Rachel Davidson-Foster – a house called “Brambles”

Guest blogger Rachel Davidson-Foster’s post on her ongoing quest for the perfect garden.

Was buying a house called “Brambles” an omen?

I hope you will forgive me the women’s-magazine cliché that begins my story; 6 years ago I’m pregnant with my second child searching for a new home for the family; the forever home that will bring us back to our home town and finally (hopefully) give me that plot of land that will give me the space to stretch my gardening skills and give life to those bucolic daydreams of a self-sufficient veg plot that Monty Don would be proud of and a glamorous ‘Sarah Raven’ style cutting garden.

Frankly I’m fed-up, but just when I feel certain that the right house with the right garden will never arrive I visit a place, rather ominously for a gardener, called “Brambles”.  The house, built in 1896, is a nightmare from 1980’s pub design hell and needs a load of work (and money) to put it right – but the garden is two-thirds of an acre of blankness that is just right for me. Even the dead-bunny on the lawn isn’t able to deter me (although it was a clear warning of the on-going battles I would have with its close cousins to keep them from destroying my burgeoning plant collection).

So the house is purchased, but because all of our money gets used making the house habitable I’m left with an interesting problem; how to create a fulsome Gertrude Jekyll billow of a garden with no money? The answer comes via the inspiration of Carol Klein’s writings and telly appearances and a timely direct mailing from Thompson & Morgan’s seed catalogue – I will grow all of the plants myself from seed or propagation, not allowing myself to simply purchase any full grown plant unless it fulfils the criteria of a) providing lots of material for cuttings or b) can be divided into multiple plants.  The final rule is that I am allowed to accept plants as presents.

Spires of Lupins Summer 2012

Spires of Lupins Summer 2012

My first success – Lupins (latin name Lupinus).  Anyone who is plagued by bunnies cannot have failed to notice that they don’t have much of an appetite for this statuesque herbaceous perennial. This was certainly true of the examples that were happily growing in neighbours’ gardens. So Lupins were first on my ‘seed-list’ and have the advantage of being readily available as seed in most garden centres. They are robust plants that grow to a good 3 feet wide and with densely packed spires of colour that can reach up to 5 feet in the air.  They are a member of the legume (pea) family and this is seen not only in the shape of the individual flowers and their seed pods but also in their ability, like all of the legume family, to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere into ammonia via a rhizobium-root nodule symbiosis, fertilizing the soil for other plants.  I could pretend that this influenced my decision to grow Lupins – with my eye on the long-term horticultural health of my soil – but the truth is that I just loved the eye-popping colour combinations and their massive ‘cottage garden’ status.

Some suggest that soaking the seeds overnight prior to planting is advisable, but I’ve never done this and still had prolific success. I simply put the seeds into trays that have got good sandy seed compost and then cover over with vermiculite.  The seed tray is then placed into a tray of water so that the compost can suck up the water via capillary action until the whole depth of the seed-tray is good and wet.  After this it is just a case of placing in a sheltered location (away from slugs and snails that will in my experience nibble at the seedlings) and wait for the first palmate ‘real’ leaves to grow before pricking out and potting on.  Keep them moving onto bigger and bigger plant pots until they are at a big enough size to withstand any unwanted wildlife advances.

Once in the ground they are pretty happy to be left alone with the only real work being to ensure they are staked against any summer storms that threaten to snap the flower spikes off and then to deadhead the fading flower-spikes which is always a good idea to do in the first year of growth to ensure that the plant concentrates on developing good root systems.  That said – from my one packet of Thompson & Morgan “Band of Nobles Mixed” I have saved my own seed and subsequently grown my own colour combinations.

Next time I think I will write about my on-going struggle to grow lavender from cuttings! Or perhaps I will share how useful I have found Sisyrinchiums to be in filling up newly turf-removed flower borders! In the meantime I hope you enjoy this picture of early summer as much as I did being able to ‘live’ it!

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  1. SU WILLIAMS says:

    I love lupins and did buy my first plant, but have since grown some from the seeds of this plant. They are such a majestic looking flower. Lovely article, and reminded me I have some lovely lupins to look forward to in my garden in the summer.

    • RDavidson-Foster says:

      Hi Sue – thank you for your lovely comment. Did you get some lovely colour combinations from your Lupin seed? I’ve got my Lupins properly staked already this year – some of the spires got snapped in the summer storms last year. Just another tip :)

  2. Christine Dodd says:

    You have really inspired me to grow some lupins from seed. I’m developing a blog ‘FlowerPowerLiving’ which will chart my success or failure this year in growing veg and flowers from seed in an urban garden. I’ve been guilty of buying ‘just pop in’ plants for years but now that I have a reduced income, I have to be more savvy. I still want a wonderful display though and lupins certainly deliver on impact!!

    • RDavidson-Foster says:

      Hi Christine! I am proper chuffed that you’re emboldened to try growing from seed! I promise you that it will prove more rewarding and miles cheaper. I am at my most proud and satisfied with the garden when I can look out upon a sea of colour that has all been grown by me (and you should understand that most of the time I am giving myself a hard time because of the mountain of gardening jobs still to do so these moments are not as frequent as they should be!). I’d recommend growing Lavender from seed too, and Penstemons and what summer garden would be complete without Cosmos & Pot Marigolds. Good luck and I’ll go look up your blog too.

  3. Sarah Harris says:

    Beautifully written article Rachel; possibly the first of many?!

    • RDavidson-Foster says:

      Hi Sarah – just seen this comment so apologies for not responding earlier! Thank you for the compliment. Since you posted your feedback I’ve done another one on my battles with weeds and have a few more blog ideas ‘germinating’….. Thanks again for your lovely feedback.

  4. apryl says:

    An great article Rachel. Lupins were one of the first plants we grew from seed in our newly acquired big garden too. I love the way the colours gradually change if left to their own devices.

  5. Nikki says:

    A very amusing and inspiring blog. It has made me want to get my gardening gloves on and plant some gorgeous lupins just like Rachels. More please from this blogger.

    • RDavidson-Foster says:

      Thanks Nikki. Really pleased that I’ve inspired you. Would definitely recommend trying to grow from seed as the results are even more satisfying. Hope to write some more blogs soon.

  6. Emma says:

    Great writing, I am inspired!! More articles please Rachel??

    • RDavidson-Foster says:

      Very kind comments – thanks Emma. Hoping to write some more soon (the darker evenings mean less gardening and more writing opportunities!)

  7. Martin Roche says:

    Nicely written piece look forward to seeing more articles in future! ‘How to create a fulsome Gertrude Jekyll billow of a garden with no money’ is probably a book in the making.

    Great work Rachel

  8. Tom says:

    Hi Rachel,

    A great and inspirational post for a gardener noob like myself!

    I fell in love with Lupins after my visit to New Zealand earlier on in the year and its really interesting to learn the story behind the seeds you passed on to me.

    Mine aren’t looking as impressive just yet but fingers crossed next year I’ll see them in all their splendor!

    Looking forward reading your next post and learning more tips on how i can turn my garden around.



    • RDavidson-Foster says:

      Tom – it was a pleasure to pass on the descendants of my original T&M lupin seeds to you for growing in your garden. The seedlings will bulk up quickly and give you a great display in the 2nd and 3rd years! Hang on in there. Did I pass on my opium poppy seeds too?

  9. Sharon says:

    What a fantastic article, it proves there is hope for us all in our gardens, whatever size. Hope to read another article from Rachel soon.

    • RDavidson-Foster says:

      Thanks Sharon – I’ll try to get another blog article written soon. Lovely to know that you liked the article.

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