Garden Warrior

Exotic plant lover & allotment newbie

Six on Saturday – 04/08/2018

This weeks Six on Saturday highlights what’s new in the garden as well as some of my favourites.

Cyphomandra corymbiflora

The hardy tamarillo (I’m yet to test this) belongs to the Solanaceae family and can apparently withstand temperatures as low as -10°C. The flowers are just starting to open and should be followed by edible fruits.

French Bean ‘Cobra’

Sown in late June and planted out in a newly created raised bed, I’ve been really impressed with the speed of growth of these beans which are now over 2m tall and have reached the tops of the canes. The first flowers have opened this week and I’m already looking forward to my first harvest.

Sunflower ‘Soraya’

I’ve always loved sunflowers and enjoy trying out new varieties. Helianthus annuus ‘Soraya’ is a branching sunflower that produces tangerine-orange flowers up to 15cm across.  The first flowers are just starting to open and are ideal for cutting though I’m planning on leaving them for the bees to enjoy.


Sometimes it’s not the species or variety that’s important but rather the provenance of a plant. In this case I grew these Antirrhinum from the seeds of plants that grew in my partner’s parent’s back garden, so for that reason alone they are special and will hopefully be with us for many years to come.

Birdhouse Gourd

When I saw mention of these on Twitter I just had to try my hand at growing them. In my usual fashion I had no idea where I was going to plant them and so this, the only plant to have germinated is still in the greenhouse and taking it over at an alarming rate. The delicate looking male flowers are an attractive white rather than the usual yellow of curcubits, I missed the females, they opened and closed whilst I was out, I did however intervene just to be sure that they had the best chance of being fertilised and fingers-crossed it’s worked.

Nicotiana glauca

My first introduction to the Tree Tobacco was in Greece where it has become naturalised and grows wild by roadsides and in dried up riverbeds. When I returned to the UK I grew it for several years before losing it one winter. This plant is from Ulting Wick and hopefully I will be able to get it through a couple more winters and see it achieve 2m or more.

Six on Saturday (14/07/2018)

Still having issues with the WordPress app on my phone, so now trying to access it via Chrome.

My six on Saturday are as follows:

1. Canna x ehemanii

This has to be the favourite out of all my Cannas and it miraculously survived outdoors all winter with no protection. The first of what will hopefully be many beautiful pendulous flowers which should just get better as the summer progresses.

2. Dahlia merckii

Grown from seed earlier this year, this is the first tiny flower on a plant that is still less than 30cm tall.

3. Zinnia elegans ‘Peppermint Stick’

Unusual and possibly not to everyone’s liking I thought I’d try this out and so far so good .

4Cosmos sulphureus ‘Bright Lights Mixed’

Another new one for me this year and the first flower. Somewhat disappointedly I only managed to grow two plants from a whole tray so probably won’t be trying this again!

5. Canna (unnamed)

This is one that I grew from seed and decided to keep as I love the bright orange of the petals.

6. Cyperus involucratus syn. Cyperus alternifolius

I grow these rather than C. Papyrus as they are far less demanding and still look good .


Six on Saturday – 07/07/2018

1. Canna warscewiczii

I’ve grown these from my own saved seed with very good germination rates. They quickly clump up and flower in their first year from early an sowing (these were sown five months ago in February). Unlike other Canna, I have still not managed to overwinter C. warscewiczii successfully, but no matter when they produce abundant seed which is still viable after at least two years.

2. Agapanthus (unknown species)

I was given this plant by Carolyn Ramsamy last year when we caught up at Hortus Loci for the Perennial Hampton Court Show garden briefing. It’s doing really well having survived the winter and has approx 16 flower buds.

3. Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’ (bronze fennel)

A regular self-sower since I introduced a single plant into the garden a few years back. I love the delicate frothy foliage and the long tap root makes it an ideal plant for a dry sunny position. I definitely need to use it more in the garden.

4. Cephalaria gigantea (giant scabious)

Grown from seed collected from a local garden (with the Head Gardener’s permission) this is still in a pot whilst I try to work out where to place it. Living up to its name it can reach 2.5m making quite a statement in the border, it’s also good for pollinators.

5. Verbena bonariensis

Now a prolific self-seeder, it’s strange to imagine that just two years ago I wasn’t even sure that it would take in my garden. I don’t mind weeding out the extra plants when you consider that it flowers all summer long and just today has attracted Peacock, Gatekeeper and Cabbage White butterflies.

6. Persicaria orientalis (Kiss me over the garden gate)

Unlike the Verbena this has not been prolific in my garden, preferring it seems to self-seed in pots rather than the ground. This year my tray sown seeds failed so I’m left with just one plant somewhat awkwardly growing out of a pot of Colocasia. I’m still hoping that I can get it to establish in the garden as it quickly makes a tall addition to the back of the border.

