Archive for August, 2011

Following on from last week’s Great Dixter blog, here’s a few more irresistible plant combinations and inspirational ideas from the gardens at this time of year. Grown as part of the Great Dixter pot displays, Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ is a joyous sight next to Rudbeckia ‘Kelvedon Star’. ‘Kelvedon Star’ is an annual Rudbeckia-seeds available from Thompson and Morgan. Great Dixter buy their bulbs from Peter Nyssen, who are hoping to stock this Eucomis next year, and Eucomis ‘Sparking Burgundy’ is also available from Avon Bulbs with 9 other Eucomis cultivars too.

The simple yet stunning combination of Amni visnaga (left) and Verbena bonariensis has inspired me to order seeds now in order to plant up a forgotten corner in our local area. Amni visnaga is a hardy annual and seeds planted now will have established themselves well enough to survive the winter and get a head start on Spring sowings. Verbena bonariensis is a somewhat less hardy short-lived perennial, but makes up for this by being a prodigious self-seeder. Seeds should be planted inside a greenhouse or indoors in spring and planted out in May/June to create a gorgeous late summer purple haze. Seeds for Amni visnaga from Sarah Raven, Verbena seeds available from the fabulous Chiltern’s Seeds catalogue.

Through the floating purple heads of Verbena bonariensis, a Schefflera, possibly Schefflera Hoi?-available from Crug Farm plants, is visible in the Exotic garden.

Creamy, or should that be dreamy Artemesia lactiflora (available from Great Dixter Nursery) sits wonderfully in a border surrounded by the scrunchy flower heads of the purple leafed Atriplex hortensis (Chiltern’s Seeds), the pink nodding heads of Persicaria orientalis and the deeper pink heads of Eupatorium Riesenschirm (Great Dixter Nursery).

And around the corner the same Eupatorium Riesenschirm provides a wonderfully contrasting background for Helianthus ‘Capenoch Star’ (Great Dixter Nursey).

Trial beds and compost heaps planted with gourds and Nasturtium add to the bucolic bliss at Great Dixter. I love these none-too-manicured corners of the garden,

where outer areas merge into the surrounding countryside.

In the trial beds, Hollyhocks are being put through their paces for possible use in one of the beds next year,

and Rosa setipoda continues to provide interest with its beautifully elongated red hips in the long border.

Adjacent to the house, plump red round hips of Rosa rugosa are gorgeously decorative too.

In the long border, the glowing red (and feathery leaves) of the annual Tagetes ‘Cinnabar’ creates an arresting combination alongside a shocking pink Petunia and the faded yellow miniature pompoms of Santolina pinnata subsp. neapolitana (available from the Great Dixter Nursery).

There’s so much more to see at Great Dixter, where textures and colours seem to effortlessly knit together, forming rewarding layers of planting at every glance. I love going back at different times of the year to see how different areas have developed and changed throughout the seasons. The more I visit, the more I appreciate the depth and richness of the planting that makes Great Dixter such a wonderful garden to visit, and one that you want to return to again and again.

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I have to admit that I’m not a great tomato grower and so to improve my knowhow and to find the best tasting tomato to grow next year, I headed off with fellow tomato lover, Lucy, for an afternoon of tomato tasting at Victoriana Nursery near Ashford in Kent. And what a great afternoon we had. Not only did we get to sample 30 different varieties, but we picked up some incredibly useful tomato growing tips from the nursery too.

Stephen Shirley (above) was a great host and talked through the many aspects of growing tomatoes at Victoriana Nursery. Although all of the tomatoes at the nursery are grown in Polytunnels, many of the seeds they sell can be grown both indoors and out.

So onto the tasting….Lucy and I loved ‘Egyptian’, a lovely rich tasting plum tomato, but I was disappointed to find that this variety could only be grown indoors. Stephen pointed out that Isabel from Fennel & Fern, has her own recipe for sun-dried tomatoes, using this variety, so I may have to coax my Dad to grow these for me next year in his greenhouse!

More up my street was ‘Shirley’s Pixie’, a tomato that Stephen described as idiot proof. Good grown inside or out and also a short day tomato variety, which means it can be bought inside in autumn and will continue to crop until Christmas. Amazing!

Extremely tasty too were the bush variety ‘Outdoor Girl’-a very early small salad size fruit, ‘Sungold’– a very sweet and delicious orange coloured cherry tomato (which I’ve grown successfully before), ‘Harry’s Italian Plum’– a tasty plum variety that I can grow outdoors,  and the chunky ‘Black Krim’ (above)-with a very rich and meaty flesh inside this cracking exterior – fruits can weigh upto 8 oz each!

Unless a bush variety, all tomatoes are grown in the nursery as cordons (above) for optimum fruiting. For cordon growing, the central stem is encouraged to grow, tied into a tall post and most of the side shoots (except the ones forming flowers for fruiting!) are pinched out. Stephen removes all lower leaves to reduce the risk of the plants developing tomato blight, and drenches the plants with water once a day, after lunchtime as the temperature rises. For more detailed information on bush and cordon growing, watering, removing side shoots, tying in, collecting seeds etc, Stephen has a few short (10 mins) films which are really worth watching. No. 1 is here, no. 2 is here and lastly no. 3 is here

Popped round to see a neighbour, and enthusiastic tomato grower, David soon after my visit to the nursery, and he grows all his tomatoes outdoors in the ground as cordons to great effect. Definitely will give this method a go next year.

