Feed on

Perhaps because I am so horribly neglectful of my actual, life-size lawn…

Perhaps because while I wait for the weather to dry out enough to mow, I yearn for some orderly eye-candy in the form of a nice, tidy sword…

Perhaps because I have always, always coveted a chamomile lawn, but will never have one, because, frankly, I lack staff.

Here, I give you my perfect, indoor lawn, which requires no work; only fondling in order to release the appley-dappley scented odour. I have it by my bed, but if you are the sharing type, then it should obviously go on your table (indoor or out).

You will need:

A wide shallow container

Chamomile plants – either Chamaelelum nobile, or the variety ‘Treneague’ which is non-flowering. Both have that amazing smell.

Ordinary multi-purpose compost, but make sure it’s free of any big bits, as this plant is a bit of a diva and will only creep onto fine soil.


Squish your plants in, and fill in any gaps with compost, water and enjoy.

I used to put this plant in tea-cups and give it to people as presents (back when teacups were only used for drinking tea). It always caused delight, and probably still would, but the ubiquity of vintage teacups and general tea-cuppery has, for me, elevated the humble terracotta pot to new heights. Terracotta with bright, grassy green is perfection.


Two other suggestions for easy lawnage – admittedly more time-consuming, but huge fun to do, especially if you are stuck at home with children.

1. Wheatgrass. This is wonderfully easy to do, and something I will be blogging here over the next few weeks. It creates a beauteous, even lawn-in-a-pot, of brightest emerald shards which you can have at your table to admire, or juice (if you can stand it). Watch this space for instructions.

2. Pea-shoots. Even easier than wheatgrass (and a good deal more delicious), you can grow pea-shoots from ordinary pea seeds, laid close to each-other underneath a cm or so of compost in a container. The resulting shoots (or baby pea plants) are utterly delicious plucked and eaten raw on salads, and the gorgeous curly tendrils and oval leaves make for a really stunning table centre.



Lily bulbs: Photogenic no?

Burgeoning signs of Spring have me in a fit of the raptures, wanting to plant stuff, do stuff, mess around in the undergrowth. This year I am making up for a grave, inexplicable error that I made in 2013, which was to forget to plant any lilies. An embarrassment of lilies is perhaps the easiest way to make your outside space not only look sumptuous, but smell divine. I’ve been sinking those big bulbs in pots ever since I first started gardening and have never regretted the effort or expense in doing so (and frankly the expense is pretty trifling when you consider how much cut stems are sold for in florists).

Here’s my recipe for a pot of lilies. Follow and repeat, ad infinitum.

You need:

Lily bulbs. My favourites:

Lilium regale – obliging, tall and heaven to smell

Lilium Casa Blanca (pictured below) – as above, but whiter than white, like milk.

Compost – I use a mixture of Peat-free multi-purpose and John Innes No 2.

Sharp sand

Granular fertiliser

Tall pots… because lilies are tall, and they need balance. These are perfect…and not just for lilies:


Mix up the compost and fertiliser, and sink your bulbs about 10 cm deep, sprinkling a layer of sharp sand beneath each bulb. I put three bulbs to a 30 cm diameter pot. Water until you can see that the compost is thoroughly soaked, place in a sunny spot and wait for the magic to happen. If you plant now, then you should have lilies for June.

Note that lilies hate to be too wet, so don’t water until you can see that the compost on top is dry. Squish any bright red lily beetles on sight. They are bad and nasty.

That’s it – nothing more. I will post pictures as soon as they emerge.

…speaking of which, here’s that second lot of spring bulbs I planted way back in October, styling it out gorgeously on my bedside table, and proving at good things come to those who wait.

How-to for this is here.

