I’m a Garden Designer!

The more observant among you will have noticed I’ve been dropping references to my sister site into the last few posts. This year I finished my post graduate diploma in garden design (with distinction, no less!) I’m now a fully qualified garden designer, and I’ve set myself up in business under the name Strelitzia Garden Design (from Strelitzia reginae, or the bird of paradise flower). Here’s my logo…

What do you think?

I have a new website dedicated to the business (www.strelitziadesign.uk) with a blog attached. For now, I’m running the two blogs in parallel, but I’m thinking of pulling the plug on ‘Pulling Weeds’, and merging all of my content on Strelitzia. I’ll keep you posted on that.

My design portfolio consists of the projects I did for the course, but I intend to gradually replace them with live projects. I’m also working up the design for my own garden as the main portfolio project, the advantage being that I will be able to illustrate it with photos from the garden (once I’ve finished building it) and also show how it develops over the years. Obviously I’ll have full access to my own garden – something I would be unlikely to enjoy with commercial projects. This is my colour visualisation of the concept plan…

As you can see, it’s a very full design, with a mini orchard, ornamental trees, shrubs, herbaceous borders, a veg plot (with compost bins), herb beds, a pergola for climbers, a greenhouse, and a wildlife pond. Just as well it’s a large plot! The beds are deep – up to three metres in places – to allow for plenty of plants. This is definitely a design for plant lovers! it’s a mix of the formal and informal. The main area of grass, under the fruit trees (apple, pear, plum and damson) will be a wildflower meadow. A formal grass path edged with low box hedging will lead up from the house, with straight lines and angular offsets to keep the destination (a patio, and an arbour under the large birch tree at the end) from sight until you turn into the final straight. You could say it defines a journey through the garden, adding an air of mystery (if you wanted to squeeze two design cliches into one sentence). This effect will become evident as the garden matures, and the plants become fuller.

This is the front garden…

The hedging, tree and shrubs on the south side were there already. The rest was gravel. Working around the existing driveway, the design re-instates the lawn that was there a few years ago, but this time as a wildflower meadow (with added cultivated bulbs such as tulips and alliums). A new beech hedge around the boundary will take away the harshness of the bare wall and fence, muffle noise, and help to filter the wind that blows in across the fields. Two new trees in the meadow – a rowan (Sorbus aucuparia ‘Eastern Promise’) and a field maple (Acer campestre) will provide more cover and interest at a higher level.

As you’ll know if you’re not new to this blog, I’m quite a long way through implementing the design, although there’s plenty left to do. The planting areas have been my priority; to get the plants settled in to their new home so they can get growing. The front garden is done now. In the back, I’ve just got two more beds that I’m working on at the moment. The hard landscaping of the paths and patios will have to be done as and when.

It’s becoming more difficult to get work done outside now that there’s so little daylight, and the weather is either too wet, or too frosty to work. Progress has slowed down somewhat. But if I can get all of the beds made and planted before spring, I’ll be satisfied with my progress.

text & images ©Graham Wright

New Neighbours…

When designing a garden, it’s important to consider the wider landscape beyond your boundaries. Our garden is surrounded on three sides by fields. In the two years we’ve lived here the fields have ben used to grow maize, and then grass, which is cut regularly for hay. Just recently, the farmers have decided to cut out the middle man, which means we have some new neighbours – the field across the road at the front is being grazed by cows…

I know such intensive agriculture is harming the immediate environment and contributing to climate change, but I love to see animals in the fields. At least the poor things are getting some freedom. The field that wraps around the side and rear is now full of sheep…

These woolly fellas look like young males, which makes me think their eventual fate will involve mint sauce, which is rather sad, but I suppose that’s the way it works. I’m not going judge others for their choice of diet – we all have to eat – but personally, I wouldn’t (unless I was starving and had no choice). I’m tempted to open a gap in the hedge and usher some of them in to safety, but I know they would make a mess of the garden (and with no leaves on the hedge, I wouldn’t get away with it anyway).

