Garden blogging

Learning with Experts – Bulbs for Pots and Borders (1)

In 2015, when Learning with Experts was My Garden School I did a short on-line course about container planting with Harriet Rycroft as the tutor. I learned a lot on that course which I still put into practice. A couple of months ago I signed up for another course, this time it’s Bulbs for Pots and Borders with Andy McIndoe as my tutor. There is always something new to learn when it comes to gardening,

I don’t think Learning with Experts would appreciate me telling you what the lessons and assignments set are, but I’m going post my written assignments (as I did for the 2015 course). Whilst Andy McIndoe critiques by assignments with very useful advice, I’m always happy for any comments you’d like to make.

Assignment 1 – Introduction to Flower bulbs

Now is the exciting time of year when we are inundated with bulb catalogues. Sarah Raven’s catalogue is like entering a sweet shop with tantalising pictures of how beautiful your garden will look in the spring. J.Parker’s is more utilitarian with small photos crammed on to a page, not nearly as enticing. I have noticed bulbs appearing in garden centres and stores like Wilko and the Range. 

From past experience both personal and from friends, it is not always the prettiest pictures and most expensive bulbs that are the best. I have had great success with bulbs from Wilko when friends have had disappointing results from well known names. 

My most favourite tulip is the frilly edged gold and dark orange ‘Bastia’. I found it in my local garden centre in 2016 – it’s a marmite tulip, you love it or hate it. Last year I couldn’t locate it anywhere so was delighted to eventually find it in a garden centre when visiting family in Guernsey.

‘Angelique’ seems to be growing in popularity. It is a double flowering late peony style tulip, blousy and a ‘Hello I’m Here’ tulip. I grow it in pots with Spring Green or yellow ‘Sweetheart’ because I like the contrast. 

Tulip bulbs vary in price and in the numbers you can buy them, which can be deceptive. Sarah Raven offers Angelique in a pack of 15 for £8.50, (0.57p per bulb), you can buy a pack of 10 from J Parker’s at £5.99 (0.59p per bulb) whereas on the Crocus website you can find them at 10 for £4.99 – the cost of postage and packaging varies considerably. As I am only going to be planting in containers, I won’t be needing more than about 10-15 bulbs. 

With regard to narcissi, in my old garden along with Narcissi ‘Abba’ which looks remarkably like ‘Bride’,  ‘Rip van Winkle’ and ‘Winston Churchill’ I used to grow ‘Thalia Triandus’ a double headed flower with a fragrance to knock your socks off. Personally I prefer to go to a garden centre and choose my daffodil and narcissi bulbs from the pick and mix troughs to ensure they are a good size and not soft. However, it’s always like Christmas to receive a big box of bulbs ordered on line or through a catalogue.

This year in April I moved from a good sized garden to a flat with a patio so I will be concentrating on container planting only. I am going to plan my spring patio display to create ‘In Your Face, it’s Spring’ colour schemes for people to enjoy as they pass my flat, which faces the front of the building. My tulips will probably consist of Bastia, Angelique or La Belle Époque, Spring Green and striking standard tulips such as Menton, Ronaldo and Queen of the Night. My must have narcissi will be my old favourites, Thalia, Rip Van Winkle and Abba along with new ones I’ve not grown before.

Perfume and colour will be the order of the day.

Garden blogging, Six on Saturday

Six on Saturday – 08/09/2018

Hello people, I’m back again!

Life took a bit of a dip recently after the death of my Dad and I lost interest in everything including blogging! I haven’t stepped foot on my allotment for 2 weeks and not sure what I’m going to find this afternoon when I make a much needed visit. However, yesterday I spent time in my daughter’s garden doing a spot of tidying up, they have missed their gardener (me!) so there is a lot to do.

1. Begonias

Whilst not to everyone’s taste this begonia trough is a riot of colour and you can’t help but think wow! Personally I was not a lover of begonias, the name always springs to mind visions of little pink flowers with burgundy leaves used in park gardens. These were small bedding plants given to my son in law by his father and I planted them in a trough on the patio, certainly not expecting the kaleidoscope outcome. They have survived the hot dry weather, being ignored, and have changed my view on begonias.

