Tips before buying spring flowering bulbs


Spring flowering bulbs will soon be in the shops. With flower borders in full growth at the moment it is difficult to see where they can be planted. This is where photos taken earlier in the year after the spring tidy but before the herbaceous perennials and deciduous shrubs leaf up are invaluable. See A Talk by Fergus Garrett of Great Dixter.

A small deviation: spring corms and tubers are also available with bulbs.  They are all swollen food storage organs. Very simply a bulb such as daffodil or tulip consists outwardly of the plant’s leaves waiting to emerge. A Corm such as crocus or cyclamen are stems waiting to emerge and a tuber, such as trillium are swollen roots.  Some plants such as anemones can depending on species arise from a corm such as Anemone nemorosa   or a tuber as with Anemone blanda.

That said onto my tips. Buy the bulbs early rather than waiting for them to come down in price. This has two benefits; first you can get them in the ground sooner, giving them time to root and reduce the chances of them rotting off. Second after a while in the dry atmosphere of the shop many bulbs die and buying cheap dead bulbs is false economy. Always check the firmness of bulbs by squeezing them through their packaging and if they feel soft- reject.

Bulbs from specialists such as Avon, Taylors or Parkers bulbs give a wider choice of cultivars and their bulbs are usually older and slightly larger giving bigger flowering plants when they emerge. Bulb specialists can easily be found on- line.

I always recommend dwarf daffodils over the larger ones, (commonly found as value packs in shops) for display purposes their flowers are equally noticeable but the foliage is less untidy after flowering. As the great gardener  Edward Augustus Bowles (of Erysimum ‛Bowles’ Mauve’ ,  Bowles golden sedge and Viola ‛Bowles Black’ etc. fame ) said the smaller ones are more practical until you find you need stronger spectacles to see them- then the larger ones are useful.

Most hybrid tulips prefer warm dry summers and many produce poor or no flowers in the second  and subsequent years,  many failing even to emerge and need topping up every year to keep a display going. Look out for kaufmanniana,  Gregii  and fosteriana   species as they are generally longer lived and can even increase in number in sunny, dry positions.

Crocuses and Irises do well in Scotland although there are not many sunny dry days for them to open fully. I like the purple and blue shades of   Iris reticula cultivars, they do well in my garden and when the flowers fade their foliage is not too noticeable, dying down quickly. Unlike the tall English bluebell Scilla non-scripta which once established is a rampant spreader and the dying foliage is unsightly. Do not confuse with the Scottish bluebell which is a campanula.

Finally the best place to plant bulbs is under deciduous shrubs or low ground cover plants where they can emerge extending the interest of a plant display. It also reduces the risk of them being accidently dug up.

Great plants for where lawn meets border

A lawn makes an excellent foreground, setting off the mixed border.  For many of us, it is relatively easy to keep cut but the edges can be a more for time consuming effort and often avoided. This results in a blurring of edges where border plants meet the lawn plantation; grass grows through plants or herbaceous perennials and suckering shrubs come through the lawn.

I like a defined grass edge but find hand shears laborious so make use of my strimmer which means I can do the edges of my average sized garden in minutes, literally.  I cut my grass roughly every week which means the edges do not get too long and I do not need to collect up my edgings  in fear they will root.

The down side of the strimmer is it is unfriendly towards larger overhanging and bold leaved plants such as bergenias and irises; leaving nasty noticeable cuts and often a plant with a very straight front.


Bergenia with strimmer damage

Where grass meets border I have found certain small leaved carpeting plants extremely useful, as they grow towards the grass they can be kept at bay with by the strimmer. Unless examined closely with a critical eye, cuts are unnoticeable and natural shape returns quickly.

Some useful front of border meets grass plants include:

IMG_0055Persicaria affinis and golden Lysimachia nummularia

IMG_0058Geranium x antipodeum Pink Spice

DSC_0434Geranium x oxonianum

IMG_0066Gunnera magellanica, a tiny version of the more familiar large leaved Gunnera manicata. Both the flowering penstemmon and hosta wild need to be moved as they are being damaged by my strimmer.

