Tag Archive: colour

Potted_bulbsMore and more garden plants are available from garden centres in flower. If bought in bud, potted bulbs, such as dwarf daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths and tulips, allow you to instantly transform an otherwise dull border into a colourful, early spring centrepiece. This is particularly useful for adding colour to prominent beds near to the house.

Source: ‘Short Cuts to Great Gardens’- Reader’s Digest 1999

Old School Gardener


It’s the time of year when colourful stems come into their own. I especially love Dogwoods (Cornus). For some ideas about winter interest in your garden take a look at ‘7 Plants for Winter Wonder’

Old School Gardener


Old School Garden – 30th October 2014

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

The clocks have gone back and the evenings are shortening the afternoon gardening sessions. Since I last wrote my gardening activity has stepped up a gear- well it was pretty much in 1st (or maybe even reverse) during September.

The driest September for many a year gave way to (in some parts of the UK) a very wet October. Here it has been fairly calm and though we’ve had some rain it hasn’t been the deluge experienced further north. There’s quite a range of ‘autumn colour’ in the garden right now…

As per normal for the gardening calendar it’s been a month of ‘managed decline’ as well as preparation for next year in Old School Garden. Plenty of leaves to gather up for leaf mould and general tidying away of spent stems and foliage that don’t offer anything by way of ornamental or wildlife value. Unfortunately this has included three large Box balls that have succumbed to Blight- they now await burning in my fire pit area. Looking in the Nurseries their replacements would be around £50 each, given their size! I don’t think I’ll bother, as it gives me a chance to use the remaining balls (3 large and six small), plus two cones a bit more creatively elsewhere in the garden – precisely where is still under debate.

The other tidying has included finally heaving out my enormous sunflowers, so that I now have a pile of what, from a distance, look like pretty thick tree trunks! I’ve also been pruning my Fremontodendron, which continues to thrive against our south-facing front wall and the Sorbaria, which I must say looks nice and neat after its haircut. I’ve also been trimming some of the native hedge between us and our neighbours and cutting out some very sorry-looking Choisya (my guess is that it has got to a size where the poor, panned soil underneath it, coupled with the dry weather, have starved it of moisture). Hopefully what remains will recover.

'Tree trunk' sunflowers awaiting their fate

‘Tree trunk’ sunflowers awaiting their fate

Talking of neighbours, our immediate ones (with us since we moved in 27 years ago), have moved out in the last couple of days, off to a new adventure living on a canal boat! We’ve met our new neighbours, a very pleasant young couple who have been living elsewhere in Norfolk. It also turns out that our next but one neighbour has something of a pest control talent; he has waged war on the moles in his garden and so far the ‘score card’ pinned to his shed reads ‘Norman 21, Moles 0’ ! I’m sort of envious given the problems we’ve had this year. But as I write, the level of mole activity in the garden seems to have calmed a little, though the roadside verge seems as covered with hills as ever- maybe the moles are working out how to tunnel under the road and into the fields beyond- that would be a relief!

You’ll gather that I’m building up quite a supply of green and brown material which is either being composted or burned. The new bonfire pile is in a different spot, having had a big burn up a few weeks ago. This was something of an eye opener as a Tree Surveyor from the power company came running into the garden and, rather agitated, told me to put out the fire! As this was directly under the 11,000 volt power line that crosses the back of our garden, there’s apparently a risk of a ‘Carbon flashback’. This is when smoke of a particular type enables the electricity to ‘power up’ the air underneath the wires with the result that pretty much everything under it is fried! This was news to me, and having had my bonfires in this spot for many years, I wonder how close I’ve come to disaster in the past? Needless to say I’ve now resorted to using the fire pit area (away from the wires) as my bonfire site, and this has also prompted me to start thinking about what to do with the old site and its surrounds – very much a forgotten bit of the garden…more on this in future letters.

The old (unsafe) bonfire area- room for improvement

The old (unsafe) bonfire area- room for improvement

Talking of new designs I’ve been running my garden design course at the local High School again and its been great fun taking 5 more students through the design process for their own projects, which range from someone wanting to create a garden at a primary school to a couple who have been in their house (and large garden) for a few months and are wanting to adjust this to meet their needs (which include an escapist dog!). And my voluntary gardening at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum continues; yesterday I was doing a bit of ‘willow weaving’ on the tunnel I created in the ‘Curiosity Corner’ for the under 5’s. It looks a bit more tunnel- like again and also with a bit of judicious tying in, should be a bit more robust, as this area (which seems to be very popular), gets a real hammering.

The last month has also been one of planting and sowing. I’ve got two varieties of onion sets in as well as some garlic and Broad Beans, and I’ve just about finished planting out Wallflowers and Sweet Williams alongside Pansies and Violas in a range of pots on the Terrace as well as in various other spots around the garden. The last few peppers are still ripening in the greenhouse so it won’t be much longer before that’s given a clean out and made ready for over wintering duties.

A good year for roses- I've just tied in some of the new growth on the arbour (Rosa 'Zephirine Drouhin')

A good year for roses- i’ve just tied in some of the new growth on the arbour (Rosa ‘Zephirine Drouhin’)

I’ve also cleared and tidied most of the kitchen garden and given the low box edging its final trim- it must be 10 years since I grew these from cuttings and they are just about knitted together as a series of nice little hedges around the raised beds. The clearing away has also included cabbages and cauliflowers which were a disaster this year, none of them having formed any heads. I guess it must be weather related once more.

