A Tulip Surprise

It’s surprising what little it takes to produce the feeling of sheer delight together with some frustration on occasions.

After growing just a few tulips in pots in 2016, last autumn I went mad and bought a lot of tulip bulbs.  I didn’t spend a lot of money from well known websites, and went to my local garden centre instead and my planting ‘scheme’ was to distribute them in no particular order across the flowerbeds.   The fault in this planting came to light this morning, when I found two tulips in flower that I didn’t know the name of, hence the sheer delight coupled with frustration.

Tulip Kaufmanniana ‘Ancilla’
After posting a couple of photos on Twitter to ask what this pretty white tulip was called and getting no response, which is not surprising really, it’s Monday morning and most people are working, I then searched out the old bulb packets which I had carefully stored in a drawer and not thrown away.  Eventually I found one labeled mix of 25 bulbs called Tulip Kaufmannia ‘Mixed’, and turning to Google found this white tulip was ‘Ancilla’.


The difference between the closed flower and when it opens is spectacular. I love the red and yellow ring around the stamen which is very eye-catching and if you look very carefully there are tiny little pink dots on the tip of the petals.   According to the pack, the other tulips will be orange and red.

Kaufmanniana Tulips are also known as a water lily tulip.  They have short sturdy stems and, as proven today, are usually the first tulips to flower.   Ideal for ground cover, they are also good for containers and window boxes and will gradually multiply if left in the ground.



This little photo on the left is courtesy of the Thompson & Morgan website, gives you an idea of the other colours that are yet to come.  Spring is such an exciting time.

Help!  I’ve Made an Impluse Buy (again).

Generally my life is organized and I am a planner, however for some strange reason this doesn’t happen with my garden.  I am an impulse buyer, frequently left madly Googling information on how to look after my latest purchase and then standing looking at the garden wondering where to plant it.   This leads to rather haphazard, rumble tumble effect that I like to call an English Country garden! 

Highdown Gardens March 2011

No don’t get excited, this is not my garden, the two photographs above are of some of the splendid tree peonies growing in  Highdown Gardens, I have always admired them and wrote a post about Highdown in March 2011 saying then I wanted one in my garden.   There is a big difference, as we all know, about wanting something in the garden and actually doing something about it, and most sensible people will do a little investigation first.   What has this got to do with my impulse buying?  

Meet my latest purchase… Paeonia Suffruticosa my very own tree peony.  Whilst wandering around the garden center at Stansted Park Hampshire last week I came across a stand packed with tree peony plants of various colours. After a short deliberation I opted for a pale pink.  With no thought as to the soil conditions or where to plant it, I bought one. 

I suspect a lot of you will look at the above pot in horror.  It has been home for at least 10 years to a red rose, the name of which I have no idea.  As well as the rose, at the moment it is also full of weeds.   Looking at it today I am beginning to wonder if it is about time to give the rose a new lease of life, take it out of the pot and give it a lovely new home in a flowerbed.  

It will then free up the large 35cms stone pot for the new addition to the garden. My problem now is  I read that tree peonies do best in a sunny spot with rich, well-drained soil that is neither strongly acidic (above pH 5.5) nor prone to getting waterlogged.   I also read that they grow quite large and planting in a container is not recommended.   I don’t know what to do for the best.  My thinking is that if I move in the next year to two, I can take it with me and my soil is heavy clay so it may be happier in a pot. 

My plea for help is if anyone has any advice they can give me to care for this plant I have wanted for many years, please help me – thank you! 

My Garden Right Now

When Michelle Chapman at Veg Plotting said she wanted to start a new on-line project asking us to show what our gardens are like the weekend of 4/5 March, straightaway I put my hand up and said “Yes please!”.   Then I fell at the first hurdle and failed to post on my blog during the weekend.  I hope I am forgiven for being a day late.

Nothing has changed since Sunday, these photos were taken first thing Monday morning.  I can’t wait to take the covers off the garden tables and sit in the warm sunshine, but sadly not yet.   It has been so wet, the lawn is like a quagmire as I squelched my way to the bottom of my small garden to take a photo from an angle I don’t usually use.  I stood at the back of the end flowerbed, and didn’t notice the green stick in the viewer!  The sticks and chicken wire are meant to be a deterrent from foxes, cats and squirrels but don’t work.  I am seriously contemplating buying a sonic scarer, but have bought cat repellant spray to see if that works.

The tulips are slowly making an appearance and the daffodils are beginning to produce a bit of colour in the garden. There is a Ribes to the right of the photo which is covered in tiny little pink buds and the forsythia at the bottom of the garden also has yellow buds on it.

This little bed has always had raspberries, but this year, I have filled it full of spring bulbs.  The iris reticula were a little late  and only 6 flowered and they are nearly over.  When I see photos of my garden, it brings home how much tidying up and work is necessary.  This is my ‘untidy’ corner.

