Fill your garden with easy pleasers...

Aquilegias and foxgloves create a relaxed, cottage style

Aquilegias and foxgloves create a relaxed, cottage style

Use good-natured annuals, perennials and shrubs as the backbone for every planting scheme, advises Val Bourne

Every experienced gardener relies on a backbone of bombproof perennials that return again and again, without becoming a nuisance. These need little maintenance, other than a yearly trim, and they don’t require regular division either. Nor are they ‘rare’ (surely another name for difficult!). They’re just good doers that perform year after year without any mollycoddling from you. 

Some of them are veterans used for generations. Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’, raised by Tommy Carlisle’s Loddon Nursery pre-1950, should be in every garden. Any plant with a Loddon prefix is well worth growing.

Others are far more contemporary. Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ (launched in 2011) and helenium ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’ (c2000) are more recent arrivals, although they’re here to stay. They both outperform the oldies and are grown by lots of nurseries, so don’t dismiss these readily available plants as ordinary. They’re far from it.

Then there are those that self-sow and place themselves through an area, helping to unite a planting scheme while delighting bees at the same time. They’re plants-for-free and very welcome to come and go, whether they’re annuals or perennials.

Finally, there are some very useful shrubs, which don’t grow large or swamp their neighbours. Many can be left to their own devices after planting.

Helenium ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’ and perovskia ‘Blue Spire’

Helenium ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’ and perovskia ‘Blue Spire’


As spring beckons, silver-leaved plants stand out against the dark earth, like melting snowflakes. The heart-shaped green-veined foliage of Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ is soon followed by sprays of dainty blue flowers. Good forms of low-growing deadnettle Lamium maculatum include ‘White Nancy’, strong pink ‘Beacon Silver’ and paler ‘Pink Pewter’. All flower in early spring, when bees are short of nectar. Pulmonarias, such as such as ‘Blake’s Silver’, ‘Diana Clare’ and dappled ‘Leopard’ also work well.

Add in stronger colours with Dicentra formosa ‘Bacchanal’, a deep-red bleeding heart with ferny green foliage, and hardy epimediums. Delighting gardeners since 1854, E. versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ has two-tone, pale yellow flowers that tremble on wiry stems, like young ballerinas on pointed toes. Its red-flushed, heart-shaped foliage emerges just afterwards.

Polemonium ‘Lambrook Mauve’ is a non-seeding Jacob’s ladder whose soft-lavender flowers have a butterscotch middle. This curtseying plant, from the 1960s, perfectly partners terracotta, lily-flowered tulip ‘Ballerina’. 

When it comes to summer, few gardeners can resist a hardy geranium. If you’ve room, opt for a sterile cultivar that will flower for months on end. Pale-blue ‘Rozanne’ sprawls over three feet of ground and blooms from May to September, although a Chelsea chop makes it later. ‘Patricia’ forms a generous roundel of black-eyed magenta flowers and both perform in light shade and in north-facing borders. The smaller ones prefer more sun and good drainage. Magenta ‘Ivan’, pale pink ‘Mavis Simpson’ and bluer pink ‘Dilys’ all make good edgers. 

Many daisies are easy, and shoulder-high sunflower, helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’, lights up August with its darker centred, primrose-yellow flowers. Like all sunflowers it faces the sun. Place it next to a burgundy cloud of Eupatorium maculatum ‘Atropurpureum Group’ – a superb combination. Add in a late-summer golden-yellow daisy such as knee-high Rudbeckia fulgida deamii.

For an earlier splash of gold, try easy helenium ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’. The dazzling orange and brown flowers shimmer in the border,  beginning in July. Blue Succisella inflexa ‘Frosted Pearls’ produces masses of grey-blue bobbles and provides the perfect contrast.

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Add some zesty lime green with these bright shopping ideas

Firle green chalk paint £19.95 per litre Annie Sloan with Charleston 01865 770061;

Green dip mini plant pot £4.50 Albert & Moo 020 8088 8280;

Pina colada deckchair £99 Penelope Hope 01481 721410;

Pina colada cushion £71 Penelope Hope 01481 721410;

Green wood welcome heart £5 by Gisela Graham at Booker Gifts 0151 724 4850;

Green zig zag showerproof cushion £25 Ragged Rose 01622 812897;

Green wood herb markers £5.95 (11cm) by Gisela Graham at Amazon;

Pure new wool waterproof picnic blanket £125 Heating & Plumbing London

Jacky Lime Green garden box cushion £35 Ragged rose 01622 812897;

LotusGrill XL Barbecue Lime Green Portable BBQ with free lighter gel & 1kg charcoal £119.95 Cuckooland 01305 231 231;

Greenhouse caddy  £21.95 Annabel James 0345 548 0210;

Lime and basil boxed jar candle £8 Price’s Candles 01234 264500;

Save time and effort with our top 10 gardening hacks

Spring is a hectic time in the garden and it can feel like there’s too much to do. So, having a few easy shortcuts up your sleeve can save you time, money and effort, making you feel more organised.

You don’t need to spend lots of money at the garden centre: instead make use of items lying around the house or that are cheap and easy to come by. Think laterally – you might not have a greenhouse, for instance, but that doesn’t mean you can’t grow plants from seed somewhere else.