Until a few days ago there was some good autumn colour in the garden, and the mature silver birch looked spectacular lit up by the late afternoon sun…

Of course, storm Arwen put paid to that; ripping off all the remaining leaves from this tree, along with most of the others. Overnight the wisteria went from looking as though it hardly knew autumn had arrived, to being leafless. The cannas were shredded, and lots of the plants in pots were blown about – one was even blown out of its pot (which is nowhere to be seen). We can probably consider ourselves fortunate that we only lost one tile off the roof. Oh well! Here’s looking forward to spring!

Sheep may safely graze… for now.

text & images © graham wright 2021

Last call for Spring Bulbs…

October and November are when most spring flowering bulbs become available at garden centres and nurseries. The priority for most people tend to be Daffodils (Narcissi) and Tulips (Tulipa species). The time at which they actually flower varies from one variety to another – by choosing varieties carefully you can have daffs and tulips in flower over a longer period. Daffodils will flower from Feb to April, Tulips in April and May.

Narcissus ‘Thalia’

Daffodils can be planted in the ground in October, but for tulips, it’s best to leave it until some time in November, particularly if your soil is heavy, as the bulbs can rot in damp soil (putting a little grit at the base of the planting hole can help to give more drainage to avoid this).

It’s not too late to plant daffodil bulbs now, or indeed many other, earlier bulbs such as snowdrops, though they may not flower quite as early as if you’d got them in the ground in October. The bad news is that retailers tend to get all their bulbs in at one time, and by now they’re running out. The good news is that they’re now heavily discounting whatever they have left. So while you may not get the full choice now, you can still create a stunning display, and at a much lower cost than if you’d been more organised and got your bulbs earlier.

Tulipa ‘Couleur Cardinal’ & ‘Spring Green’ naturalised in the garden

Many people use bulbs to create displays in pots. When it comes to tulips, growers supply bulbs that have been grown under ideal conditions, so that they will produce a large flower. The following year, the flowers are never as big, so won’t provide such a good display. But so long as you’ve chosen varieties that will naturalise, you can plant them in the garden when they’ve finished flowering, and they’ll come back year after year.

Here are the pots that I’ve planted this year, tucked away in a sheltered position by the house over the winter, and the remaining packets of bulbs that will be planted in the garden:

I’ve put the pots on blocks to keep them off the ground (pot feet are a better option, but expensive!) and covered them with netting to stop squirrels, voles, mice etc digging them up, as they sometimes do. I’ve planted daffodils ‘Hawera’, ‘Ice Follies’, and my favourite ‘Thalia’; and tulips ‘Spring Green, Queen of Night, and ‘Ballerina’.

Tulipa ‘Konigen der Nacht’ (Queen of Night)
Tulipa ‘Ballerina’

For a fuller display, you can mix different types of bulbs in the same pot, with tulips and daffs planted deeper, and smaller flowers such as chionodoxa, snowdrops, scilla, etc. set higher in the pot. I’ve been a bit lax on that front this year – I did throw in some chionodoxa and snowdrop bulbs I had from last year, but it’s mainly daffs and tulips.

The bulbs for the garden are fritillaria meleagris (snake’s head fritillary) and Camassia quamash for around the pond, and snowdrops and anemones for the shaded area under the lilac tree and rhododendrons.

Snowdrops (Galanthus)

Garden centres and nurseries are also selling summer flowering bulbs, such as lilies, which don’t need to be planted until next spring, and alliums, which should ideally be planted now (though like tulips, they prefer good drainage).

Allium hollandicum

Whichever bulbs you choose to plant, from the diminutive earliest flowering snowdrops, through daffodils and tulips, to the largest, most flamboyant lilies and gladioli; bulbs will give you welcome bursts of flower to look forward to next year.

text & images ©strelitzia garden design 2021

Planning for winter interest…

Winter tends to be thought of as a time when gardens go to sleep. Trees and shrubs lose their leaves, perennials die back to ground level, and bulbs are dormant below ground. Evergreens may keep their leaves all year round, but they don’t do anything interesting in the winter, do they? And as for flowers, you’re unlikely to see any until the snowdrops pop up in early spring. Well, actually…

Flowers in Winter
With careful planning, it’s possible to have plants in flower all the way through what we refer to as ‘the dormant season’. There are a range of shrubs that flower in winter, and surprisingly, many of them are deciduous. Flowers tend to be smaller and less showy than summer blooms, but they stand out more against bare branches. What’s more, winter flowers tend to be strongly scented. Witch hazel (Hamamelis), a graceful deciduous shrub, produces striking, spidery flowers in yellows, oranges or reds in January and February. Winter sweet (Chimonanthus) has fragrant yellow flowers from December to February. And winter honeysuckle (Lonicera) has highly scented white flowers from December to March.

