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.


Columbine Hall

I came on here tonight to do a quick blog post to and found lots of lovely comments and new followers so thank you and sorry that I took so long to reply, I shouldn’t rely on my email notifications, obviously.


Well, life’s been a bit hectic recently, I have been preparing for a large gathering of my dad’s friends and relations to celebrate his life and my head is full if arrangements. Even though it was cold and raining I decided to have a break this afternoon and visit a garden at Columbine Hall not far from home. Thanks for telling me Perfect Perennials!

It’s a beautiful, moated 14th house with winding grassy paths and formal pleached limes.


We went through a lush wilderness and down a tree lined walk to the bog garden which follows a stream and was full of ferns and wild garlic.DSCN2636


In a newly planted herb garden there were the same mixture of tulips, in an old copper, as close to the house.



At the back of the house is a courtyard garden with a large prostrate rosemary and pretty fencing.


It was busy despite being such difficult weather so I hope that they did well. The warm barn for teas was a very welcome respite and the greenhouse looked busy.

On the way home I stopped to take a photo of these magnificent cherry trees, something that I have been meaning to do for years.






DSCN2601.jpgThis weekend I have made a bit of progress in my own garden. As it has been such a cold spring I held off sowing seeds until we had a bit of milder weather at the beginning of April, then it went cold again with little sunshine. The result has been that seeds haven’t germinated, and some have rotted in the pot, the sudden heatwave finished them off.

Now, the polytunnel is full of sprouting dahlia tubers, successfully overwintered despite the low temperatures, and newly sown seeds just emerging. I started chilli seeds in the heated propagator, then they moved to the windowsill and now in the polytunnel.  The free ones from Mr Fothergills are doing well, the Razzmatazz didn’t germinate very well so I have re-sown, fingers crossed for a good summer so that I get some chillies. With frost forecast for this week, I am glad that I didn’t put the fleece away.


I have also taken over my Dad’s plot at my parents house. He loved growing vegetables, long rows of runner beans which he shared with the village as there were always too many for the two of them. It’s good to carry on, although he wouldn’t think much of my wiggly lines, but hard too. The asparagus that I bought him a few years ago are just coming up.



On Sunday, sweltering in the heat, I sowed french beans, radish, carrot, beetroot and parsnips which won’t come up because they are last year’s seeds but I can’t just throw them away. There is still a bit of broccoli from last year under the netting. I am using his mesh which is the stuff used for plastering but works well.


At home, in the polytunnel, I sowed my giant pumpkin seeds from Matthew Oliver at RHS Hyde Hall. I have been too nervous to sow them in case they don’t come up, now I just have to stop myself rooting around in the pot to see if they germinate. I will post updates as hopefully they get bigger and bigger.


Giant pumpkin seeds, with normal one for comparison

Pub garden 2018 – March

This will be the third year growing vegetables for The Queen at Brandeston and I am going to try and keep a monthly update, this is the first.

DSCN2445.jpgThe edible planters at the front are not looking at their most spectacular but the primroses are flowering and the tulips that I planted in the autumn are coming up. Yes you can eat tulips!


Here is one of the tulips and a viola. I don’t seem to have much luck with the violas. I used good, big plants this time. Planted in flower, in the autumn to allow time to get established, but still something eats all the flowers before they are even out.


Out the back, one side is ready to go. There’s a bit of overwintered salad under the mesh, salsify, rhubarb, autumn sown broad beans, wild garlic and empty beds waiting for spring to hurry up.


Winter salad leaves


The broad beans have survived all the cold weather.


The rhubarb will soon be ready to harvest.


Wild garlic planted autumn 2016.

On the other side of the lavender lined pathway, there is still a bit of work to do.


Some of the beds still need to be cleared and the gravel weeded. The nearest bed is for herbs and the chives are doing well but there’s more to add. The furthest has mixed brassicas, the winter kale is coming to and end but there are a couple of broccoli just ready.


Chives ready for picking.


Purple sprouting broccoli protected by mesh.

In the greenhouse, not on site, I have planted a few seeds as I couldn’t wait any longer but I am well behind on my plan. I am now bracing myself for a big rush as soon as it warms up a bit.


