A Tough Year !

IMG_55822018 has not been an easy gardening year so far ! The winter took it’s toll, more snow than the garden has had to deal with since we moved in and a greyness that descended and stayed for a very long time. Early seeds shivered in their trays and never germinated or braved the elements and damped off … and yes, I do have a tendency to sow too early, it’s the need to be in  the garden after a long winter … and every year I vow I won’t order so many seeds and every year the packet count increases…



Despite all the negatives the greenhouse was before long bursting at it’s glass seams .Then came the problems attached to hardening plants off and potting them on ! The weather was simply too cold at night to risk moving many … many meters of fleece came to the rescue !

Several mature shrubs suffered under the weight of snow in the unkind winter and split, they have been cut back and some are very reluctant to show signs of recovery, cold ,wet soil has taken it’s perennial  victims and most plants  have been slow to show much enthusiasm. I too have been slow to get motivated !!!

Bunny wars are once again a feature of my gardening diary … one sweet little bunny appeared to be causing huge amounts of damage both to my potted plants and garden, delaying any planting out – a friend did point out that it could be ‘several sweet bunnies’ as they do all look the same … and in trying to keep him / them out I think we have trapped it/them in  the garden … A day spent lifting all my nursery plants off the ground and using anything we could find to make temporary tables – was successful in decreasing pot damage but increased casualties in the garden. I was reluctant to plant anything , knowing Bunjamin would think it a new addition to his Herefordshire smorgesbord  …. I wish him/them no harm I just want them out of my garden … he isn’t impressed by my humane traps with tempting morsels  – why would he be when there is so much on offer in the garden ? He could have such a nice holiday somewhere …. anywhere away from Church Cottage…



I have been very fortunate to be offered the chance to sell my plants at a wonderful tea room and art studio near Ledbury –  Trumpet Corner Tearoom . They serve delicious homemade food made with locally sourced ingredients in a delightful setting . The Tearoom Gallery is host to a number of very talented local artists, craftsmen and women and runs a varied programme of  creative workshops .  So rabbit attacks in my nursery are not very welcome !!!





The garden opens for the NGS this month and I am worried about what will actually be  of interest, or left … I do think this every year but this year my worries are more serious ! Will just have to ply people with tea and cake …. We made over £1000 for the charity last year so would really like to be able to match that again ! I know that if we opened at a weekend we would have a lot more visitors but access and parking make that impossible ! Must admit I think it must be a pleasanter experience for people sitting in the garden not to have to share it with too many others … It also gives me more time to talk to my visitors, sell my plants and answer their many questions !

Many people who visit Church cottage  don’t really know what the NGS actually does … Last year they donated £3 million to a range of charities including Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie, Hospice UK and Parkinson’s UK. I have lost three of my closest friends to cancer, both my parents had Bowel Cancer, in the last three years a dear friend began the battle and is still fighting it and five friends and family members  have been treated and recovered from breast, bowel  and prostrate cancer. There can be very few families who have not been affected by this greedy disease. It’s what inspired me to open my garden..

The garden, as always, has repaid me for it’s care and it’s actually looking quite good !


It still fills me with wonder that a bed that looks like thisIMG_5769.jpg

can turn into this …DSC_1614

Magic !!!!


Poppies, just Poppies …..



I am not usually a fan of ‘blousy’ flowers but I do love Poppies, however fleeting their appearance – annual and perennial ! I even love the seed heads …








A couple of years ago my collection of oriental poppies was stricken by a virus that sadly saw the demise of several, I am endeavouring to reinstate them ! I grow my annual poppies in pots and plant out when they are big enough to survive … if I put the seed straight in the soil I forget where I have sown them and trample or hoe …. or creatures feast on the seed ….





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Roses…..just roses !

‘Lichfield Angel’
‘Kew Gardens ‘- no perfume but very beautiful ! Like a wild rose …..
‘Rosa Mundi’
‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’


‘Ballerina’ and ‘The Fairy’ – just very pretty, reliable roses !


‘Claire Austin’


‘Fighting Temeraire’
‘The Alnwick Rose’


‘The Pilgrim’


‘Pat Austin’


‘Iceberg ‘- still think it’s one of the best white climbers !

Second bloom of roses so much better than the first !Some are still not looking too good … but there is always next year ….. and I won’t be using a granular feed !!!!

Garden open for the NGS !