Viburnum x bodnantense makes a large, bushy shrub with attractive mid-green leaves. It has clusters of fragrant pink flowers intermittently throughout the winter.

Winter flowering evergreen shrubs include Mahonia; the bright yellow flowers of which are followed by dark berries, daphne and sweet box. All are high scented.

The appeal of bark & stems
Trees with decorative bark make striking features in the winter, when their colours and textures are more visible.

Many varieties of Dogwoods (Cornus) have richly coloured stems in yellow, orange, red or black. In the summer, these are hidden, but when the leaves drop off, they shine out and make a striking feature in the garden. Many willows (Salix) also have brightly coloured stems (willows are known as large trees, but there are varieties that are much smaller). For both willows and dogwoods, cutting some, or all of the stems back to ground level in spring enhances the effect (it’s the new growth that carries the colour).

Colouful stems of dogwoods; Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’, C. alba ‘Sibirica’, & C. sericea ‘Flaviramea’

And then there are trees and shrubs that produce attractive berries, many of which can last well into the winter.

Malus ‘Comtesse de Paris’ (Crab apple), Rosa rugosa, & Ilex auquifolium ‘Argentia Marginata’ (Holly)

In winter, the bare branches of trees and shrubs make for interesting structures in their own right, even without attractive flowers, berries or bark. Evergreens have a more solid presence, and those that have been shaped into topiary decorate the winter garden with their architectural shapes.

Topiary at the National Trust garden Erddig, North Wales

Autumn is the perfect time to plant new shrubs and trees, because the soil is moist, and still warm enough to allow roots to establish. What’s more, many are available ‘bare-rooted’ at a much lower price than potted specimens. Deciduous bare-rooted trees and shrubs can be planted any time throughout the autumn and winter.

At ground level, flowers are scarce in the winter, and those plants that do produce them, such as hellebores, reticulata irises and cyclamen, are valuable.

Winters in the UK are long, wet and cold, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy our gardens. And it won’t be long before bulbs come into flower, starting early on with snowdrops and crocus, then the various types of daffodil, and on to the tulips; when we’ll know that summer is almost here.

Text, title photo, and that of Erddig ©Strelitzia Garden Design. All other photos are from the on-line nursery Crocus

Flowers into Autumn…

Now that the weather is turning colder, and the days becoming shorter, many of the plants we rely on for summer colour have finished flowering. But there are many perennials that flower late, allowing us to extend the season well into autumn. Asters, for instance, will have been inconspicuous in the borders as steadily growing clumps of dark green foliage, but now, they are bursting into bloom…

You may know that most of the asters we grow in our gardens were recently renamed by botanists as Symphyotrichum (I’m sure they don’t deliberately make our lives more difficult!) Another familiar garden plant that was renamed recently, and which flowers at this time of year, is sedum (now Hylotelephium)…

This is a dark-leaved variety called ‘Xenox’. Being relatively low growing, sedums (sorry; Hylotelephiums!) work well towards the front of the border. They are succulents, so quite drought-resistant, and the small, pink flowers are a magnet for bees (though not when I took this photo!)

At around eight or nine feet tall (depending on the variety) a plant you wouldn’t put at the front of the border is perennial sunflower…

While the annual sunflowers that children delight in growing from seed (especially the really tall varieties) will for the most part have finished now, perennial sunflowers are only just starting. Their blooms are smaller and less showy than their annual cousins (both are varieties of Helianthus), but they are a welcome ray of sunshine on a dull autumn day. And the flowers look great, and are long-lasting, in a vase. Just one note of caution – perennial sunflowers tend to send out rhizomes in all directions, so you’ll need to dig around the clump regularly, otherwise it’s likely to take over your whole garden!

