Say hello to hostas!

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You can’t beat hostas for fabulous foliage. Val Bourne picks her favourites for colour, fragrance and slug resistance

HOSTAS ARE PRINCIPALLY grown for their luxuriant foliage. They come in quilted grey-blues, golden yellows, swirling variegations in white, cream and mayonnaise-yellow, plus every shade of green under the sun. Hosta foliage funnels out very elegantly as well, so the leaves are always beautifully arranged and this makes them perfect foliage plants for a shady spot close to the house, the edge of a woodland border, or in containers.
You can mix and match the textures, shapes and colours because hostas come in all shapes and sizes. The tallest may reach a metre high and produce substantial leaves, or there are miniature ones with evocative names like ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ that make ideal container plants for small gardens. They’re all very hardy and long-lived.
Hostas need moist soil in the first part of summer because they come from the Far East, principally Japan, although some are native to Korea, parts of Russia and China. These areas of the world tend to experience a humid rainy season that usually finishes at the end of June, so hostas in British gardens need lots of moisture in order to produce their impressive foliage. Water in the mornings because you’ll attract fewer slugs and snails. Both nibble the foliage, although snails are the major culprits!
Most hostas also need shade because they’re found on woodland edges and clearings in the wild. However, golden- and chartreuse-leaved hostas, such as ‘Sum and Substance’, need a brighter spot to develop their sunny foliage. The leaves turn dull green if it’s too shady.
Although grown mainly for their foliage, some also produce fragrant lilac or white flowers. ‘Fragrant Bouquet’, ‘Royal Standard’ and ‘Stained Glass’ are among the best for scent.  

Best for lush green ‘Devon Green’ The most popular green-leaved hosta in Europe, it has ribbed, high-gloss bright green foliage. Looks good in a container or in the border. H and S45cm (18in)

Best for fragrant flowers ‘Guacamole’ Rounded gold leaves with darker green markings frame pale fragrant flowers in August. Plants enjoy a brighter spot. H and S70cm (28in)

Best for slug resistance H. sieboldiana elegans Large hosta with thick, puckered leaves that need a cool spot to keep their bluish colour. Pale lavender flowers in June. H and S1m (3ft 3in)

Best for small leaves ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ Rosettes of round, rich blue-green, mouse-ear-shaped leaves plus unusual buds and lavender flowers. Lovely in a pot. H and S15cm (6in)

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Plan the perfect cottage garden border

Mix fragrant blowsy blooms, towering spires and frothy umbels for a cottage garden that looks good and nurtures wildlife too. Val Bourne suggests the plants to go for

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The romantic cottage garden border harks back to simpler days when a garden had to provide food, herbs, medicine and flowers in abundance. Back in those days the garden offered a solution to all sorts of ailments: if you had a headache you chewed a leaf of feverfew or achillea; toothache was soothed by sucking on a clove. Food crops, vital for family survival, jostled among easily-grown flowers and paths were lined by fragrant pinks, primroses, violets and lavender. Even the old outdoor privy, its path illuminated by snowdrops on a chilly winter’s night, had a fragrant moss rose framing the doorway.

Birds, butterflies, moths and every type of insect flitted through those old cottage gardens and in modern times it’s more important than ever to sustain wildlife. We’re trying to recreate that sort of eco-friendly buzz for nature’s sake and our own wellbeing. Watching a bee forage on a favourite flower is as close to mindfulness as it can be. It calms the soul.

We’re more fortunate today in one way, because we have a much greater choice when it comes to plants. Modern cottage gardens span the seasons, using carefully thought-out colour schemes and lots of texture. Plants are still passed around, with not a plastic pot in sight, and self seeders are encouraged, but managed. Seeds are saved from year to year in old envelopes. Herbs are snipped for the kitchen and vegetables go from plot to plate in a trice. Cottage gardeners are also more likely to recycle and turn an old wicker basket, or colander, into a container for herbs. Their plots are still flower packed affairs and nature still looks as though it could break free at any moment. The skill’s in mixing your plants together to recreate the whimsical look of times past.  

