Jun 022015
Judas tree

Bradford on Avon

You don’t see Judas trees much in this country, so I always like to stop and admire one when I see one – this one was in Bradford on Avon last week. Now I finally have one of my own, bought cheap at the plant sell-off at West Kington Nurseries a month or so ago. It’s a little multi-stemmed number and I’ve planted it in the widest area of my border, replacing a Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’, which has now been relegated to a large pot on the patio.

The Public Sale Days at this wholesale nursery are famed locally – a wide range of perennials, climbers, shrubs and trees are sold off at bargain prices. Perennials are a few quid, roses are £10. My neighbours have got the sale down to a fine art – get there when it opens at 9am (the all-important wheelbarrows run out pretty quickly), head straight for the expensive stuff (trees and shrubs), know exactly what you’re looking for, and don’t get sidetracked. It’s hard to not get carried away, stuffing everything you can get your hands on in your wheelbarrow. It’s odd what people walk out with – lots of people were buying big pots of daffodils in flower, which would have gone over in a few days.

As the morning wore on, the wheelbarrows ran out, and people were picking up each other’s by mistake. It was a thoroughly British affair – there was some loud tutting at wheelbarrows blocking routes to the plants, some pointed querying as to whether someone had jumped the queue to pay, and some light stalking of people heading back to their cars with their purchases in order to get their wheelbarrow. But it’s all good fun and well worth it – for about £70, I picked up the Judas tree, a decent-sized Hydrangea paniculata, one of my favourite roses, ‘Compassion’, and around ten perennials. The next sale is on 4 July, and while I’ve got little room left in my garden now for anything new, I’ll definitely go back.

May 292015


I know I’ve talked about Bradford on Avon several times before, but I’m about to do it again. We had a wander around there last weekend, and the two rows of houses above the Newtown area, Tory and Middle Rank, were looking as gorgeous as ever. Their main gardens are across the footpath, but most houses have planting outside too. Everything seemed way ahead of my own garden, presumably because the houses face south and are in a sheltered spot. Christian’s garden there is tiny, but for a small moment I could see us living there, instead of at my house, enjoying the pleasant lack of wind. But what would we do without any gardening to do? I’m not sure I can imagine it…

It’s the Bradford on Avon Secret Gardens Festival on Sunday, and it is well worth a visit – there are clearly many green-fingered types in the town. I’m not sure if any gardens in Tory or Middle Rank are taking part, but you’ll see plenty if you just wander up there – and the view is spectacular, too.


Apr 102015


The weekend before the gloriously warm Easter was spent in Devon, on two of the foulest days imaginable. It was so cold, wet and windy that it was a real effort to do anything, and in desperation we turned to the National Trust handbook. Happily, we found that we were near Coleton Fishacre.

I loved it. The house is built in the Arts & Crafts style, with an Art Deco interior, and was the country retreat of the D’Oyly Carte family (Gilbert & Sullivan impresarios). Going around the beautifully proportioned house, you have a real sense of going back in time, and of the fun that the family must have had there – tennis rackets, fishing rods and hammocks are left lying about, and there are elegant cigarette dispensers, cocktail cabinets and record players at every turn. The servants’ rooms and kitchens (complete with an old soda stream, about six foot tall) are on display too, and there’s even a flower arranging room, filled with vases of all kinds, a sink and a work surface – the lady of the house enjoyed arranging flowers from the garden.


There’s a huge dining terrace on the side of the house, which has a window to one side to stop the wind coming in. It continues outside (see above) to keep out the draughts – a nifty idea.


The RHS-accredited garden is filled with rare and exotic plants that thrive in the (usually) mild climate, and spills down a valley towards the sea. Apparently the family used to ask their weekend guests to help with the weeding. It was a too soggy to walk around for long, but it was good to see the magnolias, rhododendrons and camellias in bloom. By the time we left, we had big smiles on our faces – I would love to go back in summer, and explore it more.






Apr 032015


I’ve been on the lookout for a shrub for my main border for a while – something multi-stemmed that would give a bit of structure, with spring blossom and autumn colour. I had set my heart on a Cercis chinensis ‘Avondale’, but  I read said that it needed a sheltered, well-drained spot – and my garden is anything but sheltered, or well drained. Plus, I thought it might get too big. So in the end, I plumped for a Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’.

I’m glad I did. Not only has it brought some welcome early spring colour (and contrasts nicely with the acid-green Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfennii close by, just seen in the background of the pic) but it is proving as tough as old boots. The garden has been battered non-stop by strong south-westerlies that have howled up the valley, but the Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ has stood firm, hanging on to every bit of blossom. I guess it’s not surprising that it’s so robust, seeing as it can be found growing on the exposed slopes of Mount Fuji.

Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ also has good autumn colour, and twisted stems in winter. I plan to underplant with early spring bulbs (it’s already looking good with some Cyclamen coum beneath it).

I’m still hankering after the Cercis, though. Apparently they can be grown in pots, so maybe I can squeeze one into the garden that way…

Mar 152015


Display of crocus and gourds at Great Dixter

Great Dixter

I thought I’d done quite well with my bulbs in pots this year, but after a visit to Great Dixter I’ve realised I should have planted loads more, in lots more pots, to really make an impact. A lesson learned for next year.


Ditto the crocuses that I planted under my apple tree. It took hours, and all I have is a tiny patch of purple. I think a badger may be to blame – there are quite a lot of bare patches where something has dug the ground up. Apparently they like tulips, too, so maybe the the Tulipa clusiana ‘Peppermint Stick’ that I planted to coincide with the apple blossom won’t come up either – eek!