My lockdown projects, part 2

My own garden having reached saturation point and needing space to grow veg for this year, the solution has been that John, my neighbour has kindly given me the top end of his garden. We made many raised beds and a permanent compost bin and have made it into quite the feature with a raised platform which John has crazy paved and even created a half step to make it easier for me to access.


The whole thing has been made complete by the addition of a wooden pallet that he found, which I made into a planter, it now forms a balustrade side for the compost platform.

The next big venture was to create a green roof garden on top of the sheds. For the last year or so John has been trying to get the Council to sort out the shed roof which was leaking very badly. When it started to impact on my own shed I took over ringing the Council.  Finally, in March the Roofing Department felted the shed and we decided to go ahead with my plan.

Firstly, I laid a pond liner and sealed it in place (after it had time to shape and settle). Followed by two layers of weed suppressant, making a hole in the layers where the drain is. I made a pebble cage to put over the drain hole, which stops the compost mix blocking the down-pipe.

More gravel was placed around the edge of the roof which helps to contain the growing medium We filled a one tonne bag with a 75/25 aggregate/compost mix. The aggregate used included 100 litres each of Perlite and Vermiculite, pebbles and 10mm gravel.

All of the plants had to be carried/lifted up a ladder, to be placed on the roof. I divided the plants into three groups and started at the far end of the roof laying the compost mix in the first third, putting in the plants and then putting a layer of gravel on top.

This process was repeated in the middle, and then the third section of the roof by making sure the corners were done before climbing back on the ladder and finishing the compost and planting from there. I have had to add more of the mix and gravel at this end since as it was not as level as the rest.

It was a surprisingly quick process and I think it’s not bad for a 1st effort!

It was around this time I was told I was needed back at work, so, sadly my garden adventures will be slowing down considerably.  I did complete some tasks indoors as well, but the pull of the garden this time of year with the gorgeous weather we had, is much stronger.

Spring, Summer, Autumn – Garden. The Winter is for indoors!

Looking back over the last three months, it’s no wonder I would fall into bed most nights aching but extremely happy.


A visit to Great Dixter

As you will see from our website What’s On, there are a lot of virtual garden tours now taking place online, but for those members who like to smell the plants and feel the breeze, this isn’t quite the same!  Great excitement then as Pat and I decided to visit Great Dixter – for both of us it was the first garden visit of the year.

Fennel at Great Dixter

We had wondered quite how social distancing would work at Great Dixter, mindful of the narrow paths and tight spaces. However, the one way system in operation and the limitation on the number of visitors at any one time proved very effective. The only area currently out of bounds was the vegetable garden. Covid-19 is a truly devastating disease and it is hard to see any good in the current situation, but reductions in visitor numbers in galleries and in gardens does mean that you can take your time and appreciate things better.

We marvelled at the huge Fennel, which Fergus Garrett loves, scattered throughout the gardens.

The glory of the varieties of Phlox which seem to be in abundance everywhere. We mourned the loss of the name Aster (now the unpronounceable  Symphyotrichium). I fell in love with the Pelargonium Concolor Lace.

We discovered a beautifully unusual double burgundy coloured Antirrhinum, but couldn’t find seeds for it. And, of course, we bought some plants! Both Pat and I have gardens already crammed with plants, but have a similar approach to gardening which is that there is always room for one more! In my garden, at least, this results in an undisciplined profusion. I look with envy at spaces which are carefully laid out (like the Chelsea garden below) and where every plant has its place, but this is something I can only aspire to!

Chelsea 2018 calm garden
Chelsea 2018, calm, restful and carefully curated

Vija and Pat

My lockdown projects, part 1

The most difficult part of writing this piece was deciding where to start! I vaguely remember something about introducing yourself, your subject and to put it in context, back in the days when I used to write essays.

So, introductions, not me so much as my garden, after all that’s what we are interested in. I moved here just under five years ago, my first garden, a well-established one. Too well established – houseleeks the full length of the path, Japanese anemone and bluebells (Spanish) everywhere in the deep borders. Bracken and a mini forest down the back with two large Camellias and a lilac which is covered in jasmine.

From this description I’m guessing you are thinking that it is quite a large plot. I have a friend who says I acquire enough plants to fill up the grounds of a manor house. I have recently been forced to admit that it might be reaching capacity.  So, my garden is, actually, around 30 feet by 18 feet, with a brick shed in one corner. It is fully south facing and seems not only to have its own micro-climate, but also its own definition of time:  I nip into the garden for 10 minutes and go back indoors an hour later.

