I had imagined this blog was going to be about the race to flower in May – a catalogue of the first of everything suddenly appearing and the amazing wonders that have been unfolding in the garden every day and sometimes hour by hour. But the most astounding, different and wonderful thing that happened in my garden in early Summer was been the scent.

As many of you know I seek flowers and scent all year round and, whilst individual plants have been scented beautifully, the whole garden or parts of the garden haven’t been – until this year.

Many things work against “scenting” this garden, particularly the lack of walls or solid fences to encapsulate it and the winds that fly through and eddy round it, surrounded as we are by the commons to the front and the open vistas at the back onto the dairy cow, oak tree and jackdaw-filled fields beyond.

And honestly, a terrible admission, last year I sort of gave up on having whole areas of the garden scented (like I had achieved in London) and resigned myself to smelling individual plants. A “scented garden” seemed beyond the possible in this particular, somewhat open and windy spot.

However, the extraordinary weather we have had in the early part of this year seems to have been loved by the plants. Yes, we had very low temperatures and snow and Spring was late but we didn’t have last year’s killer late frost at the end of April. Everything that sprung to life in May looked healthier and happier than it has ever done. Plants that failed last year suddenly showed me they love to be here. Plants I had forgotten I had or was about to remove came up and said “Hi, look at me, I’m great.”

This rose (above) for example, which I think is R. "Falstaff", has hardly flowered before but this year has been aboundant - and still is. It has repeat flowered non-stop.

Indeed all the roses, Clematis and honeysuckle were bug and black spot free and threw themselves into bud and flower in an abundance of un-called for exhuberance that was almost embarrassing. I have never seen them all look so happy.

But most excitingly (and somewhat amazingly) the whole garden smelled wonderful. I can’t tell you what a surprise this was and thus how exhilarating.

Strangely it started with the Cistus. The flowers don’t smell but the leaves do. They give off an aromatic scent and I have three around the terrace area, in light shade, including an increasingly enormous C. “Alan Fradd” (below). In May their leaves started to ooze scent into the garden.

Then the two white and one blue Wisteria on the rose arch parade came into flower properly for the first time and walking through and weeding around them suddenly became a heady experience.

(And the Wisteria at the front was fabulous too after its "bud execution" by frost last year.)

Then yellow Rosa Arthur Bell (the non climbing version that is supposed to be 20 x 30 cms but was up and over the 2.5 metre arches in the first year) came into massive scented flower followed swiftly by R. Gertrude Jeykll (below) and a whole host of others and now the whole rose arch tunnel is a scented experience. I always hoped it would be of course when I designed it and have been disappointed for the last three years. But this year it is more than fulfilling my wildest dreams. For the first time since I created this garden just standing or walking or working in it has become a glorious, scent-filled experience. And the two Lonicera came out a few weeks later just adding to the experience. Wow!

Is the scent down to the plants’ maturity? Is it that they are now old enough, tall enough and large enough to start covering the arches and create their own mini microclimates of scent? Is it that it is simply less windy? I don’t know. I just know I love it whilst it’s available to me.

Even now, as I write late at night with the doors open, wonderful wafts of scent tantalise me. It turns about to be both white Dianthus and Nicotiana which opens in the evening to be pollinated by moths.

Talking of insects, the lack of greenfly has meant a complete lack of ladybirds which is a shame but, on a positive note, I have witnessed my first huge dragonfly ‘casks’. There were four initially on the dinosaur grass in the pond and they were shortly followed by many more. It’s hard to tell if they are coming or gone because they are almost see-through and very papery looking. But they grip onto the stalks and seem to climb up from the watery base below so I assume they are alive and not “vacated” shells.

It turns out that most of them were broad bodied chasers (below) and a couple were red/brown dragonflies (possibly darters amd chasers) and at least two were the huge blue and green Emperor dragon flies. They exploded into life around the pond and I spent ages trying to identify each.


But possibly the most welcome new visitors to the garden this Summer have been a family of thrushes. They are quite shy (hence no photos) and I saw a couple a few times but the major evidence has been the enormous number of empty snail shells. Bless the thrush and its taste for garden snails! Between them and the toads they are doing a grand job and the early slug and snail devastation in the garden seems to have been arrested by them.

