Hello Again

Back to my Blog!  I’ve missed it myself, though I wonder if anyone else has? It’s been “resting”- I only wish I had been too. This revival is due partly to the New Year, but also to the feeling that the frantic Fa-la-la of Christmas is over for another year, thank heavens.

I’ve been reading my old posts, and have quite enjoyed doing so, (though perhaps I shouldn’t say that myself – but, then, why not?)

A while ago (May 2012) I wrote about my Aeonium tabulaeforme which flowered and then died: that’s what they do – they are ‘monocarpic’. But I soon discovered that they produce lots of seeds which germinate easily in gritty compost. It’s a wonderful plant when mature – a big rosette of leaves, almost as flat as a pancake.


Last year the same thing happened again, and consequently today I had a large seed pot full of baby Aeoniums, which were becoming overcrowded. I spent a happy half-hour potting them up individually. Some years ago I was given a lot of tiny clay pots and I wondered what to do with them: today I found out.

I now have ten plants in a slightly mis-matched set of pots grouped in an old wooden seed tray, and they should make a good show come the summer. Half dozen more were potted into plastic pots for spares/sales/give-aways.


I admire succulents and cacti for their geometric shapes and strange forms. We now have quite a selection, which inhabit a table in the garden every summer, and retire to the house and greenhouse for the winter. My husband began collecting these, but soon became bored with looking after them, so they became mine. One or two of the cacti have grown enormous and have to be taken out of the greenhouse very, very carefully every year.

A few months ago I responded to an appeal on Twitter for someone with such a collection to get in touch. One day, back in the Spring, I carted most of our plants into the house and had fun arranging them on our windowsills for a session with the writer Lea Leendertz and photographer (and general good egg) Mark Diacono. Together they have produced a beautiful book: ‘My Tiny Indoor Garden‘ which features our plants along with those of many other equally obsessive gardeners. It’s a pleasure to be part of it.

I shall now have to live up to an acquired reputation as the mad woman with all the prickly plants. Already I’ve been given another cactus, and I’ve been looking at nursery websites. I may have to get a bigger table…

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Old time is still a-flying

I’ve just returned from a cross country car journey. The countryside is looking gorgeous. Every verge and field-boundary is frothed with cow parsley. Every roundabout decorated by ox-eye-daisies and buttercups. Bright flashes of mustard-yellow charlock and campion in neon-pink light up the scene against the freshest of greens.

I felt a sense of delight in all this beauty, but the delight is strangely tainted by melancholy.  I am not the only person who finds ‘cow-parsley-time’ oddly depressing. Why?  It seems all the more perverse since I have been longing for May all through the Winter.

Perhaps it is the evanescence of the scene.  The knowledge that it is so fleeting: look away momentarily and it is gone until next year.  The light, careless joy of youth soon moves into the comfortable roundness of middle age, to be followed by the autumn leaves, drifting…

Robert Herrick summed it up: “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may…”

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Treasured Plants

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my husband’s Aunty Jenny and her flower arrangement.  I now give you Aunt Kath’s Echeveria.  I don’t know its name, the leaves can be a bit scruffy, but it flowers, cheerfully and without fail, every Spring.  The aunt in question gave it to me many years ago, and I’ve managed to keep it going ever since.

There is always something special about plants that came from relatives or friends.  They are cherished for the memories they evoke, as well as any horticultural pleasure.

My garden is full of these treasures:  Roses from another of Sandy’s aunts, and a ‘Felicite et Perpetue’ from his mother. Paeonies that came from neighbours.  My father’s ‘Autumn Bliss’ raspberries and a fringed tulip – as well as the contents of his tool-shed.

My mother contributed innumerable plants: a good Delphinium – reliable and not too heavy-headed, a variegated box, an Albertine rambler, given to us when we moved into this house.  I even have the decendents of some Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella) seed which was given to my parents when they married in 1937 by their friend Peggy, who later became my god-mother.

Possibly some of these have been superceeded by ‘better and brighter’ varieties.  But I would never part with them, they are very precious.

Memories tinged with sadness.

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The Year Starts Here

It’s always an exciting moment when the ‘Yellow Book’ arrives through the post, and good to see that our entry for 2015 is there, in print (page 246, if you want to know).  We sent in our contribution in August last year, and sometimes it’s hard to remember what we wrote so long ago.

Some people may be totally mystified and have no idea what I am talking about – so let me explain.  The Yellow Book is a compendium of gardens – mainly private – that open their gates to the public on certain dates of their choice: it is run by the National Gardens Scheme (NGS). People pay to come in and all the money is collected and distributed to a raft of charities.  These include Macmillan Cancer Support, the Carers’ Trust, Hospice UK and several more.  Starting in 1927, it has raised 42 million pounds over the years.

