Salad Days

Oriental Mustards, London, August 2014

…My salad days,

When I was green in judgment, cold in blood…


William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra

It’s going to be one of those weeks when I have no time to do anything other than work, eat and sleep. So thank heavens for the quick, easy crops that are coming thick and fast from our new vegetable garden. They require no preparation other than a wash under the tap and help me feel healthy and wholesome after a day dining on uninspiring, packaged sandwiches.

Tomatoes are ripening just fast enough for me to harvest a few glowing fruit each evening. They are sweet, juicy and nicely tart, just as they should be.

The ripening fruit of tomato 'Sweet Million'

The ripening fruit of cherry tomato ‘Sweet Million’

Herbs are growing at a tremendous rate of knots. Parsley is lush and glossy green, tarragon (my favourite herb of all) in the rudest of health and chives are fine and tender. We are adding them to curries, pasta dishes and salads in quantities that would be prohibitively expensive if bought from a supermarket.

A fine bunch of happy herbs

A fine bunch of happy herbs

Purchased at Hampton Court Flower Show, a single plant of shiso (Perilla frutescens var. crispa) is forming a pretty, purple-leaved bush with fragrant, tasty leaves. It is used in Japan for pickling plums; we use it as an attractive ingredient in salads when the leaves are very young.

Known as shiso, or 'beefsteak plant', Perilla frutescens var. crispa makes an unusual addition to salads and stir-fries.

Known as shiso, or ‘beefsteak plant’, Perilla frutescens var. crispa makes an unusual addition to salads and stir-fries.

It’s hard to believe that all of these fruits, leaves and herbs were planted just seven weeks ago. A warm July followed by a damp August has certainly helped (although not the courgettes which are rotting) and we are already planting more lettuce and radishes to last us into autumn. Such instant gratification is welcome in a world where we are all so short of time, worth every penny for the superior flavour and there’s no need for waste. These really are our salad days.

Rocketing rocket and marauding mustards

Rocketing rocket and marauding mustard

Daily Flower Candy: Dahlia ‘Firepot’

Dahlia 'Fire Pot', August 2014

If ever a dahlia deserved the classification ‘waterlily’, describing the shape of the blooms, it’s Dahlia ‘Firepot’. The juicy-fruit colours might have given Monet a fright, but the lush, softly incurved petals are a gardener’s delight. They begin sulphur yellow at the centre, fading out to tangerine and then coral at the tips. In bud the flowers are shocking pink so, with blooms at different stages on the same plant, the effect is hot, hot hot. The flowers positively glow, even on dull days, as if they had their own internal flame.

Fire Pot's petals curve gently inwards, like a waterlily

Firepot’s luscious petals curve gently inwards, like a waterlily

This is the second summer for my tubers, which I overwintered in a dry cellar and am growing on in large pots (the black ones typically sold for tomato plants are ideal). D. ‘Firepot’ is the perfect subject for container culture as it’s compact and reaches only 2ft high. The only drawback is that the flower stems tend to be rather short, the smallish blooms held tightly against the foliage. If you decide to cut some for indoors they will last almost as long as they would on the plant; they will soon be replaced, as D. ‘Firepot’ is incredibly floriferous.


Firepot produces a succession of flowers about 4′ across, and is one of the earliest dahlias into bloom

Admittedly this hybrid, which was introduced in 1969, might be challenging to integrate into your garden if you have a pastel colour scheme, but amongst other hot colours, or on its own, D. ‘Firepot’ is a stunner. It’s tricky to photograph but these images are accurate for colour and a fair reflection of what you can expect should you choose to give the variety garden room. I, for one, would not be without it.

Dahlia ‘Firepot’ is widely available, mail order, in the spring.

