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.



Iceberg roses flowering, December 4th.

December has been a slow month what with one thing and another. In my bigger gardens there is always something that needs doing, and I still have roses to prune and cutting back to finish, but some of my smaller gardens are all done for the winter giving me a few gaps in the week.   These iceberg roses are almost looking better than in the summer when they suffer with black spot and greenfly and I can’t keep up with the weeds. I suppose that they can also be appreciated more at this time of year when there is less other showy stuff going on.

One of my winter jobs is to re-design this bed a bit. My absolutely favourite job so I’m saving it for now, hope they stop flowering otherwise I will feel really guilty cutting off the blooms.

Life has it’s ups and downs, as we all know, and I have been making sure that I take time to enjoy the small things of beauty as I garden. It may not be original but it is important for me and that is the main thing. I am keeping a record on my instagram account cjbee827 if anyone is interested.



Here’s a funny one but this does make me happy! Lots of goodness for the soil. And lots of winter work to keep me busy and warm. Some of it is moved now but I was held up when it was frosty as you can’t mulch frozen ground.

My favourite bird, the wren.

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And shifting muck brings the birds to join in the fun. Always a friendly robin or two but this time a real treat a wren that I manage to photograph.

Hebe flowering today! #hebeindecember #garden #gardening #decemberflowers #hebe

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A change of garden for a one off tidy up and a huge hebe covered in flowers



Snow in the woodland

Mid December, snow!  The ground was really too frozen and covered with snow to do anything productive and the country lanes too icy to risk so I had to have a day off. First time I’ve been snowed off in about  4 years but not great timing.


This was one of my small things of beauty, an amazing moss covered branch on a really old mulberry tree.


Echinacea just keep on giving. #echinacea #seedhead

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Echinacea and fennel seedheads still giving structure in the main beds, there’s rudbeckia and a few echinops thistle heads too. They will stay as long as they are still adding something, in my opinion!


Ivy berries, what a great design! Ivy is such a good plant for wildlife if you have space in the garden. With late season flowers for bees and other insects and berries for birds. It is an integral part of most of the hedges round here providing good evergreen cover for nesting and protection from predators. There is a lot of folklore attached to ivy but that’s maybe a blog in itself.


Pelagonium flowering – December 19th

December 19th was my last day of gardening before a break for Christmas, and I found this self seeded pelagonium still flowering at the base of a south facing wall.

I have quite a few days off now, which has given me time to write a blog post but I’m desperate to get out and tidy my own garden. Now the shortest day is past I shall be continuing looking for more small treasures in the garden while hoping for signs of spring. Meanwhile here’s a hellebore, Helleborus# niger,  the Christmas rose.



#autocorrect changed it to Boris 😁


November, a month of change.

Happy November! #leaves #autumn #garden #leafpile

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It’s hard to believe, as I sit here with snow falling in the freezing night sky, that at the beginning of the month the leaves were still showing autumn colours, both on and off the trees, and there were some late flowers in the borders. It really has been a month of change, illustrated perfectly by my instagram photos.

Autumn is a good time for grasses, the more showy flowers have faded and the low light seems to bring out all the golden and bronzy colours. On a misty morning they look stunning decorated in a myriad of sparkling dewdrops.

Sunshine through the Phormium leaves on a frosty morning. Yesterday.

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Right at the beginning of November we had the first frost, you can just see it on the grass in the background. Frosty mornings led to bright sunny days and I still couldn’t really believe that winter was on the way. See First frost!

Japanese anenome still flowering last week.

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Then it warmed up a bit, well no frosts anyway, and flowers continued to bloom.

Really not sure what this poppy was doing out in November but it shows how (relatively) warm it was.

Echinacea #echinacea still in flower min November.

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This Echinacea was coming to an end but still looking beautiful in the cloudy but mild, middle of the month. And a bit wet by the looks of it.

At this point there were still lots of leaves on the trees and lots of colour and it felt very much like autumn. I  started to think about what I could move and divide before the soil got too cold,  and cutting back and raking leaves were the main jobs in the garden.

Hollyhocks hanging on til the last, but look at those shadows. If you want to see the rest of the photos on that list check out my instagram feed!

Autumn last week.

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This was taken on the 23rd November, the last week where I actually warmed up as I worked. I love those soft colours.

Cornus midwinter fire (probably)

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One week later, this week, wind from the north, no leaves left after a windy few days, but still a bit of colour. And two hats, two hoods to keep my ears warm.


The east coast of Suffolk got quite a bit of snow today, 30th November, but we only got enough to settle this evening, hence the poor picture, but showing the transition from autumn at the beginning of the month to proper winter at the end.

First frost!


Chard in the frost

We had the first proper frost here in Suffolk this week and it took me by surprise  Only the day before I was planting out some broad bean plants and taking cuttings from a rescued houseplant in my polytunnel. It’s one of those small ones by Gardman but it serves me well.

So, after scrolling through an instagram feed full of ‘first frost’ pictures I headed out myself to check on my poor, unsuspecting plants – and to take photos!

The sweet peas, which I had put out of the polytunnel, to harden off, ha ha, seemed to be fine and the cuttings inside were luckily in the propagator and also ok I think. They will need to be relocated to a windowsill very soon.


At my first garden, in the still open greenhouse plants still looking green. Sorrel seedlings, ✅, Salad leaves in the greenhouse bed, ✅.

The broad beans, which I planted in September also nice and perky.


What I am really hoping is that the caterpillars, which have decimated the cavalo for the second time this year, are not ok!



Some dahlias are still flowering.

