My Garden This Week

DSC_0049Just a quick update because I was out photographing the sweet peas. The garden is full of colour this week. The asters and chrysanths are in full bloom and the overwintered dahlias are boldly holding their positions. The salvias have been outstanding this year and some of the patens varieties are better than ever, particularly ‘Blue Angel’ which just goes on and on until the first frost.DSC_0053

This combination of bronzy yellow and purple chrysanths works well and is a complete accident!

More later!

October Sweet Peas!


Yes, it’s true, these sweet peas have been blooming since June and are still going strong 4 months later! Last year I had a hanging basket of Lathyrus odoratus ‘Dwarf Cupid Mix’ which were an interesting novelty but not particularly impressive. I decided not to bother with them this year but they obviously had other ideas. Some of the seed must have dried and dropped beneath where it germinated in April and gradually grew into a pretty old fashioned floribunda reminiscent of ‘Cupani’ or perhaps ‘Matucana’ blue and purple bicolor. Wonderful scent on a shortish sprawling plant which mingled with the delphiniums, dahlias and verbenas. The remarkable thing is I haven’t removed any dead heads but it has continued to flower well which rather flies in the face of the advice to remove all spent flowers before the seedheads appear or the plant will stop flowering! I will leave it to drop it’s seeds at will and see if I get another batch next year.


CKIB Trophies 2015Thrilled to bits! I won the prizes for best front garden AND best rear garden in the Charlton Kings in Bloom Competition this year. Two huge trophies and £50 of garden vouchers but the best bit was the feedback from the judges and I quote:

“Your garden is outstanding. Your borders were picture perfect with beautiful waves of colour, height and texture. Your rear garden flows well and again your choice of plants is exceptional. The standard of your garden is the highest we have ever seen. It’s been a real pleasure judging it.”

It was worth all the long hours and hard work just to hear that.


DSC_0007I know it’s not much of a plant at this stage, more of a box really, but inside is a bit of the horticultural future…..apparently! We are all familiar with Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ and R. var. ‘Deamii’ and have probably had a brush with the larger flowered and more colourful annual Rudbeckia hirta in the form of ‘Marmalade’ or ‘Green Eyes’ or similar. We are also probably all familiar with Echinacea purpurea and have discovered that only the species is truly hardy; the myriad cultivars I have been suckered into buying have been hopeless and die in their first winter…too wet in the UK. They need long, dry, cold winters as they get in the mid western United States to survive.  My friend Rob Cole at Meadow Farm Nursery is selecting open pollinated variants and testing them for the factors required in a British garden worthy plant and is pretty close to releasing a couple on the market but, in the meantime, the Echibeckia has been introduced from the United States to satisfy our desire for a hardy, early and long flowering perennial that is hardy and disease resistant. As the name implies, it is an intergeneric cross between Rudbeckia hirta and Echinacea purpurea. So what’s in the box????????DSC_0009

Certainly well packaged by Hayloft Plants; arrived safe and well grown……DSC_0010

far bigger than expected, at least 25cm high and one even beginning to flower!DSC_0012

However, we are going to have to wait until next summer to find out a) has it survived and b) was it worth it!

My Garden This Week – The Best Bits!

DSC_0024I have been trying to take a good photo of Salvia uliginosa and have found it very difficult so this is the best I have managed so far but it really doesn’t do it justice. The colour is simply exquisite and it flowers for months. The bees love it and it is a full 1.8m high and wide which makes a wonderful border statement. Believe it or not, it is thriving in one of the worst parts of the garden overshadowed by trees and in sticky clay soil, all the things it should hate!DSC_0028

Aconitum carmichaelii, the common Monkshood, has got a fearsome reputation for being the most poisonous plant in the garden, particularly since a gardener died of it’s effects earlier this year. It is, however, a rather beautiful and statuesque plant, just don’t touch it and then eat your sandwiches!DSC_0034

The front border is filled with colour from the salvias, echinaceas, monardas and heleniums with the fresh foliage of the asters and chrysanths supporting them. Everything props each other up and avoids flopping. DSC_0036