IMG_0063Waldsteinia ternata  a great little spreader producing masses of tiny yellow flowers in early summer

I still use plants with bold foliage or a tendency to spill over but use them next to hard standing and paths to soften the edges. Crucially for me the plants above are hardy, (even coping with continually trampling from our dog) require little care, are long lived and keep weeds down. Although they can easily be sourced through the internet I can supply them to my local customers.

Clump forming and scrambling geraniums to enhance planting displays.


 This blog follows on from my last blog: Why are geraniums worth buying for the garden? Clump forming and scrambling geraniums are: as mentioned in my last blog, loose groupings  I use reflecting their principal habit, helping me decide on the best location in a border to plant them . To maximise their visual affect both these types are best considered in combination with their neighbours.  Ground-cover types can be considered  more independently such as an effective weed suppressant . Suitable companions are plants which have strong architectural form, texture and/or colour: but they must be when mature; of similar size as the geraniums to achieve a balanced composition. Phormium, hosta, alchemilla euphorbia, artemesia, iris; grasses and ferns all have species which can make suitable planting partners.

The clump formers are the ones to be most careful with; as many are large growing and can easily  smother less vigorous neighbouring plants. Clump formers with small leaves  such as some G. sanguineum species do not grow too tall and can be used to the front of a bed; but  until established  are in danger of being overwhelmed themselves by more vigorous neighbours.

The most commonly found large clump formers in garden centres are Geranium psilostemon, the Armenian Cranesbill, growing to over 1m tall it’s strong magenta flowers can make a bold contrast with yellow.


G. psilostemon on the right of this picture, part of a predominantly foliage grouping.

Geranium x oxianum  and its cultivars, ’Wargrave Pink’ and ’Claridge Druce’,  are the ones I know  the names off, but I cannot tell them apart and I do not think many people can. Having tried  to distinguish them I question the accuracy of labelling and much literature which seems to be very vague. What is important is knowing that they grow to around 60cm and have masses of pink flowers which last over a long period throughout the summer. This allows me to partner this hybrid with a suitable complimentary planting.


G. x oxianum providing ground -cover, (this photo is not my garden)

It is when one wants to know how to accurately identify a species or cultivar that one realises how vague and repetitive many books and internet descriptions are. I conclude that most authors , have looked similar resources as myself and could not identify these plants with any expertise themselves.

This brings me to these blue flowering geraniums and I confess at the moment I cannot identify them with certainty. The list includes G.himalayense, G. himalayense ’Gravetye‘, G. ‘Brookside’ and the infamous  Geranium ’Johnsons Blue’, (a cross of G. himalayense and G. pratense) it is probably the best known clump former and being sterile does not  set seed.   It’s merit is said to be its abundance of long lasting flowers.  The plant sold to me as Geranium ’Johnsons Blue’  has not has not impressed me with an abundance of flowers, perhaps it’s a G.himalayense, although it has not noticeably set seed. So perhaps it is. I am confused.

On a positive note I can identify the hybrid G. ’Orion’ it grows to around 60cm and flowers abundantly and over a long period of time.  G.himalayense is claimed to be one of the parents.


G. ’Orion’

 Clump formers consist of a central rosette of basal leaves from which flowering stem leaves emerge. These are the parts that tend to flop over look untidy after flowering or smothering neighbours.  These flowering stems can however be traced back into the basal rosette, cut away unnoticeably leaving a tidy clump.

The tall growing clump formers identified with larger leaves are most suited to the middle of the bed and partnered with plants of equal vigour and for prolonged interest strong architectural leaf form and texture such as tall growing irises or grasses.  As they get taller tend to collapse and can look untidy after flowering. If I get round to it I cut these hard back and mulch with a light layer of home- made compost , (a light sprinkling of any fertiliser should do)they always leaf up again but much tidier and some years I get a second flush of flowers.


G.x magnificum ‘ Blue Bird’  can be cut back  to ground level after flowering and grow back with a second flush of flowers in the same year

Because of their loose growth habit of their foliage scramblers do not really make effective groundcover  but are excellent for growing through other plants making them really fun to work with.  With as many failures (or learning curves) as successes I enjoy experimenting with increasing the dramatic effect they can make as they work they way through neighbouring plants.

