Roses in June

June is perhaps the peak time for roses, and the roses in my own garden are all in full flower now.

This unknown climber pre-dates my arrival. It has a light scent, and deep, velvety red blooms

Roses can provoke a mixed response. On the one hand, they’re the icon of the English garden, and the nation’s favourite flower. On the other, they can seen as somewhat old-fashioned. I think this is unfair.

Roses have suffered from being badly used in the past. Mid-century rose gardens tended to be sterile and twee, with paths lined with lollipop standards, and hybrid tea rose bushes set out in isolation, often in a desert of bare soil, with heaps of farmyard manure around them.

Rosa ‘Lady of the Lake’ – a repeat-flowering climber with open blooms, allowing pollinators access to their nectar.

Nowadays, the trend is for roses to be more of an integral part of the garden. Modern shrub roses, climbers and ramblers mix well with other garden plants, and can work with most garden styles, from the formal to the traditional cottage garden, and even the currently popular ‘prairie planting’ (sometimes referred to as the ‘naturalistic’ or ‘new perennial’ style). There are roses to suit every style, and in most colours (except blue and black).

When designing my own garden I chose roses from David Austin.[1.] His roses emulate the old, romantic roses, but like all growers, he bred for vigour, attractive foliage, disease resistance, and a long flowering period. Particularly important, he didn’t neglect scent, and most of his cultivars have good fragrance. When designing a garden, this is an important consideration, because scent adds another, very delightful element to a design.

Climbing Rosa ‘Constance Spry’ grown on a metal pergola – this was the first rose David Austin bred. It has good fragrance, but sadly only flowers once.

Apart from the climbers, I’ve used shrub roses to add colour and scent to the borders. They benefit from dead-heading (a job I rather enjoy), but while correct pruning helps the overall shape, they’re not too fussy. They hold their own in a shrub and perennial border, as seen here…

This is Rosa ‘Dame Judi Dench, in amongst the perennials. The garden is in its infancy – both rose and perennials will expand to fill the gaps.
Judi in close-up!
Rosa ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ – similar to Constance Spry, but repeat-flowering, and with an even stronger scent.
Gertrude Jekyll in the border, with claret Rosa ‘Tuscany Superb’ further along.
Rosa ‘Tuscany Superb’

Roses are so familiar to us, we can easily take them for granted. But we shouldn’t overlook just how beautiful and useful they are in the garden, providing colour and scent, as well as lush foliage. There are roses for most situations, including shade, and many will flower from early June, right through the growing season. Climbers and ramblers will cover walls, fences, pergolas and arbours; or grow up into a tree. And shrub roses are perfect for the borders; used like any other small to medium sized shrub.

Rosa ‘Munstead Wood’

text & photos © graham wright 2022

[1.] There are many other rose breeders around, producing some superb cultivars. I have to say, prices for David Austin roses are higher than most other breeders. I’m not sure if that’s always been the case, and whether the company are playing on his fame (David himself sadly passed away a few years ago).

Evergreen or Deciduous?

It seems to me there’s always been a tension between the use of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs in gardening and garden design. I have to say, I’ve tended to favour the former. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a time when gardens were often filled with boring, uniform conifers; from large, quick-growing hedging plants like the dreaded Leylandii, to a proliferation of ‘dwarf’ conifers (many of which turned out to be rather bigger than expected).

Of course, some plants are more exciting than others, and that goes for both evergreens and deciduous.

Defending the deciduous…
People who favour evergreen plants point out that they give form, presence and greenery throughout the winter, whereas deciduous plants do their thing in the growing season, then shrink back to virtually nothing in winter, leaving then garden all but empty but for a few dead-looking sticks.
It’s true that deciduous plants are much reduced. But bear in mind many of them do something like this before they drop their leaves…

Euonymus alatus

Add in beautiful flowers during the growing season, and perhaps we can forgive them for being somewhat sparse in their dormant period. But actually, those dead-looking sticks are not as uninteresting as you might at first think. Denuded of leaves, woody plants display a form and structure that is architectural; sculptural, and very beautiful…

A mature beech tree at Hodnet Hall & Gardens, Shropshire

Their branches make interesting shapes. They change with the changing light. When it’s sunny, they cast bold shadows on the ground. They accumulate lichen and moss, which adds shading and texture. And in fact the idea all deciduous plants are dormant in winter isn’t correct either. Some of them flower on bare branches…

Hamamelis x. intermedia ‘Jelena’ – Witch Hazel

Others, particularly willow and hazel, produce attractive catkins. And once the leaves have fallen, we discover that many plants have beautiful stems and trunks…

The bark of an unlabelled tree (a birch?) in Dorothy Clive gardens , Shropshire
Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ (Dogwood)

There’s something both very spiritual, and also rather scary about plants that are dormant during the winter. They speak to us of the transient nature of life. But they also highlight the great joy of renewal in spring; something you might miss if you only have evergreens.

Evergreens – not so boring after all…
While evergreen aficionados point to a lack of winter interest in deciduous plants, those in the opposing camp tend to think of evergreens as being boring. They may have presence all year round, but it never changes…

A rhododendron in full bloom in April at Bodnant gardens, North Wales

Start to think about it, and you realise that evergreens produce some of the most impressive and prolific blooms of all plants, from rhododendrons and camelias, to Olearia (daisy bush), magnolias, and ceanothus (California lilac). And far from being a uniform, dull green, they come in many shades, from dark to light, and leaves with attractive markings and patterns.

Euonymus fortunei

And many evergreens have something else to offer too. For as long as there have been gardens, people have indulged their creative tendencies by trimming plants into interesting shapes.

