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.





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.


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.