G.wallichianum ‘Crystal Lake’ scrambling and harmonising with the burgundy leaves of through an Acer palmatum. Its flowers are just appearing adding to the composition.


Geranium ’Ann Folkard’ ( a G. procurrens and G. psilostemon cross) is a compact scrambler easily identified from other  magenta  flowering geraniums ( such as G.psilostemon ) as the foliage is a yellowish green and although it could be said to look chlorotic it can harmonise or contrast well with other foliage it merges with.


Magenta flowered Geranium ’Ann Folkard’ with pink G. x oxianum flowers sneaking into the picture.


Geranium ’Ann Folkard’ flowers en masse.

Personally I believe  cranesbill geraniums are must have plants for anyone wanting to invest in long lived, hardy, easy to grow plants able to contribute to all areas of a planting display not only the front, middle and back areas of a planting but  transcending these layers by scrambling through them .  My aim is to master their identification perhaps its time for me to invest in Peter Yeo’s book, Hardy Geraniums.

Why are geraniums worth buying for the garden?

I am referring to the perennial cranesbill geraniums and not the half hardy pelargoniums commonly bought as bedding plants and usually discarded at the end of the year. There are numerous named species and cultivars:  many so similar in appearance, with only subtle distinguishing features, that only a geranium expert could identify them with any certainty.  Without labels (which sometimes are the only indication of how pretty their flowers are) and especially when not in flower they are often overlooked in nurseries and garden centres. This is because; although their individual palmate leaves are attractive, the plant as a whole lacks a distinct shape with any flowers ( on young plants especially)  often only sparsely  spread among the foliage. So why buy them and how are they best used in the garden to maximise their contribution to a planting display even when not in flower and (with larger types) avoid them flopping or growing over and smothering neighbouring plants?

I loosely group them into one of three visually identifiable growth habits: carpeting, clump forming and scrambling. These growth habits do overlap but it helps when trying to decide the best location to plant them and associating them with their most suitable neighbours. Geraniums species in general are best considered as useful supporters of other plants that have strong colour, form and texture.  When allowed to weave around plants with strong architectural foliage and/ or colour they can add another dimension to the planting display by harmony or contrast.

Carpeting forms are low growing and many make excellent weed supressing ground cover provided the ground has been thoroughly cleared of weeds prior to planting. They are best used at the front of a border or beneath structural plants with clear stems such as roses, shrubs or trees; where when they themselves are under-planted by bulbs the whole planting association contributes to maximising the length of interest in the planting.


G. macrorrhizum living happily under a rhododendron

 Although several species are semi- evergreen Geranium macrorrhizum and its cultivars are noticeably more so and can provide leaf colour during the winter months. They have aromatic foliage growing to about 15” (40cm) tall; and once established they do spread but not vigorously; any unwanted growth is easily removed as growth is not too deep.

Geranium x cantabrigiense (a cross of G.macrorrhizum and G. dalmaticum) and its cultivars also make excellent tidy ground-cover, their foliage being, like G.macrorrhizum , scented; of little surprise with G. macrorrhizum being one of the parents.


G. x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ with glossy foliage makes excellent front of border ground- cover.

 Geranium x antipodeum  ( I cannot find reference to them in my books and assume they must be relatively recent introductions. The specific epithet suggests an Australian /NZ breeding) cultivars are also low front of border carpeting forms with small colourful leaves ranging from silvery, bronze or purple. Like all geraniums, once established one does need to keep a cursory eye on to prevent them encroaching other plants but again they are easily controlled.  All carpeting forms work well with compact neighbours (which grow no more than 30-40cm) with interesting foliage such as heucheras, tiarellas, bergenias, carex   grasses etc.


G. x antipodeum ‘Pink Spice’ (I think!) being a litle invasive on a celmesia but easily controlled.


Finally, to date, I have found G. sanguineum  cultivars with their delicate close foliage to make useful ground cover. They are a little slower to establish, often being used in rock gardens but there are a large number of cultivars all with similar foliage appearance but striking differences in  flower colour.  This makes them particularly useful as accessories to highlight attributes of neighbouring front of border plants.


