Eutierria Mindfulness Garden at the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show 2019

Eutierria garden with textural plants and sweet chestnut decking

The Eutierria Show Garden (pronounced you tee air ia), designed by Neil Sutcliffe and built by Creative Roots, drew inspiration from the cliffs of the River Trent. It was part of the mindfulness category of mood-enhancing spaces at RHS Chatsworth that demonstrate how access to nature and our wellbeing are interlinked. 

Shade tolerant plants supplied by Miles Nurseries channelled the margins of woodland, but with gardenesque touches. White anemone ‘Ruffled Swan’, bronze ajuga, claret astrantia, blue geranium and a froth of tiny, chartreuse yellow alchemilla mollis flowers provided pops of colour against a green, textural planting of fern, moss, hosta, tiarella and brunnera. Trees and shrubs added architecture.  

Eutierria Show Garden with rammed wall, pebble mulch, and green water wall

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Great Companion Plants For a Cottage Garden: Geraniums

This post about hardy geraniums, popularly called cranesbills, (not the pelargoniums) is the second in my series on companion plants.

Blue hydrangea with geranium companion plant

Blue hydrangea with a geranium companion

What are companion plants?

Companion plants complement the showy ornamentals society loves – roses, peonies, delphiniums and hollyhocks – filling in the gaps in the flower border and helping it flow. They’re pretty enough on their own terms and happy to mingle in, above or below other plants. Good neighbours, they will not compete too aggressively for food, water or space.

Their presence encourages a healthier ecosystem by attracting beneficial insects which is why companion plants are often recommended for kitchen gardens. To find out more about what makes a plant a good companion, check out the first post in the series, on astrantias.

Pink roses with purple geraniums at a sunny Bodnant Gardens

Roses with geraniums at Bodnant Gardens

Geraniums (Cranesbills)

If you show me a decent sized English garden that doesn’t have a geranium, I’ll show you a garden that is missing a trick. Suppliers variously describe them as forgiving, easy, undemanding, generous and enduring. I don’t have a horse in the race, but I’d agree with them.

Geranium Sue Crug and Stachys byzantina

Geranium ‘Sue Crûg’ and Stachys byzantina

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Celebrating The Southport Flower Show’s 90th Birthday

Southport Flower Show Poster from 1929

Southport Flower Show poster from 1929

Remember the days when the Town Hall was the place to go if you wanted ‘further particulars’ about an event? How life has changed since then! At this year’s Southport Flower Show, we had no horse leaping events, but we did have heritage animals, courtesy of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, including a pig that was more rare than a giant panda (and much the same size).

The cultivars may have changed over the last 90 years, but gladioli like those shown on the 1929 poster were on display in 2019, together with just about every August flowering plant you could hope for.

Perfect pink Japanese anemone flower with gold stamens

A serenely beautiful Japanese anemone

Amongst so many choice plants, this solitary, perfect, innocent-looking, pink Japanese anemone caught my eye. Continue reading

Highlights of the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show 2019

RHS floral logo with Chatsworth House in the background

RHS green floral letters

The grounds of Chatsworth House make a wonderful setting for the youngest of the major UK flower shows. I hope you’ll find something of interest in my personal picks from the show.

1. Seasonal Cut Flowers

Freddie’s Flowers had packed a breathtaking array of seasonal cut flowers in shades of lavender, cream and pink in the back of a truck to advertise their bouquet by post service. Continue reading

The Arbor Gate, Tomball, Texas

I’ve met many horticulture people I love, admire or both, but few I admire more than Beverly Welch who, together with her husband, Max, owns The Arbor Gate. No matter how many times I visit, I’m always taken by her hospitality, kindness and composure even on one of the busiest days in her calendar.

My sweetheart lectures there, so I don’t claim to be impartial. I’m a fan. It’s my favourite plant centre outside the UK and I suspect there aren’t many better ones in the world. I love wandering around, admiring the plants and marvelling at the garden art while trying to avoid being taken off guard by the Texan sun.

He’s actually lecturing at The Arbor Gate as I write, while I’m back in England, feeling nostalgic and making up for not being there by sharing a much overdue gallery of pictures from my visits over the last few years.

Colourful bank of petunias and annuals

Petunias and other bedding plants help give visitors a cheery welcome

One the plant front, visitors can expect to find roses, perennials, annuals, succulents, trees, shrubs, vines and a big collection of herbs.

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The Plant Hunters’ Fair at Hoghton Tower

The sun had got his hat on most obligingly yesterday, as Hoghton Tower was hosting a plant fair. I arrived shortly after 10.30 to find the place bustling. Parking was free and the entry fee (£1 per person) allowed admittance to the fortified manor’s  walled garden. There were plant staples, novelties, rarities and bargains on offer and a line of early bird gardeners had formed in front of the plant stands, hoping to catch a worm or two. I did not judge this was a good point to start taking pictures, so the ones I have are from later on when everything was more sparse. Come between Lancastrians and their plants at your peril!

In any case, I was hunting for something too – a plant I could have bought by mail order or at many garden centres, but wanted to find here. I was not disappointed.

