Jobs for February and March

Its been a tough start to 2021, we’ve gone from biblical rain to freezing ice with a relentlessly grey sky in between! Chin up though it cant last forever, lets make some plans…

Galanthus ‘Dionysis’ – Divide snowdrops after flowering

After a January that has lasted since 1972 and has rained so much half of East Anglia is now part of the North Sea, swiftly followed by a short sharp beast from the east you might be wondering what we can possibly do in a soggy, frozen, bedraggled garden?

Honestly, right at this moment so am I!

The dramatic tips of the Sumack against blue skies

Here at Ulting Wick Im feeling as if we are increasingly falling further behind, unable to work on the borders at times, we have been unable to even walk on the grass as it squelched. The meadow has become a water meadow and the snowdrops in the woodland were floating! Then everything has spent a week frozen, not what you need when everything has been so wet!

Cornus mas, really earns its keep in February

Lockdown has meant poor Rachel has been unable to join us, further reducing how much work can be done. I’m guessing most of you are in a very similar position though and to soothe my soul I just went and had a look at my precious snowdrop collection. Its important to spend at least 5 minutes every day looking for the joy. Some days its harder than others but if the sun is shining grab that chance to ‘Sunflower’ in it, turn your face up, close your eyes, hold your arms wide, sway and bask in its light!

Hellebores – a great source of winter joy

That’s your first job for February and into March, look for the joy!

It might be a flock of fluffy long tailed tits, a 2 minute gap in the clouds, a snowdrop, an early iris, a cyclamen. Take that moment and savour it, drink in the colour with your eyes and breathe in the scents around you. Empty your mind of everything but that small moment you’re in and commit it to memory.

Shocking pink Cyclamen coum

Now I realise that if you really are struggling this could sound trite and I don’t mean to make it sound simple, its not. It does help me and I hope it helps you…. anyway I’ll shut up and get back to what I’m qualified to do…. Garden!

Clean and check your Glasshouse for Pest & Disease

On a mild February/March day this is your opportunity to get a jump on any nasties that may have hitched a ride into your nice cosy glasshouse over winter. I like to pick a day when its raining as it helps you clear off any bugs. Sweep, tidy, wash, pick off any dead leaves and check over plants before bringing everything back in before nightfall.

Checking out the Aeoniums from the conservatory

Now this next job really does depend on your facilities.

The vegetable garden glasshouse at Sissinghurst with heated bench and fleece tent

Sowing seeds

Now if you don’t have a glasshouse don’t even attempt this job. You need heat and light. However if you do you can get a head start on your brassicas, onions, your broad beans and other cold hardy crops. Hardy annuals such as calendula and eschscholzia will happily grow if you can give them a steady temperature just over 10 degrees. Obviously if you’re planning on starting off your tomatoes and chillies you need to keep the temperature a touch higher, say 20 degrees. Some seeds also need cold stratification to get them started, unless you’re planning on shoving them in your fridge now is your chance to give them that shock.

Autumn sown Sweetpeas ready for potting on

In the Vegetable Garden

Productive vegetable gardening can be carried on 12 months a year under cover

Growing under cover

In the polytunnel or indeed in the Glasshouse if you have that option, winter salads can be cropped and sown continuously. Early peas, Broad Beans, Spinach, Mustards, Spring onions a fabulous range of fresh early veg can be sown now and planted out under cover to fill the hungry gap but ONLY if you have these facilities. If you don’t then please don’t try as there’s a good chance it will all go horribly wrong and I don’t want you to be disappointed.

Rhubarb crowns emerging

Force Rhubarb

So you don’t want to wait for lovely sweet juicy Rhubarb? But you cant afford one of those fancy terracotta forcers….

Get yourself a nice black bin!

Ok its not the prettiest way of forcing Rhubarb but it is however effective. Now im not going to go into all of the myriad varieties and their attributes however at Sissinghurst we used Timperley early because as the name suggests it is one of the earliest forcing varieties. The best way is to have minimum 3 crowns and force one year, rest for 2. Dont allow your Rhubarb to flower as it will sap its strength.

Black bins with wood chip excluding the light

Plant bare root Fruit Trees

Looking at the mire below you would be forgiven for thinking that there would be no way those trees would survive. If youd like to check for yourself on the state of them take a walk to the far end of the carpark at Sissinghurst. The last time I checked a few years back they were all still going strong. Bare root trees are surprisingly resilient.