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1. Make free fertiliser  Is your garden overrun 
with naughty nettles? Pop them in a bucket to make 
a fabulous fertiliser high in nitrogen. Cover the nettles with water and put a lid on top – it’ll become a bit whiffy as the nettles break down. After three weeks remove the sludge and put it on the compost heap. Decant the liquid into clean plastic bottles, label and store somewhere cool. Dilute one part feed to 10 parts water and use on leafy green plants.

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2. Make a picnic table for £2 Pallets are a favourite among recyclers and DIYers – they’re ideal for making all sorts of garden furniture, vertical planters, Adirondack-style chairs, tool racks and even decking. This simple idea uses two pallets (1.2x1m/4x3ft 3in) one on top of the other, smartened up with Sadolin Classic Woodstain, £34 for 2.5L. It’s easy to buy used pallets online – £2-£5 if you can collect them; most pallet recycling companies only deliver in much larger quantities. Or ask if they have some at your local garden centre, or recycling facility.

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3. Create a fancy water feature Build a stylish mini pond using a metal mesh cube. Buy a preformed gabion cage (£17.99 for 45cm3) or make your own from metal grids available from builders’ merchants. For self-assembly cages, leave the top panel off. Part-fill with large stones (such as Scottish cobbles) and place a 30cm (12in) black plastic washing up bowl in the centre. Add more cobbles to hide the sides of the basin. Fill with water from a water butt if available, or tap water. Leave for a few days to allow the chlorine to dissipate before adding small aquatic plants. Ours cost about £30 from Waterside Nursery. Don’t forget to include an oxygenator to keep the water sweet.

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4. Keep tools garden ready Fill a bucket with sharp sand and add 400ml 
(14fl oz) of vegetable oil. Stir to mix well. Position the bucket in your shed and when you come in from 
a day’s gardening, simply plunge tools into the oily sand. The mixture cleans, polishes and sharpens your tools and coats them with oil to prevent rust.

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5. Line containers Wrought-iron and mesh hanging baskets 
offer little by way of water retention for plants. Whenever you water them, the moisture drains right through, leaving plants thirsty. Fortunately, there’s something you can add 
to the basket, aside from water-retaining gel, that solves the problem: a nappy!

First, split open the absorbent central section with scissors (otherwise the nappy will hang onto the water). Place the nappy on top of the coir liner, then fill with compost in the usual way. Don’t add the nappy to the compost heap at the end of the season unless it’s 
a biodegradable, organic design.

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6. Waste less seed It can be hard to see where seed has fallen when you’re sowing direct into the soil. It’s only once they’ve germinated that you can spot any clumps and large gaps. For more even spacing, make your seed drill then line it with a strip of toilet paper. Mist the paper with 
a water spray so the seeds stick to the wet paper. Sow 
the seed evenly and gently position seeds as required. Carefully fold the paper in half then cover the drill with 
soil and water. The paper gradually decomposes in the soil, leaving the seeds in the right place to germinate.

7. Beat slugs with garlic Great news for hosta fans – spraying plants with a garlic tonic is said to make the foliage unpalatable to slugs. The tonic is quick and easy to make at home, too. Simply take two garlic bulbs and crush with the flat blade of a knife. Place in a pan and pour over a litre of water. Bring to 
the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Take off the heat 
and leave to cool. Strain the liquid through a sieve then store in old plastic milk bottles that have been thoroughly cleaned and keep somewhere cool. To apply, mix 15ml (½ fl oz) of tonic in five litres of water and spray onto the leaves of plants such as hostas and delphiniums (but not edibles). Reapply every couple of weeks, or more frequently in wet weather.

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8. Upcycle plant supports Rather than using shop-bought wooden trellis panels or bamboo canes for plant supports, repurpose items stashed away behind the shed or visit a reclamation yard for inspiration. All manner of metal frames such as old metal beds (£30-£50), gates and rebar (the steel mesh used in reinforcing concrete) – can provide support for clematis, sweet peas and climbing beans. Old wooden ladders (£15-£20) can be sanded and painted to make a ‘theatre’ for a collection or group of smaller potted plants.

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9. Create a coldframe crate If you don’t have space or budget for a greenhouse, try this nifty idea using a plastic storage crate with a lid. Place pots or module trays inside and line the bottom with absorbent kitchen roll. Add drainage holes with a drill. Take the lid off on sunny days and replace at night or if rain is forecast. If frost is predicted, bring your crate inside; multiple crates can be stacked so they don’t take up lots of space. Use it for hardy annuals from mid-March and for half-hardy annuals from mid-April.

10. Make a parcel shelf propagator Line a shallow watertight box with kitchen 
foil to reflect lots of light, then position your seed pots inside it. Place the box on the parcel shelf of your car. Temperatures can fluctuate widely, so ventilate on hot days by opening a window slightly and using horticultural fleece to shade plants so they don’t scorch. The fleece also comes in handy if cold temperatures are forecast. To avoid damage, cover the parcel shelf with a waterproof oilcloth. Think about where you park too – a space under trees is too shady.

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Time to get a little bit crazy...?

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Crazy paving, gabions and charred timber are all set to dominate garden design in 2019, according to Britain’s leading garden designers. “I never thought I’d say this, but crazy paving and stepping stones are making a comeback,” says Sue Townsend, member of the Society
of Garden Designers (SGD). “With crazy paving, the trend is to use large, irregular slabs – the bigger the better.”

