Oct 112014
Gaura and verbena bonariensis


Now that our Indian summer has most definitely come to an end, I thought I’d look back at the first growing season in my garden. The highs, the lows, the courgettes…


My new borders
I dug two new borders out of existing lawn earlier in the year. (Actually, I didn’t do it, I paid a strong young man.) The turf was turned over and left in situ, then topped with loads of well-rotted manure and topsoil. I then left them alone. I was a bit worried about how they would turn out, but I planted the borders up last weekend, and the soil seemed good – easy to work and not too sticky or heavy (the soil around here is heavy clay).

My Eindhell push mower
My dad gave me an old Flymo hover mower when I moved house, and despite its cute retro appearance, I loathed the thing. It was heavy and unwieldy, especially on slopes, and it didn’t so much cut the grass as flatten it. I couldn’t face yet another piece of kit that needed a power lead or battery charger, and didn’t fancy going down the petrol route, so I went for a push mower. I did some research online, and found that everyone loved the convenience of their push mower and wished they’d got one sooner. However they all thought the grass collection boxes were rubbish. There didn’t seem to be much difference between the expensive models and the cheaper ones, so I bought a cheap one. It’s great – I can cut what’s left of the lawn in about ten minutes. But the grass collection bag is rubbish.

Wind-tolerant plants
My garden is pretty windy. It’s on top of a hill, and is very narrow, surrounded on both sides by high fences (I didn’t put them in, and there isn’t enough room to replace them with hedges). But Gaura lindheimerei (above), despite looking so dainty, has withstood it all. Plus, it’s been in flower since June. So much so that I’ve planted a second one. Verbena bonariensis has also put on an amazing show. A friend gave me 10 baby plants this spring, and they’ve flowered their socks off. They gave the illusion that my virtually empty borders were full.

My temporary veg patch
I cleared a raised bed that was full of junk at the back of the garden in spring, and turned it into a temporary veg patch. As I dug out the bicycle chains, bricks, paving slabs, child’s hair grips, rusty nails and endless bindweed shoots, I could tell that the soil was actually quite good. I enriched it with some manure and got planting. My first courgette plants got eaten by slugs, so I rashly planted four more that were given to me by a friend. They all bloody grew. I now have some patty pans that are the size of spaceships lined up over every available surface. I also rashly planted two wigwams worth of runner beans, going against the very advice that I’m forever dolling out in articles. As a result I’ve eaten runner beans every day for about three months.

Sweet peas
Sweet peas are my favourite flower, and it’s a sad day when I pick the last one of the year. That day hasn’t come yet, as some ‘Spencer Tall Mixed’, from a free packet that I sowed late, left to languish in loo rolls and eventually bunged into an unpromising part of the veg patch, have come into their own. They’ve got frilly flowers that look like cancan dancers’ knickers. ‘Spencer Tall Mixed’ aside, I planted a mix of autumn-sown plants, spring-sown plants and young plants, and picked them in succession from May onwards. I put them in a very sunny spot, and their stems got short very quickly in the hot weather. The sweet pea expert, Roger Parsons, suggests growing them somewhere that is shaded during the hottest part of the day, so I’m going to try that next year.

Mara des Bois strawberries
I’d been itching to grow these perpetual strawberries that taste of alpines, and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m still picking the odd one now.

In the absence of a greenhouse, I grew tomatoes in my conservatory. It was fine until they reached triffid-like proportions, at which point I moved them outside. I grew the much talked-about ‘Indigo Rose’, a black variety, and ‘Rosella’, a new cherry type. The fruits on ‘Rosella’ were ridiculously sweet, almost like a fruit. I managed to ripen some ‘Indigo Rose’ eventually (they take a very long time, especially outdoors) and enjoyed growing them – they look very striking when they’re at the black stage (they’re ripe when half the fruit has gone the colour of tomato soup), and I loved the little red star shape that develops around the stems. My only criticism is that they took so long to ripen that many of the stragglers got eaten by slugs.


My back
I buggered it early in the year, doing too much heavy stuff. Hence why I had to pay a strong young man to dig my borders.

The lack of progress.
I shan’t be inviting Gardens Illustrated round anytime soon. Sometimes I’ve spent an entire day in the garden, with nothing to really show for it (except a bad back). I didn’t get half of what I was hoping to do done this year. Gardening is a bit like decorating – there’s a hell of a lot of necessary but unglamorous preparation.

Ladybird poppies
I sowed some seeds in the spring. Not one came up. Not one. Nada. Zilch.

Red spider mite
I didn’t notice the signs of this critter in the conservatory until it was way too late, and lost my little lemon tree to it. I’m wise to it now, though, and have got myself a magnifying glass so I can see them under the leaves before they’ve done too much damage.


Everything takes a long time.

There’s always something to do.

There’s no time to sit in a deckchair.

Even if there was time to sit in a deckchair, I’d just sit there thinking about all the things there are to do.

Patience is a virtue.


Jul 242014
Lavender in front garden


This is my front garden, a couple of metres square and planted by the previous owners. For a few weeks in July it looks like a pint-sized patch of Provence and is much remarked-upon. I love it.