There are plenty of nurseries that are sending out bare root trees at this time of year and they are brilliant at advising you which varieties and rootstocks are best for you but if you fall in love with that bare root tree you see at the supermarket entrance that’s ok too. No shame, I planted 2 Victoria plums, a Stella cherry and I’ve often used their whips when teaching people to prune apples. They’re popular because they’re reliable.

That said I’ve also bought unusual varieties on absolutely giant rootstocks as I have a neighbour who always accepts them gratefully and they’ve really looked after me when I’ve been ill, like when I had Covid last year. Good neighbours are the best!

Planting into heavy clay in February 2010

Finish Mulching

As the soil starts to warm at the end of February, assuming we aren’t stuck in snowdrifts of course, you want to finish popping 2 inches of mulch onto your beds and borders. You dont even have to dig it in, just leave it on top.

Dig in Green Manures

This is your last moment to start digging in your Green Manures, they have done their job of protecting your soils structure and now they need to add their goodness back into it. Some green Manures inhibit seed germination so best to get them dug in well before you need to start direct sowing.

Rye grass having been dug into the V.K. beds at Ryton

Other jobs that need doing are Chitting potatoes and planting your onion sets, this can be done in seed trays just to give them a chance to develop roots.

In the Ornamental Garden

Cut back grasses

Cut back grasses, you’ve left them up as habitats all winter but now as the weather warms up they will start to reshoot from the base and now is your moment to cut everything right down so as to not damage the new emerging shoots.

Bulking up your drifts of snowdrops can be achieved relatively quickly

Divide snowdrops

Divide snowdrops, as soon as they finish flowering gently lift and pull apart gently congested clumps of snowdrops. Take note of where they are happy and replant in similar locations.

Prune Clematis

Prune clematis in groups 2 and 3, if this has been done on a regular basis and its not too much of a nightmare all you need to do is prune back to where you can see a new bud. However if its been allowed to get badly out of hand a more shocking option is open to you and that’s cutting it right down to the ground. If planted with a few buds below ground it will make a fabulous recovery.

What if you’re not sure what pruning group your clematis belongs to though? Have a look at the checklist below!

  • Pruning Group 1: Prune (if needed – dead, diseased, dying) mid- to late spring, after flowering and once the risk of frost has passed. Group one flowers on second year wood so try not to go too hard with them.
  • Pruning Group 2: Prune in February and after the first flush of flowers in early summer.
  • Pruning Group 3: Prune in February. These are the late summer flowering clematis.
Autumn planted bowls of Iris reticulata are such a bonus!

Divide perennials

Now is the perfect time to catch up on dividing some of those congested perennials. Get a sharp spade and cut big clumps of Geranium, Veronicastrum and other herbaceous plants into quarters or more. Lift them up, split and replant in to the border in odd numbers. Any left overs can be potted up and given to friends!

Hamamelis or Witch Hazel provides wonderful scent

Cut back buddlia

Regardless of how you spell it Buddleja davidii (spelling variant Buddleia davidii), also called summer lilac, butterfly-bush, or orange eye, it will need cutting back hard at the end of Feb. Certainly no later than mid March, before the sap really starts to rise. Its important to know the difference between this and other species of Buddleja that flower on second year wood so if you’re unsure its ok to leave it for one year to see what kind of flowers it produces.

Give Winter heathers a trim after flowering

Assuming you didnt buy a spray painted heather, you will have noticed the flowers are starting to fade and go a little ropey by the beginning of March (if you bought a spray painted one this still rings true, you just cant see it so well). Grab your shears and give it a lockdown haircut! You can go quite hard but don’t take it right back into old wood, it might not recover. This will rejuvenate the plant, cause it to be more floriferous next year and prevent it from getting leggy.

A cold, clear February sunrise

Just a reminder, Adventures in Horticulture’s guest speaker Naomi Slade’s talk is still on line if you hurry and our very own Essex lad Matthew Oliver of Hyde Hall Giant Pumpkin fame is Februarys guest speaker so come and join us!

Magnolia perfection!

As Spring approaches you might want to consider an addition for the future to your garden in the form of a Magnolia tree but which one!
With so many marvellous flowers and colours to pick from come with me as we virtually walk through some of your options. Then plan a visit for the future to see them in person in gardens across the UK

When people ask me what my favourite season is I really struggle as there’s lots of reasons to love every season, they each have merit. Summer, hazy cool dawns with a promise of the days heat, the sleepy churr of crickets in the grass. Sometimes when its been dry for weeks you can smell rain from miles away.

