The following blogs were all written about my previous small garden on the Clapham/Balham borders in London. And this was the Welcome video.


Thursday, 01 May 2014 00:00 this glorious, scented beauty.

As I write this evening, the scent from my amazing Wisteria ‘Alba’ that now drapes over the back end of the house and comes all the way from the hot bed (where it is not yet fully in flower) is flooding into the kitchen through the open French doors. Yes, it is mingled with the scent of the Lonicera x americana that grows with it, but the overall, intoxicating perfume is Wisteria. It’s something one only experiences for around a month a year but it’s all the more special for that. And it looks amazing!

Wisteria floribunda 'Alba' across the South facing kitchen wall

I know some people who think Wisteria is a nasty, common, plant like Buddleja. I disagree on both. As well as being a plant lover I am a wildlife lover and both plants attract myriad insects by day and night. That’s great in my book. Yes, they can both get big and ungainly but only if you don’t know how to handle them. And they are so simple to control that no one should worry, even in a small garden. I have three Wisteria (one of each main type) and two Buddleja in a 60ft back garden and they all perform marvellously.

Others are terrified of Wisteria because of the supposed very specific pruning requirements. But the truth is that Wisteria is really easy to handle and prune if you just know a few basic facts.

I don’t normally write “How to..” type stuff in this blog but, given there’s poetry and allsorts already, I don’t really see why not when the need seems to be there. I have met so many people in the last few weeks who are not confident about growing Wisteria that I think it deserves a blog – because the truth is it is a very easy plant to grow and look after, and is wonderfully rewarding. I seek to de-bunk its scary reputation.

So, this piece is written to encourage those of you without a Wisteria to go out now and buy one, in the complete confidence that you will have it in flower, be able to control it and enjoy it for many years to come if you follow some simple advice. It could also be of value to those of you who have recently bought or inherited one but are unsure which it is or how best to care for it.


Wednesday, 26 February 2014 18:03

On Tuesday, 18th February at precisely 2.41pm, under a bright blue sky and a warming sun following a heavy shower, I heard frogs.

As you know this thrills my soul after their obvious silence during their winter hibernation.  As I am well aware, following last year’s fiasco of a similar occasion on 26th February, sadly this does not herald the start of Spring. We have to wait for the toads to tell us exactly when we can start vernal celebrations proper.

But it is the start of activity in the garden for 2014. A few lone bees have been buzzing around over the last couple of weeks and the birds have been feeding and singing, despite the horrendous winds and torrential rains. But frogs mean something different. A new noise, a new activity in the garden that at least indicates the beginning of the end of Winter?

On hearing their songs, I rushed to the pond, camera in hand and found six, two of whom were already mating – or at least starting the close-coupled, piggyback, wooing preliminaries because there is no spawn yet. I’ve tried to record one for the video but I doubt you can hear it above the noise of the stream, the aeroplanes and the birds. I turned the pond pump off but they seem to stop croaking when I do this which is very unhelpful because frogs are not happy to be miked up individually.

It’s pretty mixed in the garden just now. It still looks very bare as most of the deciduous trees and shrubs are still leafless but this moment in the year seems to combine past, present and future more than any other time in the garden. Some plants have continued to flower from Autumn through ‘til now such as the odd rose, Cobea scandens, Abutilon 'Kentish Belle', and the daisy. Those that should be flowering at this time like Daphne bholua, Sarcoccoca, Chaenomeles, Mahonia, hellebores and snowdrops are doing it exhuberantly, and those that herald the start of Spring, like daffodils, are opening, the tulips are just pushing up, the Camelias are in good bud or springing into glorious flower and even lots of mid season Clematis are in bud.

And I have more fish than I thought which is great news. I knew Big Yellow was still in there but there were no signs of any others until yesterday. The fish at least have decided it’s the beginning of Spring and come up from the murky depths of the pond to feed. So I discovered I still have at least six. Silver Rocket, the shabunkins and some goldfish have survived the winter and the heron. 

So now I shall keep my eyes peeled for the toads. We could do with an early Spring this year after the prolonged misery of last year’s Winter and this year’s rains and floods.

I use this opportunity to express my sincere sympathies with those across the country whose land, gardens and homes have been flooded this Winter. I can’t imagine what it must be like to see a beloved garden submerged but even worse to have one’s farmlands and home invaded by water, and dirty water at that, with all it means for lack of income, future home saleability, impossible insurances and asset devaluation. My thoughts are with you.

We are lucky here. In Clapham we are high above the Thames though the ‘Honey Brook’ which goes to the River Wandle, runs under my street. The floods have shown up in my cellar in the form of rising water table but I am prepared for that and it is only a few inches of water. The cellar floor is six feet below anything important so I have not been affected like many of you outside London.

I fear we have to be prepared for more similar weather over winters to come but, for me, a tiny consolation and ray of hope has come from this year’s first appearance of the frogs in the pond.

Tuesday, 07 January 2014 17:24

Mea culpa, I’ve been very late getting the garden to bed this winter. Normally the first frosts hit the Dahlias around November and I dig them up (because they don’t over-winter well in my clay soil), dry them out in the greenhouse, and then store them in an old laundry basket in newspaper and straw in the shed.  I also plant any new daffodil and tulip bulbs in beds and pots and try to do this by December at the latest.

For a variety of exceptionally boring reasons, none of this happened in 2013. Luckily, we’ve only had one mild frost in SW London to date (though horrible rains and winds), so the dahlias were still not blackened by Christmas. As I left for a family holiday time in Worcestershire, I felt guilty......but not very. “It’s been mild” I told myself.

                                                    Dahlia tubers drying in the bubble-wrapped greenhouse

So, I have just come in having finally bubble-wrapped the greenhouse, dug up the Dahlias and planted the tulips. I’ve also re-done my North-facing front window pots (simple blue and lavender shades winter pansies) and kitchen window pot (Hellebore ‘Christmas Carol’ - which has lovely, large, white, upward-held flowers - with two variegated Japanese rushes, Acorus Ogon, whose light green and yellow colours contrast with the dark green leaves of the Hellebore). The Hellebore was very expensive (£10.99), hence only the one, but its large, open flowers sparkle at me through the kitchen window as I write and cheer me, so it was well worth it.

                                                   The Hellebore and rushes in the kitchen window pot

I bought some tulip bulbs months ago but most went mouldy in the shed so I just had two, more recent, packets left – one of orange doubles called ‘Chameleon’ (because apparently they turn red from orange) and one of the statuesque, dark purple ‘Queen of the Night’ given to me by my friend Victoria. Both had started sprouting in their bags in the shed but looked fine. I have planted them together, in two pots, (in John Innes No 2 compost with lots of gravel and a bit of multipurpose on top) in the hope that they will flourish despite being planted so late. I hadn’t planned it like this but, if they flower, they will provide a striking homage to the colour palette of the late, great Christopher Lloyd of Great Dixter fame.

Which is a happy coincidence because I am now reading the new edition of the charming and informative “Dear Friend and Gardener”, the book of letters between him and Beth Chatto. For fear of losing an eye or two I can only read it when out of bed because it’s a hardback.  I've discovered I also need an Encyclopaedia of Plants at my side as I read so I know exactly what they are talking about. I thought I was pretty good for an amateur. I’m only a couple of chapters in but already I now know I know nothing!

I digress.

I have also just given "Marie Antoinette" a severe wig cut (ie hard pruned the roses Ghislaine de Feligonde and Phyllis Bide over the gated arch), and have yet to do the same to R. Graham Thomas and his covering of Clematis macropetala. I have also not yet swept up the fallen leaves. I anyway tend not to sweep them all, I only clear the paths, pond and major piles. In the flower beds I like the worms to pull the leaves down into the clay to add organic matter, even if it looks a bit unkempt for a few months. It’s amazing how quickly they disappear. They provide natural mulch, heat and protection for the soil and insects (so food for birds) and they protect hibernating frogs and toads under the shed. The only downside of this approach is that dog poo is much harder to spot! But the truth is the gravel area by the greenhouse and shed needs clearing of leaves so I shall do this when the rain stops.

                                             View from the end of the garden with the gate arch roses cut back

Talking of tulips (if you are following closely), the blog has just been found by a Dutch gardener and cook and her Tweet has brought lots of welcome new interest in the site from The Netherlands. As it happens I have family in Holland, indeed a have a real Dutch Uncle. My maternal aunt married a lovely, sailing Dutchman and I have two great Dutch cousins and extended family there. So, “dus van harte welkom om de nieuwe lezers en kijkers in Nederland” – though of course this is fairly unnecessary since you all speak impeccable English!

As you will have realised by now, this is a fairly ‘random’ blog with no video. My excuse is it’s winter and there’s not much happening in the garden yet, though there are a few plants in flower and the Daphne is now out again, scenting the air and keeping my spirits up. The birds are still around and feeding, the fish have disappeared to the bottom of the pond, and the frogs and toads are hibernating.

