Planning a Cutting Garden

This season I have decided to start my own cutting garden, mainly because I find I am totally incapable of cutting flowers from the garden to bring into the house. I end up buying cut flowers from the supermarket because I can’t bear to denude my own garden plants. This can prove quite costly, and, by growing my own, I could save around five pounds a week, which amounts to an annual saving of around two hundred and fifty pounds. That is one very good reason to give it a go! I have also found that I have a very limited choice of variety and colour when buying flowers in a supermarket.

Cut flower varieties are chosen by professional growers, primarily for their length of vase life and their ability to withstand the rigours of long distance travel. This limits the number which would be suitable, and thus, the degree of choice in the shops. There will never be, for instance, sweet peas for sale in the local supermarket, as their vase life is only 3 – 5 days, and they are so delicate that they would be easily damaged in transit. As my cut flowers will only have to travel up the garden path, I can choose whichever varieties take my fancy. And if they die after a few days, there will be plenty more in the cutting patch to take their place.

I can also choose varieties for a specific reason, such as fragrance, which is very important to me, so I can choose flowers for their scent alone, if I want to. I love rich, jewel – like colours, so I can select a personal colour palette of purples, reds and strong blues, as well as oranges and hot pinks, which will complement each other well in a vase. I can also select for flower type, shape, size and textures to help me to achieve my ideal arrangements. There is a great creative freedom in growing your own cut flowers, which is lost in the selection of a bunch of supermarket roses.

I have already chosen and bought my seeds – many are Thompson & Morgan annuals, but I have had to go further afield for some more unusual varieties, like Bupleurum rotundifolium ‘Griffithii’, Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’, Anchusa Capensis ‘Blue Angel’ and Melianthus Major.

Choosing was an absolute labour of love and one of my favourite jobs of the whole year! Once they arrived I drew up a sowing plan, based on the sowing information given on the packet, and my own experience from previous years. I tend to wait, for instance, to sow cosmos until light levels are good, as my early sown seedlings have often been leggy and weak. Later sowings have been much more robust.

So, the propagator is on, and … there are babies! The first seeds have germinated, so they will be moved out of the propagator onto a warm, light windowsill to grow on, leaving space for the germination of the next batch of seeds. And repeat!

It must mean that spring is just around the corner …

Jane Scorer
Hoe hoe grow

How to make an evergreen Christmas garland

garland1Creating a beautiful Christmas garland for a staircase depends more on having access to a plentiful supply of foliage, than it does upon creative abilities. Before you contemplate making your own garland, have a walk around the garden and note what greenery is available. You will need enough evergreens to generously cover at least double the length of the space to be covered.

You will need to cut pieces of conifer about 30 – 40cm long, depending on the size and scale of your project. The easiest way to ensure that you have enough branches to cut, is to build it into your annual pruning routine, so that an area is left unpruned earlier in the year, ready for this December cutting.

The conifer will form the base layer of your garland, and you can add as many other layers as you like, to this. I usually add Holly and two or three different ivys, using variegated foliage as well, to lend extra colour and interest. What else you include in your garland is a matter of personal choice, and your trip around the garden will give you lots of ideas about other evergreens you would like to use. Over the years I have tried using euonymous, laurel, aucuba, Clematis armandii and Viburnum Tinus, amongst others. Although larger leaves look great initially, they do not last like the conifer and Holly, and may need renewing at some point. The best thing to do is just to experiment and find what works for you.

Begin your garland by cutting and fixing a long piece of wire firmly in place, down your staircase, which will form the backbone of the whole structure. As we have a spindled staircase, I can secure the main wire several times with smaller wire ties, too.

Work can now begin, building up the layers of the garland, ensuring that use of greenery is generous. The branches of conifer can be fixed to the main wire horizontally if it is in short supply, but it looks much better if positioned vertically, as this makes for a fuller, more luxurious effect. I use fine horticultural wire to fix the foliage in position, twisting the wire around the stems for added stability.

Once the base layer of conifer clippings is complete, you can start the next layer, and this, like everything else, is a matter of personal preference. I use Holly for the second layer, and position the stems horizontally on top of the conifer, close to the main wire. The Holly will need to be wired into place too. A little tip is to cut long pieces of wire to make the initial fixings of the conifer clippings, and these can be used again for later layers of greenery, saving time, and making the whole process much easier.

I like to add a third layer of Ivy (which can disguise a multitude of sins!), which can be used horizontally, vertically, or a mix of both.

Keep adding greenery until your garland is lush and dense, and keep standing back to look at the overall effect, so that you can fill bare patches. You can then add the finishing touches – I usually add a string of small white lights, but over the years have tried all sorts of things, including tinsel, bows, ribbons and silken rope.