The high and lows at the start of this year have been personal and weather based. Winter was rather good to us here. It was cold enough to kill lots of bugs but was nothing like as wet or windy as my previous two winters. So Spring started well.

My first plant in flower is almost always a stunning Japanese Prunus mume ‘Beni-Chidori’ which has deep pink, highly scented, flowers that spring directly from the dark stems in February.

It was fabulous this year and was followed shortly by the three Daphnes (which flowered properly for the first time), the snowdrops, Helebores (below), daffodils and early flowering Arabis ‘Little Treasure Pink’ by the edge of the pond.


Then my newly (last Autumn) planted small flowered Clematis along the difficult rose arches bed came good (C. Alpina Frankie’ and C. macropetala ‘Wesselton’) as did the one on the oil tank trellis (C. macropetala ‘Propertius’).

The “smaller flowered plants” planting plan in my difficult border has gone quite well. The little Chionodoxa ‘Lucilae’ were charming very early on and are now followed by the Anemone ‘De Caen Blue’.

In April the temperatures soared and we had uncommonly high ones (27 degrees in the sun one day – which is basically a very good Summer temperature here) and everything got very excited and came into bud.


The tulips were magnificent (more about one of them later) but we had no rain for about four weeks so I was watering where needs be.

So Spring was looking good – as were my Wisteria. One of things I am proudest of in my new garden is that I managed to get the existing Wisterias at the front to flower the first year after I was here (they hadn’t before). They just needed a proper prune. They have been good for the last two Springs but this year the flower buds were massively abundant. This is what they looked like around mid April – I was so excited and looking forward to a fabulous display.

I have three younger ones on the rose arch parade too and they were also in amazing bud – so it was going to be Wisteria heaven chez moi this Spring.

But then, on the nights of 24thth and 25thth of April everything changed and we had overnight frosts and cold winds. It went down to -3 degrees plus the wind chill factor. I awoke to a white lawn but wasn’t overly worried because my outside plants are hardy (officially to -5 or more) and I’d put all the geraniums and pelargoniums etc back into the greenhouse.

But then I saw the Wisterias with their “oh so promising” buds flopping like dead things in the light wind. I walked the garden - the Dicentra were drooping, a new rose stem was doing the same, young leaves on the multi-stemmed Circis Siliquastrum (Judas tree) and some of the Acers were “burned”, and the Camelias were totally finished off. The catalogue of plant misery was too much to burden you with (if you are of a sensitive disposition) but suffice to say it was devastating.

On the upside some things seem to have brazened it out. The tulips have recovered, the roses are mostly fine. healthily in bud with some just coming into flower, the Geums have weathered the storm with impunity and once again are in blazing flower. Even my somewhat tender Pittosporums and some of the Acers seem to have ignored the shocking freeze.

And despite the general drought most things continue to flourish.

My lovely Actinidia Kolmikta is becoming a nice shape on the workshop wall. Training the helpfully pliable stems sideways has the same effect as with roses. It creates new shoots vertically from the more horizontally tied stems. It is supposed to be a twining climber but it seems to respond well to this treatment. I love the white and pink tipped leaves and many people don’t realise that these hide tiny flower buds which, when open, exude a fantastic scent in the sunshine. It’s always great fun seeing people trying to work out where this amazing smell is coming from this early in the season.

And re tulips … last Autumn I read in one of my Gardening magazines about a new tulip called ‘Vaya con Dios’ (Let’s go with God). It is huge, open cup shaped, slightly frilly on the edges and yellow in the photo. I wanted to try it and the only seller online seemed to be Kelways. So I ended up ordering all this year’s tulips from them (pricier than many but very good quality bulbs). All of them have been great – large, tall and strong. But Vaya con Dios has been astoundingly wonderful.

 It starts out as a huge, slightly frilled, bright yellow cup the size of a small noodle bowl when it opens – much larger than a Peony flower. It's the yellow one at the bottom of the top photo. It then takes on raspberry ripple-like pink lines until it slowly develops an overall pink with a glowing yellow centre and it never fades – unlike some of the others.

Despite the tulip success I am already grieving for my frost hit Wisterias. Some buds have survived. As you can see there will be some flowers but they are not going to look anything like as magnificent as they should have done.