                                     Top from L to R: Abutilon 'Kentish Belle'; Cobea scandens; Sarcocca confusa
              Bottom from L to R: Jasminium nudiflorum; Chrysanthemum frutescens; Daphne bhuloa 'Sir Peter Smithers'

Apart from those of you in The Netherlands, I’d love to know where the rest of you are. Each blog gets between 600 and 3,000 hits so it would be great to know where you are living. We’ve still got a real problem with Google analytics on this site so it would be great if you could either leave a comment and tell me who and where you are (I promise to keep your details secret) or let me know via Twitter @RosiesBG or on Facebook at RosiesBackGarden. Many thanks and Happy New Year to you all.


Saturday, 30 November 2013 00:00

You may not know this but we are in ‘National Tree week’.

The major online plant shops are promoting this as a time to buy trees. And why not? Trees are completely wonderful, an important addition to any garden, and they're much more colourful and interesting than people think because many flower and have fruits, as well as changing colour. And this is a great time to plant them, especially given how late Autumn is.

My garden, as you know, is small but I wouldn’t be without my trees. They add height, structure, cover for birds and lots of beauty and colour interest from their flowers, fruits and leaf colours. If I could plant more trees I would, but I already have twelve in just 140 square metres, four of which I inherited, and there has to be room for everything else too.

I think the selection of trees for a small garden is much more critical because each one needs to be very special. One of my prime requirements is that they don’t stop the ground under and around them from being able to grow flowers and shrubs, so they can’t create too much shade or drop poisonous needles.

Based only on my personal experience, I’d recommend many of the trees in my garden. The inherited small silver birch (unknown variety) adds elegance and lovely colours throughout the year and a beautiful noise as the wind goes through it, but it does drop catkins and twigs.

Silver birch (betula unknown)

The inherited Rowan (Sorbus unknown, probably aucuparia) has interesting shaped branches, stays small and is lovely when covered in its white flowers and orange/red berries (spring and late summer/autumn). The bird feeders sit in it and the blackbirds live in it and then eat all the berries.

Rowan tree (Sorbus unknown)

The leaves on mine go yellow in autumn but there are others I would recommend that turn much more beautiful colours at the end of the year such as ‘Joseph Rock’ with red leaves and yellow berries and the somewhat larger S. 'Olympic Flame' with red leaves and berries.

Above: Sorbus 'Joseph Rock   Photo source:

The inherited fruiting cherry (unknown) is really too big for a garden this size and is the one I have to have cut and thinned on a regular basis. Its leaf cover is very dense causing a lot of shade and the blossom is so brief that I think the smaller, more decorative, non-fruiting versions would be a better choice.

The beauty of pink blossom and burgundy leaves in parents' old garden

I am particularly fond of the dark leaved trees with pink flowers. These include Prunus cerasifera Pissarii but this can get quite large at 5x4m, so smaller ones to look at are:Pendula Pendula Rubra AGM (3x3m) though it has green leaves but good autumn colour; Royal Burdundy AGM which is 5x3m; and Kiku-shidare-zakura (below) which is also weeping and, at only 2.5x2.5m, can also go in a pot.

Above: Prunus Kiku-shidare-zakura   Photo source:

The smaller Acers are also great value. I have four acers (two A. palmatum ‘Orange Dream’, an A.palmatum ‘Sunset’ which is like a purpureum but smaller (and is not ‘Orange Sunset’) and an A. palmatum dissectum ‘Garnet’) the latter two of which are brilliant red as I write, and the former two are turning orange again from their Summer acid green. These colours look great day and night, especially if you have a handy spotlight nearby.

Left: Acer palmatum 'Sunset'. Right: Acer palmatum 'Orange Dream'

The Eucalyptus niphophila I planted is a tall, straight, slow growing one and, though its bark is not quite as spectacular as others, it’s very pretty green/grey white with reddish stems to the leaves. It’s a great size for a small garden and has not had to be reduced. It is now about 5 metres high. Apparently it has white flowers that attract bees and I can’t believe I have never noticed these. It throws old leaves down but only behind the greenhouse, so it’s not a problem.

Eucalyptus niphophila

Crab apple John Downie is a small, tall-ish, thin crab apple so again a good choice for a smaller garden if you want a fruit tree. I have to admit that I am still not very good at apple tree pruning and don’t get the amount of blossom and fruit I would like but I’m working on it and I know it is my fault not the tree’s.

Weeping fruit trees are also a good idea. My mum has a beautiful weeping silver pear, Pyrus salicifolia 'Pendula' AGM, which she grows a lovely pale blue geranium under and through. It can get big (8-12m) unless you prune it, but is slow growing and can be controlled as a small tree.

Pyrus salicifolia 'Pendula' around Geranium

She also has a tree I covet, Styrex japonicus. She has it over a bench because its lovely, scented, white flowers which come out in Summer hang down and are best viewed from underneath. It can get a bit big (ie 8-12m x 4-8m) but it is also slow growing and will achieve this over 20 years and can be pruned back. It is very pretty and highly recommended.

Styrax japonicus                                 Photo shot by Gondahara on May20, 2006

Cornus contraversa 'Variegata' or 'the Wedding Cake tree' is a classic. It is beautifully tiered, has lovely leaves, white flowers in June, good colours in Autumn with berries and is pretty hardy.  But it can get quite big too (8mx 8m), so not really one for very small garden sadly. More for medium sized ones where it can be a feature tree or mix beautifully with others.

Above: Cornus contrversa variegata  Photo source:

The Albizia julibrissia "Ombrella = Boubri PBR" I planted is doing exactly what I needed it for. It is gently hiding a large expanse of my neighbour’s house wall and it has lovely foliage like a mimosa which closes at night. It has spectacular pink flowers in summer and is a tree you see a lot in the South of France, Spain and Italy. It looks much more tender and exotic than it is because it is hardy to -17 C. Apparently this Ombrella form is a rare form. The more common A. julibrissia rosea AGM, which is very similar to look at, is frost tender. I have raised the crown on mine so it doesn’t create too much shade for the nearby climbing roses and it looks very elegant. It now comes with green or purple leaves so really worth searching out if you live south of Scotland and want something exotic, elegant, flowering and controllable with light, beautiful, leaf cover.

Albizia 'Ombrella'

The Rhamnus alerternus ‘Argenteovariegata’ or Italian buckthorn I have in a very large pot down the side passage to hide the water butt is also very successful. Technically it’s a shrub not a tree but is now two metres high (could grow to 4m) and looks like a tree so I’ve included it. It has cream edges to its pretty leaves, very small flowers and then berries and it is evergreen. It looks lovely outside the kitchen window.

Rhamnus alerternus

Talking of large shrubs that look like trees, two of my three Pittospurums are now pretty tree-like. Both P. ‘Garnettii’AGM and ‘Irene Paterson’ AGM are single stemmed and now 2m high. P ‘Tandara Gold’ would be too if I hadn’t been cutting it into a ball shape.

My newest tree, the Aronia prunifolia ‘Brilliant’ is actually a shrub grafted onto a tree stem at 1m. It is supposed to be turning a fabulous colour right now and is not making a very good job of it. Autumn is late like the rest of the seasons so I suppose I should give it a couple more weeks to try.

Apart from the Acers, the unusual star of the show however is the Cytisus bantandieri which I have grown as a tree not a many stemmed shrub. It is semi evergreen with silky grey/green leaves, has enormous yellow flower clusters in early summer which look and smell like pineapples (hence its common name of Pineapple tree) which the bees adore. It casts very little shade and can be easily pruned to shape. I can’t recommend it more highly as a tree for a small garden.

Cytisus batandieri

I miss my Fremontadendron californicum horribly and this is a good and unusual choice if you can cope with the garish yellow/orange flowers and eye and skin irritating leaves and seed pods because it flowers all season.

Fremontadendron californicum

I also miss my Arbutus unidos or strawberry tree with its fabulous bark, dark evergreen leaves and red and white fruits. When I planted it I didn’t realise how big it could get and there simply wasn’t room for it beside the Pineapple tree, so it had to go. They can be controlled like any tree by planting them in pots but it seems a shame.

The only other tree I have “unplanted” is the Amelanchier ‘Snowflakes’ which along with A. ‘Ballerina’ and A. ‘Robin Hill’ is recommended by almost everyone who writes on best value small trees. It would be nice to have it turning red now but the flowers were so sparse and short-lived and the foliage so dull for 50 weeks of the year that it just didn’t have enough wow factor to deserve a permanent place in this garden.

The Catalpa bignonioides or Indian bean tree has always been on my wish list but I really don’t know where I could put one. They have huge, beautifully bright leaves (if regularly pruned) but a lot of them and they can grow to more than 12x8m, so the shade cover would be quite serious to say the least. I also covet a Cercis or two for their flowers, leaf shape and colours and a Euonymous for their crazy seed colours. They can be shrubs or small trees and would be more manageable than a Catalpa, especially in a large pot. I just can't decide whether to go for the Cercis with fab pink flowers or the ones with better Autumn colour.