SGD members also predict we’ll see a rise in the use of gabion-style mesh cubes and the Japanese art of Shou-sugi-ban (charred wood cladding)– perhaps on sheds and fences. Traditional hanging baskets will be replaced by trendy kokedama, where plants are hung inside clay balls covered in moss.

Colour specialists Pantone(R) meanwhile predict that Living Coral will be our colour of the year. Remember Manoj Malde’s Beneath a Mexican Sky Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017 (top)? Turns out his coral-pink wall was ahead of its time!

Wyevale Garden Centres says bold colours are key for 2019 and latest plants include colourful new agapanthus ‘Fireworks’ (below) – an explosion of deep purple perianths that merge into pure white blooms. It won the coveted Glee Best New Plant Award 2018, and will be available in a two-litre pot in May/June.
• What are your predictions for 2019? Write and tell us!

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Rescue a tired front border



Silver-leaved foliage plants can transform this pretty front garden into a show-stopper, says Ian Hodgson


This attractive front garden is full of seasonal interest, with the pretty pink cherry in blossom, a passionflower clambering up the house walls, a handsome globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus), fragrant lavender and rosemary shrubs, and hellebores and daffodils for bright spring flowers.

Clearly the owner has spent time planning this display, so my comments here are suggestions on how to augment the silver and pink colour scheme in order to give the plants a real sense of purpose.

First things first: the cherry tree is planted too close to the house, I’m afraid. In about 10 years this will become a real nuisance.
In the meantime it’s worth ‘limbing up’ – removing some of the lower branches so the canopy develops higher up the main stem, but it’s likely that you’ll have to remove the tree altogether at a later date.



To partner the cynara foliage, which acts as a silvery foil for the pink blossom, I’d add more silver and white foliage plants. Sun-loving Euphorbia characias ‘Tasmanian Tiger’ would lend an impressive architectural note, and if the soil is light and well-drained, I’d use a couple of silvery artemisias: A. ludoviciana ‘Valerie Finnis’ and A. schmidtiana ‘Nana’ to bring in welcome contrasts of shape and texture. The velvetine silver foliage of Stachys byzantina ‘Silver Carpet’ is another good option that will cover the ground, or you could also include dwarf evergreen Santolina chamaecyparissus ‘Small-Ness’. Spiky eryngiums and/or perovskia would pick up on the spiky cynara foliage, too.

In contrast to all the sophisticated white, grey and silver plants, add a few pink and red accents to chime with the pink blossom in spring, such as heuchera ‘Sugar Frosting’, whose marbled silver leaves are shot with burgundy underneath.

Encourage the hybrid hellebores by dividing them and adding more pink or burgundy ones to the mix. For later flowers choose magenta-flowered campion, Lychnis coronaria, blooming July to September.

• Does your front garden need Ian’s help? Email


Cynara scolymus Thistly perennial with serrated silver foliage. Leaves develop early in year, and globe artichokes Aug-Sept. Plant in fertile, well-drained soil. H2m (6½ft) S1.2m (4ft)

Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Nana’ Groundcover shrub that forms a silky cushion of feathery foliage. Prefers moist but well-drained poor soil. Deer and rabbit-resistant. H30cm (12in) S45cm (18in)

Euphorbia characias ‘Tasmanian Tiger’ Variegated hardy sub-shrub with bushy habit and white flowers May-June. Plant in full sun in well-drained soil. H90cm (3ft) S75cm (30in)

Heuchera ‘Sugar Frosting’ Perennial foliage plant with silver marbling on burgundy leaves and white flowers April-May. Prefers sun or part shade in moist but well-drained soil. H45cm (18in) S40cm (16in)

Athyrium niponicum pictum Decorative hardy fern ideal for a shady spot beside shrubs or small trees. Foliage stands well over winter. Thrives in moist but well-drained soil. H30cm (12in) S45cm (18in)

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Guess our gardening celebrity anagrams

Can you tell what these anagrams are? They’re all famous gardeners and TV celebrities. No prizes it’s just for fun!

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1. Charlatan Smith

2. Gotham offline

3. Donny Tom

4. Locker nail

5. Hort crew prey

6. Fallow ryes

7. Dorothy Prechills

8. Blondy cub kat

9. Crab dishwasher

10. Admire choc milk

11. Heathered clam

12. Monday dove ID

13. Data forms

14. Frustrate Greg

15. Tell judge kerry

16. Greyish farm

17. Wobbly patrician

18. Hypermorph nut

19. Civil valets tweaks

20. RV has AN era


Boost your winter flower count

Hellebores at East Lambrook Manor

Hellebores at East Lambrook Manor

Fill your garden with flowers and fragrance this season. Val Bourne picks her favourite shrubs and perennials that bloom in deepest winter

You can’t have failed to notice, the days are stretching out and in a few weeks’ time we’ll have a full 12 hours of daylight. Luckily, plenty of winter-flowering plants are willing to brave the weather and, when it’s cold and grey outdoors, a few fresh flowers produce a special kind of magic.

These winter flowers have to be rugged to withstand the weather, so they tend to be small and subtle in form and colour. There are milkshake pinks and whites, and pallid, moonlit yellows. These colours stand out well in low winter sunshine while most of the garden is lying dormant.

