Top Plants for Winter Interest


  1. Hellebores– Helleborus hybrids.  The heavenly Christmas rose is a really useful perennial, ideal for a brightening up a shady border. From whites to purples and some have striking foliage.
  2. Cyclamen coum– a bright, colourful spring cyclamen that looks incredible with snowdrops and aconites.
  3. Edgeworthia chrysantha– An interesting deciduous shrub with a great architectural shape even in the winter. It has small clusters of small lightly scented yellow flowers.
  4. Snowdrops– Everyones favourite. One of the earliest flowering bulbs, it is an elegant little flower. Looks good with black snake grass.
  5. Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’– deciduous shrub with striking orange – yellow stems with fiery tips.
  6. Rubus cockburnianus– A ghostly white-stemed bramble with arching stems
  7. Prunus serrula– Tibetan cherry. Deciduous tree with tactile, glossy copper stems. Beautiful feature tree, prefers full sun but quite versatile.
  8. Sarcoccoca confusa– Sweet box, small, evergreen shrub with tiny white incredibly strong scented flowers. Great for shade. The fragrance can fill a garden quite easily on a still, mild, winter day. It’s a knockout!
  9. Daphne odora– evergreen shrub with lovely scented, pale pink flowers in the winter. Prefers a humus-rich soil, grows slowly and hates being moved.
  10. Lonicera fragrantissima– A shrubby winter honeysuckle with small, sweet fragrant, white flowers in the winter. For full sun or part shade but plant it near paths or windows to catch the scent.

February 2019 – Spring is nearly here, but keep an eye on the forecasts

I’m never quite sure if I like February or not, winter is slowing drawing to a close but spring hasn’t quite arrived. The good news though for us gardeners is that temperatures are on the rise, the snowdrops are looking spectacular, daffodils are starting show and you can almost smell spring in the air.

However, if the weather does take a turn for the worst, last year we got snow at the end of February, it is worth making plans now to ensure your tender plants are protected and don’t become winter casualties. This is quite simple and for most exotic plants, such as olives, Oleanders, palm trees and Cordylines, it just means wrapping them up in several layers of horticultural fleece. Horticultural fleece is widely available from garden centres and DIY stores and is a very important investment; after all it’s cheaper than buying new plants. Bubble wrap or old carpet can also work quite well but the trouble with bubble wrap is that it does allow moisture to build up around the stem which will make the plant prone to rotting if you leave it on too long.

With Cordylines it’s a good idea to bunch the leaves up together with your hands first and then loosely tie with soft twine. This will make fleecing them so much easier and effective. You will need to wrap the plant at least 4 or 5 times to do any good.

With bananas (Musa basjoo), as well as fleecing the stem, it is also worth protecting the base of the plant, by piling up extra compost or bark chips around it. This will add extra insulation to a tender part of the plant

If you have tree ferns then you will need to protect the crown, or the growing point of the plant. Do this by packing in straw or old newspaper into the top and then cover the whole thing with an old pot or bucket to keep the rain out.

A good tip for protecting tender plants with narrow stems is to use foam pipe lagging. This is available in different sizes and can be cut to size so that it fits snugly round the stem like a nice warm jacket.

If you have plants in pots then get someone to help you bring them in on the coldest nights, even if it’s just into the garage or shed.

As far as gardening jobs for February, there’s not an awful lot to do that won’t wait until March so unless we get some good sunny days and you want to get stuck in, keep warm and stay inside. There are some colourful plants starting to appear in the garden centres now so why not inject a bit of colour to lift your spirits. It’s also a good time to plant bare root hedging, as long as the grounds not frozen, and there are some great deals both online and in larger garden centres.

Spring isn’t too far away now……..

Gardening Jobs for November

“November’s sky is chill and drear,
November’s leaf is red and sear”

-Sir Walter Scott

Well autumn has certainly arrived. The temperatures have started to fall and with them finally the leaves. Although we still haven’t had as much rain as we need we are starting to get the odd wet day. Here’s a few jobs to get stuck into if you want to get back out into the garden.

