Lowther Castle: growing in the ruins

You may be surprised to hear that us gardeners are very busy at this time of year. The lawns and weeds may have slowed down, but there is a lot to do in preparation for spring/summer 2019. As the nights draw in, time is precious and we are constantly busy with orders, deliveries, setting out, digging, planting, mulching, pruning and staking.

I therefore took the opportunity last month to get in a mini break to The Lakes before the chaos of autumn planting began. An early Friday morning visit to Lowther Castle in Penrith, Cumbria was undoubtedly the highlight.

A dramatic sky sets off the gothic silhouette of Lowther Castle’s remains.

Having heard great things about Dan Pearson’s 21st century design amongst the ruins I am pleased to say my expectations of ‘The Parterre’ and ‘The Courtyard’ were exceeded. The ruins themselves are breathtaking, the views are stunning, the scale is immense and the planting design ties it all together to enhance the overall sense of place.

Stunning views across ‘The Lawn’ from ‘The Parterre’

Spectacular planting including Hakonechloa, Actea, Cornus, Acer, Hosta, Hydrangea, Heuchera and various climbers within the walls of the ruins creates a feeling of a place lost to nature.

In late October there was lots of autumn interest in the garden

The best thing about Lowther is that it is not a restoration project. Instead it is more of an interpretation project: many of the the semi-forgotten parts of the garden including a rockery and Japanese Garden from the Victorian era are still in tact, as is an ancient Yew Walk, but the new parts of the garden are exactly that, new.

View of the Bampton Valley from the Western Terrace

I am already looking forward to returning to Lowther once the new Rose Garden is complete, I’m sure it will be a sight to behold (and inhale)!

You can follow progress on the Rose Garden at Lowther here


The Onion Conundrum: the best combinations for planting ornamental Alliums

Alliums are a great addition to a herbaceous border for many months of the year. As Piet Oudolf says “bulbs form a sort of underground army that add an extra dimension to your garden”, they can be used individually as an exclamation mark through a border or in groups creating blocks of colour. Alliums in particular have the additional bonus of not being on the squirrel, deer or rabbit menu!

Allium ‘Globemaster’ Bursting into life

Allium giganteum and A.‘Globemaster’ are real showstoppers. They have the largest heads and add great presence to a border. It is important to remember that by the time they are looking superb, their leaves beneath will look untidy and so need to be hidden. Alchemilla mollisBrunnera, and many of the Geranium family do this job perfectly.

Top tip: plant giant Alliums towards the back of a border.

Allium giganteum underplanted with Geranium. Photo credit: www.edenbrothers.com

Perfect for a white garden, Allium ‘Mount Everest’ is a tall, white Allium that benefits from a dark backdrop for example, yew hedging or evergreen topiary obelisks. I have seen these used to great effect in clumps in the new herbaceous borders at RBG Kew. Again you need to consider the unsightly leaves at the base of the plant.

Planting companions: white lavender, Dicentra (Lamprocapnos) spectabilis ‘Alba’, Astrantia ‘Superstar’, Hellebores & any of the larger white Geraniums.

RBG Kew: Allium ‘Mount Everest’ planted en masse on ‘The Broadwalk’ May 2018

The ‘Drumstick’ Allium, A. sphaerocephalon, has lovely little egg-shaped flower heads in early summer and looks great in a prairie-style planting scheme. Plant it en masse with feather grass Stipa tenuissima and Achillea ‘Terracotta’ for ultimate movement in your garden.

Prairie-style: Stipa tenuissima, Achillea ‘Terracotta’ and Allium sphaerocephalon

Finally, Allium atropurpureum usually grown for it’s rich, deep purple, star-shaped umbels matches beautifully with the dark purple stems of Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’. Planted together, the pair will give a splash of colour in the front/middle of a border from late spring into summer.

Allium atropurpureum planted amongst Monarda, Amsonia & Salvia. Photo credit: www.gardeninacity.wordpress.com








Visit to Latour-Marliac

Whilst on my summer holidays in the South of France last month, I made a short excursion to the famous Water Lily Gardens in Le Temple-sur-Lot.

The site has been an active nursery since 1875. Founded originally by Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac, an expert on bamboo (hence the varieties Phyllostachys nigra ‘Boryana’ and P. bambusoides ‘Marliac’) the nursery continues to cultivate over 200 varieties of water lily. Remarkable considering when Latour-Marliac started hybridising there was only one white hardy species in Europe.

