The Watch House NGS Open Day 2018

Reading time 14 minutes


Over the weekend we welcomed over 300 visitors to The Watch House, breaking records and surprising us all. At times it was a challenge to fit everyone in whilst offering an enjoyable experience in the garden, but there were no complaints, at least that I heard. On both days the sun shone, the birds sang and many plants were at their most splendid. I was content. It was wonderful to meet so many keen gardeners and admirers of gardens; many local, some having made trips from much farther afield. The friends who volunteered to make cakes, brew tea, wash up, sell tickets and answer questions did a sterling job. Even a tiny garden like mine requires six or more helpers to be able to open successfully with refreshments; I could not have done it without them. Other friends travelled down from London, Essex and Suffolk to see the garden, which was a wonderful surprise. Thank you to everyone for the tremendous support, encouragement and positive energy you bring with you.



I stationed myself in a corner by the sink where I could greet people on their way into the Jungle Garden. Visitors usually take a moment or two to adjust to the riot of colour and foliage that confronts them as they enter from the street. It’s unexpected, and deliberately so. Happily my star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) had clung onto a few last flowers, providing luxurious scent on arrival. As usual, a handful of plants attracted the lion’s share of the attention. The black rosettes of Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ were commented on by many. Some had tried growing this handsome succulent before, with varying degrees of success. My advice was to plant in gritty compost (a large pot is not required as they make very little root) and to bring them indoors onto a sunny windowsill in the winter. Unless you live in South West Cornwall they are not hardy and should not be left to the mercy of the elements.



Salvia ‘Amistad’ was widely recognised. I am not surprised as it is an excellent plant and can therefore be found in every garden centre across the land. I have planted a lot of it this year, since the intensely purple flowers echo the tones of Asarina scandens ‘Violet’ and Petunia ‘Night Sky’. Even when one can’t repeat plants for lack of space, repetition of colour helps to hold everything together visually. I was delighted that the star of the show was Solenostemon (coleus) ‘Henna’, firstly because it was purchased locally from Broadstairs Garden Centre and secondly because I want people to think again about coleus. Far from being a plant consigned to the grave with your great aunt, they are superb plants, especially for a shaded courtyard garden. Coleus grow fast and take no prisoners when it comes to showy foliage. There are subtle ones and shouty ones, large-leaved and small-leaved ones; some are ferny, some are serrated. For me ‘Henna’ is the ultimate ‘flame nettle’ with sharply-toothed, Chartreuse-green leaves that are brownish-red on the reverse. Handsome indeed.



Some visitors were surprised to see plants such as anthurium, aechmea and philodendron growing outside. During a long, hot summer like this one they are perfectly happy outdoors, provided they are sheltered and out of direct sunlight. A single Gloriosa rothschildiana bloom caught many an eye, as did the pot of Egyptian papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) next to the sink. Both are easy and effective plants to grow for height in the late summer garden.



As for me, I was excited to witness dahlias ‘Nicholas’ and ‘Bacardi’ flowering for the first time this weekend: ‘Nicholas’ (below) is the perfect flower form and colour for my garden, and ‘Bacardi’ is promising too, with decadent flowers the colour of polished cherry wood.



Visitors are always flabbergasted that I grow everything in pots or containers. Although I do this out of necessity (there is no soil to plant in here, owing to the undercrofts below the garden) there is much to recommend this way of cultivating plants, especially tender ones. I will be writing more on this subject shortly, so keep your eyes peeled if this interests you.

I regret not spending any time talking to visitors in the Gin and Tonic Garden, although those requiring plants to be identified came back to the Jungle Garden with photographs on their phones. Naturally Dahlia ‘Firepot’ received a lot of attention as it’s looking splendid at the moment, positively smothered in flowers. Senecio ‘Angel Wings’ was a favourite for many because of its soft, velvety, ‘once touched, never forgotten’ leaves. For me it is still a curiosity rather than a nice plant; resembling a very posh silver cabbage. Another oddity, if I can call it that, is Cordyline ‘Pink Fantasy’, a plant which takes the dramatic variegation of C. ‘Torbay Dazzler’ to a new level …. by adding Barbie pink. This shocking colouration may become monstrous as it grows, but as a small plant it’s amusing as well as a talking point. I was pleased and flattered that some visitors noted there were colour groupings. I have tried hard at these as I believe they are the only way of justifying such an eclectic array of plants being in the same place at the same time.



