This little patch of mine.

Somewhere on this site is a map of my garden, carefully measured and drawn to scale by me a year or two back. Only there is no scale marked on it, so you don’t know how big it is and nor did I. Well, I revisited it and worked out that my back garden is about 500m2. It’s an odd shape, so it doesn’t really look that big, but it is.


View from scaffolding at end of April. The bushes behind the tunnel are in the far corner.

Armed with that figure and with the idea in my head that it was a bit bigger than average, I looked online to find out what the average size of UK gardens was. 14m2, according to the HTA. That is exactly the size of my front garden, which I’d dismissed as being too small to include. Add it in and my garden is 37.6 times the average for the country. To put it mildly, I was surprised.

I have no idea what is included in the “average” figure and frankly, it doesn’t much matter. I am privileged to own more than my fair share.

I suppose if the garden consisted of rough grass with a washing pole and a couple of rusting cars I wouldn’t be writing a blog about it. I would also be feeling a bit guilty because I was brought up to believe that with privilege comes responsibility, in this case to put the ground to good use. Obviously, there will be a very wide range of views on what that should mean.

I overheard someone the other day saying you could keep four, or was it five? Alpacas on an acre. I could grow veg, or fruit, wildflowers or coppiced willow, lawn or roses, chickens or rabbits; the list is endless, the notion of good use elusive. A lot of people would take the view that as my land I should be free to do whatever I like with it. We are very adept at justifying what we do, even though we mainly do what we want to do.

Mostly it works out OK in that everybody does something a little different and while one person is conserving rare plants another is benefitting wildlife and yet another providing a valuable amenity, and so on. A garden may contain trees that are visible from and enjoyed by people over a much wider area. A quiet, overgrown garden may be a nesting site for birds frequenting dozens of nearby properties. Even closely mown lawns with no wildflowers can be suitable for burrowing bees and extensive soil fauna. Most categories are not exclusive, it is perfectly possible to tick several boxes.

The only rule I have is that my garden shouldn’t be dull, which is suitably vague. It would be dull to some people, it’s all plants and has no barbecue or hot tub. It’s not much use if you’re a teenager wanting to kick a ball about, there being no lawn. But I think I put my patch of land to good use. I grow a very wide range of plants which in turn support a wide range of insects and birds. I have resident hedgehogs and slow-worms, frogs, toads and newts.


I’m not fastidious about being tidy, I have natives including bluebells and foxgloves, primroses and welsh poppies. Heleniums, Fuchsias and apple trees are among many non-natives that are popular with bees and butteflies.


For nearly thirty years, until I retired three years ago, I worked on a nursery, growing plants for a living. The garden was to a degree a trial ground and a collection of stock plants. It never seemed big enough then and even now, in my mid sixties, it is stuffed with different plants of all descriptions. I also have two allotments, adding another 400m2 to the mix.

There will come a time when I am no longer able to cope with it all, which is a situation that quite a few people I know find themselves in. I hope I can then afford to employ a young gardener for at least a few hours a week and give them an opportunity to learn a little more about the profession they have come into. I also hope I can bring myself to let someone else do it.

Euphorbia mellifera

There are one or two spots in the garden where it’s a struggle to get anything to grow. One such place is behind a brick retaining wall where I suspect the builders back filled with a load of rubble. Somewhere down the line we planted a Euphorbia mellifera there and it has loved it, growing well but not too well, so it remains compact, at least for a few years.

However, it is beside a path and it does grow over it. Not the most pleasant plant to push past, just snap a leaf and it releases milky, sticky and for some, irritant sap. I cut off the worst branches as and when, then about every three years I cut it back hard.

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Which I just did. Everything except a few small shoots it produced this year. I would expect a flush of growth from the bottom and will probably be removing the longer shoots before the winter. Next year it will be a neat green dome again, but shorter. Got my view back too.


There are already new shoots at the base, so there is no risk of it expiring.

Six on Saturday – 5/8/2017

Dahlias and Japanese anemones are definitely flowers of the second half of summer. I’m impatient for them to start flowering, then depressed when they do.

Dahlia ‘Orange Cushion’. There is not the remotest possibility of this dahlia ever being mistaken for nearly red or nearly yellow. It’s a bang down the middle orange. I’ve had it for several years and leave it in the ground over winter. I sowed some of its seed last year, am keen to see what I get.

Someone put a fern in last week. Another of those groups of plants that I love, that do well in my conditions and that I have to resist the temptation to buy every time I see one I haven’t got already. Paesia scaberula, Lace Fern, is a New Zealand fern that a few years ago would have been regarded as borderline hardy even here in Cornwall. I’ve had no such concerns for the last few years, it’s in danger of matching the description in my NZ ferns book of “forming dense masses to the exclusion of other vegetation”. It’s 15-18 inches tall with lacy fronds and thin wiry stems. It spreads on the surface by means of slender rhizomes.

