A Tale of Two Gardens



Nurturing two gardens eighty eight miles apart is mainly a blessing, but sometimes a curse. The task becomes tricky if we want to take a holiday, spend more time in one place than the other, or if we hit a dry, wet or windy spell, which is all too often. Each scenario comes with its own unique challenges, largely created my being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Having just experienced a damp, steamy week, both gardens have gone absolutely ballistic. The plants think all their Christmases have come at once. In London peas have broken through their supporting tent of netting and are clinging onto anything their tender tendrils can twine around, including next door’s overgrown buddleia. We are enjoying big crops of “Oregon Sugar Pod”, a crisp mangetout variety which is delicious served raw in a salad, and more conventional “Early Onward”, both from rows just 4ft long.


Brocolli bounty

broccoli bounty


Herbs, from sage and chives to marjoram and thyme, are developing into thick, lush clumps crying out to be plucked, but the purple sprouting and broccoli is proving a mistake: the plants are far too big for our small raised bed and are smothering everything else. They will be yanked out prematurely in favour of oriental salad leaves, which are far more compact and useful in the kitchen. Meanwhile I am pleased to note four or five fruits developing on each of our newly planted espalier apple trees. I have continued to water these generously, even in the rain, to ensure they develop a strong root system in their first year.


London verdure

London vegetable verdure


It’s a wonder that I have any hostas left given I’m collecting forty or more snails every time I venture out into the garden. However diligent one is during a rainy spell some damage in inevitable. The leathery leaves swell to generous proportions and look wonderful if they remain unscathed. Any gaps that remained in either garden at the start of the month have disappeared altogether, leaving me with the usual pool of plants that didn’t quite make it into the ground before the music stopped. Now they will probably languish in their pots until next spring. The greenery along our high back wall, which consists of Kerria japonica and Phyllostachys nigra with honeysuckle and Vitis coignetiae rampaging through them, is completely out of control and needs attention before the whole boundary becomes as dark and impenetrable as the Belgian Congo. From the pond I am removing two sacks of weed every week just to keep a small area clear for the fish to surface.


Poolside hostas

Poolside hostas


Looking at our London garden objectively, which is virtually impossible when I am responsible for maintaining it, I’d say it looks the best it ever has done, although I am far from content with it. There is too much clutter and not enough storage space for tools and pots, but it is showing some promise after three of four years of renewed effort.

The Watch House, on the other hand, is not at its finest in June. The main reason is that all the evergreens shed their old leaves in unison during the early summer. The deluge of yellowing foliage is relentless. I have spent the majority of the last four weekends gathering up bags and bags of debris dropped by Trachelospermum jasminoides and Phillyrea latifolia and still it keeps coming. I have even started to dream about it. As well as looking unsightly, the decaying foliage creates cover for troublesome capsid bugs, so I am loath to leave it laying about.


"The Cube" forms our stylish new temporary entrance at Polegate Cottage

“The Cube” forms our stylish temporary entrance at Polegate Cottage


Meanwhile the garden is rammed with refugee plants from Polegate Cottage, where our building works have reached a pivotal point. The “new” house is a shell, in the bombed-out Beirut-style, with enormous jagged holes in its exterior that will eventually be filled with French doors and windows. I am reliably informed that next week materials will start going back in to replace 100 years of lath and plaster, nylon carpet, bodged wiring and pine cladding that have come out. It’s an exciting moment, but now I really have to start deciding what I want and where.


Aeonium "Poldark" and Rhodochiton atrosanguineum by the kitchen sink

Aeonium “Poldark” and Rhodochiton atrosanguineum by the kitchen sink


While I did leave a few plants to fend for themselves outside the greenhouse, the majority are camping out at The Watch House, meaning I can’t move an inch without standing on a pot or snapping a shoot off something precious. And – dear, oh dear – I am going to Great Dixter on Monday and Grow London on Thursday, so what are the chances of me ending the week with the same number of plants I began with?


Begonia "Bossa Nova White" and Diascia "My Darling Peach" make perfect companions

Begonia “Bossa Nova White” and Diascia “My Darling Peach” make perfect planter companions

Tibouchina urvilleana "Variegata" has stunningly marbled foliage

Tibouchina urvilleana “Variegata” has stunningly marbled foliage

Aeonium "Zwartkop", Calceolaria "Kentish Hero" and Arthropodium cirratum "Matapouri Bay"

Aeonium “Zwartkop”, Calceolaria intergrifolia “Kentish Hero” and Arthropodium cirratum “Matapouri Bay”


Calceolaria integrifolia “Kentish Hero”, purchased from D’Arcy and Everest at last year’s Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, overwintered brilliantly in my cold greenhouse and has been flowering its socks off since April. As a group of flowering plants, calceolarias seem to have completely fallen off the radar, but this one’s a cracker, especially when combined with purple flowers and foliage. It hasn’t minded the rain either.


Arthropodium cirratum "Matapouri Bay" hails from New Zealand and is hardy in milder parts of the UK

Arthropodium cirratum “Matapouri Bay” hails from New Zealand and is hardy in milder parts of the UK


Another new plant last year was Arthropodium cirratum “Matapouri Bay”, the Rienga lily. This has flourished in a pot and is loving the balmy weather. It’s a prolific seeder so I have a pot full of little seedlings in the greenhouse waiting to be pricked out.

Having been very diligent in pinching out the tips of my dahlias to get bushy plants I have sacrificed the earliest flowers. Nevertheless D. “Totally Tangerine” has forged ahead and is the first of about a dozen varieties to bloom this year.


Dahlia "Totally Tangerine"

Dahlia “Totally Tangerine” is a free-flowering dahlia that bees will love


Not all plants are enjoying the wet – nemesias, diascias and some calibrachoa are starting to rot at the base, causing them to wilt and then die. The flowers of Rosa banksiae “Lutea” morphed from yolk-yellow pompoms to matted balls of mould in days thanks to the moist air and my osteospermums are sulking. Nevertheless the rain is giving most plants a good start in life and they’ll grow bigger and flower better thanks to regular watering.

I badly need the garden at Polegate Cottage back in order to make some space and start getting things in order for our NGS opening on August 20th and 21st, but suspect the building might go to the wire. If it does, I am hoping visitors will be understanding and tolerant of the situation, two states of mind that I am trying to cultivate myself under the circumstances! Tending two gardens has never been more challenging or more rewarding – there’s just no time to do anything else.

Wishing you all a fun and productive weekend in your gardens. What’s growing well for you at the moment? Are you loving or loathing all this rain? Let me know!


Aeonium "Zwartkop" and Calceolaria "Kentish Hero"

Aeonium “Zwartkop” and Calceolaria integrifolia “Kentish Hero”