Sweet Dreams

Here’s my valentine present to myself…

I didn’t plan it this way, but those bulbs I planted back in October are up and out, and sitting right there in front of my nose as I sleep (which is not very much, but hey ho). They are beauteous, so I make no apology for several gratuitous photos, and I really, really love having a whole swathe of them in a box…

This one is filled with iris reticulata and crocus. The irises have popped, and the crocuses are hot on their heels. I have another box waiting in the wings (outside) filled with tiny narcissi and muscari. I KNOW…I am totally SPOILING myself…

…and this whole state of affairs has made me feel so happy every morning, that I’m going to keep filling them up…

It’s just a wooden box with some bulbs in it, but it’s one of the best presents I’ve ever given myself (and I’ve given myself a LOT of presents)

There’s nothing wrong with a bunch of red roses – it’s the thought that counts, and being together, and loving one-another…and anyway, Hunk totally excels himself when it comes to giving (non-floral) presents….

…but I firmly believe in creating history, which is why I often make him model my favourite flower-things, as if he were offering them to me….because after a while, when my brain finally goes kaput, only the picture will remain in my mind’s eye…see what I mean?

Happy valentine’s day x

It’s a love thing

Funny how things change…

I used to despise valentine’s day, naff cards, scentless roses, awkward dinners.

…or worse, NONE OF THE ABOVE.

Now every year it comes around and I put out a small breath of gratitude that I don’t have to think about it that way any more. I tend to use it as an excuse to let the people I love and admire know just how special they are in embarrassingly demonstrative fashion; you might say that I have single-handedly brought Valentine’s day to a whole new level of naffness. You’d probably be right about that.

It starts with a list of excellent people who enrich my life:

- My daughter’s school-teacher who inspires and delights her

- Two or three local mothers with whom I regularly giggle

- My ace parents…

- etc. etc…

…and then I go and find something cheerful and pretty…something that looks wonderful right now, and that doesn’t cost the earth. Here I’ve got cyclamen, (with appropriate shaped leaves), sexy little primula and some armeria (which I’ve put together in a larger pot, hoping they’ll spread out.)

And I put it into a small terracotta pot with some compost around it…just enough to make it feel comfortable.

And finally I tie some string around it (or even a bit of silken ribbon if I’m feeling flush), with a silly little label which takes the whole thing out of ‘potted plant’ territory and plonks it firmly into ‘pretty present’ land.

…and if you don’t have time for all that, then click over here, and let lovely Crocus do it all for you, with magical muscari in little pots, all ready for you to give away to the person you love most (and – just so you know – it’s perfectly alright if that person is YOU).



Hellebores on high

photo by Jill Mead

Hellebores are a bit like shoes, I find

- each one you buy is the bees knees, and then suddenly you see one that you absolutely and categorically *have* to have, as if your life depended on it. My small colony of them (mainly helleborus x hybridus) has grown in this way over the years, so that I am left with a look that, whilst not exactly uniform, is nonetheless perfectly jewel-like in its speckled splendour.

I’ve ordered this lovely trio to feed my hellebore habit.

…They are plug-plants, which makes them affordable, and developed in Germany – vorsprung durch technik? – … which (in my head) means that they are probably indestructible. I like having hellebores in all sorts of naughty places, like in window boxes and hanging baskets. They’re not supposed to be happy in these places, but I promise you, they are…so if you lack space, (or a leaf-mouldy, dappled-shady type of place) then don’t despair, and plant away in a container…just make sure they are hybrid hellebores, which are generally smaller than the other types.

Here’s my recipe for container hellebores:

A hellebore that you adore. This is a permanent planting, so think long and hard about it. I’m a bit of a puritan and prefer the singles to the doubles, but it’s YOUR hellebore. The lovely thing about having it hanging is that you’ll be able to look up into the flowers and see their speckled beauty..something you usually have to get on your knees for when they are in the ground. My website favourites (for what it’s worth) are:

Pretty Ellen Pink

Harvington Shades of the Night

White Spotted Lady

…or of course you could also use a plug-plant and wait patiently for it to fill out.

Container. I love these hanging baskets, which are gorgeously, sumptuously deep, (See more of it here)…but honestly, any will do.

Compost: Use a half and half mixture of peat-free multi-purpose and John Innes No 2.

