Hellebores and snowdrops

Graham Rice,east lambrook,margery fish,hellebores,snowdrops. Image © (all rights reserved)
Hellebores and snowdrops are classic late winter and early spring companions and, as this shot from the garden East Lambrook Manor in Somerset, England, shows they look great together.

East Lambrook Manor is the garden made famous by the pioneering writer and plantsperson Margery Fish, who brought cottage gardening back into fashion. She grew and introduced many fine plants and was especially fond of hellebores and snowdrops. Both have been allowed to self sow all over the garden in the decades since she died; when I was last there some years ago the hellebores were pretty but not special, but choice new snowdrops are still being discovered in the garden.

Allow bees to cross pollinate all the hellebores in their various colours and the resulting seedlings tend to become ever more dull and disappointing, even as the choice parents survive.

Allow snowdrops to do the same and not only does the purity of their colour remain largely untainted, unlike in hellebores, but new and intriguing forms turn up. A number have been sselected and named from amongst the great drifts and clumps of them at East Lambrook in recent years. These include ‘Dodo Norton’,  ‘Lambrook Greensleeves’, ‘Margery Fish’, ‘Sir Henry B-C’ and ‘Walter Fish’.

The lessons?
1. Always dead head your hellebores before they seed if you possibly can, and so prevent the appearance of lots of murky shades.
2. Don’t even bother to think about dead heading your snowdrops, although I know a few people do.
3. Look closely amongst your snowdrops to check if any unusual types have sprung up.
4. If you can, visit East Lambrook Manor and admire both hellebores and snowdrops for yourself.

Images © Graham Rice /

Graham Rice,east lambrook,margery fish,hellebores,snowdrops. Image © (all rights reserved)

The blues...

Today, while I'm in England, a guest post from my wife judywhite back in Pennsylvania. Thanks, judy.

Ipomoea,Heavenly Blue. Image © (all rights reserved)Sometimes serendipity in the garden isn’t really just coincidence. I’ve realized that our garden has become furiously dotted with blue. It was a subconscious thing, this gradual adding of plants with blue flowers and/or blue foliage. Oh, okay, some of it was serendipitous, since a few of the plants were sent to us, dare I say it, out of the blue, for trialing. Blue is supposed to be such a rare horticultural color. Hey. It’s not.

Out there today, shining even in the blue of this rainy, gloomy gray day where we’re stuck halfway between the end of summer and the beginning of fall, are four blue showstoppers. First, of course, is the great mass of annual ‘Heavenly Blue’ morning glories (above, click to enlarge), climbing the picket fence, where I constantly have to unwind the latest tendrils from the gate so that they don’t break off when the UPS guy comes. Then Caryopteris,Sunshine Blue, Image © (all rights reserved) there’s a big shrub of Caryopteris ‘Sunshine Blue’, much happier now that the old cherry trees are gone above it, even if the gold in the leaves isn’t as pronounced as earlier in Ceratostigma,willmottianum, Image © (all rights reserved)the season. In the shade is groundcover Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, a lot of bright bang for the size. And right out the front door is the 2ft/60cm tall mound of tiny blue starry asters that we’ve lost the tag of; that plan of burying all the labels conveniently at the front of the raised beds sometimes doesn’t work as well as you might think.

