Archive for February, 2011

Spring has sprung at Great Dixter. I have just spent 4 glorious days volunteering at this heavenly garden in East Sussex. Heavenly, because no matter what time of year you visit, there are always plants to discover which will delight and knowledgable gardeners who will happily identify these wonderful plants for you. It’s slightly overwhelming to know where to start, but here are some of the plants and practices that I picked up on when I was there.

Great Dixter is gearing up for its first opening of the year and the gardens are putting on a great show. Hellebores ranging from pure whites to deep purples abound,

and Snowdrops (Galanthus), in many shapes and sizes, (and available from the Great Dixter Nursery!) are carpeting the ground in many of the borders.

Together, they make sumptuous combinations.

Tucked away in the shadows of a Fatsia japonica was a Pachyphragma macrophyllum (above) who’s purest white flowers shone out from the shade. This is certainly a plant I will seek out to plant in shadier gardens and is available from, amongst others, Beth Chatto’s nursery in Essex (who offer mail order) and Beeches Nursery in Suffolk.

Crocuses glowing in the sun, and seen en masse in the fields of Great Dixter, really seem to capture the spirit of the place.

Cardimine quinquefolia, above, and appearing in many areas of the gardens at this time of year, is altogether a much more delicate affair and a fantastic companion to a purple Hellbore or a dark-leaved Bergenia.

Add the vibrant green of the flower heads of a Euphobia foetidus, E.robbiae or E.wulfenii (above), and you can really create a very lively spring grouping indeed.

Mahonia japonica is not just a pretty face. It’s vibrant architectural form is also accompanied by the sweetest of scents, akin to that of Lily of the valley. If your Mahonia is looking rather top heavy and ‘leggy’ then wait for the flowers and berries to finish then cut right back down to a few buds above ground level, and it will grow back nice and bushy from where you pruned to.

James is thinning out a black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) so that the stems will become see-through and have more of an impact. Here’s a before pic.

And an after pic.

Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ still has an impact with its upright form throughout the coldest months.

And Yew hedging and topiary play an important role in the garden, giving structure and height to the borders in winter and providing a contrasting background to the perennial plants throughout the rest of the year.


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I realise that what I appreciate most about this show is that many of the nursery owners are on hand and are so willing to talk to customers at length (if desired!) about their plants. This means that you are getting access to crème de la crème advice from these very knowledgeable growers at this cosy, yet vibrant show. Here’s what caught my attention at this year’s show:

Just one look, and I fell in love with this Asplenium scolopendrium crispum on the Fibrex stand (above). As Richard from Fibrex dashed away to find me a few more of these gorgeous ferns, I found myself serving customers on this very busy stand, and rather enjoyed it too as customers were so enthusiastic about the plants that they were buying. Fibrex will be back again in London for the RHS Great London Plant Fair 29 – 30 March 2011 if you’re tempted to buy some of these alluring sculptural forms.

Stealing the show as you entered one of the halls was the amazingly surreal show of technicolor Hepaticas on the Ashwood Nursery stand. John Massey and his very friendly staff were all on hand to give advice. Hepaticas come from snow-melt regions so need moisture to induce flowers in spring. However, in their mountain woodlands, the soil dries out later in the year, so, according to John, ‘no soggy bottoms’ in summer, demands that they are planted in soil with excellent drainage. If you have the right growing conditions, you could plant up a riotously colourful treat in your garden for spring. Also noticed on the Ashwood Nurseries website, that John Massey’s private 3 acre garden in the west midlands is open to the public on March 19th / April 23rd / June 4th / July 23rd /September 24th between 10am and 4pm and also October 16th on behalf of the NGS. I’m making sure that I go and visit on at least one of these dates!

Family run Oxford Green Roofs offer to design bespoke green roofs and will also put together workshops for community groups to pass on their knowledge and expertise. Cogs in my brain are already turning to think where we could run such a project for our community group here in N.London. They also have DIY guides which can be bought from their website for £12.00, which give instructions on how to build your own green roof, for example- for a garden shed or a bike shed, using only materials that are readily available in DIY stores. Sounds like a fantastic weekend project for my bijou shed-feel like another blog coming on!

Spotted this lovely Hakea salicifolia on the Plantbase stand (‘hardy plants from tender places’) which comes from woodlands in S.E Australia. Seems to tick all the boxes for growing trees in London in that it will grow in shade but is drought tolerant and will put up with winter rain and temperatures down to minus 8 degrees. Sufficiently intrigued, I’m off to visit the nursery in E.Sussex on my way down to Great Dixter this week -will keep you updated on other tasty hardy plants that I find on my travels.

Another family run and very friendly nursery is Foxgrove plants from Newbury in Berkshire. Just missed their ‘Snowdrop Saturday’, but snowdrops can still be seen at the nursery, plus Hellebores (originally from Helen Ballard stock), winter Aconites (Eranthis Hyemalis) and Cyclamen coum. Check their website for opening times and go and visit for an early spring treat.