When fully opened the blooms of D. 'Fire Pot' display all the colours of a sunset

When fully opened the blooms of Firepot display all the colours of the sunset

To Fly Another Day

A Bumble Bee on Dahlia 'Marie Schnugg' AGM, August 2014

I was in the garden early this morning, the very best time to be out there, enjoying the collared doves’ soft cooing between bursts of raucous squealing from the circling herring gulls. Whilst ducking down into the entrance of our undercroft for tools I spied an enormous bumble bee clinging pathetically to a pile of black plastic pots. At first it seemed she, surely a queen, was beyond salvation. Thinking such a splendid creature deserved to feel the sun on her wings again, I transported Her Majesty up into the light and positioned her carefully on the first bloom of Dahlia ‘Marie Schnugg’. Thank goodness the glossy bud had opened overnight as it’s the only single dahlia I grow, and by far the most appealing to pollinating insects. After a stumbling start Queen Bumble tucked in, scouring every millimetre of the flower’s golden centre for nectar. Whilst she was moving at a stately pace I was able to study her magnificently striped thorax, athletic legs, jet black eyes and tiny wings. They looked about as inadequate as a thong on a weightlifter. How she became airborne I will never know.

After 30 minutes, and amusingly by sliding down the flower’s stem like a fireman’s pole, she had a brief rest on a leaf and mustered energy enough to transfer to a neighbouring agapanthus. The pale blue trumpets bowed under her regal weight. After a few more sips she was off, cruising slowly through the air like a furry zeppelin, up into the summer sky, returning to her loyal subjects.

On reflection I wonder if when I found her she was asleep, or resting her eyes in the manner of Him Indoors, but my instinct was that she was exhausted and ailing, ready to abdicate. Either way she seemed to respond well to my humble resuscitation attempts and, happily for me, lived to fly another day.

Breakfast time for Mr Bumble Bee

Queen Bumble breakfasting like royalty on Dahlia ‘Marie Schnugg’ AGM

Dazzling Dixter

Great Dixter House from the Long Border

Having been utterly engrossed in our own garden for the last few weeks it was a relief to get out and about and start the summer holiday proper. Our destination was Great Dixter, the house and garden of the late, great Christopher Lloyd, nestled in the bucolic East Sussex countryside. The mellow Wealden house is a combination of an original 15th century dwelling with part of a 16th century yeoman’s house, transported here from neighbouring Kent. In 1912 the resulting building was sympathetically added to and updated by Edwin Lutyens, accentuating the property’s air of great antiquity.

Tall chimneys, typical of many Lutyens country houses, rise above the flowers in the Peacock Garden

Tall chimneys, typical of many of Lutyens’ country houses, rise above the flowers in the Peacock Garden

I have to confess to not having fully appreciated or enjoyed Great Dixter’s gardens on previous visits. I understand this statement might be considered tantamount to blasphemy in horticultural circles, but I put it down to poor timing and my own underdeveloped taste. On paper I ought to be in complete harmony with Christopher Lloyd’s philosophy of combining any and every colour effectively. I am happy to report that I am, not before time, converted.

A visitor admires the dazzling display of potted plants outside the front entrance to Great Dixter

A visitor admires the colourful display of potted plants surrounding the porch at Great Dixter

I chose Great Dixter to break my garden visiting fast for two reasons: first, to study the arrangement of pots outside the 15th century porch and second to seek inspiration in the exotic garden. You will already know from posts about our coastal garden at The Watch House that I am bound to grow many of my treasures in containers. The gardeners at Dixter have plenty of open ground to play with, but we each set out to welcome our guests with colourful displays of seasonal flowers in their prime. The terracotta pots at Dixter are handmade in England at Whichford Pottery. They are a little pricey, but a wonderful indulgence every once in a while. Having explained to many of our visitors at the weekend that I do not bother with pot feet, I was pleased to see that Dixter’s gardeners don’t either.