G.sanguineum ‘Max Frei’


G.sanguineum ‘John Elsley’




G.sanguineum var striatum


To avoid this blog becoming too lengthy and tiring to read in one reading I have decided to publish it in two parts with the hope that like any gripping series the reader looks eagerly forward  to the next instalment. Titled: Clump forming and scrambling geraniums to enhance planting displays.

How to transplant a plant at the wrong time of year

Transplanting plants is best done during their dormant season;normally the winter months. Impatient inspiration; or, as in my case, it being the day job often necessitates this being done whilst they are actively growing. This week part of the day job required the moving of a fairly mature rhododendron. It reminded of when I was a student at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and we moved the entire rhododendron collection from one part of the Garden to another. Not only was I much younger, but we were mob handed with tractors etc. today it was just 50+year old me with determined will power.

I decided to record the stages as I felt it would be useful to readers who may be considering moving or planting a tree, shrub or herbaceous perennial in active growth and wanting to reduce the risk of losing it. The first job was to cut down and dig out two existing conifers; a task in itself. At least it created the hole for the rhododendron.


Thick roots make digging out mature plants a bit time consuming

Thoroughly watering any plant the day before it is to be moved, allows excess moisture to drain away before digging out the next day, avoiding a muddy dig and reducing the stress of drying out on the roots. Since it rained heavily the whole week before, I decided the roots would be sufficiently moist.  To make it easier to get access to the roots and save the rhododendron from working too hard; to pump water round the plant once moved, I cut back some of the fading flower shoots.  The next step was to dig a trench around the shrub ensuring sufficient roots remain.


Rhododendron before moving preparation


Rhododendron after moving preparation

Before I stopped for a lunch I filled the hole where the rhododendron was to go with water which would give it time to soak into the soil.


Managing to spin the rhododendron out of the hole onto an old bulk bag allowed me to drag it its new position without damaging the top growth or disturbing the further.


Not an easy drag for an older boy

Rhododendrons do not like their roots buried too deep and I calculated the required depth and size of the hole perfectly. Experience! After back filling the hole by half, pushing the soil in under the roots by hand to keep the roots high and prevent unnecessary damage I refilled the hole with water before finishing the adding the last of the soil.



Not allowing moved plants to dry out is essential

I did not add any organic matter as there was enough organic debris from the conifers which had been dug out. The most important job now was for my customers; stopping the plant from drying out until it has established; indicated by it starting to put on significant growth. I recommend novice transplanters to start off with a small plant first and work their way up from there.


Newly laid turf adds the finishing touches

Easy to grow ground-cover junipers for year round colour

Junipers are evergreen and come in all shapes, sizes and colours, they are also very hardy, surviving -20⁰C and grow well in a wide range of garden soils. They are traditionally planted with heathers, rhododendrons, acers and other “dwarf” conifers.   The forms I am writing about today make good weed supressing ground-cover as they tend to grow horizontally rather than vertically many to no more than 50cm tall and 1.5m wide.  Although I will refrain from overuse of botanical Latin names, which can be difficult for the non or rare user to get their tongue around, it is a necessary evil for accurate identification of forms.  With junipers, to impress your friends with your botanical Latin,  all you need to do is add “us” to the end of juniper making Juniperus. Latin plant names are always written in italics.

As weed supressing ground-cover low growing junipers are excellent, as long as the area they are to be planted in has been well cleared of perennial weed roots. If not properly removed these weeds can grow back and become an ongoing and difficult to eradicate nuisance spoiling the look of a planting.


Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Carpet’

Being evergreen Junipers contribute winter colour and form to the garden. Some of the ground-cover forms like J. communis.  ’Repanda’ and J. squamata ‘ Blue Carpet’ can be difficult to combine with bulbs as you would need a tall bulb to push through which looks fine when the bulb is in flower but  after flowering the dying foliage hanging over the spiky juniper foliage can look unsightly. I have successfully planted small cultivars of Iris reticulata species with Juniperus communis ‘Goldschatz’. This juniper only grows to around 10cm tall and  the foliage of  small irises are less noticeable after flowering as they die back quicker and can be removed sooner if wished.