Crug Farm Plants continue to delight. This Exbucklandia tonkinensis (above) is not available yet and is going through it’s paces for hardiness but was a lovely sight to behold.

Also very pleased with this Pittosporum illiciodes var angustifolium (name trips off the tongue I know) which I had pre-ordered from Crug Farm nursery. It is definitely hardy and I can’t wait to see how it grows in my garden. It can take semi- shade, has fragrant yellow flowers and its leaves become longer in the shade too. What an exciting plant!

Next RHS London show is the RHS Great London Plant Fair 29 – 30 March 2011. I’ll be checking the website to see what nurseries will be attending and also have my eye on a talk from a very interesting Garden Designer. Looking forward to it already.

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Although it can seem quite bleak out there at the moment (February), small signs of life are appearing on the allotment and it’s time to cut back autumn fruiting raspberries before new shoots appear. Don’t be tempted to cut back summer fruiting raspberry canes though, as they produce fruit on the stems that grew last year. Pruning summer fruiting canes now will mean no raspberries this year!! so wait until your plants have fruited in summer and then cut back the woody canes on which the raspberries grew this year, leaving the fresher looking green stems to fruit next year.(More on this later in the year) If in doubt as to whether you have summer or autumn fruiting canes, don’t prune now and wait until your plant has fruited. Feeling experimental? Then cut back some of the canes now and wait to see what happens.

If you can already see a few tiny green leaves at the base of the plant, just be very careful where you prune, so as not to disturb these new shoots, as these will become the canes that your plant will fruit on in later on in summer. This year, as well as thinning out and cutting back, I’ve decided to move my raspberries to a different part of the plot, but not for crop rotation purposes. Raspberries, if kept in check and well fed, can stay in the same bed for many years.

So firstly, cut back all of the canes with a sharp pair of secateurs, as close to the ground as possible.
As I’m moving my raspberries (it’s a good time for moving both autumn and summer raspberries), I’m digging up the whole bed. Once dug up, you can see that raspberries are not deep-rooted. They mainly have roots that spread horizontally only a few inches below the surface of the soil. This makes them very adept at spreading all over the plot, so if you see canes in unwanted positions, then now is the time to dig them up. These spare plants can be planted in another row if you have the space, or give them to friends if you have a surplus.

Potager in Drum Castle Garden. Pic from http://christinelaennec.co.uk/

I’m giving some canes to a friend (Sarah) who wants to create a more Cottage Garden/ Potager style garden (where flowers, fruit and veg are all mixed into one glorious border), so these raspberries will be growing alongside lots of herbaceous perennials and small shrubs. Should work very well as pollinating bees attracted by the flowers will also pollinate the fruit and raspberries amongst the late summer flowers will look fantastic. Potagers are also a great way to grow fruit and veg if you don’t have the space for a separate vegetable plot, but want to grow your favourite edible plants.
Placing each plant about inches 16 inches (40cm) apart, I’ve replanted the raspberries in lovingly prepared soil (plenty of compost or well-rotted manure mixed in a few weeks before if possible ) and watered them in well. If you planting more than one row, plant each row about 5-6 ft  (150-180cm) apart. In late March, mulch with a good layer of well-rotted manure or compost which will help to conserve moisture. Some say that you don’t have to support autumn cropping raspberries, but in my experience, if left unsupported, the fruit- laden canes reach the ground, spoiling some of the fruit and making picking the rest difficult. In the end, to support or not to support probably depends on your particular plot and growing conditions.

Make sure you water during hot dry spells (here’s hoping!), then look forward to a late summer and autumn crop of very tasty, home-grown fruit.

P.S.I have pruned autumn raspberries in November and December and they’ve been absolutely fine the following year, but in theory, it’s  best to leave it until February, when the plant is completely dormant, so there’s no chance of the cold damaging the plant after you’ve pruned it.


I love my Polka raspberries.

October 26th 2011

Now is a great time to order and plant new raspberry canes for next year. Autumn Bliss is a very well-known and popular Autumn fruiting variety, but there are now quite a few new introductions such as Polka, Joan J, All Gold and Autumn Treasure and in fact ‘Joan J’ won best tasting Autumn raspberry in the ‘Gardening Which?’ trials this September. Both Victoriana Nursery and Ken Muir stock good selections of both Summer and Autumn Fruiting varieties and now is the time to order while they still have a wide choice of varieties available. This year I’ve ordered some new ‘Polka’ and ‘Joan J’ canes as I already have Autumn Bliss growing in the allotment and I want to see if there is a difference in taste between the two. I’m going to find a space somehow to plant these in my back garden so that I can pick this delicious fruit just outside my back door next year.

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