Coloourful rudbekia, amaranthus, dahlias, geraniums and Tulbaghia violacea 'Silver Lace' grace Great Dixter's Porch

Colourful rudbeckia, amaranthus, dahlias, geraniums and Tulbaghia violacea ‘Silver Lace’ grace Great Dixter’s porch

As one expects of Great Dixter, the assemblage of plants is diverse and unconventional. Lilies, cannas, lobelias and variegated miscanthus tower over a tumble of dahlias, amaranthus, persicarias and shorter geraniums, fuchsias and succulents. As in my garden the subjects are swapped around constantly to ensure the display is always fresh, vibrant and pleasing to the eye. The joy of grouping pots in this way is that plants with very different growing requirements can come together in perfect harmony, if only temporarily. Dixter also illustrates that it’s not necessary to stick to the small range of plants typically cultivated in pots, bringing hope and inspiration to many a compromised gardener. The possibilities are endless and mistakes easily rectified if they occur. I took great heart from the joyous abandon with which the eclectic plants were amassed, and was spurred on to try new permutations myself. I was particularly excited by a form of Persicaria that was twinned with bronze leaved Canna purpurea – a combination I’d like to try at home next year.

An unnamed Persicaria . possibly a variation of P. virginiana var. filiformis 'Lance Corporal'

An unnamed persicaria, possibly a variation of P. virginiana var. filiformis ‘Lance Corporal’

It’s hard to imagine that the space occupied by the Exotic Garden was not so long ago filled with roses. With the help of trusted Head Gardener Fergus Garrett, Christopher Lloyd tore up the rule book and replaced Edwin Lutyen’s Edwardian formality with an exuberant display of plants designed for tropical effect. The bananas, hardy Japanese species Musa basjoo, stay in situ all year with protection through the winter. They are joined by the massive palmate leaves of Tetrapanax papyrifer, the rice paper plant, and coppiced Paulownia tomentosa which might both be candidates to replace one of our larger evergreen trees next year. Great Dixter was one of the first gardens I can recall to discover the virtues of Verbena bonariensis and its wispy outline continues to lighten the garden’s extravagant structure.

Luytens' formal rose garden has been replaced by exuberant exotics

Luytens’ formal rose garden has been replaced by exuberant exotics

At waist height there is lots of interest in the form of orange-flowered impatiens, dahlias, variegated cannas and more persicarias. Everywhere seedlings take advantage of any square inch of ground that receives light and water, just as you’d expect in a rainforest. I gained some mean pleasure from noting that Great Dixter’s Begonia luxurians were afflicted with at least as much capsid bug damage as my own. Garden pests are, if nothing else, democratic in their deliverance of misery. Less than gloomy was Him Indoors who, having been allowed to drive there and back with the car’s hood down, was the embodiment of happiness.

A rare sighting of Him Indoors standing on his own two feet!

A rare sighting of Him Indoors standing on his own two feet

No visit to Great Dixter is complete without witnessing the tumultuous tapestry of plants that is the Long Border. Christopher Lloyd believed that no bare earth should be visible from late May onwards, and Fergus Garrett continues to uphold that principle. Any empty spaces are quickly bedded out with ephemeral plants such as lupins and cannas which peak and fade at different times. Tall plants are also encouraged to the front of the border, joining others that tumble gaily over the mellow flagstones.

The Long Border is separated from the informality of the orchard meadow by a wide flagstone path

The Long Border is separated from the informality of the Orchard Meadow by a wide flagstone path

The Long Border is a constantly evolving beast. Regular visitors will rarely experience it (and it is an experience) looking the same way twice. Verbascums, fennels and exotic annuals such as Persicaria orientalis are positively encouraged to seed themselves around, contributing to the colourful exuberance of the scene. Experimentation is, and will always be, a guiding tenet for the gardeners at Great Dixter, which is why the garden is almost constantly in the spotlight and at the cutting edge of planting design.

Christopher's Lloyd's wish was to create a closely woven tapestry of foliage and flower

Christopher’s Lloyd’s wish was to create a closely woven tapestry of foliage and flowers

I never met Christopher Lloyd and visited Great Dixter just once whilst he was still alive (he passed away in 2006). Fortunately he was careful to leave his legacy in safe hands. In Fergus Garrett he has a natural successor, trained and confided in by the great man himself, but with a mind of his own. The estate is in the stewardship of a charitable trust which continues and extends the good work that Christopher Lloyd started. Everywhere one looks young people are gainfully employed, whether it’s looking after the shop, planting up pots or turning the compost heaps. From a visitor’s perspective Great Dixter remains as its creator must have wanted it, a beautiful, refreshing, evolving, irreverent and ultimately happy place where his unique style of plantmanship endures.