Where to buy trees is always the question. Crocus has a good reputation generally. However, for tree specialists, online I like Barcham Trees where you can actually select the tree you are buying from a moving photo of it but my favourite place to buy trees is Frank P Matthews Ltd whose brand is Trees for Life. They are just outside Tenbury Wells but also sell online and through garden centres. The basic selections on my shopping list should be available from any good garden centre and I shall be visiting Neal's in Wandsworth and my new favourite Court Farm Garden Centre, in Tolworth to check - when I get a minute.

Just writing and researching this blog has made me salivate and linger for longer than necessary over the Google images tree pages and FlickR selections so, guess what I am doing to celebrate National Tree week! Surely I can squeeze a couple more in somewhere – even if only in large pots?

P.S. And whatever you do, please don't be tempted to let a Sycamore grow in your garden. In my view they are the worst and largest weeds around town - and I have real experience of this. Pull up every seedling you see.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013 19:17

Can you guess what these beauties are?

They are one of the most lovely things I have seen in my garden this autumn - bar the flowers and the pests I blogged on recently.

And they have made me very happy that I bought three Asclepias from the new garden centre I found earlier in the year.

Online details of the Asclepias plants (if you remember the labels were useless) promised me colourful flowers, seed pods and then seeds with 'parachutes'. And this is exactly what they have delivered. The individual flowers (above) are quite small but they have a large 'flower head' effect. I couldn’t imagine what the seed pods would be like.

It turns out that they are enormous, at least 4-5 cms long, almost as long as the leaves. The seed pods start green.

Then they harden, fade and the outer layer curls back to expose lots of brown seeds in what looks like the most intricate French plait every invented.

Then they mature, the wind blows and the seeds expose their electric filament-like parachutes which shimmer in the sunshine and will take them wherever. They are completely amazing to watch – best seen in the video at the top of the page.

They may, of course, cause me lots of problems if they “take” where they shouldn’t ie in the pink bed, but the prevailing winds have blown them towards the pond, greenhouse and not very fertile gravel paths. We’ll see next year and I have decided to harvest some and plant in the greenhouse because they are quite tender and so that I can recognise the seedlings as they grow. I'll have no idea what they’ll look like otherwise and they could easily be scooped up in general weeding.

These beautiful seeds have made me focus on other seed heads and my garden is full of them at this time of year. The rose hips are obvious and seldom create a new rose (though I have a small rose I didn’t plant in a pot by the house).

Nigella seed heads are everywhere, larger than their flowers and luckily are usually successful in self-seeding.

The Convolvulus seeds are much more ‘normal’ in relation to their flower size and are also very successful at creating new plants.

The large seed pods of the Wisteria seem sensible given the size of their flower clusters (I have never let them mature)….

… but the boomerang-shaped Tracleospermum jasminoides seed pods are far larger than the flowers they come from.

My new Solanum laciniatum has very large seed fruits too. They are changing colour from green to yellow - like plums.

And the Crocosmia Lucifer seeds are now about ready to burst from their pods... are those of the Ceratostigma...

..while the Agapanthus seeds have almost all already set flight.

But there is one plant that will keep me mesmerised by its seeds for a long while yet. That's the Miscanthus sinensus around the pond. Most of its heads are still in their early stages. This one below is opening to produce its seeds. And they look wonderful, whether the light is on them or through them. They are a perfect plant for the lower lights of autumn and winter.

So, which of this wonderful haul of seeds am I going to use?

Sadly, my garden and greenhouse are too small for me to need to propagate much - so bring on the gorgeous man with lots of acres and greenhouses that need looking after!

Most of these seeds will go to waste but I do propagate special plants and easy annuals including Begonia, Nicotiana of all sorts, and Cosmos. But mostly there isn't enough room to multiply what I already have.

Some years back I had some wonderful, exotic-looking, Begonias. I bought them from a specialist at The Malvern Show and they were in pots outside.  Each winter I took stem cuttings from them, ensuring I had leaf buds on two junctions, then simply stuck one end in jam jars of water and put them on a kitchen window sill over winter. They all sprouted new roots in the water within weeks and turned into new plants very easily, came true, and flourished. This went on for about seven years - until I got bored. One year I let the cuttings dry out. Inevitably they died. I really regret this lack of care because I miss them - and have not seen them since at flower shows.

I am not fond of the little, boring, yellow and red ones with dark green leaves that live in shade. Nor do I favour the huge, blousy, double ones in a range of garish colours. But I loved these little, tender ones, in pink and white which look like orchids.

They were great value because they flowered from mid Summer until the snows. I must seek them out again at the next Malvern show.

So, I shan’t be collecting or saving many of these seeds. I shall see where the wind blows them - and then probably do a lot of weeding next year!


Friday, 15 November 2013 19:01

It was 'Wild about Gardens' week in the last week of October and, even though I didn’t do much about it because I had just published ‘Reflections on water and wildlife’, it did make me study the wildlife in and around the house again. I filmed foxes around my streets at night and a sawfly larva eating leaves on my Graham Thomas rose – both classed as garden pests, but both beautiful in their own way.

This has caused me to reflect on beauty in the garden. A perfectly formed, scented  rose is an obvious beauty.

Indeed, any perfect example of a flower or plant would have to fall into this category. But I contend there are other, less obvious, beauties too - like the fox.

Foxes can be aggressive, destructive and what they leave behind stinks to high heaven. But I admire their looks and agility and admit I find them beautiful. I just don’t want them in my garden.

In 2003 I had a major war with foxes when I first moved into this house and garden. I won, of course, eventually but only after a series of major battles.  They became so bold that they were facing me off in between the beds. They dug up my newly planted plants (I’ve not used bonemeal since), they poo-ed everywhere and two of the younger ones tried to make a den in my hot bed.

I tried all the known remedies including a disgusting smelling tar put on rags and sticks, and dried lion poo (because the fox is more closely related to cats than dogs and is supposed to shy away from larger cats). None of these had any effect whatsoever. Eventually, with the agreement of most of my neighbours, I had to resort to a professional fox man, baited humane traps and daily morning removal.  12 foxes were removed from our gardens over 14 days.

Like any well-waged war it was meticulously planned, expensive and effective – with some casualties. Quite rightly, foxes are not allowed to be in a trap for more than 24 hours. I bought the meat (cost) and baited the trap every night. In the morning, before going to work, there was almost always a fox in it. The man had to be called, arrive, deal with the fox and go, before I left for work. Each fox cost £45 to be removed and the humane trap had a rental cost for the 14 days. The major casualty was my outdoor lighting. Whilst in the trap, the foxes decimated the wiring which ran underneath, so that cost a pretty penny too to replace.

Anyway, they were gone. I sorted it. Even now they are few and far between and I am sure that having dogs now helps to keep them away. I see the occasional one looking over the fence at the end of the garden but they are no longer a problem.

But all this doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate the beauty of the urban fox.  Pickle, Lottie and I meet them almost every night as we do our ‘final pee and poo’ walk around the nearby streets before bed.

So, the other night I went out and filmed them in the dark. Fabulously healthy foxes are all over the streets and especially around the bins of a nearby housing estate – as you’ll see in the video. And they are beautiful to watch. I just don’t want them in my garden.

In complete size contrast, but also a pest, I have also been fascinated by the sawfly larvae that are now eating the leaves of my Graham Thomas rose.

They too are destructive, but they’re easily removable by hand unless you have a serious invasion. No major war needs to be waged. No humane traps or sawfly men are required – just remove the leaves with them on, and take them away to the dump.

But, like the garden-destructive fox, the leaf-stripping sawfly larva is also beautiful  - as you’ll see in the video. I watched them first with a magnifying glass. To begin with I wasn’t sure which was the front and which the back but, under the camera, it has become clear where the eyes and munching mandibles are. The roses are still repeating but they are also going over. They are deciduous. The leaves will fall so I don’t really care if sawfly larvae take their fill now. Perhaps I should – for next year - but I doubt it.

Both these creatures are characterised as pests but they also have a beauty, all of their own, which I can’t help revelling in and I hope you will too.

Coming to appreciate the beauty of your garden pests is an interesting place to be, but one I am getting to. The macro lens on the camera is helping.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013 12:24

October is a mellow month in my garden – the roses are gently repeating, some Clematis, Alstromeria and Geraniums are too. Everything is looking large and green after the rains and much will be cut back soon. The Dahlias are at their best, as are the Cosmos and Abutilons. My A. ‘Kentish Belle’ grows through my now overgrown ball of Pittosporum ‘Tandara Gold’ making it look like a Christmas tree hung with colourful knickerbockers. The Camelias, Daphnes and Viburnums are in bud getting ready for winter and spring and the weather is still warmish at 10 degrees C, but we’ve more rain and chiller winds.

