In a vase on Monday – Hints of Autumn

This last damp week has seen a number of late flowering stalwarts succumb to mould, including: zinnias, celosia and my dark-leaved basils. The flowering heads on these plants have just keeled over. They look a bit like those floppy Resusci Anne dolls. So sad. The planned star of the vase (Celosia ‘Pink feather’) is gone. Ah well. I’ve moved on to sunflowers to inject a little sunshine instead.


These smiling faces are from a multi-headed sunflower from a ‘Mr F’s Mixed’ selection, so that’s as close as I can come to naming it I am afraid.


I’ve used seed heads of monbretia and some spikes of Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’ to echo the sunflower colours and to pick out more autumnal tones. Salvia uliginosa is flowering prolifically just now and adds a reminder of blue skies, occasionally glimpsed.


Mina lobata and sedum are going strong and will be flowering for some time (I hope). Their addition to the vase reinforces seasonal changes: red and purple pigments revealed as the green chlorophyll breaks down in the leaves.


My vase is a lovely chocolate brown jug, which I use all the time. Hopefully it grounds and ties everything together.

This is my contribution to In a Vase on Monday. My thanks to Cathy for inspiring so many of us to get out and pick some flowers. Do take a look at the wonderful arrangements being gathered all around the world!





Posted in autumn, Flowers | Tagged , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Top 10 plants for September … Reach for the skies

Chloris is once again sharing her top 10 plants of the month (always worth a look as she has such an interesting collection) in a meme that encourages others to look around their plots and do the same. So I’ve been outside to make a list.

As I was wandering around the garden I realised that I was looking up a lot. It seems that I like giants.

My first ‘favourite’ is fittingly called Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate, it is so tall. (Next year I must remember to plant some behind the gate). It is a Persicaria:

1 Persicaria orientalis


I discovered this plant a couple of years ago whilst browsing Derry Watkins‘ catalogue and couldn’t resist trying the seeds. What surprised me though was the height that the plant will reach if it is happy (typically 2.5m). Its pink flowers look brilliant against a blue sky. This year I have a few self-seeds, so that’s been a bonus because they rapidly turned into sturdy, tall plants that flowered quite early (beginning of August cf. September).

2 Amaranthus ‘Red Army’


This photo is one of my ‘Red Army’ in the walled garden at Wimpole. It has reached at least 9ft in height. Elsewhere it is more typically growing to a bit over a metre. A. ‘Red Army’ is a great colour right from its seedling stage (like red orach) and once it starts flowering it just looks better and better as those velvet spikes develop.

3 Nicotiana mutabilis


This is the first year that I have grown this nicotiana, but I will be repeating that for the foreseeable future. It has a lovely airy, branching habit and the flowers look so pretty in their various shades of pink. The plants are tall again (over a metre), although not as large as N. sylvestris.

4 Sunflower ‘Earthwalker’


I love most sunflowers, but Helianthus ‘Earthwalker’ presses all of the right buttons for me. Some of the self-seeds this year are showing an attractive narrow, yellow corona at the edge of the inner florets. Earthwalker is multiheaded and a nice viewable height (up to 3m).

5 Miscanthus sinensis


What a wonderful grass! This is Miscanthus sinensis (~2m). Its silhouette against clear skies is just marvellous and it has great autumn colour too as the temperatures start to drop. I am starting to experiment with slight shorter cultivars for growing in pots (see Kate’s helpful post for more advice and ideas on dwarf cultivars), but this one is one of the best grasses out there IMHO.

6 Salvia uliginosa


Blue is a nice colour to have late in the season and Salvia uliginosa has the most beautifully clear blue flowers. The flowers are usually covered by bees, but this photo was taken on a fairly miserable day, so there was not much buzzing around. The flower spikes are wiry and quite tall. I’ve grown it between Calamagrostis × acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ and they are the same height (~2m). In a gentle breeze they dance and mingle obligingly.

