Does any flower smell more enchanting than the sweet pea?
An old fashioned rose, a tropical tiare, a heady jasmine, an undiscovered sticky frilly thing growing in a rainforest, I’m sure there are many. But I am quite certain that no other flower offers a more abundant fragrant experience that is guaranteed to fill your home with whiffy joy for the whole summer season.
I am led by my nose.
As a fragrance writer, my passion for scent translates readily to my garden. My plot is tiny, a ‘typically Yorkshire’ humble patch that fronts my equally tiny Victorian home. I have to be selective about what goes in there. If it isn’t fragrant it has to be exceptionally pretty to be squeezed in.
This year, I decided to make the most of vertical space by growing varieties of sweet peas that are noted for their spectacular scent. I trialled 3 varieties of Thompson & Morgan seeds and an unknown variety leftover from last year (I did know at some point but my memory has made space for new things!). They are; ‘Promise’, ‘Juliet’ and ‘Fragrantissima’.
My favourite of the 3 varieties was Promise.
Promise nearly did not live up to it’s promise. The first seeds were sown in a South facing unheated windowsill propagator in March. Nothing happened. Despite my cat frequently sitting atop the lid in the manner of a hen hatching eggs, the soil remained shoot free.
Promise was given a second chance outdoors in my make-shift mini greenhouse in early April. April Promise germinated at a rapid rate and produced several healthy plants. I pinched out the tips after a few pairs of leaves had set and left them to fatten up. What then fattened up was some rampant slugs that devoured the young plants leaving only meagre remains.
The meagre remains were transplanted to a high container well away from the vile slimers with a few fresh seeds popped in for good luck. Though it took almost 3 months to get there, I now have a pot full of intensely scented flowers in vibrant shades of pink from shocking fuchsia to pale strawberry ice cream. The fragrance is stunning, with a sweet sugared almond quality topping what we know as ‘the smell of sweet peas’. The long stems make choosing a vase easy and they sit well amongst other cottage garden plants such as Godetia and Cornflowers.
The easiest variety to grow was Juliet. I sowed seeds on both the windowsill and outdoors in their growing spot. The young seedlings all thrived, again pinched out but this these little plants somehow avoided slug carnage. Just 4 plants have made a 5 foot wall of scent with a bushy vigorous habit. They are positively bionic. The longest of the stems I gathered today was a massive 12 inches making them ideal for the show bench were I brave enough to engage in competitive gardening. The powerful scent lasts for at least a day longer than the other varieties when cut for the vase, however I’m not sure that I like it as much as Promise. Whilst it is definitely a sweet pea fragrance, there is a hint of green sappiness and an odd musky quality that makes it feel slightly ‘feral’. The cream coloured flowers do however make for beautiful arrangements, complimenting showier companions.
Fragrantissima was sown rather late directly in my friend’s allotment. It hasn’t flowered yet but it’s covered in buds and ready to pop at any moment. It appears to be trying to mate with its bountiful courgette neighbour.
The unknowns turned out to be what we think of as a traditional Spencer type mix, with blooms in a variety of colours on relatively short stems. It smells exactly as you’d imagine it to smell and has seduced the Postman who I I caught with his nose in a bloom halfway up the garden path.
This autumn I will early sow Promise once more, perhaps surrounded by eggshells, beer traps, copper rings and a bloke hired from a security company on night watch. I’ll also be growing ‘Heirloom Mixed’ and ‘High Scent’ which both promise to be delightfully fragrant.
I’d love to hear what are you fragrant favourites this year.
GAPS KEEP APPEARING
I feel sorry for David, I really do! He can’t help getting nervous when every time I go into the garden I dig up any plant that displeases me, seemingly on a whim. He reckons if he stands still too long I‘ll get rid of him an’all! I felt so vindicated when, a couple of weeks ago, Monty said that in his opinion it was perfectly acceptable to get rid of a plant if you had “gawn awf” it. Sell it for charity, give it away to friends, compost it, but replace it with something you love. I suppose I have always felt guilty about doing that, as if somehow I had a duty of care to those plants which have fallen out of favour, disloyal in a way. Not so anymore! I have been whipping them out with obscene abandon and thus have ended up with immense new planting possibilities.
