22nd May 2023 in Uncategorised

Watching a plant die can be heartbreaking, particularly a much loved favourite that has expired after many years of stalwart service.  But also, if it is a much desired specimen that you have lusted after for ages and finally tracked down or a treasure grown from seed, joyfully potted on up the sizes until finally it is ready to plant out. And so in the ground it goes, and it sits and seems to consider its options before starting to decline.  Foliage may start to look drab or damaged, molluscs and aphids may scent weakness and attack and before you know it you have a few brown stems left.

You may try this several times with the same results and decide to stop throwing good money after bad and try something else instead.  This maybe the right option in the end, but consider first experimenting with smaller plants.  With many herbaceous plants, the cheaper cost of small plants allows you to try different positions in the garden to see where it prefers life.  If you can then get that plant to self seed, the real magic happens, with volunteer seedlings always healthier and happier than transplants.

I find this especially true in adverse conditions such as gravel gardens or dry soil baked by the sun.  Small plants popped in in the autumn generally do better than larger plants planted in the spring.

Sometimes of course this rule doesn’t apply.  You may find that the same small plants are just mollusc bait unless and until they are mature enough to grow through the damage.  It can also be true of borderline hardy trees and shrubs where the stems or trunk need to be seasoned enough to withstand a cold winter.  I’ve had this issue with Hoherias, which are tough when mature but can be defoliated or even killed by hard frosts when young.

In conclusion.  It’s complicated! But experimentation is part of the process of gardening and the failures are what makes it so exciting and rewarding when a plant that you have planted really reaches its potential.

Meet the Editors

27th April 2023 in Uncategorised


In selecting the plants that I grow in the nursery or use in my designs, I use a variety of editing tools.  The first is the most common one used in horticulture: Aesthetics.  Do I like the plant?  Do I find it beautiful or does it play an important role in making an overall planting beautiful?

Often this is where people stop.  The temptation to do whatever it takes to grow the plants you want is too much for some people and so borders are double dug and improved with compost, plants with wildly different needs and behaviours are planted together and failure of the planting is concealed by regular replacement of plants to bring about the desired effect.

The next one is the key editor for me.  The question at the heart of all sustainable horticulture: Does the plant want to grow there?

Does it get the right amount of sun?  Will it have enough nutrients on the underlying soil?  Will hard frosts kill it?  Will it rot away in winter rains?  Is it particularly delectable to molluscs or rodents?

It is possible for a plant to provide the right answers to all of these questions and for it still to not thrive.  If it droops sulkily and fails to flower most years it is not merely a question of plant survival but a waste of space that could be filled with something that would grow joyfully.  Some things also grow a little too joyfully and you need to decide whether the hours of weeding and thinning are worth the effect of say growing leucanthemum vulgaris in a gravel garden or whether you might get the same white daisy effect with a better behaved Tanacetum corymbosum or Argyranthemum frutescens.

The final editor for me is the question of what the plant gives to the ecosystem around it.  Does it have flowers accessible to insects particularly to extend the flowering seasons at both ends of the year for bees?  Does it host the larval stage of butterflies and moths?  Do its stems provide over-winter shelter? Do its roots stabilise the soil effectively, preventing erosion? All of these are particularly valid questions in the years we are living through and should guide our choices for future plantings.

Perfecting Planting

21st August 2022 in Garden Design, horticulture

Late summer and early autumn are the best times to plant. The soil is warm, weed pressure is less, there is more consistent rain that sinks deeper into the ground and the waning days force the plants to think about putting on root growth rather than flowering.

You can just about still get away with spring planting if you do it early enough and are prepared to irrigate, but the pattern that has emerged over the last 4-5 years is for dry spring and summers, with proper rains only coming later on. Spring plantings are possible with lots of attention and watering but the plants will inevitably be stressed and will not build up the deep healthy root systems, questing for ground water and nutrients that they would if planted in the autumn.

So this is one of the major changes I advise my clients to consider, viewing the September rains as really the beginning of the horticultural year in a way, planting with the weather and giving the plants the best chance to establish over the autumn and winter, to be ready for the spring and summer.

This way of gardening requires a shift in planting choices too. I am increasingly focused on tough, resilient plants that are beautiful and good for wildlife, and don’t need mollycoddling. Some traditional favourites will end up as mollusc fodder if made to sit through the winter as small plants. My advice is to give up on them.

If plants are continuously ravaged by slugs to the extent that they can’t grow without intervention then they are too much trouble. There are plenty of alternatives that are better choices. Some great options for resilient gardens are Nepetas, Eupatorium, Eryngium and Salvia but there is a world of possibility and I advise all my clients on the many options available to create the effect that they want to see.