7 Symphyotrichum novaeangliae


I have grown to like asters (OK not all, I still don’t like the shaggy, summer bedding kind at all). I grow the vibrant pink Symphyotrichum novaeangliae ‘Andenken an Alma Pötschke‘, but I prefer this purple variety. Unfortunately I don’t know it’s name. It grows to ~4ft, so is typically a mid/back of the border plant.

OK, that’s enough tall plants, I will finish with three shorties!

8 Cyclamen hederifolium


I’ve got autumn flowering cyclamen planted in patches all over the dry and shady front garden and around the bases of various trees. They look particularly lovely in front of my multi-stemmed Betula utilis Jacquemontii. I am always surprised when I spot them for the first time each year (not sure why, but I forget that they are there). They smell delicious too. Last week, when I visited Anglesey Abbey for their Dahlia Festival, I walked through their cyclamen ‘Grove’ (the copse at the end of the Winter Walk) and the scent was out of this world.

9 Nerine


This is Nerine Bowdenii ‘Isabel’ and I think it is so pretty. Once again nerine are something that I have grown to like. Ten years ago I would have been wondering why anybody would plant anything so strident by their front door! Age or taste or something else? Whatever, I am happily expanding my collection now … but I do have nice white ones too.

10 Sedum


Sedum has to be in the list for September, because it is such a great plant for autumn colour, longevity and as a nectar resource to a whole host of insects. This one (the classic Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’) was being visited last week by a migrating Painted Lady butterfly. The sighting was duly recorded in the Butterfly Conservation’s Migrant Watch database.

So that is my list of top 10 September plants. It has been interesting to note how many of these plants I’ve changed my mind about over the years. Is it the same for you?



Posted in Flowers, Plants | Tagged , , , , | 18 Comments

Wordless Wednesday – Snippets from Anglesey Abbey’s Dahlia Festival


That woke you up didn’t it! This is Dahlia ‘Kilburn Glow’. No processing, honestly.


Welcome to Anglesey Abbey


Dahlia ‘Purple Pearl’


Dahlia decorated tree. Each flower is suspended in a test-tube of water.


Possibly my favourite …D. ‘Sandia Rose’


They’ve decorated the duckweed infested Quy waters by the mill. Very Millais! No bodies though.


Dahlia ‘Carolina Moon’


A nod to Empress Joséphine’s obsession with dahlias


D. ‘Bracken Lorelei’


Anglesey Abbey’s Dahlia Festival runs from 12th Sept until 1st Oct

Posted in Flowers, Out and about, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Presents, seeds and cons? The adventure begins …

Yesterday’s post saw the final packet of seeds bought by my son as a birthday present for me pop through the letterbox. Since he knows that I like to try new plants every year, he went online and chose a selection of unusual, exotic, colourful and fun looking flowers and vegetables. What a great idea! What would an adventurous, but essentially non-gardening, 24yr old select for me to grow?

So, it has been an exciting few weeks, with small padded envelopes, labelled in unintelligible fonts, arriving from places all over the globe. I am now the proud custodian of these beauties:


They all look very interesting. One or two I’ve grown before, a few look like extreme versions of things that I am familiar with, then there are the exotic (where I am going to have to look things up) and then … there are the unbelievable. But I am going to try them all.


I’ve grown cucamelons before, back in 2013. Here is what they looked like –


Bite-sized, slightly lime-flavoured cucumbers. They were nice and crunchy, refreshing and a good addition to the salad. However, I ended up being the only person to eat them. After one sample fruit no-one else touched them again. Nothing wrong with them apparently, just no desire to eat more. In fact, my son can’t remember them at all! Well, maybe it is time to try them again. I’ll give him a plant for his house.

Tomatoes, cucumber and chillis:

‘Lemon Drop’ Hot pepper – looking forward to this one, because I tried ‘Aji Lemon’ chillis this spring and none germinated. Now I get another chance.

