Garden legacies

As I look around my garden I am very conscious of the origin of many of my plants. I have a bright pink phlox which was originally in my mother’s garden and which comes up faithfully year after year – highly scented but  rather susceptible to disease and needs to be cosseted a little. And then there are the Salvias, many of which are from Terry, but Jezebel and Phyllis’ Fancy are from Pat.

Phyllis Fancy

Over the years a number of plants have been bought from the plant sales held in Jillian’s wonderful garden when it was opened to visitors and have now become mainstays in my own.

I now have a small collection of Acers, but my first one came from an open garden in Beckenham Hill. The couple gardened on a steep slope covering a vast area, at the bottom of which was a railway track. He was an acer expert and grew many rare varieties, some of which he propagated himself. The garden was always a pleasure to view and my love of Acers began here. Sadly, I no longer have my original purchase, although it lived to a good age and the couple sold their house some years ago and moved away. I remember him saying that they would need a single large furniture van just to transport the plants!

I have long cultivated the beautiful Pelargonium Sidoides, but at one of our Autumn Shows, Harry showed a variety with a slightly different colour – paler and more crimson than mine, he gave me two pieces immediately and I successfully rooted these to produce my own plants. This year at the Old Pond Garden sale, Jean offered a pelargonium with a leaf which looked very much like Frank Headley but with a frilly pink and white flower – I think she called it Apple Blossom. I bought this and have made two cuttings which I hope will give me more plants of this unusual variety. On a recent visit to Great Dixter, I fell in love with P. Concolour Lace. Kathy had some to spare and I have bought one from her.

And so it goes on: the gardening stories and memories which we make with each other.


What’s in a name?

Vija’s blog on the garden jobs she finds relaxing made me think about what I enjoy most. I don’t find the action of pricking seedlings out particularly relaxing, but I do love the satisfied feeling once I’ve done it! That’s usually because the poor little babies have been in their first beds far too long and have taken to looking at me accusingly whenever I walk past.

I really enjoy planting seeds in pots, usually done on a grey day, as it creates such bright ideas for the future and dreams of wafting around a Sarah-Raven-like garden paradise. I like to dream.

I also enjoy labelling, which might seem a mundane though necessary and useful practice. But the creative variety of labelling ideas is fabulous, have a look at Pinterest sites for examples of gardeners never ending ingenuity. IMG_5562

I have labelled the trees in my garden with strong copper embossed labels, because they need the most permanent ones. I like to fantasise that after I’ve gone, whoever buys our house will find the labels and marvel at the previous owners wonderful tree choices. At the least, it may give them pause before chopping down whatever monster it has grown into!

I don’t buy new plastic labels any more, so some of them are a bit tatty but fine for annuals. I use wooden lolly sticks for seed trays but they don’t last long once planted out as my terrier can’t distinguish between a wooden label and a twig so they tend to wander onto the lawn. This year, as my husband likes woodwork, he has made me lots of sturdy batons which I have painted a trendy Charcoal Grey and written on in White – very “National Trust” and reasonably terrier-proof.

As regards what I write on the label – for the trees I have used both the common and Latin name, for posterity’s sake. But everything else tends to be in my own unique language – often the name my father taught me (so quite possibly wrong or changed according to its DNA by now) but I know what I mean! Alternatively, I label according to a memory or who gave it to me: for instance “Pat’s Tangerine Sage” or “Tina’s Geranium”. My favourite is a large and very beautiful Weigelia, called “Christian’s Bush”, which conjures a lovely memory of my son, then aged 5, charging into our friend Christian’s beautifully symmetrical shrub and snapping a great piece off.  I was embarrassed but  Christian gallantly presented it to me for a cutting and I grew it on successfully!


Our future house buyer is going to be Googling in vain for all these unusual variety names!

If you have any unusual ideas for labels, let us know! Email

Kathy A

Long live lily-of-the-valley!