These pots are packed with tulip and daffodil bulbs and are a joy to see out of the kitchen window.  If I look carefully into the leaves there are a few tulips ready to shoot up some flower stems in a couple of weeks.

This is the side patio from the other end.  I have sweet peas and dahlias cooking nicely in the little greenhouse.  The large pot is wedged in front of the greenhouse with a few bricks inside, to prevent it from blowing over in the wind.

A short post  but this is my garden right now.

Gravetye Manor Garden – A Dream of a Garden

Special occasions need to be celebrated in special places.

It was my good, long term friend’s 50th birthday on 18 July and it didn’t take much thinking about somewhere nice to go on that day.   We are very lucky to have Gravetye Manor about a 50 minute drive away, near East Grinstead.   It is an impressive country house hotel with a beautiful William Robinson garden.


William Robinson, a professional gardener and author of The English Flower Garden moved to Gravetye in 1844 where he started to put his garden design idea into place.  He lived at Gravetye until his death in 1935.   In 2010 it was bought by Jeremy Hoskin who has turned it into the beautiful hotel it is today.    Tom Coward joined as head gardener in 2011 having previously worked with Fergus Garrett at Great Dixter.


The garden is not open to the public unless you are eating or sleeping at Gravetye.   I have visited the garden on several occasions and booked in with friends for a rather splendid afternoon tea at £25 per head, and it goes to show the popularity of the garden that when trying to arrange tea, they were fully booked for many weeks ahead.   We pushed the boat out and booked a table in the Michelin Star restaurant for lunch, it was a milestone birthday after all.

We were met at the top of the steps, welcomed to Gravetye and taken through to the garden where we had pre-lunch non-alcoholic cocktails and, perused the delicious menu.   The meal was everything you would expect, starting with small amuse bouche of a warm pea veloute and roasted sesame seeds, ending with coffee and petit fours.  Each course was explained to us when it was brought to the table and we were not fussed over, although well looked after.  There is nothing more annoying than being asked every few moments if everything was alright.   Once well fed and watered, including a rather nice Picpoul de Pinet, (a Languedoc French white) we headed off to the garden, which was the main reason we were there.


It was an exceptionally hot afternoon and we purposely planned not to visit the whole garden, the above map gives you a good idea of  its size.   We did manage most of it though.


You can book a garden tour which includes a talk by Tom Coward as he takes you around the garden followed by lunch.  The small group above were enjoying being guided by Tom, and although we seemed to be following them a around we were keen not to look as though we were tagging on.  This long border faces over the wild grass meadow down to the lake.


The garden is full of exciting plants, including a creamy white hydrangea with blooms the size of your head.  I particularly liked the creamy verbascum growing through the hydrangea.


Gravetye is one of those gardens full of photographic opportunities, such as the larkspur, rudbeckia and poppy heads, with the stone walls of the house as a backdrop.


The kitchen garden is a sheer delight and full of interesting and varied produce which supplies the restuarant.   Apparently in July 30 punnets a day of strawberries are harvested.  We were told that the head chef very much dictates what is grown.  He will make suggestions which are trialed and if successful then given more planting space the next year.   It is at the top of the hill and in the heat of the afternoon we didn’t linger too long and set off to the orchard and the greenhouses.


As you can imagine a greenhouse on a hot day is not somewhere you want to stay for long but we were blown away by the size of the peaches and their sweet, tropical, aromatic, aroma hit you as you entered.  Such temptation!

DSC_0105 (800x525)

We didn’t have the afternoon tea but I wanted to leave you with a photo of the tea I had with my friend Sandra in September 2014.  We sat in the patio part of the garden at the side of the house which overlooks the lake.  This is the link to that particular post, you will see the garden is still beautiful in September.


If you have the opportunity to visit Gravetye Manor either for tea, lunch or staying as a special occasion, it is somewhere not to be missed and really should go on your ‘To Do’ list.

Gravetye Manor is in East Grinstead, West Sussex. The garden is open to hotel and restaurant guests. Pre-booked tours of the garden are available for small groups. Contact the reception team on 01342 810567 for further information. Check out their website http://www.gravetyemanor.co.uk.


Catching Up With Parham Gardens

Catching up in more ways than one, I’m afraid.  We went to Parham House Gardens,  on Saturday before last (2nd July) and I have been slow in writing this blog post.

Parham is only a 20 minute drive and we visit often, so this time we were sensible and bought a season ticket, it comes with the added bonus of 10% of plants from the plant center – what more could you want!

My last visit to Parham was early May ‘Trials at Parham Garden’. Two months on it was interesting to see how it had come on, and boy it had grown!!


The sweet pea trials, which in May had tiny little plants at the base of tall willow wigwams, were ablaze with flowers of every colour.  I particularly liked Bouquet Pink, the sweet pea in the top right in the above photo.  Actually I say flowers of every colour, the majority were pink and purples.  Only a couple were red, and I wonder if these colours were deliberately chosen as favourites of Lady Emma Barnard who lives in the house.


