Category Archives: Be Organised…

Coming back to Winter

I’ve just got back from a fabulous month long trip to the Antipodes – +30degreesC temperatures- and wearing my plant-hunter hat, the wonderful Lord Howe Island gave me all a ‘palm loving’ gardener could ask for. Forests of Kentia Palms (indigenous to the Island) and others – featured on the stamps below – only growing on the top of the these two mountains with their very specific climates.

Such a wonderful holiday, I was sad to leave, but my small bag tells the story!

Home I came, to a very different world of icy cold grey days and garden neglect..

Last year’s perennials strewn across the borders and Hellebore leaves obscuring the delicate new flowers.  For some gardeners this winter abandonment is absolutely fine as the coverage provides hiding places for wildlife. This is an excellent excuse to stay indoors and do nothing.  However I firmly believe that there are plenty of alternative hiding spots around the garden for the newts and frogs and if we stumble across a hedgehog nestled in some grasses we just tuck them back in again.

So with my trusty gardening colleagues Emma and Chris

we set about putting the gardens right.

With these two cheeky chappies, the jet lag was forgotten and the fun began.

the old hellebore leaves now no longer detract from the glory of these mid-winter beauties:

The dead fern leaves were cut back to the ground

and old flower spikes went too…

The hedges and Bay tree were trimmed before birds start nesting

and the weeds – yes the weeds are still growing – have been carefully disposed of (at least for now).

Aaaaaah, now that feels better and looks just great! The perfect antidote to coming back to winter.



Highs and lows


This is a rare photo of me gardening! Actually I’m not even gardening,  I’m demonstrating to the girls that I will never lose my hand fork again as I have a handy pouch to put it in 🙂 – let’s see if it works.

However the real reason I am including this photo is the bed behind me and well might I turn my back on it.  I have had a couple of years of disaster trying to grow a wonderful mixed annual, meadow-like border to the tennis court.  It really shouldn’t be that difficult but I seemed to make it so.

Year one, I dug up the existing geraniums and sprinkled some generic wild flower seed mix along the length.  Unfortunately the weeds and grass had the upper hand and there were not enough hours in the day to weed it.

Year 2, I thought, scrape off the top soil and grass and weeds and sow more wild flower seed, mistakenly in the belief that wild flowers don’t require nutritious ground to grow on. That may be a fact but actually many of these wild  flower meadow seed mixes are really just annual flowers that do require some nutrition to get going.

Also a fundamental mistake, I had taken the level down to solid clay and the poor little roots had nothing to cling to.  I had forgotten Rule number one of gardening ‘Prepare the seed bed to provide a fine tilth’ …..Darn.

Year 3, we have spread a layer of planting medium ( a mix of sand and organic compost available from the council relatively inexpensively) along the bed and I am now about to order a seed mix.  I rather fancy one of those lovely ones used in the Olympic park in London 2012!

Yesterday started well

It was rather dull and overcast but not too cold, so we set to work pruning and tying-in the climbing roses at the back of the main border.  Quite an enjoyable job allowing the  creative juices to flow…




The aim being to keep the stems close to horizontal as they produce many more flowering spikes in the summer.  We tie them all in to wires with garden twine.  All they’ll need now is a good feed of manure at the base.

Tying-in the roses involves taking off the gloves and with a short but freezing shower of rain that felt like needles in my skin, I was glad Martin had a fire going to warm us up again.


However I was ready to finish by mid-afternoon. Those roses were done and so was I!

Let’s be Honesty! – Lunaria annua

Honesty is a gorgeous biennial plant that once you have it, makes itself at home in swathes.  It comes in lovely purple or white flowers in late Spring, preferring dampish chalky soils.

The flowers look great in a woodland setting or a main border providing a splash of colour in an otherwise rather monochrome moment.  the greeny/purple disc -like seed heads look great with alliums as

can be seen in this pic:


After going to seed, I pulled up some of the plants and let them dry out.

This evening whilst tucked up inside on a Sunday evening I pulled away the outer discs and collected the seeds.





And was left with the translucent skeletons which I popped in a vase.  Somewhat reminiscent of my mothers home back in the seventies when they featured next to the Bullrushes and the Cheese plant… I think I shall keep them for a couple of weeks and then relegate them to the compost.

The seeds I shall pop in an envelope and keep in a cool dark place to sow next year (although there will be no flowers from these until 2016.)

That is the way with gardening. We are in it for the long haul.


More Autumnal jobs – Removing Ivy


We are still cutting back perennials around the gardens and generally putting the gardens to bed for the winter. However if you have finished those tasks except for the sweeping up of the leaves which we still have to come, have a look at where the ivy has travelled to over the year.

It is time to get tough on it.  We are out and about climbing the ornamental trees on dry calm days and peeling off the damaging shoots.  It’s not enough just to cut it at the foot of the tree and wait for it to die as it will remain  a dead unsightly silhouette ruining the winter beauty of the tree. It then becomes brittle and difficult to pull out of the higher reaches.

We enjoy the opportunity to recall those childhood memories of scrambling around in the branches, taking in the scent of the tree and viewing the garden from a different aspect! We love it, but you do need a head for heights and a valid insurance policy.

