Can you guess what these beauties are?

They are one of the most lovely things I have seen in my garden this autumn - bar the flowers and the pests I blogged on recently.

And they have made me very happy that I bought three Asclepias from the new garden centre I found earlier in the year.

Online details of the Asclepias plants (if you remember the labels were useless) promised me colourful flowers, seed pods and then seeds with 'parachutes'. And this is exactly what they have delivered. The individual flowers (above) are quite small but they have a large 'flower head' effect. I couldn’t imagine what the seed pods would be like.

It turns out that they are enormous, at least 4-5 cms long, almost as long as the leaves. The seed pods start green.

Then they harden, fade and the outer layer curls back to expose lots of brown seeds in what looks like the most intricate French plait every invented.

Then they mature, the wind blows and the seeds expose their electric filament-like parachutes which shimmer in the sunshine and will take them wherever. They are completely amazing to watch – best seen in the video at the top of the page.

They may, of course, cause me lots of problems if they “take” where they shouldn’t ie in the pink bed, but the prevailing winds have blown them towards the pond, greenhouse and not very fertile gravel paths. We’ll see next year and I have decided to harvest some and plant in the greenhouse because they are quite tender and so that I can recognise the seedlings as they grow. I'll have no idea what they’ll look like otherwise and they could easily be scooped up in general weeding.

These beautiful seeds have made me focus on other seed heads and my garden is full of them at this time of year. The rose hips are obvious and seldom create a new rose (though I have a small rose I didn’t plant in a pot by the house).

Nigella seed heads are everywhere, larger than their flowers and luckily are usually successful in self-seeding.

The Convolvulus seeds are much more ‘normal’ in relation to their flower size and are also very successful at creating new plants.

The large seed pods of the Wisteria seem sensible given the size of their flower clusters (I have never let them mature)….

… but the boomerang-shaped Tracleospermum jasminoides seed pods are far larger than the flowers they come from.

My new Solanum laciniatum has very large seed fruits too. They are changing colour from green to yellow - like plums.

And the Crocosmia Lucifer seeds are now about ready to burst from their pods... are those of the Ceratostigma...

..while the Agapanthus seeds have almost all already set flight.

But there is one plant that will keep me mesmerised by its seeds for a long while yet. That's the Miscanthus sinensus around the pond. Most of its heads are still in their early stages. This one below is opening to produce its seeds. And they look wonderful, whether the light is on them or through them. They are a perfect plant for the lower lights of autumn and winter.

So, which of this wonderful haul of seeds am I going to use?

Sadly, my garden and greenhouse are too small for me to need to propagate much - so bring on the gorgeous man with lots of acres and greenhouses that need looking after!

Most of these seeds will go to waste but I do propagate special plants and easy annuals including Begonia, Nicotiana of all sorts, and Cosmos. But mostly there isn't enough room to multiply what I already have.

Some years back I had some wonderful, exotic-looking, Begonias. I bought them from a specialist at The Malvern Show and they were in pots outside.  Each winter I took stem cuttings from them, ensuring I had leaf buds on two junctions, then simply stuck one end in jam jars of water and put them on a kitchen window sill over winter. They all sprouted new roots in the water within weeks and turned into new plants very easily, came true, and flourished. This went on for about seven years - until I got bored. One year I let the cuttings dry out. Inevitably they died. I really regret this lack of care because I miss them - and have not seen them since at flower shows.

I am not fond of the little, boring, yellow and red ones with dark green leaves that live in shade. Nor do I favour the huge, blousy, double ones in a range of garish colours. But I loved these little, tender ones, in pink and white which look like orchids.

They were great value because they flowered from mid Summer until the snows. I must seek them out again at the next Malvern show.

So, I shan’t be collecting or saving many of these seeds. I shall see where the wind blows them - and then probably do a lot of weeding next year!


October is a mellow month in my garden – the roses are gently repeating, some Clematis, Alstromeria and Geraniums are too. Everything is looking large and green after the rains and much will be cut back soon. The Dahlias are at their best, as are the Cosmos and Abutilons. My A. ‘Kentish Belle’ grows through my now overgrown ball of Pittosporum ‘Tandara Gold’ making it look like a Christmas tree hung with colourful knickerbockers. The Camelias, Daphnes and Viburnums are in bud getting ready for winter and spring and the weather is still warmish at 10 degrees C, but we’ve more rain and chiller winds.