My herbs continue to provide taste in the cooking pot, despite looking a bit straggly but they are not the only tasty things in the garden. This is also the perfect month for me to indulge in what was, up ‘til now, my very secret pleasure – drinking my scented roses.

After it has rained I urge you to wander into your garden and drink the rainwater off your roses. It tastes sublime. Only when you have done this can you really appreciate why all the insects are intoxicated by flowers. I know taste is 70-80% smell but who cares? Rainwater sucked off the petals of roses tastes like their scent, even if you hold your nose while doing it. It is just another way to fully appreciate the wonder of their perfume and to commune with your garden. 

If you are not sure how to do this, watch the very short video. And I promise you, each rose type tastes different, in the same way they smell different. You’ll be amazed. So please, take this opportunity to really taste your roses  - and enjoy! I promise you it is worth it. Just don’t tell anyone, or they’ll think you’re a little nuts. You can tell me of course. Just add a comment to the blog to let me know how it was for you.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013 16:27


So it’s all change again. Last week I was gardening bare-legged in sandals, rolled up jeans and skimpy tops. Today I am firmly back in full length jeans, socks, boots and wool.

And I’m not alone in thinking it’s colder. The fish have moved lower down in the pond and are swimming and feeding more slowly. The abundant berries on the Sorbus (Rowan tree) are being devoured by the blackbirds, and the mice are coming out to forage before winter. I have just been watching the latter doing acrobatics in the plants around the bird feeders and stealing the bird food (see the video). Then today, in broad daylight, one mouse even dragged the remains of a snail I stood on accidentally last night across my terrace and merrily fed on it behind my pots. The bird food stealing didn’t shock me, the dead snail eating did. But mice are mammals and omnivores. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

So, as we all prepare to bunker down again for the cold months, I have pruned the Wisteria, dead-headed the roses, buddlejas, dahlias and cosmos for the umpteenth time and thus find I have a moment to reflect on the year in the garden, and what I’ve learned. And lots of it seems to be about water and wildlife.

For example, the spray water scarer is the only effective device I’ve tried for keeping the heron, fox and cats away from the fish in my pond. Its major downside is that regularly the dogs and I get drenched when I forget to turn it off. That’s fine at 27 degrees C, less fun at 12 degrees C or when I’m in my glad rags, about to go out.

On the plants side, the abundant rain and long period of cold led to extraordinary combinations as everything rushed into flower at once. And I have discovered that Leonotis ‘Leonora’ is a manky dead nettle (when in my garden - it might be quite wonderful in yours) and it is not required to still have a wonderful array of butterflies and moths throughout the summer - the Buddleja are key. Aquilegia ‘Tequila Sunrise’ does not like being moved (RIP) and Physalis, the Cape Gooseberry, is actually a pernicious weed of the very worst type. Please don’t plant it anywhere except in a pot - unless you want acres of it. In addition, incredibly, cherry trees will send their roots up, above ground, to feed on the goodies in your baseless compost bin - amazing but true.

Top: Fremontadendron 'California Glory'.
Bottom left: Amelchanchier 'Snowfalkes'. Bottom right: Solanum laciniatum

And, despite its brash, orangey-yellow flowers and skin/eye irritating leaves and seed pods, I realise I really miss my Fremontadendron ‘California Glory’. It was in flower for so long each year – from spring to early winter. It was an unruly, wild, wonderful plant, somewhat like a teenager. It was determined to be independent, grow itself into a tree by splitting its pot aggressively and burying its roots underground. It had a vigour and character that the Amelanchier ‘Snowflakes’ I tried to replace it with couldn’t even think of matching. The latter lasted five months and has now been replaced by a semi-tender, Solanum laciniatum which has grown profusely and flowered since planted, so might become a reasonable alternative. We’ll see. It may not survive the winter – which the garden tells me will be hard again. There are lots of berries and hips already and these usually predict a hard winter. I can even see the ivy and Mahonia japonica preparing themselves to be the last season’s food for the birds and insects.

As an aside, many people don’t realise that ivy has flowers and berries but it does, and they are a really important source of late nectar and food for all manner of bees, birds and other insects, so please keep some ivy. It comes in many varieties, variegated or plain, small or large leaved, and is great for covering fences and walls and for harbouring and feeding a myriad of wildlife in winter.

I’ve also learned that many roses will grow very happily north-facing, as long as they are out in the open, and that other plants deemed OK for north facing sites, really are. This year’s project, my miniscule (2m x 42 cms) new front bed, has been fabulously successful against all expectations. It has been in flower constantly. In spring it bore two Camelia ‘Silver Anniversary’, then two Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Munstead White’ and one Astrantia ‘ Hidcote Shaggy Hybrid’ and two A. ‘Orlando’. These were joined by two Geranium ‘Brookside’ and G. 'Sabani Blue’. Then the three standard roses (two ‘Cream Abundance’ and one ‘Champagne Moment’) flowered profusely in June and they have been repeating ever since. The white Hydrangeas (‘Annabelle’ and ‘Steel Black Zebra’) started to add drama to this display in August and now the two Anenome ‘Honorine Jobert’ are in flower, the Astrantia are re-flowering, the Camelias are in bud again and the Sarcococca Confusa is getting ready to scent the path through winter.

Top: the front bed in September. Mid L: Rosa 'Cream Abundance'. Mid R: Rosa 'Champagne Moment'
Bottom L: Aquilegia vulgaris 'Munstead White'. Bottom R: Geranium 'Brookside'

This tiny, new, north-facing bed is looking luscious, green and gorgeous and is very happy making. It’s been a mini project but a major triumph this year. Complete strangers have stopped to thank me for making their walk along the road that bit more enjoyable and sweetly scented. I feel properly vindicated by my risky decision to buck the trend in the street and try to have flowering plants by my front wall and railings instead of the ubiquitous privet hedge.

One of the keys things I also did in the complete front re-vamp was to add a water butt on the side of the bay window. I had no water out there, so this has revolutionised my approach to watering it – i.e. I do it now! It was a neglected desert early last year.

Generally, I very seldom water my plants unless they are in pots or newly planted. In my London clay, once they are established, I reckon they should be able to find water deeper down – and for goodness sake, I live on a road with “brook” in its name for good reason - there was once a stream flowing under here. It occasionally appears in the cellar and so the least it can do is also look after the majority of the garden.

On the wildlife front, I have a major apology to make. I predicted the start of spring far too early, based on the frogs. I realise now that frogs know nothing about the start of spring. Early in the year they will come to the pond in a frenzy of excitement, sing their hearts out all night and mate, far too early. Their spawn gets frozen by late frosts and even snow and ice. The wiser toads wait in their warm beds amongst the leaves under my shed and in the stones around the pond “waterfall” until warmer times.  I’ve learned this year that the day the toads come out to mate is the day good temperatures are really here to stay. Henceforth, I shall ignore the frogs as portents of spring, however sweetly they sing at night.

And, when I think about the garden and what makes it special to me, it is the pond that is at the heart of it. Its pump-driven waterfall means the garden is full of the sound of moving water, 24 hours a day. This detracts from the surrounding noises of London – the inevitable emergency sirens, aeroplanes, traffic - and neighbours. But more importantly, it provides a drinking and washing place for a huge variety of insects and birds as well as a home for the fish, frogs, toads and numerous insects and other organisms.

So, as I reflect, given that the garden is 10 years old now, and despite my abiding passion for plants and scent, I think that what’s given me the greatest pleasure this year is the myriad wildlife attracted to it.

Top Left: Jersey Tiger moth. Top right: Speckled Wood butterfly
Bottom left: Peacock butterfly. Bottom right: Frog

I’ve had Peacock, Red Admiral, Comma and Speckled Wood butterflies feeding here as well the expected blues and whites. I’ve had an Old Lady moth, a Vapourer moth, a Lime Hawk moth and, recently, at least three exotic Jersey Tiger moths.

The birds and bees are many, and lacewings, ladybirds, damsel flies, crane flies and spiders just add to the mix. The ladybirds and tits do fairly well controlling the aphids, and the blackbirds and toads pretty much keep the snails and slugs under control. I’m sure this plethora of life is not just down to the planting. I’m certain the water, and more specifically the pond, is key. It makes the regular chore of cleaning its pump, elbow deep in sludge, eminently worthwhile – as well as being strangely satisfying.

So my advice to any new garden owner would be ‘add water’. Even if it is just a wall fountain, the sound will be relaxing and create an atmosphere away from the surrounding noises. A pond, however small, will encourage a wonderful array of wildlife. If you don’t have fish you’ll probably get newts (the two cannot co-exist because fish eat the newt eggs). Fish add colour, movement, character and noise (as they leap - which they do!) and lots of poo. They can also cause heartache if they die or are eaten by the heron – so get a water spray gismo and fear not. Be bold, put water in. You won’t regret it. Just remember to turn the heron scarer off before you walk past.