Moving on to the borders, it seemed a good time to lift the dahlias and tuck them up for the winter. They are now all in the greenhouse beds where the tomatoes were. The greenhouse is on the side of a brick building and I think that this makes a difference in keeping the soil above freezing. The bricks heat up in the day time, even with a small amount of sunshine, and radiate it back at night like a storage heater. I also keep the soil completely dry. This has worked well the last few years although we haven’t had any prolonged cold weather for some years now.


Dahlias in their winter bed (I will cut them down).

This is really a bit of a luxury. At my next garden I dug up the tubers, cut them right back and put them in a large pot filled with old compost from empty summer pots. They are now in the shed although if it gets really cold, below zero for several days, I will move them to the garage. Obviously there were a lot less tubers just 3 plants.

My dahlias at home are mostly still outside and will have to take their chances until I have time to sort them out. I have a few more this year and am considering borrowing a bit of greenhouse space from the first customer.


New challenge – overwintering vegetables.


Autumn leaves at The Queen

As the autumn slowdown continues, I have been thinking about extending the season in the vegetable garden, especially at The Queen at Brandeston where I manage the veg plot at the back of the pub. I’m feeling  the need to challenge myself a bit to prove to that I am a real gardener! This will be my first proper attempt at overwintering anything except peas.

To this end, I started sowing seeds again in the greenhouse in September, firstly some mixed salad leaves and beetroot, for the colourful leaves. These I planted out with trepidation but they have survived.  A bit slower but also up,  pak choi, parsley, spring onion, kale, chicory, rocket, sorrel and a very few winter lettuce. I sowed several rows directly in the still warm soil but not a single one came up. I only get to visit the site once a week so it may be that they got eaten straight away but who knows.



Pak choi and chicory pricked out in the polytunnel at home.


Kale, spring onions, rocket, sorrel and winter lettuce in the greenhouse.

At the pub this warm October afternoon I planted out some of the pak choi and chicory, keeping some in reserve just in case! The kale is for the front in the edible planters. The rest of the seedlings need to be a bit bigger before I risk it although the plan is to cover the lot with fleece if it gets really cold,


Salad leaves under cover

I also managed to get in a few rows of broad beans for an early crop next spring. They will probably use the shoots and flowers in the kitchen but the first beans are sweet and tender too. I have plenty of saved seeds from this year’s crop.


Also in the garden over winter will be the salsify, sown in the spring, which will be ready once the leaves die back and sweeter after a couple of frosts.DSCN1658.jpg

There is an assortment of brassicas grown from seed in the spring as well. Kale ready now and flowering sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower still to come. Considering that they were completely stripped of leaves by caterpillars in the summer, they have recovered well.


Summer  (yes they were netted!)



With a good crop of pumpkins and squashes harvested for storing, if they survive halloween, they should be able to offer some really fresh and locally sourced vegetables on the menu.



October in the garden.

DSCN1522.jpgHere we are in mid October and I’m really quite enjoying the gardening at the moment. There are so many flowers still out, a few vegetables left to harvest and all next year’s planning to look forward to.

I’d like to say that I created these combinations deliberately but really it is down to a bit of luck with the weather and mother nature, although I did plant the dahlia and Anthemis so I had some hand in it. In fact, the Anthemis got chomped by rabbits early on and these are the first flowers.

The roses are still putting on a good show and the dahlias are hanging on in there too.  On a misty autumnal morning they are at their finest encrusted with sparkling dewdrops. With the asters still blooming, there is plenty of colour in the borders.

In the vegetable garden a final harvest of cucumbers and aubergines and the pumpkins and squashes are ripened up to keep over winter, if they survive halloween. I managed to get 6 large pumpkins from one plant so my customer should have enough for carving, soup, pie, cake and anything else really. The kale is beginning to recover from the caterpillar attack of the summer and should continue throug the winter months.

In the orchard, lots of apples and pears but also the first proper harvest of quince from a tree I planted 5 years ago.

Also in the vegetable garden, flowers! But aren’t the artichokes and Chinese alliums looking beautiful.

And just when I thought that maybe it wasn’t going to be a good year for autumn colour, the trees join in in! All in all a great combination in the garden in October. Let the shuffling begin!


And breathe!


I started this post at the beginning of September when I had been away for a week and returned to my gardens to find that autumn had arrived. August was hot, cold, cloudy, sunny, rainy and windy and already September is over with a mixture of storms and sunshine as well.

The hoped for Indian summer never came but there were, and still are, all those richly coloured late summer flowers and abundant pumpkins and squashes.


Dahlias at Houghton Hall


Harvested pumpkins left to ripen.

The dahlias have been good in my gardens too, I divided up the tubers in spring before planting in pots in the greenhouse so there were a good number but always room for improvement.



Also looking good for August and September the delicate looking, but actually quite tough, Japanese anenomes and the jolly rudbeckia.



August was a month of trying to keep it all going, like juggling balls in the air. A bit in the vegetable garden, a bit in the borders, doing the lawn edges and looking out for the giant sow thistles which seem to arrive fully grown. I always reach a point where I feel overwhelmed with amount of work still to be done and then it’s autumn and things that are cut back, stay cut back and phew! We can all breathe again.


I’m not saying that there is not still loads to do,  the weeds are still growing and deadheading continues, but I am taking time to enjoy the long awaited asters (Symphotrichum) and my head is full of plans for next year. The vegetable garden is slowly being cleared and I have even sown some late summer crops, a first for me. Tulips have been ordered and it will soon be time to cosy up with the seed catalogues.

Meanwhile, the roses carry on flowering.