Iris reticulata ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’

Iris reticulata ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’

The function of every flower is to attract insects, so that pollen gets transferred from one flower to another. At this time of year they can’t be big and blowsy, because they wouldn’t last five minutes in a downpour. Their secret weapon is fragrance, which is why so many winter-flowering plants are sweetly scented. Give them a sheltered spot, preferably one that gets afternoon sunshine, and their perfume will carry on the warm, still air.

Most of these sweetly scented flowers hope to attract an early bee. However, green flowers lure in flies and native Helleborus foetidus produces a meaty smell so it’s known as the stinking hellebore, but don’t let that put you off! It’s a stunner, with crisp, divided foliage and clusters of maroon-edged, apple green bells.

In order to survive, these flowers have developed several strategies. Some, like winter-flowering Daphne bholua, have thick waxy petals. Starry-flowered Magnolia stellata has spaces between its petals to allow frosty air to escape, while others are merely collections of stamens, perhaps with a few small petals facing downwards to shed rain and snow.

Winter flower lookalikes - answers



1. Galanthus nivalis (common snowdrop) 2. Convallaria majalis (lily-of-the-valley) 3. Leucojum vernum (spring snowflake) 4. Eranthis hyemalis (winter aconite) 5. Crocus chrysanthus (snow crocus) 6. Sternbergia lutea (winter daffodil) 7. Cyclamen hederifolium 8. Cyclamen coum 9. Cyclamen persicum (Persian cyclamen)

Try our lookalikes quiz!

How well do you know your winter flowers? Here we’ve picked our favourites to see if you can name them... answers below

1 Flowering Jan-Feb, these classic white nodding flowers spread from bulbs, creating naturalised clumps. Plants prefer sun or part shade. Often planted ‘in the green’. H and S10cm (4in)

2 Fragrant groundcover plant with white nodding bells (May) and broad leaves. Plants prefer part or full shade. Often used in wedding bouquets. H25cm (10in) S30cm (12in)

3 Nodding white flowers on tall stems March-April. Flowers have green tips to their petals. Plants prefer moist, well-drained soil and full sun. H30cm (12in) S10cm (4in)

4 Golden chalice-shaped flowers with bright green ruffs. Flowers Jan-Feb in sun or part shade. Will colonise damp shady woodland borders. H8cm (3in) S5cm (2in)

5 Flowering Feb-March, these golden-yellow blooms come from corms, have a purple outer mark on the petals and strappy leaves. Sun and well-drained soil. H10cm (4in) S8cm (3in)

6 Flowering Sept-Nov, these upright yellow goblets are fully hardy and prefer a position in full sun. Fast growing and will colonise a border in time. H15cm (6in) S8cm (3in)

7 Pretty marbled heart-shaped leaves and fragrant flowers in pink or white, Oct-Nov. Flowers emerge before the leaves, then leaves remain into winter. H12cm (5in) S15cm (6in)

8 Same genus as 7 but with squatter, shorter, upswept pink flowers, Dec-Mar. Rounded silvery-green leaves that die back in spring. Grow in part shade. H and S10cm (4in)

9 Same genus as 7 and 8 but not as hardy. Comes in various colours, with darker pink or dark magenta flash around mouth of the corolla. Flowers Dec-May. H20cm (8in) S10cm (4in)

For the answers CLICK HERE

Get ready for frost!

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Many gardeners greet frost with a heavy heart. It’s a sign that winter has finally taken hold of our gardens and that any tender plants left outside will have succumbed to its icy grip. While we can protect prized specimens with sheets of fleece, mulches of straw or organic matter, cloches and heated greenhouses, without such shelter or insulation, a heavy frost spells disaster for all sorts of plants – from tender perennials to newly established plants, exotics, succulents and those valiant little half-hardy annuals that are still in bloom.

Frost can strike at any time from autumn until late spring. It normally forms on still, clear, cold nights, when the cool air makes water vapour condense and form droplets as dew. When the temperature falls below 0C (32F) the dew freezes into ice crystals.

There are five main types of frost:

● Air frost occurs when the air temperature falls below freezing point at least 1m (3ft 3in) above the ground

● Ground frost occurs when the surface of the ground, objects or trees, has fallen below freezing point

● Grass frost can occur when grass freezes but manmade concrete or Tarmac surfaces don’t, because they can hold onto warmth

● Hoar frost is a particularly feathery type of frost. Here the ice crystals form when the ground or surface temperature reaches freezing point before dew begins to form. Fog tends to prevent the formation of hoar frost, because it reduces surface cooling

● White frost is more globular than feathery. This occurs when dew forms first, then subsequently freezes.


Frost causes damage because plant cells contain water. As temperatures drop, so the water freezes into ice crystals that can rupture cell walls and contents, and stop plant proteins from working. Symptoms include stems collapsing and foliage becoming scorched, browned or blackened. Sometimes plants can die.

Not every frost is hard enough to kill plants, however. Conditions such as a morning fog can slow down the thawing process, giving plants a chance to thaw out slowly, resulting in less damage. Hardier species contain a type of anti-freeze made from complex sugars and amino acids, which can lower the freezing point of their cell contents, while many shrubs and trees rely on bark to act as an insulation layer.

What’s more, those plants growing in sheltered positions, out of frost pockets, next to the house or shaded from morning sunshine can often escape without any damage at all.