Well, obviously (you know me, he who hesitates is lost) by the time you read this those gaps will have been filled, so let me tell you about the provenance of some new additions to the borders:
In early July David and I went on our annual pilgrimage aka The Hampstead Garden Suburb Horticultural Society coach holiday. Based in Kings Lynn for three days, we visited Easton Walled Garden (compost bins spotted on Google Earth) on the way up, Henstead Exotic Garden in Beccles and Bishop’s House Gardens (Diocese of Norwich) to the East, and Cathy Brown’s Garden and the late lamented Geoff Hamilton’s Barnsdale on the way back. Plants to the right of me, plants to the left!
You could be forgiven for thinking you were in the midst of the Burmese jungle at Henstead Exotic Garden, that is until you reached the wire boundary overlooking the neighbouring housing estate. Point of Interest: Compost toilet Throne Room. Souvenirs of visit: Papyrus, Aeonium Schwarzkopf and miniature gunnera magellanica. Amazing host, worth a visit to meet him alone.
Barnsdale. Well, what a walk down Memory Lane! The Gentleman’s Cottage Garden, the Artisan’s Cottage Garden, and as soon as we entered the Paradise Country Garden my head was full of the haunting TV series sound track. I am a sucker for a celebrity so our visit to their nursery (Paradise indeed) was all the more special because of the presence of Nick Hamilton, who even identified a plant for me. Talk about Plant Lust though: Revered (and oft feared for her unlimited knowledge of Latin plant names, most notably vernonia crinita) group leader Diane was on the hunt for a potentilla Gibson’s Scarlet. Oh the dilemma when she found it! I can’t have those flower stems flopping over my edges, but she did succumb in the end. My folly? Moisture loving astilbes Lollipop and chinensis Vision for the driest part of my garden. Solution? Plant them by the irrigation hose. Sorted!
So, (I do so hate this current trend of opening a sentence with So, don’t you) before The Trip there was the small matter of the NGS Hampstead Garden Suburb Horticultural Society Group Gardens Open Day June 25th. What a dream! The sun shone, we welcomed 435 visitors, served 240 helpings of tea and cake, sold over 400 raffle tickets and raised nearly £700 on locally propagated plants and produce alone. Grand Total Donation to NGS £5585.76 (one wonders how the 76p crept in). How about that then, eh! Fab-u-lous!
This week? Well, this coming Sunday 30th July David & I are having our NGS Open Day. The thrice daily visit to the Met Office website for weather forecast updates is in full swing. Not looking great I have to say at the moment. (I have been known to log out then straight back in to the website just in case it’s been updated.) But after so much recent horticultural activity I am feeling quite Zen about the whole thing this time around. Seeing as the garden had to be Band Box perfect last Sunday for the judging of the London Gardens Society competition, it’s been coasting along nicely since then. Yesterday I filled my last remaining gap (yeah right, I can see me not planting another thing until next year.) A rigorous regime of dead heading along with a favorable balance of rain and shine (and several doses of Tomato feed, Mother Nature shan’t take all the credit) has brought the late summer flowers out right on cue. That is, apart from the T&M tree lilies, which of course have gone over! Now comes the real preparation for Open Garden Day: Cakes. New recipe from Cathy Brown’s garden (You will be served tea at 3.55pm precisely) Orange and Almond cake Gluten and Dairy Free amongst other old favourites. Pricing up plants-for-sale, distributing signage, organizing Float money, buying paper plates, plastic cutlery etcetera etcetera etcetera.
Hoovering the paths and patio can wait until Sunday morning. Wish us luck, hope to see some of you in our garden on Sunday, come rain or shine, as the saying goes………
I’m feeling very mellow right now. It’s Easter Monday, it’s not raining, and I have time to reflect upon the weekend. On Saturday David and I visited Kew Gardens or should I say The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. I’m ashamed to say that neither of us has been there since we met, so that’s nearly 30 years. I remember being underwhelmed by Kew, very flat, very open and uninspiring if trees are not your first love. (I can see you shuddering; sorry but there you are!) However, this trip proved to be much more enjoyable, primarily due to the company of our good friends Pat & Eamon, who treated me for my birthday.