Even in hazy sunlight, Great Dixter's heleniums were dazzling

Even in hazy sunlight, Great Dixter’s heleniums are dazzling


The Watch House NGS Open Weekend 2014

National Gardens Scheme signage for The Watch House

It was about this time last year when our friend Beth began twisting our arm to open for the National Gardens Scheme. We took the plunge, and in February found ourselves numbered 104 on the map of Kent in the famous Yellow Book. On the eve of this weekend it still seemed unlikely to me that anyone would go out of their way to visit a garden that measures just 20x30ft, but I was to be proved wrong. Over the two days we welcomed 220 charming visitors and 6 well behaved dogs in a steady stream from midday to 4pm. Everyone who came along was kind and appreciative. Some had travelled from as far away as Leicestershire; many came from the four corners of Kent. It was a pleasure to stop, talk and share gardening tips with so many interesting folk. This alone made it all worth the effort.

The garden was thronged with visitors on both days

The garden was thronged with visitors on both days

The Gods were smiling on us in every way, providing two days of almost unbroken sunshine, a cooling breeze and light, refreshing showers overnight. And we could not have wished for the garden to look more fulsome; the dahlias were in their prime and fragrant gingers soared skywards. Dahlia ‘Amercian Dawn’ was a big favourite with visitors, as was Hedychium densiflorum ‘Stephen’, the kangaroo apple (Solanum laciniatum), elephant’s ears (Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’) and towering Echium pininana.

Reaching for the stars, visitors were fascinated by Echium pininana (Photographed by Scarlett Wardell)

Reaching for the stars, visitors were fascinated by Echium pininana, photographed by Scarlett Wardell

I chatted solidly for the whole eight hours we were open, thus was in my element. I answered countless questions about how to get agapanthus to flower well, to which the answer was always “grow them in a bright, well drained spot; keep them tightly confined and feed with a high potash fertiliser from April to September”. Hopefully the agapanthus of Kent will bloom brighter and more bountiful than ever next year. There was a lot of interest in how to cultivate dahlias in pots and how to reduce the amount of water needed to maintain containerised plants. I shared my secret, which is to use the biggest pots available, use water retentive John Innes No. 3, pack pots together tightly and mulch with surface of the compost with horticultural grit. This way we only need to water our pots twice a week, even in the hottest weather.

Dahlia 'Amercian Dawn' photographed by Scarlett Wardell

Dahlia ‘Amercian Dawn’ photographed by Scarlett Wardell

On both days there was a lovely atmosphere, with visitors relaxing in the sun and unexpectedly bumping into friends and neighbours. What was so encouraging was that several people told us that they had only come to see us because our garden was is so similar in scale to their own. We were flattered that visitors told us how inspired they were by what we’d achieved in a small space and how many plants we’d packed in. The slate terrace was especially admired for its simplicity and clean lines, whilst the outdoor kitchen generated a lot of questions about maintenance and how often we use it. Fortunately this summer we have been able to cook in it almost every weekend, and in truth the kitchen requires very little routine care.

Radiant, Lilium 'Debby', photographed by Scarlett Wardell

Radiant, Lilium ‘Debby’, photographed beautifully by Scarlett Wardell

My partner Alex (aka Him Indoors) slaved over a hot stove to create delicious orange and poppy seed loaves, lemon cupcakes, chocolate cookies, flapjacks and fruit cake. They went down a treat with a chilled glass of Belvoir fruit cordial, with the elderflower proving to be the favourite thirst quencher. Apologies to those who missed the offer of a refreshing cuppa, hopefully we can add this to the menu next time.

Our outdoor kitchen was much commented on.