2. Morning Glory and an unknown clematis

Much to my daughter and SiL’s dismay, after pulling up the bindweed growing rapidly up the trellis on the garage wall, I planted Morning Glory. I think they were a little more than a bit dubious when I explained the difference and that ‘Grandpa Otts’ was a great colourful climber. Although we thought we had cleared the bed in the spring, I found a tiny clematis shoot, so without saying anything I left it to weave it’s way up the trellis. By some miracle it is the same colour as the Morning Glory, but I have no idea what it is called – anyone recognise it?

3. Dahlia ‘Preference’

A good friend wanted to buy me a ‘Cafe au Lait’ dahlia last year but as they were out of stock she ordered tubers to be delivered in the spring. The nursery sent two tubers of ‘Preference’ with a note to say Cafe au Lait was still not available so we’re sending the tubers closest in colour – which was not the case. It is aptly named as I do prefer this one, the blooms are smaller than ‘Cafe au Lait’ and it gives more colour. You can see from the above photo, it has been left to tumble through the flowerbed – this happens when the gardener doesn’t visit regularly and stake the plants 😄. I think they look lovely like this and might just let them do this next year rather than have them regimentally tied up.

4. Salvia ‘Love and Kisses’

I have introduced a number of salvias of different types into their garden. We have all fallen in love with ‘Love and Kisses’. I was a little concerned that it wasn’t going to get enough sun, this border is in shade in the morning and late afternoon, but clearly it was a good spot and it is thriving. Getting it through the winter is the next step – advice on this please?

5. Euphorbia ‘Summer Icicle’

How many packets of seeds free with gardening magazines do you actually use? I had a weird collection in the spring and amongst them was a packet of Euphorbia seeds. I was unaware you could not only grow Euphorbia from seeds, but that some of them were annuals. As an experiment I sowed them in little pots and was not very successful with only two coming to fruition. They are in the ‘Hot Bed’ and are so pretty. I do know they are full of sap which can be an irritant so will be careful. ‘Summer Icicle’ is on my seeds to grow list for 2019.

6. Hot Bed

It is difficult looking after someone else’s garden when they have different ideas and these obviously must be respected. Even more so when it is family. I like the cram-it-all-in style of gardening, giving the higgledy piggledy look, as you can see in the number 3 Dahlia photo. My daughter and SiL prefer to go for the clear cut, room around each plant, look. It is a large garden with lots of space for different flowerbeds so a variety of looks are easily incorporated. Armed with a list of suggested plants from me, they bought and planted a hot bed, including grasses. monarda, agapanthus, salvias and knipofia. It really is quite impressive and they have done an excellent job. Above is the bed from both ends.

Please call in on The Propagator’s Blog and see his Six on Saturday and peep over the garden fence of the many other contributors.

Garden blogging

I Have an Allotment!

When faced with an overgrown allotment and not know what to do first, as the song goes: “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.”

I finally moved to Emsworth at the end of the day on Friday 20th April after my Buyer’s solicitors took things right up to the wire on completion day.

I met the lady I am caretaking the allotment for on Sunday and started work in earnest on Tuesday. The plot is the one in the left hand corner of the photo with the apple blossom tree. You can see how overgrown it is. It certainly stands out from the others – but not for long.

I know she said her previous helper hadn’t worked on it for while but I wasn’t expecting it to be so overgrown! However, we all know how quickly weeds and grass take hold so it may not have been left that long.

There are five raised beds, and the rest of it is broken up with chipped bark paths, so I decided to break up the work and deal with one segment at a time. My first day was dedicated to clearing one bed, with excellent soil, so that I can start to plant a few veggies. I was very firm with myself and set two hours and tried very hard not to get side tracked doing other things on the plot. It’s amazing what catches your eye when doing one job and before you know it you’ve wandered off to another part to start clearing that patch. You have then done a little bit of this and a little bit of that, walking away at the end of the day looking back and seeing nothing tangible.