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Six on Saturday – 09/06/2018

Here is my first ever #SixOnSaturday I thought it was about time I tried this out. I’m pretty busy right now, my final RHS L3 exams are coming up in less than two weeks, there are loads of jobs to do in the garden and I’ve been away in France for work. This seems like the ideal way to keep blogging when life is particularly busy, so here goes.

For my first Six on Saturday I’ve taken a wander around the garden and snapped photographs of plants that make me happy right now.

1. Gunnera manicata

Kindly sent to me three years ago as a small cutting in a shoe box by Twitter pal @sianrobinson101 this is now something of a monster in a 130 litre pot and I love it!

2. Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’

The Red Abyssinian Banana is tricky to overwinter & sadly I lost my other one this time around. I love the colour of the leaves and the amount of growth it puts on in a season is amazing.

3. Solanum pyracanthum

You may have seen me raving about these on Twitter. Grown from seed sown two months ago they are probably the most vicious looking plants that I have ever grown.

4. Dahlia imperialis

These survived the ‘Beast from the East’ and everything else that was thrown at them last winter without any protection. I am therefore especially happy to see them putting on a decent amount of growth. Last autumn they managed to produce flower buds but sadly these succumbed to frost before they could open.

5. Pelargonium Deerwood Lavender Lass

Bought from Fibrex Nurseries last year this seems to be hardier than most pellies again surviving the winter with less than adequate protection. I’m hoping to grow it on to a decent size as the flowers are just delightful.

6. Amorphophallus konjac

Those who know me, know that I love all things big and tropical. This is my first attempt at growing Amorphophallus so I thought I’d start small before working my way up to the Titan Arum!

Well that’s all for this week, I’m off to do some more revision.

10 Reasons to visit an NGS Open Garden This Weekend

  1.  You get to nose around someone else’s garden – Let’s be honest, who doesn’t like having a good look around other people’s gardens? Unfortunately sometimes the gardens you most want to visit aren’t always open to the public.  Well this is where the National Garden Scheme might just come to the rescue, with approximately 3,700 gardens all over the country being opened for one or more days a year for the general public to take a look around.

    St Timothee – April 2018

  2. You’re helping to raise money for charity – The National Garden Scheme is the most significant charitable funder of nursing charities in the country, donating over £50 million so far for The Queen’s Nursing Institute, Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie, Carers Trust, Hospice UK, Perennial, Parkinson’s UK and other guest charities.  Garden owners work tirelessly to ensure that their gardens look their best for the open days often despite the unpredictable British weather being against them.
  3. Cake! – Who can say ‘no’ to a slice of cake and a cuppa after wandering around a garden? For many visitors this is just as important a part of the visit as the garden itself and a chance to sit back and take in the lovely surroundings.
  4. Old friends – A date in the diary to look around a garden can be the perfect excuse to catch up with old friends who share your passion for plants and gardens.
  5. New friends – An NGS open garden can be just the place to meet new friends. Maybe you’ve been chatting to someone on social media for months, what better way to meet in person for the first time? Or perhaps you might strike up a friendship with the garden owner through your mutual love of all things horticultural?

    Ulting Wick – April 2018

  6. Plant sales – It’s a well-known fact that gardeners can never have too many plants. So any opportunity to buy another plant surely has to be a good thing? Many garden owners sell plants on their open days to increase the funds raised and give visitors the opportunity to purchase some of the plants that they’ve seen.  Quite often these won’t be the plants that you’ll find offered at your local garden centre, so keep your eyes peeled for something a little different.
  7. Tips and advice – Gardeners are by nature a generous bunch and open days give visitors the chance to ask questions about the plants they see growing and maybe learn some useful tips to deal with problems they might have back home in their own gardens.
  8. Inspiration – Wandering around other people’s gardens can be quite inspirational.  The smaller gardens can often reveal a clever use of space and solutions to awkward areas in your own plot. Perhaps you’ll take some design ideas home with you, or maybe a plant combination that you particularly love.  Whatever it is be sure to take plenty of photographs to remind you later on once you are back in your own garden.
  9. Open your garden – Who knows, you may even decide to open your own garden to the public.  If friends and family enjoy looking at your garden then the chances are that other people will too. The NGS offer plenty of support and guidance to people opening their own gardens for the first time.
  10. Cake – Did I mention cake? I did? Well that lemon drizzle cake was particularly tempting, it would be rude not to, oh go on then, (the diet starts tomorrow)!

Book Review: Brilliant and Wild – A Garden from Scratch in a Year

When I read of the recent publication of Brilliant and Wild I did not hesitate to order a copy as it seemed to resonate with my interest in the wildlife-friendly new perennial movement. The author, former primary school teacher Lucy Bellamy, trained at the Chelsea Physic Garden and with the RHS and worked as a freelance garden journalist writing for The Guardian, The Times and Modern Garden amongst others before becoming the editor of Gardens Illustrated magazine in March 2017.