 Still going, if more sparsely since their early big flushes, are two low-growing spreaders, Lithodora diffusa ‘Grace Ward’ (I like its solid blue much better than the more common blue and white ‘Star’) and Campanula portenschlagiana 'Blue Waterfall', both first-timers this year. Hydrangea Endless Summer has faded to a violet blue from its former intense brightness, but the blue kale is still going strong, plus we pull off leaves and have soup anytime we want. More blue foliage is in the fabulous Hosta ‘Hadspen Blue’, utterly slug-proof and well behaved. There are hints of blue in the Japanese painted ferns and the Meserve hollies ‘Blue Girl’ and ‘Blue Boy’, and in the fading Phlox paniculata ‘David’s Lavender’, whose flowers turn more blue as they get older - makes me think aging might not be all bad after all.
Hosta,Hadspen Blue, Image © (all rights reserved) I think this blue streak started with the forget-me-nots that the previous owner left behind over 10 years ago; I’ve been encouraging them everywhere, and they shatter through in spring. Oh! And then there’s the icy blue of Amsonia tabernaemontana, and the darkness of that Aquilegia that started out as ‘Blue Bunting’ but seems to be something else entirely now, and the blue flowers of Ajuga reptans ‘Burgundy Glow’ against the purple and green and cream leaves, and the baby softness of Iris ‘Color Me Blue’, and the startling spikiness of Clematis ‘Blue Fountain’ and…

I want more.

And I love punctuating the blue with yellow. Hmmm, let’s see, we need more of that too…

Here come the plant police

boring,garden,landscape,dull,approved plants. And I thought Americans preferred their government, from Federal to local, to leave them alone, let them to get on with their lives and not interfere… Well, it turns out that for many people in private communities – a very widespread situation here in the US and not restricted to a few affluent areas as it is in Britain – there are some pretty amazing rules about what you can and cannot plant in your garden.

For example, the community of Beverly Oaks, near Dallas, Texas, (96 homes) lays down which plants you can plant in your front yard. The list is known as the “Approved Exterior Plant Selection”. There are six plants on the list. No no, not six hundred. Six. “Shrub species will be limited to those already in use in the community”, their website explains. The six approved plants are, in their language: Fraser Photinia, Red Tip; Dwarf Burford Holly; Glossy Abelia; Nandina Compact; Japanese Boxwood; Variegated Pittosporum (Orange); Italian Cypress. The photos (click to enlarge) show typical homes. Doesn’t the landscaping just fill your heart with joy? And not much market for a garden writer there.

And get this. The website also directs: “Flowers may be displayed, but must be maintained in pots or planters.” You’re not even allowed to plant a penstemon or a phlox or a gazania - in the ground, in real soil! boring,garden,landscape,dull, approved plants.

Here’s the key to their philosophy: “Unplanned diversity in a community typically ages the look of the community, and lowers the values of the real estate.” They want all the houses to look the same. “The current focus of architectural coordination is on unifying the roof colors and the garage door design, and lighting accessories… there are now… 3 garage door patterns randomly scattered throughout the community”. Three! What an outrage!

Their website seems to have more pages than there are houses in their community.

At Belcorte (79 homes), in north east Tucson, Arizona, they’re less strict. Their “Schedule of Approved Plants for Front Yards” allows sixty two different plants although some, like Variegated Pittosporum, are mysteriously restricted to east and north walls. I notice that Euryops is allowed but not Argyranthemum, pansies and petunias are OK but not pelargoniums…

Belcorte also lists of the types of decorative rocks which are allowed, eleven kinds are permitted including four specific types of “decomposed granite”. “No rocks larger than 3in in diameter except for accent (large) rocks”.

Sorry, I can’t go on. I started looking up other communities around the country but once I discovered that the approved plant lists of some communities apply to the back yard as well as the front I had to stop. OK, I know some of this is to do with choosing drought tolerant plants in the dry south, and plants that fit into the surrounding natural landscape. What is wrong with these people who allow me to plant Mexican gold poppy (Eschscholzia mexicana) anywhere on my property but only allow California poppy (E. californica) in pots in the front yard and not at all in the back?!

What we need is a revolution. What, we’ve had one already? Time for another.

UPDATE: My friends at Garden Rant have re-posted this piece as a guest blog. Take a look, and be sure to check out the great comments.

Two inspiring British gardens to visit

Martyn Cox,London,garden,small garden. Image: ©Martyn Cox.Two inspiring, but relatively small, private gardens – one in the city and one in the country – are opening for charity in Britain this coming Sunday (27 June).