There are many more perennials that provide a splash of colour at this time of year. Rudbeckia, for instance (this is Rudbeckia fulgida var. ‘Goldsturm’)…

Japanese anemones, or windflowers (in this case Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’)…

Hesperantha coccinea (previously Schizostylis coccinea!)…

And this is Actaea simplex ‘Brunette’. The flowers are pretty, if a lot more restrained than some of the previous examples, and have a very sweet fragrance. It’s a useful plant, because it’s happy in some shade…

And the list goes on! The message is that with a little thought, it’s possible to design a garden that will give you flowers and scent, and provide for wildlife, all year round.

text & images © graham wright 2021
NOTE: this post also appears on the blog for my new garden design company Strelitzia Garden Design

Black Sun…

The sunflowers I grew last year were so successful, this year I decided to try another variety. I went for something a little different. This is called ‘Black Magic’…

I have to say, I’m not entirely sure about it. The plants grew strongly, with darker stems and leaves than the yellow sunflowers, and the blooms are certainly impressive. But they don’t stand out. This is ‘Soleo’…

It’s everything we’ve come to expect of a sunflower – bold and bright, you know as soon as the first flower is out. There’s no missing it. Whereas ‘Black Magic’ crept up on me by stealth, and there were half a dozen flowers out before I even noticed. Most of the blooms are a dark, chocolatey brown, but some of them have some orange in the petals…

I’m not sure why sunflowers are so at home in my garden. The soil is loose and dusty, and I’m fortunate not to have as many slugs and snails as I’ve experienced in previous gardens. I have memories of having to nurse the sunflowers through their early stages. There’s that difficult time after planting out, when they spend a couple of weeks putting their roots down and acclimatising. That’s when they’re vulnerable. If you can keep the molluscs off until the sunflowers start into growth, they should be safe – they might lose a fewer lower leaves, but the plants can avoid any more serious damage due to the spectacular rate of growth, and the strong stems.

The central flower is generally on a short stem, so no good for cutting. But the varieties I’m growing produce lots of side shoots with smaller flowers on longer stems, and it’s these that can be cut and brought inside, where the beauty of the flowers can be appreciated close up.

Elsewhere in the garden, the ligularias around the pond are starting to produce their bright orange-yellow daisy flowers…

This is one of three self-seeded plants brought from my last garden. They are Ligularia dentata ‘Midnight Lady’. This is small as yet; the mother plant was around a metre across. It seems amazing to me that such an impressive plant self-seeds freely, giving you plants for free.

White hydrangeas will play a large part in the design. So far there is only one – Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’…

It too is only small as yet, but it should grow into a large bush, perhaps as much as two metres by two metres. The flower heads are just about fully out now, and they really glow in a shady spot. They’re long lasting too, gradually changing colour as they age. Eventually they will dry out, but should be left on the plant over the winter (unless you want to cut them for a dried flower display) because they’re still very attractive. I took cuttings of this plant around a month ago, and roots are poking out of the bottom of the pot now, so it looks like a success (a relief, as I’m ashamed to admit my strike rate with cuttings is nothing to boast about). I’ve also got a cutting from previous years (and my last garden) of Hydrangea quercifolia (oak-leaved hydrangea), which is waiting to be planted, once the area has been prepared.

I brought three plants of a white phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘Peacock White’) with me from the last garden, and just like the sunflowers, they too seem to like the soil here…

Lastly, this combination is a happy accident. The grass (Phalaris arundinacea ‘Feesey’) tends to reproduce freely. I threw this piece into some spare ground by the pond. I used the same area to plant out some seedlings that were seriously stressed from having been left in their seed tray for far too long. It took a while, but eventually they came good. They are Phacelia; often used as a green manure, but the flowers are very pretty, and great fodder for pollinating insects; it would be a shame to dig them into the soil before they flower.