This week I planted a recently purchased Juniperus c. ’Repanda’ at the edge of a stepping stone path leading to a garden bench. Looking to choose a complimentary companion plant as its neighbour and not wanting to go down the more usually associated heather / dwarf conifer route I have chosen a woodlander from my garden called red barrenwort, Epimedium  X rubrum . Sorry more Latin.  It grows to a similar height and has heart shaped glossy green leaves with a hint of red running through it which I think balances and compliments the spiky needle leaves of the juniper. It is also long lived and similar sized at maturity. Epimediums produce tiny flowers in spring but their primary ornamental value is their interesting leaf shapes and colours. The clump I lifted was large enough for me to chop up into three pieces before replanting which will speed up the re- establishment process. Thoroughly soaking plants by letting them sit in a water filled container before planting aids establishment.


Juniper and epimediums in centre of photo in well prepared soil. Some surrounding plants will be removed in future as the ground-cover grows.

Being a deciduous herbaceous perennial epimedium foliage dies down in the winter which will allow me to plant some early flowering bulbs amongst the clumps. I have a passion for iris bulb species, they do well in my garden without spreading too quickly.  They should happily share the location with the epimediums and provide early colour before the epimediums leaves emerge later in the spring. Although it is not necessary, cutting the dying foliage down after the winter is said to improve the following year’s foliage display.


weed supressing mulch harmonising well with planting


I have also added a layer of natural wood fibre from a bag of Gro-Sure Smart Groundcover from Westland horticulture initially brought to my attention by one of my customers. Westland claims it acts as a moisture retaining and weed supressing mulch. This for me is a little trial to see how effective it is. Wood fibre is made from wood chips which have been ground down further by grinding between steel plates until they form fine intertwining fibres.


It is the same material as many insulation products are made from and is used in large scale erosion control. With additional treatments it is used to make firm products such as plywood so I have no doubts that as the bag states it can last a long time, be used on slopes and form a solid enough barrier to prevent weeds emerging. My concern is the claim that it does not hinder bulbs emerging. This could occur not only because of the tight locking process of the cellulose fibre but also like bark , unless it has been allowed to age for around six months, many trees used to produce these products contain toxins which can inhibit the growth and kill young  plants.  I am sure it is fine as a general ground-cover on established  mature plants and large or vigorous spreading bulbs but finer bulbs and corms such as cyclamen may not penetrate the tightly locking fibres.

No one is interested in my garden !

2017 is my 20th year as a self- employed gardener and with an established customer base I do not need to rely too heavily on advertising.  Most of my enquiries are word of mouth and I have become increasingly aware of how many enquirers are looking to cover their garden space with labour saving gravel or similar functioning hard material. A stroll around most housing estates confirms the significant number of characterless often tasteless gravel or hard landscaped gardens where useful space  for attractive planting has been converted to dead space.

Before  I upset  any readers don’t get me wrong gravel is a useful attractive product which I often use myself to compliment and highlight  garden features, paths etc. but  prefering plants I think it is all too often overused as a simple quick fix solution to simply and cheaply reduce the chore of garden maintenance. During one of my moaning sessions to my wife about this she kindly pointed out that had I been in any other occupation than a gardener perhaps we too would have a gravel garden: Point taken.

I enjoy reading and writing and blog mainly to have an online record of what I do in my garden. A few months ago I applied for and was accepted as a probationary member of the Garden Media Guild.  To become a full member I must be able to earn a living from garden media so I have three years to achieve this. No pressure.  Being a probationary member I have access to a full member who mentors me in the process to make a living from garden writing. After looking at my blog, my mentor complemented me on my horticultural back ground and obvious gardening knowledge  but concluded that my blog lacked a strong focus and that no one was  really interested in my garden. I needed to find a niche and provide readers with “news they can use” using my garden as a backdrop.