In the greenhouse, one beetroot seedling so far!

Freeze – thaw


It had not been a good week for gardening. I couldn’t get out of the village because of the snow but even if I had there wasn’t much that I could have done in the gardens. The persistently low temperatures, maximum of -2°C in the day even colder at night, meant that the ground was frozen and the wind was bitter.

And then, quicker than it arrived, it had all gone, except a few random drifts. On Sunday morning, I woke up to sunshine and 7°C and had a quick tour of the garden. I was pleasantly surprised, lots of things had survived. The hellebores popped back up, the Narcisssus tete-a-tete looked just same as before their few days in the freezer and even the broad beans mostly survived.


Narcisssus tete-a-tete


Broad beans are really hardy

It will soon be time for banks of primroses, and I even found a single daffodil in flower which I didn’t know was there.



Only one real casualty and that was a cold frame made from secondary double glazing at my Monday garden. It wasn’t up to the weight of snow, so I spent Monday morning picking glass out of the strawberry patch.


The weight of the snow was too much

While the cold weather seems to have preserved the drifts of snowdrops which are still flowering it doesn’t appear to have affected the emergence of the next wave of spring. The rhubarb is shooting well and I am eagerly anticipating the scillas and wood anemones just coming up now.


Can’t wait for the first taste of rhubarb!

The continuing cold weather means that I am much later than usual sowing seeds, although I have chillies in the propagator because everyone else was doing it. I have been stuck indoors more than I would like but my bargain amaryllis bought in the January sales is keeping me going.


There is lots beginning to grow in the garden at the moment but the beginning of March must belong to the hellebore. A very difficult flower to photograph with it’s nodding head and oh so beautiful face pointing downwards, I must grow more in pots!




DSCN2343.jpgI have just spent my birthday money on secateurs because as you can see, I needed a new pair!  No, really, I did but there is a wide choice available and range of prices so I thought that I would look at what you get for your money and how I chose.

The first pair are my Felco 2s, bought with my first proper wages. A well known top end brand, they have been my daily work pair for the last five years and worth every penny.  They cut through all stems, some probably bigger than recommended, I find them comfortable in my (small) hands and they don’t make my wrists ache. The only downside is that they have worn out. I have bought replacement springs and the blades are easy enough to change but now the closing catch won’t tighten and consequently closes whenever I am using them pointing downwards and the handles need new grips. You can send them away to be refurbished but it’s not cheap and last year I started to think about replacing them. The real crunch came when I lost them for about 2 months, once found I decided the sentimental value was too great to risk losing them again.

The second pair, cheap and unbranded, were my spares for the many times I left the proper secateurs in someone’s garden. They are good for delicate, ladylike, deadheading and that is all.

The third in line are by Wilkinson Sword, by-pass pruners £9.99 from The Range. When it came to replacing the Felco I wondered if I really needed to spend as much money again so I bought these to see. I really like this pair, small, which obviously suits me, comfortable grips and a closing clip which is easy to operate even with gloves on. Not quite as strong as the Felco but that just meant I used my loppers slightly more. Perfectly adequate for cutting back herbaceous perennials and minor pruning.  Again no aching hands after prolonged used. The big problem that I had was that about after a week of using them, the spring stiffened up and when the secateurs were fully open fell out, a lot, and I lost it. Hence the next pair. Anyway two weeks later, I found the spring! With a good oil I have managed to keep it going since then so that could have been costly just because I don’t look after my tools properly.

The next pair, £5 Verve by B&Q. Not really wanting to waste more money I bought this very cheap pair with an adjustable handle setting for different sized hands. They do cut things but make my thumb joints ache quite quickly and are stiff to operate.

Last and newest, £46 Okatsune 103 bypass secateurs bought from Darsham Nurseries because it’s very important to get the feel of them in your hands which you can’t do online. They come in different sizes but these suited me although there is a smaller size too. Very light, nice and sharp, they cut through smaller stems with minimum effort. They came with a spare spring but there’s no cushioning on the handles. I don’t think that I’ve had them long enough for a proper trial but at the moment the Felco still have it for me.