The main thing with the Gin & Tonic Garden is that it’s somewhere to sit at the end of a day where I can enjoy pretty flowers and delicate fragrance. This is precisely what I am doing now. The Gin & Tonic Garden is not a ”designed’ garden in any sense. The fine weather meant that we could open up the garden room where Begonia ‘Martin Johnson’, Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ and Tradescantia ‘Purple Sabre’ stole the show. This is where I write. Despite being unfinished decoratively, it’s a pleasing space to work in.



It’s my first year growing tomatoes at The Watch House and I am delighted with the results; they were much remarked upon. I have five varieties, including ‘Sungold’ and ‘Black Opal’, all of which are fruiting prolifically. I am thrilled as I adore tomatoes and will happily eat them with every meal.



I have yet to count the weekend’s takings, but will update this post as soon as I have. I’m expecting the total to be close to £1,400, which will all be donated to the National Gardens Scheme charities. If you were too far away to visit or otherwise engaged, I hope you enjoyed the little video I prepared pre-opening. As many visitors commented, it doesn’t do the garden justice, but I do believe it’s better than nothing. The Watch House will be opening again next year, on a date to be confirmed. In the meantime here are some of the most frequently asked questions and the answers to them:

1) How long does it to take you to water the garden?

During hot weather the each container needs watering every other day. I alternate between one garden and the other, taking about 1.5 hours each evening, longer if I am also feeding, which I do once a week. I prefer to use a watering can, but will use a hose in the Gin & Tonic Garden if I need to be quick. In the Jungle Garden there is a soaker hose hidden at the back of the raised beds to replace the water that’s drawn up by my trees. This works a treat, allowing me to grow bananas and colocasias in what would otherwise be dry shade.

2) How long have you had the garden?

I moved to The Watch House a little over 12 years ago and completed the build of the Jungle Garden 10 years ago. Nothing remains from the previous layout apart from the boundary lines and the basement railings. The garden has evolved significantly and is now more shaded and sheltered than it was originally. Pale walls reflect light, dark slate retains heat, and trees trap warm air inside the garden creating the perfect microclimate for tender plants.

The Gin & Tonic Garden was begun just over 12 months ago and is a work in progress.

3) What’s the name of the tree with the wonderful red bark?

In three words: Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. aspleniifolius – Santa Cruz Ironwood if you find that easier to recall! This unusual tree comes from a series of rocky islands off the coast of mainland California. It is tolerant of poor, stony, well-drained soil, salt spray and wind. It has much more to recommend it than the peeling reddish bark. It also has ferny foliage and heads of white flowers like an achillea in mid summer.

4) Is this a jasmine / Is this an olive?

No! Don’t trust the common names of plants. I rarely use them as they are often highly misleading. The ‘jasmine’ being referred to was Trachelospermum jasminoides (star jasmine), which is closer in relation to a vinca or a plumeria (frangipani) than it is to a jasmine. Both Laurus nobilis ‘Angustifolia’ (narrow or willow-leaved bay) and Phillyrea latifolia (Japanese green olive) were mistaken for being olives (Olea europea). Neither are, but it’s an easy mistake to have made given the foliage and tree shape.

5) Where are the gingers then?

Despite there being over 55 flower spikes, my gingers were frequently missed, perhaps because the plants are so tall and leafy this year. Some gingers have flowered incredibly early this year, especially Hedychium yunannese, H. ‘Stephen’ and H. ‘Sorung’. Happily I have over 10 other varieties that haven’t flowered yet, so I have these to look forward to. ‘Tara’ is flowering now, and ‘Helen Dillon’ will follow. Sadly gingers do not bloom for long, but when they do, they are stunning and the fragrance intoxicating. TFG.


