The Final Countdown

Reading time 12 minutes

Twenty days to go and the countdown to my NGS garden open weekend is well underway. In truth the garden does not need another twenty days to look its best; it’s there already. I am mildly concerned that it will peak too soon, but there’s no holding it back now. Recent weather has been exceptional, providing perfect conditions for the kind of plants I like to grow. Their rampant growth has been accelerated by copious watering and regular feeding, an ongoing labour of love during this heatwave. Many gingers, cannas and salvias are already well above head-height and producing wondrous flowers. Early clematis have been little short of spectacular. This weekend I will be staking and deadheading to maintain some semblance of order.

As for me, I do not feel ready at all: my ‘to do’ list is starting to keep me awake at night. Opening one’s garden, as anyone who’s done it knows, requires planning, elbow grease, nerves of steel and a great support network.


So what can you expect to find if you visit The Watch House on August 4th and 5th? There will be two gardens to enjoy this year; the Jungle Garden (top of post) and the Gin & Tonic Garden (above). Each one is a small courtyard measuring no more than 20ft x 30ft. Visitors will be welcomed in via the workshop, where, fingers crossed, I will have a handful of plants for sale and there will be delicious teas, of course.

The first section of the garden you’ll encounter is a narrow passageway dominated by a long wall of Trachelospermum jasminoides underplanted with ferns. The current proliferation of white flowers may be gone, along with their sensational fragrance, but the simple green corridor creates the perfect decompression zone between the harsh brightness of the street and the dappled profusion of the Jungle Garden. Returning visitors will recall this space is quite tight, and I can report it will be even tighter this year. My lack of restraint, combined with the best growing year I can recall*, means that there is barely room to swing a cat#. I make no apology for the cramped conditions as this is precisely the look I am aiming to achieve. My inspiration for this garden is a heady blend of Henri Rousseau’s avant-garden jungle scenes with the sounds and seclusion of a Marrakeshi riad. Gardens are, after all, a personal indulgence, and mine is very much so.


The main event in the Jungle Garden is foliage. Big, small, plain, variegated, filigree or frond-like, I rely on leaves to create structure, enclosure, drama, shade, interest and an overwhelming sense of immersion. Green is such an incredible colour, at once soothing and invigorating. Green is the colour of life and, like life, I can’t get enough of it. That said, I have been experimenting by introducing more variegated foliage plants, trying out several varieties of zonal pelargonium and coleus (solenostemon). I think the results are good, but I shall be interested in visitors’ reaction to these more extrovert additions. The garden is home to too many species and cultivars for me to list here, so I will be updating my plant list over the next couple of weeks in order that visitors can identify all that capture their imagination. What I hope people will take away is that much can be achieved in a very small space, if it suits you. I like that the tropical atmosphere is so unexpected in the centre of a busy, English, seaside town. This garden is especially magical on a warm night, when I can almost imagine I’m in the tropics, surrounded by exotic scents and unexplained sounds. For opening my hope is that the ginger flowers will be in their prime, along with dahlias, salvias and begonias. I am growing several new varieties of colocasia, including the lovely ‘Maui Gold’ which produces chartreuse-yellow leaves on ivory stems.


The Gin and Tonic Garden is accessed via a narrow path further up Thanet Road. This is a much sunnier garden, especially in summer, and is home to an eclectic mix of flora. So far it seems to suit plants from hotter, drier climes such as the Mediterranean, South Africa, the Canary Islands and Australia. Protected from easterly winds by the bulk of the house, there were many more winter survivors here than in the Jungle Garden, including the spectacular Geranium maderense which seeds itself freely here. The Gin & Tonic garden is a small but pretty space, demonstrating what can be achieved in just 12 months. I have bigger plans for this garden when my budget allows, including replacement of boundary fences and the introduction of columnar trees to screen the houses behind. Visitors will spy a specimen of Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Slender Silhouette’ which I am trialling to assess whether it could be the perfect candidate. In time, inspired by Islamic paradise gardens, I want to create a more formal, less cluttered layout. Such a plan would require the removal of my greenhouse, which will be painful since I have waited so long to get one.