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New launches at Chelsea 2019

See the new plants making their debut at Chelsea this year. From a sumptuous regal clematis to ruffled irises and blowsy roses, there’s plenty to tempt you in The Great Pavilion

Lupinus ‘Bishop’s Tipple’ Perky lilac flower spikes with a hint of yellow, borne on strong, stocky stems from early May. Pleated palmate leaves look lovely in dew. Prefers sun and a moist but well-drained soil. H75cm (2ft) S50cm (19in). £8.50 for 9cm pot from Westcountry Lupins 01237 431111; 

Iris ‘Natchez Trace’ Copper-toned bearded iris that’s sure the turn heads at this year’s Chelsea. The darker falls have a soft, satiny feel, while the standards have a decadent, ruffled appearance. Prefers sun or part shade and well-drained soil. H85cm (33in) S30cm (12in). £7.50 for 11cm pot from Todds Botanics 01376 561212;

Rosa ‘Gabriel Oak’ Named after the dignified, hardworking and honest character in Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. A vigorous rose, bearing large, many-petalled rosette blooms, this variety is very much in the style of the Old Roses. The outer petals of each bloom are a striking shade of deep pink which pale slightly over time, creating a most charming effect. Coupled with a wonderful strong fruity fragrance, this shapely, rounded shrub exudes richness and abundance. H and S1.25cm (4ft). £21.50 bare root; £28 containerised from David Austin Roses 01902 376300;

Rosa ‘Eustacia Vye’ Named after the exotically beautiful but restless heroine of The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy, this an exceedingly pretty shrub rose in soft, glowing apricot-pink. Each bloom is packed with multiple, delicately ruffled petals on red-tinged stems. Strong, fruity fragrance and bushy, upright growth. A very healthy variety. H1.25m (4ft) S90cm (35in). £21.50 bare root; £28 containerised from David Austin Roses 01902 376300;

Salvia ‘Amethyst Lips’ Stunning bicoloured purple-and-white flowered salvia related to the popular red and white salvia ‘Hot Lips’. This reliable shrubby perennial flowers throughout summer from June to October. Prefers a moist but well drained soil in full sun. H1m (3ft 3in) S75cm (29in). £6.50 for 1L pot from Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants 01256 896533;

Digitalis valinii ‘Firebird’ Developed by breeder John Fielding, this exotic-looking beauty is a cross between our own native Digitalis purpurea and the Canary Island foxglove, Digitalis canariensis. Flowers emerge on upright stems from May to October, with a deep apricot undertone and freckles inside the flower throat. Plants are hardy to -5C (xxF) and popular with bees. Performs best in a fertile soil enriched with organic matter, in part shade. H90cm (35in) S50cm (19in). £7.50 for 1L pot from Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants 01256 896533;

Heuchera ‘Cool Dude’ Unusual cool green foliage with silvery-frosting and deeper green veins are joined by tall, large bell-shaped dusky-pink flowers on strong stems in June and August. Easy to grow and mound forming, good for ground cover in full or part shade. Loved by the bees. Bred in the UK by Richard and Vicky Fox, so will stand up to variable British winters. H30cm (12in) S40cm (16in). £7.50 for 1L plant from Plantagogo 01270 820335;

Heuchera ‘Burgundy Bill’ Voluptuous-looking heuchera with eye-catching burgundy-red foliage that glows bright in sunlight. Pretty pure white flowers from June-August show up well against the tall burgundy-red stems and richer foliage. Very easy to grow and loved by bees. Best in sun or part shade in a free draining soil. H30cm (12in) S40cm (16in). £7.50 for 1L plant from Plantagogo 01270 820335;

Dianthus ‘Cherry Burst’ One of a new generation of sweetly perfumed, single-flowered fully hardy pinks that’s perfect for border edges or patio pots, bred by Whetman Plants International. Flowering continuously from May to September ‘Cherry Burst’ has interesting chocolate-coloured buds that open to a deep maroon eye, bleeding out to a lighter pink border over compact grey/green foliage. Plant in sun in any reasonable soil. H30cm (12in) S25cm (10in). £7.50 for 1L from Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants 01256 896533;

Clematis 'Meghan' Bred by New Leaf Plants, dark purply-red clematis ‘Meghan’ joins the royal family of clematis offered by Thorncroft Clematis. The deciduous, large early flowered climber was named and introduced in limited numbers last year to celebrate the royal wedding, but will now enjoy its formal launch at Chelsea. The stunning flowers are produced May to June and again July-September on the current season’s growth. Plant in sun or part shade. Prune Feb/March. H and S1.5m (5ft) £15 from Thorncroft Clematis 01953 850407;

Clematis 'Scented Clem' This enchanting lilac-blue clematis is part of the Sugar Sweet range, and its starry flowers with an almond scent particularly strong at dawn and dusk. Blooms emerge April-May – so it’ll hopefully be in flower at Chelsea! Plants have shown good resistance to clematis wilt and are vigorous, floriferous growers, bred from the species C. cadmia by Ton Hannink from the Netherlands. Plant in sun or part shade. H and Sxxm (8-10ft). £15 from Thorncroft Clematis 01953 850407;

Chelsea 2019: See the show gardens!