A home made garland is a traditional way of bringing greenery into the house to enjoy, and will give your home a truly festive feel at virtually no cost.

Have a very happy, home-made Christmas!

Preparing for winter

The changing colour of leaves from the garden

The changing colour of leaves from the garden

Autumn can be the cruellest of seasons, lulling us into thinking it is still summer, with rays of mellow sunshine followed by a blast of the East wind, to remind us that winter is not far away! When the sun is shining it is tempting to leave the garden undisturbed and enjoy every moment, but plans need to be in place for the frosts which will certainly be coming at some point.

Although many plants are still looking remarkably good for the time of year, there are a growing number which have already fallen victim to the dropping temperature and shortening days. The leaves are changing colour on the trees too, and they are beginning to fall, especially if there is any degree of wind.

Preparing for winter, but some of the blooms haven't caught up yet!

Preparing for winter, but some of the blooms haven’t caught up yet!

So, it is best to be prepared for the first frosts, to ensure that you are not taken unaware when it happens. Really precious, tender plants should be in the greenhouse already, although there is no need for additional heat until the night time temperatures fall further.

There is an excellent  RHS app which can be downloaded free onto your phone or tablet, called ‘Grow Your Own’. It has a ‘Frost Alert’ which can be customised to your postcode, and will warn you of an impending frost, giving precious time to take further precautions.

Many garden plants are totally hardy, and can cheerfully cope with any amount of winter weather, whilst borderline hardy plants can be brought into a frost free greenhouse, conservatory or garage to overwinter. Failing that, they can be given a degree of protection outside, using horticultural fleece, or a mulch. Fleece sleeves, which slip over plants, are a quick and easy way to protect vulnerable plants. Fleece allows air to circulate whilst plastic would cause the plant to rot, due to moisture trapped inside. A mulch of compost or straw for example, can be used to protect the roots of frost tender plants.

Beautiful in bloom

Beautiful in bloom

Certain plants, such as tree ferns, have specific requirements and they need to have their crowns protected, by stuffing the base of the fronds with straw. Some succulents, such as certain agaves, can cope with reasonably low temperatures, but need to be kept dry to prevent root rot.

Dahlias and cannas can be left in the ground until the first frost, when their foliage will be blackened. They should then be dug up, and excess soil removed from around the tubers. These can then be stored in a dry frost free place until they can be brought into growth again next spring.

There are inevitably some sacrificial plants, usually annuals, as it is not always practical or possible to ‘save’ everything from the rigours of the winter, and, indeed, there are many plants which are better grown afresh every season.

It is possible to get the majority of tender plants safely through the winter, but this depends on a little planning and preparation.

You can find me at

Jane Scorer
Hoe hoe grow

See my biog for more about me!  J.



Planting Roses in Autumn

There are compensations for the dark evenings and cooler days of autumn, as they herald the beginning of the traditional planting season. Although container grown plants can be planted at any time of the year, autumn is the preferred time to encourage well established root systems before the surge of growth in spring. Bare rooted plants can also be planted once their dormancy has begun, and this can be a very cost effective way to purchase, particularly as rose plants can be expensive.

planting roses in autumn

Roses can live for many years in the garden, and initial care taken with planting can assist health and longevity. Even though there are many different varieties, their needs are broadly similar and whilst certain varieties can tolerate some shade, most roses thrive in full sun, and will benefit from being planted in the sunniest parts of the garden.

planting roses in autumnIf you decide to buy bare root roses, take them out of the packaging immediately on arrival and immerse the roots in a bucket of cold water for several hours, to rehydrate them. If you prefer to purchase container grown roses, ensure that they, too, are well watered before planting.

Be generous when planting your rose — generous hole, generous feed, generous can of water!

Begin by digging over the ground where you wish to plant your rose, to ensure that the area is free from weeds and stones. Then, dig a planting hole which is wider and deeper than you actually need, taking care to loosen the soil at the base of the hole, so that roots can spread easily. Also ensure that there is little else planted around the rose itself. Once it gets established it will be much more able to cope with other plants encroaching, but in the early days, will benefit from lack of competition. Patio roses, particularly, soon give up and fail to thrive if they have to compete with vigorous perennials.

planting roses in autumnOnce you have dug your hole, put a generous amount of compost or well rotted manure in the bottom then mix in the required amount of rose fertiliser, to give the plant a good start. Before handling the rose, do remember to put on thorn-proof gloves, as those thorns can be dangerous! Then place the rose in position, ensuring that it is planted to the same depth as it was previously. The graft union should be just below the surface of the soil. If you are planting a container grown rose, fill around the root ball with compost and firm in, to dispel air pockets. If you are planting bare root plants, ensure that the roots are not damaged as you carefully backfill with compost.