The good news is that a frost-damaged plant isn’t necessarily a write off. After the risk of frost has passed in late spring, the plant may start to show signs of life again. Trim off scorched growth back to an undamaged bud and the plant should respond by producing new shoots.

Discover the evergreen palette


Evergreens needn’t be green. Many of them are variegated and these create a pattern of light and shade, although you do need to use them sparingly or they’ll dazzle you a little too much. The paler parts of the foliage, sometimes cream or yellow, don’t produce chlorophyll so variegated plants often survive well in shadier places. The golden rule with variegation is to blend the colours. White and green foliage tends to jar against yellow and green so it’s best to segregate them.

Green and yellow foliage lights up darker areas of the garden. Medium-sized shrub Eleagnus submacrophylla ‘Limelight’ has sage-green leaves splashed in gold and tiny, highly fragrant flowers in late autumn. You can get the same strident variegation with a much smaller evergreen, Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald n Gold’, and this bushy, slow-growing shrub will eventually reach 3m (10ft) if left. It can be grown as a wall shrub. Or, use variegated Persian ivy Hedera colchica ‘Sulphur Heart’ to clothe a wall, although this non-clinging ivy will need supporting wires. Aucuba japonica ‘Crotonifolia’, one of the toughest evergreens of all, has green leaves dotted in yellow.  You can add more dazzle with orange-trumpeted, bright-yellow daffodils like ‘Jetfire’. Or calm things down using pale-pink winter heathers and silver-leaved deadnettles such as the pink-flowered lamium, ‘Beacon Silver’.


• Cooler cream and green variegated plants are subtler and daintier and there’s a euonymus called ‘Emerald Gaiety’ that bears white-edged green leaves. This makes a fine front-of-border edging to soften a path. Pick up the same blend of milk white and sage green with the self-clinging English ivy Hedera helix ‘Glacier’. Ivies can be grown on upright poles covered with netting, on fences, or up walls, but some ivies won’t climb so refer to a specialist such as Fibrex Nurseries. You could also use variegated Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Silver Queen’. This tall conical shrub, which can reach over 2m (6 1/2ft), casts a silvery spell in winter light.

All the forms of P. tennuifolia have crinkled evergreen foliage and ‘Tom Thumb’ has green foliage, but the new growth emerges black to create a lovely contrast. Add a frill of the black, strappy grass Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ to complete the look. 

New growth is often brighter and the very readily available Photinia fraseri ‘Red Robin’ produces bright red shoots above high-gloss green foliage. Use it as a specimen shrub, or create a hedge, but trim it back in summer to encourage a flush of young growth. There’s also a new berberis with vivid-red foliage, named ‘Admiration’, well worth seeking out.  You’ll get a similar flush of sunset red with heavenly bamboo, Nandina domestica, but this does best when grown in pots in colder gardens. Create a bright contrast using miniature blue bulbs such as muscari, scilla and Anemone blanda. Or add a golden touch using conifer Pinus mugo ‘Carsten's Wintergold’. This produces golden needles once the temperatures drop.

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Our pick of the best Christmas stocking fillers for gardeners

Got a green-fingered friend to buy for? Whether your gift is for you or for gardening friends and family, try these fab ideas for size


Birds & Bees nestbox £42 Wudwerx at Not on the High Street 0203 318 5115;

Bosworth Wellington Boots in aubergine £49.99 Town & Country 01869 363674

2019 Calendar with seeds £24.99 Not on the High Street 0203 318 5115;

Brussel sprout tree ornament from a selection £4-£7 at RHS shop 01483 211320;

Gardeners Bountiful Hamper £15 Heathcote & Ivory 0207 483 8383;

Globe tealight holder £19.99 Crocus 01344 578111;

Indoor-outdoor star light from £25 at Cox & Cox 0330 333 2123;

Mushroom tree ornament from a selection £4-£7 at RHS shop 01483 211320;

Niwaki sharpening stones £15 Niwaki 01747 445059;

Set of three A6 fern notebooks £8 RHS shop 01483 211320;

English country garden diffuser £30 Stoneglow John Lewis 0345 6049049;

Vintage gardens mug £10 Laura Lee Designs 07805 066417;

Dig the Gloves £14.99 Burgon & Ball John Lewis 03456 049049;

Grow Your Own Funky Veg £13 Moonpig 0345 4500 100

Professional topiary shears soft squeeze large £29.99 Burgon and Ball 0114 233 8262

Ladybird house £9.50 Marks and Spencer 0333 014 8000;

Lantana geo terrarium in black £29 Made 0344 257 1888;

Name that red berry!

