Making the cut

Secateurs at the ready everyone! We are now nearly half way through September and that means one thing in the garden… it’s time to start cutting back. For those wanting advice/confidence on how to start cutting back in their own garden I have included a quick guide using Veronicastrum as an example. Remember you can do this with any herbaceous perennial/ornamental grass that dies back to soil level in winter. Be careful of tender perennials with semi-woody stems e.g. Penstemmon & Artemisia; these should be cut back after winter has finished.

There are several reasons why we cut back herbaceous plants in the garden. First of all it improves growth and flowering; if done early enough after flowering, some species including Geranium, Salvia and Delphinium will produce a second flush later in the same season. For others it ensures a more vigorous, floriferous plant next year. Secondly it neatens up the garden by removing foliage before it dies or becomes diseased. Thirdly (most importantly in my opinion) it makes applying mulch to your beds much easier as there are no leaves/stems/flowers/seed heads in the way!

This lovely Veronicastrum has done its stuff for the year, all flowers are now finished, it’s the perfect time to cut back.
With a sharp pair of secateurs cut back to just above ground level (2-3 inches).
All cut back and weeded.
It’s good practice to chop up rigid stems to aid breakdown of lignin in cell walls on the compost heap.
All five plants cut back and ready for their annual dose of nutritious compost!

Pruning perennials to a novice gardener might seem quite daunting but there really isn’t anything to fear… just like a hair cut, have faith they will grow back! (and with even more vigour than before).

It is worth mentioning that those wanting to leave seed heads etc. for birds and insects should postpone this process until early spring (February) when the same process applies.

Happy chopping!

May in the garden

Where is this year going?! Amazingly we are already in the second half of May, spring is in full swing and summer is literally just around the corner.

The gardeners amongst us will know that there is always plenty to be doing at this time of year in the garden. For those of you who are keen to get involved but are unsure when/what/how, we thought we’d share with you some of the things we have been getting up to and why they are so important!

  • Planting- we have been finishing all of our planting jobs for the season; April/May is the best time for this as the ground in soft and warm and the nurseries have good stocks of high quality plants.
  • Weeding- now that we’ve had a bit of wet weather and sunshine the weeds are taking off! Hoeing around borders on a regular basis keeps work to a minimum. Pesky weeds growing very close to plants need carefully teasing out with a trowel or hand fork.
  • Mulching- well-rotted compost/bark chippings are a great dressing for flowerbeds. Not only does it reduce weeds, it keeps in moisture and improves soil structure over time- worth the barrowing and shoveling!
  • Hedge cutting- strictly speaking, box hedges should be cut in June but in gardens where there is a lot of box (Buxus sempervirens) we start early to make sure we can get it all done! Trimming topiary early makes life a lot easier as the perennials are yet to grow up and get in the way.
  • Constructing- putting up obelisks or other structures in the garden for climbing/trailing plants to grow up/along before they get too big.
  • Seeding- now that we are safely out of early morning frost season it is a good time to reseed/fertilise/top dress lawns where necessary.

And there you have it, plenty to be getting on with in the next couple of weeks.

Happy gardening!

Banana split: propagating tropical plants

Growing tropical plants might seem daunting to those of us that are used to cold British winters. But if you have access to a frost free greenhouse all the same growing principles apply to these alien plants .

Bananas are a great example of tropical plants to try in the garden, their large smooth leaves are a stunning contrast to any hot border or pot display in the summer.

Tropical border at RHS Wisley 2016 featuring bananas, cannas and palms.

Like all hardy shrubs we are used to in the UK, tropical plants also need routine maintenance and care. Obviously there is the usual watering, feeding and removal of dead matter but every now and then, the bigger plants need potting on to give their roots room to grow.

Here in one of our regular client’s gardens we have a banana plant that is perhaps 4 or 5 years old and has produced 2 “babies” in the last couple of years.

Banana plant with 2 suckers ready to be propagated

This is a great task for a wet wintry day in March in the warm and dry of the greenhouse: first job is to ease the whole thing gently out of the pot.

Root bound banana plant eased out of it’s pot

Next, using a sharp knife cut off one of the babies at the base where it joins the main stem. Then tease apart the roots with a big fork..

A sharp blade is best for creating a clean wound where the baby plants meet the main trunk

Repeat this step for any other babies in the pot and ta da! Brand new banana plants ready for their very own homes!

Some healthy roots on these baby bananas

Now for the repotting: first put broken crocks in the bottom of the new pot, followed by horticultural potting grit for drainage. Now a layer of John Innes No. 3 compost, next put in the plant and firm in with more compost with your fists or heel up to the original soil level.

