The Good, The Bad and the Beautiful – July 2013

Only six days late. Ahem. Anyway, moving swiftly onwards.

The Good

We’re going to be on the telly again! ‘Flog It!’ was filmed at the Towers in the middle of the month. It’s a BBC antiques programme that is the baby brother of Antiques Roadshow.

It’s always a bit wierd when we’re going to be filmed because the areas that will be on camera get extra special attention (because I’m sure on an antiques programme they would linger on a shot of a stray thistle, of course they would) and the other bits get sort of… left to fall behind. A little. So having been manically making the main areas extra special perfect, I had a week’s holiday and now we’re catching up on the private gardens and other nooks and crannies.

The Bad

There I was, doing a bit of edging, smiling at the members of the public walking past, laughing politely at the ‘you can do mine when you’ve finished’ joke for the nth time (if I had a pound…) when a nice lady approached me, smiling. ‘Aha!’ I thought to myself, ‘she wishes to avail herself of the mighty wikipedia of gardening knowledge who kneels before her picking up small bits of grass from round the edges of the lawns.’

‘Excuse me,’ she said, ‘Can I ask a question?’

‘Of course.’ I said, slightly smugly.

‘There’s a weed in the knot garden. Could you tell me what it is?’

After I’d picked my pride off the lawn (it landed on a daisy) I followed her to look at the offending weed. It was oxalis:


Sneaky little purple blighter

I think there might be a moral to this story about pride or maybe doing the weeding. But mostly just… Grrr Oxalis.

The Beautiful



Dahlia 'David Howard'

Dahlia ‘David Howard’

Bee on lavender

Tasty tasty lavender.



The Tudor Border

I can’t believe how long it is since I promised a post on the Tudor border. When I first planted it, as is so often the case, it looked very boring indeed. Small green blobs in an expanse of soil. So now it’s starting to come into itself I thought I’d share some pics.

The tudor border  in summer glory.

The tudor border in summer glory.

In this pic we can see Clary Sage which was used to treat eye complaints. Lady’s Mantle edges the bed in front of the picture and Heartsease to the right. The Heartsease is just going over now but it’s been glorious all Spring. The scraggly plants just behind the Lady’s Mantle are Soapwort, only recently transplanted and just getting the hang of things. A section at the front of the bed contains annuals; Pot Marigold, Field Poppy, Cornflower, Larkspur and Love-in-a-Mist.

I used bent lengths of dogwood to edge the bed, partly to discourage trampling kids when the lamb feeding was nearby but it’s quite attractive in a rustic sort of a way. You need to strip all the bark away from any part that’s going in the soil because otherwise you’ll have a nice new dogwood patch. Experience suggests willow is also good.

Rosa mundi

Rosa mundi

The houses of York and Lancaster were represented by a white and red rose respectively and fought over the crown of England in the War of the Roses. A striped rose that contained both colours could be a symbol of the peace brought by Henry Tudor (or at least that was the spin).

Tudor border

If you are bored you might play spot the weeds.

The other side is edged with Santolina AKA Cotton Lavender which is good for hayfever and other stuffy noses. I run some through my hand to sniff when I’m feeling bunged up and the scent does seem to help.

Other plants I’ve included that aren’t pictured/visible are; Mullein, Lemon Balm, Angelica, Rosemary, Sage, Hyssop and Thyme. I’ve left space for Ox-Eye Daisy which I’m growing on from seed and I want to squeeze in some Iris florentina somewhere too. A friend has hinted about some Mandrake, but it’s notoriously hard to propogate so we shall see.

Mostly I’ve managed to get hold of the ‘right’ sort of plant with the exception of Carnations. I’ve resorted to a variety called Hardy Border Mix which I grew from seed as I couldn’t even figure out which variety of Carnation would be ‘Tudor appropriate’, let alone get hold of any. Nevermind, it’s still a nice plant:


Not a Tudor Carnation


The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful – June 2013

The Good

The huge Rosa banksiae we have growing across one entire side of East Court flowers in May/June on the previous years’ wood, unlike most other roses. I have previously semi-managed it by removal of a few trespassing bits in the winter but it had got rather out of hand and was making its way into the roof and therefore had to be dealt with. So I was busy hacking away and pretending to be a supervillain going up and down in my cherry picker (why yes I have an active imagination, why do you ask?) and then…

Woe is me! I dislodged a nest of miniscule baby birds. Woe! Woe!