Thursday, 19 September 2013 16:40

The Jersey Tiger moths have been a very exciting feature in my garden over the last few weeks so when I saw an unusual small brown/yellow/white flutter in the garden I was even more thrilled. I managed to photograph and film the unusual butterfly on my Hibiscus leaves and then rushed to my trusty Collins "Butterflies and Moths" book to try and identify it.

All I could see was one circle on a fore wing and two on the under wing. The only matching butterfly I thought in my book was a Woodland Brown, which doesn’t exist in this country, it's just in central Europe. And as, you can see, my butterfly looked exactly like the one in the photo in the middle, opposite the Woodland Brown description, albeit with slightly more bashed up wings.

“My garden is becoming a home for unusual butterflies and moths” I thought and became even more excited.

So, in my enthusiasm, I tweeted having sighted one. Honestly, I expected the entire butterfly community to tweet back and converge on my home to witness this miraculous sighting. However, there was a big, blank, nothing in response. Maybe it’s because I only have a few followers so far (so please sign up). Also, on the first day of tweeting about the Jersey Tiger Moth, I got my Twitter account suspended for some still, unknown reason. I begged to be re-instated, promised I wasn’t a computer or someone with spamming software, and luckily they believed me and re-instated my account, within hours.

I have now read every word of all their rules and regulations, glossary, terms and conditions etc (basically the entire site) and still haven’t worked out what I did wrong. As a result, tweeting is still a bit of a risky business and I am very careful now. Despite this, my Jersey Tiger Moth tweet continues to be "favourited" (if that's a word) by many tweeters to this day and the video is getting lots of hits.

I digress. Re this butterfly, I decided to investigate further. I found some sites online, including the UK Butterfly Trust. So I contacted them through the site and, very carefully, by Tweet. Some kind person who runs the UKBT site suggested I was completely bonkers and that, most likely, it was a Speckled Wood or a Meadow Brown and asked for photos and/or video evidence. So I set about providing this.

Whilst I was cropping the images to make them larger, I realised the butterfly had damaged wings – and could have been missing some vital extra rings that would make it a Speckled Wood not a Woodland Brown. And indeed, when they were sent to this un-named specialist, he/she confirmed that it was, of course, a Speckled Wood.

So how do I feel? Well, to be honest I suppose I am a little deflated that I haven’t had a complete foreigner in the garden and that this is not a sign of major climate change etc. but I am still very excited to have been visited by a Speckled Wood. I’ve never seen one before, to my knowledge anywhere, and certainly never in this garden. So it is still a first to be celebrated.

I also feel more than a little stupid and have resolved to be more careful with my Butterflies and Moths book. I've realised three photos without captions and two descriptions is a recipe for identification disaster. I suppose I should have realised the first two photos were the male and female of the same butterfly not the male and female of the second! I am now relying more on the web and my Domino, “Insects of Britain and Western Europe”, which is much more detailed, for identification.


Thursday, 05 September 2013 20:00



I am highly embarrassed to reveal this - but here goes.

For the first time ever, my greenhouse tomatoes are a complete disaster.  I blame it all on the new growbags I chose. Of course you’ll say “well a bad workman blames his tools” and I would understand that. But hear me out.

I always grow the same cherry tomatoes – Sun Cherry, Sun Gold and Black Cherry and I always buy my seed from Thompson & Morgan. And this year was no different.

My usual practise is to germinate them from seed in trays on a heated shelf, in seed compost. I then move them into 3in pots in a mix of general purpose and the material from the same bag as I plan to plant them in. They get moved into the grow bags, three to a bag, when they are about 6 – 8 inches high. And usually they shoot up, thicken up, need their 'overarm' shoots pinching out to control them, and they flower and fruit profusely.
I use the green plastic rings to help with the watering and the plants are supported on canes held up by an invention my father made when I was a child, two of which I still have and which work beautifully, even if they are a little rusty now. It was called the Arley Grow and the metal supports are held in place by the weight of the growbag and three metal rings support the canes. All very simple and effective.

In some years, to be fair, when we have had poor summers, the tomatoes have taken longer to ripen but the plants are always huge, trying to burst out of the top of the greenhouse and covered in flowers and then fruit. Every year to date I have enjoyed lots of ripened fruit by August at the latest.

And this year was no different early on, except that I used new growbags. For years I have used New Horizon, peat-free growbags as recommended by Which?Gardening, with great success.  But this year I tried a new growbag, as uber-recommended by the same authoritative organ – Verve growbags from B&Q.
I also planned to use them for the other seeds I was planting, as Which?Gardening recommended them as a good seed propagation medium too. So I bought five. I should have known better. As soon as I opened the first one I was shocked. It smelled strongly of manure and was black and very fibrous. So, for the seeds, I put some of this in the base of the tray and covered it with proper, fine grained, seed compost. All my seeds did well, not just the tomatoes so, early in the season, I was very happy with my growbag choice.

However, you have never seen such a sad and pathetic sight as my tomatoes now. A couple of the six are still no taller than 1 metre.  As I write, there are precisely three small green tomatoes across the six plants and three small flowers on one plant. There are toadstools growing up in the base of one and they all look sickly, despite having been fed with tomato feed and watered properly. And the bags are very poorly made. They have holes everywhere, not just on the top where they should be if you over-water, but all over. When I water, the floor of the greenhouse gets a good wash.

I am devastated. Each year I rely on a fabulous crop of tomatoes from August onwards to keep me going in salads, in fish dishes and cooking generally. This year I'm going to have to resort to the supermarket again - and tasteless, watery tomatoes.

I love Which?Gardening normally but, to be honest, I am now going to be more wary of their recommendations. I 100% blame them and B&Q for my tomato disaster this year. New Horizon will have my allegiance again next year. It's too late now.


Friday, 30 August 2013 16:12

As you'll know if you've read the earlier blog, my friend Debbie Scott Anderson (who is a climate change and gardening guru and blogger) and I attended the recording of Gardeners' Question Time recorded at the Kensington Roof Gardens and aired for the first time today. Amazingly we were both selected to ask our questions so it has been a nervous wait since then to see if either or both of us made it into the finished programme - and we both did! Very happy making.

They completely changed the order of the questions from the order they were asked. Having been Q5 I have become Q1 and Debbie (who was Q2) now comes after Bunny Guiness' tour of the Roof Gardens and they left out at least two of the questions answered on the day.

The whole event has been full of co-incidences. My Quality Garden Videos colleague, Mike Purdy and I have an introduction to Matthew Wilson (which we haven't taken up yet) and, who should be on the panel but Matthew Wilson. And then in the answer to my question Anne Swithenbank mentioned Highdown Gardens in Sussex where Mike and I had been filming only two days before - see the finished video below.

And then, not only did Debbie and I get selected to ask questions, we both make the cut.

So, if you miss the repeat on Sunday at 2.00pm you can listen to it at the link below on BBC i-player.

Gardeners' Question Time


Wednesday, 21 August 2013 00:00

As you may know (if you’ve read other blogs) the heron has depleted my fish stock in the pond quite considerably, so this month I decided to give it a boost. My pond pump had also finally exploded so I needed a new one of those urgently because the fish need the water oxygenated.

Finding live garden pond fish in South West London is now pretty tricky but I rang my last supplier, James, who now specialises only in pond management, and he directed me to an independent garden and aquatic centre I didn’t even know existed – Court Farm Garden Centre, just East of the Tolworth roundabout off the A3.

I went just to buy fish and a pump but I was entranced by the garden centre plants. They have some really unusual things, they also have standard roses on huge (1.5/2 m) grafts – something I had found hard to find last year for the front garden – and some very healthy and happy looking plants. It was very exciting to visit so, as well as buying some new fish, a pump and a new heron water scarer, I obviously came away with some new plants.

For the pink bed I bought three small tubs of Gomphrena. They are pink and white mixed, they had been covered in bees at the centre and they were unusual. Well, I don’t see them very often.

For the front bed I bought an additional white, mop-head Hydrangea, ‘Black Steel Zebra’, which has fabulous, strong, black stems and large white flower clusters.

And for the Hot bed I bought two Asclepias which are orange, red and yellow and I had never seen these before. So I was thrilled with my purchases (both fish and plants) and returned home a happy and excited woman.

Then I studied the plant labels in more detail. Putting the Hydrangea aside, the Gomphrena and Asclepias labels both said “A main season variety”. I take that to mean that they are annuals or non-hardy perennials that won’t survive in this country. However, on checking online, I find that Asclepias comes in different forms. It is known as Milkweed, Butterfly weed, Blood flower and Pleuresy root in its native North America because most have a milky sap, attract butterflies and humming birds and the Indians used to eat the roots to help with lung and throat infections.

And apparently I have bought two types. I seem to have Asclepias tuberosa (the orange one, without milky sap and which should be hardy in this country) and Asclepias curassavica (the red and yellow one) which won’t be. They are both self-seeding from seed pods that will develop after the flowers. Why don’t the plant labels tell me which type of the plant I have and what their prospect is in this country? It’s all very irritating.