On arrival we headed straight for the Kew Explorer Land Train, where we mistook a giant Moomin for The Easter Bunny, exposing us to the withering disdain of surrounding children. Then we kept joining in with the driver’s repartee, unaware that he was in fact enclosed in his vehicle so could not hear us. (Probably just as well.) The bluebell woods were pretty but I reckon our local Littlewood and Bigwood in The Hampstead Garden Suburb look better. (Yeah well, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of pride in your local environment.) Anyway, the 35 minute choo choo ride was a darn site more picturesque than the round trip of 56 stops – East Finchley to Kew Gardens – on the Tube. And I’m pleased to report that London’s tourist trade is alive and well thank you.
The Palm House was amazing, although I had to keep my hat on to stop my hair frizzing up in the humid environment. We did the whole thing, up and down, taking loads of photos: the sheer size and scale of the the thick aerial roots, the parasitic orchids and exotic flowers took my breath away. Mind you, last time I went into a tropical house like that was at The Eden Project, where I got quarter of the way in, had a panic attack and had to elbow my way out against all oncoming pedestrian traffic, leaving David wondering whether to carry on or follow suit. Needless to say I prefer the open space and calm of The Lost Gardens of Heligan. Having said that, I did once have a panic attack in the woods at Kenwood on Hampstead Heath, until David pointed out, quite stoically, that if I looked to my left I would see civilization in the form of the 210 bus travelling along Hampstead Lane. And anyway, seeing as Hampstead is home to a myriad of psychotherapists, there was sure to be plenty of help at hand. So Saturday was somewhat of a victory for me, having conquered my claustrophobia of the Tube and the Palm House.
(*NB The collective noun for psychologists is a Complex or a Couch according to my dear friend Google)
David got to do his Dr Doolittle thing again with the resident geese, who really are just ducks with attitude. (He is somewhat of a swan whisperer too but that’s for another day). But the highlight of the day for me was the Water Lily house, the surface of the pool was like glass and was like a 3D Monet painting.
Anyway, to matters on the home front now. With more time on our hands than anticipated we managed to reconstruct the living wall by the front door. Much more Sophisticated (that’s my new watch word by the way, along with Theme Park every time I see David paint another blue and white stripe on the Beach Hut). The new wall troughs are aircraft grade aluminium with high density foam sides apparently. And readers, I have filled them already, with revived heucheras, grass divisions (am feeling very noble about the recycled element) and ferns (support your local garden centre). The Three Cannas are now nine; three for the patio, three for the front garden and three for the little girl who lives down the lane. (For those of you who think I have just lost the plot, think Bah Bah Black Sheep!) Really though, three for the plant sales.
Talking of divisions, 2017 will henceforth be remembered as the year the garden went mad! I blame friend Diane who preaches the gospel according to Mulch. All plants were ticking along nicely until she convinced me to mulch my borders every spring, and see what’s happened? The plants have grown like triffids and are now threatening to take over the world. Thalictrum growing in all the cracks, filipendula popping up like Japanese Knotweed, sedge grasses swallowing neighbouring perennials whole, and persicaria! It’s colonised half of the central bed, while the other half is covered in dainty (what, hahaha!) woodruff. Mind you, Diane is threatening to have next year off from opening for the NGS just to rid her garden of invading bullies; a case of reaping what you sow if ever there was one. I feel I should label the plants-for-sale with a government health warning.
On an even more depressing front (don’t interrupt me now, I’m just getting into my stride) my two feature climbers on the patio, abutilon megapotamicum and Kentish Belle look, well, dead actually. Not a green shoot between them. This has happened before and thankfully, with some emergency resuscitation, they sprang back into life thereafter, but I’m not hopeful. Still, I fancy a golden hop and perhaps Spanish Flag……………….
I could go on and on, but my recliner is inviting me to watch The Beechgrove Garden (watch out Gardeners’ World). See you next time, love, Caroline.
Hello Everyone. This is my first blog for T&M and I approached them because I want to try something new and grow something edible in my vastly overcrowded cottage garden.
We live in a 1920’s terrace house in North London and have a cottage garden front and back. We feel very fortunate to have a long front garden path and a back garden big enough to eat out in.
This is how it looked in 1988 when we moved in.
And this is how it looks now.
Here is a picture of the front
And here is the back
I fell in love with this style when I saw Geoff Hamilton on TV years ago building his Paradise Garden at Barnsdale. I was hooked. My style is to cram everything I like in to the borders and pots including scented shrubs, easy perennials, simple herbs, clematis and honeysuckle, Spring bulbs and autumn colour. Some of my favourites are hardy geraniums, pulmonaria, primroses, euphorbia of all kinds, heleniums and sedums.