The Phacelia are a one year only crop; the grass is a perennial; I might even leave it where it is…


text & images©Graham Wright 2021

Dragonflies…

A few weeks ago we started to catch glimpses of a fairy form flitting around the wildlife pond – a large, bright blue dragonfly. I went out one day to try and capture it on film (well… SD card actually, but that doesn’t sound the same)…

One of my customers is a dragonfly expert, and by my description identified this as a ‘Wide-bodied chaser’, Latin name Libellula depressa (though there was nothing at all depressing about seeing it – just the opposite). The blue abdomen means it’s a male. I’d like to think it emerged from our pond, but I suspect it was a visitor. I didn’t see a corresponding female, which is a shame – it would be nice to have one lay eggs in our pond. And then I saw this, which was rather easier to approach, and so get a picture of…

This is obviously a different species (though I didn’t identify which species). Two dragonflies, of different species, in the garden at the same time – I’m very happy with that. Maybe this one was a female, and has laid eggs.

Creating the wildlife pond, out of what was previously a Koi pond, was hard work, but worth it for the joy of seeing all the creatures flitting around. There are water-boat men, pond skaters, aquatic beetles, and still quite a few tadpoles, some of which may be for toads and newts; as well as the tiny frogs that were once tadpoles and are now hopping about in the garden. The birds love the pond too, from sparrows to starlings to crows, whether for splashing about or for a drink.

Water adds something special to a garden.

text & images © graham wright 2021

RHS Bridgewater – the Good and the Bad…

Seeing pictures of the new RHS garden in various stages of construction, it was difficult to envisage how the garden would turn out. I couldn’t see how those restricted planting holes between the paths could support the necessary enveloping mass of foliage and flower that make a garden. From above, the emerging layout of the new Kitchen Garden (one of two new gardens within the original walls – the other is the Paradise Garden) looked rather like an airport, with a wide runway crossing diagonally. There was an awful lot of path.

RHS Bridgewater finally opened on the 18th May, after a long delay due to the on-going pandemic, and I was very excited to visit the gardens for the first time a few weeks ago.

Now that the plants are in, and filling out, the effect is less stark, but it still looks to me as though there’s too much path, and not enough planting. And the designs for the main formal parts of the garden are largely on one level. In the wider landscape, and around the lake, there is more height, with native woodland, and mature trees. And non-native trees have been incorporated into the planting in the Chinese streamside garden.

Close to the stream they are small – cloud-pruned pines and smaller varieties of Japanese maples. Further from the water there are larger trees, such as Davidia involucrata (hankerchief tree). But in the formal gardens, the trees are all both small – either by their nature, or by training – and isolated.

The designs for all three main areas are along the same lines – a geometric pattern of paths, interplanted with a mix of perennials and grasses, with regular, individual vertical highlights from clipped beech, and in the case of the kitchen garden, from metal structures.

RHS Bridgewater is unusual in this respect. Most gardens have combinations; groups of trees and shrubs of varying sizes, with vertical interest from the ground up to the top of tall trees. Shrubs and trees are allowed to grow naturally to the shapes and sizes they would achieve in the wild. RHS Bridgewater doesn’t appear to have that. Instinctively, it feels as though there’s something missing. Intellectually, you might consider it to be a good thing that the RHS are giving us something new; something different.

The formal gardens at RHS Bridgewater are a patchwork, populated by plants that are diverse, interesting and beautiful. But it feels somewhat two-dimensional – apart from the clipped beech, the metal structures and a small arrangement of pleached Parrotia (Persian ironwood), it’s all on the same level.

Beyond the formal gardens are large, open expanses of wildflower meadow leading up to woodland. Both add to the overall experience. They contrast with the formal planting, and it’s great to be able to stretch your legs through these more natural areas, after shuffling through the intensity of the formal gardens. But moving from the open, formal gardens, with most of the planting on one level, into native grasslands, one phrase kept repeating in my mind. PRAIRIE STYLE!!!