RHS Garden Bridgewater

The most useful plants for topiary are evergreens such as box and yew. There is, I suppose, a contradiction here, because how often do you see box, or yew for that matter, allowed to grow naturally, without being shaped? We value these plants so highly, but also see their natural growth habits as uninteresting.

Time to put aside favouritism…
The reality of course is that to maximise the impact and benefits of our gardens, we should make use of the features and advantages of both deciduous and evergreen plants.

Bodnant Gardens in April

In most circumstances the best solution will be a mix of evergreen and deciduous plants, chosen to suit the conditions and to compliment each other as part of a balanced design.

text & images © graham wright 2022

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 ( 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

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

What Makes a Garden? Bringing the Garden Indoors

Have you ever given any serious thought to what makes a garden? For as long as I can remember, eminent garden designers and TV pundits have pushed the idea of the garden as an extension to the house – a ‘room outside’. I’ve heard this repeatedly, particularly when researching garden design for my post graduate diploma. Apparently, garden design is not about plants. Comments like ‘ plants are the last thing you think about’, or ‘the plants are just the icing on the cake’ (John Brookes, among others) proliferate. But now, with the rising popularity of indoor gardening, comes the fightback – while they try to persuade us to turn our beloved gardens into ‘indoor rooms’, we’re letting the plants take over our houses!

A small selection of my cactus collection, with the blades of an Australian Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea preissii) in the foreground

Indoor planting allows us to compensate for the increasingly denuded state of our outdoor environment by packing our indoor spaces with plants. Maybe we can use this to persuade the unenlightened of the inescapable truth; that as well as being beautiful, plants are a physical and psychological necessity.

My two Aloe plants are coming into flower now; probably because I neglected their watering!

Too many people have been persuaded that what they want and need from a garden is copious space for eating and socialising, play areas for children (and adults), every type of cooking facility you can think of, from a simple BBQ to an ‘outdoor kitchen’, fire pits, hot tubs, covered areas and outdoor heaters (global warming, anyone?) to make the weather irrelevant, and extensive lighting systems to turn night into day. You can even buy powerful weather-proof sound systems, telling us it’s perfectly OK to broadcast our choice of music to the wider environment, as if both neighbours and wildlife don’t have a right to peace and quiet. Too many garden designs are predominantly hard landscaping – a room outside – with very little in the way of plants, and what planting there is tends to be isolated clumps of wildlife dead-zone plants such as bamboo. Don’t even get me started on the state of Britain’s front gardens.

A Schlumbergera (known as ‘Christmas cactus’ because they are often covered in showy blooms at that time of year) looking resplendent in dappled sunshine in the corner of the lounge.

There is another way. My garden hero takes a very different approach. The late Geoff Hamilton wrote of the garden as an escape from the speed, the complexity, the pressure and the noise of everyday life. He wrote of our biological need to spend time in touch with nature. Yes, we might want to be able to eat outside when the weather allows, and share our gardens with family and friends, but for me, the primary functions of a garden are as a sanctuary from the world, and a place to immerse yourself in nature. You can use plants to create a garden that, even in a town or a city, can cocoon you from the outside world, and in which you can imagine you are deep in a beautiful wilderness. Until the neighbours fire up the BBQ and the outdoor hi fi, and the heavy bass beats of what popular culture laughingly considers to be music drives you indoors. But don’t despair, because as they make use of their ‘room outside’, you can retreat to your indoor garden sanctuary.

My Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) is thriving. Peace Lilies are known to be particularly effective at improving the quality of air in rooms
An unknown cultivar of Streptocarpus. Streps, as they’re commonly known, are easy to grow, produce copious flowers all summer, and can be easily divided in the spring to produce more plants). They can even be used as an outdoor bedding plant in the summer if you end up with too many.

If we re-group indoors, maybe one day soon we’ll be ready to go out and change our twisted society’s attitude to gardens. Plants are not ‘the icing on the cake’, but rather the basic building blocks, into which the functional elements of the garden should be fitted. Garden design should attempt to create beautiful environments on a small scale; ‘paradise gardens’ in which we can escape from the ‘real’ world and commune with nature.

You heard it first here – let’s have a revolution…

Text & images © Graham Wright 2020

The End of an Era?

I’ve been gardening professionally for ten years, first in Buxton, Derbyshire and then, from 2010, in Penarth, in the Vale of Glamorgan. But just before Xmas I moved up to North Shropshire, and I’ve hung up my boots, for the time being at least. I’ve been very fortunate to have had some lovely customers, and I’m sad to have left them behind, but there you are; nothing can last forever. In the end, as the poet (Shelley) said, ‘nought remains but mutability’.

My sadness at moving away from my customers is tempered by the knowledge that I’ll be much closer to my family. But I do have a dilemma – what do I do next? I could try to get new customers where I’m living now. But I’m not getting any younger, and I’ve been finding it tough gardening full-time. I’m just over half way through a post-graduate diploma in garden design. My first priority, while I’ve got some time on my hands, is to get that finished and see if I can get work as a garden designer – ideally freelance.

In the mean time I will need to get a part-time job to make ends meet. Maybe I’ll do some gardening. Maybe I’ll try something else. I’ve spent the majority of my working life in an office environment; I might try to get a part-time office job. After working outside in the elements I rather fancy that; nice and warm and safe (although I remember those paper cuts used to smart a bit). That’s if I can find a job. It isn’t easy these days, and not having been in that environment for a decade is likely to work against me. And then there’s my age. It shouldn’t be a problem, but I know that ageism is rife in the workplace.

But if I’m no longer gardening for a living, is that the end of Pulling Weeds? Not necessarily. In moving, I’ve taken on a new challenge. But that’s for next time…

Text & images © Graham Wright 2019