I’ve just finished planting 250 Camassia ‘Quamash’ bulbs while the river lapped at the bank behind me. The whole area is submerged beneath the Brede now and I’m slightly fearful that I’ll see them bob to the surface. So far, so good. I planted them at least 4-5” deep (so they should remain where they are) and they’re planted in fine, alluvial soil that drains well in a sunny, south-facing spot. These are perfect conditions for Camassias so I’m expecting a riot of vivid-blue flower spikes along the water’s edge next April. And I’ve cast thousands of coal-black seed taken from the papery seedheads of this year’s nigellas hoping to have them flower just as the camassias are fading.
I’ve been thinking about how I can introduce more colour into my garden and while I’m quite pleased to see a decent amount of colour still persisting in this colder weather I’m keen to add more. As a garden designer I’m not only intent on adding more colour to gardens but also having it remain there for as long a period as possible. This is not only welcome in an aesthetic sense, but it’s also kind to the wildlife that depends on nectar and seed to survive
It’s fairly easy to introduce colour at the start of the year as there are many spring bulbs to choose from with snowdrops appearing first (looking wonderful in clumps amongst Helleborus niger, the Christmas Rose) closely followed by crocus and then, of course, narcissus which has varieties flowering as early as February (‘February Gold’) right through to those that bloom in May (‘Hawera’ or ‘Sweetness’) However, having some interest in the garden in say November can be rather more tricky.
Good autumn bulbs to try are Cyclamen coum and Nerine bowdenii in shade and sunshine respectively and of course the Autumn crocus, Colchicum autumnale, but if you are wanting to have beds filled with colour over a much longer period there are three perennials I would definitely recommend. The first is the Japanese Anemone, Anemone x hybrida of which there are several cultivars ranging from white through to the deepest pink. They are easy to grow and can cope with a bit of shade, but they can be a little invasive so keep them in check as and when you need to. Salvia, particularly the species uliginosa, is a wonderful plant for giving colour from mid-summer right through to the first frosts- they are unfurling their clear blue flowers in my garden even now. Then there’s Verbena bonariensis with its clusters of purple flowers borne on tall, square stems reliably blooming until November if the frosts aren’t early.
The salvia and verbena can be a little tender and may succumb to a really hard winter, but they are extremely easy to propagate by taking root cuttings in the autumn. Simply cut off some non-flowering stems and trim to about 3” in length just below a leaf node then remove the leaves of the lower half. Next, dip each base into hormone rooting powder and stick about 6 cuttings into a 6” pot full of gritty compost then place the pot in a plastic bag and keep at room temperature. The Japanese anemone is hardy and needs no special treatment, it will grow quickly from a root section plunged into the earth wherever you want it to grow.
Pic- Salvia uliginosa with Verbena bonariensis




The winter storms earlier in the year brought winds laced with salt from the channel. They tore across Rye nature reserve and, to some degree, were halted abruptly when they hit the trees and houses of Rye and nearby coastal towns. Even the Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) on the front line down at Rye harbour fared badly and were badly scorched and knocked back by the salt. Living near the coast as I do, this sometime ingredient in the climatic mix should be taken into account when planting and it’s worth choosing a few specimens that cope well with the salinity.

One plant I have allowed to remain in my garden is a Tamarisk (Tamarix ramosissima). It was its shape rather than its flowers that captivated me (and in doing so saved its life) because it had been allowed to grow freely and assume an almost gnarled quality akin to that of an old and twisted apple tree, instead of being clipped into a more usual hedge-like form. It’s a plant that doesn’t seem to mind any amount of salty air being blasted at it and indeed the swishing noises any wind, salty or otherwise, makes as it races through its feathery foliage can be a fine sound to listen to. However, if you’re not taken by the Tamarix and would prefer to grow a tree that’s a little more traditional then think about growing a hawthorn or a rowan, both will cope very well with salt.

