The Watch House Awaits

Reading time 10 minutes

The pots are all planted and in position, their arrangements have been checked from every angle, adjusted and appraised again. Happy with the result, we finally feel ready for our garden opening this weekend.

It’s been a long and winding road to get here. A cold, harsh winter and very late spring put us on the back foot. Jobs that should have been completed in April and May had to be held until June and July. (We still have pots of daffodils with foliage that’s not yellowed and died yet; these would normally have been long gone by late June.) Tender plants and summer bulbs are two or three weeks behind, meaning that for the first time in years we’ll have lilies in bloom on opening day; L. ‘Golden Splendour’, L. ‘African Queen’ and L. ‘Nymph’ are set to steal the show. The gingers and brugmansias are catching up slowly but surely, having spent far too long sheltering in the workshop whilst May worked out that it was not February. Happily, Hedychium yunnanese is now in flower. She’s my favourite ornamental ginger of them all, producing spidery white flowers that smell out of this world. The only drawback is that they are over too quickly.

Hedychium yunnanense

Behind the greenhouse, alas not where anyone can appreciate it, the giant Burmese honeysuckle, Lonicera hildebrandiana, is producing apricot-yellow blooms the size of my hand. These enormous flared trumpets produce a heavenly scent that fills the garden at night. The advancement of the garden is almost the complete opposite of 2020, when everything seemed to have gone over by early August and I was anxiously scouring the garden centre for ‘fillers’ to inject some extra colour.

A glimpse into the Garden Room where begonias, ferns, coleus and plectranthus mix and mingle

We are open this year on Saturday July 31st and Sunday August 1st from 12-4pm. On advice from the National Garden Scheme we’ve decided that we will be opening on a pre-booking only basis, which ensures everyone gets to enjoy the garden in a safe and leisurely fashion. That said, if anyone hasn’t booked and there is room in the garden we will let people in with the greatest pleasure. You can find all the booking details and directions here on the National Garden Scheme website. If you are unable to visit, or don’t care to do so in current circumstances, I will be posting a pre-opening tour on my Instagram feed on Saturday morning. It’ll be fun and free, so no excuses for not joining us virtually over your morning coffee!

Catalpas, sparmannias, gingers and cannas create drama in the Gin & Tonic Garden

The Gin & Tonic Garden is probably our favourite of the two gardens this year. We’ve worked really hard on it, attempting to create a vibrant tapestry of foliage studded with jewel-like flowers. It’s best viewed from above – an opportunity we can only offer winged visitors and house guests – from which perspective the multitudinous colours and textures can be full appreciated. Our catalpas, C. bignonioides ‘Aurea’ and C. x erubescens ‘Purpurea’ have been a revelation this summer. Having become weak and lanky growing in their pots, I decided to pollard them. This has had the most incredible effect, inducing the restricted plants to produce luxuriant, colourful new foliage where last year it had been lacklustre and mildewed. Hopefully, with proper feeding, we can keep them going like this for many more years. Although we don’t really have space for another – when do we ever? – we’ve introduced a third cultivar, Catalpa speciosa ‘Pulverulenta’ which has pretty, cream-speckled foliage. Once it’s developed a decent trunk this will also be pollarded. Other plants looking fabulous right on cue include Lobelia tupa, Anisodontea ‘El Royo’, Ageratum corymbosum, Liriodendron tulipifera ‘Purgatory’, Lilium ‘Nymph’ and a beautiful new (to me) persicaria I found called ‘Golden Arrow’. The leaf colour has remained incredibly vibrant since the moment it emerged from the ground this spring. Joyful. I haven’t counted how many plants we have in this space measuring 20ft x 20ft, but there must be hundreds.