Amongst the asters is this rather unusual Solidago ‘Fireworks’ which is not your average Golden Rod but a more refined version which works well with the purples, mauves and crimsons of the asters which are now beginning to open.DSC_0046

Best hoverfly attractor plant? This Lysimachia ephemerum, the Willow Leaved Loosestrife, gets this year’s award. Yes, better than Verbena, salvias or scabious and at least on a par with echinacea for attracting pollinators. Never seen it without something crawling over it!DSC_0054

The ever reliable Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii which lights up the borders in August and goes on for weeks and weeks. I wouldn’t be without it. Shorter than ‘Goldsturm’ and a brighter yellow in my opinion.DSC_0057

I do find it easy to ignore the more mundane plants in the garden and take them for granted, particularly those which have been there for years and just perform without fussing, feeding or propping, things like this Echinops ritro, a reliable drought resistant, clay loving plant if ever there was one. Loved by bees, flies, beetles and all manner of creepie crawlies, it must be overloaded with pollen and nectar. It is not until you look closely, really closely at those blue balls that you see why.DSC_0061

Each flower ball is comprised of hundreds of tiny florets, each one packed with food and drink. Isn’t nature wonderful!

Which? Gardening photo shoot!


Each year I offer to grow seeds in the Which? Gardening Trials and submit my results along with hundreds of other keen subscribers. Last year for the first time they set up an 8 week temporary on-line forum for the trialists to make comments and share experiences during the trial and I was a keen contributor, particularly regarding the climbing French bean ‘Monte Cristo’ which, although delicious to eat, were extremely curly! This got people talking and sharing photos and ideas. I loved it!DSC_0021

So this year I volunteered to grow two varieties of Zinnia to see which one attracted more butterflies and pollinating insects, Garlic Chives to assess their usefulness for salads and boiled potatoes, and Ipomea (Morning Glory) ‘Dacapo Light Blue’  to see how quickly it came into flower from germination.

Chives are chives and not very exciting but the flavour of garlic chives are more garlic than onion so you need to like garlic!DSC_0006

I have featured the Ipomea elsewhere in the blog and they are a real winner, as good or better than the popular and better known ‘Grandpa Ott’ and ‘Heavenly Blue’.DSC_0024

It was the Zinnias that became the stars this year and mainly because I got an email asking if I would be a case study for the magazine and feature my plants and comments when the results are published! Wow! What a privilege. The Trials team had seen the photos I had uploaded on the forum and wanted their own professional photographer to visit my garden and take shots of the plants and me!DSC_0015

And so it was that on a sunny Thursday last week, Matt Fowler, the Which? photographer, drove from High Wycombe to Cheltenham for an hour long photo shoot, him surrounded by equipment and me on my knees amongst the Zinnias!DSC_0089

I am not used to being in front of the camera so it was a little nerve-wracking. However, Matt was used to it and just got in with his job while Cathy was taking pics of him taking pics of me!DSC_0074

I grew the Zinnias in a raised bed in the veg garden so I could keep an eye on them and this turned out to have been a good idea because we could photograph them from all sides and very close up. DSC_0024

I think the light was bouncing off my bald head!DSC_0065

It was a good day and not your average Thursday morning. The varieties were ‘Oklahoma’ and the shorter, rather non-Zinnia like ‘Starbright’. Great plants, easy to grow, undemanding and drought tolerant, long flowering and attractive to bees and butterflies. What more could you want? Well, perhaps more flowers and less of me!



DSC_0001 (2)Like glossy red jewels, these sticky little Japanese Wineberries have been a delicious treat in the fruit garden this year. Just one small bush bought for £2 from Barnsley House last year has produced a tremendous crop and we are picking this many every other day at the moment. Not as prolific as raspberries or blackberries but sweet and dainty.DSC_0007 (2)

Smaller than a five pence piece and looking just like a tiny raspberry, these are definitely worth some space if there is room to contain their arching prickly stems.