January 8th 2019

First day with any length of sunshine since Christmas day, and it felt weirdly like March as it was so mild, about 10 degrees.


Garrya elliptica.


 Good to be back at work and time to burn off a few of those excess pounds by barrowing muck to spread on the garden, and it was big garden today so good exercise.


Iris unguicularis

After being away for a couple of weeks I like to make a tour and see what has changed. We’ve really only had one or two proper frosts so far this winter so things are getting advanced already.


Always a thrill to see the first snowdrops out, there are a lot more to come.


Bergenia and Viburnham tinus putting on a good show.


Nearly but not quite, Pulmonaria and hellebores still in bud.


Even a great tit singing his ‘teacher teacher’ song.


Of course things will change, there is already cold weather in the forecast. I don’t mind a bit of frost or snow, to set the seasons straight, kill a few pests and make everything look photogenic; as long as it doesn’t last too long.

Meanwhile I am enjoying the slightly longer day length and the promise of things to come.



Looking Back

New year seems a good time to look back on the last twelve months of gardening. I started at Kenton Hall in January 2018 so this presents itself as a perfect opportunity to look at the changes over a year of extremes. Unfortunately I don’t have any of the snow as I didn’t go that week! The gardens of Kenton Hall provide a stunning location for weddings in the summer months and my job was to keep them up to standard.



It seems so long ago! I can remember being very cold and the first day that I did here there was a heavy rainstorm. I could see it coming but it was my first day and I didn’t want to give up until it was raining badly enough. I got soaked through to the skin. So what was here was overgrown shrubs and herbaceous perennials. I love a challenge!



Getting stuck in. Cutting back everything, perennials, grasses and shrubs, including evergreen ones as much as I dare, just so that I can see what is there.



Things start greening up. The primroses look fabulous along the moat.


The first wedding of the season was in May so lots of weeding in preparation, fortunately the owner does the hedging and grass as there is a lot of it. The house provides a stunning backdrop for photos, and the lupins came out, hurrah!






The beginning of the heatwave. The borders are full and the grass is just about hanging on. Flowering now Stipa gigantia, catmint, Achillea cloth of gold.





Still looking green, the main flower here was the almost complete bed of Japanese anemones but also shrubby potentilla and the grasses were looking good. I had been coming regularly, but not that frequently, mainly in the week before each wedding.




The wedding season had finished now, and I had started to cut back the finished flowers. A lot of plants were just getting to their best, especially the asters (michaelmas daisies) and fuchsia. The leaves were starting to fall off the trees at the back.





You can see that whereas mid afternoon in summer is still scorching hot, at the same time in November the shadows are really lengthening and the light is fading.


The seedheads did look good in the golden sunlight, they are still there, and there were a few late flowers on the lupins having a second flush. Feeling a bit more in control of the square borders, I got a chance to work in the rose garden and found a Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles in full bloom.


Almost full circle and back to a very wintry looking garden and a late flowering rose. January will start with less cutting back and shrub shaping to do than last year so maybe a chance to divide some of the perennials and make the beds more of a mix. At the moment there are big blocks of colour which look effective but then all die back at once.

It goes without saying that I was easily distracted by the beautiful house and trying to get it in the pictures. There are also views over the surrounding countryside.

For wedding venue details and photos I would suggest the website, link in first paragraph, or the Instagram account @kentonhallestate.


A year on.


This is a border at one of my customers houses last September. It had been annoying me for a while. DSCN1482

The lavender at the front wasn’t happy, always leggy and not easy to cut on the edge of the pond.  It also seemed to die off easily, going all the way along originally.DSCN1479

At it’s worst it was full of bindweed and ground elder, this must be after I had weeded it and it doesn’t look that great even then. I always like to stress to my clients that I am not a designer but I like to think that I can do a planting plan.

With a bit of advice from my knowledgeable Allhorts colleagues, social media group, I came up with an idea.


DSCN2313This is in February, with the roses pruned hard, and sleeting!


And here with the lavender dug out and the first Stipa tenuissima planted in March. These were the only plants that I bought and I divided each one before planting. Along the edge of the pond I put catmint, Nepeta ‘six hills giant’, dug up from the main borders and in between the roses Verbena bonariensis, self-seeded seedlings also from the garden.

And now, in October.




I’m really pleased with how it looks, that it only cost about £20 and you can’t see the ground elder anymore!