1. Keep on top of the leaves. It’s a laborious job but it is worth while. Keep raking them up, especially if they are on your grass or on your patio and paths; wet leaves on hard surfaces can be dangerous, but don’t worry too much on your herbaceous borders as they will eventually rot down and improve the soil (Unless they are trapped around plants as they can be a hiding place for slugs).
Diseased leaves such as black spot infected rose leaves should be disposed of by burning to prevent carry over of infection. The rest stick on the compost heap.
2. Keep cutting back herbaceous perennials once they go over and turn yellow.
3. Keep an eye on the weather forecasts. If frost is predicted, bring in any tender plants or wrap them in several layers of fleece.
4. Take hardwood cuttings (shrubs and trees such as Forsythia, Buddleia and Photinia) and root cuttings (Oriental poppies, Chaenomoles, Acanthus, Crambe, Dicentra, Eryngium). See Propagation section for instructions on how to do it.
5. Not too late to plant bulbs. November is ideal for planting tulips and not too late for daffodils.
6. Plant wallflowers and other winter bedding
7. Depending on where you are in the country, you may need to lift your dahlias and store them over winter. If you are in a mild area just leave them in and mulch the crown to protect it. If not, cut the stem right down to just above ground level, dig up the tuber and wash off the soil. Let it dry and then store in sand, newspaper or dry compost. Keep them cool and dry but frost free.
8. Raise your pots up off the ground by using pot feet. This will prevent water logging and encourage good drainage.
9. Good time to winter prune your roses to prevent wind rock – don’t worry too much about how you do it as it won’t make a difference this time of year, just cut back by about a third.
10. Start thinking about planting bare root hedging.
11. Normally, we would expect to put the lawn mower away at this time of year, but if it continues to stay mild you might get another grass cut before Christmas especially if it’s dry. Don’t forget grass can still grow even at 5 degrees. If you are finished with it, give it a good clean before you put it away.
12. If you are really bored and looking for something to do, you can always clean and oil your hand tools such as spades, hoes and forks – not my favourite job I must say.
13. Take a few moments to do a bit of garden planning. Look back at your gardening successes and gardening failures and start to plan next year’s projects. There may be beds to dig over or new areas to plant.
14. In the veg plot, clear away any dead or dying plants such as tomatoes and runner beans, dig over any bare areas and mulch with manure.

Jobs for October

Thanks to a nice bit of high pressure over our part of the country, the start of October looks like it’s going to remain dry and sunny, at least for the moment. Cool nights and sunny, blue-sky days are great conditions for showing off the autumnal leaf colours at their best. There’s still lots of interest in the garden and still plenty to do. Here are a few jobs to get you thinking;

1. Continue to cut back any dead growth or flower spikes from perennials such as sedums, you might be able to see signs of new growth at the base.

2. Now is a good time to start thinking about giving your lawns some TLC with an autumn lawn treatment. Rake out any thatch of dead brown grass and improve drainage by spiking or aerating. On heavy soils brush sand into the holes to improve drainage and on light sandy soils brush in compost or top soil to improve the moisture retention. If the weather permits you can keep mowing for a few weeks to keep the lawns sharp.

3. Try to keep on top of the leaves if you can, especially if they are on the lawn as they can turn the grass yellow if left to rot. Don’t get too worried about leaves on your flower beds as these will eventually rot down or you can dig them in giving extra nutrients. Diseased leaves should be burnt to stop any infection from carrying over to next year.

4. We try to give roses a light autumn prune, just to put them to bed before Christmas. If you prune down by a third it will stop wind rock which can reduce the rigour of the plant. Rake up and burn old rose leaves, especially if infected with black spot.

5. Tidy up Buddleias now that they have finished flowering. Cut back by a third, just above a pair of leaves. You can cut them back hard in March.

6. Keep lifting and dividing perennials such as Michaelmas Daisies, Alchemila, Campanula and Phlox if required.

7. As deciduous trees are now becoming dormant you can start planting new fruit trees and ornamentals. Peaches and nectarines always do better if planted in the early autumn when the soil is still reasonably warm, apples and pears aren’t so fussy.

8. Now for the ‘f’ word. If frosts have destroyed the last of the summer bedding or you are just fed up with them, pull them up and get rid of them. Think about planting autumn / winter bedding such as Violas and pansies, Bellis, Cyclamen and wall flowers. Pansies and Violas always do better if planted early autumn and I always prefer Violas to pansies as they flower better, look neater and don’t need so much dead heading.

