Category Archives: In the garden

Flowers for my future garden

‘I perhaps owe becoming a painter to flowers’

… Words spoken by that great artist Claude Monet, whose own garden at Giverny was such a delight and inspiration even for himself.

I may never become a great or even a passable painter, but one thing is without doubt: flowers sing to my soul. I couldn’t imagine a world without them. It’d certainly be a duller one.

And to think, there was a time when all I wanted for my garden was herbs! Ever the practical one… (thinking culinary and medicinal thoughts)

We’re surrounded by so many flowers, it can be overwhelming to try to single out the odd one to include in a garden plan. I worry when I have a garden again that I might go crazy and cram it too full of variety…

That said, I do have 12 particular flowers that I seriously long to nurture. Some I’ve grown before. Some I’ve seen in open gardens around the country. Others I’ve only admired in books, magazines and online.

I reckon my tastes will change in future, but for now, here are the 12 flowering plants I really long to have in my next garden.


Climbing roses

At first I loved big, blousey and brash shrub roses, regardless of their scent (or lack thereof). It’s safe to say my feelings have evolved.

I can’t walk past roses these days without having a quick whiff. It disappoints me so much when they are scentless.

I now dream of arching stems laden with simple flowers in subtle tones, trained up bare walls, their fragrance carried over the garden on a light summer breeze. The closer in appearance to the dog rose, the better.

Some varieties I’ve seen and fancy include ‘Shropshire Lass’ (blushing pink), ‘Meg’ (apricot-tinged) and ‘Altissimo’ (rich red). I’m not sure if the last two are scented, however…

clematis armandii


Another climber – but I’m a stern supporter of taking beauty upwards and utilising the space above the ground we own as well.

Ideally I’ll have a Clematis armandii. I got one of these evergreen specimens on a birthday a few years back and loved how it brought its dark foliage and sparkling stellar white blooms up through the empty skeleton of a tree in winter.

I definitely prefer the idea of clematis winding its way up through trees than up flat faces or artificial supports.

Other clematis varieties I’d like are C.alpina (blue bells), C.’The President’ (imperial purple plates) and C.cirrhosa ‘Jingle Bells (as good for bees apparently as it is for mid-winter flowers).

dahlia rusty


These once-shunned plants seem to still be continuing to grow in popularity, and they certainly won me over. Inspired by Monty Don and Carol Klein, I love the idea of growing them on and then dropping my dahlias into late summer gaps in the borders. They add exotic heat and flamboyance.

One year I bought and grew a decorative type named ‘Rusty Hope’ (orange-red-yellow), but as I moved home they perished from neglect (mea culpa…). These could perhaps be on my list again. Three others I like the look of are ‘Arabian Night’ (decorative type), ‘Bishop of Lancaster’ (a bee-friendly miscellaneous type) and ‘Chat Noir’ (a semi-cactus type).

Look these three up and you’ll clearly see I enjoy the deep, rich colours best.


Eryngium bourgatii

I never had any luck growing these from seed. And I tried two years running! Boo.

Next time I’ll buy these ready-grown I reckon. They’re worth the extra expense to me. I have to have them for their spiky structural quality – stems, leaves and flowerheads – and their beautiful blue hue.

lavender no 6


I have a little thing at the moment for the seating-and-summer-eating area in my next garden to be provençal in style, and no such area could be without its lavender.

Nothing fancy (I have grown the rabbit-eared L.stoechas before with great success), just the simple “English lavender” type, L.angustifolia, for that form which contrasts with things around it: the narrow spikes and pale blue specks clustered at the tips.

Of course, that scent is irresistible as well!


Alchemilla mollis

“Lady’s mantle” is an unassuming flowerer that supposedly spreads like mad. Never so in mine or my parents’ garden, sadly.

One day I’m adamant it will though. I yearn for its softness of shape, its ground-covering habit and the use of those acidic little blossoms in flower arranging as well as outdoors.

Gladiolus murielae

Also known as “Abysinnian gladiolus”, I have only ever seen these online (I’m pretty sure the fantastic photographs of @gardenlivingno on Instagram first brought it to my attention).

I was lovestruck straightaway.

It’s so simply elegant and has a crisp contrast in its blooms between a pure white edge and sumptuous purple hearts.

IMG_0787 (1)

Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’

This one is probably popping up everywhere, almost as much as its incongruous cousin Crocosmia crocosmifolia, whose lurid orange flowers I despise (perhaps because it popped up a lot around the garden where I grew up).

Nevertheless, C. ‘Lucifer’ is anything but wishy-washy and uncertain. It is definitely and defiantly rich red in coloration. It is a brilliant statement plant.

I planted 30 corms in my last garden, but they never came to much before I moved on. They were transplanted to my parents’ place and now, two years on, are positively thriving. They have sprung up taller than ever, and the red trumpets are almost ready for their fanfare.

rudbeckia goldsturm


Most particularly, the variety R.fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’, with its dark centres and radiant yellow petals. They almost invoke the sun to come out and caress them. Planted alongside Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, their heavenly glow valiantly battles the devilish red. A marvellous spectacle in late summer.



