reckon they need around about the same annual attention too: ten to fifteen minutes. Easy.


5. Pots. Spring and Autumn are the best time for pots, I think. Not so much watering to do. Not that these, in my protected front porch, need much anyway. They are mostly succulent cuttings taken from mother plants or holiday destinations. However, the cooler, slightly moister air over the last few weeks has brought about a noticeable change in their foliage: brighter and more lustrous.


6. The Blueberry in a big pot on my front path is always the first thing to change leaf colour. I love grabbing a handful on my way in and out of the house, but the foliage colouration is an added bonus. Bud break isn’t a bad thing to watch either. What else do you want from a plant?




Six on a Saturday 15.9.18


  1. Tulbaghia violacia Silver Lace. Just sits around most of the year with attractively fine variegated leaf. Then from August onwards gives a nice show of clear purple flowers. I have kept her in an unheated greenhouse over winter, bone dry. Think it is time to split and put some in a sunny, dry sheltered spot.



2. Helianthus Lemon Queen. Some people get sniffy about yellow and Helianthus in general. There is a school of thought that thinks if it is vigorous and bright it is inferior to slow growing and pale. A bit snobby. Being a snob, I tried Lemon Queen next to her more vigorous neighbour, the common perennial Helianthus. I have gotta say, I am underwhelmed. Yes, attractive pale flowers. But floppy, low and not really as good as her cousin. I will give her another go next year when the conditions might be better, but if the same thing occurs then she is out.


3. This roadside verge was cleared and seeded with a low-growing annual mix in April. For most of the long hot Summer I considered it a failure. I gave up on it. The weeds moved back in. However, now, with two decent showers, there is a show of reasonable proportions. Seeds and plants just know, don’t they?


4. That St Mary’s bed again. I just don’t get bored of it. It was kind of planned, but I am still pleasantly surprised by the combination of Miscanthus Morning Light, Salvia Armistad, Symphyotrichum novo-belgii Farncombe Lilac (isn’t that a mouthful?). Early Autumn seems to be the best season yet for this patch: low light, bit of mist, relaxed fullness. Lovely. I am still going to tear it up and rearrange it better soon though.

5. My dog inspecting the first leaf mound of the season and knowing what is to come. And what is to come is lots of leaf mould making opportunity. Last year’s lot, kept in scruffy plastic bags is maturing nicely and will go on the beds in a thick mulch in late Autumn.

6. What do you see? I see victory. Or at least a big step in the right direction. This churchyard was a dense bramble, ivy and sapling patch two weeks ago. The Waltham Forest Community Payback team have worked really hard to clear it. The mound of meadow grass now has a massive additional layer on top and there is plenty of additional wood to season. Great wildlife habitat to make up for the great wildlife habitat that was cleared. I try to manage the site in a wildlife friendly way, balancing that with the needs of visiting relatives, the homeless and mentally ill*. I have planned a species enrichment plot, container pond, meadows and alpine trough next, but we will see how we go with all of those. This site also used to be home for up to 25 rough sleepers over the Summer. This morning, we were down to two and a dog. I do not count that as part of the victory. They are just down the road. However, the bottles, cans and needles are gone. At the very least, it is a more pleasant space for people to rest in peace.

*Great job application this week: “I am a former criminal drug addict with mental health problems, on medication. I can’t do much. I just want a bit of voluntary work. You’ll have to show me what to do.” You’re hired!

Six on a Saturday 8.9.18

After a head frying bit of overstimulation at The Beth Chatto Symposium last week, I am back to normal this week. It was a fantastic event with top speakers, designers and plantsmen and women in attendance. Needless to say, it features here.


  1. The Beth Chatto Symposium. What a gathering! Two days of lectures, talks and panels from some of the best on the planet. Highlights for me: the Scandinavian alpine sand gardening of Peter Korn, the Mediterranean planting of Olivier Filippi, Dan Pearson and Midori Shintani and the hilarious James Hitchmough. Stimulating.