 There are not many garden writers who open their gardens to all comers. But Martyn Cox, who writes a weekly column for one of Britain’s best selling Sunday newspapers, The Mail on Sunday, is opening his tiny London garden on Sunday. And it really is tiny – just 30ft x 15ft - but thoughtfully designed and with so many plants squeezed in it’s a wonder there’s room for the family. If you have a small garden, you’ll surely find it inspiring. Martyn Cox,London,garden,small garden. Image: ©Martyn Cox.

And, of course, being a writer, he wrote a book based on what he learned designing and planting his tiny garden: Big Gardens in Small Spaces - Out-of-the-Box Advice for Boxed-in Gardeners. It’s my guess that if you took the book apart and spread out all the pages the book would probably be bigger than the garden!

Read about the garden
Check details of the opening
Go to Martyn's website

Foxtail Lilly,Tracie Mathieson,country garden,shop. Image: ©Tracie Mathieson. Meanwhile, round the corner from our British base in East Northamptonshire, Tracey Mathieson is again opening her intriguing country garden. This is not a country garden with long vistas, yew hedges and topiary that demands a full time team of two just to keep it all trimmed. This is real.

It’s a fascinating combination of an imaginatively planted, manageable garden featuring perennials and annuals attached to a family house – plus a cutting garden, plus plant sales, plus Foxtail Lilly - the barn shop where you can buy exquisite hand-tied bouquets and antiques with Foxtail Lilly,Tracie Mathieson,country garden,shop. Image: ©Tracie Mathieson. floral themes. There’ll be tea and cakes, too. And lovely views over the meadows.

Tracey’s garden has been featured in both The Garden, the Royal Horticultural Society’s monthly members’ magazine, in the Daily Telegraph, and in the next issue of top selling Country Living magazine.

Read about the garden
Check details of the opening
Go to Tracey's website

Kew's Temperate House is falling down

Temperate-house (Main) News today that the largest Victorian glasshouse in the world may have to close as it will soon be falling down.

An independent review of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, reveals that The Temperate House is in need of prompt restoration without which it could pose safety risks to public, and staff, in the next two or three years. The report also points out that there’s a huge backlog of other maintenance and repair on Kew’s buildings that will cost £80million/$125million to put right.

So, basically, they have not been spending what they should on regular maintenance. Someone needs a bollocking seems to have been derelict in their duty, over the years.

Twice as large as the more famous Palm House at Kew, The Temperate House was completed in 1899 and is home to a huge collection of plants which are too tender to be grown outside but which don’t require the humid and hot tropical conditions of The Palm House.

As it happens, I remember the last time The Temperate House went through a dramatic restoration. For what seemed like years in the late 1970s, I think, most of the plants were moved out and hard hats were compulsory. Clearly, this spectacular building, with its high observation platform from which to look down on the plants, has been neglected since.

But where’s the money to come from? Not, please by upping the entrance fee. At present it costs £13/$20 to get in – that’s for just one person. With car parking on top. Enough to deter a huge number of people from visiting. And take a look at this video to see how much there is to see.

Kew Gardens HD from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

Shows my age again, I suppose, but when I was a kid it cost just a penny to get in and collecting the money cost more than people paid. There was even a plan to close the gardens to the public altogether – Kew is a scientific institution, after all - and so make significant savings on all that has to be done to accommodate the visiting public. Instead the price went up – and up and up.

So what’s the answer? A tricky question in these hard times. The report suggests that grants have not kept pace with the increased rate of grant help to museums – good – and that Kew should raise more than the existing, very impressive, £23.4million/$36.5million from commercial activities. The trick is to balance commerce and science – even assuming Kew can compete successfully for the commercial revenue being sought by so many other venues.

Looks like grants, then. And don’t forget that increased grants not only means repairing buildings, it means hiring more people. Which with unemployment so high, is exactly what we need. Kew’s own stimulus package, if you like, both to restore the gardens and provide jobs. Sounds like a good deal to me.