If the weather is fine I will open the doors to the small garden room which is where I write. Beyond the garden room is my library, devoted almost entirely to books about plants and gardening. It’s incredible how many books have been published on these subjects and the shelves are filling up far faster than I anticipated. Alas, no time for reading during the summer months, so new arrivals will be perused later in the year.

Now that the heatwave is firmly entrenched I am keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn’t come to an end before my big weekend. If it does turn out fine and you are planning to visit, I’d recommend coming at the beginning or end of the 12pm-4pm period as it may get very busy indeed. Well behaved dogs are welcome but space in the garden is extremely limited, so perhaps leave your Rottweiler at home. The nearest parking is in the Crofts Place Car Park directly off the High Street, 30 yards away, otherwise it’s only a hop, skip and a jump from Broadstairs train station or the nearest Loop bus stop. If you’re a reader of this blog do come and say hello: I’ll be the one in the flowery shirt. And if you’re too far away to hear the beat of the jungle drums there will be a pre-opening video tour, I promise. TFG.


Five Facts about My garden

  • The Watch House is not one house, but three. It is an amalgamation of numbers 3, 5 and 7 Thanet Road. The oldest part is 200 years old. Before there was a house here, this plot of land was an orchard belonging to one of the houses on the High Street.
  • Beneath the Jungle Garden are vaulted undercrofts, which means there is no soil. What you are experiencing is basically a roof garden. Everything is planted either in containers or raised beds. Local legend has it that tunnels built by smugglers run from the undercrofts to the beach, although I have found no evidence of these. The name ‘The Watch House’ stems from the idea that smugglers kept watch over the English Channel from the top floor windows.
  • The Jungle Garden was created ten years ago. Prior to that the garden comprised a bomb shelter, a range of privies and a large expanse of crazy paving. Nothing remains from that original layout, except the boundary walls.
  • Frost is a rare occurrence in my garden, but we did not escape The Beast from the East which wiped out several tender plants and damaged others. There were days when I found myself sweeping up snow laced with sand and shells, such was the force of the wind off the sea. As you will see, all was not lost and there is very little evidence of the carnage four months on.
  • Depending on their tenderness and growing habit, half-hardy plants are overwintered in the greenhouse (unheated), workshop (also unheated) or the garden room. A surprising number, including the rare Isoplexis sceptrum, make it through the winter without any protection, but benefit from low rainfall and extremely good drainage.

For more details about the opening, please visit the National Gardens Scheme website.

* since May at least!

# for this reason we will be asking that you leave large bags at the entrance.


Categories: Flowers, Foliage, Garden Design, National Garden Scheme, Perennials, Photography, Planting Design, Plants, Small Gardens, Tropical Gardens

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

Greetings Garden Lover! Welcome to my blog. Plants are my passion and this is my way of sharing that joyful emotion with the world. You'll find over 1000 posts here featuring everything from abutilons to zinnias. If you've enjoyed what you've read, please leave a comment and consider subscribing using the yellow 'Follow' button in the bottom, right-hand corner of your screen. You will receive an email every time I post something new.

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59 comments On "The Final Countdown"

    1. Hi There,
      I’m a ‘new’ gardener at 82 years old. My lovely late wife was the gardener, I just used to make things she wanted and dig big ‘oles for her.
      I get so confused by the various advise that I read about certain plants, fertilizers and a million and one other ‘knowledge’ I pick up from reading and going on various websites. You sir seem to have that ‘way’ that gives eager, (but thick) new gardeners like myself a lot of confidence by your plain down to earth (pardon the pun), way of showing us how it is possible to have a nice garden,
      Thank you very much.
      Jack Kinsman

      1. Hi Jack Thank you for your kind praise. I always say the best way to learn about gardening is to visit others and the gardens open for the National Garden Scheme are fun and fascinating.

  1. I will be there in spirit… maybe one year I will make it in person! I know it willb e a hugely successful opening, as it looks truly beautiful – all the best Dan xxx

    1. Cheers Helen. I need to take some better photographs when I get a spare second. Hard to get a decent angle as there are quite a lot of plants in the way. Oh dear. I’ve done it again. I think I may be outgrowing my garden!

  2. Sounds wonderful and I should love to visit but alas I am too far away. I’d say your gardens look spectacular every day of the year so worry not, only a last minute airborne assault by DDT will cause an issue.