Continue reading “Magnolia perfection!”

Happy New year!

Happy New Year indeed and here’s hoping its easier than last year eh! I’ve taken a moment to review my thoughts on 2020, my feelings, successes and my less successful moments. Most important to me though are my thoughts for the futures of gardens and how we as gardeners can really make a difference to everyone’s lives…

Belvoir Castle – February 2020

Best intentions as I sit here on this quiet January morning, its been a hell of a year and I, like everyone else for the most part have often felt like I’m drowning not waving. However there have been many excellent moments throughout 2020, it would be unfair to say it was a complete waste of a year.

Continue reading “Happy New year!”

Snowdrops galore!

What better than a walk through crisp, cold woodlands, your breath coming out in clouds and the tip of your nose tingling, with the added delight of a carpet of pure white flowers shivering in the breeze for as far as the eye can see… come and join the Galanthophiles and learn the joys of snowdrops!

As you may know I’m a bit keen on Snowdrops and I’d like to share some of this joy with you!


I’ve put together a very short calendar of events and I’m sure I’ve missed more than I’ve found so if you know of somewhere that I haven’t included please do add it in the comments section below!

Continue reading “Snowdrops galore!”

Hampton Court 2018

Hampton Court 2018
Theres so much to see and do at this years Hampton I was plum tuckered by the end of the day
A first view of the gardens and a to do list!
I’ll be adding plant profiles later this week!


Hampton Court has always been a favourite of mine, ever since my first view, driving a lorry laden with plants across a dusty, sun bleached field with a herd of deer in the distance. That first experience of an RHS Show was in retrospect an iconic moment in my career. To see a full grown rough, tough man on the verge of tears because his Jacaranda mimosifolia had lost its one flower in transport was memorable to say the least. I often wonder who he was and how his garden got on that year, I do hope he did ok. That was my first sighting of a tree that was to become one of my top 10 trees. The atmosphere on the build was amazing and honestly it made me realise that when I changed careers, scary as that was, I had made the best decision of my life!

Since then I have visited Hampton Court many times, both on build and as a visitor, I’ve always preferred it to Chelsea if I’m honest. It feels less crowded, less frantic. The standard of displays has always been just as good, if not better in some cases. In the past 2 years the butterfly dome has been an enormous draw for visitors, seeing a little girl looking at wonder at a huge butterfly that had decided to alight on her hand was just delightful. Hopefully a memory that might turn her into a future entomologist!

Theres lots of shopping opportunities at Hampton Court too, not just for sundries, gadgets and fancy things but for plants! The floral marquee is as always a dangerous place for those of us with plant avarice. Last year I picked up some gorgeous bits and pieces. Pelargonium ‘Springfield black’ and ‘Lord Bute’ came home and are now gracing the pots in various places at Ulting Wick, performing beautifully. A Colocasia ‘Hawaiian blue’ survived this harsh winter and has grown well enough to be split and is in pots by the front door. As usual I will be keeping my eyes open for the unusual or beautiful, I feel myself increasingly being drawn towards the amazing leaves of Begonias.

Outside there are beautiful gardens to admire and take inspiration from, one designer I’ve come to admire recently has been Charlie Bloom. Her designs are accessible for most urban gardeners. Materials and plant selections that would grace any average back garden and turn it into a paradise. Last year her garden ‘Colour box’ was literally overrun by admiring visitors, crowds standing 5 deep to catch a glimpse of the cheerful simplicity which was obviously something that was easily relatable to. Come sell off time the garden disappeared in minutes!


Its worth mentioning the ethos behind her work at this point, unlike most show gardens the budget involved was minimal. The entire build was done on a shoestring! Charlie involved several suppliers, friends and volunteers to create her vision. Shes very vocal about this, praising each and every person involved. It really is a team effort, which is a beautiful thing to see. This year is no different in that sense, in fact maybe even more so with various parties such as Nickie Bonn, Stark and Greensmith, Lewis Normand, Art4Space, London Stone and possibly many others I haven’t named, giving time, materials and smiles to create ‘Brilliance in Bloom’. Having followed its creation on Twitter it’s another amazing garden which I’m sure the public will fall in love with.


One which caught my eye from its design brief mainly due to the fantastical description was the Elements Mystique Garden by Elements Garden Design. It features the work of Belgian sculptor William Roobrouck. Corten steel in gardens seems to be very in vogue at the moment! The sphere which dominates the garden is representing a fallen meteor with a planting scheme representing the heat the plants closest would have suffered, ruptured paving from the impact has a fantasy element that appeals to me.