9. Raise your pots up with pot feet to stop them sitting in water over the winter and give some of your more tender plants a bit of protection. If we get some harsh frosts remember that you need to properly fleece your plants; one layer of fleece is not enough you need several layers and cover the pot itself as well.

10. Keep planting spring bulbs, especially daffodils, they always do better when planted Sept / Oct. Tulips can wait until November.

11. Order bare-root plants such as roses, hedging plants and trees for autumn planting. You’ll save money compared to container grown.

12. In the veg garden, harvest your pumpkins and squashes. Once cut you will help storage if you leave them in the sun for a couple of days to let the skins harden before storing somewhere cool, dark and dry.

13. If your tomatoes are still refusing to turn red, try pulling them up and hanging them upside down in the greenhouse or somewhere bright. It should help them to ripen.

Gardening Jobs for September

Still looking good. Top - Lavender, Ceratostigma willmottianum Bottom; Perovskia and Agapanthus

1. Continue to trim back lavender once its finished flowering.  Once the bees have stopped visiting the flowers, that’s the perfect time. Trim back flower stalks to about an inch into the main plant. This will prevent the plant from getting too leggy.

2. Plan ahead. Make some notes on the position of your herbaceous perennials in your borders. Now is a good time to think about where to move them to later on in the autumn if you are not happy with their current position or height in the border etc. It is always a good idea to mark them with a stick as they die down so that you don’t dig them up by accident in the spring.

3. Lift and shift. Towards the end of the month you can lift herbaceous perennials such as Michaelmas daisies, Alchemilla etc. divide them and then move them somewhere else.

4. Start thinking about buying and planting spring bulbs. Daffodills are pest planted towards the end of the month and tulips are best planted in November.

5. Cut summer fruiting raspberry canes down to the ground once they have finished fruiting if you didn’t do so last month. The new canes which will still be green will provide fruit for next year so leave these and tie in for next year. Pick autumn flowering raspberries.

6. Continue to collect seed from perennials and annuals once the seed pods have dried out to either give to friends or re-sow yourself.

7. Don’t be tempted to forget about your hanging baskets and pots; keep watering, feeding and deadheading to prolong flowering. Most will flower quite happily until the first frosts.

8. If you are thinking about re-turfing your garden or re-seeding your lawn, now is a good time to do it as the soil is still reasonably warm and there tends to be more rainfall.

9. Continue to harvest your veg, potatoes, sweetcorn, runner beans and tomatoes. If, god forbid, there are any light frosts at the end of the month, cover your outdoor tomatoes with fleece for protection and don’t forget to keep feeding them with tomato feed. Don’t forget keep picking runner beans, ideally when they are young and not stringy, to keep encouraging continued cropping.

10. Net your ponds to ensure they don’t get smothered in leaves when they do start to fall

11. Great time to start planting shrubs and trees as the soil is warm and moist so they should grow away quickly.

Designing YOUR Dream Garden

As we are coming towards the end of the season and autumn is approaching now is a perfect time to think about planning your dream garden. Maybe you’re fed up with how your garden looks and want a complete overhaul or perhaps you just want to change something small or replant a new border. Here’s a few tips to get you started.

1. Think about what you want and what you like. Do you like contemporary or traditional gardens? To some extent this will depend on the type of house you have. A cottage garden may look out of place next to an ultra modern house and a contemporary, conceptural garden could look wrong in an old property.

2. Who will use the garden, children, pets etc? Do you want a big lawn for playing with the kids, a large patio for entertaining or somewhere to grow your own veggies? Maybe consider raised beds

3 Think about how much time you have to look after it and what your budget is.

4. Measure up the garden as accurately as possible, to scale if you can using graph paper. This helps you to get things in proportion and helps you organise what you have.

5. Play around with shapes and features on the paper. Maybe increasing the size of a flower bed, adding a new gravel path or a different shaped lawn. Generally, gardens are designed using a combination of rectangles and squares or circles and curves as a theme. If you already have a very angular house then a formal design based on interlocking squares of different sizes might work. If you have a house in a rural setting then informal curves might look better. Go with your gut instinct.