And talking of grieving, the reason I haven’t written a blog since September is firstly because it became Winter and not very interesting, secondly because I got busy work-wise but mostly because my beloved dog Lottie (who has featured in lots of the garden videos) became very ill in November/December (at only six and half), was finally diagnosed with a large, inoperable brain tumour in early January, and I had to have her put down which was the hardest but kindest thing I have ever done in my life. Her absence knocked Pickle (my other dog who loved her dearly) and me sideways to say the least and, honestly, I haven’t been inspired to write about the garden again until now. So please forgive me. I just wasn’t in the mood. A little Lottie gallery is below.

But onwards and upwards. I now have a wonderful new, very shaggy puppy called Daisy who is a Poochon (half toy poodle and half Bichon Frise) who is growing fast. She looks a bit like Lottie (similar colouring) but with a longer nose and longer legs. And she is a very different and busy girl – always playing with things, bringing me presents with a madly wagging tail and generally wriggling, running and jumping with the joy of being alive.

And she is my new joy. Pickle was very unimpressed when she arrived and it took a full month of keeping them physically apart in pens and cages in the kitchen and garden before I was confident that he would not kill her. Joyously, they are now best friends and do a lot of dog kissing.

So a new balance has been restored to our household that means I can again relax, enjoy the garden – and write about it. But we still miss our lovely little Lottie (20.08.2000 – 09.01.2017).

RIP my darling.

...de-mystifying this glorious, scented beauty.

As I write this evening, the scent from my amazing Wisteria ‘Alba’ that now drapes over the back end of the house and comes all the way from the hot bed (where it is not yet fully in flower) is flooding into the kitchen through the open French doors. Yes, it is mingled with the scent of the Lonicera x americana that grows with it, but the overall, intoxicating perfume is Wisteria. It’s something one only experiences for around a month a year but it’s all the more special for that. And it looks amazing!

Wisteria floribunda 'Alba' across the South facing kitchen wall

I know some people who think Wisteria is a nasty, common, plant like Buddleja. I disagree on both. As well as being a plant lover I am a wildlife lover and both plants attract myriad insects by day and night. That’s great in my book. Yes, they can both get big and ungainly but only if you don’t know how to handle them. And they are so simple to control that no one should worry, even in a small garden. I have three Wisteria (one of each main type) and two Buddleja in a 60ft back garden and they all perform marvellously.

Others are terrified of Wisteria because of the supposed very specific pruning requirements. But the truth is that Wisteria is really easy to handle and prune if you just know a few basic facts.

I don’t normally write “How to..” type stuff in this blog but, given there’s poetry and allsorts already, I don’t really see why not when the need seems to be there. I have met so many people in the last few weeks who are not confident about growing Wisteria that I think it deserves a blog – because the truth is it is a very easy plant to grow and look after, and is wonderfully rewarding. I seek to de-bunk its scary reputation.

So, this piece is written to encourage those of you without a Wisteria to go out now and buy one, in the complete confidence that you will have it in flower, be able to control it and enjoy it for many years to come if you follow some simple advice. It could also be of value to those of you who have recently bought or inherited one but are unsure which it is or how best to care for it.


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...

..as 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!


Long, white flowers with yellow details on a fantastic Wisteria I bought as a standard (ie multi-stemmed) but which I moved back in the bed against the fence after a few years and which has now spread across everything - the side arch, the back of my house, the back of my neighbpours' house etc and flowers profusely and often repeats later in the year. I didn't keep the label so I am not certain whether it is Japanese or Chinese. I think it's chinensis because the flower clusters are fairly long.

The best tip anyone ever gave me about buying Wisteria was always to buy them in flower, otherwise you can wait seven years. I have stuck to this and all mine have flowered from day one. I also make sure I prune them properly, down to a few buds. It makes a huge difference.

Shortish flowers (15-20 coms), highly scented, delicate and late flowering with mid vigour (250-300cms) and is up square arch. It is much less vigorous than my white Wisteria and more white than I had hoped. It's supposed to be gently blue/purple tinted but I can't see it.

Quite short, stubby but very fragrant flowers. Not nearly as prolific as my white Wisteria in the Hot bed but very pretty all the same and it looks great mixed with the white Clematis montana over the swing seat.