How well do you know your berries? Here we’ve picked some of the most handsome red ones – see if you can name them


BERRY 1 Reliable evergreen shrub with leathery leaves. Dioecious (male and female flowers on different shrubs) – it’s the female plants that bear the berries. H2.5m (8ft) S1.5m (5ft)

2 Berry-bearing female shrub with a male name. Gold-margined, prickly evergreen foliage. Compact, conical habit; needs male partner to produce berries. H6m (20ft) S5m (16ft)

3 Popular large prickly shrub with strong arching stems bearing geranium-red single flowers, followed by distinctive urn-shaped hips. Has an AGM. H2.5m (8ft) S2.2m (7ft)

4 These berries belong to a deciduous shrub in the gooseberry family with flowers borne in dangly racemes. It’s useful for jelly making. H1.5m (5ft) S1m (3ft 3in)

5 Herringbone branches smothered in red berries in winter. A deciduous shrub with a low, spreading habit. Fine in gardens, but illegal to plant in the wild. H1m (3ft 3in) S1.5m (5ft)

6 Small evergreen shrub whose bamboo-like foliage is purple-red when young and in autumn. Small white flowers late June-July are followed by red berries. H and S1.5m (5ft)

7 Perennial bearing sweet fruits on arching canes in summer or autumn. Berries are ‘aggregate fruit of many drupelets’ that leave a hollow core when picked. H and S1.5-2.4m (5-8ft)

8 Native climber producing fragrant summer flowers Jun-Sep followed by bright red shiny berries. Cottage garden favourite loved by bees and moths. H7m (23ft) S3.5m (11½ft) 

9 Originating from Dutch province of Guelderland, this deciduous shrub has mophead flowers June-July, good autumn foliage and bird-friendly berries. H5m (16ft) S4m (13ft)


1. Skimmia japonica (female) 2 Ilex altaclerensis ‘Golden King’ 3. Rosa moyesii ‘Geranium’ 4. Ribes rubrum (red currant) 5. Cotoneaster horizontalis 6. Nandina domestica (heavenly bamboo) 7. Rubus idaeus (autumn-fruiting raspberry) 8. Lonicera periclymenum (honeysuckle) 9. Viburnum opulus (guelder rose)

Discover autumn colour


Fire and ice, parchment and pastels, earth metals – the autumn garden is rich in colour combinations just waiting to be discovered, says Val Bourne

The November garden is fired by vibrant contrasts. From the muted hues of plants retreating underground or losing their leaves to prepare for winter sleep, to the saturated colours of fiery autumn foliage, hips, stems and late flowers that linger into November.
Brown, beige and khaki dominate now, but low autumn sunlight picks up every detail and enhances the smouldering accent hues and makes them glow.
Aromatic silver plants will provide a steely backdrop for any of these colourful treasures and their foliage will give your seven-spot ladybirds and spiders a place to shelter, too. Leave these ‘ever-grey’ plants intact and cut them back in April when spring breaks through.
It’s a good time to make full use of colourful grasses in reds, browns, parchments and frosted greens. Use them to ring an ornamental acer or small tree, or weave them through an autumn border like a series of fibre-optic lamps. Fine-fronded grasses move and sway when it’s wet and windy, but will freeze-frame in frost to provide elegant ice sculptures. Use taller grasses as punctuation marks among billowing asters and make good use of all those earthy oranges, bronzes and golds. They’ll lift your spirits – even on a dreary November day.


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Discover the drama of seedheads

Eryngium giganteum

Eryngium giganteum

These autumn treasures  hold the secret to next year’s new plants. Val Bourne explores this exciting wonderland

As autumn mists roll in and fruit ripens on the branch, the garden’s colour palette shifts from the floral fantasia of high summer into something altogether more mellow. Shades of russet, warm-red and khaki fatigues come to the fore, giving the garden an earthy, rosy look.
Seedheads play an enormous role in the garden now and, as the sun sinks lower in the sky, they provide texture and form and add a decadent note to the border. Their presence also helps wildlife, because seed-eating birds, such as goldfinches, descend along with busy little wrens who frisk the plants for insects and grubs.
I adore the shiny brown seedheads of acanthus ‘Rue Ledan’. Each pod, reminiscent of a conker, has a jagged grey bract wrapped round like a scarf, and the complete spike turns almost black in winter. And I can’t resist dieramas, or angels’ fishing rods, once the papery seed capsules form and begin to scatter their perfectly round, mid-brown seeds. The extra weight from the seeds makes them tremble and quake in the slightest wind, like conductors of an orchestra.
In any case, it’s fashionable for a garden to fade as the year wanes and Piet Oudolf, the Dutch landscape architect, has perfected the technique in gardens such as Trentham Long Borders in Staffordshire and Scampston Hall in North Yorkshire. German landscape architects were the first to plant up public parks and roundabouts with naturalistic planting that made an impact right through the year until they were cut down in early spring.
Admittedly not everything endures. Persicarias, for instance, disintegrate to mush at the first sign of frost so it’s stiff-stemmed plants that shine now. If they’re tall, so much the better because winter sun can spotlight them as effectively as any theatre designer.

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Make a living wall from guttering

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Plastic guttering makes a cheap but cheerful planter for small succulents, sedums and echeverias, says Max McMurdo

When you have limited outdoor space it’s great to create as many planting opportunities as you can. Vertical planting, intended to produce the effect of a ‘living’ wall, has been used in a lot of stylish garden designs for urban yards and patios. This design uses basic plastic guttering, which is really easy to source from any hardware store. It works beautifully for plants that don’t require too much soil, such as succulents.
Here I’ve opted for four lengths of guttering, but you can use as many as you wish, cut to length to suit your space. You could paint the guttering in bright colours; I was after a sleek contemporary look; grey is also a nice neutral tone to allow the plants to stand out.