All newly planted roses will benefit from a generous watering after planting, and regular watering until they are established.

If you take the care and attention to give your new rose the best start you can, then you should have a beautiful addition to your garden, which will give pleasure for many years to come.

Rose ‘Sweet Spot Calypso’

Rose ‘Sweet Spot Calypso’ is a very distinctive rose, and is part of a completely new breed called ‘Decorator roses’, and, as such, does not fit into any of the existing categories we are so familiar with. It is not a Hybrid Tea, or a Floribunda or a Patio  … but a Decorator rose ! The ‘Sweet Spot’ roses are being hailed as an exciting new development, as they should flower constantly from June to October, and unlike many other roses, they shed their dead petals, leaving the plant looking tidy.

rose sweet spot calypso

The single blooms are strongly coloured, with variations of tone in each flower. There is a striking ‘eye’ in the centre, made up of a darker red, surrounded by a yellow halo, with prominent stamens of a slightly darker hue.The whole effect is quite dramatic, as the colours are rich, and contrast well with each other. The flowers change shade, as they gradually fade with age.

I was fortunate enough to be asked by Thompson & Morgan if I would trial two of these roses, with the proviso that I would blog honestly about their progress. That was a year ago, and I am only just posting now, as I wanted to know how these roses would perform over time.

rose sweet spot calypso

I was sent two plants, and the photo shows how they looked straight after they were taken out of their packaging, on arrival. One appeared much more vigorous than the other, was bushier, and had more leaves. The other had some yellowing and dead leaves, and showed barer stem.

rose sweet spot calypsoI decided that I would grow the roses in different conditions to see how they responded. The smaller one was planted in a container, so that it had no competition from any other plants. It was planted in good quality compost, with a slow release rose fertiliser at its roots. The pot was placed in full sun, facing south east, in a sheltered spot next to the greenhouse.

The other plant looked as if it could cope with being planted out, so I chose an open, sunny spot in a border and planted it in a relatively big hole, complete with compost and rose fertiliser. I ensured that surrounding plants did not crowd the young ‘Sweet Spot’, as this could have hampered growth quite dramatically.


rose sweet spot calypso

Then, I sat back, watched and waited – I watered when necessary, fertilised again in the spring, and added fresh compost as a top dressing. Sadly, the rose in the pot took a dislike to me, and went into a deep decline. It turned out to be a long and lingering death, whilst I tried every trick I knew to revive it, to no avail. There were no signs of pests or disease, it just failed to thrive, and gradually died off. It just happens sometimes!

Happily the plant in the ground grew and flourished. It had one or two blooms late on in the first summer, which I was pleased about as I didn’t receive it until August.

rose sweet spot calypso

When spring growth got underway this year, I became aware that other plants were growing larger in the border, and beginning to swamp ‘Sweet Spot Calypso’, so I took the decision to lift it and pot it up, taking as large a root ball as possible, to minimise disturbance.

My rose loved the move to a pot, and began to put on growth quite quickly, growing into a compact little bush, clothed with foliage. The foliage has remained exceptionally healthy all season, and it is still as fresh as it was in spring, particularly when compared to lots of my other roses, which are looking a little ravaged by this point in the season. Even varieties which are essentially very healthy, and disease – free can dip at this time of year, but ‘Sweet Spot Calypso’ has no sign of black spot and is completely pest free. I never use chemicals on any of my roses, so what you see is completely as nature intended!

rose sweet spot calypso‘Sweet Spot Calypso’ will never be a large rose, and, as such, is ideal for the front of beds and borders, or containers. Maximum size is given as 50 cm x 50 cm. It does not need complex pruning – a haircut with the shears in late autumn or early spring, taking off approximately half its growth, is deemed to be sufficient.

My rose began to flower in June, and had an initial flush of flowers, and is just gearing up to flower again. It has buds on it now, which should open in a week or so. It has retained its bushy, compact shape, and has shown no tendency to get ‘leggy’, and show bare stems, as many roses do. The entire lengths of the stems are clothed with foliage, which really adds to its appeal.

The flowers are very unusual, and … well … subtle they are not. I guess that people will love them, or hate them. They are light years away from the traditional image of romantic, pastel roses and have a contemporary feel about them, as the colours are strong and contrasting.

On the whole, I like what I see, so far, with Rose ‘Sweet Spot Calypso’. I like the fresh, healthy looking foliage and the compact, bushy habit and I am hoping that the plant flowers more freely as it matures, as promised. So, I have to say, it really hits the spot!

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