Pot’s Growing On: road to our open garden

This month has been a whirlwind of finishing various garden designs, writing and planting up the One World stand for Chelsea Flower Show. In amongst all of that I’m juggling our little garden and allotment, which is tricky this year. I’m making sure the garden gets the focus it needs now for an interesting trip for people at our open day on Sunday 8th September. It strikes me now how layered in experiments our garden is; various ideas I’ve tried have come and gone while a few have stuck and I can pin point plants to the year I tried them. For instance a self seeded Festuca is currently popping out of a crack in our front gate from window boxes two years ago.


First and foremost our garden is a little wildlife haven. I don’t use any pesticide sprays, only nematode drenches and occasionally small amounts of organic slug pellets to control slugs and snails. Year round we have flowers for bees and other pollinators but it is spring when our yard is abuzz with insects flying to and fro. Baby ladybirds that look like teeny lizards are now on the prowl, munching the aphids farmed by ants. Centipedes scuttle out from under lifted pots.

I love the dynamism of wildlife in the garden. Blackbirds have been nesting in the neighbour’s bay tree next to our fence. Bats have just showed up, patrolling for the thousands of moths our garden attracts. The odd butterfly has fluttered in. Is there anything more relaxing that observing a garden alive in the warm sun?

A new area

Last year our little shed was against this wall but with it positioned round the side it opens up this very hot and sunny corner for sun loving tropicals. Namely dahlias.

I’m excited about this area because the Cannas, Ficus, Melianthus, Persicaria, Shefflera, Helianthus, Opuntia, Pinus, Monarda and Salvias love it here. By bringing all of the dahlias in pots out from the side and onto the sunny patio they are already noticeably happier and growing like rockets. I leave them in the pots and replenish half the peat free compost each spring – the tuber clumps are now enormous. I only use peat free compost and find it works better than peat products, though I mainly use it because I care about the peat bog habitat destruction more than I do growing things for me.

Seedling overload

Although everything is growing really well now and everything looks healthy, the patio is a bit of a mess because of all my seedlings growing in the centre. That pile contains many seedlings for my allotment, including tomatoes and brassicas, as well as ornamentals for around the garden.

This year I have gone back to those fibre pots I used to use as a child but this time peat free versions from Amazon. They’re amazing. They do dry out a little bit faster than plastic but it’s easy to remedy that by keeping them in trays with a little top up of water each day or so. I’ve found them amazingly effective and roots are coming through already on all the crops I’m using them for. The bonus being no root disturbance on planting out and no plastic waste (I would never use the peat versions).

Bordering on madness

This year I’m changing around a large area of our main border after removing most of the grasses, adding a palm and Phormium. In the middle is a huge self seeded Digitalis which I haven’t the heart to remove until it stops flowering. This is holding back the main planting with the seedlings I’m growing and my Aeonium cuttings (which I leave out over winter here in Clapham). That said, I just planted one out next to two very happy Salvias to give you an idea…

I’m hoping the Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ cuttings become a nice solid feature in among a frothy, flowery mess of a new planting scheme.

Rampant Cordyline

At the southern end of the bed is a shady corner behind the fence with a Cordyline australis growing in it. This was starting to get huge and casting shade along the rest of the entire bed behind it so in late winter I lopped the top two meters off. A few months later, as the weather warmed it’s starting to show new shoots. Initially they were being eaten by snails so I put copper take around the top to stop them, which worked wonders. But I needn’t have bothered because in the warmth of May it has about twenty shoots up and down its entire stem. I only want one or two at the top so I’m snapping off those I don’t want.

Drought tolerant window box

Out the front everything is hunky dory, though the window boxes planted a few years ago with grasses, sempervivum and pines were looking a little lack lustre. So I’ve begun to remove everything and repot with succulents. A number are hardy while others are less so, though here in Clapham they should be fine through winter. It’s always worth experimenting with succulents because if kept dry, some can be hardier than people think.

Fluffy seedheads

Some plants have seed heads as wonderful as their flowers including Pulsatilla vulgaris, here being my ‘Alba’ cultivar with white flowers. It’s an attractive plant at all stages.

Shady corridor

Over time the corridor down the side of the flat (which is south facing) has become more shaded because of the fence and various trees. This year I’ve begun planting up this area direct into the ground rather than pots for some extra special jungle vibes. All of the pots containing dahlias are now out on the main patio. I need to remove a lot of weed suppressant matting which will take a little while longer but by September’s open day I hope this will be an interesting new corridor of foliage.

Colourful foliage

Some of my favourite plants aren’t hardy but can be kept over winter and multiplied by taking some easy cuttings. Above is my tray of Begonia rex ‘Black Knight’ cuttings I took last autumn, plus a bunch of new Solenostemon cuttings I bought with a number of extra cuttings I took the other week from those bought cuttings! Increasing my colourful bedding by almost double. Which is, let’s face it, very exciting.

Climbing corner

This corner is another new planting scheme which doesn’t look like much right now but should have real impact very soon. Again, I removed a big pot and then planted the Clematis on the left direct into the ground along with the Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’ I took from a cutting and Hebe ‘Wiri Joy’ which I’ve had now for about six years. I once vowed to remove that Hebe because the flowers are too pale a pink but it’s so beautiful it has always stayed and I think now it is in the perfect, final spot growing around the corner of the house to soften it. To the right is my pot of sweet peas I sowed in January, which I find for our garden is the perfect time. The Clematis will completely hide the drain pipes soon. There are other plants here but more on that soon.

More or less on track…

Of course, some things aren’t growing as well as others but that’s gardening and overall, I’m happy with how things are shaping up and confident we’ll have our colourful little jungle garden ready for June time when – exciting – our new chairs arrive. Even the fern wall is looking happier than last year with fronds emerging daily.

More updates soon and hopefully see some of you for our open day in September. How is your garden doing so far this year? I’d love to hear.


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