A Tale of Two Gardens

Reading time 13 minutes


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”


Categories: Annuals, Container gardening, Flowers, Foliage, London, Our Coastal Garden, Photography, Plants

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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32 comments On "A Tale of Two Gardens"

  1. Loathing, but there we go. We must have something to grumble about in our comfortable lives. My plants have been flattened, yet last week I was complaining about the watering. By contrast, everything of yours looks wonderfully spick and span, and I am most impressed, particularly since you mentioned spending long periods away from each place. Well done for keeping the snails away from your Arthropodium as well as your hostas… they adore the new shoots.
    PS. There’s a film called ‘The Cube’ that you’ve reminded me of. Don’t watch it alone.

    1. Living by the sea I tend to opt for fairly stiff, upright plants. Anything too frail and willowy gets flattened by wind or rain. The arthropodium has had a few chunks taken out of it, but nothing too bad. As for The Cube, I shall steer well clear of the film!

      1. As I type this, my frail, willowy plants are being flattened by the heaviest downpour of the week yet, and that’s saying something. You are very wise and full of foresight (or is it bitter experience?!) to pick plants that don’t get flattened. I’m slowly learning which ones hold their own. Not oriental poppies, for a start. Sigh…

  2. Well on the other side of the world (east coast of Australia) we are also experiencing a deluge but being winter here, without the benefit of any warm to generate growth so I would have to say I am a bit over it just presently (sorry to the rain God for my ingratitude). At least the ducks are having a wonderful time even though they are confined to their day pen. I fear the devestation they would wreak if let loose in the garden proper.

      1. Thanks Dan. I live and garden in the Canberra region at present but also have a house in Brisbane…both are inundated so I am looking forward to waking up to sunshine…soon :-). Seriously though many are far worse off so still grateful despite my grumbles. Cheers, Peter

  3. Boring. Your gardens are just so boring – all green, no color. 🙂 Everything looks gorgeous, and I can’t imagine that anyone will even look at the construction because they will be so in love with your gardens and your outrageously gorgeous plants. 🙂

    1. Well, I hope so Judy. I asked the builder to get “The Cube” down for the end of July so I at least have a couple of weekends to make the space presentable for serving teas. It’s not ideal and I’ve no idea what I’ll do in the meantime. The dahlias are getting enormous!

  4. How you manage to do two gardens so brilliantly plus work full time plus write this blog, plus, plus, plus I don’t know, but it all looks fabulous.
    We’re having a spot of English weather here in my part of Australia. Very wet and unusually for us, there have been days of it. I’m thoroughly enjoying it. The pups are tucked up in their chair and what’s not to like about being cosily warm while watching the rain outside.
    Potted up some Cerinthe major purpurascens this morning which I grew from seed. As I tend to be overly optimistic when ordering seeds and rather disappointingly inept when it comes to the actual growing, I gave myself a small pat on the back for having nine out of ten emerge. Haven’t grown these before but saw them on Gardening Australia in Simon Griffiths’s (he’s a wonderful Australian garden photographer) garden. They looked wonderful and Simon said they always elicit attention, so am very pleased that all is going well for now.
    I love Dichondra Silver Falls and have it growing in a large terracotta pot with a grafted fig. Tough as old boots and fast. Can’t ask for much more than that.
    Enjoy the weekend all.

    1. You will enjoy your Cerinthe Anne. They will bear you many more seeds after flowering. Just give them lots of sun to bring out their stunning, metallic colours. I love them but neither garden is quite baked enough for them to look their best. I am excited to see what the dichondra can do – pictures on the Internet show it looking quite splendid cascading out of pots and over walls. I imagine it looks lovely beneath your fig tree.

  5. Must be ‘comment from Australia’ day!! Fortunately I am down south and not experiencing the deluges and damage that up north is struggling with. Very stressful for many.

    Dan the gardens are looking lovely and how you are managing with all those building works I don’t know. Am so proud of your wonderful veggie efforts. Even I am not game with broccoli! Lots of bugs to deal with. Trust him indoors is whipping up lots of tasty treats.

    Anne, I have just planted dichondra silver falls and want them to trail over the retaining walls and be a nice foil to the dark green foliage surrounding them, but I was worried with our recent frosts they may not survive..so far so good, so am very encouraged by your comment about them being so tough. I will keep my fingers crossed.