Box (h)edging tidied up in the kitchen garden

Box (h)edging tidied up in the kitchen garden

Well, I’ve just time to finish cutting the lawn (really it’s a lazy way of collecting leaves) before some friends arrive for an overnight stay. We are also on our travels again this weekend, as we visit friends in Edinburgh, so I think the waterproofs and winter clothes will definitely need to be packed as nearer normal temperatures return!

All the best to Ferdy and you; maybe we’ll meet up before Christmas?

Old School Gardener



A bridge too far

Hmm, a riot of colour, but perhaps a ‘bridge too far’?

Stockholm-lilac‘The bright and busy days of May are here;

The countryside’s ablaze with colours rare

In sun and shower. There’s cricket on the green,

And lilies in the wood, and now are seen

Laburnums pouring gold, tall chestnuts decked

With spires of pink and white, where bees collect

A precious harvest, then away go winging

Past lovely lilacs where a blackbird’s singing.

Old gardeners now their long experience bring

To battle with the weeds; the lawns are neat.

A worried thrush scolds by the garden seat

Her wandering, gaping brood. House-martins cling,

Pied master-builders, on the weathered walls,

And from the woods all day the cuckoo calls.’

John (Jack) Kett

from ‘A Late Lark Singing’ (Minerva press 1997)

Vertical gardens or ‘green walls’ seem to be increasingly popular, from the humble vertical planters made out of recycled materials like pallets, to the enormous ‘frescoes’ seen on new buildings around the world.

This is a testament to their value in both a domestic setting- where they are one way of adding height and so ‘structure’ to a garden as well as providing either a splash of colour or a source of food – and to their role in helping to ‘green’ our cities and other built up areas, managing air temperatures and providing an attractive texture to what might otherwise be a boring facade.

I’ve gathered together a few pictures here of some examples that might inspire you!

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Old School Gardener

PicPost: Eastern Promise

Photo near Yaxley, Cambridgeshire, by David Bradley

Picpost: I love my bed

No, not me, not Old School Garden!

Trunk colour Batsford Arboretum

Old School Gardener

sweet-pea-flowerThe ‘Queen of Annuals’ is being billed as the cottage garden favourite for 2013′.

It’s botanical name- Lathyrus odoratus- comes from an ancient greek word (Lathyrus) meaning  pea or vetchling and odoratus meaning ‘fragrant’. The genus Lathyrus contains about 160 species and of the many cultivars of the Sweet Pea, some 52 varieties have been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit.  The many varieties of Sweet pea available today come in a wide range of colours, but not yellow!



“The Sweet Pea has a keel that was meant to seek all shores; it has wings that were meant to fly across all continents; it has a standard which is friendly to all nations; and it has a fragrance like the universal gospel, yea, a sweet prophecy of welcome everywhere that has been abundantly fulfilled” – Rev. W. T. Hutchins 1900

Sweet pea cultivation is thought to have begun in the 17th century. The originator of the modern plant naming system, the swedish botanist Linnaeus, carried on using the genus name Lathyrus, which was in common use in the 18th century, but gave the Sweet pea it’s species name odoratus to codify the various names used for it at the time.

sweet-pea-flowers-7Victorian times saw a craze for the plant and a host of new cultivars were created as a result, many beginning their lives as mutations or ‘sports’ of known varieties. The original dwarf sweet pea was found growing in a row of a popular grandiflora variety in California  in the late 19th century. It had similar flowers to its parent but was much shorter and with a spreading habit. Given the name ‘Cupid’, this later became the general name used for dwarf sweet peas. Later crossings of these and other grandifloras produced a wide range of ‘cupids’ and later still these were crossed with the newer ‘Spencer’ sweet peas which resulted in a range of ‘cupids’ with larger flowers.

The large-flowered Spencer sweet pea appears to have arisen in two or three places at around the same time, but perhaps the most famous source was the home of the Spencer family (of Lady Diana fame) in Northamptonshire. The head gardener of Althorp HouseSilas Cole – named this ‘Countess Spencer’, though he seems at the time to have claimed it arose from deliberate cross breeding rather than as an accident of nature!

Sweet peas can be grown in different ways, but perhaps the most common technique is the cordon, introduced in 1911 by Tom Jones of Ruabon. This is used to produce flowers of the highest quality and in effect is a form of pruning and training which channels the plant’s energies into a smaller number of larger blooms. This process involves:

  • The top of a young seedling being pinched out once it has produced several true leaves, which encourages branching
  • One of the resulting side shoots (a strong one emerging near the base of the plant) is retained, and the others removed before they develop
  • The remaining stem is allowed to grow and is tied in, but all of its side shoots are removed as they form, as are any tendrils to prevent them fastening onto the flower stems
  • The fewer flower stems produce larger blooms and once finished these flowers are removed to encourage new ones to form.

Several plants can be grown in this way along a row to produce a sweet pea screen.

Fresh sweet pea flowers in the house have been shown to improve general wellbeing, boost both male and female libido, and lessen the effects of a hangover! However, the seeds of some species of Lathyrus contain a toxic amino acid which if eaten in large quantities can cause the serious disease Lathyrism.


Sources and further information:



Sweet Pea Flower pictures

Quizzicals: two more cryptic clues to plants, fruit or veg:

  • Has had too much already
  • A country full of automobiles

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