And then the Gomphrena, also a ‘main season variety’! After researching this online, I now understand that it is a tough annual that loves sun and can tolerate drought. The species version is ‘globosa’, magenta/purple and tall, so I think I have one of the dwarf cultivars. Almost all the information online about Gomphrena is American. The plant is native to Panama, Guatemala and Brazil. It is very attractive to butterflies and lasts all season through into autumn. It makes a great cut flower because the flower heads (actually bracts) are papery and last a long time, and also makes a great dried flower.

None of this information was available on the labels which were printed by Hortipak Ltd and the plants were grown in the UK which makes it all the more surprising.

My trusty RHS Encycopedia of plants has details on them both but few photos, so I had to resort to Google and Google images for proper identification. And even this is a hit-and-miss process because lots of people label their online plant photos incorrectly. I have to go back to the original site each time to check the veracity of the nomenclature. Surely, there’s something wrong in labelling if this is required every time I buy a new, less well-known plant?

I had similar problems, earlier this year, when I bought plants from small nurseries at the London Garden Show. Then they weren't even named properly, let alone had cultural and planting details. But I was able to ring them and get the necessary information. For plants bought from larger garden centres and non specialist nurseries this is much more difficult.

In the past I have also unwittingly bought plants that look perfect for a bed but turn out to be massively rampaging "weeds" with multiplying underground root runs (like Physalis) with absolutely no warning on the labels, and garden centres still sell the little violet "weed" with no warning of its abilty to spit its seed long distances in vast quantities.

So I think this is the beginning of a personal mission to try and get improvements in plant labelling. Who will join me?


Friday, 16 August 2013 17:59

So I said goodbye last weekend to the Jersey Tiger moth but today he's back, where the sweet peas were (I've taken them down now) but with a damaged end to his right top wing as you can see in the photo. I sort of assume it's the same moth - I don't know if they all look exactly the same or have subtley different markings.

I wonder what has happened to him? I had supposed they had few predators because they feed during the day and are badly camouflaged but clearly his wing has been torn by something. A fight? A rose bush? Who knows.

Apparently butterfly and moth wings don't mend naturally. I've just watched an amazing video on how to mend a butterfly wing. You can see it here. It is really worth watching as the guy mends wings on live monarch butterflies.

It suggests that if the damage is minor, you clip the corresponding wing to the same shape so flight is not affected. If the wing is broken but still existing, it shows you how to add a tiny cardboard splint to repair it. And, if much of the wing is gone it shows how to mend it - but assumes you have spare butterfly or moth wings around with which to do this. I am very proud of my well stocked tool box. My first aid kit is pretty extensive too. But spare animal and insect limbs and wings are not something I have handy, so I am now feeling wholly inadequate as a Moth mender.

However, I watched the JTM fly about 3m in my garden in what I think is a fairly normal way but I've only had three days' introduction to him so I am no expert. So now I am worrying about whether I should try to catch him and clip his other wing too to make him equal - or not.

The chances are I shan't see him again but, if I do, he will be easy to catch. So what to do for the best?

Later note: He was around the garden for over a week. My last sighting was at my front door. He was inside when I got back from work. I tried to catch him to put him back into the garden but he flew out the front into the road. Oh I hope he found wild Buddleja or another garden and not someone's car windscreen.

Even later note: And on 27 August a new one, with perfect wings, arrived so now I am not sure whether I have had two or three visiting. There must be a little colony around here - or even hiding somewhere in my garden. It was preceded that day by a Speckled Wood butterfly which I've not seen here before either.

Sunday, 11 August 2013 00:00

This time last year I was wondering whether to get rid of the Leonotis leonorus and Buddleja or keep them both because the former turned out to be a manky nettle with few flowers and the latter was covered in butterflies and I thought these two facts might be related. The Buddleja survived, the Leonotis didn’t.

This year I have so far seen Comma, Red Admiral, large and small white, and small blue butterflies but no Peacocks yet.

However, on Friday 9th August there was a large, colourful flutter just by the kitchen garden doors. I watched this creature in flight, all orange and black and pale yellow and couldn’t think what it was but assumed it was a butterfly of some sort because it was midday and bright sunshine. Thankfully it settled on a new Buddleja (yes I’ve got a new one – well three – ie tricoloured in a big pot near the herbs).

It was something I had never seen before and I have now identified it as a Jersey Tiger moth, Euplagia quadripunctaria. And wow it’s beautiful - as you’ll see in the video. It stayed on the Buddleja for about 30 minutes allowing me to change lenses to a macro lens, make a cup of coffee and search through my butterflies and moths book to try and identify it, while it happily fed on the nectar and I filmed it. Identification finally happened online as ever.

When it is feeding all you can see from above are the black and pale yellow markings ie none of the wonderful orange it flashes when it’s in flight. But, if you watch the video, you’ll see that all this orange is hidden in the underwings and undercarriage.

According to Wikipedia and various Moth sites, the Jersey Tiger Moth is widely distributed in Europe from Estonia to Latvia in the North and to the Mediterranean coast in the South. Aside from being frequent in the Channel Islands (whence its common name), this species was rarely seen in the British Isles in Victorian times. Since then, however, it has spread more widely in Devon and Cornwall, and has recently been seen more frequently in southern England, especially in the Isle of Wight, northern Kent, and south London. They have been seen regularly and in numbers every year in London since 2004, so it is probable that they have established a breeding colony - hence it popping in here to feed in SW12.

And it flies during the day which is why we can see it on my Buddleja - filming at night is not my speciality!

Anyway, it was a very welcome visitor to the garden. At one point it made a silly decision to fly into the kitchen so I had to open both doors and hope it would leave. About 20 minutes later an orange and black flutter came past me on the terrace so I presume it had sensibly decided to find nectar outside. There’s none in the kitchen. Indoor plants are not something I’m good at. Basil for cooking and Aloe for cooking burns is basically all there is.

So I said farewell and assumed I would never see one again because they are pretty rare around here. Then at about mid-day on the next day it arrived again and stayed until about 6.00pm in various places. I therefore have hours of footage but have boiled them down to two and a half minutes for you! A couple of times when I disturbed it, it flew at me and even landed on me twice and came into the kitchen on my trouser leg but mostly it sucked at Buddleja and rested. I feel enormously privileged to have been witness and host to it. It was all very exciting and I hope you enjoy the video. It's an amazing creature.

Tuesday, 06 August 2013 10:50

Yesterday I attended a recording of Gardener’s Question Time held in the Kensington Roof Gardens. It is an amazing location and I haven’t been for about a gazillion years – shame on me - and it’s almost just round the corner.  I think the last time I was there was for someone’s 21st birthday party and in those days my focus wasn’t gardens or plants(!) so I failed to appreciate quite how wonderful they are.

The gardens are celebrating their 75th year this year. Mature trees, shrubs and flowers galore thrive in just 1.5 metres of soil high above the streets of London. Water abounds, four flamingos call it their home and yesterday it was full of garden enthusiasts from London and the Home Counties for the recording.

There must have been about 250 of us and amazingly, Debbie Scott-Anderson, my garden blogging friend (who had been allocated two tickets and kindly invited me) and I, were both selected to come up front to ask our questions. There were at least ten questioners and, as an avid GQT listener, I know they will cull about half of us so we’ll hear on 30th August whether one or both of us make the cut.

But, whatever, it was a fantastic event. The questions were varied and the panel of Anne Swithinbank, Bunny Guinness and Matthew Wilson was great. They were relaxed and fun and Matthew especially created a lot of laughs with his down-to-earth, slightly irreverent answers. He also gardens on London clay and is as useless as I am with house plants so I suppose I empathised most with him.

As ever, it was also really interesting. Even though I was a little nervous about being a questioner, I still became absorbed in the questions and their answers, at least as much as (or possibly even more than) I do when I hear it on the radio. However, when I listen on radio I find I am normally answering the questions myself out loud, commenting on others’ suggestions and seeing if the panellists agree with me. This time I had to shut up and could only nod, shake my head and laugh as appropriate. Quite an unusual “holding of tongue” was done - my grandmother would have been proud of me. But, as an old hand at radio and now video, I know how difficult the edits are when someone speaks out of turn. This obviously didn’t faze some of the questioners who chatted on about their subject willy-nilly.

And one major question I have always had about GQT was answered. We were told and I believe now that the panellists don’t have a preview of the questions – only the Chairman and the director/producer see the questions in advance and decide which will be asked. This makes the panellists’ responses even more impressive.

So from now, I shall listen with an even greater respect ………. but I don’t think it’ll stop me trying to answer them first out loud in the freedom of my car or at my computer!

Videos and photos of the roof gardens can be seen here.