The back cover of the book makes a bold and compelling claim. “From back-of-an-envelope plan to flower-filled paradise – Brilliant and Wild: A Garden from Scratch in a Year gives even the most inexperienced gardener the chance to create a beautiful and wildlife-friendly space – from nothing – in just twelve months.” With this in mind I dived straight into the book and was immediately impressed with its clear layout, generously supplemented with beautiful photographs by James Ingram.

The introduction is poetic in the way that it paints an image in the reader’s mind of the garden that awaits them if they follow the philosophy and guidance set out within the pages of the book. “A brilliant and wild garden is never still. It trumpets a fanfare for every season and celebrates every kind of weather. Shoots shoot, blooms burst, seeds embellish, frost gilds.”

Lucy devotes almost half of the book to describing the plants from which to create your Brilliant and Wild garden. The plants are grouped by inflorescence type, umbellifers, spikes, dots, flatheads, panicles and grasses, with a separate section devoted to bulbs, corms and tubers. The description for each plant includes why you should grow it, its size, wildlife benefits and what goes well with it.  There are also recommendations as to the best species or cultivars to look out for.

After celebrating the beauty of winter seed heads Lucy turns to the design and selection of plants that work well together.  Using between four and seven plants, there are five simple planting plans that demonstrate how to weave the plants together and to serve as inspiration and information for the reader.  

Lucy then moves on to the practicalities of calculating how many plants you will need and to sourcing them before getting down to the business of planting your own Brilliant and Wild garden. Once planted the book then looks at the wealth of insects and birds that you can expect to attract and the role they play in the ecology of your new garden as well as maintenance and some helpful hints and tips should things not go quite as planned.

Finally the book includes a handy calendar showing when the plants described flower and display their seed heads as well as a resources section listing nurseries and suggestions for a couple of gardens to visit.

Will I plant a Brilliant and Wild garden? Probably not in the way Lucy describes in her book, for one thing, there is no way that I could restrict my planting to a just handful of reliable perennials!  I do however see myself using her ideas to introduce more elements of perennial planting into my own garden. This book is aimed at the inexperienced, time-poor gardener who wants the garden to work for them and not the other way around, but equally, seasoned gardeners can be encouraged to look afresh at their relationship with their own gardens. It is a book that is full of promise and will I believe encourage readers of all ages, especially those who are new to gardening, to have a go at creating their own Brilliant and Wild garden.

Brilliant and Wild – A Garden from Scratch in a Year is published by Pimpernel Press Limited

Plant Profile: Stapelia hirsuta

Fascinated at seeing Stapelia in flower for the first time at RHS Chelsea in 2011, I bought some seeds of Stapelia hirsuta from to see if I could grow them myself.

Commonly called Carrion Flowers, their large flowers emit an unpleasant odour which attracts flies for pollination, sometimes even fooling the flies into laying their eggs on the flowers.  I had to wait five years for my first flower, but it was worth it to see the flower bud gradually getting bigger by the day until it burst open to reveal a star-shaped flower consisting of five pinkish petals covered in hairs, hence the epiphet ‘hirsuta’.

25 Aug 2011

Now flowering for the second year running I would love to be able to pollinate the flowers and get them to set seed, however with only one flower appearing at a time and from the same stem there is currently no chance of cross-pollination as yet.

The plant is a low-growing perennial succulent originating from Southern Africa, consisting of many toothed four-angled fleshy stems which become red tinged in direct sunlight.  The seeds must have germinated quite readily since just 12 weeks after sowing I had already potted up these seedlings.

5 Sep 2012

My Stapelia hirsuta have been grown in 15cm terracotta pans using J Arthur Bower’s cactus compost for several years, spending the majority of this time on a south-facing windowsill, with perhaps one summer outdoors.  They are generally watered freely during the summer and sparingly during the winter, being allowed to dry out between waterings whilst dormant.  I fed the Stapelia for the first time this summer using a weak solution of Miracle-Gro, I might try using a weak tomato feed instead, for the remainder of the flowering period.

Flower bud 25 Sep 2016

My next task is to try and propagate Stapelia hirsuta from stem cuttings and then maybe to try and source some other species to grow such as S. grandiflora, S. leendertziae and S. olivacea. 




First things first

I’ve been meaning to start a blog for ages, when I mention this to other bloggers their immediate response is “do it!”.

So this is my blog.

It’s probably no surprise that I plan to blog about my passion for plants and all things garden-related.  My interests lie in exotic plants as well as in more sustainable ways to garden, two styles that I am yet to fully reconcile in my small suburban plot.  I love visiting other peoples’ gardens, small and large and of course the RHS Shows.  I have a burgeoning collection of gardening books which seems to grow faster than I can read them.  Finally there is my newly acquired allotment which I took over at the end of July 2017.  I hope to share something of my passion through this blog and look forward to documenting the progress of my garden and allotment as well as the gardens I visit and the books I read.

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