So I tucked the nest back in a sheltered spot as close as possible to where I found it, crossed my fingers and felt very, very guilty.  But hurrah! They’re ok:

Nest of baby goldfinches.

Live baby goldfinches. Phew!

The Bad

Mullein moth. I say no more:

Mullein moth damage


It looks like they’ll flower ok, fortunately.

The Beautiful

I change my favourite rose almost as often as I change my underwear at this time of year but this has a permanent place in the Top 5:

Rosa 'Constance Spry

Rosa ‘Constance Spry

Plant of the Month – June 2013

Geranium psilostemon

Geranium psilostemon

This is a favourite geranium of mine and I do love hardy geraniums. However, they could occasionally be accused of not being exactly exciting. You could say they are the Magnolia Dulux of the floral world – they fill the gaps in an inoffensive, backdroppy, generally pastel manner. You could say that. But honestly, you’d just be wrong and I’d point to Geranium psilostemon to make my point. The pictures don’t really do it justice because that magenta and black is a ‘zing!’ combination. I’ve seen it paired with lime green (Lady’s Mantle maybe, or a spurge) and on a bright sunny day that’s almost painful.

Geranium psilostemon

Big, bold and beautiful

As hardy geraniums go it’s a bit of a whopper – 3ft or so and sometimes in need of staking. Like many others of its kin it likes sun or partial shade and it does fine in our clay soil but should be equally happy in anything that’s well drained.

There is a smaller geranium with similar flowers called ‘Ann Folkard’ which brings along it’s own lime green leaves to zing with, thus making it a cool plant combination in one plant. Which is just a bit like laughing at your own jokes at a party.

Sometime I’d like to plant Geranium psilostemon with orange Californian Poppy and Lady’s Mantle. But not anywhere I’ll see it with a hangover.

Geranium psilostemon

All it needs is some orange and lime-green. Honest!

The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful – May 2013

This edition of GB&B is brought to you from my garden at home.

The Good

I made some changes last year. I shrank borders to make them more workable in the time I have, turning some areas over to rough grass and this has worked well. The beds are in need of weeding but this month I’ve actually enjoyed chilling out in my own garden, rather than allowing it to become job #2. Hurrah! Success!

So what does this success look like? Nothing like a Chelsea show garden that’s for sure:

Huechera, geum and garden fork.

The fork being lazy – shameless!

Crab apple 'John Downie'

Crab apple ‘John Downie’ and the tree trunk seat.

Apple tree with three varieties - Gala, Lord Lambourne and Egremont's Russet.

Apple tree with three varieties – Gala, Lord Lambourne and Egremont’s Russet.

This family tree (a tree with several varieties grafted onto one trunk) is really nice but was discontinued after I bought it and now I think I see why – the Lord Lambourne branch is vastly outgrowing the others but bears a lot less fruit. I was pleased to get it because these are my three favourite apple varieties but next time I’ll know to enquire more deeply – a great idea for a small space though.

Veg beds

My raised beds.

The veg was planted up a bit late this year thanks to weather and busyness but now they’re done. I cheated by buying module grown veg but given the busyness and not having a greenhouse at home it seemed the most sensible way so now I have tasty things to look forward to.

And my monster of a lilac is looking awesome in the background.

The Bad

Snails! Sorry to be a broken record on the topic but just take a look at my beans:

Snail damage on beans

Horrible little snailses have been hungry.

In all honesty the little blue pellets don’t seem to help much but I keep trying.

The Beautiful

Papaver orientale - unknown variety.

Papaver orientale – unknown variety.

The label for this lovely poppy has disappeared. I remember choosing it for the fact it looks rather like a bigger version of the field poppy and really wish I could remember the variety! It lacks the black blotches of ‘Beauty of Livermere’ and my Google-fu is currently failing me. Anyway, whatever it is, it’s currently making a glorious display all round the crab apple tree.