Thursday, 27 June 2013 00:00

The male blackbird who has starred in a couple of my movies loves this garden. He built a nest this year with his mate in the ivy in the side passage: very sensible – well hidden and close to a permanent food and water source. For weeks I watched him and his mate dive in and out of the ivy. Then, a couple of weeks ago, the side passage was full of the cries of newly hatched blackbirds screaming for food.

Sitting at the table on the terrace was almost dangerous – we were in the flight path – as Mr and Mrs Blackbird flew tirelessly in with worms and grubs to feed their young. The noise from the ivy was glorious and exciting. A new brood of little blackbirds was in progress.

Last Friday I was out at the opera and the dogs were thus locked in the house. Saturday morning the nest was silent. I listened to the silence for a few hours and then, with a heavy heart, investigated. I found a dead blackbird chick on the ground – almost fully fledged. It broke my heart. I can’t see the remains of a nest or his other fledglings (maybe they are in my neighbours’ garden) but the nest and family are clearly gone. It must have been a magpie or a cat. Magpies check the garden out and I have caught cats stalking across the fence there, despite the thorny roses and dogs.

It has happened before. Last year a cat attacked when the nest was just eggs and Mr Blackbird and his wife recovered and built a new nest in the roses above the gated arch where they successfully raised a brood. This time I know he put up a fight, albeit unsuccessfully and I don’t think he has built a new nest.

He is now back on the feeder, bruised and battered, with his feathers all messed up and looking like he has been in a cat – or magpie -fight. He can fly and feed so I suppose he’s OK but gosh, every time I see him, I want to weep for his dead family and the fight he obviously put up to try and save it. His before and after can be seen below.


A few days later I found what looked like a dead bee in the pond. As we all know we need every bee we have for pollination purposes, so I fished it out and put it on the edge hoping it might recover. I filmed it too. As you will see it lay looking dead for some time and then miraculously came to life, started to move and clean itself. But then the struggle seemed too much and it appeared to give up and die. However some moments later it recovered its strength and went through the process again. This happened about five times and every time I thought he had given up the ghost. But he hadn’t. 20 minutes later it had recovered sufficiently to fly off – and of course I missed the take-off. However, on the positive side, we have one more bee in this world even if we have four or five fewer blackbirds. I am still in mourning for them.

Monday, 17 June 2013 00:00

I don’t know about you but the terrible weather we have had has been fantastic for my roses. They are more floriferous than they have ever been and each flower is simply enormous. They seem to have been less confused by the weather than the earlier plants. Everything was late and then all the others seemed to rush into flower at the same time.

The Daphne flowered until April (which it has never done before – a full sixth months since November!). I had tulips flowering with daffodils and now have roses flowering with tulips – in June! Even the new standard roses in my North facing front garden (1 x ‘Champagne Moment’ and 2 x ‘Cream Abundance’– which is actually very pink on the outside as you’ll see in the video and has a stronger scent than advertised)  have put on a spectacular display – much better than I could ever have dreamed of from roses in their first year. Roses are notoriously slow starters and normally take about three years to really look their best. But these three look like old hands already.
I thought you’d enjoy to see them so watch the short video.

Friday, 17 May 2013 15:43

My pond is unfiltered, full of fish, frogs and toads who have all woken up and are eating and pooing. Inevitably leaves and things fall in it too so, relatively regularly from late Spring through to late Autumn, the working parts of the pump get clogged up with vegetation and the stream turns to a trickle as the pump works overtime to try and push the water around. Thus I have to clean the pump.

Despite all the poo and cold water (and the 30 minutes or so it takes to do this) I must admit I find it very satisfying. I love the fact that I know how to take the pump apart completely (no good details in the instructions of course), it gives me enormous pleasure to clear the gunk from the fly wheel and, when the new rush of water suddenly appears in the stream, I feel a little flutter of joy and, I'll admit it, a little pride. Ridiculous, but there it is.

This is the second such pump I have had in the pond in ten years. The first finally exploded after about six years with a nasty pop, which luckily I was close enough to hear. This one is a little more powerful but the same type (a Blagdon amphibious). As you'll see in the video, I have found the front fitted filter the pump comes with wholly inadequate, so I have removed this and installed the main pump unit in a special cage which I have also mounted on an old set of plastic metal shelves to keep it above the fish poo layer on the bottom of the pond. The whole thing is quite Heath-Robinson looking but works.

This video also marks my debut on camera on this site. Why didn't I choose something more glamorous? But thinking about it there's not much in gardening that's glam other than admiring flowers close up or gently dead-heading, so my plastic apron and I can be seen elbow deep in fish poo.

Filming oneself is pretty tricky. I have to guess the heights and focus, remember to turn everything on (microphone etc), try to check if I am running out of battery or card space and then hope for the best. There are already all sorts of out-takes on this pond pump cleaning procedure and other videos I haven't published (planting Camelias), so perhaps I'll create a Christmas film with all of them together.

Oh yes, I nearly forgot. Please excuse the manky wet plaster on my left forefinger. I had a nasty slice in it which I wanted to protect from all the gunk.

Later note: 18/10/2013

I have to admit that the pump finally blew up in July. Water got in through the wire at the rear so I have bought a new one. This is a different pump, a Pontec Pondomax eco 5000. It has something that chews up the vegetative matter which the Blagdon didn't. It has worked without cease since installed and the water flow has not yet reduced. I'm very impressed. When it eventually needs cleaning properly I'll work it out and let you know how to do it too. As ever, full instructions as to how to get inside it are not enclosed!


Friday, 03 May 2013 10:41

It was small but almost perfectly formed. It was the Spring garden show at The Garden Museum at Lambeth Palace.  On Sunday a friend and I paid a visit. Entry was cheap at £5. The show consisted of about ten plant stalls - some outside and some in the church, plus a number of other stalls selling things of interest like greeting cards with fabulous photos of plants which made me very jealous and were only £1.50 each - see

The event was well attended though I have to say the lunch and coffee tables seemed the busiest places but that may have been because we arrived at about 11.30am and the attendees were inevitably somewhat on the older side.

There were three real highlights for me. The first was that the outside stalls were set amongst the fabulous churchyard which is so evocative. Ancient tombs and stones surrounded by ‘wild’ planting in one section (daffs, tulips, Brunnera, grasses) and the other stalls amongst the formal box beds of the knot garden with a fabulous range of interesting plants.


And all surrounded by modern office buildings on one side and the ancient palace on another, a little green haven amongst the busy roads around Lambeth Bridge and St Thomas’ hospital.

Saturday, 27 April 2013 17:54


It's all in the short video (3 minutes) and I am interested to see whether this frustrates you or not. If you want text too please comment.

Friday, 26 April 2013 00:18


I’m really pleased with this video of birds feeding and bathing in my garden, cut in time-ish to a Strauss polka (watch the goldfinches and Blackbirds in particular). It’s an example of what I am learning as I create this Blog.

My day job is making videos for large corporates. I advise them on how best to tell and articulate their corporate stories on video – for investors, employees and other business audiences. Almost all of this video is online, so supposedly I am online video savvy. But my role is to think, advise, direct and produce – all bossy talk and no physical action! I am never behind the camera and I sit beside the editor as he/she creates the finished piece with me.

For this site, it has all had to change. I have to be able to do it all myself. I can’t wait for a cameraman to be free when a bee is in a flower – I have to film it. I can’t wait for an editor the other side of town to be free so I can create a piece to show you what’s happening in the garden.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013 00:00

I have a gap in my Pink bed. It is behind the Rowan tree, along the West facing fence and it looks particularly gappy in Winter.

Obviously, once the Rowan tree comes into leaf, the Berberis gets going and the Buddleja flowers it will be less obvious, but it still needs filling.

The gap was created by cutting off one half of the Ceanothus which bushed out into the Pink bed and by hard pruning the Clematis montana last year, so whatever is put there will need to deal with the original Clematis montana Grandiflora as it grows back as well as the new C. montana 'Mayleen'. But 'Mayleen' seems to be heading off towards the house ie not inclined to cover my gap.

So what to choose?

Thursday, 04 April 2013 00:00

I suppose an apology is in order – from me and the frogs.

As I write it is snowing in South West London – in April?. It is miserable, cold and windy. Spring has not sprung – the frogs didn't know what they are singing about. Their spawn is all over the pond, now frozen and snow covered. Let's hope some of them make it.

Interestingly the toads are still nowhere to be seen. They are still in hibernation. They obviously have a better sense of the weather than the frogs.

I am desperate to get into the garden, turn the heating down or off and generally feel the sun again. The plants seem to feel the same. They are waiting, mostly in bud, for a change in the weather. Everything is very late and we are counting the days.

But I have learned a lesson - ignore the frogs. I am now waiting for the toads and expect they will be wiser.