1. You will need

YOU WILL NEED: Plastic gutter pipe • End caps • Rope • Hacksaw • Tape measure • Drill to make draiange holes • Compost • Plants

1. CUT GUTTERING Lay out the guttering, measure, mark and cut to the length you want using a hacksaw. Hold each piece steady as you saw. File the sawn ends smooth with a half-moon file or sandpaper.

2. Cut the guttering.jpg

2. FIT CAPS To make drainage holes, drill through the base of each length in several places. Attach end caps to each length of guttering.

3. MEASURE AND KNOT ROPES Measure and cut the rope into two equal lengths. Tie a knot at the halfway point in each length and fold the ropes at this central knot. Measure and mark every 25cm (10 inches) and knot the rope at each marked point. Repeat for both ropes.

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4. CHECK KNOTS ARE ALIGNED Check that the knots align on both ropes (so the guttering will sit level). Adjust the position of the knots if necessary. Heat the cut ends of the rope with a lighter to prevent fraying.

5. POSITION GUTTERING Slot the guttering through each knotted section, pushing the rope snugly against the end caps. Plant up.


READER OFFER This project is taken from Upcycling Outdoors by Max McMurdo with photogrpahs by Brent Darby (£20, Jacqui Small). Readers can buy the book at the special price of £15 with free UK p&p. To order please call 01903 828503 quoting ref QPG500

Celebrate dahlias

Dahlias at Anglesey Abbey

Dahlias at Anglesey Abbey

There are few sights more captivating than a colour-themed dahlia border in full throttle. And what better way to view them in all their myriad shapes and hues than at a dahlia festival? From village shows to open gardens, stately homes to nursery fields, there are dahlias blooming everywhere this month. The National Trust’s Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire has a particularly memorable dahlia border that begs a panoramic photo when you visit; similarly, Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire has a dahlia collection to die for; and the National Dahlia Society is holding its own dahlia show at RHS Garden Wisley in September, complete with judging and demonstrations. Dave Gillam, Chair of the Society, has plenty of good advice on how to keep dahlias looking fabulous.

“Generally the only thing dahlias don’t like is shade,” says Dave. “So, start by picking a sunny, open site. In winter, they can cope with cold and they can cope with wet, but not at the same time. So, if you have heavy soil but don’t want to lift them in autumn, the best bet is to create a slight mound at the bottom of their planting hole, so you’re raising the tuber above the natural water level. Add grit and plenty of organic matter when you plant, then in winter, simply cover the crown with straw as an organic mulch.

“In garden situations, it’s worth trying to leave them in the ground over winter. If they survive that first year, when the plants are at their smallest, you’ll have them for life. It’ll save an awful lot of time and effort lifting and storing them. Besides, many dahlias are lost through improper winter storage – for instance, don’t put them in plastic bags or leave them in wet compost.

“If you do decide to lift your tubers over winter,  wake them up slowly in spring. Don’t plant them out until they’re showing actual signs of growth. Instead, plant the tubers in a pot on a warm windowsill and wait for them to show signs of life. Plant them out after the last frost and they’ll be in flower as early as June.”

Dave has being growing dahlias since he was 10 and regularly competes in the National Championships against around 200 other serious exhibition growers. “My secret is to give the plants what they need before they need it,” he says. “If they’re showing signs of stress it’s too late. You have to keep the soil constantly moist, control the number of flowers and keep their stems well supported: I use three canes in an inverted pyramid to give the flowers plenty of room.

“The hardest thing is getting them to flower at exactly the right time for exhibition. It’s a very concentrated effort – I grow about 460 dahlias on my allotment and I’m not allowed a hosepipe, so all the watering, as well as the weekly feeding, is done by watering can. But then, this is a Mexican plant that stores moisture in its tubers, so it can take pretty hot, dry conditions.”

Dave Gillam's Top Tips for better blooms

• STOPPING/TOPPING This is the act of removing the growing tip when the plant has 3-4 pairs of leaves (left). This makes for a stronger, bushier plant, triggering the next 6-8 shoots lower down the stem to start into growth.

• SIDESHOOTING This is when you remove the sideshoots lower down the stem to strengthen those that remain, so each stem only carries one main bud and flower.

• DISBUDDING This technique involves removing the ‘wingbuds’ on either side of the central flowerbud to make more space for the main flower, allowing it to reach its fullest potential size. 

The dahlia marquee at Aylett Nurseries

The dahlia marquee at Aylett Nurseries


ANGLESEY ABBEY Quy Road, Lode, Cambridgeshire CB25 9EJ l Dahlia displays from end Aug to mid-Sept. Adults £15; NT members free. 01223 810080;

THE SALUTATION Knightrider Street, Sandwich, Kent CT13 9EW l Displays, talks and demos. 15-16 September, 10am-4pm. Adults free. 01304 619919;

CHENIES MANOR Chenies, Rickmansworth, WD3 6ER Rare and unusual cultivars to buy. 27 August, 2-5pm. Adults £6. 01494 762888;

KELMARSH HALL Kelmarsh, Northampton NN6 9LY Tours, demos and dahlia clinic.
2 and 16 September, 11am-5pm. Adults £10. 01604 686543;

AYLETT NURSERIES North Orbital Road, St Albans AL2 1DH l Field trials and exhibition. 8-16 Sept, 10.30am-4.30pm. Adults free. 01727 822255;