Water retaining granules. These are essential for hanging baskets – you can find them here.

Fertiliser granules. Another hanging basket essential

An empty pot to stand your basket on while you work.



Water your hellebore thoroughly.

Line your hanging basket with a sheet of sphagnum moss, and then fill it, to about 10cm shy of the rim with the pre-mixed compost – liberally beefed up by fertiliser and water retaining granules (follow the instructions on the packet as to quantities). Water the while thing and leave it a couple of hours for the water-retaining granules to expand. This way your compost won’t overflow once you plant. Finally, remove your plant from its pot, gently rubbing the roots to signal the end of their confinement, and plant it firmly in the centre of the basket. Now you are ready to hang the thing up – and make sure that whatever you use is sturdy…a watered hanging basket is heavy.

Keep it watered. That’s the only rule.

I never get tired of looking at hellebores, so I do that cliched thing of floating the blooms in a shallow bowl – the easiest thing in the world to do and somehow something which looks chic and expensive and time-consuming, though it is none of those things.


There’s a disturbing and annoying triumvirate of ‘shoulds’ which tend to pile up for me around the end of November, and they go something like this:

1. I should have written (and addressed) all the Christmas Cards.

2. I should have bought (and wrapped) all the Christmas presents

3. I should have planted all my bulbs (both indoor and out)

The truth is, that I have done none of the above. The Christmas cards will get written, addressed and sent in the second week of December sometime, if I am lucky. Some years they get sent out as New Year Cards. Nobody cares.

The Christmas presents will get wrapped on the evening of 24th December. I will forget somebody and end up promising to get them something early in the new year. This will never happen, and they will not care.

The bulbs will go in progressively, when I have five minute bursts of freedom between the beginning of December and late February. They will eventually catch up with everyone else’s, and the garden will not care.

As I get older, I realise slowly that the more ‘shoulds’ I have, the less I actually get done; the ‘should’ leeches the joy out of it all, and the rebel inside me just won’t have it. She sabotages every ‘should’, stamping her foot resolutely, and eating another slice of cake.

You’re not like that though, are you…(are you?) It matters not, either way, because you can pot up amaryllis at pretty much any time in the winter and watch it zoom into green, rocketing glory over the next twenty days or so before your very eyes. I love it, and will get going on mine over the next few days (big, fat, juicy bulbs are waiting for me in an unheated room…they will need nothing other than to be soaked briefly and plonked unceremoniously into pots (see below). For illustrative purposes though, here are some I did a couple of years ago. The photos are by Jill Mead, which is why they are beauteous, unlike my own.

Hippeastrum to lift your winter blues and turn them deep, velvet red.

I love red Hippeastrum (by the way, amaryllis is just another name for it). White is fine, but I really get a kick out of that thick, velvety red that looks like the curtains from a tart’s boudoir….but that’s just me. You can get them sweetly tinged pink at the edges (as above) if that floats your boat, or crazily veined with red. These kits are a lovely present for difficult people…particularly children of a certain age, I find – say between the ages of six and ten. Quite seriously though, you could kill many birds with one stone and give everyone a hippeastrum. A neighbour of mine does this, wrapping them up in clear cellophane with pretty ribbons, and that’s her Christmas, sorted.

You need:

Hippeastrum bulbs – as many as you can afford. One on its own looks lonely and sad.

Pots – I like to put each bulb in its own pot so I can have them in configurations throughout the house. For this use ordinary terracotta, and I’m always guided by the diameter of my bulbs (you don’t need a lot of room around the edge, just a nice lot of space for the roots). Having said that though, a large pot such as the Lucca pot, crammed with hippeastrum would be a real sight to behold, and if I had the space indoors, (like in my next life, when I will be a Duchess), I’d definitely be doing that.

Compost – I use a mixture of two thirds John Innes No. 2 and one-third multi-purpose.


Fill a big bowl with luke-warm water and soak your bulbs for a couple of hours.

Mix up your compost and plant your bulbs roots-down, only half-submerging them. You want half the bulb to be out and proud at the top of your compost.