If you don’t want to be restricted to growing only salt-tolerant plants (or halophytes, to give them their proper term) it might be beneficial to plant a hedge or wind-break made up of plants that can take the brunt of the salt in the air and help stop it from reaching the main part of your garden. Generally speaking, growing a windbreak is often a good idea anyway, whatever your garden’s conditions, as it will help reduce the damage the wind can cause. As I said, the tamarix can be grown as a hedge, but you could think about mixing a few plants together to form a barrier. These plants should be evergreen to give the best effect and can include any of the Escallonia varieties which have flowers ranging from white through to the deepest red, or the silvery-leaved Elaeagnus x ebbingei which will in time form a very dense, almost impenetrable network of branches and foliage. Another salt-tolerant evergreen is Grisselinia littoralis. It has wonderful shiny, apple-green foliage although it’s flowers are pretty insignificant, so if you like plants that are distinctly floral then opt for Olearia macrodonta which bears large clusters of fragrant, daisy flowers.

Of course, as in any salt-free garden, the overall climatic conditions such as light levels and soil type should still be taken into account when planting, but as a walk along the coast will certainly attest, there are plenty of plants that can cope with salt. Crambe, Echium and Poppy are the obvious ones, but think also of Sea Thrift (Armeria maritima) Lambs Ears (Stachys byzantina) and Sea Holly (Eryngium variifolium) if your garden is a well-drained, sunny one. If your garden is shady then perhaps grow some large clumps of Japanese Anemones (of which there are many varieties in all sorts of colours) and perhaps some heucheras or tiarellas planted around the base of a few beautiful lacecap hydrangeas. With a little thought at planting time a salty garden can without a doubt be turned into something rather special.


Rye Rivers and Meadows 20/7/14



As a spell of drought dramatically comes to an end with a weekend of thunderstorms and some much needed heavy rain, I find myself considering the conditions in my garden once again: can a garden submerged in the worst of winter weather also be drought-ridden in summer? Apparently it can, as the fissures etched on the soil surface will testify. So, I have resolved to grow annuals in the sites that suffer these variable conditions, chiefly along the waterfront, and perhaps punctuate with a few shrubs that are able to cope with waterlogging. Annuals will have faded and gone long before the onslaught of winter and, if I collect the seeds, I will have a new supply to sow next year.

I want to make my garden appear natural so that it sits well in its semi-rural surroundings and so, inspired by the colourful fields surrounding Rye last year; fields full of pale-blue flax, the somewhat stronger blue of chicory and the red of the common field poppy, and for economy as much as enjoyment, I cast wildflower meadow seeds into some of the beds unaffected by the river. Once more the Rye landscape is a mosaic of colour and so too are my meadow plants, albeit on a much humbler scale. They are a mix of poppies, cornflowers, marigolds and echiums and they have brought intense colour to a number of beds without costing very much at all. Indeed, they might have filled even more beds or borders but, like many sceptical gardeners, I sowed the seed too densely not believing that all would germinate. The last to fall from the box were distributed more thinly however and as a result got much more room to branch out and form flower buds, unlike their spindly neighbours, these are strong and impressive plants.

I have chosen to grow annuals in these waterside beds, but I may well sow some perennial meadow mix through some of the other beds and borders next year. The only difference in their cultivation is that you must cut perennials back just as they begin to burst into bloom to encourage the plant to form a really good root structure- not a job for the sentimental or faint-hearted as it can be pretty heartbreaking to see the ensuing devastation.

Both types are extremely easy to grow if you follow a few basic rules. Annual meadow plants prefer a fertile soil that has been turned over and enriched with some organic matter, whereas perennials do best on poorer soil. In each case however, the bed must be weed-free so that when the plants germinate they are not competing for nutrients, light and water with thuggish plants such as grasses, docks or nettles. Sow perennials in late autumn sprinkling the seeds on to a 15 cm mulch of sand (this suppresses any weeds that may be lurking in the soil) and gently rake over. Chop the plants back with a mower set to a high cut in spring and then once more in summer. Sow annuals in autumn or spring mixing the seed with sand so that you can see where they are falling. Again, these should be raked in afterwards. Nothing could be simpler and no sight more charming than poppies and other wildflowers moving in a summer breeze.