NATIONAL DAHLIA SOCIETY SHOW RHS Wisley, GU23 6QB Exhibits and competitions. 4-7 Sept, 9am-5pm. Adults £14.50; RHS free. 01483 224234;

Create drama with grasses

Ornamental grasses are enjoying a hey-day in modern garden design, adding romance, movement and special colour effects. Louise Curley nominates her top 10



1. Best for colour: Imperata cylindrica
For striking colour it’s hard to beat Japanese blood grass, with its narrow upright leaf blades that are green at the base becoming blood red and deep burgundy towards the tip. The leaves glow like flickering flames when backlit. It’s not completely hardy, so plant it in a sunny spot in well-drained soil and mulch in autumn. Or, grow in a container and bring under cover in winter. Plant with heleniums and rudbeckia or for a dramatic contrast alongside the blue-flowered hardy plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbago). H40cm (16in) S30cm (12in)

2. Best for height: Stipa gigantea
This  statuesque grass has a delicate, transparent quality. Clumps of slender leaves grow to about 60cm (2ft) tall, then produce towering stems topped with delicate oat-like flowers from midsummer. Once the seeds have been shed the seed heads continue to look good well into winter. Plant so it can catch the sun; its golden seedheads will shimmer like gold. Clumps are hardy but need full sun and a light, well-drained soil. The leaves have sharp edges so wear gloves and long sleeves when handling. Comb through the plant in spring to remove dead foliage. H2.5m (8ft) S1.2m (4ft)

3. Best for seedheads: Chasmanthium latifoilum
A rarely grown grass that originates from North America where it’s also known as northern sea oats. Its loose clumps of broad leaves resemble bamboo, accompanied by masses of unusual flat flower heads that look as though they’re been pressed by an iron. The whole plant dries to a lovely rich russet brown colour in autumn. Cut back stems to ground level in early spring. It needs fertile soil that’s moist but well-drained in full sun. H1m (39in) S60cm (24in)

 4. Best for screening: Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’
A stiff grass with an erect habit, which makes it perfect for use as a screening plant. Plant it in rows to create an unusual hedge. It’s one of the earliest grasses to start into growth in spring when slender green leaves and stems emerge followed by wispy, buff-coloured flowers. Will happily grow in full sun or light shade in most soils as long as they’re well-drained. The slender columns of bleached, straw-like stems stand well throughout winter. H1.8m (6ft) S60cm (24in)

5. Best for groundcover: Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’
This wonderful low-growing ornamental grass forms tumbling cascades of striped yellow and green leaves. It looks fabulous when planted in large drifts at the edge of a path or underneath trees and shrubs where it creates a soft floaty feel. Plant in well-drained soil in full sun or part shade - the leaves can develop red tints when grown in full sun. Cut back to the base in spring. H35cm (15in) S40cm (16in)

 6. Best for fluffy flowers: Pennisetum villosum
A graceful plant with fine slender leaves and large, fluffy, caterpillar-like flowers. These whitish-green plumes take on purple tints as they mature. It’s a tender perennial that’s often grown as an annual. It may survive the winter in a mild area; plant in a sunny, well-drained location and add a mulch to protect its roots from the cold. It works well edging borders, but also makes a good container plant, which means it can be brought under cover in late autumn to protect from the worst of the winter cold and wet. H and S60cm (24in)

7. Best for stripes: Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’
An upright grass with a fountain shape thanks to its elegant arching stems and foliage. Its ‘zebra’ name comes from the cream horizontal stripes across its green leaves. This variegation is temperature dependent and usually appears in midsummer but the leaves can scorch in full sun, so plant in light shade. In hot summers silky, finger-like, coppery-pink flower spikes can appear. The foliage turns a tan colour in autumn. Cut down in late winter to allow new growth to appear. H1.2m (4ft) S45cm (18in)

8. Best for container growing: Festuca glauca
A compact grass that forms low-growing hummocks of grey-blue, needle-thin leaves that’s perfect for growing in containers. The evergreen foliage provides structure for container displays all year round. Flower spikes appear in summer and fade to brown. Comb through the plant in late winter to remove any dead foliage. Plant in spring with dainty white violas and dwarf white narcissus, then replace them with white or purple summer bedding and perennials such as salvias, Cosmos sonata and Bacopa ‘Snowflake. H30cm (12in) S25cm (10in)

9. Best for winter structure: Miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’
A majestic plant that has fine arching green leaves with a white stripe down the centre and spectacular purplish-brown silky flowers that glisten in summer. Foliage turns a lovely russet brown in autumn and holds its shape into late winter when it can be cut down to the ground. Plant in blocks or drifts to form natural screens or as specimen plants in a border to add strong vertical shapes. Needs a sunny, open position and well-drained soil. H2m (7ft) S1.2m (4ft)

10. Best for movement: Hordeum jubatum
Foxtail barley is a short-lived perennial, but it can be treated as an annual and is easy to grow from seed. It will self-sow in free-draining soil in a warm, sunny position and produces delicate pale pink, silvery, barley-like flowers. Plant in drifts and the flowers will sway in the breeze creating attractive waves. Plants thrive in gravel gardens or at the front of a border where it can be interplanted among dainty plants that have an airy quality, such as Shirley poppies, love-in-a-mist or verbena ‘Lollipop’ – the shorter version of Verbena bonariensis. H60cm (24in) S30 (12in)