Just before lockdown I had ordered some supplies for a gardening project from Wickes. While waiting for the supplies and suddenly finding myself having an unexpected staycation – I brought my Mum (94) to stay with me so that I could ‘shield’ her better – I started on the ‘must get to that’ jobs.

First, I painted the trellis and gate that forms the boundary between my garden and that of my next-door neighbour. I don’t know if you have ever painted trellis which is already in situ, but I can assure you it is not a quick job. Especially when it is 6ft + and you are a touch over 5ft. There are still bits of snagging that need attention which I have managed to ignore so far. 2

The ‘finishing’ of this project was followed by the completion of a – what turned out to be thoroughly unsuccessful – bird table which I attached to the top of the gate. The wood pigeons throw the seed everywhere, tease the dog and poop on the gate. I no longer put feed on it and have adorned it with a rather splendid peacock instead..

3While I had the paint brushes out I decided to smarten up the weather vane. He was plain black and my neighbour had told me he was getting a bit of rust. I am most chuffed with the result, particularly when he was put back up.

Earlier in the year my Mum’s oldest friend had died, they had known each other for 88 years. I wanted to do something in her memory and that of her older sister who passed a few years ago. The stories that May & Mary would tell you about the three of them and what they got up to during the war were a must-hear!

As it was getting close to May’s birthday I decided to dedicate the back of my garden to the sisters. My neighbour made a bench seat which he decided would be the perfect size for my Mum, and I thought it would be ideal for the newly named ‘Mary & May Plaza’. So, painting the bench was my next job. May’s birthday was coming up on 1st May and I wanted the project I had in mind finished so that we could sit there with a G & T (her favourite drink) and have a toast to the two sisters.

4I set to and started the lengthy process of making a sign post – I  planed the edges from the wooden post, cut and shaped my signs. Painted the whole thing including the wording and the acorn on the top which looked more like an egg and cup in it’s plain wood state.

I am pleased to say that everything was finished and in place for 1st May and we had a, not so quiet, drink to celebrate. Petra, the dog had most of the G & T in the end!


More to come on my other Lockdown Projects – a green roof and a pond are just two of them!


Calming colours

In his gardening column, Allan Jenkins has recently written about the colours he is using in his garden this summer, which he calls ‘candy colours’. He describes petunias and pelargoniums brightly clashing. ‘In these fearful, difficult days it seems I am cheered by childish colours’. By contrast, a friend has said that she is using a lot of white in her garden this summer, which she feels is calming in these uncertain times. I too am using a lot of pastels this summer, mainly in pots, as later in the year the dahlias will be providing bright splashes of colour.

VV Clematis Fleuri and Bijou
Trailing Clematis Fleuri and Bijou in a pot
VVPetunia Lime Green
Petunia Lime Green, and a scented Lupin

Colour is a funny thing as I have written before. Dahlias were considered ‘vulgar’ by some people at one time, but are enjoying a renaissance as they are promoted by Monty Don, Sarah Raven and of course Christopher Lloyd and Fergus Garrett who have been using them to great effect at Great Dixter for many years. Nothing can match that eye-popping brightness of these fabulous plants. CABAHS members, Alex and Joe had some lovely colour clashes in their front garden last year!

But this year, for me, a limited palette will suit. I remember one year at the Chelsea Flower Show the overwhelming impression from a large number of the show gardens was that green was the dominant colour. It was remarkably soothing.

VV Green at Chelsea
Andy Sturgeon’s Chelsea garden, all the greens


“Opportunities for change” in the garden

A recent article by Nigel Slater vividly describes the various incarnations his garden has gone through in the past twenty years. The first iteration was designed by Monty Don over lunch and on the back of an envelope. The second, many years later, by Dan Pearson. Not all of us are so lucky to have such well-connected friends! But each change was inspired by the need to deal with a problem, whether it was a large family of boisterous foxes or the depredations of the box moth. What Slater points to is that gardens change (obviously) and that sometimes we can be forced into making changes which are an improvement on what we had already. In the business world ‘threats’ are re-purposed into ‘opportunities for change’. I don’t think this is always easy and I have been heartbroken to lose what I regard as old friends, but spaces and areas can be opened up in the garden which give opportunities to be more creative and to introduce something which you might not have tried before.