So we got there … National Garden Society sign up, tables out and cakes baked …. and suddenly life seems a little less stressful ! Lovely couple of days with some of my favourite visitors walking through the gate ! Not masses of people, but enough and a good introduction to the summer … and the garden is, well, ‘looking good’ …. you never have a year when everything excels … but , on the whole, it’s ‘o.k’ ….


My ‘Rose Garden’ is not so good – and it’s my fault! Roses don’t really like our soil, it’s too open and drains too quickly … areas where we have more clay they are fine, but I chose to place my rose garden in a section of the garden that isn’t quite so attractive to them … so they are the one thing I do actually feed … last year they feasted on ‘Pacapoo’ courtesy of good friends with Alpaccas….



This year I bought a granular feed … and have used too much … so my roses which should have been stunning in their fourth year look like small stunted cabbages  …. very sad …

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This should look like this …



Am cutting back all the buds and hoping for a second flush of something better as the feed leaches through the soil – it has been very dry here, so now watering a lot

The beds are actually looking great at present with Alliums and self seeded Digitalis who don’t seem to mind the excess of nutrients !DSC_1082

Cornflowers and Cosmos and Sweet Peas will take over when they fade … just no roses …

The Wisteria pergola is looking it’s best ever – the flowers have elongated each year … first year I was truly disappointed , it produced somewhat short dumpy blooms , now … well, just look !And you can hear it before you see it there are so many bees feasting on it …My cat loves the sun lounger here – I never have time to sit on it, and as it is now coated with a blanket of cat hair probably will never want to !!!

Poppies are good this year – lost lots a couple of years ago to a virusDSC_1105.jpgDSC_1138


This was bought as ‘Patty’s Plum” but not quite sure what it is !A strange mix of plums and reds – but I rather like it !

True ‘Patty’s Plum’ …





Crambe cordifolia is looking superb this year – hardly produced any flowers last – but as I said before there really never is a year when everything flourishes DSC_1045.JPG





Paeonies just starting – wish they lasted a little longer ! So beautiful …IMG_4335.JPGCirsium is covered with bees







Just discovered a ‘branch’ of my beautiful aeonium , carefully overwintered and transported into the garden and planted for the summer, snapped off  ….



Arggghhhhhhh …. still, it will be used to propagate lots of offspring !






Less than a week …..



Less than a week until the garden opens … and there is so much to do ! Blades of grass to polish, gravel to grade, petals to preen, edges to straighten – you get the picture ! An ever growing list … neatness has never been my strong point – so it’s hard work – on every level !



Mr & Mrs are ready ….obviously having no affect whatsoever on scaring the local birds and small furry creatures that roam the garden hoping for a tasty snack



The garden changes rapidly at this time of year , it has a freshness that only happens now…. it’s the foliage that takes main stage …. clusters of flowers add splashes of colour, but it’s the greens that dominate. The garden doesn’t have height just yet, no walls to the rooms, but the structure is more visible.

We decided to open over a long season mainly because I couldn’t pick any single day that I could nominate as the ‘probably perfect’ … We live at the end of a long single track with very few passing places and parking is limited. We knew we couldn’t do weekend openings and risk large numbers of visitors, we hoped for a manageable  ‘trickle’ of visitors over the two afternoons. Local people have the chance of seeing how the garden changes through the summer with a season ticket and the garden would be a pleasanter place for  visitors to enjoy afternoon tea with smaller numbers.

I now plant for us and the visitors – I found myself thinking that I couldn’t plant something that would be dying back and taking space in ‘Visitors time’ … problem was that the garden felt like it wasn’t actually mine anymore … I am looking at the alliums now and suspect they won’t be looking so good by next week …. however the bees are loving them now … and so are we !DSC_1061 2.jpgDSC_0502.jpg

The bees also love the Ceanothus thyrsiflorus Millerton Point… it buzzes in the sun, you can hear it as you walk through the garden …. IMG_4288.JPG

Lupins are peaking too early – they like it here ! They like  in our soil. This pink one has self seeded in a purple bed and is looking so happy I can’t move it !