We feel it a privilege to be part of this wonderful organisation.  As a child I used to visit NGS gardens with my parents, it fired my enthusiasm and love of gardening.  I never thought that I would be the proud owner of one of those yellow ‘Garden Open’ posters myself.  You have to be ‘selected’ by your local county organiser and this is a bit alarming – quite a few are turned down.  When it was our turn, our ‘CO’ arrived with a Japanese film crew who were making a programme about the NGS! It had been a dry summer, but annoyingly it rained that day, and when we passed the inspection (much relief) we all ended up in the kitchen toasting our success with whisky.

Most of the gardens provide tea and home-made cake and also have plants for sale, which adds to the pleasure.  We now have live music on all our four afternoons and this has proved to be very popular. Our ‘openings’ require a good deal of organisation and we are very grateful to our team of wonderful friends who serve teas, sell plants, man the ‘gate’, direct the traffic and play ‘music for a summer afternoon’.

By the end of the afternoon we are tired, having been on our feet most of the day.  My head is reeling from responding to questions and trying to remember the names of several hundred plants.  But it’s great to be able to share my enthusiasm for with so many people. I’m looking forward to our first opening in May (10th, 2-6) – I just hope the tulips will be at their best…

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Memories of a Maiden Aunt

Many years ago my husband Sandy and I paid a visit to his Scottish aunt.  Auntie Jenny was a large and formidable lady of trenchantly conservative opinions and a bit scary: it didn’t do to disagree.  One of her favourite phrases was “I dinnae approve”. But we soon discovered her softer side, and she quite enjoyed a little gentle leg-pulling.  She was also a gardener and had a large plot full of special plants.  I was becoming interested myself and she was happy to encourage me.

I noticed that she always had an unusual arrangement of flowers on her dining table.  It consisted of a low round bowl (I think it was a dish intended for serving vegetables) filled with sprigs of a feathery conifer, into which she inserted examples of whatever happened to be blooming at the moment.  The conifer provided support and an attractive background for the flowers which could be easily changed as they faded, and it looked very pretty.

Back home I intended to copy this charming idea, but I met with a snag.  I realised that it only worked with a very specific conifer, and I didn’t know what it was called.  Once or twice I spotted something similar – without a label – and it took a lot of research to discover that it was Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans’: a form of the Japanese Cypress. Further reading informed me that it would eventually make a small tree, (which I didn’t have room for) but there is a smaller form: C.j.’Elegans Compacta’ which, according to Hillier’s Guide “forms a billowy bush”.  It turns a rich russet brown in winter, and, unlike many conifers, it doesn’t mind being cut back.

I bought one, I planted it, and it grew quite slowly. It is now about a metre high and at last I feel able to gather a few stems for my first ‘Auntie Jenny arrangement’.  It’s been a long time in the making (at least 40 years!). The idea is particularly well suited to February, when flowers are scarce and I don’t want to pick too much. Along with snowdrops, crocus, winter aconite and iris, I have used a couple of flowers of the glowing pink Anisodontea ‘El Royo’, which has been flowering in my cold greenhouse all winter.

Auntie Jenny died many years ago – but if she is looking down from heaven, I think she would approve.

Flowers Feb 16

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A Bit Too Friendly?

We are constantly urged to make our gardens “wildlife friendly”. I’ve come to the conclusion that mine is too friendly by half!

I’m happy to be friends with the birds, bees and butterflies (though maybe not the Cabbage Whites) but, living in the countryside, I have a constant battle with rabbits, moles, squirrels and mice.  At the moment it’s the mice causing havoc.

I adore tulips –  those gorgeous ball-gown colours and textures: they are so welcome after the greyness of winter. I plant mine in pots – our garden is wet in winter and tulips like good drainage.  But something has been getting into the pots, making small holes and eating the bulbs.  I find shards of tulips lying on the surface – and I fume.

At first I blamed the squirrels. I tried putting scrunched-up chicken wire on top of the pots, but whatever-it-was managed to get in around the sides. So it had to be something smaller – field mice or voles. I’m not the only person suffering from these attacks and I heard that it is worse than usual this year.  So I did some research to find out what could be done.

Some internet conversations recommended various smelly preparations as repellents (mothballs, garlic…) – but other people said they didn’t work. One good idea is to plant other bulbs on top – the ones mice don’t like – Narcissi, Hyacinths or Muscari.  I’ll try that next year, it’s too late for this spring.

Another site suggested putting pebbles on top of the soil.  They specified hen’s-egg-size, but I thought it might look a bit odd.  So I experimented with large and small pebbles and coarse grit, using three identical pots with the same tulips in them, and then left them in a vulnerable place.  So far none of have succumbed, I prefer the grit from the aesthetic point of view.

I’ll continue to keep my garden wildlife-friendly – up to a point.  Even the baby bunnies have a certain charm (she says through gritted teeth!)  It’s just necessary to find a way to outwit them…


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Transformed by Snow

The garden in Winter has its charms, but the garden covered is snow is magical: it even smells and sounds quite different.

This is when the architecture – the ‘bones of the garden’ – stands out with clarity. There is a graphic, black-and-white quality to the light which enchants me every time.




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