Plan B



I have a problem. With the garden next door out of action and no immediate prospect of gaining it back, I have grown way too many plants for the space available. First of all I ignored the foliage coming at me from every direction. That worked reasonably well until I started dismembering things. Then, when I could no longer reach the front door without a machete, I took to feeling cross with myself for lack of foresight and poor planning. On a couple of occasions I caught myself standing forlornly in the midst of it all not knowing which way to turn. This is not like me. Finally, last weekend, after seven days’ holiday, it dawned on me that fretting was futile. I could no longer tolerate torturing my best plants to secure a future for them all, and so I took action.


Sparmannia africana "Flore Pleno", Begonia luxurians and Dahlia "Totally Tangerine"

Sparrmannia africana “Flore Pleno”, handsome Begonia luxurians and Dahlia “Totally Tangerine”


I know from experience that making major changes to the garden less than 5 or 6 weeks before opening will mean that the plants do not have time to knit together properly. Chelsea designers manage to create a harmonious whole in a matter of days, but I neither have the skill nor the nerve to leave things until the last-minute. So, for one year only, I have decided to prematurely dig out a dehiscing Geranium maderense, occupying an enormous footprint (relatively speaking), to make space for young Ricinus communis “New Zealand Purple”, Alpinia zerumbet “Variegata”, Dahlia “Magenta Star” and three Cuphea “Torpedo”, rashly purchased when I already knew I had nowhere to plant them. I doubt anyone has used Spigelia marilandica (below right) in an exotic planting before, but I just adore it and want a bigger clump. It’s a pity the neighbour’s cat has alternative ideas for the future of my North American treasure.


Ricinus "New Zealand Purple", Alpinia zerumbet, Dahlia "Magenta Star"

Newly planted Ricinus communis “New Zealand Purple”, Alpinia zerumbet “Variegata”, Dahlia “Magenta Star”


Other plants with prospects have been arranged to create a double border of pots leading from the outdoor kitchen to the garden table. This was tricky as my best specimens had already been used on the left hand side of the garden, leaving me struggling to create texture and interest on the right. I had hundreds (literally) of dahlias to play with but not much else. Fabulous Fuchsia splendens, which has relished 6 months in a hot, steamy greenhouse, has been released into the open air. I hope it does not succumb to capsid bugs or gall mites, which have infected other fuchsias in the garden; hence, with regret, I am growing fewer fuchsias this year.


Fuchsia splendens, the most splendid fuchsia of them all, perhaps with the exception of F. boliviensis.

Fuchsia splendens, the most splendid fuchsia of them all, perhaps with the exception of F. boliviensis.


Cuttings of Sparrmannia africana “Flore Pleno” taken from our house plant in London late last year have been the biggest surprise, producing gigantic, coarsely-furry, leaves. Now I know what these plants look like in youth, I will certainly take more cuttings and use them in future plantings. I can appreciate why sparrmannia is sometimes called the African linden, as the leaves resemble the lime trees to which sparrmannias are closely related.


The outsized leaves of Sparrmannia africana "Flore Pleno"

The outsized leaves of Sparrmannia africana “Flore Pleno”


Although I think my pot borders are an attractive plan B, allowing me to display another twenty or so plants to good effect, they have severely reduced circulation space and make for a lot of watering. Added to which the vine weevils will have a field day chomping their way across a smorgasbord of delicious new delicacies. In practice, sitting at the garden table necessitates doubling as a plant support. No parrots on your shoulder here at The Watch House me ‘arties only passion flowers or pansies 🙂

Our garden at The Watch House will be open from 12-4 on Saturday, August 20th and Sunday, August 21st. Click here for more details on the NGS website.


An aerial view of the garden. Standing room only!

An aerial view of the garden tonight. Standing room only!