The Dead Plant Society

DeadPlantCoffeCan I’ve been taking a look at the coffee can on the shelf where all the labels collect, the labels from the plants which are no longer with us. The Dead Plant Society. It's not necessarily as sad as it sounds.

Needless to say, it’s been added to recently as the fall clean up confirms the absence of plants which never peeped through on time in spring. But, also, a space behind a label may reveal something else.

Some plants are definitely very very dead, including the white mophead Hydrangea ‘Queen of Pearls’. It’sHydrangeaTag odd, some mophead/Hortensia hydrangeas do well here in chilly zone 5 and others get clobbered. “Can be grown in Zone 5 with good winter protection” says the website. No, I’m not going to protect some hydrangeas when others are happy without it. ‘Princess Lace’, in the same series, and ‘Forever and Ever Red’ are not dead.

Also very, very dead are:
Echinacea ‘Lilliput’ – not all echinaceas can cope with a combination of not quite enough sun and drainage not quite good enough either.
Aster ‘Marie III’ – don’t really care for these Yoder asters, the flower form is poor and I hate the way they go from ‘Marie’ to ‘Marie II’ and so on as they “improve” the individual colors. There‘s ‘Peter III’ as well, also dead!
Chrysanthemum ‘Will’s Wonderful’ – mentioned often on TP, most recently here. A great loss.
HibsicusTag Hibiscus ‘Peppermint Schnapps’ – yes, gone gone gone. Bred in tropical Florida. Not a good candidate for the frozen north. Stick with those from bred in icy Michigan by Walters Gardens.
Ranunculus ficaria ‘Double Bronze’ (and others) – I shipped just about all the double, and therefore non-invasive, varieties over from England but every one has now died. The single one thrives all too well on a river bank 150 miles away.

Also genuinely gone are some heucheras: weevils munching through the roots, I fear; Helleborus argutifolius: well, it does come from Corsica, zone 9; and all but two buddlejas… invasive? Hah! Not here.

But sometimes there’s just nothing behind the label
Achillea ‘Pomegranate’ – The deer ate (yes, I know achilleas are supposed to be deer-resistant)… The deer ate the ones planted outside the fence while they were soft and succulent and not sufficiently pungently off-putting. Those inside the fence are fine.
Aster novae-angliae ‘Snow Flurries’ – lovely white form of the New England aster found along a lonely road in Cattaraugus County, New York. Actually, it’s thriving. The birds moved the label to another bed. Thanks guys.
Athyrium ‘Ghost’ – It’s there, it’s gorgeous, its tag is fluttering down the driveway.AthyriumGhostTag
Vinca ‘Giant Steps’ – I think it grew so violently that it flung the label across to the other side of the garden. Currently escaping through the deer fence and looking at total eradication in the spring. So, yes, dead – one way or another.

And that’s only a sample from one coffee can… How many more cans are there?!

Dan Hinkley's garden at Windcliff

Over on his Next Generation Gardener blog, plantsman and garden designer Rizaniño "Riz" Reyes is sharing his recent visit to Windcliff, the garden of plantsman Dan Hinkley, whom I expect you'll know (he founded the garden at Heronswood), and his architect partner Robert Jones.

There's plenty of pictures of this richly planted garden on the blog - as well as this video. Head over to the Next Generation Gardener and take a look

The above video is only part one of his video tour, parts two and three are not on his blog but they are on YouTube. And you can watch them here.

And here's part three of the tour of the garden at Windcliff created by Dan Hinkley and Robert Jones - shot by Riz Reyes. Thanks for sharing these videos on YouTube, Riz

Ireland: Fota Arboretum

The Orangery and palms at Fota Arboretum. Image:© Continuing our visit to West Cork, we went off to hear Joy Larkcom speak at the Grow Your Own seminar at Fota Arboretum. A short ferry ride from the mainland, the island of Fota is located in Cork Harbour and its world famous arboretum features a superb collection of trees and shrubs in particular in a balmy frost free environment.