Geranium x magnificum




My garden is now home to what must surely be the most stupid mallard in Rye; I say stupid because my garden is also home, albeit part-time, to the most curious whippet pup in Rye with an appetite as insatiable as his curiosity. And, I keep forgetting she is there, so rigidly still is her posture with flecked brown plumage perfectly camouflaging her upon the upturned soil and amongst the browning petasites. Yesterday, I began to plant a hedge of lavender along the front of an unsightly retaining wall (the one that just about held the River Brede back from entering my house in January) working my way along the line digging, planting then firming in and all the while feeling I was being watched. I looked down to see two beady eyes, full of fear, staring back at me. She kept her nerve and now has the added foliage of Lavandula angustifolia to hide behind; I expect she isn’t too fussed either way about its aromatic qualities.

If anyone had told me in January I would be planting lavender in my garden come June I would have laughed and then rhymed off all the bog plants I intended to fill the garden with, but in fact, as long as I keep those plants that can’t tolerate having their ‘feet wet’ above the present, more regular tide line then they should do very well. I planted the lavenders in a part of the garden where the soil is quite poor, which is perfect for them as too rich a soil will have them turning lush but leggy, and the site is baked by the sun which will help them thrive. I chucked in some grit before planting to increase the drainage and now all I must do is water them until they’re well established.

I’m compiling a list of low-growing plants for the middle areas of the garden (so that the river is not obscured) plants that don’t get too high, mat-forming plants perhaps, and those that will in time cover large areas and so keep the costs down. One such plant is the very useful and extremely attractive cranesbill, the perennial geranium, which understandably got the title RHS plant of the centenary at the Chelsea Flower Show, with the variety ‘Roxanne’ extolled as the No.1 plant throughout the 100 years of the show. I have an entire bed filled with the very similar and equally delightful Geranium x magnificum. It appears as a dramatic stripe across the foreground of my garden with masses of showy blue flowers held just a little above emerald-green clumps of foliage and, close by, I’ve planted a good number of Alchemilla mollis, or Lady’s Mantle, because these flower at exactly the same time mingling their acid green with the vibrant purple-blue of the cranesbills. Other ground cover plants I intend to incorporate include Veronica ‘Crater Blue Lake’ and some Viola cornuta varieties mixed in with some grasses to give a wilder, more naturalistic appearance. I’ll pepper throughout with some summer bulbs such as schizostylis or nerines to have some occasional height break through.






Salvia is one of the largest of all the plant genera with almost a thousand species and a colour range of flowers that is broad and exciting. It sits in the family Lamiaceae along with many of the aromatic herbs including the much-valued sage plant, Salvia officinalis. But while the common sage is prized for its culinary merits, its flowers are not as exciting as many of the other salvia species. Among the first to have been grown in British gardens, recorded as early as the mid 1700’s, is Salvia nemorosa, a fine clump-forming species and of all its cultivars ‘Ostfriesland’ is most spectacular. It is fully hardy and has lance-shaped leaves and violet flowers with pinkish bracts that remain and look attractive long after the flowers have faded. It is a fairly compact plant with an eventual height if about 45cm and so should be grown towards the front of a bed or border. The taller, but less hardy, Salvia patens has the most striking royal blue flowers and perhaps this is why it is the best known salvia amongst gardeners. These delightful flowers are hooded and are borne in pairs in whorls along the flower stalk. If you want a showier version then choose S. patens ‘Guanajuato’ which bears much larger flowers of the same true blue. It can overwinter successfully in milder areas in Britain, but elsewhere it will succumb to the cold, so it is best to lift the tuberous roots and protect them indoors until the following spring. You may want to increase your stock by splitting them. The blackest flowers appear on the exquisite yet slightly sinister looking Salvia discolor, a tender species which needs to be grown at the border’s edge to enable you to get a good look at the deep indigo flowers for the stems droop under their weight. For the most wonderful woolly foliage in a bright silver you cannot do better than Salvia argentea. This plant forms a rosette of these curious leaves and bears mauve-flecked, white flowers in high summer. It is very important to remove the spent flower stems at their base to stop the plant from setting seed and dying, doing so this will often encourage the plant to throw up a second helping of flowers. All salvias perform best in the sun, so it is best to grow them in an open situation where they will get plenty of light in free-draining soil and give them a drink at the driest times.