The M&G Garden by Andy Sturgeon

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Andy Sturgeon

Andy Sturgeon

“IT ALL STARTED when I saw some black rocks emerging from a beach in Australia. I loved their drama and the way they were becoming subsumed by the sand and colonised by pioneer plants. I love the lants are able to colonise all – even lava flows at the base of Mount Etna.

“I wanted to create a wodland garden for its atmosphere, but didn’t want to use rocks so instead I’ve gone for a sculptural burnt oak, stratefied into layers and upright but leaning at the same angle. It means that from one side of the garden you can see the black t and green plants against it, but from the front you can see between the rocks, framing different sightslines of the garden.

“The trees I’ve chosen at three enormous Carpinus betula (hornbeam) and Nothofagus antarctica (southern beech) - both havevery small leaves and characterful trunks so you’ll create a woodland atmosphere but without casting too much shade.

“I’ve also used lots of pioneer plants that have a primitive quality - algae, mosses and lichens, ferns, restios and equisetums, which have been around since the age of the dinosaurs. In the pond is aquatic Cyperus alternifolius which also has a primitive look. It’s all very green, so there are lots of leaf textures and shapes, and little pops of jewel colours from primulas and Lilium martagon ‘Claude Shride’.

“We have a large Aralia cordata, some aruncus and two types of angelica – Angelica archangelica and Angelica dahurica throughout the garden, and lots of grasses such as Melica altimissima ‘Alba’.

“I’m definitely not intending to mimic nature - it’s a garden space but it might be a bit scruffy around the edges.”

The Morgan Stranley Garden by Chris Beardshaw

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Chris Beardshaw

Chris Beardshaw

“FOR THIS YEAR’S show garden I wanted to reawaken people’s interest in the flower-rich herbaceous border.

“Inspired by the circular economy – being sensitive to resources and opportunities to recycle – here we’ve tried to bring plants to the show in the most efficient and sustainable way possible. The plants are all being grown without heat or additional fertiliser in 100% recyclable taupe plastic pots, using compost made from salvaged, water-washed minerals and garden waste. The buildings are all made from lightweight recyclable composites to keep our carbon footprint low as possible. We’ll be using battery-powered machinery instead of diesel, too.

“The main focal point is the dramatic pine tree sculpted by the wind into a 30 degree angle. There’a also a Zelcova serrata, a native hawthorn and neatly clipped yew lozenges. The herbaceous planting is going to be a mix of white, blue, yellow and pink, and flashes of orange for a bit of spice. The plants will be layered into contours, with taller plants at the back, shorter ones in front, in a scalloped pattern for maximum impact. It’s an idea pioneered at Arley Hall, Cheshire, in the mid-1800s that I’ve updated here for a succession of colour and a tapestry of foliage texture.”


The Warner Distillery Garden by Helen Elks-Smith

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Helen Elks-Smith

Helen Elks-Smith

“THE BRIEF WAS to create a garden that reflected the landscape at Falls Farm – the location of Warner’s Distillery in Northamptonshire,” says Helen. “I’ve taken inspiration from its natural springs and aquifers, the landscape of rock and water, rolling fields and native hedgerows.

“The central structure is an enclosed courtyard with a chimney. There’s a nod to Frank Lloyd Wright in its shape, which uses two cantilevered roofs that jut out over the dry stone walls. Copper fins are inset at different heights, allowing water to trickle from the roof.

“For the planting I’ve used native hedgerow plants such as blackthorn,  which produces the sloes used to flavour gin, and Juniperus communis, also used in gin production.

“The colour scheme is blue-green and silver, with shots of bolder colour from irises ‘Benton Caramel’ and ‘Quechee’. There are nepeta, salvias ‘Mainacht’ and ‘Caradonna’, verbascum ‘Violetta’, foxgloves and ferns. The overall planting texture has a loose feel but at Chelsea there’s always a bit of a hot shoe shuffle at the end!”

The Dubai Majlis garden by Thomas hoblyn

Thomas Hoblyn

Thomas Hoblyn

“THE DESIGN is based on the wild, arid landscapes of hot countries in the Middle East and Mediterranean. It’s a sculptural interpretation of a terraced mountainside where, over time, the wind, heat and cold have transformed the rocks into smooth curves.

“We’re using limestone, red ironstone gravel and a clay render that mimics the Moroccan tadelakt plaster you find in ancient Dubai. The shelter is inspired by the curve of sand dunes, created by steam bending the timber.