Many years ago, on one of my visits to gardens in France, I visited Le Jardin D’Agapanthe. I have never seen a garden quite like this anywhere else in the world. It was created by a landscape architect, Alexandre Thomas and includes no lawns, borders or views – the kinds of things you would normally associate with a garden, just winding paths of sand through lavish planting. It is at once romantic and exotic. There is an interesting inclusion of small stands or tables to raise plants above ground level and add interest. For anyone who loves pots, this place is inspirational.

When I have lost something in my garden I trawl back through photographs of places I have visited and loved to find new ideas and ways of using plants and spaces. Le Jardin D’Agapanthe is one that I often return to.

Have you lost a favourite plant recently? What “opportunity” did it open up? Let us know, write to


More on self-seeders

As Vija’s previous blog (‘Shout out for self-seeders‘) mentions, this is the time of year when self-seeders pop up in the borders. If they are valued border plants but you just have too many, before you whip them out please think about potting some up for a future CABAHS plant sale. Although it looks like we can’t have full meetings for a while yet, we are aiming at holding a plant stall at Charlton House, probably at the end of July or early August. Just remember it’s important to identify and label any potted-up specimens very clearly, especially if it’s one that tends to be a “bit vigorous”! If you aren’t sure, do send a picture in, we have lots of expertise among our membership!

Clockwise from top left, Welsh poppy, Honesty, Foxgloves, Spring Pea

Other top self-seeders are Verbena bonariensis and Astrantia:


Shout out for self-seeders

I have recently watched two online Lectures from Fergus Garrett. These are replacing the events which had been planned at Great Dixter. More are planned. The second lecture was on the subject of self seeders in the garden. Of course, Great Dixter uses these extensively and it was interesting to see how self seeding is managed by the team there and how much they value the contribution the self seeders make to the herbaceous borders.

I have never planted Valerian, but it pops up in random spots and this year makes a lovely splash of colour combined with Salvia ‘Jezebel’, and a Californian poppy. Forget-me-nots I have to be careful with as they are smotherers. But primroses are a joy (apart from when they get into the lawn). Tanicetum (tansy) and the grass Milium effusum (wood millet) make a lovely splash of colour in late spring and Erigeron karavinskianus (Mexican fleabane) makes itself at home in many inhospitable corners. Although I allow a large number of Pulmonaria (Lungwort) to provide an early food source for bees, these can be a problem if I am not ruthless, so they have to be thinned out when they finish flowering.

Part of my garden includes a gravel path and a number of plants have self seeded there very generously over the years. Many of these I take out and pot on to be used in my own garden, or give away or bring to the sales table. On occasion, this has even included Phlomis and Clematis. Spotting the gems before I tread on them takes care!

In my garden, as in all gardens, there are some plants which seem not to like where they have been planted and have made their way to anothePlume poppyr spot where they feel far more comfortable. I am thinking in particular of the Plume Poppy, Macleaya microcarpa. It has completely ceased to exist in its original spot and is now doing very well a good 5 metres further along the border. In fact, it actually looks better there. Once again, I am reminded of the maxim that plants will grow well if you provide them with the conditions  which they need to succeed. Alternatively, it seems they find these for themselves.

For more Fergus Garrett lectures, see: 


A relaxing garden task

A friend of mine, quite keen on gardening, but a recent convert to properly growing due to the current situation, recently sent me a photograph of some seedlings she had received via mail order and which she had pricked out into trays. She was very proud of herself! For some reason, pricking out of seedlings I find one of the most relaxing gardening tasks. I am sure that this will differ from person to person, but there is something about the orderliness of this basic task which I find very rewarding. It also has a clearly defined beginning and end and does not require huge amounts of effort.

Some gardening jobs such as cutting back buddleia or reducing the size of an overgrown phormium can seem overwhelming  by comparison. At the moment I am looking at a fig (Brown Turkey) which began life in a pot and was then moved into the part of my garden where I grow salad vegetables. It has taken off here and is clearly in its element. However, it is really getting much too big and is a complete bully, threatening to overwhelm everything else. It needs to come out. I have also realised why they do so well at the roadsides in Italy and France: there is a network of roots that stretches out well beyond the plant itself , creating a dense mat just below the surface of the soil and making it difficult for anything else to survive. While I consider precisely how I am going to remove the fig, I opt to prick out more seedlings…

“Tomatoes and Cyclamen” was painted in 1935 by Eric Ravilious.

Tomatoes and Cyclamen Ravilious

Like the pricking out of seedlings and potting on, this painting of arrayed pots in a greenhouse brings immense satisfaction. The beauty and neatness remind me of the greenhouses at West Dean.  It is something I will never achieve and can only aspire to!

What gardening tasks do you find most relaxing? Let us know!