There were 3 others which caught my eye


First the Hampton Court gardens team has produced this amazing Battlefield garden, the sheer logistics in the build are stunning as is the attention to detail. It’s not classically pretty, no, but the feat of shifting tonnes of earth to create huge trenches, phenomenal!


Even without being told you realise that as you journey through the garden you are travelling through time from a war zone, albeit a staged one, to an area abandoned by man and slowly being reclaimed by wildlife.


Huge bombcraters, littered with remnants of rusted metal bearing witness to the fierce horror the land witnessed. The wildflowers which colonise the landscape as you travel through the installation are brought to life with dragonflies,butterflies and other wildlife that have colonised the site since the build started. the blasted, dead trees standing sentinel overall.


The second literally stopped me in my tracks!

One of the most gorgeous Loquat trees I’ve seen in a long time, surrounded by gorgeous exotic foliage. Excellent use of hard landscaping and on a scale that didn’t dominate. As you travel along the garden you are suddenly treated to a blaze of colour carpeting the ground! Bizzie Lizzies!


Ok, I admit when I read the brief on this garden I turned my snobby nose up… Its true, I admit it…. I take it all back!

Firstly my snobby brain went “B&Q! Making a show garden! Pfft!”…. I am shame

Second “Bizzie Lizzies! Oh god, how 1970’s!” … I am doubley shame

The guys who created this garden have got a well deserved gold medal, hats off, it’s not a horrible dated monstrosity even in the slightest, its gorgeous. Using Buzy Lizzies in such a way as to reflect their natural environment, understory planting in a garden that gives the feel of somewhere way more exotic than south, west London!


And my final surprise is based on the quality of the plants used and the execution of the build. This one was a creeper in the sense it took me a while to realise exactly how good it was. I spent longer looking at this installation than at quite a few other more spectacular builds. Great Gardens of the USA is a garden of 2 halves


The use of plants was exquisite, from the wild rugged Oregon gardens to the chic courtyard of Charlestown & South Carolina


Once you’ve had your fill of the gardens and shopping take a moment to check out some of the workshops and talks being held throughout the week

Firstly, perhaps not one for the vegans (kidding before anyone gets annoyed), plants that eat meat!


Take the time to have a look at Matthew Soper’s display, from Hampshire Carnivorous Plants. He’s been nominated as this years Master Grower. He is a wealth of information on this fascinating genre of plants that have evolved ingenious methods of supplementing their diet using insects and mammals as food sources. I love murderous plants!


There are also various fun workshops and experiences to enjoy throughout the week. For those of you that missed the Chatsworth Orchid display there’s a second chance to see an insects eye view of pollinating an orchid! This virtual reality experience is great for adults and kids alike.

If you have kids with you there’s lots of stuff aimed at them like making fairy flower crowns and bumble bees! Also make your own bird feeders and mini gardens that you can take home with you… to be honest, that actually sounds quite fun, I get odd looks when I do these things without borrowing a friends child first, being an adult is so hard sometimes! *stamps foot*


Anyway, you can dig for fossils, forage wild food, learn how to do a modern floral arrangement then learn calligraphy! With your new found skills you could host the most awesome dinner party to show off your fossil finds. Your menu could be made up from stuff you find in hedgerows with a lovely floral centrepiece and delicately inscribed namecards and invitations… am I right or am I right!

More details of where to find all these things will be available in your programme guide.

In fact there is a ridiculous amount to do, you’re going to be hard pushed to see and experience everything, think of this like an upmarket festival so careful planning may be needed to get the most out of your day. Think of it like Glastonbury for flowers where the “must see bands” are Piet Oudolf, Raymond Blanc, Greg Wallace, The floral marquee and the Kinetic trees!…. In fact that is an awesome band name… someone should use that!

Anyway, pack your sunnys, a hat, a bottle of water and your credit card cos Hampton is on! Enjoy!



Great Dixter – Spring plant fair

Great Dixter is a fine garden to visit especially when theres a plant fair on! Often you can find that rare plant from an independent nursery youd find no where else!


For six years I lived on the doorstep of Great Dixter and like a lot of gardens in the area it has a theme of high hedges and garden rooms so synonymous of Lutyans arts & crafts style work. Great Dixter though has an added twist of having had Christopher Lloyd own it and put his stamp on it.