Herbs have been grown and eaten for much of recorded history, but many are also wonderfully decorative with textured foliage and pleasing flower forms and colours, and so will enhance any flower garden. Most herbs enjoy the sunshine and with our increasing annual temperatures it is worth considering not only growing some of the common herbs but, perhaps experimenting with some of the less usual, tender ones. Of course, to some extent it should be your palate that dictates which plants to grow as there is little point in filling a garden with herbs which you will simply never pick and use in the kitchen, unless you want them purely for their aesthetic value.

Whether you decide to grow herbs for cooking in a designated herb garden, or mixed throughout your existing garden or even in pots, it is still worth making the overall effect attractive by combining plants well. The style of any herb garden depends upon personal taste; some may choose to grow herbs in a formal manner between box or lavender hedges, as in a parterre, many may opt to grow their plants in a wilder, more natural way, while others may choose the allotment style, with plants in regimented rows, but the same principles of horticulture apply whatever the style. For example, thuggish plants, like mints, must still be contained and tall plants, Angelica for example, should not be allowed to block the light from smaller plants. Often, herbs in small pots are bought on a whim and planted in a cursory way so that the result is an entirely haphazard garden that shows a lack of regard for design and for the growth habit of the chosen plants.

Always plan a garden on paper before planting, taking into account the height and spread of plants, the colour of the flowers and foliage and also the times when they are at their best; by doing so you can decide which will look good together and where to place them. Personal taste affects these decisions; one person may choose to have perhaps a bronze fennel towards the front of a bed or border so that other plants behind may be seen through its fuzz of foliage, yet others may want to set the fennel back so it does not obscure smaller plants. It is the process of jotting down shapes and plant names on a planting plan that makes you consider these things.

Site a herb garden in a sunny location. It is often a good idea to have it close to the house for convenience for while in summer it is pleasant to wander to the herb garden to snip some rosemary, it is a very different matter on a cold, dark and wet January evening. First, plant shrubs that will provide a bit of structure, the bones of a garden if you like, the flesh, in the form of perennials and annuals, can be added later. Normally these will be lavenders, rosemary or bay, which are indeed fine plants, but you could try experimenting a little with some Myrtle, Myrtus communis or Chilean Guava, Ugni molinae both of which are evergreen and have pretty, white flowers followed by edible berries. Or perhaps try growing Luma apiculata, another evergreen, for its tasty leaves that add flavour to stews. And when it comes to filling in around the shrubs with fleshier plants it is also worth adding some of the more unusual herbs to the mix, for example, Lemon Grass, Cymbopogon citratus for its lemon-scented leaves. Among the annuals there is Purple Shiso, Perilla frutesens var, purpurascens, which has beautiful, crinkled purple leaves that are wonderful in stir-fries or Coriander, Coriandrum sativum, which will certainly enjoy the warmer summers we seem to be experiencing. Whether your herb garden is traditional, wild or simply a huddle of pots outside your door, room can always be made for a few newcomers to entice the taste buds and stretch your horticultural talents a little.





May is the month for Lilacs. There are some twenty species and many cultivars of Syringa and just about everywhere during this spell they can be seen putting on a marvellous show of clustered flowers with a fragrance that is quite unrivalled in the plant kingdom. The range of colours is exciting in a rather muted way, though there are a few bright or mysteriously, deep purples that make their present felt (S. ‘Mrs. Edward Harding’ and ‘S. ‘Charles Joly’ respectively, spring to mind) However, if you prefer the pastel shades then opt for varieties such as S. ‘Katherine Havemeyer’ or S. ‘President Lincoln’- the first has double flowers of pale purple and the latter is a lovely blue, both give off wonderful fragrance. For a striking white, the beautiful, double-flowered S. ‘Madame Lemoine’ is the obvious one to recommend. Syringa is an easy plant to grow so long as your soil is not on the acidic side. It prefers chalky and fairly fertile, free-draining soil and will in time get up to somewhere around 6m with a spread of about the same over time. One should prune lilacs in the summer and winter to avoid weak, straggly growth. As the flowers fade, cut back their shoots to a pair of leaves just below the flower head. In winter, prune weak branches back to their base, remove suckers and thin out the old wood. Lilacs can look a little uninteresting between flowering periods, but one way to extend their appeal is to make their structure work for you and have a late-flowering climber such as Tropaeolum speciosum or one of the less vigorous, autumn-flowering clematis varieties climb through it.