“For plants I’ve chosen a watercolour palette of blue and burnt orangey-reds. These are offset by the blue-greens of santolina and teucrium, dark green pistacia and lime green euphorbia, which looks great against the red gravel.

“The trees are Parrotia persica, Ziziphus jujuba and pomegranate – chosen for its tactile bark and pinky-orange flowers. There are aloes, salvias, Agapanthus africanus and an orange-flowered plant called bulbine – which has a lovely exotic, succulent look.”

The Greenfingers Charity Garden by Kate Gould

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“THIS IS MY 10th Chelsea garden and this year the design is for Greenfingers charity – an organisation that creates gardens for children’s hospices around the UK. The design is aimed at children and families who rely on the hospices and spend their time mostly looking at ceilings from a hospital bed. Here they can look up at green things and feel their wind on their face.

“The design incoporates a two-storey structure as the site is next to the marquee, and there’s a lift for access – theres’s not enough room for a long series of ramps. There are buttons to press for light and sound, a waving water feature and a cargo net that the children can lie on above a seating area directly below.

“As it’s a hospice garden the paving is made from porcelaine which is easy to clean, and composite decking. There are wirework sculptures by Emma Stotford, of fruit and mobiles. There’s  green woven apple swingseat lined with sheepskins so it’s nice and cosy. There’a s lot of stuff in it to entertain the children and their siblings when they come to visit – no trampolines but lots of activites the whole family can enjoy together including colourful glazed bricks by Ibstock and a panel water feature.

“The planting is mostly low maintenenace, using lots of colourful mounding shrubs to make domes, including choisya ‘Greenfingers’ which was named for the charity. The upper storey planting is drought and pollution tolerant. And although it’s designed to be low care there are patches of flowers and perennial planting for a softer look, using tree ferns, white and yellow lupins, orlaya and grasses as well as roses around the perimeter.” 

The Savills & David Harber Garden by Andrew Duff

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Andrew Duff

Andrew Duff

“HERE I’VE SOUGHT to create a beautiful, sustainable woodland clearing in a city garden, showing how even city dwellers can do their bit to help the environment.

“The garden showcases a host of sustainable features, such as a water-purifying wetland area, a green wall and rain-permeable surfaces. Black alder and hornbeam trees help to filter pollution, a filtration pool cleans grey water and stores it via a water-harvesting system.

“A key feature of the garden is the central pool where a 3.5m (11ft) sculpture by David Harber soars into the tree canopy above a shadow of ‘leaves’ that flutter on the water surface.

“The planting is naturalistic, with lots of green textures and soft white and yellow flowers offering a bit of sunshine in the dappled shade. There will be beautiful British buttercups in the meadowturf, Smyrnium olusatrum, and in the pond, flag irises (Iris pseudacorus) and reeds (Typha latifolia) – both are good plants for filtering water.”

Make the most of a small garden


Most British gardens are tiny, but don’t dispair! Naomi Slade offers tips for creating drama on a small scale

Small gardens always present a challenge. How to create the verdant dream, grow your own fresh fruit and veg, experiment with new planting ideas and store the mower in a hemmed-in space the size of a match box? According to a report from DIY chain B&Q, the average British garden is 190 square metres (or three-quarters of a tennis court), while newer plots average 113 square metres. Victorian terrace gardens are always a narrow squeeze, and roof terraces and balcony spaces measure far less.

Yet we are a nation of gardeners and garden we will. And though a tiny plot may not always be easy, it does present its own opportunities. You only have to take a look at RHS Chelsea show gardens to see what can be achieved in a minute space – the artisan gardens are a masterclass in focusing on a theme. Closer to home, the National Garden Scheme offers plenty of relatable, budget-conscious inspiration too. Look out for group openings where lots of smaller gardens are open together and take design tips straight from the owners.  

Small gardens are often urban, overlooked and shaded by buildings. High surrounding walls and fencing make them feel even smaller than they are, and a square of shabby concrete might seem pretty short of potential. Crammed, untidy spaces help to diminish a garden’s horizons. 

Identifying the issues and embracing the positives can go a long way in realising your dreams:

• Know what you want: gather ideas that excite you and have a vision that’s achievable.

• Love the plot you’ve got and choose plants accordingly: a shady spot on heavy soil can be wonderfully lush, with forest-floor plants such as ferns and foxgloves, while a suntrap suits gravel, alpines and succulents.

• Rejoice in its manageability: no need to mow acres of lawn or dig over a large veg patch. Instead, enjoy harvesting tomatoes from tubs and deadheading sweet peas, gin-and-tonic in hand. Bliss! 

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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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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;