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2. Plants were purchased at the nursery. Here are Inula magnifica in rough grass at St Mary’s. I got three. They get up to 2m and should be tough enough to fight off the grass next May. Also, Pennisitum Black Beauty, a metre high grass which loves sun, good drainage and shelter, all of which I can give her.


3. There is a purple thing going on in this corner, Aster (as I still stubbornly insist on calling it) “Farncombe Lilac” has just joined in. Not really lilac, but quite pleasing. It does take up a lot of room, so some will have to find a new home next year. Got a smidgeon of mildew too, but nothing to worry about too much.


4. Seed stolen from various places this Summer is in and germinating. Always nice to have pots and trays on the go. I was annoyed to find that some Lychnis coronary Alba I ordered for clients last year came out as the screaming pink type. So I tracked some down in someone else’s garden and am trying again.


5. Useful little job at this time of year is to prune off the Summer growth of berrying shrubs. It allows the berries to shine out and probably lets Blackbirds have better access to a snack over Autumn and Winter.

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6. I have been feeling a bit seedy recently so I collected a load together to send off to The Hardy Plant Society. Here is Dianthus carthusianorum looking like an explosion in a  charcoal factory, with eight other packets ready to be sent off. I was so delighted to get my seed last year that it only seems right to contribute this year. Already sweaty palmed with anticipation of the new seed list!

Six on Saturday 25.8.18


The holidays are over. It’s raining. We are no longer being fried. It’s dark at a normal time. Life is about to return to normal. But what a Summer it has been! In the weeks I have been away or busy, lots has happened to enrich me and stimulate me. Nice to be back in The Propagator’s fold:


  1. There I am, happy as Larry, on August 6th, my 51st birthday, at The Salutation in Sandwich, Kent. What a lovely garden!It is full of interesting and unusual plants. Whilst in Broadstairs for a week I took the chance to visit this and The Frustrated Gardener, Dan Cooper’s garden, open for the NGS (tropical splendour!). Both were highly impressive. I was delighted too to meet Dan and Steve Edney (Head Gardener at The Salutation). Lovely people, excellent gardens, what more could you want?


2. Sedum Matrona (or Hylotelphium Matrona, if you are all 21st Century). After months of looking fine, no problem, just hanging out, suddenly this plant has got a bit more colour in its stem, got more lustre in its leaves, got some pep in its flower. It is their time to shine. They love a drought too. Their seed heads look good all winter, making them one of those rare creatures which look nearly as good dead as alive. Rapidly becoming one of my go to plants for easy, low maintenance, look-good planting.


3. Trachymene coerulia. A free packet of seed from Gardens Illustrated. This is a useful mixer of an annual. It is low, which I think is a virtue, being a shortass myself. This means it mingles well with taller plants like Salvia Armistad (here) or Ammi visagna. The blue umbels last quite a while (five weeks?) and are low maintenance in a sunny spot. I reckon to take seed and try it again next year.

4. Week of freaks. Well, not really freaks, but curiosities, rarities, the kind of things Victorians would have charged you a schilling to see. We have a crown gall discovered on a Euonymus. A bit bigger than a walnut, like a cross between a cauliflower head and a   rat’s brain, it is a mutation of the stem caused by Agrobacterium tumefaciens. Will have to dig up the plant and dispose of it. In the other photo are Stag Beetle larvae, five in all, tucked up under a rotten tree root, until I untucked them. I really love the adult beetles. They are such beautiful creatures. I tucked them up again very carefully and sung them a lullaby.


5. Cyclamen hederifolium. After a little bit of Adam’s ale, they are emerging in those dark and leafy, obscure corners of the garden. Or in this case, in the middle of a neglected lawn I have just taken on. Couldn’t mow over them, so I went round them. They have been told that as soon as they finish their flowering business , they are to pack their bags and get off to a more sensible home. Ants and their ways, I ask you.

6. Readers with long memories may remember my visit to Hauser and Wirth in Somerset last November and the pilfering of seed that took place. These are the resultant seedlings.  No doubt all very good Piet Oudulf approved prairie plants, but I have no clue about any of them. Once again, good sixers, may I ask for some help in identifying them? Thanks.

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.