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: https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2018/06/16/six-on-saturday-16-06-2018/



  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.



Six on a Saturday, 21.4.18


  1. Blossom time. Having waited long,long,long time for Spring, it felt like we had fast-forwarded past it to high Summer this week. Suddenly everything is flowering, growing and blossoming all at once and we don’t know where to look or what to sniff first. This is Pear blossom on one of my espaliers at the allotment. Don’t really care if there are no pears, this is beautiful.


2. Even though I say it myself, the allotment has been looking good this week, with tulips, wallflowers (Blood Red) and Iris unguicularis putting on a display.


3. I put a few of these Ipeion into a client’s hedge bottom in November, not really expecting a lot. They said it might take a few years to settle in. Not a bit of it. They have popped up all fresh and clear. A new one on me, but I can recommend them. Maybe some Muscari next to them next year, eh?


4. In the churchyard there are both English and Spanish bluebells. It is a cliche, but the English ones are so much finer. Puts me in mind of the best play of the 21st Century so far, Jerusalem, by Jez Butterworth, set on St George’s Day, which is this week, in a Bluebell wood. In that play the lovable rogue, Johnny Rooster Byron, squats in a wood and scandalises the local village. Part of my duties this week were to trim down a hedge in the churchyard where three homeless people had been sleeping and carrying on. It was a tough one. I am sympathetic to them, in a borough where the housing crisis is reaching absurd levels, but also recognise that they cannot really sleep there and trash the place.



5. Lunaria. Not the best picture, but an indication of how this has shot up in semi-shaded, woodland edge all over the country this week. This is a white form, but I keep seeing the pure, clear purple lurking in hedges and shady cracks this week. Very lovely and needing no input from gardeners at all.

6. You didn’t think there’d be a week without Tulips, did you? At this time of year? Abu Hasan, Clearwater and an unidentified survivor in the churchyard.


Check out The Propagator’s blog for lots of lovely gardens, plants, people and tips.




Six on Saturday. The Tulip One. 14.4.18


1.It is the right moment to celebrate the Tulip. After all the dark waiting, their burst of colour  is the quintessential signal that warmer days are round the corner. They are such a luxurious plant. A part of me can understand the Dutch Tulip mania which saw one bulb worth ten times the salary of an average worker, the price of a smart house. I would have been there, no doubt, my wife arching her eyebrows as I sold Hewitt mansions for an organ of perennation, Jack, with his beanstalk. And no, I don’t have any Bitcoin. Yet. IMG_3031

2. They are so mysterious and strange in their folds and contours. This Purple Prince looks like a trio of fingers to me. Other interpretations are possible. They hold raindrops nicely too, which was useful this week.


3. I think part of why we love them so much, is that they combine endlessly with other Spring plants. I find Euphorbia characias such good value in this respect. You could put any coloured Tulip in front of it and they would shine . It is the backdrop to the leading actors, if you want to use a cheesy theatrical metaphor about it.


4. In a crowded, cottage style border, it is the clean yellow tulips which rise gracefully above the melee. Mrs W tells me they were bought 20 years ago on a visit to Keukenhof, the Dutch mecca for Tulips. I am amazed,quite frankly, that they survive, let alone thrive, in her solid clay borders. A lot of bulbs rot and decay on heavy soils and even on free draining gravel you can’t expect the same show from one year to the next. Tulips homelands are the near east, gentle mountain slopes and alkaline soil. They shouldn’t be happy in sodden clay.


5. These little wisps are Tulip sprengeri. The contrarian of the family, they flower late and like moist shade. It is a long term project as I just sunk a seed tray under my Lilac bush last Autumn and left them alone (well, I removed a few leaves and Bluebells which grew over them and generally acted like a mother hen). They reckon, “they will make a flowering sized bulb within five years”. Not sure I can mother hen it up for that long, but we will see!


6. Foliage. You have to say that Tulip foliage can be a bit annoying. Big and slow to die down and shading neighbours. It is the price you pay and a reason not to plant to thickly in a mixed border. I wanted to show the red-edged foliage of this minature Tulip linifolia, but the leaves are a bit marked by Winter and out of focus. Still, it would be great if more tulips had this kind of thin, pretty, fine foliage. Or is that just asking too much?