Beautiful Vegetables

Well that was summer! I seem to spend month after cold month waiting for it to come only to find it fly past leaving my to do list barely dented. But there is still a lot of colour in the garden in September, and I’m talking about the vegetable garden!


Rainbow chard, of course, which I grow mostly because it looks so good


DSCN0037.JPG Radish French Breakfast. I’m not usually great at successive cropping but when the heatwave ended I sowed a few seeds and the slightly cooler, wetter weather has resulted in a later harvest.


The beans are having a second flush too. Mixed runner beans above and French, Ecosse violet, below.DSCN0041



The courgettes are still going, the flowers and courgettes adding colour and structure to the vegetable garden.


Beetroot, another one with vibrant stems

Squash, Potimarron, and a giant(ish) pumpkin, beautiful colours and strokeably smooth skin, or is that just me?


Not strictly grown for the flowers but this belongs to a carrot.


Curly kale. This is ready now and will continue through the winter. All the bumps put off the caterpillars too.

DSCN0047.JPG And in the greenhouse a small but beautifully formed cucamelon. I didn’t like them last year but I am willing to have another go!

Late summer harvest


Cox’s orange pippin.

It always happens but I can’t believe that it is the end of August already. It hasn’t been a particularly good vegetable year for me, I struggled with the watering and some crops like lettuce just bolted in the heat.


Grapes, not ready yet.

It is really comforting, therefore, to find that with a bit of moisture and cooler temperatures the surviving vegetables have picked themselves up and put a bit of effort into it.


Potimarron squash

The squashes in particular have gone from sulking and refusing to grow to taking over the plot suddenly masses of fruit appearing, (hope that’s the right term) about six on this plant and loads of flowers.


Turks turban

Unfortunately the growth spurt is too late to win me the village pumpkin competition with this one.


My late sown runner beans are doing better than the earlier ones which went over quickly without producing much.


Had some tonight for tea, very tender and fresh.


Courgette ‘Buckingham’

This is a new variety of yellow courgette for me this year. It has been prolific with courgettes, and a few marrows, all summer and still going.


I don’t like the end of summer but I do loved the fruits it brings. The apples and plums are just starting to ripen and the blackberries are ready in the hedgerows. The wasps and hornets are fond of the fruit too.


Hornet enjoying a fallen plum.

I will survive!

It looks like we are in for a bit more dry weather but before the downpours of the weekend finally broke the first heatwave, I had a look around the gardens to see what was surviving in the extreme dry and hot weather not usually experienced in an English summer.


Verbena bonariensis, no surprises here as it freely self seeds in gravel, It may be ubiquitous but I still love it, a welcome pop of colour without dominating the border.


Crocosmia, just a standard orange, unnamed variety but still looking fresh.


Agapanthus, very happy in the garden and also in pots.



Penstemon, probably garnet,putting on a good show with a bit of Dierama over the top. This one is at home I like a mishmash of plants.


Geranium Rozanne, always gives 100%, admittedly this is my shady corner where it gets huge, but also does well elsewhere.

DSCN3110 My giant, bought from Tesco a few years ago, lavender. Every time someone comes to the front door, the scent wafts into the house. Going to be useful if the summers continue like this.


Had a really good crop of raspberries this year. Originally one plant in a previous garden, I  brought a piece with me and now I have big tangle of canes.


Passiflora caerula, passionflower, looking suitably exotic and enjoying the heat.


Only a few days after the rain, the herbaceous plants which I cut down  are popping back up.


Nepeta six hills giant  (catmint

The grass is getting a bit greener too,DSCN3118

As, the climate changes, it may mean a change in what plants we can grow in the garden. I have lost some shrubs to the drought and even established ones can suffer. This is a  15ft cotoneaster which I hope will recover. DSCN3121

It could take until next year before I find out the true extent of the damage of the drought but it is going to be a challenge for the future, especially if we carry on with cold, wet springs as well.

Ah well, as long as the roses survive!


Garden catch up.


May went past so quickly that I never managed to finish my blog post so here are a few highlights of the last 6 weeks. It started like this with the glorious Auriculas followed by the first alliums and it has been a steady burst of colour ever since. There were a few sneaky cold nights but it has been mostly warm and dry.