Our outdoor kitchen came into its own

Refreshing Belvoir cordials were kept on ice

Refreshing Belvoir cordials were kept on ice

Friends Nigel and James sample the home-made cakes

Friends Nigel and James peruse the home-made cakes

Special thanks go to the special people who made the open weekend possible, starting with the wonderful Vanessa, Irrigator General and PR Guru. Here she is with husband Colin, who did our write up in the church magazine. Thanks to Vanessa, many people arrived with their NGS brochures pre-circled with our garden’s details.

Vanessa and Colin

Unsung heroes, Vanessa and Colin

Garden journalist Lesley Bellew gave us a glowing write-up in the Kentish Gazette which tempted a lot of visitors to make the pilgrimage to Broadstairs. NGS Assistant County Organiser, Caroline Loder-Symonds was marvellously supportive and encouraging throughout, convincing us that our garden was worthy of wider attention. Having persuaded us into opening in the first place, it was only right that Beth should travel from deepest Cornwall to make sure we did things correctly. No stray leaf, bare twig or fading bloom escaped her expert scrutiny and was dealt with accordingly.

Me and Beth, NGS pro and Artistic Director

Me and Beth, NGS pro and Artistic Director (shirt and blouse, models’ own)

On the gate collecting entrance fees, and on occasion managing the crowds, was Jack, Scarlett, James, Nigel and Simon. They did a marvellous job talking to visitors, dishing out booklets and providing directions. Scarlett, aged just 11 years, doubled as my talented young photographic apprentice and, I am sure you will agree, took some cracking shots for this post.

The men with the money, Nigel, James and Simon man the front gate

The men with the money, Nigel, James and Simon man the front gate

In the kitchen Rachel and Alex ran a very tight ship, keeping me out of the way until the very end of the day on Sunday when I just had to help myself to cake.

My attempt to blend in with the flowers was futile.

My attempts to blend in with the flowers was futile. Captured expertly by Scarlett Wardell

The whole experience has renewed our faith in human nature and put us in touch with lots of local people and keen gardeners. I won’t pretend that it didn’t involve a lot of planning and work, but it was worth every bit of it to hear visitors’ lovely comments. Preparing for the weekend helped crystallise my ideas about how the garden should develop in the future and this morning I looked upon our tiny patch with fresh eyes and a new determination to make it better than ever next year. Thank you to everyone who helped, visited or wrote about us, and in doing so provided valued support for the NGS charities.

Just desserts - a glass of chilled rose and a cupcake to round off the weekend.

Just desserts – a glass of chilled rosé and a cupcake to round off the day.

Gardening Leave

The Watch House garden, late July 2014

No, I haven’t quit my job or been given my marching orders, but I have taken a couple of days off to prepare the garden for our National Gardens Scheme open days this weekend. I am fastidious at the best of times, but risk turning a little bit obsessive-compulsive over the next 24 hours. Suddenly every yellowing leaf, fallen petal or stray branch has come into sharp focus and I can see flaws everywhere. Will visitors notice the horrific capsid bug damage and the dirty windows? Well, they will if they read this before coming along; the polite ones will kindly avert their eyes towards the abundant flowers.

Welcome to our jungle!

Welcome to our jungle

No garden is perfect, but in truth ours is looking about the best it ever has done. I was concerned last weekend that we may have peaked a few days too soon, but I was worrying unnecessarily. The dahlias are covered in bloom and I wonder now why I didn’t introduce them to the garden sooner. They seem very much at home in large pots. Joy of joys, the gingers, Hedychium densiflorum ‘Stephen’, started to open yesterday, their flowers like exotic bottlebrushes, towering over my head. The scent in the garden last night was indescribably beautiful.

Hedychium 'Stephen' sparkles

Hedychium densiflorum ‘Stephen’ sparkles

So, here we go, the final push. The weather forecast changes by the hour, but it seems we’ll miss the worst of the showers tomorrow and have a fine day on Sunday. Even at their most ravenous the snails and vine weevils can’t thwart me now. It only remains for me to wash down the paintwork, jet-wash the terrace, put up the famous yellow signs and count the float, whilst Him Indoors bakes for England. See you on the other side…..