6. Use shapes to deceive the eye into thinking the garden is bigger then it actually is. Curves, zigzags or diagonal paths can make the garden appear longer or wider. Horizontal lines make a garden look wider, whilst vertical lines make a garden look longer. If for example you have a long narrow garden, then plan a curved or zigzag path, a straight path down the middle will make your garden look longer and narrower.

7. You will need to follow a few plant rules such as aspect (sun and shade) and soil type (light and free-draining or heavy clay) and pH. But other than that grow whatever you want to grow; it’s your garden so you have what you want.

8. If you have a small garden, don’t include too many varieties of plants. It can look over fussy. Group a number of the same variety of plants together (this includes bulbs) and try to have the same colour scheme in a particular border. We try to plant in groups of 1,3,5,7 and 9. Single plants of mixed colours can confuse the eye. But don’t get too worked up about colours clashing in the garden, remember they don’t clash in nature.

9. When choosing your plants remember that red and oranges can make the garden look smaller whereas softer colours such as blues and whites can make the garden look longer.

10. Give the garden different views with trees, benches or statues. This will provide a focal point and give the impression that the garden is larger than it actually is and give you plenty of interest.

11. Don’t forget wildlife and ensure there is room for bird, butterflies, bees and insects.

12. You’ll also need to make sure there is room for a utility area. That bit of the garden that isn’t that pretty but is functional, like where you put the wheelie bins or compost heap or the shed.

13. Use reclaimed materials such as old bricks or paving they have more character and has a good feel. Try to use natural stone if you can and if your budget allows for it. It looks fabulous wet, which is most of the time in our British climate.

14 Keep your design simple. Over-designed complicated designs can look too fussy. Don’t get put off, everybody is capable of designing a garden, you just need passion and enthusiasm. The more you put into your garden the more it will suit you and the more soul it will have. A garden should be felt not just seen.

August Gardening Tips – Riotous Colour

Well, August already, where does the time go. August can feel a bit depressing as it’s a sign that autumn is on the way and all those darker evenings aren’t far behind. Combine harvesters come out, herbaceous perennials are starting to die back and leaves are starting to loose their lovely verdant green colour. But don’t despair we can still get a lot of out of our gardens, the Michelmas daisies are looking at their best and Echinaceas, Agapanthus, Verbena, Achillea, Dahlias and chrysanths are all still bursting with colour. Here are a few jobs to think about.

1. August is a good month to summer prune wisterias. We normally trim back the wispy spurs by about a third or to about 5 or 6 buds from the main stem. To help flowering next year feed with tomato feed to give it a boast. The main pruning time for wisterias is the middle of winter (Jan / Feb) when you trim the spurs back to 2 or 3 buds from the main stem.
2. Continue to deadhead roses and other perennials to prolong flowering.
3. If you want to save seed from your perennials for growing on next year, now is a good time to do so. Cut heads of hardy geraniums, aquilegias and poppys for drying out. Collect the seed in paper bags or envelopes and keep somewhere cool and dry.
4. Identify and mark gaps in your borders now for planting of autumn bulbs before the perennials die down.
5. Once this year’s raspberry canes have finished fruiting cut canes down to the ground and tie in the new canes. Pin strawberry runners into pots of compost to create new plants.
6. Put stakes around autumn flowering perennials such as dahlias, chrysanthemums and michaelmas daisys to keep them supported.
7. As soon as lavender has finished flowering take the shears to it and reduce it back to about ½ inch into the new growth but no lower. Keep the seed heads for their fragrance and use indoors.
8. Continue to feed and water tubs and baskets.
9. Make sure houseplants aren’t left on windowsills in the summer sunshine as they can scorch in direct sunlight.
10. Trim back leggy annuals to give them a new lease of life such as petunias, nicotianas and nemesia.

July Gardening Tips – 2016

After a damp start, July is shaping up to be a marvellous month. The sun is out lifting our gardens and lifting our spirits. Gardens always look so much better in the sun, the purples of the salvias, lavender and Verbena bonariensis are looking particularly good. Here are a few jobs to get on with this month.