It is though. It’s very Piet Oudolf, albeit a segmented version of that style which, according to the horticultural press, is still very popular. Personally, I’ve never been that sure about it. For me, the style has too many grasses (though at Bridgewater, they’ve managed to reign that in). It’s too cold; too open. There’s no sense of mystery, no horticultural embrace; where’s the love? The trees and shrubs are too controlled, too isolated – they look lonely to me. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again now; the overall effect is of massed carpet bedding, but with perennials and grasses – carpet bedding on steroids.

Maybe it just takes time. Come back in a few years and it may all look very different. Despite the criticism, there are some great features. And if you’re not enamoured of the design style, it’s very easy to ignore that and lose yourself in the wonderful selection of plants on show. Plants such as this lovely Iris…

This variety appears in a few places, but I couldn’t see a label for it anywhere. Labelling is a work-in-progress I think – very good in some areas, non-existent in others. This, for instance, was very clearly labelled…

Such vivid blues are not always easy to come by, so this could prove useful. It’s a speedwell called Veronica ‘Shirley Blue’. The individual flowers are similar to those of the tiny ones of the speedwell you find in lawns (possibly my favourite wild/native flower) but a little bigger, and arranged around flower spikes.

Still on the blue theme, this one looked better in real life than the camera portrays it. This is Amsonia illustris (shining bluestar’), apparently good for well-drained soil in part shade…

The peonies were doing well when I visited. I didn’t find a label for this deep red one…

And while I might have preferred a different layout and design approach, I do think Tom Stuart-Smith has done a great job on the Paradise Garden. This is the lily pond (which will be better once the lilies have established) and rill, showing a great use of symmetry and combining curves and straight lines…

Towards the back of the Paradise Garden, where it becomes less formal, he’s used a small, shrubby tree called sea buckthorn (Hyppophae rhamnoides), once again arranged as isolated specimens. It has long, thin, silver-green leaves and lots of character, with twisty, gnarled trunks. They would look great in a Mediterranean style garden, and they look great here too. Olive trees are vulnerable to the dreaded xylella, and in any case, tend not to thrive (or even survive) in our cold, wet, windy climate, but sea buckthorn is as hardy as they come, apparently taking strong winds and even salt spray in its stride, so would make a superb alternative to olive.

They may be selling us short in the tree and shrub department, but the RHS have managed to pack a fantastic array of lower growing plants into the garden in such a short time. This is in the Paradise Garden…

This area is essentially a gravel garden. I love this low-growing, creeping thyme, which would make a fabulous alternative lawn, for an area you didn’t need to walk on much. You can see that here, the labelling has been done.

The glasshouses are looking impressive, with grape vines along the front and soft fruit against the back walls. They’re just a little bigger than my greenhouse…

There is still some work to be done at RHS Bridgewater…

But no cause for complaint – love the design style or not, the amount of work they’ve done, and what they’ve achieved, is phenomenal. The amount of time, money, and ingenuity that’s gone into the place is awe inspiring. The empty areas just add interest – I can’t wait to see what they do with them. I loved the contrast between two arrangements of pots; one at the front entrance, the other somewhat more tucked away…

In case you’re wondering, the cafe is great too – good food, not bad coffee, and a lovely terrace overlooking the new lake. But even after restrictions have been lifted, I suspect it will be busy – you may need to be flexible over what time you eat, if you want to avoid queuing for too long. There’s an extensive plant sales area which is more like one of the larger garden centres. The prices are not low, but plant prices have gone up noticeably in the last few years, probably down to rising costs of production. Having spent so long in the gardens, I took one look at the plant sales and decided I didn’t have enough time left to do it justice (I also know that I really don’t need any more plants at this time!) Sadly, it was time to leave.

So there you are; a brief introduction to a rather different garden. RHS Bridgewater is shiny and new in every respect, from the hard landscaping and the garden seating, to the welcome building. That newness felt different to the gardens I’m used to visiting in the UK; it reminded me of some gardens overseas – the Desert Botanic Gardens in Phoenix had the same freshness and energy.