Back at the nursery, I asked Stephen why some of my fruit had developed ‘Blossom end rot’ in my pot grown outdoor tomatoes. Was this down to my poor watering habits (sometimes watering no-times a day regime)? Stephen cheered me up by saying that it could well be down to the nutrient make up in the tomato growbags I use. Not a fan of bought growbags, most need lime added to reduce the acidity of the soil. Acidity of the soil has a huge effect on fertility because it controls how available nutrients are to your crops and ‘Blossom end rot’ is down to a lack of available Calcium during the growing process. My poor watering habits don’t help either, so next year I think I’ll stick to my own home-grown compost, grow plants in the ground to reduce the risk of the roots drying out and train the plants as cordons for a larger crop. Could this be the end to my tomato growing problems?

Victoriana Nursery is a family run, specialist fruit and vegetable nursery and the next event they are running for customers is Chilli tasting on Saturday 24th September, with 24 varieties to taste and buy, plus tomato tasting, popcorn making and a produce stall. On top of all this, visitors will receive a 15% discount on pot grown fruit and veg. I found this an irresistible offer when Lucy and I visited and I bought 10 small asparagus plants to create a new bed with (blog to follow!), a Kiwi vine to try out for the first time, tomato seeds (obviously!), and I’ve also ordered some ‘Polka’ autumn fruiting raspberry canes for planting up in November. It’s really worth visiting this most friendly of nurseries for their quality fruit and vegetable plants, choice seeds and great advice!

P.s. Have a look at the Chateau de la Bourdaisiere for some more exciting tomatoes. A veritable tomato heaven with 630 varieties growing!

P.P.S Favourite tomato varieties in 2015


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It’s the first time I’ve been back to Great Dixter since volunteering in February this year and it didn’t take long to feel totally uplifted as I soaked up the delights of the planting. It’s showtime at Great Dixter, with rich colours and textures to thrill the visitor at every turn. Persicaria orientalis above (a member of the knotweed family) was one of the first sights that greeted me as I entered, and this gorgeous annual has also been artfully combined with other plants throughout the gardens.

In the long border, Persicaria orientalis performs a cancan with Rosa Florence Mary Morse, creating a playful and sumptuous riot of colour.

And it grabs your attention too as it dances around the luminescent heads of Kniphofia uvaria Nobilis.

Never a disappointment at this time of year, the Exotic Garden is looking abundant and lush from all angles, packed full of tender perennials, shrubs and annuals.

Taking roses out of their cottage garden setting, Rosa Florence Mary Morse combined with Dahlia Witteman’s superba (with lovely pink centres) blazes out in the exotic garden amongst Tetrapanex papyrifer (left), Eupatorium capillifolium (front-ish) and a sprinkling of Verbena bonariensis.

This glorious whopper of a Dahlia, Emory Paul, is a real show-stopper in the Exotic garden and makes guest appearances throughout the rest of the gardens to great effect too. Many Dahlias are at their best at Great Dixter this time of year and here are some that made me reach for next year’s Dahlia catalogues as soon as I returned home.

Dahlia Chimborazo seems to offer perfection with its lively contrasting colours and slightly wavy petals..

But I also love the relative simplicity of Dahlia coccinea (Great Dixter), glowing here with the deep red of Amaranthus.

Deep crimsony red is also echoed in the cactus form of Dahlia ‘Summer Nights’.

And stopping myself before this becomes a Dahlia blog alone, last and certainly not least, the sweetie-like Dahlia Hillcrest Royal.

As ever, Fergus Garrett and Siew Lee Vorley (right) are incredibly generous in sharing their knowledge (and time!) and this ethos is present throughout the enthusiastic gardening team at Great Dixter. Here seen discussing the planting up of a new bed with Anne Wright Scholarship and Hadlow College student, Jilly (centre). Through the Scholarship, Jilly gets to spend 6 weeks gardening at Great Dixter (very jealous) and seemed to be enjoying every minute when I spoke to her.

The show must go on, and borders and beds are continually developed and replanted at Great Dixter. Above, Fergus Garrett choreographs the planting of a new late summer bed, filled with tender perennials, to elongate the summer season.

It’s exciting to see how the bed comes together as Fergus and his team experiment with plants and their spacing in the bed. Above, Begonia luxurians waits in the wings, ready for planting.

At each stage, the planting is viewed from different angles to see how the bed is knitting together.

Plants are then watered in when situated in their final places.

Et voila! The border looks great with larger plants Setaria palmifolia (bottom left), Begonia luxurians (top left ), Eupatorium capillifolium and Canna Erebus (centre) nestled amongst the bright green leaves of Plectranthus zuluensis and the purple and lime green Coleus. On the weekend of Saturday and Sunday 1st and 2nd October Great Dixter will be hosting a rare plant fairwhere ‘small specialist plant nurseries from Belgium and the Netherlands will have their chestnut pole stands next to famous UK plantsmen, such as Derry Watkins, Bob Brown and Marina Christopher’. Perfect timing for returning to Great Dixter to catch up with this border and to have the opportunity to buy some amazing plants.

For more wonderful Great Dixter plant combinations, click here.

Sunday 2nd October

I did visit the Plant Fair, and 6 weeks later, the bed is looking vibrant and lush during what was an extraordinarily warm (28 degrees) October weekend.

See Guest Dahlia blog by Siew Lee Vorley for planting up Dahlia tubers in spring.

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Ordering Dahlias 

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