1. It doesn’t take long for things to dry out in this weather so keep your pots, baskets and containers watered; once a day for your containers and pots, and twice a day for hanging baskets. Don’t forget to feed your bedding plants and baskets every fortnight to ensure they last through the season. Tomato feed or ‘Miracle-Gro’ is ideal for this. You may have to get the hose pipe out to give your borders a good soaking. If you are growing runner beans in pots it is especially important not to let them dry out.
2. Cut back the spent flower stems of perennials that have gone over such as lupins, delphiniums and aquilegias if you don’t want them to seed everywhere. Ideal time to trim back oriental poppies, cut them down and they will soon green up again.
3. Keep an eye out for weeds and pests, especially caterpillars and aphids and either pick them off or treat them with something such as ‘Provardo’ or try out biological control if there aren’t that many of them such as nematodes (for caterpillars) or parasitic wasps (for aphids and whitefly). Watch out for snails and pick them off at night.
4. Keep dead heading your plants to ensure continued flowering, e.g. roses, valerian and pelargoniums.
5. Fill gaps in your borders with bedding plants. Red geraniums really lift your borders and give a touch of the Mediterranean.
6. Divide bearded irises now that they have finished flowering.
7. Tidy up trees that have started to send out suckers by cutting them back to the base of the trunk. Also cut back rose suckers and parts of variegated plants such as elaeagnus that may have started to revert, i.e. turn back to green and loose their varigation.
8. Keep a look out for blight on your potatoes and tomatoes. There is a forecasting system for blight called a ‘Smith Period’ – this is defined as 2 consecutive days starting at 9am in the morning where temperatures are over 10 degrees C for at least 11 hours and the relative humidity is over 90%, in other words blight will spread when it is warm and wet. You will start to see brown patches on the leaves (potatoes and tomatoes) and tomato stems may develop black patches. Prevention is better than cure, avoid growing potatoes and tomatoes in the same spot, try not to water with sprinklers as spores can develop on wet leaves. Grow resistant varieties and grow early potatoes so you can harvest before blight takes hold. On potatoes it is a good idea to remove the haulm or foliage if blight arrives late in the season so that the tubers do not get infected as blight will spread from the leaves down to the tubers by rain splash. The only sure fire way to keep tomatoes and potatoes free from blight is to spray the leaves with a protectant fungicide before blight appears and then spray regularly to keep it away.
9. Give your lawn a summer feed if it didn’t receive a spring treatment and keep it well watered to ensure that it stays green as we haven’t had enough rain this month.
10. Top up your ponds and water features now that the weather is warming up as water is being lost to evaporation. Rain water is best if you have water buts as nitrites in mains water can turn ponds green, but needs must.

June Gardening Tips 2016 – Jubilant June

HERE we are looking forward to a promising summer and a jubilant June. Our gardens are looking fabulous, Wisterias, lilacs, laburnum are just going over but there’s so much more to come. The recent hot weather has certainly stimulated the plants into rapid growth and if it keeps up the top job this month has got to be watering, watering and oh yes watering.

Here’s a few other jobs to think about:

1. Pull up your dead daffodil, tulip and bluebell foliage now that they have died down enough.
2. Now is a good time to plant up your hanging baskets and containers if you haven’t already done so. Remember that they will need watering twice a day and feeding once a fortnight. If you can it’s a good idea to use special hanging basket compost as it tends to have water retaining granules to reduce the need for watering.
3. Now that the birds have flown their nests now is a good time to get your hedges cut and trimmed. We always try to resist the temptation to do it earlier so we don’t disturb them.
4. It’s also a good time of year to trim your box hedging into shape. Traditionally, people say Derby Day is the time to do it. Make sure you choose a cloudy day so that the tender shoots don’t get scorched by the sun.
5. Prune back Forsythia, lilacs and Choisyas now that they have finished flowering. You can also trim back Kerria, and towards the end of the month ceanothus and Spirea arguta.
6. Keep an eye out for pests.
7. As blooms start to fade towards the end of the month keep dead heading (roses, Scabious etc.) to prolong flowering.
8. Cut back oriental poppies once they have finished flowering, they will produce new green growth which will look more attractive than dying leaves. Also cut Geranium phaem and Geranium sylvaticum right back; they will re-shoot in no time and you will get some more flowers if you are lucky. You can do the same with Brunneras.
9. Continue to sow out your veg including tomatoes, runner beans, sweetcorn and courgettes. If grown in pots remember to keep them well watered especially runner beans. Thin out earlier sowings so they have plenty of room to develop.
10. Some early potatoes should be ready for lifting this month. Wait until the first flowers start to open and then do a test dig to see if they are ready.
11. Support larger herbaceous perennials such as paeonies, so that they don’t flop when in rains. I use hawthorn or hazel twigs as they look more natural than plastic or bamboo canes.
12. Feed tomatoes and bedding plants once a week with tomato feed to keep them happy.
13. It’s a good time of year to take softwood cuttings on shrubs such as Hydrangea, Deutzia, Philadelphus and Spirea. (see propagation tips).
14. Keep mowing your lawn regularly, at least 5-7 days (or less), if you want it to look neat and you can cut a bit lower now. Remember to get the sprinkler out if it starts to dry out.
15. Keep on top of the weeds.
16. If you do have gaps in your border fill them with colourful bedding plants– think geraniums, dianthus and petunias for sun and busy lizzies and begonias for shade.

