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





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.




Agapanthus africanus




The African Blue Lily is not a lily. It is in fact an onion. But to call it the African Blue Onion does not conjure up such a lovely image. This herbaceous perennial takes its name from the Greek ‘agape’, meaning love, and anthos, flower and is grouped within the family Alliaceae and, like Alliums, from which the family takes its name, most bear the very typical rounded umbels of little tubular flowers.


The agapanthus was brought back from its native South Africa in the late seventeenth century and, being from the cooler climes of the western Cape, it was a plant that proved able to survive in this country if afforded a little protection during the winter months. It forms tight clumps and has an upright habit reaching a height of around a meter, with the flowers making an appearance late in summer and lasting well into autumn, so this is a useful plant to have around as many of the other perennials have long since faded. Its sky-blue flowers work as an interesting foil to most of the late, golden-flowered perennials such as Rudbeckia, Solidago and another South African native, Kniphofia. The colour range amongst the blue varieties of Agapanthus is extremely wide due to the increasing number of hybrids being developed; you can choose from the darkest blue right through to the palest hues with touches of lilac peppering.


Agapanthus grow best outdoors in a sunny and sheltered spot and in soil that is free-draining, however, they must not be allowed to dry out completely, especially when the flower is forming. A generous feed at this time is always very beneficial. They also make wonderful container plants if kept well watered (though not waterlogged – yellowing of the leaves is a sign that this is occurring).

In many parts of this country Agapanthus can be allowed to winter in the ground if a generous heap of mulch is spread over the crown to provide some protection. Container plants should be brought into a cellar or dark room where the temperature never drops below 5 degrees Celsius. They can be carefully divided every 4 years or so, depending on their vigour, and then re-potted. It is nigh on impossible to divide a plant without damaging the roots, so dip them in sulphur to protect them from disease.






Once again, this is the time of year when gardeners turn their minds towards spring bulbs and corms. Across the country catalogues are reached for, ticks and crosses appear dotted down their pages and numbers form scrawls across their margins, incomprehensible to anyone other than the purchaser. This year why not try to be a little more adventurous in your choice and make a tick or two alongside names other than narcissus, crocus and tulip. Many of the less well-known bulbs are in fact surprisingly easy to grow yet gardeners remain suspicious of names that are not so common.


When buying bulbs considerations such as number, colour, soil type and aspect must of course be taken into account. Only when one is familiar with a garden’s soil type and the amount of light it gets in the spring, while the trees are bare, can the best choice be made. If bulbs are to be planted as part of a formal scheme then numbers are extremely important, while they can be less important if they are to be scattered wildly for a more naturalistic look. Colour preferences are subjective, but it is still important to think of the other plants that will flower at the same time and picture the colour combination in your mind’s eye – Will they clash or will they compliment one another?


Leafing through a well-known bulb supplier’s Autumn catalogue, one particular bulb shines startlingly amongst the D’s, it is Dichelostemma ida-maia, or, more commonly, the Californian Firecracker, a striking plant that arises from a little corm to bear bright red and yellow flowers on twining stems each June. It is an easy plant to grow in a sheltered spot, yet strangely is not at all common in our gardens. It likes to grow in gritty, free-draining soil in full sun and benefits from the close proximity of taller plants which will lend some protection and help the stems to remain upright. It reaches 30cm in height and would prove a perfect addition to a hot-coloured bed or border or as a conservatory pot plant in colder parts of the country.


Orchids, usually Phalaenopsis and Cymbidiums, are commonly grown indoors in the United Kingdom, they have become our most popular pot plant, but we rarely see a clump of terrestrial orchids such as Dactylorhiza growing outdoors. Perhaps this is because many gardeners believe they are as difficult to grow as Orchis, another terrestrial orchid, whereas they are in fact undemanding little plants. Species that can be planted at this time of the year include Dactylorhiza majalis, D. sambucina and D. incarnata. They each produce a stout stem bearing masses of tiny flowers, purplish-violet in the case of D. majalis and a paler lilac in D. incarnata. The flowers of D. sambucina are an intense purple or a delightful yellow. One should grow them in an open situation in damp soil.