Eucomis montana. Very handsome it may be, but it stinks. We moved it away from the front door lest visitors think it was us when we opened the door. We have several other Eucomis species and varieties, mostly in pots, and none of them smell of anything much. You can grow them from seed, then propagate good forms from leaf cuttings.

Anemone x hybrid ‘Lorelei’, or ‘Loreley’ according to some. The last 48 hours of wind and rain have taken their toll on this bloom, but you get the idea. The best pictures I have of it are backlit shots of the back of the blooms. After 3 years it is still a tight clump but I expect it to start spreading at some point. There’s no happy medium with some plants, they sulk or they rampage.

Grafting. In this case, a couple of varieties of Camellia reticulata, ‘Songzilin’ and ‘Mouchang’. ‘Songzilin’, aka ‘Robert Fortune’, was probably introduced in 1824 and then again by Robert Fortune in 1844. ‘Mouchang’ is a more recent American raised hybrid. The pure bred reticulate varieties are very hard to root from cuttings so are usually grafted. Varieties of C. sasanqua are usually used but I had seedlings of C. reticulata and used a cleft graft. I did some last year and got about 50% take.
I’ll do a more detailed blog about them on my Camellia blog at some point. Here is a link to a picture of ‘Songzilin’.

Grafting. Yeah, I know I already did that one, but this is different. The first Six on Saturday I did was back on 6th May and one of the things I included was a graft of ‘Plympton Pippin’ onto my poor specimen of ‘Elstar’ apple. I’d grafted it (simple splice) in February and by May it was flowering. Well now it has a quite respectable sized apple on it. I know I should have removed it, but it doesn’t seem to have held it back at all, the extension growth from that scion is as good as any of the others done at the same time. Apple grafting is easy and it’s a great way of getting better pollination, growing more varieties in a small space and giving you something to blog about.

So that’s another Saturday and another Six. I see ThePropagator, host of this meme, has posted his, no doubt others will follow.

End of month view – July 2017


Every month, for a day or two leading up to making this regular posting, I muse on what I am going to say. Mostly I am thinking about the garden overall, rather than about specific plants, but overall is the sum total of what key plants are doing, so there’s overlap.
This month I had formed a strong impression that the earlier stuff was all but over, a little earlier than usual because of the hot weather, but the later stuff was perhaps a little behind because the ground had become so dry.
So I took this picture from our bedroom window and compared it with the same view from a year ago. Virtually identical. Seems like my June gap comes in July, though It’s not too pronounced. A little more effort to get dahlias and fuchsias going strongly earlier and I will have cracked it.


The viewpoint I have used back towards the house has been all but closed off by the Schefflera and Pittosporum at the bottom of the picture. I put the camera on a monopod and held it aloft as high as possible, taking the picture with a cable release.


I used the same technique for this shot. The polytunnel and the camellias and Magnolia immediately behind it are in the far corner of our patch. Last year I had a pink dahlia amongst the oranges and reds behind Herman the Head. This year I put it elsewhere but planted out the pink hydrangea, so there’s the same clash. I thought it would be over by now, at least that’s my excuse.


This is probably my favourite bit at the moment. Helenium ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’, with a Shasta daisy behind it, which always flops. The taller Helenium to the right is ‘Chipperfield Orange’. I have Mina lobata growing up the metal obelisk, it can sprawl over the Helenium and keep the flowering going into the autumn.


I don’t often mention the front, but we have just for all out vulgarity with bedding in pots, tempered with several Eucomis and Agaves montana and parryi which stay out all year round. So much crap is talked about bad taste in gardening, a few years bag Dahlias were the epitome of vulgarity, now they’re the height of fashion. I can’t be bothered with it. Bright colours are uplifting, the end.

Six on Saturday – 29/7/2017

I am very much enjoying this weekly glimpse into other people’s gardens. This week I have included one item that is not a flower or plant, trying to put myself in the position of visiting a garden open for the NGS and wanting to look at everything. Don’t worry, it’s not my shed; if I opened my garden I’d padlock that! Even so, compared to pictures of flowers, it feels relatively exposing.

Hydrangea ‘Izu-no-hana’. The bloom on the left is growing in the ground which is the acid side of neutral. Most of our hydrangeas flower blue. The bloom on the right is on a plant in a pot. I haven’t checked but I would expect the compost to be much more acidic than the soil. Hydrangeas flower blue in acid soil because at low pH aluminium is available to the plant. In a soil-less potting compost there is no aluminium to be available, no matter how acid. So it flowers pink. Easy from softwood cuttings.


I don’t know what the hell it thinks it’s doing but I have leaves and a flower on Cyclamen hederifolium. Hopefully this will seed about with no help from me.

Gladiolus papillio ‘Ruby’. For me the ordinary Gladiolus papillio spreads everywhere but almost never flowers. This beauty has stayed as a clump and flowers every year at the same time as Agapanthus. I have collected seed and grown them, but not yet to flowering size, so I don’t know if it comes true.

Dahlia. This is a very lovely dahlia. Its flowers are the clearest red, with good stems for picking. I like it very much. BUT it is still not the one I ordered, which was a collarette called Chimborazo, of a different level of flamboyance.