Categories: Container gardening, Flowers, Foliage, fragrance, Garden Design, House Plants, Our Coastal Garden, 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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30 comments On "The Watch House NGS Open Day 2018"

  1. How wonderful both gardens look! Congrats on such a successful weekend and truly weathering all the ups and downs in the months preceding!
    I love the tomato picture….I wonder if in a future post you could share/elaborate more details about this undertaking – the soil, the watering/feeding schedule etc? I’m a veggie virgin! I have as one of my gardening goals to try and grow vegetables. The marigolds look so pretty under the tomatoes, what is the pretty purple flower?

    1. I will try Simonne, although I’m no expert on vegetable growing. Marigolds are supposed to keep white fly away, and so far they have. The purple flower is Angelonia. It loves the greenhouse heat and bright sunlight. I wish I had planted more now!

  2. I enjoyed the video of your very tasteful garden with lovely contrasts and colours
    Congratulations on your successful weekend

  3. Breathtakingly beautiful! Oh to be in England to be one of the visitors to your stunning garden. As it is I will enjoy it via your blog. I look forward to all of your posts and save them all to view many times over. Thank you for your skill and creativity, both as gardener and writer. From smoky, hot (forest fires) central British Columbia

    On Tue, Aug 7, 2018 at 2:41 PM The Frustrated Gardener wrote:

    > The Frustrated Gardener posted: ” Over the weekend we welcomed over 300 > visitors to The Watch House, breaking records and surprising us all. At > times it was a challenge to fit everyone in whilst offering an enjoyable > experience in the garden, but there were no complaints, at lea” >

    1. Hi Pauline. Goodness we are all suffering with heat and drought this year aren’t we? I do hope the forest fires keep a healthy distance. How stressful and how sad to see forests going up in smoke.

      I’m very pleased you enjoy my posts and will endeavour to keep them coming! Now the garden opening is done I can spend a little more time on the blog. Dan

  4. I need to reread your fabulous post and look at the photos many more times for inspiration, which I’ve been sadly lacking of late.
    Oh, to have been there to see it all and to meet you!
    Such beauty, joy and dedication. Great stuff!
    Hope you’ve both been enjoying some long summer evenings in the G&T garden, relishing the fruits of all your work.

  5. Congratulations on a successful weekend! Your garden looks absolutely perfect. I’m particularly impressed with those tomatoes–they’re almost too beautiful to pick.

    1. I shall have to pick a lot of them today as they are weighing the branches down! The edge has been taken off the perfection by the huge amount of traffic that’s been coming in and out of the garden, so I am looking forward to a few more peaceful days ahead. Dan

  6. Congratulations on a super weekend of open garden, Dan. Everything looked just splendid. I did enjoy seeing the video, and thought it was a great idea to start off standing next to that Coleus because that gave a good sense of its size, which is considerable. (I know you’re promoting Coleus). The tomatoes are amazing. They always go feral with me, that is if they don’t get an influx of Queensland Fruit Fly first. I liked seeing how you grow them so neatly. Thanks for the tour. Jane

    1. We don’t have Queensland Fruit Fly thank goodness! I dread to think what that does. I have to grow my tomatoes neatly as I have so little space, but ‘Black Opal’ is a beast and wants to be feral. So pleased you enjoyed the video tour. I shall endeavour to do more of these when time permits. Dan

  7. Just stunning. So pleased the weekend went so well. I have bought a lime green (un-named) Coleus and am on the lookout for Henna. And I am admiring that lovely trailing pale pink begonia above the sink. There is just too much to take in and when I get really old and have to move to a smaller garden I know that I can follow your excellent example and grow lots of wonderful plants in pots.

    1. You can. And I shall be writing something on that subject shortly I hope. Thank you for your lovely card, which arrived with me yesterday. I do hope you’ll come again one day.