Extreme tomatoes:

  • Gigantomo – Wow, fruits up to 1Kg (recorded by specialist growers though. If that is people like Medwyn Williams, I might not be seeing such massive toms).
  • Jersey Devil – another large, but pepper-shaped fruit. Said to be good for sauces.
  • Unlabelled seed from China and therefore deduced to be ‘Purple Cherry’ Tomato from my son’s list. I am reserving judgement on this one, because reviews suggest that the seed may produce straight-forward red cherry toms. We shall see.

Lemon cucumber – Tennis ball-sized, yellow fruits. Good in cool climates.

Exotics – I’ll need to look up how to grow these and hope that I don’t need smokers etc.

Strelitzia reginae – We have one of these in the bathroom (I got it as a tiny, plug plant years ago), but since I abuse it by forgetting to water it all the time, it has never flowered. This was chosen because when we visited La Palma, in the spring, we saw many fine examples of Strelitzia flowering all over the island. So I think he must have enjoyed our trip! The challenge then is to get some going from seed and then flowering.

Anigozanthos manglesii – Red and green Kangaroo Paw. I am really hoping that I can get this one to germinate, because it would be so cool to show off. I might have to check the ones that are growing at Cambridge Botanic gardens though.

The Unbelievable Seeds –


Red Monkey-faced orchids … and these were the unlabelled seeds I received, on the l.h.s. (on the r.h.s. are the possible purple cherry tomatoes):


These seeds were shipped from China via a company call Exotic Plants on Amazon. There were supposed to be growing instructions with the packet, but there weren’t any. The seeds are massive, NOT dust-like as most orchids are. In fact, they look a bit like apple pips. Any ideas what I might grow when I plant them? I googled Monkey-faced orchid seed and the reviews are not good. They range from reported non-germination to unflowering plants with the question ‘how long do I have to wait?’ to accusation of scams.

The final packet is also from China and is for a Rainbow Rose (Dragon rose). So, I looked up Dragon Roses too … and I am not optimistic. Ho-hum.

Anyhow, I shall try them all, but if you don’t hear reports of any developments next year it maybe that I’ve grown triffids and am no more!!!

Have you tried any unusual seeds this year?

Posted in Food, Plants, Whimsy | Tagged , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Wordless Wednesday – Just add water


Rain on borage


Threaded on the corn tassles


Showing up the spiders’ traps


Sparkling on strawberry flowers


Doubling the pizzazz of fennel flowers


Caught in the regrowth of the lupins


Enabling the tomatoes to be besieged by blight and slugs


Drizzle trapped in the flowers of Panicum ‘Frosted Explosion’


Raindrop decorated Cobaea scandens bud


Highlighting the texture of tree spinach, Chenopodium giganteum

Posted in autumn, Flowers, Wordless | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments

Wildlife Wednesday – I feel the earth move

This month’s wildlife sightings were lean, which was mostly down to a combination of absences and earth moving experiences! The earth moving experience was noisy and disruptive for everyone around because, with the dull start to August, we finally decided to dismantle an above ground pool that we’d built for the kids ~10yrs ago.


Breaking up the concrete base

Fortunately our immediate neighbours were away for the part where we got some guys with big machines to break up the 10″ concrete base and while they had the digger on site we asked them, very nicely, to excavate the underlying clay to 1m. Well OK, we paid them, and they really, really weren’t keen on removing the clay. We, on the other hand, now have a relatively clean slate and can look forward to the fun of making a large wildlife pond.


Excavating to 1m

As fate would have it, on the last day of digging it began to rain, so it all got very messy. Furthermore, with the intermittent rain that we’ve had ever since, the pool is filling faster than we can deal with! Which neatly brings me to the first wildlife photo of the post: A Ruddy Darter dragonfly. Because no sooner was there water in the base than there were mating dragonflies visiting the puddle. At one point I counted 5 pairs and a couple of individuals. Here is one of the stationary loners, watching the pairs and other interested bugs:


Ruddy Darter

While we were raking and trying to remove the worst of the stones in the base, we were watched by scores of goldenfinches in our boundary hedge. It felt like we were the entertainment as they chatted and called from tree to tree. As Steve raked I snapped this next shot of some of them spectating, but only realised how many fledglings made up the charm once I saw the pictures later:


Goldfinch and young

We have a couple of apple trees near the earth works and both ripen early (one is a Grenadier – a delicious cooker). I was nervous about the entire crop ending up on the grass as a result of vibrations. Fortunately, there was no obvious correlation with the digging and the apples have been falling at a normal rate. A number of birds have been enjoying these spoils, particularly blackbirds, but beyond these regular visitors I spotted an odd looking pinkish bird. I grabbed the camera to get a closer look and this is what I saw (high zoom, poor quality I am afraid):

A male bullfinch, collecting what appear to be ant eggs (but I am guessing). Bullfinches are notoriously shy birds and are rarely seen in the open. I’ve only seen them in the garden a couple of times. Sadly, they are regarded as pests in some areas due to their habit of destroying, not just eating, flower buds on fruit trees in the spring. In these regions they are controlled under licence.

August wasn’t a good month for seeing beautiful butterflies. There were (and still are) plenty of large and small whites about. Last year, while the purple loosestrife was in flower, it was covered in tortoiseshells, practically one per spike. This year I’ve seen the odd one on it if I am lucky. Buddleia still works its magic, drawing the butterflies that are on the wing, but the numbers just aren’t there to pull.

I quite liked this shot of a Red Admiral butterfly feeding though:


Red Admiral feeding on verbena

When I let the dog out at night I often find myself letting moths in. This green beauty (below) came in the other night, but I’ve no idea what it is. I’ve failed to ID it, either online using keys or from combing through our ‘Insect’ reference books. So if you’ve any idea what it is please let me know, in the comment section. Thanks.


Ladybirds come in many colours and spot combinations, but this tiny example (~3mm) must have the highest ratio of spots to surface area. It is a 22-spotted ladybird and is the brightest of the yellow British ladybirds, although the pronotum can sometimes be white.


I had a hard job taking a photo of it, because it tends to run to the underside of leaves. It is usually found low down in vegetation as it is a mildew eater (rather than aphid). I only found it because I was down in the dirt, tidying the border.

To end this post I am sharing a couple of photos taken on my birthday at Gooderstone Water Gardens in Norfolk. After exploring the gardens, we eventually made our way to the bird hide beside the large lake, only to be told by the previous occupants that we’d just missed a great display by a kingfisher who’d fed in front of them and then flown away. Nevertheless we still decided to wait … and wait … until we were happily rewarded with a wonderful sighting. The kingfisher flew in front of the hide and settled on the nearest stick to us.


Then he turned around so that we got a good view of that startling blue flash on his back too.


I was ecstatic. It was a great highlight to the day.

Thanks to Tina at mygardenersays who hosts the monthly Wildlife Wednesday meme.

Posted in birds, Nature, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , | 19 Comments

In a Vase on Monday – Fancy a cuppa?


Having got over the worst of my fascination with the so-called Cup and Saucer vine (Cobaea scandens) in last Wednesday’s’ Wordless’ post I decided to ruthlessly cut some of the flowers to use in today’s vase (fear not they are actually quite prolific now).

Of course, I couldn’t resist setting a tea tray with pretty china cups to display the flowers:


And since the flowers are rather large and the cups are rather dainty, that is actually about it for the arrangement. There’s a bit of foliage provided by some cinnamon basil, which has lovely plum coloured flower spikes and a delicious smell, plus a couple of curled ipomoea ‘Black Knight’ flowers.


The strange green blob on the tray is one of those wonderful moss growths that seem to develop in the guttering and fall down from time to time, this time on to the hosting chair. Well, I liked the look of it, so it is decorating the tray too.


Tea anyone?

This is my contribution to Cathy’s In-a-Vase-on-Monday meme. Funnily enough, her vase today features coffee, so between us we have got the hot drinks sown up! And don’t forget to check out the comment section for other beautiful vases.

Posted in Drinks, Whimsy | Tagged , , , , , , | 26 Comments