Six. On Saturday. The Way it Should Be. 7.4.18


  1. The big skies and wide open spaces of Northumberland. After a very successful Burials in Bloom starter morning (19 people, 22 graves, gentle arguments over who should get the prime sites), me and the dog high-tailed it up to the coast around Embleton. Absolutely beautiful up there. You might just be able to see a pond which I have helped to plant with marginals. I am hoping to extend this with Iris sibirica and candelabra Primula.


2.We visited the amazing gardens at Howick Hall (seat of Earl Grey, the tea man and much else besides). If you haven’t been, I can highly recommend it. The woodland is amazing there. To be honest, it was a bit early and nothing much was out, but I was liking this lichen on a crab apple.


3. Came home to the first of my Thalia Narcissi. Such a clean, light, beautiful bloom. I have about ten clumps now which have slowly increased and am a big fan. Incidentally, I also scored a bargain 36 bulbs of gone over Tete-a-tete for £1.50 from Bunnings Warehouse on Thursday and thought to naturalise them in grass next year.


4. Don’t be Scilla about it, thats a Chinodoxa! I always got those two confused, as they are both blue and out together. Basically the Chinodoxa is shorter, with finer foliage and with fewer blooms. Lovely in drifts under trees and shrubs though.

5. I need some support. I noticed at Howick Hall that they have got their perennial plant supports in early-doors, as you can see in that extremely boring first photo. The metal grill will disappear in a few weeks I imagine. Inspired by the Lord Chief Propagator’s post on supports, I tried my own crap dream-catcher look-a-like efforts, made from Wisteria prunings. The client came and looked at them, made a few polite noises and went inside to quietly bang her head against the wall.


6. What the……is that? Any guesses? It is in fact only tangentially connected to horticulture in that it became part of my high energy, vegan, tasty packed lunch. It is a breakfast bar, made by a local start-up baker, called The Depressed Baker. He lost his job due to depression and stress and is starting up a bakery supplying cafes in East London. He has a strong message about mental health and donates part of his profits to mental health charities. Anyway, he was kind enough to drop over some samples and I like them very much.

Six on a Saturday 31.3.18

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  1. You gotta have faith. Sometimes with new clients you just have to ask them to trust you. This sunny little front garden on a hill doesn’t look much now, but come June or July I can see it looking great, after all those dots of green grow into magnificent grasses and Salvias and Eryngiums and Stachys.


2. Nature is so full and abundant. Lesser celandine, with Allium trinquetum in the background, just looking lush and vigorous and fresh.


3. Muscari are everywhere this week and very beautiful they are too. However, their foliage is a dull eyesore the rest of the year. Are they worth it? Yes, but only in certain wilder areas of gardens for me. Or in pots to use with daffodils and primulas.


4. I have the pleasure of working in several very well established gardens. They may be a bit overgrown and unruly, but what you gain is an immense fullness to the planting. Not one or two Pulmonarias but scores. Not a patch of Cyclamen but a quilted bedspread. Very satisfying and a great mine of propagating material. Thanks, Mrs W!


5. On Tuesday, in the pelting rain, I drove out to Essex to meet Margot Grice. She is the distributor for the HPS’s conservation plant programme. I had begged for plants to help with my St Mary’s long bed project. I expected a few. What I got was this lot. Loads. All rare and hard-to-get but considered very worthy garden plants. What treasure, what booty! Thanks a lot, Margot, and big up the HPS. If you haven’t joined yet, then do so, it is the subscription which keeps on paying dividends. I will be spreading the word about their excellent work to anyone who will listen.

6. Space, the final frontier. Unlike Captain Kirk et al, I am not boldly going, I am nervously tip toeing. Running out of room, at this stage. There are plants on windowsill, plants on walls, on pallets, in cold frames, behind the sofa, next to my daughter’s bed, on top of propagators and on the decking. Many haven’t germinated and been pricked out yet. What am I going to do for April, before they can go outside to harden off? Nice problem to have though.