Water the whole thing well and leave your pot in a cool bright room, (unheated please) or on your porch if you’re lucky enough to have one. No frost will be tolerated, so don’t risk it.

…keep the pots watered and very soon you’ll get that stunning flower you’ve been waiting for; at which point everyone will think you’re fabulous, despite the fact that you didn’t get anything done on time.


October bulb-fest

October is a game-changer for me in the garden. If I actually manage to get out and do some clearing it can make all the difference to how things pan out for the following seasons. I’m not big on tidying ones borders and ‘putting them to bed’, but I am keen on making room for spring bulbs – specifically tulips and alliums, which play a huge part in my feeling smugly good about myself the following March and April. The show can be astonishingly sumptuous, and because the work is done the previous autumn, and all but forgotten come springtime, it makes the whole thing all the more magical.

Being tied to a small baby has meant that my ability to get out and blitz the garden has been limited, but I have managed to do the odd five or ten minutes every day and that all adds up nicely after a while.

I tend to wait until it gets rather cooler before I plant my tulips and alliums all together, but the shops are bursting with bulbs and I am unable to resist fumbling about with a bit of earth to make presents and decorations.

Every container poses an opportunity for me, and my apple-picking activities flagged up these very useful and beautiful wooden boxes. They stack obligingly, but look wonderful singly in the centre of a table, and crammed with flowers.

I am planning to plant these up with little bulbs, along with a couple of sussex trugs, and a few other containers. My method for all of these are the same. Although it’s fine to plant directly into any container you like, I find it easier and more flexible to use a plastic tray or pot, and sink that into my chosen container, hiding everything with sphagnum moss when the time comes to show it off. This way things don’t get weather-beaten while the bulbs are appearing.

To plant up baskets (or anything) with little spring bulbs you will need:

Plenty of little bulbs – I use small narcissi, muscari, species tulips, iris reticulata and crocus.

plastic pots and trays that will fit easily inside your chosen container, or you could be VERY organised and use these special bulb planting baskets.

multi-purpose compost


Simply fill your containers with the compost and squidge the bulbs in, leaving a bit of space between each one. If you were planting in the garden for the long term, you would make sure that your bulbs were planted at twice their depth, and perhaps sprinkle a little grit at the bottom of  each hole, but this is different, and temporary, so feel free to take terrible liberties with your bulbs.








Cover them up with more compost, water and leave well alone in a corner somewhere, checking periodically to make sure the compost doesn’t dry out. When those lovely green spears appear, it’s time to plonk them into your chosen container, cover over with sphagnum moss and display them or give them away. It’s a good idea to line your container before you do this. I use old plastic bags (see above picture), cutting off the excess around the sides and covering the edges up with moss.



I have a tiny little field of fritillaries in my garden, which seems every year to be going from strength to strength, with absolutely no input from me. As with most things that turn out well in my life, this little area was brought about in an entirely slapdash way: I had a packet of snakeshead fritillary bulbs, festering in a corner, and planted them, roughly and without too much care and consideration, under the influence of a guilty voice in my head which told me to plant the things or throw them away, but do SOMETHING at least. To my astonishment and joy, they appeared and are thriving, and I’m now greedy and gluttonous…I want more. Another voice in my head is telling me that these ones wont work, because I CARE about them too much…oh the silliness of it.

I have planted a mixture of species tulips, muscari, fritillaries and leucojom aestivum this time, all in my scrubby lawn, and using my new favourite tool:

This made very light work of the whole business. It cut through my tough, stony sward, and made perfect deep holes into which I dropped the bulbs. The plug of earth it removes is then easy to push out of the tool, and squish back in to its hole. It took no time at all.

Apple pie order

September: put on tights, switch to porridge, and pick apples and pears (not necessarily in that order)…

It’s a glorious haul this year, precipitated by the cold winter and balmy summer. The apple tree was a truly gorgeous sight when it eventually burst into blossom, and in full fruit it is even more impressive. I have no idea what kind of apple it is – only that it treads the line between cooker and eater, depending on the amount of sunshine bestowed upon it.

