summer rain

rain hostaYesterday, I had been planning to spend the precious hours between picking M up from nursery and her bedtime in the garden. She’d woken up that morning asking if we could ‘do some potting’.

When the time came, it was raining. And besides, she was tired and wanted to watch Pingu instead.

I set her up with a DVD and escaped to the garden by myself for a few minutes. This is what I saw…

coral charm peony full bloom in the rain brookend cottage garden

coral charm peony in full bloom, I love the way this variety fades from vibrant pink to a softer blush. We need more peonies in the garden

rain coral charm peony opening

coral charm peony, just on the verge of opening

rain overblown poppy

even this overblown poppy looks more appealing in the rain

rain lupin leaf

drops collect like diamonds on the lupin leaves

rain centaurea

it was worth going out in the rain to discover our first centaurea had opened

I may have turned into one of those people who looks skyward and says ‘well, it’s good for the garden’ when it rains on a summer’s day…


outside-in: June (1/12)

When I lived in Japan, I gate-crashed an Ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) class a few times.

daisies catmint sweet peas

‘plonk and go’ flower arranging, after trimming ox-eye daisies and catmint that were getting out of hand

The lovely middle-aged Japanese ladies I accompanied gleefully chortled at my ‘English Freestyle’.

Yet I love the idea of bringing the garden into the house. And English Freestyle is probably an appropriate match for our rather untidy home.

catmint geranium

we have this catmint-geranium combination in the garden too

So my plan is to keep our vases furnished with flowers from the garden all year round. The next few months should be easy, but I’m not sure how we’ll manage in the winter.

I’ll post an update and pics here every month – keep in touch if you want to see how I get on.

the original sweet pea

sweet pea cupani

Cupani – the mother of sweet peas

Last spring I sowed sweet peas direct into the ground, and got a big fat nothing.

Then I read an article by Monty Don saying he doesn’t have much success that way either. So I decided to try again, sowing them in pots to plant out later.

At the Malvern Autumn Show I came across Pennard Plants – a fab company specialising in heirloom seeds. After rifling through their collection I finally settled on a couple of old-fashioned varieties. One of which was Cupani.

This is officially ‘the mother of all sweet peas’. It can be traced back to 1699 when it was cultivated by an English schoolmaster from seeds sent to him by Father Cupani, a Sicilian Monk.

I had 15 Cupani seeds and sowed them in three batches: autumn, winter and early spring. Then I left them to germinate in the well ventilated (i.e. several panes of glass missing) greenhouse we inherited with the cottage.

sweet pea cupani

the tendrils cling to anything, and I think they’re almost as lovely as the flowers

Predictably, the first batch were devoured by mice as soon as they germinated. The second batch grew and made it through the winter, but looked pretty shabby by February. The ones I sowed in the spring caught up quickly as the weather warmed. I won’t bother with a winter sowing again.

We planted them out in large containers and they are rampant – you can’t tell which were the spring / winter sowings now. I mixed Cupani with another heritage variety, Painted Lady. Apparently she is the daughter of Cupani – but that was a happy accident, I didn’t know it at the time!

They have started flowering in earnest this week. And the more you pick, the more they flower. Hopefully we’ll have that inimitable sweet pea fragrance in the house all summer long.

sweet pea cupani rampant

they are rampant – and I think we have over-planted. Our neighbour has grown them for years and says ‘more than one plant per stick is greedy’!


M with Cupani and Painted Lady - looking for mischief...

M with Cupani and Painted Lady – looking for mischief…

solstice peony

One day last summer, my lovely friend Anna turned up with a gift of three voluptuous pink peonies.

There was something so decadent about the way they only lasted a day before lazily shedding their petals. I was hooked, and decided I had to have some in the garden.

coal charm peony brookend cottage garden

Coral Charm suddenly burst open on mid-summer’s day

It was the middle of winter when I finally got around to ordering some bare root plants. I poured over the Kelways website for hours before settling on Coral Charm and Karl Rosenfeld.

We planted them quite late – I think it was mid January – but the ground wasn’t frozen so we put them in and hoped for the best.

Within weeks, peculiar red shoots were poking out of the soil. We have watched with fascination as they have grown and developed into healthy young plants.

Apparently peonies can sulk a bit when moved, and don’t always flower in their first year. Karl Rosenfeld seems to be taking his time, lots of lovely foliage but doesn’t look like he will flower for us yet. Coral Charm produced two fat, round buds – the first of which suddenly burst open today.

This autumn we’re going to plant crocuses and primroses around them to combine with next spring’s red shoots.

The flowers are fleeting, but part of the enjoyment is in the waiting.

ant on peony bud brookend cottage garden

fat round buds – that the ants love!

peony bud about to open brookend cottage garden

24 hours before opening…

foxgloves for free

foxgloves in evening sun

We had several failed attempts at growing foxgloves from seed last year.

The first batch didn’t germinate. The second batch gave us some teeny tiny seedlings which suddenly died for no apparent reason.

Then we had one last try late in the summer with a free packet that came with a gardening magazine. We didn’t expect anything to come of it, but the seedlings sprouted and thrived. Hundreds of them!

One September evening after M had gone to bed, Steve and I spent a couple of hours painstakingly pricking them out. Then we left them to their own devices with just an occasional drop of water over the winter.

Come spring, virtually all of them had survived. We have been giving them away to anyone who will take them, and have planted groups of them  in shady spots all round the garden.

This week they are finally starting to flower…

looking up at foxgloves

foxgloves in the evening sun


foxglove bee

bees can’t get enough of them…


yellow foxglove

wouldn’t have chosen yellow if they hadn’t been free, but it’s growing on me

Hopefully some of them will self-seed and we’ll have even more foxgloves next year.