With all the sunshine after a long, cold, wet spring the, everything grew really fast, weeds as well as flowers. I could still do with it slowing down a bit so that I can savour each moment such as the combination of forget-me-nots with all the bright spring greens.


And the Erysimum really brightening up a dull border.


The peonies have been good and the irises spectacular.



Now the roses are reaching a first peak and radishes, lettuces and courgettes are being harvested in the vegetable garden.


So now the borders are full, there is a profusion of flowers and it’s all go as I try to plant out the remaining vegetables and flowers grown from seeds and keep on top of the weeds and watering. At this time of year it’s a rewarding job and important to remind myself that I am a good gardener and I will catch up eventually.


And to enjoy it!


By the way, I got some new chickens at home and am enjoying actually getting some eggs for the first time in years, my two oldies are quite elderly in chicken years. But that’s a whole other story, when I ‘ve got time!

Spring plant fair-Helmingham Hall



I can’t believe that I left early to go to a plant fair all of a mile way from my house but 9.30 found us in the line waiting for the gates to open. Actually, it was worth it not to have to queue on the road for ages as once we were in we drove straight through to the parking area, and onward to the entrance gazebo. Interestingly, they don’t tell you about the free plant for the first 800 visitors, you have to use your iniative and find the  Plant Heritage marquee yourself. Penstemmon this time.

Plant of the day seemed to be Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpurem’ spotted on several stalls, and which I didn’t get a photo of, but these stunning poppies disappeared pretty quickly too.


The best thing about any plant fair is the wealth of specialist knowledge available. From carnivorous pitcher plants to cabbage seedlings and a wide variety of shrubs, perennials, herbs and grasses. I bought a black iris from this nursery and a lemon scented pelagonium from another.



Lovely Clematis from Katie’s Garden


A good selection of grasses

I was surprised the first time that I came to a plant fair how reasonable the prices were too, another benefit of independent nurseries. There is an independent plant nurseries guide if you want to find your nearest.

Also on offer, garden accessories especially decorative iron work.


These wonky photos really don’t do it justice but designs and bespoke orders by Kev Colbear Design .


Always a pleasure to visit, the gardens are still set out as described in my earlier blog Spring Plant Fair at Helmingham Hall(2016). There are new graphic information cards, by Helmingham gardener Chris Reeve, for when that plant name on the tip of your tongue won’t reach your brain.


View of the main pathway looking back towards the house.

Several waves of alliums, peonies and roses just coming out, I always find Helmingham a comfortable garden to visit. Obviously the long borders, vegetable patches and topiary are on a grand scale but the sight of flowers past their best and the odd weed is very reassuring.


The path forming the cross axis, nice edges!


Closer view of the Eremus and Aquilegia


The spring border on the outside of the walled garden.

Lots of early roses and tree peonies, irises, Thallitricum and herbaceous peonies.



And a poppy, Patty’s Plum, I think.

After a nice walk, following the moat around the house, wondering which bedroom the Queen sleeps in, you get to the knot garden on the other side. Surrounded by hedges and filled with herbs, it has a more intimate feel. Lots of hebaceous geraniums and roses coming into bloom.


View from the herb garden.

Pub garden 2018 – April


Ladybirds on celery leaves

The pub garden in April has mainly been about preparation. I have been steadily working my way through the vegetable beds trying to catch up with the weeding. These are red celery leaves from last year, obviously very hardy and a tasty addition to soups and stews



The red veined sorrel also overwintered well and looks like a permanent fixture now so may be moved to the new herb bed.



The broad beans have continued to grow and now have lots of flowers on.

Mummy blackbird was very busy collecting food as I dug each week, she did well, look at the size of the chick!


The off site greenhouse has been the place to be in the cold, wet weather at the beginning and end of the month, not so good in that sweltering week in the middle. I have struggled with quite a lot of seeds this year, especially pumpkins and cucumbers, for which I am blaming the weather!

Even so, the curly kale, spinach and beetroot are doing well. They can be planted out at the beginning of May if they are big enough.


At the end of the month, the wild garlic which I planted a couple of years ago, came into flower and it has filled up the bed a bit more.



This is the view at the end of April. I have started sowing a few seeds and not quite finished clearing the old vegetables, but it won’t be long before it is all filled.



The most exciting thing, however, was the tulips flowering. I’m most pleased because the planters look exactly how I imagined which is very satisfying. Incidently,  look out for that narrow window in the next update.