Had I been younger I may have been a little hurt but I gratefully accepted her critic and over the past couple of months have been looking to focus on a specialisation useful to prospective readers, using my garden as a backdrop.

With my wife Carol’s and my mentor’s welcome observations I have decided to focus my blog on encouraging people with garden space to choose low maintenance green over  low maintenance gravel with useful tips and practical planting ideas. I hope to guide people to invest early in our plant heritage, to create a more personalised, enjoyable and satisfying low maintenance gardens which will grow, mature and blossom with them.

Thinking over my conversations with my gravelly customers I do not think they are gardening shy, more overwhelmed with where and how to start their green paradise and make it easy to look after. I hope to point them in the right direction, support and encourage them enough so they too can guide their family to the contentment and other benefits a green garden can bring to family life.

Great low maintenance architectural plants

With over 2000 species in the world euphorbias, commonly known a spurges make up the largest plant genus in the world. Most found in garden centres are native of cooler northern temperate and Mediterranean regions. As garden plants I find them invaluable in providing bold and interesting contrasting and complimentary architectural form when looked at in association with other garden plants whether in the border or a container.

Euphorbia’s are readily available in most garden centres and there is a euphorbia suitable for any garden situation, wet soil, dry soil, sheltered, exposed, sunny, shady etc. With the number in cultivation it is possible to have a euphorbia flowering in the garden throughout the year.

They are not troubled too greatly by pests and diseases and pruning is fairly straight forward. Although there are four pruning groups the ones mentioned below fall either into group  2, cutting the whole plant to ground level in the autumn after the foliage has died away or group 3 which is best done in the spring cutting back again to ground level previous year’s growth but leaving the already noticeable fresh growth untouched.

Most species provide colour from their stem leaves and the bracts surrounding their flowers, normally found at the top of the plant. Bracts are modified leaves around the reproductive part of the plant and not petals as found on most flowering plants. Within the bracts swollen nectar secreting glands attract insects such as bees and hoverflies to pollinate the plant. The colour and shape of the glands (and seeds formed after pollination) are used to identify some species and cultivars.


 E. griffithii ‘Fireglow’ with Pulmonaria rubra ‘David ward’

Euphorbia griffithii (Group 2) is a very distinctive species with red-orange bracts at the top of current year’s growth. This is a deciduous species which produces early dark red stems before they leaf up providing added colour to the early spring garden.  There are a few cultivars of this species.  I have ‘Fireglow’ established in my garden and have recently acquired ‘Dixter‘.   ‘Dixter‘ is said have darker stem leaves with more pinkish- grey undersides and more vermillion-red flowers  although at this stage with my plant being quite young I cannot tell the difference with noticeable confidence as young growth in both forms is similar.


The plant sold to me as E.griffithii ‘Dixter’. I will soon visit a friend from Plant Heritage that has a confirmed one  to compare.

This species is native to the eastern Himalayan region where it is found in moist soils so it does well in British gardens. It does have a tendency to spread by roots running below the soil and emerging a short distance from the plant but is shallow rooting and is easily dug up. During the growing season euphorbias produce a milky sap which can cause severe skin irritation so it is advisable to wear gloves if any cutting back is required and if the sap comes in contact with the skin to wash the area well.


E. myrsinites to front of container

I have E.myrsinites  (Group 3) and  E.characias ‘Blue Glacier’ (Group 3) contributing to container displays in my garden. E.myrsinites  is a prostrate evergreen with blue grey leaves. It is short lived but seeds freely, it  is best grown in gritty soil and I have separated the stem from the soil with a layer of grit  to prevent the prostrate stems  rotting when in contact  with the soil.


E.Characais’Blue Glacier’


E. polychroma (Group 2) the cushion spurge from central Europe is a low growing clump former to 60cm. Here I have it contrasting with an Acer palmatum. Geranium ‘Crystal Lake’ is planted nearby and waiting to take succeed E.polychroma when it finishes flowering in early June.



E.Redwing (Group 3)  is another compact cultivar, semi evergreen in habit  in my garden and long flowering.


E. amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’ (Group 3) This one can be a little temperamental, suffering from mildew but when it likes its location in a sunny well drained soil it’s purple foliage topped with lime yellow flowers can look  really good.


