Dec 212015

Greys Court, Oxfordshire

On a day out at Greys Court last year, my Mum admired a plant theatre, filled with pansies and violas. In the gift shop, she picked up a leaflet that contained instructions for making one, and then thought no more about it.

On Christmas Day last year, after all the presents had been opened, my Dad disappeared into the garage and came back in, carrying a large present for my Mum. It was a plant theatre, similar to the one above. Every time Mum had gone out, Dad had worked on it in secret. Dad’s not big on grand (or small) gestures, so we were all quite gobsmacked.

The theatre now has pride of place on the wall of the house, and is currently filled with pansies and violas, just like this one.

Season’s greetings!

Oct 252015


This is my least favourite day of the year – the day when the clocks have gone back. But for the time being at least, my garden still thinks it’s summer. Penstemons, phlox, Geranium ‘Patricia’ and verbascums are all going strong, along with the old stalwarts, Erysimum Bowles’s Mauve, Verbena bonariensis and Gaura lindheimeri. Further down the garden, dahlias, marigolds, rudbeckias and cosmos are oblivious to the season. Frosts are on their way, though, so I’m making the most of every flower and leaf.

Below is a shot of the same border in March. The clocks had just gone forward, and all the fences had blown down in a gale. Many of the perennials and bulbs planted the previous autumn were refusing to appear and I was beginning to think that nothing was going to grow. So in the dark days of winter, when the garden is stubbornly dormant, I’ll console myself that it will look lovely again.


Oct 222015

When I was a language student in the early Nineties, I lived in Nice for a year and worked as an ‘assistante’ in a secondary school. I drank a lot of café au lait and cheap rosé, learned how to eat better food and live well, and marvelled that I was living in a place that was almost permanently sunny.

I haven’t been back for many years, and I wondered how the place might have changed. The answer, to my surprise, was: not that much. It’s like the Nice I remember, but better. The population seems younger and more cosmopolitan (it was mostly old ladies in fur coats when I was there), and the dog of choice is no longer the poodle but the pug. The skateboards on the Promenade des Anglais have been replaced by Segways, restaurant menus are in Russian, and they’ve gone in for sushi and organic food in a big way. But the sea is still as blue and sparkling as ever, and the Old Town is still vibrant. The ubiquitous dog poo that blighted every street has long gone, the buses are fast, frequent and ridiculously cheap, and there’s a snazzy new tram system that’s still expanding.

There was one major addition, on the site of the old bus station and a multi-storey car park: La Promenade du Paillon. This new 1.2km ‘coulee verte’ (green corridor) opened in 2013. It was designed by the landscape architect Michel Pena, and cost 40 million euro. That’s a hell of a lot of money, but I’d say it was worth every euro.


The park stands on the course of the river Paillon, which still trickles beneath. Everything has a subtle watery theme, from the water jets to the giant wooden sea animal sculptures for children to play on. It is home to 1,600 trees, 6,000 shrubs and 50,000 plants.


The planting is planted in waves, in a contemporary prairie style, and themed by areas of the world. There is very little bedding – something that’s echoed in the rest of the town. The planting is much more sustainable these days, and no pesticides are used, either.


Interestingly, there is no cafe – a British park would definitely have one – but in a town that is brimming with them, I guess it doesn’t need it. We didn’t see a scrap of litter, and there are lots of park guardians, sadly lacking these days in Britain. Apparently it’s forbidden to sit on the grass (common in French parks) but we saw plenty of people doing it.


Nice doesn’t have much in the way of parks, despite having a very green feel – there is planting everywhere, and lots of trees. It’s something I didn’t notice that when I lived there – life is lived outside, on pavement cafes, and at the beach and promenade. But what is abundantly clear is that this park was needed. Locals and tourists sit on the many benches, watching the world go by, couples take an evening stroll, kids play in the play areas, and teenagers snog. If you wanted to create the perfect public space, it would be hard to do better than this.



Sep 302015


At the time of writing, my garden finally looks OK. All year, I’ve been willing my young, newly planted perennials and shrubs to grow upwards and outwards, knitting together to cover the bare earth. And finally, they have. Many of the young perennials I planted last autumn and in spring are flowering (some for a second time), the lawn looks reasonably lush, and the climbers are gradually covering the fences. The weather has finally been sunny and mild, and I can’t believe that the show will inevitably end soon.

I’ve spent a lot of this summer fretting about the garden, rather than enjoying it. Now I feel a bit foolish, as it all turned out alright. My boyfriend has found my impatience and negativity exasperating – he’s not a gardener, but he understands that gardens take time to make, and that it’s a process of trial and error. In my defence, this is a new garden, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Plus, it has mostly been cold, wet and very windy – not the ideal conditions for new plants. Also, in my day job, I see hundreds of images of beautiful gardens, so my standards were unreasonably high.

In my new spirit of positivity, here’s what has thrived in a cold, wet summer on heavy clay soil at the top of a windy hill – and if they can survive here, they could surely survive anywhere…

Cut flowers

At the end of the garden, where it’s more sheltered, I’ve started a little potager/cutting patch, edged with stepover apples, backed with cordon fruits, and with standard fruit bushes dotted about. I’ve grown Ammi majus, dahlias, Calendula officinalis ‘Indian Prince’, Rudbeckia ‘Cherry Brandy’, white cosmos and tanacetum. I’ve picked small bunches every other day, and they’re still all powering on. It will be a sad day when they finally run out of steam. I’ve enjoyed growing them more than I have veg.

