My conservatory


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…



Hyacinths in Lambeth

Last week I had to go to the Garden Museum twice in the same day – once for business, once for pleasure. The journey felt a bit groundhog day-ish, but it meant that I got to walk past this garden four times.

It smelt amazing.

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St Albans

Most of my possessions are in storage at the moment and I must admit, I’m beginning to miss them. My plants and pots, though, are divided between my mum and my sister’s gardens, so I see them quite frequently. Sometimes I catch myself thinking, ‘Oh, that’s a nice pot’, only to realise that it actually belongs to me.

The pot in the foreground is mine, and Mum has filled it with some hyacinths that look perfect now, just before they come out fully. The metal ball to the right was a birthday present a few years ago. It’s one of my favourite things – it somehow looks at home in any setting. It came from the Duchy of Cornwall Nursery.

The pot behind belongs to my mum. It contains a hellebore and some kind of bright pink heather – they look pretty good together. In fact the whole patio was looking pretty good, despite my mum’s dire warnings, as ever, that the garden was looking ‘terrible’.

I wonder if, when the time comes, I’ll actually get my containers back. They look quite at home in their new abodes and I’ll feel a bit mean reclaiming them. I can’t see my sister giving up my nice wooden wine boxes without a fight, and Mum is pretty attached to the metal ball… On the other hand there are some piddly pots I don’t want back, because if there’s one thing that I’ve learned about gardening in containers is that it’s best to go big. I’ve got a feeling, though, that only taking back the pots that I still like and leaving the rest is NOT going to be an option as far as the Peerless gardeners are concerned…


St Albans

Every year I think I’ll plant paperwhites in autumn to flower at Christmas, and every year I don’t get around to it. Just as I never get around to posting Christmas cards by the worldwide posting dates, booking the sellout play/concert/restaurant that everyone’s talking about, or buying summer clothes before the winter ones start appearing in July.

My friend Huw is far more organised – he plants paperwhites as soon as the bulbs are on sale at his local market (in September). He has a steady production line of amaryllis and hyacinths too. As a result he is never without flowers of some description and has masses to give away.

These were planted outside, in mid September, and have been in flower since the beginning of November.

Lovely as they undoubtedly are, is it a little to early for them, with the autumn leaves still on the trees?? For me, early bulbs are a pleasure of Christmas, January and February – a hint of what’s to come…

Caught in the act II

St John's Wood

In the course of doing this blog I’ve noticed that whenever I take pics of someone’s garden, there’s a pretty high chance that the owner will be around. Just as I had got my camera out to take pics of this garden, the man of the house came home. Far from being alarmed that someone was snapping his property, he invited me into the garden so that I could get a better view, and then went off to find his wife. Funnily enough a similar thing happened earlier in the year in the same road – clearly nothing fazes the residents here.

Anyway, the garden, which is packed with colourful pots and topiary, looked vaguely familiar, and the greenfingered lady of the house, Jan Morgan, told me that it’s been featured on TV and has won numerous awards. Jan is a property consultant by trade but designs gardens as a hobby. The front garden is a riot of colour but Jan said that not everything she plants turns out as expected – the purple wisteria against the house was supposed to be white, and the white hyacinths that she planted in the front bed turned out to be pink! Sadly some of the topiary has been stolen recently.

Jan also kindly took me into her kitchen to show me the view of the back garden. It makes clever use of the space, with a covered walkway down one side, an arbour at the back, lots of deep beds and a pond. And as you’d expect, it’s packed with plants, which create various colour themes throughout the year. Jan used to open the garden for the  Yellow Book but is taking a break now, so I was unexpectedly lucky to glimpse it.


Tulip mania


When I first went to East Ruston a few years ago I was amazed by its flamboyant spring pots – and they were looking just as exuberant this time around, stuffed to the gills with tulips and hyaciths in every colour imaginable.

Co-owner Alan Gray was on Gardeners’ Question Time last summer, talking about how he keeps looking his pots so good, and I seem to remember that the summer ones at least involve copious amounts of manure and feeding. But I think the lessons I’d take away from these pots are: 1) Use the biggest pot imaginable 2) Use twice the number of bulbs you think you’ll need and 3) Go mad with colour.

Huw’s garden

St Albans

Every September, my friend Huw starts off loads of hyacinth bulbs in old coffee jars (apparently Co-op Fairtrade Instant have exactly the right neck size). And then he gives most of them away so that people can enjoy them at the dullest, darkest time of the year – often they’re out by Christmas. He keeps plenty for himself too, and when they’ve flowered indoors he puts them out in the garden to flower the following year. This year they’ve put on a great show.

I ate my lunch next to the amaryllis – its flower was almost as big as my head. It got attacked by narcissus fly last year but has bounced back. It was having a brief holiday outdoors in the unseasonably warm weather and will spend the summer outside.