Ideas for this year
So now my idea is to start small and grow something I can eat. After hours of browsing I’ve decided salad crops and maybe strawberries might be the best to start with. I don’t think I get enough sun for tomatoes and as you can see I have no greenhouse or cold frame.
Two problems spring to mind. As the borders become so abundant in summer any crops in the beds would surely get smothered. Secondly I do have to contend with rats, squirrels and pigeons running around the beds and pots. I don’t have a problem with slugs as I avoid growing anything they like to eat but if I want to grow salad crops how will I manage?
I intend to get all the advice I can from T&M and elsewhere and in my next blog I shall report my progress.
Until then, lots of research and planning awaits me but it will be worth it in the end!
Getting the right balance of plants is essential for a healthy and thriving pond habitat.
To achieve good visual interest, you may wish to consider getting a combination of foliage and flowers sitting at different levels in and around your pond; bearing in mind that most plants only flower for a few months out of the year.
It is therefore useful to take a note of the height or planting depth, spread, and flowering season of your favourite varieties of pond plant, in order to plan effectively.
You will also need to calculate the pond surface area and depth, to avoid overcrowding, and to ensure that the plants grow to the perfect height in the water.
The positioning of plants is a crucial aspect and will depend on the plant type.
Area Surrounding the Pond
Bog plants nest in the watery area surrounding the pond. Whilst the soil needs to be wet for the plants to thrive, it should not be submerged, so take care to ensure that the border does not fill with water after a downpour.
A few examples of plants that work well in boggy conditions include Astilbe varieties, such as the Astilbe chinensis which has lilac plumes between July and September, and grows to around 30cm high; Typha, also known as bulrush, which feature a round brush like flower on a spiky stem; and Gunnera manicata, which are suitable for larger ponds, with their huge, dramatic leaves.
Shallow Areas at the Edge of the Pond
Marginal plants sit on the edges of the pond, with their roots submerged in the shallow water.
Plants that are ideal include several varieties of Iris, such as the Japanese Iris, which produces dramatic coloured flowers around May to June; the Alisma plantago-aquatica, which is known as the water plaintin, and produces small flowers between June and August; the Calla palustris, which has beautiful large white flowers from June to August; and Mentha aquatica, also known as water mint, which produces many dense clusters of tiny purple flowers between July and October, and grows to 90cm. The latter spreads quickly, so you may need to plant it in a basket to restrict its growth.
The Deepest Areas of the Pond
The most popular deep water plants are of course, water lilies. However, it is important to be aware that there are many different types. You will need to choose your water lilies based on the depth of the pond, as they grow to different heights.
The Nymphaea Alba has large white flowers, and can be planted at 60cm to around 3 metres; whereas the Nymphaea caerulea only needs to be planted at around 20cm, and will produce beautiful blue flowers. There are also red lilies and yellow lilies available that grow to different heights, so your pond can be covered with a burst of colour in the summer.
As well as being beautiful, lilies are also useful. They also provide valuable shade for fish from the hot summer sun, and as their leaves cover the pond, the reduction of sunlight will help restrict algae growth.
Algae can also be stifled by hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum) and water violets (Hottonia palustris), as they are good examples of plants that feed on the nutrients that algae need to survive.
Choosing Plants for Pond Life
If you are going to keep fish, or just want to encourage natural pond life, then you will need to choose good oxygenators; plants which are fully submerged in the pond and produce oxygen.
These plants make use of the nitrates created from fish waste, and the carbon dioxide released by fish during respiration, converting them into food.
Maintaining this delicate ecosystem is vital for the success of your pond. If you have too many plants, or too many fish, the whole cycle could collapse.
A great plant to start with is Anacharis, as all you need to do is weight the plant, and drop it into the pond. It is a vigorous grower, so make sure you trim it back every now and again to keep it in check. One bunch per square foot should be sufficient for a small pond.
Other varieties of oxygenators include Groenlandia densa, or opposite-leaved pondweed; and Callitriche hermaphroditica or water starwort, although this may grow too rapidly for a small pond. Water cress is also a good oxygenator.
The final step is to ensure you have sufficient time to maintain the pond after you have planted it up. Many of the plants will require specific aftercare, such as trimming back, or cutting away seed heads, and gaining this knowledge at the planning stage will help you to stay on top of the maintenance of your pond.