There are a lot of hidden gems, with strawberries running everywhere, an apple tree, which I am told has cooking apples, and lots of lovely currant bushes of various types. I will have to start jam making!

What made me chuckle was the ‘shed’. Another allotment holder told me that they all clubbed together with bits and pieces to make this shed, which now sadly has almost collapsed. I did chuckle at the blue ‘Fire door keep shut’ sign.

Now I’m retired, I need some structure in my life so a couple of hours a day will give me something to focus on. Also whilst the plot needs to be returned into working order that may well be enough hard work for the time being. I am on the waiting list for a permanent plot of my own so must be sure not to put in so much effort only to find in a year or two the owner decides to relinquish the plot all together. I suppose that is the risk of caretaking. Meanwhile it is exciting to have an allotment to work on and I’ve always enjoyed a challenge. I have decided to keep one half of the allotment tidy and concentrate on the other half growing vegetables and flowers in the raised beds.

Today (Day 2) I went back, after the torrential rain this morning, with a strimmer and cleared the front of the plot. Someone said to me to follow the National Trust idea of always making sure the first 18″ of a border tidy and weed free as that is what most people will see initially. Good thinking. There appears to be a trough around the plot giving it a sunken effect, and unfortunately it also acts like a moat, so this afternoon it was rather wet around the edges.

My job tomorrow (Thursday) is to tidy up this blackcurrant which has grown wild. Friday I will be back in my daughter’s garden to move some rose bushes to make a new border.

Who needs to pay for exercise classes with an allotment and a garden to work in!!

Garden blogging, Garden Visits

West Dean Gardens Victorian Glasshouses

It is a pretty good bet that anyone visiting West Dean Gardens, near Chichester, will make for the Victorian Glasshouses no matter whether this is their first or one of many visits. On our recent visit we headed to the newly restored nectarine house.

The beautiful Glasshouses in West Dean were built in 1890 and 1900 and after sadly being allowed to fall into disrepair were restored in 1990. There are 26 glasshouses and the one above is number 25 – the nectarine house.

The most exciting thing I found on this early Spring visit was that all the nuts and bolts of the workings of a glasshouses were visible. The repairs to glasshouse 25 were completed mid 2017 and closed over the winter months, so we must have been amongst the first visitors now it is open. The gleaming white paintwork and the contrast of the delicate pink nectarine blossom against the stark white walls was awesome.

A glasshouse in West Dean costs on average £31,000 to £34,000 to repair taking two gardeners, two months to complete. The nectarine glasshouse used £900 of specialist durable paint and 264 panels of glass, all hand fitted. To help fund the restoration project West Dean launched a Save our Glasshouses Appeal in 2014. The glasshouses are repaired on a 4 year cycle and the next on the list are the tomato and peach houses.

You will see from the above notice that West Dean gardeners move things about to facilitate repairs. Instead of melons, we found a splendid display of pelargoniums, ferns and fuchsias. Again you could clearly see the amazing piece of machinery that open and close the windows.

In another glasshouse, we found a magnificent showcase of vegetables and herbs.

I have just upgraded my iPhone and am so impressed with the image quality. The photo below is one I took of purple pak choi. I apologise to my Nikon DSLR who will no longer come out with me on very many visits.

Just as we were leaving, I couldn’t resist taking one more photo of the mechanics of a glasshouse. The glasshouses were built by Foster & Pearson a Sussex firm established in 1841 and still in business.

Other glasshouses were filling up with with trays of seedling getting ready to be planted out in the next few months for summer delights in the borders. These particular houses are heated and sunk slightly into the ground, entered by steps down.

Just to give you a taster of what else there is to see at West Dean, below is the Kitchen Garden, complete with boot scrappers on the eastern of each bed – something else you don’t notice when everything is in full summer regalia.

There is also an excellent restaurant where we had delicious homemade soup served in small cast iron bowls with lids. The restaurant is always a great place for lunch before walking around the estate, and tea and cake afterwards.