My herbs continue to provide taste in the cooking pot, despite looking a bit straggly but they are not the only tasty things in the garden. This is also the perfect month for me to indulge in what was, up ‘til now, my very secret pleasure – drinking my scented roses.

After it has rained I urge you to wander into your garden and drink the rainwater off your roses. It tastes sublime. Only when you have done this can you really appreciate why all the insects are intoxicated by flowers. I know taste is 70-80% smell but who cares? Rainwater sucked off the petals of roses tastes like their scent, even if you hold your nose while doing it. It is just another way to fully appreciate the wonder of their perfume and to commune with your garden. 

If you are not sure how to do this, watch the very short video. And I promise you, each rose type tastes different, in the same way they smell different. You’ll be amazed. So please, take this opportunity to really taste your roses  - and enjoy! I promise you it is worth it. Just don’t tell anyone, or they’ll think you’re a little nuts. You can tell me of course. Just add a comment to the blog to let me know how it was for you.


So it’s all change again. Last week I was gardening bare-legged in sandals, rolled up jeans and skimpy tops. Today I am firmly back in full length jeans, socks, boots and wool.

And I’m not alone in thinking it’s colder. The fish have moved lower down in the pond and are swimming and feeding more slowly. The abundant berries on the Sorbus (Rowan tree) are being devoured by the blackbirds, and the mice are coming out to forage before winter. I have just been watching the latter doing acrobatics in the plants around the bird feeders and stealing the bird food (see the video). Then today, in broad daylight, one mouse even dragged the remains of a snail I stood on accidentally last night across my terrace and merrily fed on it behind my pots. The bird food stealing didn’t shock me, the dead snail eating did. But mice are mammals and omnivores. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

So, as we all prepare to bunker down again for the cold months, I have pruned the Wisteria, dead-headed the roses, buddlejas, dahlias and cosmos for the umpteenth time and thus find I have a moment to reflect on the year in the garden, and what I’ve learned. And lots of it seems to be about water and wildlife.

For example, the spray water scarer is the only effective device I’ve tried for keeping the heron, fox and cats away from the fish in my pond. Its major downside is that regularly the dogs and I get drenched when I forget to turn it off. That’s fine at 27 degrees C, less fun at 12 degrees C or when I’m in my glad rags, about to go out.

On the plants side, the abundant rain and long period of cold led to extraordinary combinations as everything rushed into flower at once. And I have discovered that Leonotis ‘Leonora’ is a manky dead nettle (when in my garden - it might be quite wonderful in yours) and it is not required to still have a wonderful array of butterflies and moths throughout the summer - the Buddleja are key. Aquilegia ‘Tequila Sunrise’ does not like being moved (RIP) and Physalis, the Cape Gooseberry, is actually a pernicious weed of the very worst type. Please don’t plant it anywhere except in a pot - unless you want acres of it. In addition, incredibly, cherry trees will send their roots up, above ground, to feed on the goodies in your baseless compost bin - amazing but true.

Top: Fremontadendron 'California Glory'.
Bottom left: Amelchanchier 'Snowfalkes'. Bottom right: Solanum laciniatum

And, despite its brash, orangey-yellow flowers and skin/eye irritating leaves and seed pods, I realise I really miss my Fremontadendron ‘California Glory’. It was in flower for so long each year – from spring to early winter. It was an unruly, wild, wonderful plant, somewhat like a teenager. It was determined to be independent, grow itself into a tree by splitting its pot aggressively and burying its roots underground. It had a vigour and character that the Amelanchier ‘Snowflakes’ I tried to replace it with couldn’t even think of matching. The latter lasted five months and has now been replaced by a semi-tender, Solanum laciniatum which has grown profusely and flowered since planted, so might become a reasonable alternative. We’ll see. It may not survive the winter – which the garden tells me will be hard again. There are lots of berries and hips already and these usually predict a hard winter. I can even see the ivy and Mahonia japonica preparing themselves to be the last season’s food for the birds and insects.

As an aside, many people don’t realise that ivy has flowers and berries but it does, and they are a really important source of late nectar and food for all manner of bees, birds and other insects, so please keep some ivy. It comes in many varieties, variegated or plain, small or large leaved, and is great for covering fences and walls and for harbouring and feeding a myriad of wildlife in winter.