I took some tiny seedlings from my previous garden to my mum and dad’s. Little did I know they were the offspring of my last Angelica archangelica.

Boy have we known it this summer! They became towering colossi, pushing and shoving each other for dominance of the front garden. They got plenty of admiration and enquiries from neighbours.

Why? Their thick hollow stems and giant leaves lead the gaze up to huge green floral globes that bees and hoverflies can’t resist.

What’s more, these are prolific self-seeders. Once you’ve got one, you’ll never go short!

hellebore 2


I actually used to hate these, but now I think they’re pretty fine. No winter garden is complete without a few hellebores. I particularly like H.niger and Helleborus x hybridus in their range of colours.

I think the lighter shades are perhaps better, given we tend to have dark mud as their backdrop rather than snow nowadays. I’ll probably include a few darker specimens too though, just in case we get snow…



No list of this sort would be complete without tulips. The soil around here is very heavy clay on the whole, and tulips are originally native to light, gravelly soils, so I think growing in pots is a better option.

I’ve done this before, just as the stars of Gardeners’ World tend to, and it has the added benefit of mobility. If you’ve a rather bare spot or want to dress a doorway for guests, simply shift the blooms.

I love parrot varieties, but also have a thing at the moment for the pretty pale types like ‘White Triumphator’, ‘Très Chic’, ‘Ballade’. An added beauty is, when growing in pots especially, you can change the display each year – never a dull moment!

Which flowers can’t you live without? What are your thoughts on my list?

What I learnt from my first garden

‘People come to my garden and they say “oh, what a wonderful escape”, and my line is “it’s an escape to reality”. This is the real world… This is actually what it’s like – Alan Titchmarsh (gardener, TV presenter, author)

If you’ve seen my previous blog, you’ll know that getting out into the garden was a huge part of my life in my last home. I lived there for three years. Over that time the garden underwent a fair amount of change.

MZVB1165I think it’s right to say, though, that my mindset and experience underwent even greater developments. Here are the things I learnt from my own first garden.

I really do love gardening

I discovered that gardening wasn’t a fad. It’s not a pastime I dreamt about in anticipation of getting my own first patch of planet Earth, which I then cast aside when I grew bored with it. The garden never got raggedy, unkempt and unloved.

Now that I’m garden-less again – unless you count fiddling with my mum and dad’s patch from time to time – I’m always looking ahead. I can hardly wait to have my own space again. I have to visit other gardens regularly to keep myself from going mad…

Grow your own

Pre-grown plants bought in containers from nurseries are straightforward and add instant impact to your outdoor space, but they’re more expensive.

They also restrict your options. Garden centres can only stock so many species.

Your own sown, lovingly nurtured plants cost you less and will give you a greater number of plants in the end. Some potted plants that can be raised from seed can cost £8, for example, whereas a packet of 50 seeds might set you back just £2!

Growing your own plants from seed brings in another layer of interest and excitement to this hobby of mine. It gave me more jobs to do. It kept me tied to the cycles of the garden.

Besides raising my own plants from seed, I discovered the joys of dividing established specimens. It’s possible with many plants and it’s highly satisfying, filling up empty spaces for free.

Self-seeding plants are also a gift from the gods! You’ll end up with fantastic plant combinations you’d never have composed yourself if you give it time.

Restrain yourself

While sowing seeds and dividing plants is wonderful, you’ve got to be careful to time it all right.

More than once I got carried away by a bright January day or a dry March morning. I sowed seeds and put them under the skylight in the attic to germinate, or dug up clumps of something, divided them, and tried to plant them out into near-freezing soil.

The results were at best problematic, at worst disastrous. If a plant survived its growth was stunted and distorted or leggy and weak. Alternatively, a plant just never pulled through my premature actions.

Foliage force

We’re all aware of flower power. You get so many different flower shapes, sizes and colours. They’re one of the best bits of gardening.

But also remember the strength of varied foliage. This is the foil, the backdrop, of any flowering your garden contains. What’s more, it’s intriguing in and of itIMG_0376self. Intermingle fine, frothy foliage with long, lucid leaves and your interest will always be piqued.

Taller foliage is fantastic for separating sections of your garden. In mine, I used the tallness of mature lovages, angelicas, buddleja and bamboo to block out the neighbours below, as all we had otherwise was a fence half my height.

Size matters

My first garden was at the back of a terraced house, so it wasn’t large at all. For some people this might inhibit their creativity. I was determined to pack the place as full as I could with greenery and flowers.

I used full-sized plants mostly, but I also made sure I utilised dwarf varieties where necessary. For example, in my last year there I decided to grow broad beans. I opted for The Sutton AGM and this was highly effective. The plants grew strongly, survived in the ground with no issues and bore me a bumper crop of beans.