Many finer writers than myself though have beaten this subject to death so I don’t need to gush and enthuse on the subject of Dixter and its design, suffice to say its worth a visit and has changed subtly since the death of Christopher. Which isn’t a negative thing rather a natural thing as gardens are living creations and to try to keep them static is an odd concept.


One thing that always strikes me though when I visit Dixter is its size, I’m always shocked by how small it feels. When you think of famous gardens you often think of rolling acres, at least I do, but Dixter is an oddity in so many ways. The gardens never seem to take long to see in their entirety, although there are areas where you can linger quite happily.  The house itself, despite its appearance of having stood on that spot forever was actually only placed there last century. I say placed, not built as Lutyens and Nathaniel Lloyd (Christopher’s father) actually took the main part of the house from a village called Benenden nearby and reconstructed it. Melding it into the original structure that was already there known simply as Dixter. As a visitor you would never know this though as it was done so successfully it has the appearance of a house that has grown organically for centuries.


The gardens are being added to continually in the way Christopher did when he was alive. Fergus’s commitment to Dixter and its ethos of teaching being something special to witness.


The plant fairs though, especially the Spring one are a great opportunity to get out and see small independent nurseries offering beautiful plants at very reasonable prices. I admit its become something of a spring time pilgrimage for me. Even if it now takes me a couple of hours to get to it instead of a couple of minutes! They also do a great thing throughout the weekend where Nurseries give talks throughout the day. Often entertaining, enthusiastic speakers with a wealth of knowledge on their chosen subjects, which if you’re a plant nut like me is well worthwhile!


For me there were 2 that particularly stood out the first being Barnhaven, a fabulous nursery dedicated to one of my greatest loves Primulas.


I wrote quite extensively about auriculas on my old blog so if you’re interested have a quick look here…

Forget me not – Auriculas part1

Forget me not – Auriculas part2

Forget me not – Auriculas part3

Barnhaven has recently supplied Sissinghursts garden with a large amount of old variety primulas in their efforts to repopulate the garden with varieties which were there in Vita’s time. Gardens often lose specific plants, sometimes even their own bred varieties. This I’ll mention again in a moment.


Sometimes a gardener will endeavour to reverse the changes time makes to a garden and small independent nurseries are critical to retaining the genetic stock. Barnhaven is not only responsible for maintaining collections of amazing old varieties and making them available to the public, such as “jack in the green” a very old variety with a charming corolla of leaves which cup the flowers to breeding new introductions and bringing back styles such as the stripey and double Auriculas.


The second was a talk from Steven Edney, Head Gardener at Salutations, another gorgeous Lutyens garden. The gardens are a tribute to his hardworking team and unceasing enthusiasm. Having suffered a massive flood in 2013, only 5 years after the gardens were officially reopened after years of neglect, they are once more in beautiful condition and this year is their 10th Anniversary!


Steven touched on the subject of “lost plants” having fortuitously been offered a cutting after the floods of Hebe “Salutation” originally bred at the garden in the 1970’s. His nursery on site has propagated it and it is now available to the general public, another example of how important some plants can be in context!


He is full of little gems of information too, he told us about plectranthus fruticosus an important plant to Edwardian gardeners as it would be used as a reliable indicator plant for frost. When nighttime temperatures drop below 5 degrees it develops a bronzy colour to the leaves and this would be a sign to the gardeners to lift their tender plants like Dahlias into the glasshouses.

I had to take a second look at this amazing Asphodeline liburnica and was tempted by some of the seeds he had for sale, grown & collected in the gardens!


Another fabulous nursery is Pineview plants run by the lovely Colin and Cindy Moat who always have time to help you out choosing the right plant for the right place. I fell totally in love with his Epimediums and after going away and coming back THREE times finally settled for this gorgeous one called aptly “Ruby beauty”


Whilst there I mentioned my mystery Epimedium I’d been given which hadn’t as yet flowered… which of course by the time I got home that evening had… So here it is and I’ll be asking Colin if he can help me identify it!


There of course are many fine other independent nurseries at the plant fair which are well worth your time and if you’re not aware of one’s in your local area here’s a list that although not comprehensive is getting close and is constantly updated

Independent Plant Nursery guide

Of course there were many others (over 20!) there all with gorgeous specimens so here’s a selection of a few that caught my eye!


and of course those that came home with me… I’m thinking the garden may have a purple theme… again!




I didn’t leave Dixter till pretty much kicking out time, after all it was a beautiful day with fine company…. Look forward to seeing you all there again this time next year!

My little car abandoned and lonely in a now empty field!