Harvesting is fun, but serious work, and although we cannot hope to pick every last apple, we are having a good go at it, and that means plenty of apple-picking equipment, and storage.

First things first – my absolute favourite tool of all time is this brilliant hoover for picking up windfalls. It works like a dream and everyone should have one (providing you have apples or tennis balls to pick up). It takes me to my happy place:


We did the bulk of the picking with two very nifty devices:

This one extends to 3 metres and you can dislodge the fruit with its clever ‘teeth’. The apple will then fall into the bag, so no bruising.


We also used this one, which has an in-built pruning tool, and was really useful for removing multiple apples at the end of branches, and those which were proving tricky to dislodge. This one also extends to 3 metres.

Collection was done with the help of a number of baskets and receptacles – here are my top three for lugging your harvest far and wide:

1. Garden trug – Sussex style

The prettiest of baskets and brilliant for presenting fruit to friends and neighbours, especially if you can bear to let them keep it!

2. String bags

Beautiful colours and really strong. I use these for shopping too, and because they roll up really small I often put one into my handbag for those times when I am inevitably required to carry “stuff belonging to children”.

3. Plastic trug

A variation on the classic circular plastic trug which now no gardener can do without. This is more streamlined (can be stored behind a door) and is rapidly becoming indispensable in my house. Very comfortable to carry too.

Apple storage is made much easier this year by virtue of various stacking trays. You should always wrap each apple in a square of newspaper if possible (having made sure it is perfectly free of bruises or cuts) to make sure none of them touch each other. They should keep this way over the winter months.

1. Slatted tray

Two good sized trays which can be dismantled when you’re not using them, unlike the traditional apple drawers.

2. Pine storage boxes

A smaller, stackable alternative – neat and pretty

I made apple crumble, because it is easy, and sort of celebratory, and everyone loves it. I am a bit of a crumble whore, spreading it on thick (about double the amount of crumble to apple), but that’s just me. Custard is the thing here. Cream if you must.



Roughly peel, core and slice enough apples cover the bottom of an oven-proof dish by a couple of centimetres. Douse liberally with lemon juice and sugar to taste (I like crunchy demerara). Now wizz up a handful of cold butter, cut into squares, with equal amounts of flour and sugar until you have a rough bread-crumb-like mixture, and combine this with large amounts of that very-bad-for-you breakfast cereal, ‘oat crunchy’ or something similar. Scatter this over the top of your apples and put the whole thing in an oven at about 180 until caramel appleness is bubbling up through the crumble.


Pimping my butt

I’m celebrating

…not because the baby is finally going through the night (although this is rather wonderful), but because I have finally plumbed in my water butt.

I got this monstrosity (and it is VAST) from Crocus in the Spring, and it has been sitting on my terrace, making me feel guilty ever since, particularly as we had so much rain. Every time it rained I felt a loss, a missed opportunity. This is not how gardening should feel.

The point of no return came when the Hunk went off on a business trip, and the rain came down in a torrent. Normally I love this kind of rain, cleaning the streets and thumping on the roof, making me feel safe and cosy inside, but not this time. I went to the kitchen at 3am to feed the baby, to find the floor covered in water, and the ceiling dripping. One of the gutters had cracked, and all the rain was dropping on the kitchen roof, oozing its way down into the flashing. Something had to be done. I had the guttering replaced, and the water butt plumbed in all at once.

Smugness reigns.

Now every time it rains I can’t wait to put the watering can underneath the tap, turn it on, and see all that lovely, FREE rainwater gushing out.

Autumn is coming…and rain with it…and I urge you to get a water butt – It will make you feel happy and virtuous in equal measure (something that chocolate simply cannot hope to do).

It ain’t pretty though. This thing needs beautifying, so I thought I’d share a few ideas for making a water butt into something that looks good enough to have on your terrace.