Acknowledgement to the West Dean Gardens website, where I found lots of background information about the resplendent glasshouses, please take a look and you can find out more about them and a link to the glasshouse appeal. If you have never been I really do recommend a visit West Dean if you are near, it is a delightful place with lots to see, as well as the glasshouses.

Garden blogging

Tulips from Worthing

Unfortunately my plans to tick a visit to the Amsterdam Tulip fields off my list went awry this year.  I have consoled myself with my tulips from Worthing.   I am more than delighted with the display and the thought I had gone overboard buying bulbs last year has proved me wrong.  You can never buy too many tulip bulbs! 


As well as using containers, I planted bulbs in the open border and these are Sweetheart, Purissima and Yellow King with a few pink Botanical mixed.   They have combined well with the white narcissi Botanical Thalia.


On the side patio most of the containers have tulips left over from last year – the pink are Angelique which are not as good this year.  The new bulbs are lovely red Tulip Kaufmanniana and you can see there is also a white one.   The yellow/white Tulip is Sweetheart and I think is a perfect partner with narcissi. 


 There is one solitary Grand Perfection left over from last year.  I like this one so will make a not to buy more for 2018.   I grew them in 2016 with Ronaldo and the combination was quite striking. 


This interesting tulip is a double fringed variety called Bastia – it isn’t quite open so as I write this on a Sunday morning I can’t show it to its full glory, but if you check out the link you will see what it will look like.  I suspect it’s a tulip equivalent of Marmite, you will love it or hate it. 


I found this year that the tulips took a while to open but once open, the petals fell quite quickly. Perhaps it’s because it’s been really quite warm this last week.   I hope you’ve liked what you see and would be interested in seeing your favourite tulips to give me some ideas for 2018.  

Book Review, Garden

Book Review: Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds’

The idea of a secret garden is fascinating, and to be given the privilege of actually viewing a secret garden is all the more exciting.  “Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds – a Personal Tour of 20 Private Gardens” opens the gate for us to sneak a look at gardens. Thank you Francis Lincoln Publishers for sending me this book to review which I have thoroughly enjoyed browsing and making a note of those I would like to visit.

secret-gardens-of-the-cotswolds

The author, Victoria Summerley, is a gardening journalist, and blogger, who moved to the Cotswolds in 2012 and lives in what William Morris called “the most beautiful village in England”.  Accompanied with photographs by Hugo Rittson-Thomas, who also is lucky enough to live in the Cotswolds, this coffee table book takes us on a visit of 20 privately owned homes with beautiful and interesting gardens, many of which are influenced by Rosemary Verey, Isabel and Julian Bannerman, Repton and Capability Brown.

We are given a history of the gardens and the designs and inspirations which has developed them through the years. Being particularly nosey, whilst in awe of the gardens rather than the fantastic houses they come with,  it is always of interest to see who owns them and each chapter also has a photo of one or both of the owners as well as, in some cases, the head gardeners.  For me it added an extra personal touch rather than just a book of photographs of gardens.

Disappointingly, only 14 of the 20 are open to the public, the other 6 remain a secret unless you have been lucky enough to see them in this book.   Those 14 are, however, only open at certain times of the year and mostly for the National Garden Scheme.  At the back of the book is a sketch map together with details of opening times, so you can plan your visit to the Cotswolds around those gardens you particularly want to see.

‘Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds’ is published on 5 February 2015 and would make a wonderful gift for anyone who not only has a love of, or desire to visit, the Cotswolds, coupled with a love of beautiful gardens.

To order ‘Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds’ at the discounted price of £16 including p&p* (RRP: £20) telephone 01903 828503 or email mailorders@lbsltd.co.uk and quote the offer code APG281

*UK ONLY – please add £2.50 if ordering from abroad.

Francis Lincoln Publishers have a number of other lovely garden books just waiting to be published, including ‘Gardens of the Amalfi Coast‘ in February and ‘First Ladies of Gardening‘ in March.