Before you reach the sweet peas, the first part of Parham Garden is entered through wrought iron gates and the Entrance Borders are ahead of you looking very lush.  My only criticism here is there were a lot of Honesty which had reached the tatty stage, I know you have to go through this stage before they reach that lovely silvery papery look, but there was a little too much of it, for me anyway.


It is the Vegetable Garden where I always spend more time.  Unlike vegetable gardens in other large houses which are usually enclosed with stone or brick walls, this garden has squares enclosed in box hedging.  In previous years there have always been cut flowers growing but recently it is becoming more for growing vegetables.   Each square seems to be colour co-ordinated, white in one box, yellows in another and reds in yet another – very clever and well thought out design.   I liked the way the carrots and onions are grown diagonally it makes a change from straight lines.


The hidden gem at Parham is the glasshouse, bursting with all sorts of beautiful and interesting plants.   I fell in love with the little white geranium with it’s tiny love hearts on each of the two upper petals.   I did look for a label but to no avail.  Twitter and Instagram are great places for seeking information about plants.  Within 24 hours I was reliably told it is called Pelagonium Echinatum ‘Album’.


There is plenty to see at Parham with an abundance of colourful borders, a Rose Garden, Herb Garden and Exotic Garden as well as an orchard, complete with ducks and some very large hens wandering around.  As with most big houses, there is also a lake.

When you visit Parham take a camera and note book because you will come away with lots of great planting ideas.  Tom Brown, the Head Gardener and his team have a lot to tend to and do an excellent job.  You can tell I am biased, I have a very soft spot in my heart for Parham.


The plant centre is well stocked and if you have seen a particular plant in the  garden and need to know a bit more, the staff are always willing to assist.

Parham House and Gardens are open Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday with various events throughout the year including a Harvest Fair on Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th September.

Parham Park, Pulborough, West Sussex RH20 4HS

http://www.parhaminsussex.co.uk   Twitter: @parhaminsussex

Front Garden Gate

Anyone who has lived in a house converted into flats will know that garden issues can arise so easily. 

I have lived in the ground floor flat of a Victorian conversion for 15 years.  Many conversions have split back gardens, I have the whole of the back garden which is a joy, I can step out of my kitchen door and all I see belongs to me.   The front garden, which my lounge looks out on to, belongs to the upstairs flat.   When I first moved in it was covered completely with a black membrane topped with bark, it had become a giant cat toilet!  When the owners decided to sell, fortunately they laid a lawn with a path around to the back gate.   The next owners were not gardeners and as the unkept garden affected my outlook, they were more than happy for me to tend to it.   A few years later it was sold to a couple who have been renting it out.   I soon learned that the majority of people who rent upstairs flats are not interested in gardens, so over the years I have been lucky, and honored some might say, that the upstairs tenants have been pleased for me to continue as resident gardener.   Also as the freeholder I would be able to insist that the front is kept presentable, although it has never come to that.


The lady living upstairs at the moment is into her second summer and has always been amicable for me keeping the front tidy.   I don’t spend a lot of time out there and the only plants in the flowerbed are those originally retrieved from under the membrane and cuttings from my back garden.  This year she decided she wanted to grow tomatoes in the front bed.   It’s her garden, there is nothing I can do or say, and it is unreasonable for me to feel irritated, even to the point I was hoping her tomato plant might die!  Sadly when planting the tomato, a lovely rudbeckia and a lot of lysimachia firecracker have gone.  The tomato plant is going great guns despite, to the best of my knowledge, not being feed.  The front is west facing and gets incredibly dry, so she has been fortunate with the amount of rain we are having.  Besides, lots of old English gardens had fruit and vegetables growing amongst flowers so it’s nothing new.


As I said, I do very little in the front apart from weeding, keeping the beds tidy and mowing the lawn.  At the moment the lawn is covered in a very pretty purple flower and I am loathe to mow it, so for a while it will become a wild meadow.  You will see it is very much a weed filled green patch and doesn’t really live up to being called a lawn.   My neighbour and I rarely cross paths so I hope she realizes that I am leaving the ‘lawn’ unmowed on purpose.


My favourite plant in the front is a wonderful orange day lily which is about to burst into colour.  It’s been very happy there and I have over the past few years dug up bits of it and put them in the back, although they have never really taken as well as this one has.  It must be to do with the baking conditions, when the sun shines!


The low wall between the two houses has cotoneaster growing.  It always surprises me that it is so healthy, I have no idea what it is feeding off.  This year it is splendid but I wonder at what stage it should be cut back before it weakens the wall and starts lifting the bricks.  Maybe I should put my freeholder hat on and contact the owner of upstairs to talk about it.


My other conundrum is the large skimmia growing against the front wall.  In past years I have kept it trimmed without asking but this year I feel I should be asking if it’s ok.  I’ve been spoilt over the years with my adopted front garden, I tried to buy it once but the owner was advised against selling.  It’s tough reminding myself it’s not my garden.