The English Garden – read our recent article in the July edition

A day in the life of a Head Gardener

Waking ear ly, sunl ight flooding my bedroom floor, I rouse my dogs, take my daughter’s and and set off for the potting shed. This familiar wander marks the passage from home to work, and the start of my day as head gardener here at Garsington Manor. Negotiating the phalanxes of fastigate Irish yews – all slightly struggling with their starchy verticality despite the support of tight wire corsets keeping these grand old ladies in shape – we cross the south-facing slope.

Coming around the back of a high brick wall, we enter the ramshackle, masculine potting shed, which is well hidden at the back of a pretty beehive glasshouse, full to bursting with the lipstick shades of zonal pelargonium flowers. Watering the potted plants is the first job

every day from spring through to autumn. It is best to avoid delay. Watering cans, an eclectic selection of sticky traps, a spray of liquid soap (if the aphids are really getting carried away), and a keen eye are the only things required to look after the young plants for this entire six-acre garden, including the vegetables. They are the domain of John Prior, who has gardened here for 60 years. As we collect much of our own seed, I have
never felt the need to buy Nicotiana sylvestris, N.mutablis, Salvia patens or an annual poppy of any description, but not all seed is as reliable and easy to nurture through to maturity.

Read the full article by downloading in pdf format by clicking here.

In the night garden


It’s the solstice next week. It sure comes around quickly..  And that slightly melancholy fact, made me consider the significance of the night garden. For everyone that doesn’t work in horticulture, or by precariously balancing a laptop on their lap- whilst lounging around in the nearest green space, the garden is most often appreciated after -or if you are very lively, before work. Let’s presume after.

This is a little snippet of what can work really well in the inky half-light of a summers evening.  Pale colours and strong scent attract night pollinators so for annuals nicotiana sylvestris wins hands down as it is sculptural, majestic and conjures opulence.  If you have less space then the smaller bedding nicotianas smell just as good. White Cosmos Purity looks frilly and pretty but alas no scent. Foxgloves arent annuals but they seed themselves in unexpected places and look romantic and, if they are the white form , slightly spooky in the dark.

White willowherb is the pale form of our magenta native, it thrives with a bit of moisture and needs a bit of space to do its self justice, but a good stand approached from a distance  has drama and impact.

I love wandering past roses in the evening. Those that I feel are worth a special mention include ‘Penelope’ which is problem free and  repeat flowering. The flowers also withstand the challenges of the weather reasonably well and rarely ball. Fantin latour is handsome and a luminous blush pink. It does only flower once, but definitely worth it for the heavenly scent that id happily award a 9/10. A climbing rose worth mentioning for its form , paleness and fragrance is Souvenir de la Malmaison climber and here, on the front of the house  I have a young (but striking) Cupid, it is rather fleeting , so therefore worth a detour.

Other climbers I could not fail to mention are trachelospernum and jasmine- which always remind me of   warm holidays and have the very opposite effect to all the roses that evoke a very fond childhood memory of brewing an early evening pot of rose water potion for my rag doll. Enjoy your night garden.

Time for sowing your flowering annuals

So late March was the ideal time to be sowing your flowering annuals, but seeds may still be available and if you are quick you will still reap huge rewards for 5 minutes effort. I enjoy annuals most when they are large and loose in stature but definitely the stylish side of scruffy.

Neat, low and overly uniform bedding schemes can seem disciplinarian, static, one dimensional and dated (yes that’s pretty much all bad) but choose carefully and you can achieve a dramatic voluminous display that flowers throughout summer to the first frosts of late autumn. You will also have a garden full of butterflies and bees.

Always check the expected height of your plants before you order seed. This varies hugely within cultivars of the same genus and obviously this determines the situation and your planting partners.

Since we are once again expecting a largely dry season when irrigation will be at best very limited, it is a good idea to mulch the ground after you have planted out your seedling plants. You do this after hardening off the seedlings and the danger of frosts has past. If you are fortunate enough to have a supply of homemade compost/ leaf mould or fine bark chippings then use them. If you are buying in then mushroom compost and green waste are good options.

New cultivars that I am trying here at Garsington this year include the early flowering 18’’ Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Antiquity’ which looks especially decadent in its ruby glory and the medium height C. sulphurous ‘Crest Lemon’ that I intend to thread through my perennial indigo blue salvias. I always fall for cosmos’ Purity’ and ‘Dazzler’ simply because they are tall, elegant and innocently lovely

The tallest Nicotiana- sylvestris (meaning of the woods) and mutablis are another trouble free favourite. Their thick basal leaves develop quickly; creating shade and retaining moisture at the roots. Towering candelabras stems follow, the flowers of  n. sylvestris emitting a wonderful heady scent in the evening. Admittedly intended to attract its night time pollinator – but hey, we like it too. N. mutablis has a more branching habit and changeable flower colour but also continues flowering until the frosts – if you plant in a loose group the plants create a wonderful pale forest of flowerheads, good punctuation amid the rich oranges, deep reds and moody violets of autumn.

Don’t miss your opportunity – if you haven’t already sow now.