Why did I want to buy it here? To state the obvious, you don’t pay P&P at a plant fair. Plants are priced to sell, you can check their quality and size, get expert advice across the plant bench, and bask in the feelgood factor of directly supporting an independent, specialist nursery that grows more for love than money. Continue reading

Tiny Spiky Things

Small spiky, leafy plants with green, grey and purple leaves

Tiny carpeting plants in different colours and textures

The first picture fascinates me: the abundant, varied life; the colours and forms; how snugly these carpeting plants fit together; the apparent harmony, nothing swamping the other; how dainty they all are. I’d love to see this natural design translated into a fabric.

The second is a mystery. A fossil of some kind – a coral, though it looks too round for that, or a sea creature? Continue reading

From The Alpine House at Harlow Carr Gardens: Ten Tiny Treasures

A small primula covered in a mound of flowers

Primula allionii

The northernmost of the Royal Horticultural Society’s gardens, Harlow Carr, has so much to see that most repeat visitors must feel torn about where to go first. Not me – the Alpine House draws me in like a magnet. It’s show time there, whatever stage of the year. The gardeners tend a stock of plants behind the scenes, picking out tiny treasures when they are at, or around, their best for their turn in the Alpine house spotlight. This week our treats included several primulas, some flowering so madly that their leaves were hidden, others wearing their leaves with pride.

Lavender coloured primula with toothed, mealy leaves

Primula ‘Tantallon’

Some of the plants in the Alpine greenhouse are inside because they need protection from cold, wind or rain; others would grow outside just fine. Common species plants are treated as carefully as rare or special cultivars, all raised up on broad, sweeping benches so we can admire them at close quarters. Plants are grown in traditional clay pots, sunk into a mixture of sand and sharp grit to help keep the roots cool and stop them drying out too quickly. Continue reading

In Praise Of Winter Gardens, Plus A Tip Or Two

Wooden bench amongst winter plants and grasses

Bodnant Garden’s colourful winter garden

I’m a big fan of winter gardens that make the most of plants that look good when herbaceous borders are expanses of mulch-covered dirt. Trees with white trunks such as this Betula utilis var jacquemontii (Himalayan birch) often feature, together with evergreens, light-reflecting grasses, red stemmed Cornus (dogwood), Skimmia, Hamamelis (witch hazel), flowering heather, hellebores, Bergenia, Cyclamen and winter flowering bulbs.

Plants like this seem to shrug off winter weather, but the current cold spell means that the hardiness of plants of all types is being tested in many UK and American gardens.

Some gardeners go to great lengths to keep tender plants alive, wrapping their pots up, covering them with some form of plant blanket, or moving them indoors. Others will only plant what grows. Many of us are somewhere in-between, willing to offer our plant treasures a helping hand if conditions are unusually bad, provided we know what to do.

Overhead view of a pot protected from the frost

A pot of bulbs wrapped in burlap, with a double layer of netting to deter squirrels

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Howick Hall’s Sensory Garden

A bench in an abundant flower garden

A bench tempts the visitor to linger and enjoy a visual feast of flowers

What makes a sensory garden different to any other garden? We can expect the boundaries to be pushed. Take Howick Hall’s new sensory garden, for example. Starting, as in any garden, with the soothing power of green, harmonious and contrasting textures and colours are layered on to stimulate us.

Silvery heart-shaped leaves, grasses and hydrangeas

Silver brunnera leaves with dwarf hydrangea and golden Japanese hakone

We respond with an instinctive head-turn as we half-spot a flash of wings between rustling leaves. Our thumbs and forefingers are stained and scented from crushing a rosemary leaf, just one of many fragrant plants around us. We tune in to sounds – water splashing, birdsong and the blunt music of windchimes.  Continue reading

Fingers Burnt By Plants (Or Is It The Plants Getting Burnt?)

Tiarella flowers

Tiarella flowers setting the trends at the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show

Love isn’t always requited between humans & plants, but we shouldn’t allow the lamentable failure of a relationship to thrive to put us off one type of plant entirely. Easy to say, but harder to venture a tender heart the second time around.

I was first acquainted with a brownish heuchera that lived in a hanging basket in an out of the way place, seemingly never watered. Most of the soil had fallen out and only a spindly root system prevented the heuchera from going the same way. The plant never looked great, but you had to respect its toughness. I can’t claim to have fallen in love; at best we were on nodding terms.

Contrasting brown, green and purple leaves covered in raindrops

Heucherella ‘Redstone Falls’ with contrasting varieties

Inspired by that one, I went on to grow several heucheras, tiarellas and their hybrid, heucherellas, using their mounds of patterned leaves as ground cover. They really are plants you can paint land with, in England, at least. Unsurprisingly, I found myself getting fond of them.  Continue reading

Sunlight Attack

Mossy bank with wild geranium leaf backlit by sun

Usually there are plenty of opportunities to pick an overcast day if we’re planning to visit a garden or, if not, at least chances to wait for a cloud. But this year is different. Unrelenting sunshine is not usually a big issue in northern England but Texan-style blue skies (with not a cloud in sight all day long) are all the rage.   Continue reading