Friday, 27 August 2010

Patterns, shapes and hues.

As the misty rain falls revitalising parched grass and yellowing plants, green once again takes on a range of hues. From the bedroom we can just make out the line of the South Downs through the trees ... and what a magnificent tree-scape it is.

The purple leaves of a giant copper beech and the yellowy green leaves of the ordinary beech frame each side of the view. The feathery pale lime of the contorted willow contrasts with the sombre yew just beyond. In the foreground our Victoria plum weeps with the weight of fruit; sadly, the poor pear tree was so badly damaged by snow last winter that not a single pear is visible. We've already started picking apples for 'Tarte Tatin' (try this recipe), our favourite 'Apple and Almond cake' and fruit crumble, and will soon join forces with friends to press tons of apples for juice, which will then be frozen for the winter.

I particularly love the layered shape of the spring-flowering shrub, Viburnam plicatum 'Mariesii'; plants which offer more than one stunning flush of flowers are such good value. Whether it's their autumn leaf colour, the brilliance of their winter stems or - as with this Viburnam - the simple beauty of their form, an additional feature is such a bonus.

Last summer I wrote about the wonderful Rosa banksiae 'Lutea', which I planted about four years ago on the south wall of our house; its many clusters of tiny yellow flowers in spring and early summer are so pretty that now I could not be without it - but what a thug! Arching stems 8-10 feet long wave in the breeze from the gutter above the eaves and threaten to overwhelm my other special love, 'Rosa Deprez a fleur jaune'; ruthless pruning is now essential.

I was convinced that we'd lost our Passion flower during the weeks of freezing temperatures; but by July there it was once again smothering the lower bare branches of the climbing roses, and, later than usual, flowering. The flowers have always fascinated me, as they seem too amazing to be real. They are also a brilliant example of nature's use of 'Fibonacci' numbers, as the sepals, petals and stamens are arranged using a sequence of Fibonacci numbers - 3, 5 and 3. (Fibonacci numbers are 0 and 1, then you simply add together the last two numbers to get the next in the sequence, eg: 0+1=1, 1+1=2, 2+1=3, 3+2-5, 5+3=8, 8+5=13, etc.)

When we lived in Hackney, we acquired a lovely old sink from an old London Post Office, which was being converted to offices; this has sat unused in a corner of the garden for over a decade and a half. Finally, it has become a feature under the kitchen window - as an alpine and succulents garden. I've never been a lover of those alpine gardens with pretend rocky promontories and little chasms, but I am a great lover of plants of all kinds so the sink full of little beauties, mounted on two low brick pillars, is giving much delight as we sit at the breakfast table. Pride of place has gone to the exquisite 'Rhodohypoxis' which I bought at the Hampton Court Flower Show; its miniature spikey shape is nicely complemented by the starry whorls of several types of Sempervivum.

Sempervivums are also interesting for the patterning and numbers of their 'petals'; for those intrigued, check out this site.

Saturday, 21 August 2010


Orange seems to be springing up all over our garden now, in mid-August. Once known as 'Monbretia', these brilliant flowers have colonised little sunny patches in the vegetable plot, in a couple of beds and in gravel, where they really seem to be happiest. Their big cousin, Crocosmia 'Lucifer' - a larger and more fiery red version, has almost faded now, while these gloriously brilliant flowers are at their most profuse and dazzling ever. But a happy accident has created a lovely planting combination with the burgeoning hips of Rosa rugosa.

Not far from these there is also a Lonicera periclymenum 'Serotina', which, with its vivid pink and yellow flowers makes another, almost tropical contrast. As mentioned last year, the burnt orange of the David Austin rose, 'Summer Song' (see photo below), continues flowering until late autumn and is happily placed close to the other three. What would also work with this combination is Hibiscus syracuse 'Woodbridge'; ours has just come out and is smothered in shocking pink flowers with an even deeper pinky red heart.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010


Clipping Box hedging creates an intoxicating perfume; not sure what it is that is released from the stems but it is almost pungent, like an aromatic oil. We planted the Box in stages during the first few years we lived here. Every time I did some garden design work, while our sons were at playgroup and infant school, I spent a little of my earnings on some more Box plants.