Fuchsia ‘Annie Geurts’. Of all the fuchsias we grow I think this is the weirdest. It doesn’t have a lot of vigour and I have struggled to keep it going and to propagate it. I’d hate to lose it, as far as I know there are no nurseries in this country offering it.

A departure from pictures of flowers, my mist system. I set this up three years ago because I found myself out of a job and in possession of several hundred unrooted camellia cuttings; like you do. For a while I entertained the idea of producing camellias for sale and while I haven’t entirely given up on the idea, I have reined in my ambitions greatly.
It has three mist nozzles running off the mains: fortunately our water is pretty soft. It is controlled by an Access mist and wean unit with wet leaf which cost £175. The pipework, nozzles, solenoid valve, sand bed and undersoil heating cable were on top of that. It’s a lot, but I spend much more on camera gear and use it less. I have temporarily blocked one nozzle and screened the mist, so I have a dry area with heating for seeds. Under the mist at present are Fuchsias, Salvias, Impatiens, Osteospermum, Dahlia, Enkianthus, Rhododendron ‘Lady Alice Fitzwilliam’ and 30 sorts of Camellias.

Obviously for much of that, a mist unit is overkill, but I have it so I use it. Soft subjects like Fuchsias and Salvias root in a couple of weeks, the camellias can take six months. I strike almost everything in half-tray sized twenty cell modular thingies. It makes it easier to remove a well rooted plant without disturbing the rest.


The whole 10′ x 6′ prop house, and why growing camellias lost its appeal, 3 inches tall in 2 years.

You can think of that last item as an homage to ThePropagator, whose meme this is. I’m off to check out his six for this Saturday and links to a number of other contributions.


End of month view – June 2017


Two things struck me when I compared this picture with the same view a year ago. The first was that the flowers are a couple of weeks ahead of last year. The second was how little the view had changed. I found myself searching for the small differences between the two images.

For some reason I find that slightly dissappointing, without really knowing why. Perhaps because it seems like I’ve done lots of work in it and planted lots of new plants and there doesn’t seem to be a lot to show for it.

On the other hand, a lot of garden maintenance is directed at keeping things the same, on the basis that you have it looking how you want it to look and are trying to keep it like that for as long as possible.

Big changes are all too often not of our choosing, a large plant dies or a tree blows down. It often takes a disaster like that to significantly refresh an established garden though, and with hindsight will often come to be seen as having been a positive.


There is still bare soil to be seen, with Dahlias, Salvias and the like taking their time to fill out. A lot of my Dahlias were slow to start this spring, I think I need to find somewhere warmer to get them under way earlier. Consequently I planted half a dozen out a week or so ago and a similar number today.


Eryngium giganteum


Geranium ‘Nimbus’


The first Helenium ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’ of the season.


The double Hydrangea we bought last year is doing well.


Hydrangea serrate ‘Tiara’


Euphorbia lathyrus and unknown Clematis.




Of Colour and Chaos

Six on Saturday

“The Propagator” has just launched a new meme which struck a chord with me, so this is by way of climbing on board. Six things going on in the garden.SOS-1
1) This is Camellia ‘Nightrider’, very dark, very late flowering and with new leaves a similar colour to the flowers but shiny. It’s a very classy plant IMHO.

2) Maianthemum racemosum is for me a bombproof plant given a bit of shade and some moisture. It’s about the only woodlander I grow that is not mauled by slugs. This form is ‘Emily Moody’, which doesn’t look very different from the species but has a formidably sweet and strong lily of the valley perfume.

3) The host of this meme being a propagator, I give you ‘Plympton Pippin’, a fine old Devonshire apple, grafted in February onto my pretty useless ‘Elstar’ and already flowering. I may remove any fruit that sets but I’m leaving the flowers as an aid to pollinating the other 5 varieties grafted onto the same tree.

4) I scrounged some seed of a good Schefflera taiwaniana form some years back and this baby is now 6 feet plus. I love these emerging shoots, like the hands of synchronised swimmers, that slowly enlarge and open out into elegant umbrellas.

5) There’s no need to propagate Libertia, they need no help from me. I grow chilensis and ixioides, which occasionally hybridise to produce this thing. I actually weed out most of the seedlings, which usually look like chilensis, but this one got left. Someone did a review of the genus recently and proposed the name x butleri for the hybrid. It’s got several seedlings around it, which I don’t have room for but I want to see what they do. A familiar dilemma for gardeners.

6) And for number six, another Camellia. I just pruned four foot off the top. It was just getting too big and flowering too high up, such that the flowers were hidden behind the conifer that is just out of the picture. It’ll be a couple of years before it flowers well again and I will try to keep it compact in the meantime by removing any long extension growths in winter. It’s called ‘Annette Carol’ and is one of my favourites, so it was a reluctant decision taken after a couple of years putting it off.

So I wish The Propagator well with his new meme. His post is at where hopefully a few more links will soon appear.