    Those undercrofts – fascinating. Can you access them? Ceri

  3. I can remember only some of the plants here. I remember that small Southern magnolia of course. It changes so much. I remember what some of it looked like after winter, which is probably something you prefer to not remember.

  4. All the best with the open garden event. What a lovely post about it. Your enthusiasm and energy as evident as your gardening skill and knowledge.

  5. I hope that everyone who gets the chance to go does so. It really is a magical oasis and all the plants are just gorgeous and wonderfully grown. I don’t know if I should even peek at the plant list as I would probably succumb. I have already bought some Coleus! I am so lucky to have had a sneak preview at the beginning of the month and am sorry that I will not make the official open gardens day. Hoping that the weather holds Dan, you really deserve to have a successful event for all your efforts.

    1. You are too kind Karen. Its has grown so much since your visit, I cannot believe it. I think you probably saw it at a good time, before everything became so tall.

      I am getting the canes out tonight. One can have too much ‘gay abandon’! Dan

  6. Ohhhh, how I wish I could be there, soooo beautiful. Your garden is definitely on my bucket list, see it before I turn into compost 😍😍😍

  7. What a shame I shall be in France then ! I would definitely have come to visit your beautiful garden ! My garden is small too and nowhere as beautiful as yours (I shouldn’t even compare!) so I would have loved to get some inspiration and also meet the writer of this fantastic blog. Funny how gardening takes away some of the pleasure of long holidays far from home. We worry about our plants’ wellbeing, feel sadness at the idea of missing the blooming time of some, etc. But I am going off topic. I wish you the best of luck for the opening !

    1. As a regular contributor to my comments I would welcome a visit from you at any time. Just drop me an email ( and I’m sure we could work out a date. Meanwhile, enjoy France. A holiday I hope? Dan

  8. Looking very, very good. I shall cross my fingers and wish you a beautiful warm, dry and sunny (not too hot) weekend for the opening. Your courtyards remind me of the Ludlow ‘Secret Gardens’ open event where you can visit several small gardens over a weekend. It is amazing how much one can get into a small space and I was always pleasantly surprised and envious of the owners’ achievements. I actually think this is almost easier to pull off by using containers, but container gardening is SUCH hard work – all that lifting and repotting each year. I find that by planting things in the ground they all grow so much bigger than I was imagining! And please tell me how that gorgeous white clematis is attached to the wall. I have looked and looked and can’t see any wires!

    Now I am going to have a look at your plant list…

    1. It’s a little out of date but not wildly so. I will get the list amended before the opening as some visitors do actually check every plant off!

      The Clematis is indeed climbing up wires stretched between vine eyes, but is also supported by the rose and Magnolia grandiflora ‘Exmouth’.

      I’m afraid I have no choice other than to garden in containers and agree it is very hard work compared to growing in the ground, on every level. It would not suit anyone with a bad back, that’s for sure!! However it does offer some flexibility in terms of being able to move things out of the way when they are past their best.

      If you ever have the opportunity to go to Amsterdam in June, their open gardens event is a revelation, providing access to gardens one might never have considered were there. I am the only gardener that opens a garden in Broadstairs, which makes me sad as I am sure there are many hidden treasures around the town. Dan

      1. Yes the hidden gardens are a treat. If I ever get back down your way I shall make a beeline for your garden 🙂

  9. I am so glad you explained some about your garden. I am a new reader and it was all a little confusing to me. Now I at least know what to be confused about. 😉 Your collection of plants are so well displayed and managed. There is a generous heart in this garden. I live too far away to ever think I could see it in person. Your writing and lovely photos bring me back. Best of luck with the Open Garden.

