Plan B

Reading time 6 minutes


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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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!


Categories: Container gardening, Flowers, Foliage, Photography, Small Gardens, Tropical Gardens

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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22 comments On "Plan B"

  1. You’ve really made an impressive use of the narrow space you have! It looks fantastic. Sometimes I wish I had less space so I could properly hone my beds. That said, it’s only my third year on what was once a vacant barren lot. I do love the honing though. Really begins to tie the whole yard together.

  2. Stop beating yourself up for your impromptu plant purchases…it’s looking beyond lovely from the photos and I am sure that you will have a huge queue round the block of avid garden fans waiting to see all your hard work and time in creating a lush oasis!

  3. Oh, to be able to twitch my nose and appear on the 20th! All looks wonderfully lush and exuberant.
    Hope the heat isn’t doing any damage and the pests manage to restrain themselves.

    1. The heat is not a problem here so long as one keeps watering regularly. It rarely lasts very long and just encourages better flowering. The dry keeps slugs and snails at bay, but if it continues we may see more powdery mildew on the clematis and red spider mite on the dahlias. So far, all clear!

      If I see someone teleport themselves into the garden on the 20th I will know who it is ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. The agonies of opening and it all looks amazing already, another few weeks of this weather and it is going to be a perfect Rousseau jungle. How come no parrots? there are flocks of ringnecked parakeets here eating all my very unripe apples, I will bring them on the 20th and they can queue along with the rest of us.

    I have got a group here tomorrow, big mistake for them, post opening in June I hated everything and have dug up, discarded and moved anything remotely green. Somehow the six foot high tree peony I moved on Sunday stills seems to be looking fine, plants are so forgiving, here’s hoping tomorrows group are too!

    1. Funnily enough the parakeets leave us in the summer, probably for your orchard which offers more plentiful food! They appear again in winter to raid the bird feeders.

      I was out watering earlier and could almost imagine a tiger or a panther emerging from the foliage. You are quite right with your reference to Rousseau. I might get Alex to pose in the undergrowth with his air rifle in August!

      I can’t imagine what you dug up as it was all looking so lovely and ebullient, but we are our own worst critics and I am sure whatever you do it will be for the better. Your group should think themselves lucky to have privileged access to your wonderful garden. I am looking forward to visiting again … Haven’t forgotten I need to drop you a line.

  5. If you feel like leaving Rousseau’s jungle for Nash’s battlefield you will be very welcome, but tell Alex to leave his gun behind.

  6. I love the top photo! I would take the end chair and turn in around before I sat down, just so I could stare at the beauty of the plants down the path! All the best for August 20 & 21 ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. You are not the only one that has to employ a machete occasionally when things get a bit out of hand. My Geranium maderense flowered brilliantly as you promised and has now taken over half the greenhouse, it may have to go and I will nurture some babies for next year.
    Fuchsia spendens is going on my wish (no, WANT!!) list. The range of plants you grow is amazing and the garden looks brilliant. I am just off out to re-arrange some pots and try to get a better display, but there is no way it will ever match yours. Good luck with the opening, my garden in Yorkshire was open for the village ‘Open Gardens’ once and I know how nerve-wracking and exhausting – though ultimately satisfying – it can be.

  8. If you really need space before
    Your opening, we could easily
    Accommodate many pots.
    Just let us know and come
    and see what you think. We live
    in Broadstairs
    Avril Samuels

    Sent from my iPhone

  9. This question may be out of order, but I LONG to grow Sparmannia Africana, both single and double, and can’t find a supplier in UK. (Your glorious Rousseau-esque garden has inflamed me!) Do you know of one? I’d be v. v. grateful for any information. All good wishes from Sarah

    1. Not a problem Sarah. Iโ€™d recommend Burncoose Nurseries in this instance. They have the double available – If you are growing your sparmannia in a pot, make it as big as possible to give you extra large leaves. Donโ€™t be afraid to coppice your plant when it gets too large – you can use the clippings for cuttings. Do let me know how you get on. Dan

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