Please visit my Lifestyle Blog for more pond plant ideas and inspiration.
Reduce, reuse, recycle- it’s a phrase that has been drummed into everyone in the last decade. Repurposing in the garden is a hot trend at the moment, and saving money isn’t the only benefit. Your garden is an ecological haven, so it makes sense to use natural products wherever possible, keeping harsh chemical fertilizers and pesticides to a minimum (something also worth bearing in mind if you have little hands helping out).
Clive Harris, a keen gardener from Essex shares his best tips for keeping your garden environmentally friendly, as well as saving you time, money and a trip to the local garden centre. You can see his personal gardening blog here – https://diygarden.co.uk/blog/
Most households use an organic waste bin nowadays, and if you’re super savvy, you will have your own composting bin, but there are a few food waste products that yield better results when used directly in your garden.
Banana peel is an excellent source of potassium, phosphorous and magnesium, making it an ideal fertilizer. Chopped peel can be added directly to your garden for a nutritional boost. Soaking banana peel in water for at least 48 hours will give a fertilizing solution that can be sprayed directly on to plants and flowers. To give your perennials the ultimate start in life, line your bed trenches with whole banana skins before planting. This works exceptionally well for roses too!
Made of calcium carbonate, eggshells are a great way of providing calcium to your soil and plants. They need to be rinsed and dried before being added to your garden, otherwise you might find them attracting unwanted attention from passing animals and pests. They should be crushed or ground before mixing into the soil. It can take months for eggshells to break down enough to be absorbed by plant roots, so the best time to spread them in your beds is autumn and early spring.
Used coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen, meaning they are terrific for enriching the soil in your flower beds. Unwashed, they are acidic and will help to balance the PH of your soil. However, if using coffee grounds around vegetation that doesn’t tolerate acid very well (such as tomato plants etc), rinsing them first will neutralize the acidity. Coffee grounds can be added directly to the soil in your garden, making it a quick and easy fertilizing option.
Tackle Those Pesky Predators
There are 2 types of pests that pose a threat your garden- wildlife such as insects or prowling animals, and plant diseases caused by bacteria, fungi and viruses. Shop bought pesticides and animal deterrents are a quick fix, but can be harsh and need to be used with extreme caution, especially in gardens where children and domestic animals are passing through. However, there are some safer, gentler options that can be used to the same effect as commercial garden products to ensure that your plants remain healthy and thriving.
Plant fungus giving you a headache? Aspirin is fantastic at preventing fungal diseases such as mildew and black spot. Simply crush an aspirin tablet and dissolve in a gallon of water. Use the solution to spray your plants every few weeks to guarantee they stay mould free.
Surprisingly, regular old shampoo makes a great insecticide. Mix 2.5 tablespoons of shampoo with 2.5 tablespoons of cooking oil and add to a gallon of water. Use the solution to spray on pests such as aphids. Plant leaves should be rinsed a few hours after application to prevent damage. This also works well using dishwashing liquid instead of shampoo.
Mix even parts of milk and water and spray on tomato plants to prevent dry end rot. Putting crushed eggshells into the planting hole will have the same effect.
As it turns out, us humans aren’t the only one who fancy a cold one in the garden during summer! Slugs and snails are highly attracted to the frothy goodness of beer, making it the perfect distraction to drag them away from your vegetables and flowers. Half-fill an empty jam jar with lager and dig a trench so that the lip of the jar is flush with the ground. The pests will gravitate to the jar and die a happy death.
Playing your dodgy old 90’s pop tracks at full blast will definitely keep flying predators at bay. However, if you’re finally ready to relinquish them, old cds are a more effective deterrent when used as a type of scarecrow to keep larger pesky birds away from your seeds and vegetables. String a few cds together and hang near your beds at a position where they will catch direct sunlight to keep pigeons and other scavengers away. This trick also works great as a cat deterrent.
Plastic bottles half filled with water will stop cats digging up and soiling your flower beds. The water in the bottles casts a reflection that frightens the felines away.
From eggshells to aspirin, and even old Spice Girls cds, it is astonishing to see how household products and by-products can benefit your garden in a multitude of ways, saving you money while helping the environment at the same time. There’s no better place to start your recycling kick than in the garden!