I can’t imagine Bridgewater will ever be my favourite garden, but there is a lot to admire, and I suspect I will grow to love it in time. I’m sure it will be interesting watching it develop and mature.

text & photographs © graham wright 2021

Early June

This was the ‘wildflower meadow’ in our front garden just over a week ago. For a long time in the early season it was looking quite sparse, but now it’s burst into growth. The grasses have shot up, with feathery flower spikes, and there’s a diverse range of wild flowers, including campion; both pink and fringed (Silene fimbriata), ox-eye daisies, yarrow, and birds foot trefoil. The alliums add interest, even though they’re not wild flowers (well, not this particular variety, in this country!)

This is one of the same alliums (Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’) in the back garden…

The wallflowers were starting to look good – here against the contrasting foliage of a rose (Rosa ‘Judy Dench’)…

A week later, and most of them are well past their best. Time to rip them out and make space for other plants. I think. Taken from the right angle, the beds are looking quite full. The alliums and wallflowers work well together. The impressive fern behind them precedes our arrival. The yellow evergreen on the left is a euonymus, probably E. fortunei ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’…

You can see the structure of the grass path that runs along the left hand side of the garden…

Eventually, the beds will be edged with box hedging (box blight and caterpillars not withstanding) and the shrubs and taller perennials will mean you can’t see the whole thing in one go, encouraging you to want to move on to see what’s around each corner.

This next plant is a beech – Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck Purple’. In time it will grow to be a tall, columnar tree. Now, it’s only around four feet high, but the leaves are beautiful…

This tree peony isn’t the one I bought! I think this has grown out of the rootstock (and the grafted plant died). Still, it doesn’t look bad. Peonies don’t last long; only about a week…

The Irises (Iris sibirica) in front of the pond are still looking good…

And these self-sown Californian poppies (Eschscholzia – not an easy one to spell!) are in full flower…

The rhododendrons are coming to a close. They’ve put on a good show, considering they have all been moved in the last year…

And at last, the roses are beginning to flower. A bit late, but it was a cold start to the season, and most of the plants were only planted last autumn. I’ll share them with you next time…

text & images © Graham Wright 2021

Saving Money with Seeds…

The magic of planting a seed, seeing a tiny green shoot pushing out from the soil, and then watching it grow into an amazing plant – beautiful, fragrant, and sometimes edible, never fails to be a source of wonder.

These beauties are ‘Datura metaloides ‘Evening Fragrance’; a form of ‘Angels Trumpets’, grown from a packet of seed from Thompson and Morgan (the seedlings in the other pot are aubergines). I’m not clear whether Datura and Brugmansia are synonyms, or separate species – different sources give different answers. I once heard someone say that Brugmansia flowers hang down, whereas Datura flowers are held upright (as in the photo).

Seeds can also be very frustrating. I was very pleased that these germinated in just a few days (even though the packet said they might take between 21 and 60 days) but with other seeds I’ve sown, it’s been a different story. Most seed sowing involves annuals – both flowers and edibles, but there’s an increasing range of perennial seeds available.

With perennial plants typically retailing at around £6.00 for a very small plant, and more like £10.00 to £15.00 for a plant of a good size that will establish quickly, you can save yourself a lot of money by growing them from seed. And this is exactly what I’ve been doing, on and off, for the last few years, but with mixed success. These are one of the successes – echinacea purpurea

Mind you, even these have been quite slow. Sown in the spring of last year, they barely reached any size, and went into the winter in small pots. I wasn’t confident they would come back this year. But of course, they did. I’ve potted them on this spring, and maybe I’ll get them in the ground later this year (if I can get the bed prepared first!)

I’ve had success in the past with Echinops, a large perennial with spiky-shaped leaves and lovely blue floral globes that are irresistible to bees…

But there have been plenty of failures, both from bought seed, and seed collected from plants in my own garden. I’ve never managed to get aconitum (one of my favourites) to germinate. This year I sowed scabious, oriental poppies, and anchusa. They sat on the greenhouse bench for two months without a peep – why they didn’t germinate, I don’t know. You follow the instructions on the packet, and nothing happens. Frustrated, I’ve resorted to my old heated propagator, even for seeds that are supposed to need a cooler environment. So far it’s worked for the anchusa, and for basil. Maybe it will work for some of the others too…

text & photos © graham wright 2021