Potting grit

John Innes No. 3

Now give it a good soak and make sure it doesn’t dry out. You can top dress the pot with more horticultural grit if you wish… this will reduce water loss through evaporation and also suppress the weeds!

And here you have it!

3 for the price of 1!

January jobs

I’m often asked: “what is the best time of year to makeover my garden?” and the answer is anytime you like.. there is no time like the present!

And what better time than January, it’s a new year, a new start and there’s still plenty of time to prepare the garden for summer glory.

Having recently embarked upon a new maintenance/rejuvenation project with one of our clients I thought I’d share with you some of the tasks we are undertaking. Anyone can have a go at these jobs and start transforming their garden. We believe that by starting early in the year, you can kickstart your 2019 garden maintenance routine and fall in love with your garden again.

Firstly cut back all that dead foliage and clear up all those leaves, it might be back breaking but it’s very satisfying and a good way to make visual progress at this time of year. Remember to compost herbaceous waste, it’ll make great mulch next year!

Mixed border before annual clearance

Mixed border after a cut back & weed. Note: Penstemon don’t get cut back until winter frosts are over.

If you have Hellebores start cutting back (and disposing of) the leaves, this not only reveals a gorgeous army of flowers underneath, it also prevents fungal leaf spot, which Hellebores are particularly susceptible to. My advice would be to burn the foliage to make sure the fungus isn’t introduced into your compost

Hellebore flowers revealed

By now, Wisterias should have dropped all of their leaves so you can easily see the buds. Prune back stems to the second or third bud and remove any dead, damaged or diseased wood.

Wisteria before winter prune

Wisteria after winter prune

Now get some heavy duty gloves and prune those roses, the harsher the better. Trust me, they’ll thank you for it. Don’t be frightened, just remember to make an angled cut above an outward-facing bud and you’ll do no harm.

Shrub maintenance is also a lot easier at this time of year, less foliage means you can see what you’re working with. I always start with the three d’s: dead, damaged, diseased. If any of the above apply, get rid. Then take out a third of old stems at the base if the plant is becoming overcrowded. I find the best tools for dealing with shrubs are extendable loppers and a pruning saw.

Viburnum x bodnantense getting some attention

You’ll be amazed at how much rubbish even the smallest of gardens produces. My favourite methods of waste disposal are composting (anything soft/herbaceous) and burning (anything woody/pernicious) but if you don’t have the space or means for this there’s always green waste collection or a good old trip to the tip!

Happy gardening!

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:

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:








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?




Thinking outside the box…

Earlier this year, to our dismay, we discovered an outbreak of the dreaded ‘box blight’ at one of our regular clients gardens. Sadly the symptoms of the fungal infection were abundant in a parterre; designed and planted over 25 years ago!


Before the blight…

After long deliberations it was decided that one half of the mirror-image parterre (the badly affected side) would have to be dug up and destroyed to prevent spread of the disease to the rest of the garden. The other half however (exhibiting only minor patches of dieback) could potentially be saved through a careful treatment and feeding programme.

This provided us with a unique design opportunity; instead of replicating the existing arrangement with a box alternative and waiting another 25 years for it to look “as good”, we decided to literally ‘think outside the box’.


The plan: existing box parterre to the right, new oregano planting to the left.

A new planting design was based on the negative imprint of the original plan, whereby the hedges became paths and the gaps became planting. The design was planted with Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’ (100 plants exactly) to create both height and colour contrast.





Marking out…



Planting calculations turned out perfect!



The finished product- can’t wait for the oregano to fill out the design!

From design table to coffee table

Spring is always our fun time of year,  completing gardens that were on the design table last year.

This courtyard garden was a lovely task. Set within a magnificent old coach house built when Cromwell was around! The shape of the area lent itself to a formal concept, with some ebullient planting to add colour and height, giving the impression of greater space.


This was our first project  done following a design from CAD.

Master Plan Detail

With no access for small machinery, the project was labour intensive. First the beds were marked out to show which cobbles needed removing and which frost damaged bricks needed replacing.


New soil was brought in and the beds were left to settle for a couple of months


The fun part…. Martin placing the Obelisks and reorganising the existing beds which already had a great colour scheme and plenty of choice plants.


All hands on deck …..

And finally …


A taste of Trinidad

Had to share some of these with you…  they were all taken in the Trinidad rain forest sat on a balcony at the Asa Wright Centre. A bit of a ‘twitcher mecca’, but we managed to blend in!



and look at some of the plants …


This one was called the Jade Vine, for obvious reasons. It was such a stunning colour and originally came from the Philippines.