CABAHS medal-winning Chelsea experiences

As a volunteer at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, I was expecting to be revelling in the uncrowded gardens at Press Day today, prior to going to work in the very crowded gardens later in the week. Very sad. But as I have time on my hands, I have looked into some of CABAHS history at the Show.

On 18th May 1987, CABAHS won a Grenfell Silver Gilt medal at that year’s show, for a window box display. In those days a lot of the Affiliated Horticultural Societies entered exhibits, as the Chelsea grounds were not so pressed for space or so prohibitively expensive. Here is our winning entry (thank you to Joyce and Jane for these photos).

In 1990, CABAHS won a Bronze medal in the hanging basket category. Then in 1991, we really went to town! With the help of sponsors, the Society entered the “City or Town Courtyard Garden” category. The brief was “An interpretation of plants to consider in the lifestyle conditions for the occupants of a property situated in a City or Town, with limited space”. The space given was 14ft x 11ft (4.3m x 3.4m). So here is the Plan:

191Courtyard Design

Here are pictures of the build process. Can you imagine the huge organisation that must have gone on behind the scenes, for our small amateur group! Marshalls (which is still in business) supplied the paving and seats. Members supplied a lot of the plants and organised the collection and transport.

391Courtyard 3

And the finished result:

591Chelsea Courtyard Final

Here are some members (Win H on the left and Marjorie P) relaxing in the garden while the visitors queue around them.

991Courtyard ladies sitting

We were featured on the BBC coverage, Alan Titchmarsh looks very young! He said there were 29 show gardens that year, and marvelled at the idea that some of them cost nearly £65,000.  Those were the days. The presenter for the small gardens was Anne Gregg. She complimented our design for getting a veg bed and herbs into the space, as well as the scented geraniums display.

791Chelsea Courtyard Queue

891Chelsea Courtyard Medal

We even got a mention in Amateur Gardening magazine.

999Courtyard Magazine

CABAHS entered the Courtyard Gardens again in 1992 and won a Bronze medal, and won a Silver in 1994 for its Windowbox and Hanging basket display.

I hope you enjoy this week’s TV coverage of the last decade of Chelsea, and look forward with fingers crossed to next year’s “real” show.

Kathy A

A neglected patch

Retirement four years ago. Time stretched, or I thought it would. The bottom of my garden was an area where rubble collected, unwanted household items had been left and bonfires lit. It was in desperate need of a clear up and a change of use although to what I had no ideas. Nettles and weeds thrived and tall trees belonging to neighbours and the MOD who own the land at the back ensured there was shade for most of the day apart from an hour or so. One year on it remained untouched as there proved too many fun things to do.
A visit to the Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden in Surrey spurred me on to make a start.
SC Hannah Peschar
Much of this magical woodland garden is in shade and shuttlecock ferns were in abundance. I loved their structure and vibrant green. I had not grown ferns before and felt that they at least may like my shady patch. The hard work began.
Picking up the obvious rubbish, carrying it up the garden, through the house, up a steep flight of stairs, into the car, onto the recycling centre – halcyon days! – was just the beginning. When I dug into the ground, I realised there were layers of broken bricks and glass underneath. It was heavy labour and took weeks to clear. The reverse journey, but now from the garden centre, brought in bags of compost, rotted horse manure and chipped bark.
I had no particular vision of the final outcome but by now just wanted to plant something. Half of the area had been dug over. Ferns along with a few other shade tolerant plants such as astrantia and hardy geraniums were planted.
SC Garden 1
By June 2018 I had dug up the remaining rubble and added more plants – foxgloves, aquilegia, thalictrum delavayi to give height and the nettles were left for butterfly eggs. Other wildflower/ plants that had found there way in and settled were allowed to remain as good for pollinators. I now have a large clump of greater stitchwort (also known as gentlemans shirt buttons – love that name) and cow parsley. Hellebores were put in later that year.
SC Garden 2
Bronze fennel was planted last year which grew to such a height it needed staking. I found an obelisk which does the trick. As the area is fairly bare in early spring, I had put in loads of aconite bulbs. None of these survived as the local squirrels found them irresistible. A few English bluebells and snowdrops did grow and more will be planted in Autumn.
Time stretches now. I sit and enjoy watching bees, early butterflies, neighbouring cats, toads, ignoring the gaping holes where the fox has squashed the gentlemens’ shirt buttons and hoping the hedgehog recently spotted in a garden two doors away will wander into mine.
SC Garden 5

SC Garden Hogg