I realise that Lily of the Valley is not everyone’s cup of tea but these little flowers and I have history:  quite a bit of history in fact. Lily_of_the_Valley_2020

My photograph doesn’t show them at their best (ahem) which causes me a pang of guilt and a determination to look after them a little better.  Experienced CABAHS gardeners will perhaps find it a little eccentric of me to “look after” what many consider to be nothing more than a weed.

The new shoots you can see in this picture sit in their pot outside my door in south east London, but I have known them (or maybe their great grandparents) since 1968, when they made the journey from my grandmother’s house in Stanley Road to our house in Hollingworth Street, Oldham. I am astonished to find that Google Maps thinks that distance is 60 yards.  I would have put it at far less!

My dad was born in the house in Stanley Road in 1924.  He and my mother had moved to Hollingworth Street after they were married in 1951.  Neither house had a garden; just a small, and rather dark, backyard.  In 1968 his mother died.  The house was sold, the contents dispersed but my mother rescued the plant pot of Lily of the Valley, the single item of colour in my grandmother’s backyard, installing it as the single item of colour in our own backyard.  So it remained for many years. A bit of the rim of the pot came away in a particularly harsh winter but my dad stuck it back together and the pot lives on still.

With my mother’s encouragement I became almost as excited as she did when the first shoots of the Lily of the Valley started to appear, letting us know it was Spring.  And their perfume!  Nothing can ever match it for me. lily-of-the-valley

When I left home my mother began to accumulate more pots of plants for the backyard, so that in time it became almost impossible to see the bare flagstones in the summer.   If I concentrate now I can hear my dad grumble about these pots and see my mother wink and say, “He thinks they’re great, really!”

I’d quite forgotten about the Lily of the Valley until I moved into my own house.  In 1988 the clump was divided and I became owner of a half-share of the inheritance.  They stayed in their pot, a plastic one this time, and came with me on two house moves.  Some of their offspring have found a home in Ireland, some in Scotland.  They’re now well-travelled!

These days I think about them a lot.  I wonder how old any of the individual plants are.  I wonder too where my grandmother acquired them from in the first place.  It pleases me to think that I can trace them back for 50 years at least.

Shortly after my mother died I was in Vienna one Spring.   At every station on the underground system there were tiny, impromptu flower stalls with just one thing to sell:  small bunches of Lily of the Valley, which infused the entire station, so it seemed, with their heavenly perfume.

I discovered then that in some countries Lily of the Valley is traditionally given as a May Day gift.  Happy May Day, everyone! 

Lily of the valley pot

Melanie A

Feeling a little nostalgic…

I wonder how many people listened to the moving tribute on Radio 4 on 10 April from a woman who had just lost her sister to Covid-19? She listed a range of qualities for which Billie, her sister, would be remembered. If I were to write a tribute to my parents, gardening would be one of them. They were both growers. Brought up on the land, their year revolved around growing, cultivating and then preserving the fruit and vegetables produced. For me, gardening at certain times of year strongly evokes memories. I still have some sacks which, when they gave them to me, were full of potatoes; I have plant labels from the plants they gave me to grow on myself with the names of varieties like Moneymaker, Gardener’s Delight, Scarlet Emperor, Winter King. Their handwriting is still clearly visible. The varieties I grow myself is often informed by what they used to grow; tried and trusted varieties. Sometimes, it is the smell of fresh tomatoes on my hands, or hot sun on grass. The song of birds on my allotment and the quiet created by these strange times evokes memories of childhood with my father on his plot.

Gardens are, of course, places of remembrance and memories. In many cultures they have been created as oases of peace. A few years ago I drove around Normandy with a friend, visiting the gardens in the region. Jardin de Sericourt tells the story or war and peace and contains symbols of a once war-torn-landscape. One area (the garden is designed into ‘compartments’) has a series of topiary symbolising fallen soldiers, for example. This does not, however, create a sombre atmosphere. Rather it is a garden full of joy and hope.

jardin de sericourt 1
The Warrior Garden at Jardin de Sericourt

This page on Jardin de Sericourt’s website is well worth a look for the videos giving virtual tours.