    Dan freeze your credit card in an ice block and leave it there when you got to Great Dixter or alas the boot will come home full!

    1. I fear you may be right Helen. I will muster all my wilpower for tomorrow. Sadly it’s predicted to be vile weather so it might not be quite the lovely day I had anticipated for my day off. Today I’ll be potting on more plants I don’t really have the space for! Safe travels. D

  6. Rambunctious colours and of course, you will come back with plants, how couldn’t you?! Dahlia Totally Tangerine is quite gorgeous, just to pick one plant out…

    1. Rambunctious – what an excellent and appropriate word Alison. If I ever find room for all my dahlias they will make quite a fine display. Next will be “Walzing Mathilda” I think, another lovely variety.

  7. Good to hear your hostas are (largely) intact. The blue one is interesting.

    My sole hosta is partially submerged in other vegetation at the moment, so I’m taking that out and doing an inspection to find out how lucky I’ve been 😉.

    1. The blue one is “Halcyon”, one of the very best and most snail resistant hostas. Worth tracking down. I hope yours is intact and that the slugs haven’t used the other vegetation as an invisibility cloak!

  8. That tibouchina is wonderful, where did you get it, was it Bob Brown? And the begonia, and the arthopodium and the rhodochiton …… Was trying to catch a glimpse of Cynthia, is she well?

    1. The tibouchina (shall we call her Tabitha?) was from Burncoose. She was 18″ tall when I purchased her in March and she’s now 5′! Her foliage gets more and more interesting as she grows, but I am not sure I am going to be so keen when she flowers. Might be a bit clashy? Cynthia sends her regards. She’s enjoying London life. Likes her shady spot, still in a pot, just in case of a cold winter, but she’s doing nicely 🤓

  9. No problem with the hot baking sun here Dan although you wouldn’t believe it at the moment.
    And Helen, yes, think it might be Australia day comment! Just goes to show how clever we are finding such a brilliant blog.
    As to the dichondra, I’m yet to get through a winter with it but will be putting some frost blanket over the lot as have some frost tender succulents in the ground surrounding the pot. Sorry if I led you astray with my tough as old boots comments as I was referring to the drought and sun hardiness rather than the frost tolerance! Still, it’s such a lovely foliage and fast growing plant that I would take the trouble to protect it from the frost if it does prove susceptible.
    P.S. Sorry to say tibouchina in flower seems rather vulgar to me. Have seen too many on the east coast of NSW with no thought as to planting and just completely overwhelming.

    1. It’s funny how a plant that’s regarded as common and vulgar in one place is considered a treasure elsewhere. Tibouchinas here are rarely seen, unless in a conservatory, as they are not well known, widely available or hardy. However, I agree the combination of flowers and foliage is going to be somewhat overstimulating in this case!

      From what I can see dichondra seems to root along as it grows, so perhaps best to bring a few strand indoors as insurance?

  10. Rain before a garden opening is welcome … less so if it falls on the day (26ty June). Your gardens are so immaculate, bravo. Having spun plates at either end of the M4 for two years I know it’s not easy to maintain two to such high standards. The begonia combo is divine.

    1. Thanks Kate. It all in the camera angles. I leave out the bits no-one but us should see! It is like spinning plates in the dark as one can never see what’s happening in the other location. I suppose I could get one of those new fangled cameras that our burglar alarm man keeps going on about, but where’s the suspense then?!

  11. Lovely photos as usual Dan….always good to have plants waiting on the sidelines awaiting space to plant! Perhaps you should rename yourself the “shoehorn gardener”?!

  12. What an array of colour. I love that combo of begonia with the diasca. Have noted the H halcyum as I’d like to get that. I have been looking forward to my foxgloves coming into flower. grown from seed last year. Accordinging to my husband we now have quite a few whites ones out in flower. Due to my being out of bounds I can’t get to some parts of my Gdn. All downhill now – cast due to be removed next Thursday!!!

    1. One day to go! Good luck for tomorrow. Hope the foxgloves hang on so that you can enjoy the fruits of your labours.

      Definitely seek out H. “Halcyon” as it’s a trouper. An old variety but one that endures for obvious reasons.

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