1. An instant screen (my quick option – see also picture at the top of this post)

Use something tall in a container to divert the eye. You won’t be able to screen it off totally because you need to have access to the thing with your watering can, so I’m talking really about a net curtain rather than a full on blackout blind. I used two neglected pots full of grasses, languishing at the end of the garden, and therefore suffering from lack of water. They not only deserve to be near my water butt, but give it a new lease of life…(and yes, I DO like the shaggy look). For something a bit sexier I would choose verbena bonariensis. Next summer I’ll definitely be using Nicotiana from seed.

I topped it all off with a hat of trailing nepeta (see below), which breaks up the plastic barrel from above as well as from below. Obviously anything placed on top needs to be easily removed.


2. Climbing frame

Erect a bit of chicken wire or netting (again, with a space incorporated  to allow access for your watering can) and plant up two containers, one on either side, with a smothersome climber. I recommend Cobaea scandens or jasmine – something you can hack back easily if it gets in the way, and that will grow fast enough to cover the wire in a short space of time.


3. Bought screening

There are plenty of ready-made screens that can be cut to size and put up easily. Reed or willow screening is incredibly versatile and provides texture that recedes rather than dominates a space.


4. A hanging screen

If you’re short on floor space, then a couple of large hanging baskets, filled with something green and trailing would do a pretty good job of breaking up the flat green surface of a water butt. My favourite trailing beauty is Glechoma hederacea ‘Variegata’ (known universally as trailing nepeta – see above picture). It’s utterly indestructible and grows fast. Plonk it in a basket, keep it watered and it’ll grow down to the ground in no time. My other suggestion is Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ – slightly more delicate but absolutely stunning in all its silvery glory.

It feels like it’s been an age since I planted up those sweet peas…

In fact, it’s only been six weeks or so (give or take a few days). My brain is playing tricks on me because in that short space of time, I’m now a mother of two rather than one – yes, I’ve been shunted into another dimension entirely; a state of being which should not, I feel, be instantaneous, but rather entered into slowly and calmly, and with much preparation…but sadly it isn’t possible to have a baby A BIT AT A TIME – one day it’s not there, and then the next day it is, in all its topsy-turvy glory.

The upshot is that the end of May feels like another world entirely, when everything was so. very. much. simpler.

How fortuitous that I planted sweet peas, because I need them this summer more than ever (I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say I spend rather a lot of time sitting indoors, with a small person attached to me. Flowers next to ones bed, and every sofa or chair are absolutely key in this situation, and scent to compete with changing-mat smells (see above) are also a must.

Being trapped indoors means also that I don’t get out into the garden as much as I would like, and having these gorgeous pots on my terrace, in full view from the kitchen sink, is heart-warming to say the least.

I won’t jabber on…but let the pictures do the talking…If you want to get the pots, then you can find detail of them in the previous post. They are the single best investment I have ever made for my terrace, and look good even without any plants in them. Worth every penny.

The glorious pot, with babies newly planted (see here for how-to)

…a few weeks later

…and finally bursting into bloom


Two of these delicious pyramids give me one absolutely gigantic bouquet (or eight or nine little posies) every three days or so

- a mixture of varieties ‘Restormel’ ‘Midnight’ and ‘Linda C’, all raised from seed for me last Autumn by the kind peeps at Crocus… (raising seed yourself is fun, but if you haven’t the time or space, then give yourself a break and leave it to the experts).

I water each evening, when the baby has finally gone to sleep…it is my special, quiet time, all to myself.

Along with the Pelargoniums I planted with those sweet peas (more of which anon) I gave an identical pot the same treatment but with lobelia, again sent to me in plugs from Crocus. This has wowed me beyond all things and is now very much my favourite thing of froth on the terrace. Here is its before and after for your delectation…

If you do nothing else next year, then do this…

The lobelia come in teeny tiny little plugs, of which I poked in about twenty at regular intervals into this pot, with multi-purpose compost and John Innes No 2 mixed up inside.

I watered, and waited…

And, Ta daaaaa!

Glorious pot of lobelia love….

Here is its close-up



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