All part of the service

Jo and John’s garden. October jobs

I find some of my clients would like to carry out their own maintenance and get to know and understand their plants and garden a little better, after all, it can be fun and the results are so worthwhile.

So I am providing  some feedback to new customers via email as to what I have done in the garden that day, along with photos, names of plants and positions.  I can also come up with suggestions for change which we can discuss in the future. Thus we and the gardens all grow together towards the same goal.

We will also have a photographic record of the gardening year and an on going discussion of the wonderful successes and the odd spectacular failure (as we all have those now and again) along the way.

Rose Pruning Course

I was fortunate enough to attend a course on Roses at the weekend.  I have been pruning roses for over 10 years now, with reasonable success, but I believe it is never too late to hone those skills…  It was a one day course run at The Garden House in Brighton by a guy from Peter Beales Roses.

We spent the morning learning tips, techniques and tools involved with container planting, planting in a border and pruning a Gallica Shrub rose. We also learnt how to prune an overgrown  rambling rose, that has one flush of flowers,  over an arch.

This is the Gallica Rose (Charles de Mille) before pruning
This is the Gallica Rose (Charles de Mille) before pruning
Midway through pruning
Midway through pruning

Wow what a difference…

The stems of old wood were brown compared to the young green growth of this year.  As this rose will flower next year on the growth from this year, it is the green shoots we want to keep.  The green growth comes from the base of the plant and also near the top of the existing brown wood. We pruned out lots of old brown wood by cutting it off at the base of the plant. This really thinned out the plant.  Of the remaining brown stems that had new green growth at the top, we cut back the green growth to about 20cms from where it had broken out of the main brown stem.  This is enough green wood for the flowering stems to grow from next year… thus a healthier plant with less congestion for disease to harbour and a height reduction that will be filled again by flowering stems.

I can’t wait to see it flowering next year now.

This Rambling Rose is called Dorothy Perkins. This is it before pruning
This Rambling Rose is called Dorothy Perkins. This is it before pruning

It has one flush of flowers and next years flowers will grow from ‘old wood’ which means that any of the new young growth this year can be cut off back to the framework. However for future years of flowering, the new growth can be wound around the arch or tied onto supporting wires to increase the framework for future years flowering. So, for example, take a great long stem of new growth from this year, cut off all the little branches along it’s length, to about 4cms from the stem and wind in this great long stem attempting to keep it as horizontal as possible -it flowers better the more horizontal it is tied in:

Young stem wound in close to the support.
Young stem wound in close to the support.

Keep doing this with all the unruly new growth – either cut off and discard or keep to train in but cut back the side shoots along the entire length and then wind it in.

This is the end result
This is the end result

Tidy, clear and ready to flower next year.

It is important to remember to cut out any dead wood in rose pruning.  Quite often it is easy to tell if it is dead but where you are not sure just scrape away the surface of the stem with your secateurs and if it is green below the surface, it is still alive and if it is brown it is dead.

There is still plenty to learn about roses and rose pruning but this is a start!

A single flush rambling rose can be pruned after flowering (generally from July onwards.  Most other roses are pruned in the winter during the dormant months up to the end of March (roughly)

Late season Box clipping

Today Alix and I attended a lovely new garden to us, in the Mid-Sussex countryside.  The owner has lived there for 22 years and more or less planted and maintained the garden all that time on her own.  It is fabulous because she has many unusual varieties of plants shrubs and trees.  Every other summer she opens her garden to the public in aid of charity and you can wander around the beautiful space early evening with a glass of wine in hand.

Not us, we were on a mission to get chopping

In some areas it may be too late in the year to give the topiary a second trim, as the new growth after clipping could be susceptible  to frost damage.  However we have looked at the forecast and reckon it will be fine.

Generally I forget to take ‘before’ photos until it is too late and yet again that happened  today – as always we just want to dive in.. so here we are at the end of the day…

IMG_1511 IMG_1519


After clipping, the box should be well watered and given a good nitrogen feed to encourage more green growth.


And to cap it off today we saw the amazing caterpillar of the wackily named Elephant-hawk Moth:

IMG_1970 IMG_1976

and I’ve never seen anything like it.  Hugely impressive with its fake eyes to  hopefully intimidate potential foes and they are surprisingly not un-common. Wonderful shape size and colouration. Rumour has it that the Elephant-Hawk moth ain’t too bad either with it’s big 70mm wing span in pretty pink and grey



Simple tasks in the garden that can make a difference at this time of year

Today I decided to cut back the Ivy in my back yard and make my first film as a presenter – it can only get better!

Dead-heading Dahlias

The head-liners of the border right now are the Dahlias.  They will flower their little hearts out until the first frost.  We still have at least a month down here in the south of England, to enjoy them, providing we keep on top of the dead-heading. We tend to do this twice a week  but can get away with once a week.

We cut them when the outer petals are looking scruffy, as Emma demonstrates in the following video.  However if you leave the flowers longer and the petals drop off, sometimes it is difficult to identify which are new buds coming and which are over.  There is a simple method of identifying the new buds from those that have gone over:


Between the 2 flowers of Dahlia Honka above, there is a new bud coming which is round.


And here you can see (top left) a flower on the same plant that is over and is slightly longer and more pointed.  So off with its head!