    1. Thank you Lisa. I am going to take a few additional photographs this evening and add them in to the post, so do please check back. And any time you need anything explained do please ask! My house and garden have a particularly unconventional layout so I am not surprised you have been confused. It confuses me sometimes, especially having to go out onto the street to get between gardens (without going through the house). Dan

  10. Your garden is such a magical place! I can imagine spending hours in it everyday reading and writing and sipping Chardonnay. Maybe someday I’ll get to see it in person. – Karen (from California)

  11. Best of luck on your opening days! Unfortunately, I will not be able to visit your lovely garden for visits to lovely UK can’t be planned yet for a great number of reasons but your description of things to do ahead reminds me of the opening days of the charity Jardins et Santé here in France ! It is based on the same idea as the National Gardens Scheme which sponsored us when this charity came into being a few years ago! If you ever want to visit some of our burgundian gardens, please let me know and I would be very happy to arrange some visits for you!
    You deserve it for your blog is just a wonderful present for ordinary readers who can ‘t always go places and whose imagination is triggered and nourished thanks to you! Many many thanks and I wish you a great success!
    P.S. The money we collect is used to create therapeutical gardens in hospitals and old people’s homes…

    1. Thank you Martine-Claire. It’s very interesting to know that you had support for your project from the National Gardens Scheme, which, as you know, is long established here in the UK. Not only do people love to visit private gardens but they also like to know that they are supporting a good cause. I am sure I would very much enjoy a visit to Burgundy some day, not only for the gardens but for the wine too. What a winning combination.

      I am so pleased you enjoy my blog and hope you will keep following. Dan

  12. Looking forward to your videos, and, in time, your thoughts on the sweetgum (My second favorite native tree, for no other reason than familiarity and the Latin name. My absolute favorite—Liriodendron tulipifera.) Good luck with the showings!

    1. Thank you Tina. Martin in my local garden centre is always trying to sell me a tulip tree. He’s seen the size of my garden and still he persists!! They are wonderful trees but I prefer to enjoy them in a parkland setting where they can be what they want to be.

  13. Wishing you a brilliant garden opening! No matter the weather and even if the plants are so eager they are already showing off, I know it will be a pleasure to be in your garden. Your passion shows through in all seasons. Wishing I could be there, perhaps one day!

  14. Best of luck with your opening! I love your clematis/rose combination as well – the colours are gorgeous and it speaks to me as a Canadian.😀 Hope you get a good crowd!

  15. The exuberance shines through both in your words and the gardens. Simply loving it. How wonderful that you and others put in so much effort to bring joy to others.
    P.S. If you ever had time, I’d love a mud map re the houses and gardens.

  16. Hi FG, I’m a new follower, found you by googling G. palmatum v G. Madarense, and was looking forward to joining the crush on Aug 4th. Regrettably family ‘stuff’ has got in the way, so hopefully next year. Wishing you all the best for a successful weekend, Cx

  17. What an oasis you have created there Dan ..wishing you a successful open day. How you fit in so many plants..standing room only and maybe a notebook. I might book a ferry trip to France I can justify the trip ( to my long suffering family) to see your garden . 🤞

  18. Fingers crossed for fine weather and lots of visitors for your open day! Wish I could be there! Everything looks fantastic Dan a credit to all your hard work!

  19. I can’t wait to see it all, Dan! I’m sure all your hard work will pay off. Don’t forget to pause and enjoy it in the meantime.

  20. This is one of the most interesting posts you have written about your gardens, Dan — I love the history of your property, the (shorter) history of your gardens, and your enticing description of the loveliness of warm evenings outside among your tropical plants. I too am entranced by the concept of riad gardens and Islamic Paradise Gardens, and started making one myself this spring, in the formal quadripartite design you are thinking of transforming your gardens to. I really look forward with great interest to seeing any future changes you make in that direction (and you’re welcome to see how I’m making my modest Paradise Garden on my blog too, of course). Best of luck with your Open Garden (although all your hard work and planning are the real “luck”! Best, -Beth

  21. What a lovely post. I like the balance between image and text and your description of the garden as like a riad and a Rousseau painting – where is the reclining nude or a tiger?! Your plants certainly have the perfect weather to look their best this summer. My English cottage garden,on light, sandy soil, is suffering badly, with not one drop of water for weeks.
    I’m sure that your open garden will be a great success.

  22. Having opened my garden for the first time on 12/8 I have come to pegwell bay to recharge my batteries and seek new inspiration and ideas. I now see that you are just up the road! I am sorry not to have been able to visit your garden, it looks and sounds incredible. Should you be willing to let me visit please say.

      1. I am home now but would you mind if I message again, next time I am coming to Pegwell? I should love to visit.
        I visited the Salutation garden for the first time this visit, absolutely knock out! Very inspirational.

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