If money was no object, I would love to try out the more expensive Japanese Niwaki secateurs recommend by professional gardeners but for now these will have to do.

In conclusion then, when choosing secateurs it is very important to get the size right for your hand and to feel how they operate to make sure they are comfortable.  You don’t need to spend a fortune to get a decent pair but please look after them better than I do.




Late January

DSCN2223.jpgThe evenings are slowly getting lighter, and things are beginning to grow. January has felt like a month of gloom interspersed with high winds but there has been rain, sleet, snow and the odd spot of sun too.

DSCN2227.jpgThe snowdrops are beginning to form drifts and I am eagerly awaiting my hellebores, still in bud! I shouldn’t wish my time away but I can’t wait for the tulips either. Still, a gardener’s work is never finished and this is about what I am doing at the moment.

One of my main tasks over winter is pruning roses and that is ongoing. I can’t bring myself to cut off the few brave flowers but on the whole I am quite brutal and the more grumpy I am, the harder I chop!

With tulips starting to show, hurrah, I am finishing off tidying the borders and doing the final cutting back of perennials. It is really cheering to see shoots emerging I do hope that they don’t get caught by the frosts as it is still quite early.

At the pub, rather appropriately, I have cut back the grape vines. I don’t know a lot about it except that you do it in January so that the stems don’t bleed. I have trimmed back mid season before and the sap does rather gush out. They seem to grow like mad so I have pruned to give a nice structure on the wire supports.


Grape vines before pruning. Note fallen tree in between shepherd’s huts.

At home, progress on the actual garden is slow but I have been thumbing through the seed catalogues trying to make a decision as to what to grow this year.


You would think that with this many seeds already I would have enough but I’ve found lots more that just have to order! Lots of salad leaves that I pick everyday for my sandwiches, leeks for soup, beans, courgettes and some giant pumpkin seeds from Matthew Oliver at RHS Hyde Hall so fingers crossed! I have to think about what I want to eat, what will sell on my stall (to cover some of the growing costs), and filling those large veg plots at the pub. There will be lots of flowers too.

I can’t wait for some warm spring sunshine, but I have got plenty to do to get the garden ready before the big seed sowing frenzy begins.


January veg, my first cauliflower!

New year, same old garden.

A wander around my own garden in early January to see if I can find signs of life. It has been seriously neglected for the winter and I mean that genuinely, I haven’t been out there, except to do the chickens and hang washing for a couple of months. I  have actually been enjoying the standing stalks but it is probably time to do some cutting back and give the new growth a chance. Because if you look hard enough, things are moving!


Lots of work to do!

Cheered by the sight of some hellebore buds I have managed to get a bit done in the front garden as it’s more on view, including planting the tulip bulbs, very late, into pots. I also found the first aconite in bud.


Hellebore – nearly there!


I have some violas in pots which I can see from the window. I know that I’ve said it before but I always concentrate my early spring flowers where I will walk past or can enjoy them from inside, because I am not going to linger when it’s murky and 4°C like today. The hellebores are next to the drive and every day when I see them will bring a little bit of gladness to my soul.

Violas #smallthings

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Deeper into the mess, I can find primroses, from a friends garden so extra important, and a perennial candytuft, Iberis Sempervirens. It is just coming into bud and will carry on flowering for at least the next 3 months. It likes a well drained, open spot but really doesn’t need much care at all, a good doer as they say.



Just to prove that I wasn’t totally idle in the autumn, here are my broad beans, surviving perfectly well in the garden with no protection. That mesh you can see is an old fire guard to keep the birds off when I first planted them out. I had quite some battle with mice to get these to grow, I had to weigh down the propagator lid and make sure that there were no gaps. Fortunately I have a lot of saved seed.



In the polytunnel I have salad leaves and some overwintering bits and pieces too messy to show! One of the door zips is broken so the protection is not quite as good as it could be but it’s slightly warmer that outside especially if the sun shines. Also what’s left of the second sowing of broad beans.



Unable to wait for the weather to get warmer, I have just sown some salad bowl lettuce in pots on the windowsill indoors. Something to enjoy while I look through the seed catalogues and plan this year’s excitement.