Ramblers, climbers, scramblers, whatever you choose to call them, collectively they make up a very beautiful plant group and can prove extremely useful in many ways. They can add height and structure to your garden, they can disguise unsightly structures and they can add seasonal interest with their flowers and foliage in areas where other plants have finished flowering or have yet to bloom. They are very diverse group also. Some attach themselves to supports with tiny suckering pads, others use modified leaves to twine around things and pull themselves upwards and there are yet others that use thorns or aerial roots to achieve this task.


Form and size vary enormously. The first thing to do when deciding which climbers to choose is to assess the size of the site they are to fill, remembering that while they may not take up very much space on the ground, they might very well engulf areas above often to the detriment of any surrounding plants if the choice of plant is unwise. For example, a small shed may look very pretty adorned with a passionflower (Passiflora careulea) or one of the smaller Clematis such as C. florida ‘Sieboldii’, but bedecked in the much more vigorous Clematis montana or say a Rosa ‘Rambling Rector’ then access might become virtually impossible, not to mention the injuries one might sustain from the thorns in the case of the rose. It is therefore always best to do a bit of research beforehand by measuring up the area you wish to cover and then matching this amount with the likely spread and height of the climbers you like best. And better to leave the thorny devils, beautiful as they may be, to more out of the way places.


The aspect of any given site will also determine which plant to buy. Some climbers such as ivy or the climbing hydrangea, Hydrangea petiolaris, cope well with a fair amount of shade, but plunge a Campsis or a Solanum into dense shade and you will probably condemn them to a slow death while they rather pathetically stretch their stems out in every direction in search of some much needed sunlight then, weary from the effort, eventually give up the ghost. One should pay attention to where the sun lands in your garden and if you are deciding which plants to buy during winter or early spring make your judgment while taking into account how much more shady sites beneath trees will be when they are in leaf and how much sunnier some sites will become when the sun is higher in the sky.


A little advance investigatory work into how a plant actually climbs will let you know whether or not some support is necessary. Self-climbers such as the Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinqefolia and the afore-mentioned ivy and climbing hydrangea will need no help to climb for they are equipped to do this job themselves. However, many other plants that use tendrils or thorns to climb will need to be tied into a framework of wires stretched between vine-eyes, these should be driven into the mortar between bricks or firmly hammered into wooden structures before the plant is in the ground. One can choose to tie plants into the wire network in either a formal pattern, in a grid for example, which may be appropriate in a formal garden, or informally, if preferred. This should be done regularly during the growing season as the plant develops and demands new places to fasten itself on to.


While there are countless perennial climbers that will fill sites wonderfully year after year, be it a rose cloaking the boughs of a tree or a hard-working evergreen keeping an ugly wall hidden behind its dense foliage, let us not forget the merits of annual climbers which, in the same way as many of their earth-bound relatives can add colour and variation to a garden just as beautifully and very inexpensively. Many annuals can be grown from seed and be used to fill containers or gaps in the garden where they will, given something to sprawl over or cling on to, quickly grow, flower and fill their space in a much more natural looking way than many of the common bedding annuals that look entirely plonked and temporary in our gardens every summer. Among the best are the common nasturtiums, Tropaeolum majus, Morning Glory, Ipomoea tricolor, or, if you want something just a little more exotic looking, Cobaea scandens or Ipomoea lobata, both bear exciting and unusual flowers right through the summer and on to the first frosts if they are given a sheltered spot with plenty of sunshine.