Joy’s talk – make sure you catch her if she’s speaking near you – was entitled Creative Vegetable Gardening and featured not only her own gardens but other gardens in Europe and North America. Lots of ideas to steal!

After the talk Brian Cross led a guided tour of the arboretum. Brian’s own garden at Lakemount has been described by the Royal Horticultural Society as one of Ireland's "flagship gardens". He knew Fota at a very early age and proved a good-humoured and knowledgeable guide.

The arboretum, which rarely gets a frost, features many fine trees including the largest Cryptomeria japonica 'Spiralis' in Europe and two other huge cryptomerias by the pond as well as specimen palms, magnolias and cedars. There are some lovely specimens of the Drimys winteri with its fragrant spring flowers and also of its relation the delightful multicoloured foliage shrub Pseudowintera colorata together with many other plants rarely seen elsewhere.

Bananas, echiums and fuchsias at Fota Arboretum. Image:©GardenPhotos.comBananas and fuchsias, the magenta purple climber Cestrum x newellii and the amazing pink and yellow flowered Lonicera x heckrottii with many fine hardy fuchsias are found in the long border on the other side of the wall from the Pleasure Garden with its many autumn perennials.

Even if you don’t have a great passion for rare trees and shrubs, Fota is still well worth a visit for the atmosphere is restful and intriguing, there’s formal and informal gardens through which to stroll and the café chowder was very tasty.

Roses at Rockingham Castle

David Austin's standard roses at Rockingham Castle

We’re just back from a visit the thousand-year-old Rockingham Castle in Northamptonshire. Perched high above the landscape for the best view of attacking armies over the many centuries when defending the fortress was crucial, it’s now a unique private home which is also open to visitors.

This being a more or less horticultural blog it’s a feature of the garden, recently re-designed by Chelsea Gold Medal winner Robert Myers with planting by local designer Tim Rassell, which I want to tell you about: a collection of David Austin’s wonderful English Roses – grown as standards.

I’ve rarely seen them grown in this way and here there were thirty seven standards on either side of a gravel path. Many looked superb, a few were less impressive but, in general, it’s very successful for growing them as standards has one great advantage.

As was clear from the appreciation of the bus load of seniors on a day out, the lovely cupped or quartered shapes of the flowers as well as the heady fragrance of many varieties, could be appreciated without having to bend down – for all the flowers are carried at around head height. All of us, not just  those less inclined to stoop to sniff, can appreciate the colour, form and fragrance so much more easily.

Standard 'Sophy's Rose' at Rockingham Castle

The pick of the varieties for growing in this way seemed to be ‘Sophy’s Rose’ (left), with light red rosette flowers and a tea fragrance, the strongly scented golden ‘Graham Thomas’ and ‘Winchester Cathedral’, a white version of the superb ‘Mary Rose’.

On the other hand ‘Golden Celebration’ was too floppy to be a success as a standard, ‘Heritage’, sometimes also grown as a climbing rose, was too open in habit while ‘Brother Cadfael’ produced too many long shoots.

But the over all it’s a great idea. And while at Rockingham Castle they had them along both sides of a gravel path, they could just as easily be grown in a mixed border or even in a large tub.

A new woodland raised bed

Unloadinglogs600 The soil here is not good: leaf mold over clay with rocks and boulders – some of them almost - in fact completely - immovable. So in order to make some better planting areas in the deer-fenced wooded area – I’m building a raised bed.

I’m using logs as edging, less intrusive than bricks, stone or boards in this more or less natural setting, and rather than use the mainly pine and maple that occasionally comes down naturally in the woods - usually at the point where a woodpecker has made a nest and rot has set in – I bought in some long straight pieces of white oak (Quercus alba) from local arboriculture firm Sequoia Tree Service. They’re straight, and the white oak will last much longer than pine or anything already rotting. The only problem is that white oak is incredibly heavy!

Anyway, here are the logs being delivered. I’ll bring you occasional updates as things progress.