A few were particularly cheap frozen Dutch imports, but you can't tell now which they are. With two young boys, Box hedging was great as it protected the other plants when they played football; it's tough old stuff and the ball bounced off it very well. Now, however, it is a little bigger than I really want and will be difficult to reduce to a more acceptable size. But clipping it is a therapeutic activity at the end of a busy year teaching. It also feels like quite an art form ... like sculpting.

One of those happy accidents has occurred just outside our kitchen window; brushing past the self-sown tomato plant yesterday was absolutely delicious; there's something promising about the smell of tomato plants. Even though it's growing in dry gravel in a south-facing spot, it seems to be flourishing and covered in flowers.

I've recently developed a real love of carnations and dianthus, growing mine in pots so that I can put them on the garden table in order to fully enjoy their perfume. The old white favourite, Mrs Sinkins, has a heady clove scent, which is quite addictive. I bought them from the famous Allwoods Nursery in nearby Hassocks. (I'm the mad woman with her nose stuck in the blooms of roses, pinks and other plants at the garden centre.) Allwoods claim to be the largest retail nursery of Pinks and Carnations in the world. Another of my favourites is Dianthus 'Summerfield Amy Francesca', also with a strong clove scent. They're particularly good plants for pots as they like good drainage and don't seem to mind too much if you occasionally forget to water them.

Sadly, my father, who at 90 is a great gardener, has lost his sense of smell, which seems quite a tragedy, but he still enjoys freshly picked strawberries and the prolific Paul's Himalayan Musk, which thuggishly takes over great swathes of our garden each summer.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

February flowers

Our evergreen Clematis cirrhosa 'Balearica' frames the bedroom window with its lacy, fern-like leaves and creamy bell-shaped flowers, each interior freckled with pale purple spots. I've always dreamed of flowers round the window; unfortunately, this hardy climber will have to be ruthlessly pruned as it is now well-established in the gutter and is confidently invading the attic. It is the prettiest plant, but its delicacy masks a thug-like nature, once it's happily established.

Also coming into flower just now is another evergreen love of mine, Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata'. We have several low-growing mounds of this shrub, which have all thankfully, survived the heavy snow and ice. Its shiny green leaves are attractively edged with pale gold, and the perfume of the tiny pink flowers is exquisite, deliciously filling the air, near our front and back doors.

Of course, the snowdrops and hellebores are also coming into full flower. We have a lovely range of hybrid hellebores: dusky purple, pink, creamy white and speckled pale lime... there's a photo of me holding some in the slide-show below.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Remembering last Summer ...

Ashamed to admit that I've hardly been out in the garden all winter, other than to build a snowman. So, I created this slide show to spur me on to better things this year. Sadly, our old pear tree cracked under the weight of snow, and some of the Box 'blobs' are no longer the architectural domes that once bordered the lawn. The snowdrops and Hellebores are all just beginning to appear, and I think it's time to start sowing a few seeds ...

Thursday, 23 July 2009

What's flowering in Sussex now, in late July?

Stocks, Jasmine 'Clotted Cream', Foxgloves, Hollyhocks, Roses, Lillies and Day lillies, Acanthus, Japanese anemones, Delphiniums, Scabious, species Geraniums (second flowering), Clematis, Mallow (self-sown) and Lavatera 'Barnsley', Carnations, Lysimachia, Evening primoses and Rosa 'Summer Song' (see photo) ...