Chelsea 2013

Last Wednesday my Mum and I hopped on a train and went to Chelsea for the first time in three years. We alternate between Hampton Court and Chelsea (one big RHS flower show per year is enough) and someone (ahem) didn’t buy tickets early enough last year so we missed the Chelsea deadline. I was surprised to find that I really missed going in 2012 even though I generally prefer HC for several reasons, mostly in that it’s more laid back and less fashionable.

There were, as usual, a few gardens that were a bit ‘meh’ and some that were a bit ‘er…?’ but there were several that I liked.

The Telegraph Garden

The Telegraph Garden

The Telegraph Garden by Christopher Bradley-Hole took inspiration from the British countryside with blocks of yew, box, and beech representing the fields. Unusually for a show garden it had no real path, with just a narrow walkway behind the oak columns on two sides of the garden and no seating area. It’s got a simple beauty. By omitting the path/seating essentials the designer seems to fully accept that it’s a show garden and abandon all pretence at forming a complete ‘real’ garden which is a standard fiction of show gardens. I like that honesty, it’s got a freshness to it.

The East Village Garden

The East Village Garden

Apparently the East Village Garden takes a lot of its direction from the Olympic Village which completely passed me by when I looked at it from among the straining hordes. The clean sweeping curves of this garden made up for the horrible black water (why? why do they all dye the water black? it looks vile to my eyes) and I liked the green-ness of the planting. The great stand of Zantedeschia was stunning too.

The Mindfulness Garden

The Mindfulness Garden

This was one of the ‘fresh’ gardens in which the designers had to think ‘outside the box’ (will someone please get the RHS a new box of management speak cliches please? these are looking a little tired). I just loved the chaotic mass of cheerful flowers on a meadowy hummock – it hid a cylindrical mirror and rotating quote. A small seating area allowed the garden’s inhabitant and maybe one or two small or very intimate friends to sit in front of the mirror and meditate. Personally I find meditation brings quite alarming sensations of dizziness and physical wierdness so adding a rotating mirrored tunnel to the mix would probably be a very bad thing, but it’s a lovely idea. Ok, I will admit it was mostly the colourful hummock of flowers that got me. Had it been a round door instead of a mirror I’d have probably liked it even more because I’m a bit of a geek.

I said last week that my favorite show garden was the M&G Centenary Garden designed by Roger Platts. Here are a couple of the details which, for me, made the garden such a hit:

The M&G Centenary Garden 'ruin' detail

The M&G Centenary Garden ‘ruin’

Ivy + ruinous stonework = happy Libby. I do love a good ruin, even when it’s a fake ruin. If ever I’m lucky enough to have a substantial patch of ground to call my own you can bet there’ll be a fake ruin somewhere.

M&G Garden seat and Rhodedendron detail

M&G Centenary Garden seat and Rhodedendron

The big white blooms of the Rhodedendron and the rusty seat set each other off nicely. I can imagine sitting here and reading a good book which is an essential attribute of a garden in my opinion.

That’s an interesting question – what do you think does a garden have to have or do to be successful? Must it have a seat? Should it please the eye, the belly, the nose? Does it just have to please its owner?

Chelsea Crumblets

I had a wonderful day at Chelsea on Wednesday and took about two hundred pictures (why?! will I ever process them all? No!) and have had no time to prepare them for your perusal. In fact, given a long weekend in a tent beckons (insert expression of joy here), I won’t have time for a proper post-Chelsea post until sometime next week. Mea culpa and so on and so forth. So here are a couple of crumbs to keep the ravening wolves from the door…

The M&G garden got the Libby’s Fave Award:

The M&G Centenary Garden

The M&G Centenary Garden

Oh, and the RHS gave it a gold. I like the colours and planting and the fact that there are lots of details to spot – I suspect some might find it a little cluttered but I rather like that.

Favourite flowers from the blimmin’ great tent:

Iris x hollandica 'Gypsy Beauty'

Iris x hollandica ‘Gypsy Beauty’

Isn’t it gorgeous with the brazen cheerfulness of that blue and yellow?

And this ‘mum is sumptuous with its black leaves and sunburst flowers with a lime green heart:

Crysanthemum 'Delistar Saffira'

Crysanthemum ‘Delistar Saffira’

I’ll have a further dig around in my piccies next week and find some more for you. You never know, I might manage to string some intelligent words together too (don’t bet on it).