E. stygiana is a new acquisition for my garden .This shrubby euphorbia in the wild is on the endangered list Distinctive features are dark green honey scented leaves  with a white midrid. I have placed it amongst shrubs to protect it from cold and wind at the bottom of  a path where I hope it will reward me with lovely scent as it matures. Being a shrubby euphorbia it belongs to group 4 and like most shrubs is pruned if necessary after flowering to keep in its desired location.


E. palustris ‘Walenburg’s Glorie’ (Group 2). A garden origin clump forming form of swamp spurge. This cultivar was initially bred in Scotland and grows around to 1.2m tall,  not as tall growing as its Asian parent which needs staking. In autumn its foliage is said to grow from green to red although as yet I have not experienced this.



Planning for early succession planting 2018

This is long blog but useful for those wanting  to warm their garden early in the year with continuing flower colour.

Deciduous shrubs are leafing up now, losing their skeletal looks and herbaceous perennials are rapidly putting on fresh green growth. Like many gardeners I am eagerly looking forward to mixed and herbaceous borders full of colour.

 Last month I carried out the final stages of my spring tidy, trimming back broad leaved evergreens just before growth begins. I leave  them till spring so I do not have to look at cut leaves and stems during the winter months. Any late frosts and desiccating winds will not leave long term visual damage as emerging new growth covers any wounds. When my snowdrops and daffodils finished flowering I lifted, split and replanted  the larger clumps to increase their number but also some were in the wrong place such as large daffodils at the front of the mixed border which look fine when in bloom but their dying back foliage looks unsightly at the front of the border . Large daffodils are best at the back of borders where their dying back foliage can be hidden by the foliage of emerging herbaceous perennials.

Snowdrops provided the bulk of colour in February joining winter flowering hellebores. Iris reticulata cultivars and winter aconite followed on in late February early March but not in large enough number to make an impact so they are on my shopping list together with  Anemone nemorosa and blanda cultivars which I want to plant en mass in my mixed borders to contribute colour from March into May. They will take a few years to establish and provide the effect I want.

The small number of cultivars I have did well this year, providing a small but lovely show in my containers. I want to plant as many as I can afford to increase colour during March, filling the gap when snowdrops and winter aconites fade and before the majority of daffodils flower. I am staying away from crocuses at the moment because they only open fully in sun and most of our winter days are too dull and I find myself looking at closed flowers. Small flowering bulbs such as iris and anemone species are perfect for naturalising and providing colour in herbaceous borders sown amongst existing herbaceous plants. Those that are lifted when adding or splitting herbaceous plants  are  easily returned to the ground and they do not interfere with the growth of perennials.


Hosta and muscari living in the same space quite happily

In my garden May and June is the stumbling block for colour. The woodland section has lots of candelabra primula varieties so no problem there and the mixed borders are greening up well but in the true spirit of successional planting I want more colour. Early leaf shape, texture and colour works well in my lower border early in the season because it is protected to  fair degree from strong winds but the mixed borders on my slope are continually battered by strong winds and it will take a few more years for my shelter planting to mature to a size where it effectively filters the wind giving early and evergreen foliage of plants a chance.



Lower border showing decent flower and leaf colour, shape and texture early April


This is the best time of year for lifting and dividing herbaceous perennials, just as they are starting to grow. Returning divisions where I want  them and potting surplus divisions for selling on to my customers. They will root in their pots well in a few weeks and I quickly see the ones that look good enough to sell on, rather than dividing and potting up in the winter monthshaving to look after plants which do nothing for months and find that they are sorry looking specimens not fit for selling.

With my herbaceous plants in their coming season positions I have taken photographs of their positions and spaces between them which will remind me where I want to plant the spring bulbs when they come on sale in the autumn.


Photos of my beds will remind me of where bulb planting spaces are in autumn

I have put together my order from Parkers, a bulbs specialist, and I will send it off in July. They will send me my order when they become available. I prefer this to buying bulbs in retail outlets as often the bulbs have dried out and do not come to anything.

