Polegate Cottage: Three Months On

It’s been three months since we bought the house next door. The idea is to convert The Watch House and Polegate Cottage into one home, giving us a library, an additional bathroom and two more bedrooms for guests. We need to make a good job of it as we might never be able to afford to move away! It turns out that quality builders in this neck of the woods are rarer than hen’s teeth but, finally, we have a good crew lined up and work will begin in the spring.

A collection of foliage plants almost obscure the front door at Polegate Cottage
A collection of foliage plants almost obscure the front door at Polegate Cottage

The cost of the conversion has exceeded my highest expectations. Consequently we are proceeding in two stages, offering me the opportunity to go bankrupt twice. The kitchen ‘wing’, which we want to turn into a conservatory, bathroom and store, will have to wait for some time. This is a pity as I had grand plans for our new conservatory and plants waiting in the wings. The upside is that I get to keep the aluminium greenhouse we inherited, which would have been demolished had we carried out the project in one go. It has been 22 years since I last had a greenhouse to play with so I am stupidly excited. There are a few broken and missing panes, the door doesn’t slide open properly and the window opener is kaput. Apart from that it’s structurally sound. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sprucing it up inside and out, erecting staging and generally preparing the greenhouse to overwinter anything that needs a little winter protection. I won’t go as far as heating it this year, but an electrical supply is to hand for the future.

Plants disguise our rather utilitarian and unloved greenhouse
Plants disguise our rather utilitarian and unloved greenhouse

Given we only picked up the keys to Polegate Cottage on June 2nd, it’s incredible how the garden has been transformed by a few pots of tender perennials and annuals. Many are spares from The Watch House or recent acquisitions which I am still assessing. We had hoped the building works would get underway this autumn, so I was reluctant to do anything too fancy in terms of creating a new layout. Instead I have had fun experimenting with plants that would neither fit nor suit our main garden, with groupings in strong reds, oranges and magentas, or cool silvers, mauves, pinks and purples. Succulents, including Cotyledon orbiculata, lampranthus, semperviums and aeoniums, have enjoyed the warm sheltered conditions. Watering has become more of a chore than I anticipated, although the pots have rapidly filled out, shading the surface of the compost and reducing the rate at which they dry out.

Canna iridiflora (x ehemanii) has flourished, but will need winter shelter
Canna iridiflora (x ehemanii) has flourished, but will need winter shelter
A fuchsia that we inherited seems to have designs on world domination - it's already 8ft across
The hardy fuchsia we inherited seems to have designs on world domination – it’s already 8ft across
Spare plants of Dahlia 'Firepot' have found a home in our new garden
Spares of Dahlia ‘Firepot’ have found a home in our new garden

Looking back it’s extraordinary how everything has grown so prolifically even though planting continued well into August. This reinforces my belief that many gardening jobs are perfectly alright left a little later than the text books suggest. Senecio cristobalensis (red-leaved velvet senecio) has rocketed up in front of a window and is now producing lots of beautiful, velvety side shoots. This giant of a plant will be coming inside over winter as I can’t bear to let the frost cut it off in its prime. Tiny plantlets of Aeonium ‘Velour’ and Aeonium hierrense have developed generous rosettes of foliage and Canna iridiflora has revelled in the bright light reflected by the greenhouse. I have positioned pots of Dahlia ‘Happy Halloween’ in between to complement the canna’s drooping, lipstick-pink blooms.

Snails are a big problem at Polegate Cottage, just as they are next door, especially now that all the babies have hatched out. Each and every dahlia leaf seems to have become dinner for a minute mollusc.

Senecio cristobalensis just grows and grows and grows....
Fun and furry, Senecio cristobalensis just grows and grows and grows….

In a few weeks I will be off on my travels, leaving me with the question of whether to bring plants indoors before or after I go. In a normal year I am prepared to gamble and leave things outside until late October, but one never knows when the first frosts might fall.

I am glad that I took the plunge and made the most of the new garden as next year it’s likely that I’ll need to wait until late spring / early summer before I can plant it up again. Builders, however highly recommended, are no great respecters of gardens, so I’ll just have to bide my time and move in swiftly when they leave.

Wishing you all a good week in your garden.

In the foreground, Aeonium 'Velour' which started out as a plant no bigger than the palm of my hand
In the foreground, Aeonium ‘Velour’ which started out as a plant no bigger than the palm of my hand