In spite of repeated bouts of torrential rain and near gale-force winds, many of our plants continue to flourish. Rambling roses, which grow through the fruit trees, have now finished flowering; Rosa 'Felipes Kiftsgate', Rosa 'Wedding Day', and Rosa 'Rambling Rector' flowered prolifically throughout June, showering the trees with blossom-like buds which tumbled down from the branches and opened into great swathes of white, pinky-white and creamy-white racemes. Other climbers continue to delight: Rosa 'New Dawn', Rosa 'Deprez a Fleur Jaune' and Rosa 'Blush Noisette' are smothered in flowers as I write, and are all delicately perfumed. 'New Dawn' is a wonderful rose as it will flower continuously on a north-facing wall; it is extremely disease-resistant, in fact it never seems to have black spot or mildew and its perfume, rather like 'Blush Noisette', is reminiscent of the Pond's Cold Cream which my Nan used to religiously smooth into her face at bedtime. R.'Deprez a Fleur Jaune' is stunning. Ours grows on a South-facing wall in full sun and flowers almost continuously from early Spring until late Autumn. Pink in bud, the flowers then open to a lovely apricoty yellow; they are extremely fragrant, their perfume sweetly pervasive on warm summer evenings.

Rosa 'The Fairy', a favourite, I believe, of Gertrude Jekyll, has masses of tiny pink, double flowers, and once it starts flowering, usually in July, it seems to go on until and even beyond the first frosts. It makes a lovely cut flower, its only drawback is that it is not perfumed. It's a floppy, rather unruly plant which looks good supported by low Box hedging in our garden; we have just planted one in my friend's garden; it is a young plant but looks wonderful flopping onto her new Indian sandstone paving.

The rose in the photograph in my last post is 'Jude the Obscure', I think; it is an exquisite rose and is now coming into bud again. Of course, it is one of the famed David Austen English roses. I had to cut out some leaves with blackspot (I don't use sprays as I have always been rather neurotic about chemicals in the garden where children play), so I just try to regularly clear away dead or diseased plant material. Last time I also referred to Rosa 'Summer Song' (see photo above); it continues to flower well in dappled shade, along with Rosa 'Mutabilis and Rosa 'Buff Beauty'. I have never had a 'Rosa 'Mutabilis' before, but was smitten during a recent visit to a wonderful plant nursery here in Sussex: Rushfields, which is between Hurstpierpoint and Henfield. During recent years this nursery has developed their stock of roses to the point where they are now real specialists and stock a fantastic range of extremely healthy plants. Rosa x odorata 'Mutabilis' (to give it its full name) is orange in bud and then opens to single flowers of intense pink flushed apricot; the petals, like those of Cistus 'Sunset', resemble lightly crumpled tissue paper; their delicacy reminds me of butterfly wings. The gardening expert, Dan Pearson, has described Rosa 'Mutabilis' as a 'desert island plant' and one which he would find it hard to live without; I agree. The RHS have awarded this rose their prestigious 'Award of Garden Merit', 'AGM'. What gardening books would you want when you're marooned on a desert island? For me, they would have to be books about roses.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Musky orange, honeycomb and sweet pea

There's a rose in the garden which has goblet-shaped cupped flowers and smells sweetly of musky oranges. The colour is pale apricot fading to yellow and unfortunately I cannot remember its name; I'm fairly sure it's one of the David Austin English roses (I'll check his catalogue), as they tend to be the roses that I favour; they repeat flower well and are generally highly perfumed, which is a quality that I really value in a rose. Some are a little prone to black spot, but if you cut out the affected leaves and stems, feed, water and mulch the plant well, then they resiliently send out fresh new shoots with flower buds. As we garden organically, insecticides and pesticides are not an option, so I just have to know my roses well and deal with any problems before they get a serious grip on the plant.

Books about roses

A garden of perfumes and scented plants is a sensual feast as you can almost taste the range of different flavours. I have two plants of Jasmine 'Clotted Cream'; one is entwined around the porch, partly under open cover and partly outside. The flowers are a pale creamy yellow and are highly perfumed, with a scent reminiscent of the rich, almost sickly sweetness of honeycomb. They are particularly effective near gates and doors because you smell them every time you go out or in. The other is around the door of our studio, mingling with the flowers of the pink thornless rose 'Zephirine Drouhin'. Together they make a lovely combination, as do another two or three plants in a bed of oranges, yellows and rusty reds, Rosa 'Summer Song' and the yellowy orange Day Lillies. The rose is another of David Austin's small miracles.