Deciding on which tulips to buy has been a bit time consuming, there are hundreds if not thousands of cultivars, grouped into catagories which for the novice tulip grower does not help much. In the past for  me tulips are  mainly temporary bulbs that you plant and discard after a few years. Many  groups do not regrow  well after their first year in and those that do often grow with pathetic looking smaller flowers .  They can be lifted and stored in a dry place over the summer as they like moisture when in flower and baked in dry soil when dormant but that is an activity I do not want to get involved in. They do however withstand  wind surprisingly well and give attractive colour displays before the summer bedding is planted.



Two years ago I had fifty of these late season tulips (Ballerina) and evry year their numbers decline.


 In the end I have picked one colour from  three different catagories, kaufmanniana, Greigii,  and single early to see how they look and do. Kaufmanniniana and Greigii tulips flower on short stems and unlike other groups are said to come up year after year. I have chosen all early flowering forms as I live in an inland glen and they will probably flower more mid season. If I like them I can top them up or replace them with  another colour or catagory the following year.  From Parkers I can get I  a hundred bulbs for less than a bunch of flowers for the house which lasts about seven days so I will not begrudge my little experiment.

How to make a water feature with an oak half barrel


For some time now I have wanted to create a small pond in my garden but have never got round to it. Although ponds filled and surrounded with plants can look very attractive the main reason for me is to attract wildlife and by that I am really thinking frogs, which I am lead to believe are great for keeping down slug populations that always destroy my hosta foliage. We have a cat and I am aware some prey on frogs whilst others ignore them. It will be interesting to find out if ours is a frogger, it’s certainly a mouser.

Last week I bought a large “genuine” oak half barrel with the intention of   planting it with sucession planting until it struck me I could turn it into a successional planted water feature. After examination I realised there were narrow gaps between the lengths of wood. Would I need to incorporate a liner or seal it? Remembering it was “genuine” and had held whisky and being aware of how my wooden fence gate expands and contracts in wet and dry weather I thought I would fill it to see what happens. It fills to a few inches from the top before it starts to seep out and leaving it for a couple of nights it did not empty any further so all good.

After a visit to my local water garden nursery I was told to keep it filled and regularly toped up with water and it could take up to a month before it becomes fully water tight. It made me think of the old wooden sailing boats from centuries past exploring the seas and realising if they were out of the water too long the wood would contract making the ship very leaky. My other concern was chemicals in the wood from the whisky mixing with the water and was told he was never aware of any problem there. I do not intend to keep fish so no fear of intoxicating them.

 A note of caution, there are a number of retailers selling oak half barrels which are robust enough but they have been produced for the garden planting market for which they are very good value, However they were never intended to hold alcohol and their ability to expand and retain water is questionable. They could be lined, but liners never look good in barrels, or realistic looking plastic half barrels are available but in my opinion nowhere near as good looking or large as the genuine ones.

I dug out a few inches of top soil to sink the barrel level with existing planting and give it a look of having been there a while placing it on some bricks to keep it off the soil , allowing air to circulate and slow the rotting process. The barrel itself I placed close to mature planting which will act as a backdrop to the feature as well as no doubt being shelter to birds and insects which will benefit from my barrel pond. Around the barrel to add to the impression of permanency I transplanted a fern, epimedium, euphorbia and some  plants from last week’s plant heritage sale including the  a dwarf form of lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) called Alchemilla erythropoda and  Bowles’ golden sedge Carex elata “Aurea”.


Giving the plants time to fill out it will look great in no time.  The barrel is level it’s the camera angle that could have been better.


For placing in the barrel itself I have initially purchased three  aquatic plants, the oxygenating curly pond thyme, Elodea crispa  to prevent the water becoming stagnant, water mint, Mentha aquatic and the architectural Equisetum ramosissimum var japonicum commonly known as branched horsetail which I will not allow to escape into other parts of my garden.

 As my experience and knowledge increases I will add more plants to my water barrel. The plants within the barrel sit on bricks which I have placed in a step like fashion together with two bits of branch strapped together with cable ties so any unfortunate animals falling in have a chance to climb out.