Smaller varieties reduce the limitations you might feel are imposed on you by your plot. Vertical growing also helps. I used trellis and cane wigwams to bring flowers like sweet peas, clematis and honeysuckle up to head height.

My grandparents who had bought the house had left behind plastic hanging baskets that slotted onto nails in the fencing, allowing me to add further embellishment, covering otherwise bare surfaces and increasing productivity.

Going potty

When the borders became full to capacity, pots in varying sizes and shapes came to the rescue.

What’s amazing about using pots is that they allow frequent re-design of your garden. All you have to do is whip out plants that have done their bit, and pop in some new ones.

Furthermore, pots are mobile. They don’t need to stay in the same place for long. If you don’t like them where they are, simply shift them to another corner of the garden!

All-year interest

Year-round interest is essential if you’re not going to get fed up of looking out the window in certain months.

In my first year, I filled the garden with pre-grown, nursery-bought herbaceous perennials, herbs and smaller shrubs.

I learnt by the second year to include more evergreen species as well as plants with interesting barks. By the time I moved out, I had things like Cornus sibirica “Alba” for its rich red stems and a fairly tall Eucalyptus, through which twined evergreen Clematis armandii.

Try, try again

If at first something doesn’t work, be comforted. In gardening, winter wipes the slate clean. And even outside of that season you have plenty of opportunity to dig a plant up and re-position it where it might do or look better. Just be sure to do this when the weather isn’t too hot and dry, or the ground too cold and sodden.

Tied in with this, and with the idea of timing things right in the garden, is the importance of planning ahead.

I’m now certain that when I have another garden I’ll take plenty of time to measure the space, get to grips with where the sun shines, where shade falls and any frost pockets and boggy bits.


These are just the most outstanding things I learnt from my time in my first garden of my own. There will be an array of other, smaller things, perhaps specific to particular plants, but this post isn’t about them.

Do you remember your first garden? Or maybe you’re still gardening there? What did you learn then that has stuck with you ever since?

The Jewel Garden by Monty and Sarah Don

‘Gardening combines all the beneficial qualities of sunlight, weather, activity and a sense of purpose’ – Monty Don (gardener, TV presenter, writer)

These words are written on page 55 of Monty and his wife Sarah’s 182-page book, and in my mind, are the truest expression of the whole thing.


‘The Jewel Garden: A Story of Despair and Redemption is a short autobiography split into two sections. The first leads from life in London (and flashbacks to childhoods) to the authors’ arrival at Longmeadow with its two acres of land. The second part guides us from beginning to end of a typical year there.

With no garden at the moment, I find myself pottering around the kitchen mostly. But this love of being in the kitchen is fiercely rivalled by being outside sowing seeds, planting out and pruning. Now, besides having a mini “greenhouse”, the other way I stay connected to my earthy passion is through dipping into gardening books.

Why this book though? It definitely isn’t my usual choice. It’s not packed with pictures, although both sections contain a set of snaps illustrating key points in the tale.

No – this book inspires on another level. It’s much deeper than the usual picture book. I love them and they give me endless pleasure and ideas.  ‘The Jewel Garden’ draws you in through its openness. Especially poignant are Monty’s depictions of depression, with which he suffers acutely, alongside Sarah’s experience of it from “the other side of the fence”.

This is one of the great things about this book – it’s a truly two-character affair, even if we do chop and change between authors regularly. The equal partnership of vetoing and compromise touched on by Monty in his other books is alive here.

Greater than the insights into mental anguish is the redemption pointed out in the title. Depression comes and goes. However, there are healing balms. Gardening, as the quote given at the start points out, is chief among these for Monty.

It is tried and tested for others too. One charity, Gardening Leave, employed it for ex-servicemen and women, though sadly its worth was not valued enough. Even the Gardeners’ World magazine in December 2015 mentioned how the Journal of Public Health has just revealed the benefits of gardening on personal wellbeing.

For my part, suffering with anxiety, being in a garden (whether mine or someone else’s) really does have a soothing effect within moments.


If you’re wanting a book packed with images to help you fill out your next seed catalogue order form, this is not the one. If you’re after a horticultural how-to, this is also not for you – even if there is the odd scrap of advice, such as how Monty and Sarah treat their tulips each year.

Nor is this a conventional autobiography – much as I’d thoroughly enjoy that and can live in hope. It’s more like an extended chapter or two of the couple’s life together.

But that in itself is satisfying. It’s also extremely rewarding. In ‘The Jewel Garden’ we read of two people who lived through a sort of mist for many years, working at different things that didn’t quite work for them. These same two people found themselves struck harshly by a recession which many of us will relate to from these last few years. However, absolutely key is the fact that this couple found a home, founded a family and found themselves doing what they love best. And they stuck together to manage this.

Truly inspirational. Whether from the library or a bookshop, I recommend you give this book a read.

Overall rating: 8 out of 10

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