Wind-tolerant plants

When I planted up the garden, I trawled the internet for wind-tolerant plants, or plants that don’t mind exposed conditions, for my south-facing, wind-blasted border. I planted Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’, Gaura lindheimeri, Rosa rugosa, Verbena bonariensis, sedums, grasses and honeysuckle, plus agapanthus for pots. Hardy geraniums, giant fennel, Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfennii, Achillea ‘Moonshine’, Penstemon ‘Garnet’, Phlox paniculata ‘David’ and verbascums have also done fine. I do think some plants were a little stunted by the cold winds, and they all lean a little away from the fence, where the wind hits. I may stake a few next year.

Edible hedge

I planted a bare-root hedge in March, in a partly shady, narrow area that I couldn’t think what to do with. It’s comprised of Rosa rugosa, sloes, hawthorn, cherry plums, hazel etc, and it’s bulked out pretty well. I’m going to underplant it with some hedgerow plug plants this autumn.

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Phantom’

What a brilliant plant. I bought this at a plant sale earlier in the year. It started flowering in July, and is still going strong now. The cone-shaped flowers have turned from pure white to a deep pink.

Raspberry ‘Joan J’

I planted these because they’re a Which? Best Buy. The big, tasty fruits just keep on coming. Next year I’m going to try double cropping.

Uninvited but welcome guests

In June, July and August, I had loads of orange poppies that would pop up, flower for a couple of days, then go over. I’ve no idea where they hitched a ride from, but I really liked them. Orange was never part of my planting plan, but now, I think I want more of it. Cow parsley has also popped up, rather fetchingly next to some foxgloves in my shady border, and I’ve even had a couple of sheafs of wheat.

Sep 192015

Wells, Somerset

Is it just me, or have hydrangeas looked especially good this year? They must have enjoyed the wet weather. I liked this line of them along a shady bank in the Bishop’s Palace garden in Wells.

I have a Hydrangea paniculata in my garden, which has flowered its socks off for weeks. The white flowers are now turning pink and I’m dead pleased I got it.

Sep 032015

St Albans

I spotted this wildlife home at Notcutts in St Albans recently. It wasn’t for sale, but it looked pretty do-able – I’ve got an old wine crate, and I might give it a go.

This summer, I’ve been thinking about ‘wildlife gardening’ and what it means. I’ve been quite shocked at the amount of wildlife I have in my garden, a lot of which is the ‘wrong’ kind for gardeners. Something ate all my strawberries in one fell swoop (ripe and unripe – I’m still not quite over it), and a mystery creature is digging up my lawn. I have earwigs everywhere (except, weirdly, on my dahlias) and omnipresent slugs, snails, greenfly and whitefly – more than I remember from previous years. I live close to countryside, so heaven knows what’s coming into my garden when I’m not looking.

I’m satisfied that I’m doing my bit for bees, as I’ve seen plenty of them. But I’ve seen only a few butterflies, and very few birds. I don’t think I have enough cover for them – or maybe they have plenty of food in the countryside?

I don’t use chemicals, and I don’t like killing things – I  put caterpillars, slugs and snails in my green bin in the hope that they’ll munch on stuff in there. I know, of course, that losses will occur, but sometimes I feel I need to build a fortress of chicken wire and insect-proof mesh over my crops so that I can actually eat something. I’ve got many of the elements that wildlife gardens are supposed to have – trees, an edible hedge, nectar-rich plants, even a patch of nettles). And yet I wouldn’t say my garden has the ‘natural balance’ that is supposed to keep pests in check. Or is the idea of a ‘natural balance’ a myth? Do I just have unrealistic expectations?

Next year, I’m going to experiment with companion planting, and I might give up on some of my more vulnerable crops. I’m going to make a log pile, and an insect hotel. I hope it attracts the ‘right’ insects, though. If I end up making accommodation for even more earwigs I won’t be too pleased…

Aug 172015
Temenheere Scultpure Garden, Cornwall


My soggy holiday in Cornwall wasn’t all bad, and one of the highlights was Tremeheere Sculpture Garden. Set in a sheltered valley just outside Penzance, it has stunning views of St Michael’s Mount. The garden (which is more like a park, really – it’s pretty huge) it is home to ponds, bogs, woodland, sunny and arid areas and native woodland areas. Some of the planting is quite immature in places as it has only been open to the public since 2012, but it is definitely one to watch.


There were two standout pieces of sculpture: firstly, the ‘Restless Temple’ (above) by Penny Saunders, which is one of the first things you see as you approach. The columns have pendulums beneath them, allowing the pillars sway in  the wind, like a giant wind chime.

James Turrell sculpture at Tremenheere Sculpture Garden

The piece de resistance, though, has to be James Turrell’s ‘Skyspace’. An underground corridor leads to an elliptical chamber, whose ceiling frames the sky. We’d read nothing about it beforehand, and were totally blown away by it.

The Skyspace will also be joined by another impressive piece of work. As we left, I spotted some huge columns, each made of thousands of pieces of slate, lying on the grass. I thought they looked familar and have since confirmed that they are from Darren Hawkes’ gold-medal winning Brewin Dolphin garden at Chelsea 2015. They are being installed at Tremenheere, which seems like the ideal home for them – and will make the garden even more exciting.

Aug 032015
Planting near the Minack Theatre, Cornwall


Is it just me, or has the UK got more windy? They keep talking about unusually strong summer winds on the weather forecast, but maybe I’m just more aware of it because I live in a windy place. I’m becoming a bit obsessed by it.

Most of the plants I’ve planted in my garden are doing fine, but I’m always on the lookout for plants that appear to do well in windy conditions. Having spotted this planting scheme outside the Minack Theatre in Cornwall (a very breezy spot), I am now desperate for some angel’s fishing rods (Dierama pulcherrimum), which were swaying fetchingly in the wind.

I don’t think I’ll be getting a giant agave, though – it’s not really the look I’m going for…