Saturday, 09 March 2013 00:00


This, if you haven’t seen one before, is what I call a frog or toad ball. It is part of the mating practice of frogs and toads and happens every year in my pond. It’s the first such ball this year and it’s a small one and I think it’s a frog ball because so far there’s only frog spawn in the pond. As far as I can see there are only four males (they are the smaller ones) grabbing onto the one larger female – she’s the one whose arms are loose and outright. Essentially she’s in a relaxed position with the males all over her. I’ve seen toad balls in the past with more than ten males smothering one female.

Before I had a website, blog and digital SLR camera that shot video I kept a diary by hand to record the happenings in the garden. This was the drawing I made of a frog ball in 2008.


And I am not sure how relaxed the females really are. I have found dead females following this balling. The males must drown her in the process by mistake. It must also mean that there are far too many males per female because other mating videos I’ve seen show just one on one events.


Saturday, 23 February 2013 00:00


Sometime between 10.30 pm and 11.30 pm tonight, as I was weeping my way through a replay of Sunday’s “Call the midwife” on BBC’s i-player, Spring started in London. I can tell you this authoritively because I heard it. Wiping the tears from my cheeks at the end of the programme I needed air. I stepped outside onto my terrace to be greeted by a sound I haven’t heard for very many months – a serenade of frogs.

They weren’t there earlier tonight at 10.30pm but they were singing at 11.30pm. It has lifted my soul. Spring is here - for definite. If the frogs are back in my pond then there is little doubt. They have made a couple of mistakes in the past – but not many in ten years

It has been a cold, cold winter. I have been chilled to the bone. The dog walks have almost become chores rather than pleasures as the soles of my feet have become numb through my wellies and my fingers have chilled picking up the string of Pickle’s ball countless times as he returns it religiously to my toes in the freezing mud for yet another throw.

Now it is all worth it. The seedlings in my heated greenhouse started to sprout last week but it all felt false – heaters, propagators, bubble-wrapped comfort etc.. But now that the frogs are singing, all is right with the world. We can sing again too and celebrate the dawn of a new season.

Sunday, 17 February 2013 17:04


The cuckoo is still silent. Frogs and toads have yet to populate the pond – normally the first sign of the end of winter – and I am still wearing more layers than a good filo pastry. Yet today, in the first sunshine for weeks, a Red Admiral butterfly came to bask on my Choisya ternata “Sundance” in all its red, black and white splendour. It is still only about 12 degrees C. in the sun (and very cold out of it), and my butterfly and moth books tell me the Red Admiral arrives from Southern Europe in May to October.

I don’t know what to think. Is this a lone migrator pushed North by winds? Has it over-wintered through the snow in one of my insect houses around the garden? Or is this the result of something much greater ie climate change? A friend has just seen a flock of 20-30 waxwings feeding on old figs and ivy berries in her garden in Clapham, London – they should be on the east coast, if anywhere here the moment.

However, the rest of the garden is doing roughly what it should at this time of year. Everything spring and summer flowering is budding, especially the roses and many of the clematis. Tulips and daffodil leaves are about six inches up, the Viburnum is just beginning to wake, deciduous leaf buds are ripening all over and the Camelia are in fat bud, but only the Daphne, Snowdrops and Rosemary are actually in flower.

Friday, 01 February 2013 00:00

Daphne has been my joy and sorrow this winter. She was a water Niaid supposedly, a great beauty sought by Apollo, a water spirit. December is transformed by Daphne in my garden as the six year old, evergreen, D. bholua ‘Sir Peter Smithers’ beside my swing seat once again comes into flower as the rain and snow falls. But as a water nymph she has failed. It’s now clear I have lost all the fish in my pond bar three to the heron. Clear in every way. The unfiltered pond is now crystal clear from the freezing temperatures. I can see every leaf or piece of gravel on the bottom as well as the pump, waterlily tuber, and each fish as it “hibernates” as low down as it can.

Monday, 01 October 2012 00:00

Much have I travelled through the Internet

And many Google sites and pages seen;

Through many searches have I been

For likely purchases I need to vet.

Oft of two sites I’d heard but yet  

On EBay I had never been

Nor PayPal used in this demesne

‘Til antique tiles I had to get.

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies

When a new world comes into her ken,

With reclamation yards and private buys

As far afield as York and Penn

Who yield their goods, to my surprise,

More swift and cheap than shop-based men.


So now I’m charged with power and might

To buy and sell at my own will

It really is an awesome thrill

This new world order seems so right!

A pallet firm I’ve found on site

Called Speedshift, and for a small bill

Your order they will more than fill

They’ll even do it overnight.

So now I’ve also sold, yippee,

Old tiles and borders I don’t need.

Buying power it seems to me

S’been shifted, I hope we’re all agreed,

By EBay, PayPal - and they’re free!……………….. well almost.

Monday, 03 September 2012 00:00

For the past few months I have been struggling to get compost out of the door at the bottom of my plastic, Lambeth Council supplied, compost bin. It is baseless, physically not metaphorically.

Something tough was hindering the compost falling down. I ignored it to begin with and tried just forcing things down from the top with not much success. Whatever the blockage was, it was so strong that the only thing I could imagine it could be was bamboo.

Last year I had dug up and removed a patch of bamboo around the “Family” sculpture. Despite supposedly being a non-invasive bamboo, it had escaped from the pots and cement I had planted it in and was slowly killing my beautiful Acer by the pond.

Apparently Acers have shallow, spreading roots which don’t like being disturbed. An Acer expert I consulted at the Malvern Spring Gardening Show had made the position very clear - either the Acer would die completely or the bamboo had to go. There was no question. It was a back and two fork-twisting, four days to dig all the bamboo up properly – and I was pretty sure I hadn’t put any of it in the compost bin.

Identifying the compost bin blockage was not easy. During Spring the top of the compost became very unpleasant. First it was a mass of worms and slugs and then, as it got dry, it became a mammoth ants nest. Identifying the blockage from above was not going to be pleasant or straightforward. So I got squeamish and didn’t try. Even if I lay on the ground and looked up through the little door at the bottom (really tricky and painful given its location and generally yucky as a prospect), I couldn’t see what was going on. So I left it and, over time, the “thing” in the compost bin continued to take over physically - and in my mind. It took on ridiculous proportions. I knew it was powerful and strong. It became a monster and I even became a little scared of it.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012 00:00

Every year I grow plants from seed. There are the “must haves” that happen every year - tomatoes, Convolvulus and Nicotiana and then I choose a few new plants to try. This year one of them was Leonotis leonurus ‘Staircase’ which promised to be tall and interestingly orange. Perfect for my hot bed I thought - it would be ideal for the back of the bed: stately and wildly hot coloured like in the picture in the catalogue.

 Leonotis as they should look - Image sourced from Nole Hace.

However, as we know in gardening, not everything delivers as promised. The seeds germinated successfully in the greenhouse over Feb/March and were no trouble to pot on as seedlings. After hardening them off in the cold frame for a couple of weeks they were getting tall and I planted them out in the red bed. Since when they have shot up to the promised 4/6 feet – and now look exactly like over-large, green, straggly, well eaten nettles – not exactly the look I was after. The ‘flower’ sockets close to the stem occasionally have a flash of red but there has been not a sepal or petal to be seen.






Leonotis In my garden

At the same time, on the other side of the garden in the pink bed, I had been contemplating the fate of the Buddleja. Despite hacking it back, nearly to the ground last year, it has grown very large and threatened roses, astrantia and all manner of plants that are now under its shade. I have been thinking it is much too large for the bed and has to go. I have cut it back and thinned it during the summer and removed the most aggressive branches but it is still in full flower.

Two days ago..... I was about to root up the Leonotis and dig up the Buddleja when a Peacock butterfly arrived to feed on the Buddleja. Since then I have had the same (or different?) peacocks feeding on it all day, every day - and these were followed by Red Admirals and even a Comma butterfly.



Apparently Peacock butterflies like to lay their eggs on nettles. All the gardens around here are very well kept and I doubt they have many nettles, if any. I used to keep a crop of nettles for butterflies but they had to go a few years ago for space reasons. Since then the closest I have had to a nettle in the garden is Lamium ‘Ghost’ – until the Leonotis.

The seed packet says, “Leonotis seedlings look a little like nettle seedlings”. Actually they look exactly like nettle seedlings and apart from being taller and non-stinging, the full grown plants look exactly like tall, manky nettles. In fact I think they are less beautiful than nettles.

I have now researched the family and the Leonitis is exactly the same family as the dead (not stinging) nettle ie they are both family Lamiaceae (mint family) of Order Lamiales and Subclass Asteridae. So it is a nettle! Incidentally stinging nettles it appears are family Urticaceae, of Order Urticales and subclass Hamamelididae - completely different.

Now the big question is, have the Leonitis fooled the peacock butterfly into laying its eggs on them ‘cos they look like nettles and are they the reason I have so many peacock butterflies in the garden – or is it just the Buddleja attraction and the two things are entirely unrelated?

And because I am now totally enthralled by the butterflies, I am in a complete quandary as to what to do with both plants. Is there a link? Should one or both go or should they stay?