Agapanthus africanus and Dahlia 'Amercian Dawn'

Agapanthus africanus and Dahlia ‘Amercian Dawn’

First Nature

A-one, a-two, a-three, BLOW!

It’s official, my little neice Martha is on the move. She’s a quick learner, like her uncle, and on the eve of being seven months old she has mastered the art of crawling. From a very early age she seems to have had a fascination with nature and the great outdoors. Perhaps it’s an illusion, but I prefer to think not. So far we’ve had to bring the world’s sights, sounds and smells to Martha, but her new found mobility means she can now approach things at her own pace.

Martha’s look of wonderment at this delicate dandelion clock is priceless. Somehow my sister managed to capture her at just the right moment; a picture for the family album indeed. I hope Martha’s love of plants, flowers and animals grows, as my own did, and that she cherishes such things in future.

A-one, a-two, a-three, BLOW!

A-one, a-two, a-three, BLOW!



The Heat Is On

Canna iridiflora ehemanii, The Salutation, Sandwich, August 2013

I love a bit of sun as much as the next man, but when the mercury rises above 25 degrees I am not at my best. I become sluggish, irritable and less inclined to get up and go. If I were a plant, I’d be an alpine, at my best in the spring and enjoying a cool, bright position.

Has anyone found a front door?  I seem to have lost mine....

Has anyone found a front door? I seem to have lost mine….

Thankfully the plants in our seaside garden don’t share my sensitivity to the heat and continue their extraordinary midsummer growth spurt. Canna iridiflora x ehemanii (top of post), which was slow to get going, has suddenly started producing leaves of banana-like proportions. Flower buds, which will open to reveal trusses of nodding carmine flowers, are just starting to form. All this growth makes reaching the front door quite an experience. The canna cannot stay where they are, but where else to put them? Digitalis canariensis is about to produce a second flush of burnt orange flowers and Hedychium ‘Stephen’ is right on cue with flower heads just beginning to emerge. The leafy stems are already 6ft tall, dwarfing Cautleya spicata which is another member of the ginger family.

A riot of colour including Dahlia 'Amercian Dawn', Agapanthus africanus, Cautleya spicata and Lilium 'Debby'

A riot of colour including Dahlia ‘Amercian Dawn’, Agapanthus africanus, Cautleya spicata and Lilium ‘Debby’

The effects of the heat are not all positive. The lilies have gone over in record time, and will be a fragrant memory by our open weekend. Smaller pots are drying out exceptionally fast, which is a problem when I am not around to quench their thirst. Thank heavens for the wonderful Vanessa, who pops in regularly through the summer to keep everything watered. I couldn’t keep the garden going without her. Everything needs staking, propping or tying-in as the foliage grows taller and taller. I am excited to see if Ipomea indica, the blue dawn flower, makes it into flower in time for me to show it off. A member of the convolvulus family, it’s regarded as a noxious weed in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and California. I think global warming has some way to go before it becomes a problem in Kent.

After their annual molestation by capsid bugs, the leaves of Geranium palmatum are luxuriant once again.

After their annual molestation by capsid bugs, the leaves of Geranium palmatum are luxuriant once again.

With 8 days to go we are now down to the real nitty-gritty; what size plastic cups to buy and what to collect the entrance money in? It’s all high-brow stuff. From having no guaranteed help over the weekend, we now seem to have lots, with friends coming from as far away as Cornwall and Southampton. Quite where we will put them all (and how they will get in!) I am not sure, but many hands make light work.

A cooler spell would be welcomed by the garden and by me, preserving the flowers for longer and making it more pleasant to work. Will it be too much to hope that the fine weather will last another 10 days for the big weekend? Fingers crossed.

Click here for more details of our open weekend on August 2nd and 3rd 2014 and here to access the details on the National Gardens Scheme website.

Will Debby dazzle or droop come the open day?

Will Debby dazzle or droop come the open weekend?