I’ve also learned that many roses will grow very happily north-facing, as long as they are out in the open, and that other plants deemed OK for north facing sites, really are. This year’s project, my miniscule (2m x 42 cms) new front bed, has been fabulously successful against all expectations. It has been in flower constantly. In spring it bore two Camelia ‘Silver Anniversary’, then two Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Munstead White’ and one Astrantia ‘ Hidcote Shaggy Hybrid’ and two A. ‘Orlando’. These were joined by two Geranium ‘Brookside’ and G. 'Sabani Blue’. Then the three standard roses (two ‘Cream Abundance’ and one ‘Champagne Moment’) flowered profusely in June and they have been repeating ever since. The white Hydrangeas (‘Annabelle’ and ‘Steel Black Zebra’) started to add drama to this display in August and now the two Anenome ‘Honorine Jobert’ are in flower, the Astrantia are re-flowering, the Camelias are in bud again and the Sarcococca Confusa is getting ready to scent the path through winter.

Top: the front bed in September. Mid L: Rosa 'Cream Abundance'. Mid R: Rosa 'Champagne Moment'
Bottom L: Aquilegia vulgaris 'Munstead White'. Bottom R: Geranium 'Brookside'

This tiny, new, north-facing bed is looking luscious, green and gorgeous and is very happy making. It’s been a mini project but a major triumph this year. Complete strangers have stopped to thank me for making their walk along the road that bit more enjoyable and sweetly scented. I feel properly vindicated by my risky decision to buck the trend in the street and try to have flowering plants by my front wall and railings instead of the ubiquitous privet hedge.

One of the keys things I also did in the complete front re-vamp was to add a water butt on the side of the bay window. I had no water out there, so this has revolutionised my approach to watering it – i.e. I do it now! It was a neglected desert early last year.

Generally, I very seldom water my plants unless they are in pots or newly planted. In my London clay, once they are established, I reckon they should be able to find water deeper down – and for goodness sake, I live on a road with “brook” in its name for good reason - there was once a stream flowing under here. It occasionally appears in the cellar and so the least it can do is also look after the majority of the garden.

On the wildlife front, I have a major apology to make. I predicted the start of spring far too early, based on the frogs. I realise now that frogs know nothing about the start of spring. Early in the year they will come to the pond in a frenzy of excitement, sing their hearts out all night and mate, far too early. Their spawn gets frozen by late frosts and even snow and ice. The wiser toads wait in their warm beds amongst the leaves under my shed and in the stones around the pond “waterfall” until warmer times.  I’ve learned this year that the day the toads come out to mate is the day good temperatures are really here to stay. Henceforth, I shall ignore the frogs as portents of spring, however sweetly they sing at night.

And, when I think about the garden and what makes it special to me, it is the pond that is at the heart of it. Its pump-driven waterfall means the garden is full of the sound of moving water, 24 hours a day. This detracts from the surrounding noises of London – the inevitable emergency sirens, aeroplanes, traffic - and neighbours. But more importantly, it provides a drinking and washing place for a huge variety of insects and birds as well as a home for the fish, frogs, toads and numerous insects and other organisms.

So, as I reflect, given that the garden is 10 years old now, and despite my abiding passion for plants and scent, I think that what’s given me the greatest pleasure this year is the myriad wildlife attracted to it.

Top Left: Jersey Tiger moth. Top right: Speckled Wood butterfly
Bottom left: Peacock butterfly. Bottom right: Frog

I’ve had Peacock, Red Admiral, Comma and Speckled Wood butterflies feeding here as well the expected blues and whites. I’ve had an Old Lady moth, a Vapourer moth, a Lime Hawk moth and, recently, at least three exotic Jersey Tiger moths.

The birds and bees are many, and lacewings, ladybirds, damsel flies, crane flies and spiders just add to the mix. The ladybirds and tits do fairly well controlling the aphids, and the blackbirds and toads pretty much keep the snails and slugs under control. I’m sure this plethora of life is not just down to the planting. I’m certain the water, and more specifically the pond, is key. It makes the regular chore of cleaning its pump, elbow deep in sludge, eminently worthwhile – as well as being strangely satisfying.

So my advice to any new garden owner would be ‘add water’. Even if it is just a wall fountain, the sound will be relaxing and create an atmosphere away from the surrounding noises. A pond, however small, will encourage a wonderful array of wildlife. If you don’t have fish you’ll probably get newts (the two cannot co-exist because fish eat the newt eggs). Fish add colour, movement, character and noise (as they leap - which they do!) and lots of poo. They can also cause heartache if they die or are eaten by the heron – so get a water spray gismo and fear not. Be bold, put water in. You won’t regret it. Just remember to turn the heron scarer off before you walk past.