Continuing with bulbs and corms whose names begin with ‘D’, and this time for a shady garden, there is Dodecatheon meadia f. album or Shooting Stars as it is sometimes called. This white form bears sprays of tiny cyclamen-like flowers that will certainly light up a dark spot when it flowers in April or May. It likes the protection from a shrub or tree above and copes very well with shade.


Moving through the catalogue as far as ‘M’, Mertensia virginica is another worthwhile shade-loving plant. An herbaceous perennial rather than a bulb or corm, this plant is often sold by bulb suppliers because it too is best planted in the autumn. It reaches a height of about 45cm and in late spring produces delightful blue, pink or white tubular flowers in profusion. It is a perfect companion for the Dodecatheon and requires nothing other than dappled shade and moist but well-drained soil in order to thrive.




Just over the page, amongst the N’s, sits Nectaroscordum, and while perhaps a little more common than the others this elegant plant is not seen often enough. N. siculum bears graceful greenish-white, nodding flowers with a maroon stripe along their centre and, as it seeds itself so freely, this makes it the perfect choice for the more natural garden.


While narcissi and tulips certainly do have a place in the garden it is always worth experimenting with a few less familiar plants- your annual list might even change considerably as you discover and learn about some of the more unusual additions to your garden.


In My Garden

The weather seems to be settling down at last and the soil drying out enough to allow some work to be done outdoors.


However, if the ground in your garden is still very saturated it would be best to avoid standing on it till it’s drier; standing on wet ground compacts the soil ridding it of air which plants require to grow well. It’s the same story with lawns, and here you also risk skidding and possibly damaging the plants themselves so much so that you may end up with unsightly bare patches.

Now is the time to renovate and cut lawn edges though, so if you really have to carry out this task then use something like old scaffold boards to stand on while you are working. You may also want to mow your lawn this month as a milder than normal winter has allowed grass to grow longer than usual, but don’t cut if the ground is squelching underfoot and cut high as we may yet get an icy blast that could prove destructive.

In my garden the buddleja have self-seeded everywhere and I will be removing some of them entirely, but I’ll cut back the ones I have chosen to keep right back to their base this month so that I don’t end up with leggy plants later on.

I’m hoping they’re a dark variety, ‘Dark Knight’ for example, but I expect they will be a more common, though still lovely, light-purple variety. A favourite plant of mine is the more unusual Buddleja globbosa which bears orange, spherical flowers, but still attracts as many butterflies as the Buddleja davidii varieties, however, I’m certain that my buddlejas are not globossa because the leaves aren’t quite right. Cornus (Dogwood) can be treated the same way as buddlejas.

Cut them right back to the base now to encourage many more shoots to grow and bulking the plant up to create a much more dense habit; in doing so, the effect of their winter colour display will be much greater.

I’ve never seen so many annual weed seedlings as I have this year. This must be due to the rain, with torrential downpours driving the seeds right down into the soil where they can germinate more successfully. Hoe them off now before they have a chance to form stronger roots that will make them trickier to get rid of later. Be careful not to harm any perennials or summer bulbs that haven’t yet put out shoots as a sharp hoe can cause a lot of damage. There’s still some time left if you want to divide your perennials to place in other sites or gaps around your garden.

Dig them up and prise the clumps apart using two forks (don’t worry about how brutal you are while doing this as the plants will be robust enough to recover) and re-plant elsewhere giving each ‘new plant’ a sprinkling of fertiliser.