Daily Flower Candy: Dahlia ‘American Dawn’

Dahlia 'Amercian Dawn', August 2014

It’s no good, I tried to hold back, but I just had to share this ravishing new dahlia which has started to bloom at The Watch House. It’s called D. ‘American Dawn’. Sight of its luminous blooms is certainly enough to get my day off to a great start. From a bud of bright peony-pink emerge petals the colour of a summer sunrise. Of all the dahlias I’ve grown this season, D. ‘American Dawn’ is by far the strongest and healthiest, with many flowers yet to come. In a garden where plants have to be robust, loud and proud to be noticed, this is the perfect early riser.

Dahlia ‘American Dawn’ is available from Sarah Raven and in spring.

Early rays - raindrops embellish Dahlia 'American Dawn'

At first light, raindrops embellish the petals of Dahlia ‘American Dawn’


Jungle Warfare


At a certain point each year our seaside garden passes from a neat, orderly state into jungly bedlam. It becomes increasingly hard to move around without getting swiped in the face by a wayward lily, tripped by a flailing jasmine or toppled by a booby-trapped begonia. Getting to the front door requires a machete, if we can find it in the first place. The plants are waging a guerrilla war and will hold their territory until late autumn. I was hoping they might do the decent thing and agree a truce until our National Gardens Scheme open weekend is over, but the intense heat and rain we’ve experienced over the last two weeks has stirred everything into rampant action. My defeat is my own doing, highlighting an appalling lack of restraint when it comes to planting; all at once everything is on top of one another and fighting for supremacy.

Going ape. Pots outside the front door

Going ape. Pots outside the front door filled with Eucomis bicolor, begonias, fuchsias, salvias and members of the ginger family

The forfeit has been two weekends spent staking, cutting back and reorganising the collection of pots by the front door. Importantly, I have also been removing any dead leaves and flowers. This is for two reasons; first to discourage the army of snails which form a munching platoon at night; and second to avoid any mould and rot setting in. As in all jungle warfare, disease can be devastating, so it’s best not to take any chances and keep the air moving between plants.

Roscoea auriculata produces purple flowers from June until October but requires propping with small canes

Roscoea auriculata produces purple flowers from June until October, but requires propping with small canes

The spectacular thunder storms that have been sweeping the country have not passed us by. They have brought welcome rain, although not sufficient to reach the closely packed pots. In front of each storm has been a gusty wind, so staking has been essential to keep top heavy plants from toppling over. In most cases canes have been sufficient, but with plants such as Solanum laciniatum and Echium pininana, tree stakes are the only option. Around the kitchen area, Begonia corrallina (angel wing begonia), Thunbergia gregorii (orange clock vine) and Rhodochiton atrosanguineus (purple bell vine) manage well with a wigwam of split canes.

Rambling Rhodochiton

Rambling Rhodochiton atrosanguineus trails as well as climbs, making it perfect for pots and urns

I had hoped that my wonderful lilies, L. ‘Golden Splendor’ and L. ‘African Queen’, would hold themselves back for our open weekend, but alas they have peaked too soon. Heavy rain has smudged pollen over their lower petals, but they still smell incredible, especially on these still, sultry nights.

Lilium 'African Queen' holds court in her jungle kingdom

Lilium ‘African Queen’ holds court in her jungle kingdom

Thankfully the dahlias are right on cue, their first flowers just beginning to open. More on these next weekend, but already D. ‘American Dawn’ is a new favourite. Doing especially well this year are the begonias, which I started into growth early and which are now dripping with bloom.

Bountiful begonias

Begonia ‘Firewings Orange’ cascades from a low bowl

With just two weeks until our open days I am hoping to establish some kind of entente cordiale which will allow visitors to enjoy the garden unmolested. Any pots which are past their best will be secreted away in our basement light wells and the hose and watering cans will be relegated to the cellar. For just once weekend I hope peace will prevail, before manoeuvres begin again…..

A barrage of blooms. The view from the front gate

A barrage of blooms. The view from the front gate this weekend