May Gardening Tips 2016 – Marvellous May!

May is truly magnificent. It’s our favourite month in the garden. Plants are growing so quickly that you can almost see them and hear them. Add to that the special fresh ‘May smell’ in the air, a mixture of heady scents from lilacs, wildflowers and grass clippings and you get something truly spectacular. Top of our list of jobs to do this month is to go and see a bluebell wood; a real natural wonder of the world. The first bank holiday weekend in May is normally perfect. Leave it until the end of the month and they will be going over.

Other jobs we should be thinking about;

1. Plant the last of your potatoes if you haven’t already done so and start to earth up when the growth gets to about 15cm. This will stop greening.
2. Continue to keep an eye out for pests. Check for the red lily beetles, aphids and slugs and dispose of them. Viburnum beetle can be a pain on Viburnum tinus, V.opulus and V.lantana. As can sawfly on Soloman’s Seal. Nip them in the bud before they spread with a good systemic insecticide.
3. With any luck the frost threat is over so start to think about planting out some summer bedding from the end of the month. All the garden centres are awash with fabulous bedding for your pots and hanging baskets. Now is the time to plug any gaps that have appeared in your borders.
4. Keep an eye on the weather forecasts. In the unlikely event of late frosts, be prepared to cover your tender plants with a double layer of horticultural fleece. The weather does seem a bit changeable and the forecast (for our part of Hertfordshire at least) for the first part of May is a bit disappointing, cooler temperatures again until the middle of the month; thought it was a bit good to be true.
5. Pull up or hoe off weeds. Don’t forget on a cool day when the soil is wet some weeds can re-root once hoed off so either remember to put them straight onto the compost heap or hoe on a sunny dry day so that the weeds desiccate and quickly die.
6. You can sow runner beans, squashes, pumpkins and courgettes directly into prepared soil from the end of May.
7. Start mowing your lawn weekly now.
8. Dead head tulips and daffodils and trim back Pulmonarias and Doronicums to encourage new verdant growth once the flowers have gone over. Don’t be tempted to cut down your daffs just yet. You should wait 6 weeks after flowering to make sure all the goodness goes back into the bulb to ensure a good flower display next year.
9. Brussels sprouts can be transplanted from their seed bed into their final positions and spacings at the end of May.
10. Continue to keep your pots and hanging baskets well watered to ensure that they don’t dry out.
11. Prune out any frost affected shoots of evergreen shrubs.
12. Prune back camellias after flowering. They do respond well to quite severe pruning if required.
13. Take softwood cutting of deciduous shrubs such as Forsythia, Hydrangea, Fuchsia, Spiraea and Philadelphus. (See propagation section for advice on how to do it).
14. Towards the end of the month think about introducing certain houseplants into the garden such as Christmas cacti, potted azaleas and orchids. All will enjoy a summer holiday but take them out gradually and don’t put them into direct sunlight straight away or they will scorch. In fact, the Victorians used to plant up flower beds for the summer using rubber plants, palms and mother-in-laws tongue.
15. Support your perennials now so that they don’t flop later on.
16. Remember to take time to sit and enjoy your garden. Get a glass of wine or a gin and tonic and really take in the beauty of the plants around you. After all that’s why we do it!