DSC_1053.jpgThings have a habit of growing and thriving where they weren’t intended – a pink Dictamnus is growing in the middle of Lupinus ‘Noble Maiden’ …  in the white terrace, well, the white terrace that has lime greens and blues … and now a dash of pink …DSC_1072.JPG



“It’s about now that it starts … I walk the garden and an overwhelming sense of panic seeps into my head – it’s quite simple – the garden will never be ready …. never good enough …





The alliums are too early, they will be over and done with by the end of may, the annuals won’t be doing their thing – nights are too cold, they are sitting in their pots, roots not developing, the Delphiniums are budding too early, the Lupins are in flower, the Cardoons have already been blown over by the winds, the Deutzia which look fantastic at present will be over, even the Crambe Cordifolia are  producing their  flower spikes too soon … arrgghhhhh.



I wish people could see some of the early stars … so pleased this year that the Paulownia are in flower – so pretty ..


New Lamium looks fantastic – the bees love it ! But it will be looking sad by the end of the month .


The Aquilegia are fantastic this year, but peaking very early …

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A lovely lady who used to buy her Cosmos from me every year once told me she couldn’t bear the stress of gardening … ‘Surely gardening is meant to reduce stress ?’ I said … ‘But you go to bed at night and never know what you will find the next day …” she said … and it’s true … and that can be exciting or disappointing … perhaps it’s the glass full or empty scenario ….


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Will any of the Polemoniums still be in flower ?By May 30th – doubtful …DSC_1029

Veronica definitely won’t be …


This abutilon will be done … and it is so very beautiful …

I want my garden to be perfect for people, I want them to love it like I do … trouble is it’s out of my hands ! I am subject to weather, creatures and my own capabilities … The first year we opened I fretted over every weed and ‘weakness’, then I realised that my garden is an ‘ordinary’  garden and that if I wanted to enjoy opening it all summer I had to relax a little … it had to be a place people could take ideas from and see as a normal garden not a show piece …. it’s not Hidcote or Hestercombe, it’s an extension of my home, there will be weeds, an imperfect lawn and not everyone will like everything ! I felt reassured when I went to David Austin’s rose garden and saw black spot … does that make me a horrid person ? And sometimes it’s simpley not to someone’s taste !!

Church Cottage is not a ‘neat’ garden …. I overheard a visitor telling his friend he thought it ‘confused’ … I felt insulted !!! But then I realised I could see why he thought that ! I love so many different plants it is sometimes difficult to house them ! I am guilty of buying something I fall in love with, with no idea where I will plant it …. garden designers are meant to start with the hardscaping – I look at a site and see the plants…. A friend once told me that if she could have a wish it would be to have a single different bloom every day … I can identify with that DSC_1040

The garden will be ready … it will !



I did intend to write a weekly blog …. but it is the busiest time of year, and I am getting older – a long day in the garden, followed by a soak in the bath and that’s me for the day ! Suddenly everything needs to be done, beds cleared, plants cut back and shrubs pruned that were left in the autumn … and then, of course there’s the green house …. all those packets of seeds ..

Two of my favourite early stars are Exochorda macrantha ‘The Bride’ and Akebia . They both drip with flowers and have a mass of globular buds . Both are looking fantastic this year.




I love all the new foliage as it unfurls and unfolds at this time of year. Hostas, ferns, acanthus, cardoons have a freshness  that only happens now. Tulips and allium leaves  have a lush, fleshy quality.  Early morning and late afternoon sunlight makes the range of greens  almost luminous.



The garden changes daily, it is an exciting time of year ! And at times disapointing – a treasured plant decides not to appear for no apparent reason. But then something else will appear to be flourishing that has struggled previously. It seems to me that gardens are a mirror for our lives – you never have everything at once ! Every year there will be a   different combination of conditions – weather, pests e.t.c Some plants will thrive other’s won’t – it really is as simple as that. Sometimes we find explanations other times we don’t . And there are always mysteries !

Two years ago I couldn’t understand why I kept finding tulips discarded in the garden, pulled out of the beds, and much damage to anything nearby. Not enough damage for a badger … then I watched a cock pheasant as he used his beak rather like a digger with strong sweeping movements, creating a curved channel to a tulip bulb … he pulled at the bulb till it came out of the ground and then abandoned it … We have always lived in gardens with Pheasant visiting and never seen them do that before !