The are 65 cultivation pools each containing 10 compartments holding a total of more than 200 varieties

After exhibiting his new collection in Paris in 1889 (alongside the recently completed Eiffel Tower), Latour-Marliac won an award and most importantly, the attention of Claude Monet.

Terra cotta pots used for multiplying and maintaining water lilies have stood on the edges of the ponds for over 135 years.

Latour-Marliac went on to supply the water lilies for Monet’s water garden at Giverny, which subsequently became the subject of his world-famous series of paintings.

Japanese bridge arching over the pond; a nod to Claude Monet’s at Giverny.

A particularly gorgeous species: Nymphaea ‘James Hudson’

Overall it was a great day out, a trip to Giverny is definitely next on the list!

The nursery and water garden at Latour-Marliac are well worth a visit: click here for more info





Supports & tying in!

Having suffered my usual spring bad back week, I was under strict instructions to do very little in the garden! This time of year, and the sun shinning…. Impossible! So here are my not too strenuous hints and tips to enhance and prolong flowering this year.

Plants are growing at a phenomenal rate, especially after such a cold wet spring. No sooner than I secure a plant to its support, ten minutes later it is hanging forlornly, looking dangerously fragile again!


So often I only notice Clematis in July and August when they have collapsed and smothered other herbaceous plants, so now is the time to support. If you are growing one up a wall, try pulling the growth more on the horizontal (gently, Clematis snap very easily). A plant will always reach for the sun; so the more laterals you create the greater the display of flowers. If you have a wide obelisk try and guide the plant in a spiral growing pattern, again creating more lateral growth.

Herbaceous Clematis

These still need some support; growing them through a mesh works well, which needs to be placed just as the clematis is pushing through the soil (April).


Renowned for their stunning large heads, these traditional cottage garden flowers benefit from support. Initially they look superb, but once a heavy May shower has drenched them that stunning display will face the ground. Place the support on the sunny side to keep foliage off plants growing underneath.


If you are training a new Wisteria, now is the time to keep an eye on it. New shoots are thrown out, which need tying in as soon as possible. Laterals are the key; this way you create a good skeletal structure for the racemes of flowers to hang from.

Tall herbaceous perennials

One of my Campanulas is particularly tall; another offender is Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, which produces beautiful tropical like red flowers; but both these two can collapse on the rest of the border. There are many others, so it is worth taking photographs later in the year to help remind you whom the main culprits are.


With RHS Chelsea on the horizon I am sure many of you will be thinking of roses. Ramblers will be growing at great speed, so keep an eye on the new growth and tie these in before they snap, remember these beautiful long shoots will be next years flowers.

I find flexi tie the best for securing and tying in, it doesn’t impede the plants growth, or cut into it, and as a bonus can be used the following year!

I buy my supports from GAP, they are good value and always very helpful.

Spring colour combinations

Tulip and spring perennial combinations


After such a dreary long wet spring the sight of coloured tulips is a very welcome one.  For the last 2 months we have been planting bare root trees and hedges for our new designs either in the rain or standing in pools of water – I am surprised we don’t have webbed feet!

But last week we enjoyed the long awaited sunshine; so much so, I now have sunburn.. However, I love this time of year, when the hedgerows blossom and you get that first flush of lime green.  I am sure during those 3 glorious days of sunshine, I could see the plants growing!

Planting colour combinations with tulips is thought about in September, when we are all busy filling in gaps that spent perennials have left, and it is difficult to think about tulips!  I always take photographs of the garden, just to remind myself where the spring plants were, as many have disappeared by November!

One of the most striking early yellows in the garden is Euphorbia polychroma which looks wonderful with the lily shaped Tulip West Point.   One of the most reliable tulips that comes up for years after year.

Another great example is Euphorbia griffithii Fireglow, or Great Dixter, planted with Tulip Ballerina.  I have also tried Tulip blumex parrot, a little smaller so it needs to go in front of the Euphorbia, but the combination is very striking

Planted next to the white trunk of the Betula utilitis jacquemontii, Tulip Sapporo and White Triumpator, with Dicentra spectablis alba, and narcissus albus plenus odoratus.


I think I may have got carried away in the front garden… but I love experimenting….. !  What do you think?  too much?