The Gin & Tonic Garden from above. Persicaria ‘Golden Arrow’ stands out, far right

The Jungle Garden is as extravagantly overplanted as ever, maybe moreso. Having been mainly green and red, with little flashes of violet-blue provided by Salvia ‘Amistad’, this week the garden has exploded into glorious technicolour. There are lilies aplenty and an increasing number of alternative salvias, including ‘Black and Blue’ and ‘Blue Suede Shoes’. My inspiration is a gas flame, bringing together reds and oranges with blues and violets. Such a daring combination is perhaps a bit outré for some people, but I like to think my artisitic spirit guide, Henri Rousseau, would approve of it. The fact that the local bird population has turned this courtyard into an open aviary is reward enough for our efforts. Meanwhile, our banana plants, mostly Musa sikkimensis ‘Red Tiger’ are excelling themselves, trying to outdo one another with one gigantic leaf after another. If they get any bigger they will block out the sun completely! It’s hard to imagine that three months ago these were papery trunks projecting from old compost bags.

The Jungle Garden on the eve of a technicolour dawn

Around the kitchen sink we have our customary collection of smaller pots planted with rare and colourful treasures – Bletilla ‘Laneside Apricot Sunrise’ is an absolute treat at the moment, surrounded by lantana, assorted bromeliads, Pseudopanax trifoliata, Albizia julibrissin ‘Summer Chocolate’ and good old black-eyed Susan, Thunbergia alata. The wonderful thing about growing in pots is that all these plants, with their many different origins and needs, can be brought together for our delight and delictation. The same could never be achieved in a bed or border, plus these pampered plants are much closer to eye level.

Just add plants …. even since this photograph was taken, more plants have been introduced

Naturally, over the next three days I will be tweaking and primping incessantly. At no stage will I ever be completely satisfied, no gardener ever is. Sadly, our new neighbours, having just paved over their entire garden, are in the process of erecting a monumental new fence between the Gin & Tonic Garden and their expensive concrete desert; for what reason we do not know, but we can only hope the chaos will abate before the weekend. That aside, both gardens should look the best they’ve ever looked this weekend. We look forward to welcoming our lovely visitors who, we know, will restore our faith in humankind many times over. TFG.

Lunchtime in the Jungle Garden. The dappled shade is exquisite on a hot, sunny day

Categories: Begonias, Coleus, Container gardening, Flowers, Foliage, gingers, lilies, National Garden Scheme, Our Coastal Garden, Photography, Plants, Small Gardens, Tropical Gardens

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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20 comments On "The Watch House Awaits"

  1. (The blog about your open days 2021) I’ve written two very, very sincere comments and both seem to have disappeared. Make sure you continue to give so much pleasure to us ‘REAL’ frustrated gardeners!

  2. Looking fabulous – how I wish Somerset wasn’t so far away. Considering an autumn trip your way in September, any hope? Good luck for the opening, I’m sure it will be wonderfully successful with hordes at the gates.

  3. I have had a golden Catalpa in a large pot for at least fifteen years ( bought it as a five inch high baby ) and it never fails to delight . It is at its best when it and a gleditsia are seen against each other in later spring . Wish we lived closer to be able to come and see your garden , but Cambridge is too far !

  4. Dan,

    The garden is looking FAB – U – LOUS as a certain dancing judge might say, the best ever, but afraid this year cannot get to you but I think you may have more than enough people booking a time slot. Bought begonia Santa Cruz from Farmer Gracey this year, on your recommendation, and what a fantastic buy they have been. See you have quite a collection now. Meantime, how is the allotment?!

    Mrs. P.

  5. Best of luck with your open garden. I agree that it looks it’s very best. Love those begonias lining the walkway. I crack up every time I think of you having catalpas in these small spaces. You are a brave and artistic soul. One of these non pandemic days I hope to be able to hop across and see your garden.

  6. Instagram?! At any other time, that might be considered cheating. I will be too busy to attend on Saturdays for the foreseeable future, but thank you for the invitation. (Oh, it is a dreadfully LONG story that will not end any time soon.) There are so many trees (or plants that want to be trees) in your garden! Catalpa is interesting, particularly since it seems to be more popular there than it is here. I sometimes hear about the cultivars, but never see them. ‘Summer Chocolate’ silk tree looks weird to me, but happened to work out ideally for a situation in which a silk tree was desired (as in a favorite tree) but would get too big. ‘Summer Chocolate’ can stay quite small, and function something like a Japanese maple (which I am none to keen on). I do not see yours in the pictures, but I know what it looks like. Is the bloom about as pink as it is on the straight species, or do you find it to be richer pink or reddish pink? It seems to be richer pink to me, but bloom on the straight species is too variable to know what it is ‘supposed’ to look like. Goodness, there is so much tropical foliage in that garden. I can not recognize some of the material while it is this lush. I can see a bit of Southern magnolia foliage where I know there should be a small tree, but that is about all.