In temper I dug up all my tulip bulbs before he could cause any more damage to the garden, plugged them into large pots and stored them near the greenhouse … to my shame I forgot about them and the mice feasted on them over winter….Last year I decided not to plant any. A sad spring as I love tulips. This year I thought I would try again ….  !!!!DSC_1024Just a few ……and am so pleased to report that the majority seem to have grown … again one or two ‘mysteries’ …. I know I didn’t order the fringed tulip – they look fine from a distance, but close up resemble something that has been nibbled by a small rodent …. and the one [ and only ] bright orange tulip amongst them would not have been on my colour pallet … it shines like a beacon from wherever I look in the garden – your eye is drawn to it …. it is a spectacular tulip, just not wanted where it is …

And why have all the late and mid season tulips  I ordered flowered so early – all at the same time ?!? So much for the frothy mix of myosotis and tulip blooms – they will all be over well before the haze of tiny blue flowers appear ….



New Beginnings

Every day I walk across to the greenhouses and open the doors with trepidation … I have fingers crossed that the temperatures didn’t dip more than forecast the night before, that it wasn’t too hot and I will find dried out seed trays and that Mrs.Mouse and her new family haven’t move in  when I wasn’t looking …. it would also be quite nice if things had started growing !


It’s encouraging to see a ‘greenness’ take over as seeds break open and tiny shoots push through the soil.There are decisions to be made – when to unplug the night time electric heater [ designed to be used when temperatures drop below freezing ].When to remove the cling film on the seed trays [used to help preserve moisture initially ]. What can be put outside to make room for all those new new seedlings that will need pricking out? Is it time to take the bubblewrap away and allow more light … or do I need it for just a little longer ?

I have a tendency to sow seeds too early, before it is really warm enough – I just can’t wait … and I never learn … so it is always a relief to see those tiny specs of green appearing. Then I worry they will be eaten, wilt or dry out … It’s a stressful time of year for a gardener.

I have been searching for days for a small packet of Fagopyrum dibotrys seed I had dutifully placed in my fridge three weeks ago … for once, I thought, I will follow the instructions on the label … I know I did … didn’t I ? I even put the date in my diary when  I needed to retrieve them … so very efficient . Fridge contents  emptied and no seed packet  [it did make me clean my fridge … ]

Lying in bed I suddenly remembered where they were … in a mustard jar, with vermiculite … seemed a brilliant idea when I saw it in a gardening magazine … just looked  like a multigrain mustard, a little grey admittedly, but at a quick glance … well camouflaged amongst the condiments … my partner says he didn’t put it in the pork and apple casserole …


The greatest joy at this time of year is just to walk around the garden and see what is unfurling …. it’s very exciting ! And each day it changesDSC_0835.jpg



New beginnings everywhere – so very reassuring somehow !

The Start

It’s time to leave the armchair and the seed catalogues, the glossy books , gardening magazines and notebook with vague lists and sketches and start the real work !!! The seeds have all arrived and been sorted into piles of veg and flower, perennial and annual …. ones to be planted first, ones to wait and the odd few that need to be in the fridge or freezer [probably best to find the ones that are still there from last year, forgotten amongst the frozen peas and bags of summer fruit ]

The greenhouse has been organised, potted plants overwintered with the luxury of night time warmth moved into the unheated greenhouse – fingers crossed the temperatures won’t plummet ! Seed trays washed, labels, marker pen, compost and vermiculite waiting for action. Won’t take the bubble wrap down just yet …


I overwinter lots of my potted plants in the greenhouse, not because they are tender but to protect them from the many creatures that seem to think we are the Farthing Wood Take Out for Herefordshire … Rabbits, Pheasant, Mice …. The pheasants peck at those delicious new shoots, even if they don’t want them, Heuchera seem to be a favourite, they use my Stipa Tenuissima for nesting … having said that so does my cat … his life’s ambition at this time of year is to move into the greenhouse … all those wonderful seed trays … a bed or a toilet … side by side … what more could a cat want ?


Every year I vow I won’t buy so many seeds – too expensive, not as many seeds as there used to be ….but it’s so tempting … all those catalogues, list upon list of wondrous sounding plants, beautiful pictures and mouth watering descriptions… always disappointing somehow when seed packets ordered on line come without the pictures ! I can’t even trust the seeds I take myself – I order them as well – ‘just in case …’

For me this is the true start of the gardening year – the odd bit of pruning, sweeping up leaves and general tidying belongs to last year … This heralds winter closing … I never cease to wonder how that tiny little seed can produce something beautiful in such a short time ….

The year begins !!!!




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