      The trailing begonia is ‘F1 Starshine: Trailing Pure White’, despite being flushed with shell pink. Readily available at the garden centre in spring. I put my order in very early as the white ones tend to sell out quickest. Dan

  8. Bravo! I’m happy for you that the Open Day in your garden was such a success, especially in light of the challenging heat wave. Your photographs are gorgeous, taking us right into the midst of the garden, in all its beauty. I can almost smell the Star Jasmine!

    1. It almost over now, which is such a pity. It will be another year before I can enjoy the fabulous scent again.

      The weather is much cooler today, but the skies are clear and bright, which is a joy. Dan

  9. Well-deserved success! Thankyou for your thoughtfulness in sharing with people like me, too old and lame and halt to travel, it’s kind of you and very inspiring. Your posts are more helpful than the majority of gardening books!

  10. Mind blowing as ever Dan. The Jungle garden looked really, really jungly and if the Gin & Tonic garden is still “a work in progress” you can knock me down with a feather! Loved everything Dan and to have tea/cakes in the garage made the day. There were two important places to visit after we left you – YOUR Garden Centre and Morelli’s! I bought an Asarina and friend Sheila found a very large flowering dahlia which she just had to have for her Whitstable courtyard garden. She also bought something akin to a banana with dark red leaves. At Morelli’s we purchased, and ate, three of the largest ice cream concoctions I have ever seen! All in all a very successful outing to Broadstairs. A lovely day. Mrs. P.

  11. Hello Dan ! I have been reading your blog religiously for years but I’m not sure I have ever actually commented. I garden in Northern California wine country so my climate is nothing like yours especially as it pertains to rain and humidity. Your garden is looking just splendid and were I within 100 miles of it I would certainly attend your open day-so thanks for the Instagram tour ! And anyone who names an area in their garden after a cocktail has my complete approval. What interests me is that in such a confined space with walls etc. throwing shade I can’t believe everything isn’t flopping like mad. I salute you for that. Cheers !

  12. What a show – how I would have liked to have been there!! The outstanding collection of plants in your confined spaces are just so colorful. Love that Coleous ‘Henna’. I managed to get a piece of a pink & red one, successfully rooting it in water. I see that you have a similar one in a small pot in your outdoor kitchen area! I am just full of envy looking at the glorious Ben Johnson begonia……… I could go on and on. Sending congratulations to you and your helpers for getting this weekend together, no mean feast with all that goes on in your busy life.

  13. What a wonderful weekend it sounds and thank you so much for sharing it with those of us who couldn’t get there. Inspiring, as always! Please announce the dates for next year as soon as you can, I may have to plan a short stay in your part of the world!

  14. So many wonderful plants and I am so happy you had a sunny weekend for your Open Days. Your Coleus ‘Henna’ is a star. Please tell me what size pot you grow it in? I bought several very tiny Coleus plants this year and several were badly eaten by S&S, one plant almost totally decimated – when I looked closely I could see tell-tale signs of caterpillar poo and YES there was a bright green caterpillar which blended in perfectly with the bright green stems! The joys of gardening! Seeing your beautiful garden now makes me wish we’d bought the house with the courtyard.

    Have a lovely relaxing weekend Dan and thank you for sharing your lovely place with us.

  15. I came across your blog only a few months ago and am surprised to read you grow everything in pots and containers. Your garden is so lush, the planting hides the containers so well, looking forward to reading more about cultivating plants this way. I am also interested to see how your garden looks during different times of the year. Congratulations on a successful weekend.

  16. So lush and vibrant! The one dahlia close-up photo looks like a painting, as those each petal had been painted with delicate water colors. I do like how you run your slate path between the two “rows” of tropicals, leading the eye to the focal point at the end, inviting me to sit down on the bench. That’s a favorite design concept of mine, too, especially in my herb garden.

    You mention star jasmine, the frangipani. Oh, how I miss that lovely climber from my mother’s garden in the Deep South (the Florida Panhandle). It came from her mama’s garden in Apalachicola where it grew in abundance. Alas, Central Washington state simply is too arid for these delicacies.

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