On Friday I joined Pinterest and it promptly swallowed my weekend. If you’re not familiar with Pinterest it’s a somewhat controversial site which allows you to ‘pin’ images from the net to virtual pinboards. Gathering shiny things from the net like virtual magpies you can easily and quickly make collections of inspirational images. The controversy is around copyright violation. The site has a couple of rather flimsy figleaves it attempts to hide behind but the fact is that a fair amount of the ‘pinning’ on the site is not approved of by the image owners. This is a source of horror for professional photographers in particular and until last weekend I was avoiding the site for my own ethical reasons.

However I’ve started using it. Why? Because Pinterest has been the largest single source of referrals to my blog recently – even before I joined it. Yes, this means that some of my images were being pinned without my consent but honestly it’s not like I’m ever going to make money from my photos anyway so, whatever. And also – pretty things and the opportunity to arrange pretty things. Deep, huh?

In order to use Pinterest without my conscience eating me nibble by nibble I’ve come up with some rules which will help me to use it without violating people’s copyright.

I only pin in these scenarios:

1) The image is my own or I know that the original pinner is the owner of the image.

2) The link to the source works and the source encourages or allows pinning of their images and I am reasonably confident that the source is the owner of the image.

3) The source is a shop. This is based on the assumption that free advertising is usually appreciated.

This isn’t foolproof but it seems to be a reasonable compromise. I’ve only been on it a few days and the beautiful images I’ve not pinned because they were blatantly stolen would be enough to make you weep.

If, like me, you are a gardening blogger who is happy for others to use your images then it might be worth at least enabling the ‘share’ button for Pinterest.

So, dear readers, do you use Pinterest? Do you have your own set of rules for using it well? Do you have any thoughts on the issues regarding the site? I could rant about this for pages and pages but I’ll save you the horror and stop now and distract you with –

Look! Tulip!

Tulipa 'Professor Roentgen'

Tulipa ‘Professor Roentgen’

Plant of the Month – May 2013

Anemone sylvestris

Anemone sylvestris

Every May the Anemone sylvestris emerge and put on a glorious show for a few weeks, starting about the end of April. They are rather like our native wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa) on steroids having similarly divided leaves and nodding white flowers but reaching a foot or so tall instead of a few inches.

I hear rumours of repeat flowering in autumn although mine have never acheived this feat. They spread about quite a bit and I understand that in lighter soils than ours they can be a bit of a pest, but such a pretty pest.

Anemone sylvestris

Anemone sylvestris

Natives of meadows and woodlands they are happy even in quite deep shade, though here they are in partial shade. One or two clumps are in full sun and although they are a bit less vigorous than the ones in the shadier spot, they seem to be doing ok.

Nodding in clusters with the church in the background they bring to mind a crowd of choirboys with their heads bowed. If my Dad’s tales of being a choirboy are anything to go by I shall soon find them behind the shed having a crafty ciggie.

Lathyrus vernus

Seeing as I’ve completely messed up my blog schedule and haven’t done a Plant of the Month for ages I thought I’d do a profile of a lovely little plant for this time of year and then I’ll do my best to pull my socks up and get back into the blog driving seat this month. The winter blues ought to be well over by now!

Lathyrus vernus

Lathyrus vernus

The gorgeous blue-purple pea flowers of Lathyrus vernus are a rich, saturated colour and they go wonderfully with late flowering narcissus and miniature tulips. The young growth uncoils itself in an almost fern-like way in early spring and after flowering the seed pods twist into brown helixes after they burst, giving some interest for the keen-eyed beyond flowering season; otherwise it is quite unobtrusive for the rest of the year.

Lathyrus vernus likes a fertile soil and sun or partial shade and forms a clump 30-45cm tall and wide. It will self seed but not in a particularly bothersome manner. There are paler, wishy-washy coloured versions available but why would you?

Lathyrus vernus with Tulipa 'Little Beauty'

Lathyrus vernus with Tulipa ‘Little Beauty’

Also, its common name is Spring Vetchling and that’s just cute. Anything that sounds like a minor enemy in a fantasy roleplaying game can have space in my garden.