If you haven’t pruned your roses yet then do so immediately or you may end up pruning off shoots that have developed early buds. And, scatter some annual flower seedlings such as nigella and calendula, to encourage wildlife into your garden in the coming months.Image


The weather during the last month has been strange to say the least; snowfalls followed by freezing temperatures have played havoc with some of the plants in the garden. I thought I was going to lose some of the more tender ones, however all but the Solanum ‘Glasnevin’ have fared well, although my Crinodendron looks ragged and shoddy after having its branches were bent double by the sheer weight of snow it bore over several days in January. The Solanum is brown and limp, but I’m leaving it in for a while to see if it revives- fingers crossed. The biggest surprise was the resilience of the newly planted lavender hedge. I planted a row of the wonderful Lavandula ‘Grosso’ (a variety which has very strong aromatic properties due to its high content of essential oils) but on the morning after the biggest snowfall I rushed out to fill up the bird feeders and stamped around in that spot for quite some time before realising the lavenders were beneath my feet, such was the depth of the snow in my garden that day. I hurriedly uncovered them and now, just a few weeks later, they are once again looking like a row of plump velvety dumplings and have already begun to push out new shoots. It is these shoots that will eventually knit together to form a neat little hedge.


Around about this time last year we had a spell of severely dry weather and this prompted me to choose plants that can cope well with drought, the lavender for example, and several upright rosemary. I also peppered the whole garden with one of my favourite drought-tolerant plants, Erigeron karvinskianus, a low, spreading plant which bears masses of tiny, daisy-like flowers. It will fringe just about every bed in my garden with a froth of flowers in summer and with a bit of luck even more will spill down the walls where I kneeded them into little balls of soil and pressed them into the largest cracks. But, be warned, this plant is inclined to self-seed everywhere, every gap in your paving will become a home to at least one or two. I want my garden to look a little wild so having it push into every corner is fine by me. A plant which isn’t so keen on drought is the hydrangea, but I couldn’t resist adding a couple to the shady areas close to the herring smokery. I chose Hydrangea ‘Limelight because I love the strange, almost eerie, greenish white of its flowers.  These are borne in loose clusters which I think are much more pleasing than those with the large mop head blooms. Hydrangeas don’t like to dry out at all so I will have to keep an eye on them in hot weather.

The garden is slowly beginning to green up now. The day lilies look as if they loved being under snow for a couple of weeks and their vibrant, lime-green leaves are fanning out beautifully. I’m really hoping they are a pink variety as any yellow or orange ones (by far the most usual colours) will clash badly with their neighbours. I surrounded them with Papaver ‘Patty’s Plum’ a striking Oriental poppy with deep plum flowers, and several large clumps of Crinum powellii which have enormous lily-like, pink flowers. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure the crinums belong in my humble garden, as they may look a little too exotic, like lofty prima donnas showing off a wee bit too much among the more common wildflowers that surround them. But, they came free gratis from a client in London so I stuck them in to fill the gaps. Their fate is yet to be decided.

The number of climbers continues to increase in my garden with the addition of even more trachelospermums, several clematis, a schisandra and a couple of climbing musk roses. I think that when one has only a small garden then it’s important to use all the upward surfaces to their best advantage clothing them in a variety of textures and colours that will compliment the beds and borders below. I’m already excited by the prospect of my bare and rather unsightly pergola gradually becoming covered in roses, clematis and jasmine blossom. And while we are only in Spring with Summer still feeling a long way off, I’m already thinking about Autumn because I want there to be colour in my garden throughout the year. I have been planting shrubs that are known for their attractive fruits and, come autumn time, there will be brightly coloured berries everywhere; clusters of bright purple callicarpa berries will clash wonderfully with the crimson of pyracantha and the gold of the berries above on the rowan tree. Yes, I had previously decided not to plant any trees in my garden, but I started noticing how few there are in Rye (I often walk along the river Tillingham at Strand Quay wishing there was an avenue of trees to walk through or find myself considering a spot in Rye that could have been home to a fine tree, but has instead been paved over) and so I couldn’t resist planting one. I chose Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’ mainly because it doesn’t get too big, but also because I love its yellow berries and fiery red and gold foliage in Autumn.  The view from the windows of my house is a fine one of skewed rooftops and soon, when it is in full leaf, the crown of my rowan tree will act to hide the one rooftop that’s out of kilter, that of a flat-roofed modern structure in the foreground.