Compared to this time last year, it has attracted very few bees – last year, dozens and dozens of them were buzzing all over it; this year, I’ve only spotted two or three at a time. I hope they’re simply getting a ready supply of nectar elsewhere, and it’s not a sign of bee decline.

At some point the lavender will have to go, as it’s getting a bit leggy in places. But I might just plant more – it’s incredibly wind tolerant (the wind howls up from the valley sometimes), and is neatly evergreen when it’s not in flower. It even manages to obscure my recycling crate.

Jun 112014


My love affair with succulents continues. I was happy with these little numbers in my conservatory even without their flowers, and then all of a sudden, they flowered. The one below has sprouted a stalk that’s about a foot long, from a tiny rosette. Another very similar-looking plant produced a completely different, star-shaped yellow flower.

I just love these little guys. As I’ve said before, the conditions in my conservatory are harsh – cold in winter and hot in summer. Many of the plants need watering every day at this time of year, but not so the succulents. Photographing them next to a watering can is a bit of a red herring, as they’re the ultimate drought-tolerant plant. They haven’t seen a drop of water for days. In fact I’ll confess that the plant below hasn’t been watered for months, hidden away at the bottom of a plant stand. I feel so guilty that I’m off to water it now.


Apr 062014


I have a large wild cherry in my garden that was smothered in blackfly when I moved in last summer – and I mean smothered. It looked very sorry for itself. I didn’t have high hopes for it come spring, but I’ve been surprised.

The tree is obscuring the area where I want to grow veg, so I pruned it to allow more sun to hit my future veg patch. The branches had tons of flower buds on them, so I brought them indoors and put them in a vase. There are no flowers outside yet, but indoors they’re flowering beautifully.

Mar 282014


I confess I have made very little progress on my garden. All I’ve managed to do is prune the apple tree and grapevine and clear a giant raised bed that I’m temporarily going to grow veg in. I’ve also roped in some help to remove a dead tree, chop back another one, dismantle an old brick barbecue that was smothered in ivy and replace some fence panels that blew down in the wind. My list of regrets is long: I haven’t managed to build any raised beds for veg, I haven’t bought a greenhouse, I haven’t planted any bareroot trees and I haven’t started off any seeds under cover. In my defence I’ve been snowed under with work, the weather has not been too kind and I’ve had to sort out the house. I do now have a design for the garden, though (I’ll share it in another post), and a plan of action of sorts…

In the meantime I’ve been painting fence panels. I’ve gone for a darkish grey, which I’ve always liked as it makes plants stand out. I’ve got to paint a total of 200 ft of fence – the garden equivalent of the Forth Bridge. Each panel takes about half an hour, which is just long enough to listen to a New Yorker fiction podcast. In each one, a famous author reads a short story by another author (often well known, sometimes more obscure) and discusses it with the New Yorker fiction editor. The stories are truly excellent, and really stick in the mind. I now, bizarrely, relate each panel to a different story, and will be exceedingly ‘well read’ by the time the fences are finished. 

Mar 162014


A few weeks back I posted a picture of my violas (Viola deltini ‘Rose Pink’), which had been blooming their socks off for weeks come rain or shine (mostly rain). I had put some crocus bulbs (Crocus tommasianus ‘Whitewell Purple’) underneath, and they’ve come up a treat. They’re exactly the same colour as the violas, which I kind of like, but next time I think I’ll plant yellow or orange ones as more of a contrast…

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Jan 192014


These violas have been flowering non-stop since November. The winds of late have created a bit of a vortex on my patio and there have been pounding rains as well. But they’ve withstood it all. I planted some crocus to poke up through them – no signs of them yet, though.

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Nov 142013


Along with a new house and garden, I have acquired a conservatory. Some people have been slightly derogatory about its plasticky look but I love it. On a sunny autumn day it gets distinctly toasty and there’s no nicer place to sit eating breakfast or working. On a dull day it gives a double hit of daylight and chlorophyll, without having to step outside.

The space only covers about 2.5m x 2.5m, but it’s a bottomless pit as far as plants are concerned. It already contains around 20 plants, but looks empty. The effect I’m going for is Andie MacDowell’s roof terrace in Green Card – so consider this the ‘before’ shot.

Needless to say, as with most conservatories, fluctuation in temperature is an issue. At the moment it’s about 10 degrees warmer inside than out, but as night falls, the temperature plummets. It’s still not as cold as outdoors, but it’s pretty chilly. I’m not planning on heating it – it costs enough to heat the rest of the house – so I’m making do with plants that can tolerate temperatures down to about 7 degrees. In effect, I am creating a winter garden. 

So far, I’m overwintering a few plants for friends – two bananas, a fuchsia and a pelargonium. I’ve bought a lemon tree (Citrus x limon ‘Meyer’, which tolerates cooler temperatures), a camellia that should flower earlier as it’s under cover, and some succulents. Paperwhites, hyacinths and minature daffs are waiting in the wings and next spring I’ll start off some seeds in it. It will probably be largely emptied out for summer as it will get pretty hot, but next autumn I’ll bring in all the tender plants that I’ll no doubt have acquired by then.

So this time next year I should be giving Andie MacDowell run for her money. In the meantime the rays of sunshine and handy vantage points are being appreciated by my new four-legged friend…