Autumn Flowers

Late October Cranesbill Geraniums

It is hard to believe that Samhain is next week when my garden is full of flowers that normally bloom in May or June.

Potentilla Miss Willmott still going

Several died back to ground level during the drought, put on growth in the rains of August, and the Campanulas started flowering again in September. They were joined by a Leucanthemum, giant scabious, candytuft, sweet cicely, sweet rocket, and now even the geraniums which I thought I had lost are having a good go. Along with the usual autumn flowers of course!

Sweet Cicely enjoying a second flush of flowers

Eucryphia x nymansensis ‘Nymansay’ still flowering in late October

Hazelnuts were so early that I missed most of them. Yet the Eucryphia tree in our garden which usually flowers in August did so at the normal time, and has carried on, and on…

Unfortunately the recent warm spell also brought a new generation of pests, including many flies which get in my face while cycling and whiteflies which have invaded my kale. I am sending the lacewings out from sheltering in my bedroom windows (not a very sensible place for the winter, I open them too often) on the next warm day to have a feast.

And one that flowered at the normal time, a Paeonia mlokoseiwitschii I grew from seed and now producing the first of the next generation. The flies seem to like this too.

Gardening with Roses

Rosa 'Flower Carpet White' gearing up for a late flush. Geranium Buxton Blue and Cornus alternifolia 'Argentea' accompany.

Rosa ‘White Flower Carpet’ gearing up for a late flush. Geranium ‘Buxton Blue’ and Cornus alternifolia ‘Argentea’ accompany.

Ever since I started gardening, I have had roses. As a child I grew one called ‘The Fairy’, twiggy and prickly but filled with tiny, pink, very double flowers in summer. My first rented house with a garden had two standard roses growing which I tended, and a year later starting my own garden roses were some of the first things I planted.

However now that I am redesigning the garden, I have been considering what plants I want to keep, and which ones I don’t. Roses were high on my ‘thought list’ because they are very tricky to garden around, being so prickly. Their shape with a narrow base and widening out means weeds grow readily underneath which I can’t then get to, or they get invaded by hardy geraniums and campanulas which smother new growth leaving smaller roses in particular with awkward, leggy shapes and flowers only at the ends of trailing stems. The end result hasn’t always been very satisfactory to me, let alone pleasing. So I considered removing all the roses and growing more of the other flowering shrubs that were easier to manage. Viburnums, Deutzias, Hydrangeas, Dogwoods, hardy Fuchsias etc.

Then Rosa Graham Thomas came into flower. And continued to flower steadily for the next two months. At that point I realised nothing really compares with roses. Not even peonies. I may not have the right ones in the right places for my garden, but roses just keep giving and giving all summer long. Their flowers are beautiful, the petals can be dried and eaten, Bees love them, as do many other insects, especially semi-double or single roses, and birds like the hips in autumn and winter.

So no, I’m not going to do away with roses. Instead I have placed an order for three new ones for the front garden, dowsing to help narrow my choices to those most likely to succeed. Then next year I will plan more for the back garden. I look forward to flowers all summer.

Flowers and Weeds – Part 1

My garden has, like any garden, evolved over the years as it has developed and I have learned what suits the conditions. The basic layout I created soon after we moved here (sixteen years ago) remains in place today, a semi-wild cottage style garden, with flowers, vegetables and fruit, surrounded by hedgerows. However my plant choices have changed to being mostly native and mostly edible, and preferably able to look after themselves. Overall the garden is not very large, but remains open to the views (and the weather!) to the North giving an airy, spacious feel.

Cherry tree 'Stella'

Cherry tree ‘Stella’

In recent years for various reasons my time and energies have been rather unpredictable, leading to much relaxation of my gardening expectations and working with nature as far as possible. M has now reached the stage of being able to walk with shoes on, so this year I am making a special effort to do child-friendly gardening. Little bits at a time, with relatively instant and reliable results, in gardening terms anyway.

Flowers have been my focus this week. After having spent three weeks semi-weeding*, clearing and composting, a plant catalogue arrived serendipitously in the post, its pages filled with tempting colourful perennials all ready to plant out and provide instant beauty. In previous years I have grown flowers from seed, but windowsill peppers and tomatoes are enough of a challenge for M to keep intact, so this looked a great idea to me. However, past experience also suggests that many of the glossy photos feature plants designed for the warmer climes Down South, preferably with well-drained, humus-rich soil, and regular feeding and watering. They are the sort of plants that are easy to propagate and grow really well in potting compost, flowering all summer in sheltered conditions, but tend to fare very badly in my exposed, heavy clay garden, rarely surviving their first winter. So I decided to make a list of all the plants I thought I might like in the garden and didn’t already have, and then get out my trusty pendulum (a haematite necklace being my favourite for this purpose) to dowse for which plants would actually enjoy growing here. Out went the penstemons, fuchsias, osteospermums, coreopsis, pinks, lobelias, day lilies, echinaceas and verbenas. It is a great way to save money! My list was rapidly reduced to one of more manageable proportions, and I have now put my order in for some hardy geraniums, campanulas, platycodons, papavers and anemones with every expectation of them being a success.

Corner of garden

Corner of garden

Knowing what plants already grow well here, and what doesn’t, I will admit that I didn’t get many surprises with my dowsing on this occasion. However, I will also receive some free pelargoniums with my order, not a plant I have been particularly inspired by before, but which my dowsing suggests will do better than any other bedding plant in the dry and sun-baked pots directly outside my South-facing front door. (Diascias are the only thing I have had any great success with so far.) I look forward to them flowering and welcoming visitors all summer long as promised…


*Semi-weeding is a term I have created to cover what I do in my garden, keeping a balance between it looking ‘weedy’ and being too neat and tidy. This can be very hard to explain to adult garden ‘helpers’!