  7. Re Plectranthus – do you buy them as plants or seed? I love the metallic purple one, I had it many years ago but it seems to have vanished from anywhere I can shop ( real or online). I bought five seeds of argentus from eBay, to my astonishment two germinated and are now two and five inches high respectively. I haven’t dared to risk them outside yet

    I read your article on coleus, it really made me think. Extraordinary, the next time I Did the Tesco shop they had huge coleus ( 40cm) in variety for £3, So they are now doing Gertrude Jekyll duty in a bit of the border where I am still waiting for the tardy dahlias to provide their later summer colour.

    I have never see Instagram, but I’d love to try on Saturday. Is there a link to it on your site.

    Thank you for the blog, it is so interesting and inspiring.

  8. The gardens look wonderful and we cannot wait. I am holding my nerve at the moment in booking a slot hoping to find a possible window in what appears a rainy weather forecast.

    However rain or shine we will be there!

    Hope the winds are not causing too much trouble?

    1. The weather forecast seems to change by the hour this week so goodness knows! In my experience if the % chance of rain is low, it does not happen. Over the last month we’ve been predicted lots of showers that have never materialised. The wind, however, is a big headache and I’m doing lots of staking and supporting today while the weather is fair. Look forward to meeting you. Dan

  9. Amongst the jungle in your Gin and Tonic garden, I spotted your mallow in the back corner. Thank you for listing the name. Its now on my list of plants to buy. Thank you, from a new fan in Seattle, WA.

  10. Dear Dan – we visited your gardens today and haven’t stopped talking about them. Both you and John were so helpful and provided so much background and information to your gardens and plants, it was a serious and seriously enjoyable learning experience! The gardens are just a triumph and a joy. OUr visit was all too brief and it was only the fear of taking up too much of your time and taking up space in the gardens and preventing others from enjoying them that meant we left. I came away totally inspired and have spent much time already researching gingers and so much more. I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank you both. We will definitely be along next year! Susan (Miyake handbag woman) and Kit

  11. Both gardens are looking superb. What a lot of work you put into creating them. I cannot imagine how many containers you have there! I hope the opening went off OK and the weather didn’t ruin things (nor the neighbours). If I ever get to Broadstairs again I shall definitely hunt you down! Well done Dan!

    1. The weather and neighbours behaved themselves and all was well. We had a lovely bunch of visitors, all of whom were hugely appreciative. Enjoying this week as we’re staycationing at The Watch House and finally getting some time to enjoy our surroundings.

      You’d be welcome to visit any time. I know it’s a long way for you to come. Dan

  12. Thank you Dan and John we thoroughly enjoyed our visit on Saturday.

    The gardens were truly wonderful we could have stayed for ages but realised others were waiting.

    The Gin & Tonic garden was especially stunning and thanks to your heads up I did see the beautiful Lonicera hildebrandiana hidden behind the greenhouse.

    Then of course there was the garden room spectacular!

    Many plants to add to my wants list including Coleus Malibu Red.

    Hope you had a good drink when it was all over.

    1. We certainly did! We are on holiday this week which is a lovely way to wind down.

      Glad you found plenty of plants you liked in the garden. The honeysuckle is wonderful. It needs the shelter it gets behind the greenhouse – unfortunately, this makes it pretty inaccessible. We know it’s there because we can smell it.

      Hope to see you again next time. Dan

  13. Dear Dan,
    I enjoyed your appearance on Gardeners’ World – and being recently new to Instagram was thrilled to discover both you and your blog. Your posts and blog are so informative! Would love to have visited your garden – Broadstairs holds a special place in my heart from childhood holidays but discovered your blog too late this year. Hopefully next year. Look forward to your updates – and thanks!

    1. Yes, please do come next time. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on how Broadstairs has changed. I have been here for 15 years and even in the last 12 months much has changed …. mainly for the better ….. as people have rediscovered its charms.

      Thanks for following, I appreciate it. Dan

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