helichrysum ‘hendrix’

My attitude towards orange and yellow is changing. Every year I mellow a little and let a bit more into the garden.

Steve is a big fan of rudbekia. I wasn’t keen at first, but they do suit the softer September and October light.

cottage garden, gardening blog

Rudbekia and verbena bonariensis pair well. The verbena’s gone haywire this year. More on that next time.

So, on balance, I can tolerate some late summer yellow. In fact, I’ll admit that I’ve started to rather like it. But I’ve flatly refused to allow any orange flowers. Until now.

This spring I bought  a packet of helichrysum hendrix seed from Higgledy Garden on a whim. We’d just extended our two main borders and I wanted some cheap and cheerful annuals to pad them out.

Benjamin from Higgledy has a wonderful knack of making all his flowers sound like must-haves. But I went for these because he said they last well into the autumn, and for the past couple of years we’ve been making efforts to keep the garden in-flower for longer. I thought they might help.

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OK, it’s a bit unruly. But we’ve never had this much colour so late in the season before. 

And so they did. The flowers are quite papery and robust. I reckon they’ll last until the frosts, so we may get another month out of them yet.

Benjamin says helichrysum hendrix come in ‘an amazing array of colours’. He’s not wrong. We’ve had pinks, purples, whites, crimsons and combinations of those.

We’ve also had bright dandelion yellow.

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Dandelion yellow. It’s growing on me.

And we’ve had orange. I’d love to call it copper. Or burnished gold. But it’s just orange, isn’t it.

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Orange. In my garden. I never thought I’d see the day.

The surprising thing is, I like it. But if I start considering regimented rows of marigolds for the garden next spring, tell me to have a word with myself.


wordless wednesday: peony, coral charm

peony, coral charm, cottage garden, gardening blog

forgotten plants

In the mid 90s a lady called Nell commandeered a strip of ground on my parents’ nursery. She’d been a customer of theirs for years, and the community garden she shared with her neighbours was being reclaimed by the local council.

Nell was a quietly tenacious woman in her late seventies. Unfazed by the council’s decision she uprooted her entire garden and replanted it alongside one of my parents’ glasshouses. Once the job was done, she kept coming back. She walked the four mile round trip from her flat to her new garden almost every day until she died in 2001. Old Nell, as we fondly called her, became part of the family. And her coffee and walnut cakes became the stuff of legend.

forgotten plants, cottage garden, gardening blog

For more than ten years Nell’s garden has been left to its own devices. But when we visited my parents on Mother’s Day, Mum sent me out there, spade in hand, to see what I could find.

It turns out many of Nell’s perennials are still thriving – they’re just long overdue a lift and divide. So I enlisted my Dad and Steve to help and we came away with quite a haul.

hellebore, cottage garden, gardening blog

There was a wonderful collection of hellebores right at the back of the garden. They are healthy and vigorous with masses of flowers. We only took two for now as I’m not quite sure where I’m going to put them.

hellebore, cottage garden, gardening blog

I think this one is ‘white lady’…


…and this could be ‘pink spotted lady’

Several dense clumps of snowdrops were just going over. Actually, dense is an understatement. One clump filled an entire crate once it was separated out. While I was digging I was half afraid I’d unearth a skeleton; Nell was known for picking up run-over cats and burying them with a handful of bulbs.

snowdrops in the green, cottage garden, gardening blog

snowdrops in the green – seems greedy to keep all these, I’ll see if I can find good homes for a few

We found some more bulbs behind the hellebores. They have snowdrop-like leaves and the buds have a pinkish tinge. No idea what they are, but they look pretty. I’ll try to identify them once they open.

cottage garden, gardening blog

mystery bulbs – if you know what they are, please leave a comment…

Dad knows I have a thing for peonies and found this beastie for me:

peony crown, cottage garden, gardening blog

I’m going to need a saw to divide this one

It really needs to be divided and, according to the RHS, this is best done in the autumn. I’m going to give it a go, but I doubt it will forgive me on time to flower this year.

We also have armfuls of cowslips and sedums. And Steve couldn’t resist a patch of monstrous rudbeckia. Judging by last year’s stems they’ll grow to a good seven foot. Who knows where they’ll go, perhaps they can plug a few gaps in the hedge.

Old Nell was quite a character and I remember her with much affection. I think she’d be glad to see her plants being given a new lease of life.

planting peonies

I can count on one hand the number of times Steve has given me flowers. But he redeemed himself this Christmas with three bare root peonies.

They arrived on December 18th. Luckily he realised they couldn’t sit around under the tree for a week, so I was given them early. I loosely covered the roots in compost and scribbled down the names ready to Google them on Christmas morning.

bare root peony, cottage garden, gardening blog

herbaceous and intersectional peonies can fail to flower if planted too deep – buds should be at, or just below, the surface

Fair play, he chose some stunners. Akashigata, a lavender coloured Japanese tree peony, Border Charm a pale yellow intersectional and Emodii an early flowering white herbaceous variety.

Tree peonies are actually hardy shrubs. They have woody stems and can be slow to get going, but eventually reach anywhere between four and seven foot high. Intersectionals are a tree/herbaceous hybrid, their stems die down at the end of the growing season but their leaves and flowers resemble those of tree peonies.

For days I deliberated over where to put them. Peonies are long-lived and the herbaceous ones aren’t too keen on being moved about. My usual ‘stick it in and see what happens’ approach wasn’t going to cut it.

garden compost, cottage garden, gardening blog

peonies need little attention once they’re growing, but it’s worth preparing the ground well…we dug into our first ever batch of homemade compost for the occasion

In the end I split the three of them up. Border Charm has joined my existing pair of herbaceous peonies by the back door. Coral Charm and Karl Rosenfeld are thriving in this sunny spot. It’s already planted with crocuses too, which intermingle nicely with the bright red other-worldly peony stems that shoot up early spring.

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I chucked in a handful of lime for good measure; our soil is a bit acidic & peonies prefer it neutral to slightly alkaline

Emodii apparently tolerates shade pretty well, so I’ve put her under the apple and silver birch trees alongside a clump of Alba foxgloves. I feel a white theme coming on down here in the dappled light which I might take further this year.

I agonised over Akashigata. I made up, then changed, my mind three or four times. Tree peonies’ emerging buds can be frazzled by the sun on frosty mornings. Much of our garden is exposed to the east so my options were limited.

tree peony graft, cottage garden, gardening blog

most tree peonies are grafted onto herbaceous peony root stock – the join should be at least 8cm below ground

I stripped back an area of grass to put her in one spot. Then I remembered it was right in the path of our spaniel’s regular mad-dash garden circuit, so I had to think again.

In the end I put her at the back edge of an island border. It’s an obscure position for such a beautiful plant. But I hope she can quietly establish herself there without coming to any harm. It could be up to four years before she flowers and I think we’ll enjoy stumbling across her in full bloom one summer’s evening when we’ve all but forgotten about her.

If Steve gets really lucky, one of my new peonies might bloom in time for my birthday in June. He’ll never need to buy me flowers again.

peony coral charm, cottage garden, gardening blog

Coral Charm – we planted this peony two years ago and she has quickly become one of the garden’s highlights


winter garden

frosted rosehip, cottage garden, gardening blog

frosted rosehip

The ‘autumn tidy’ is always a bit of an oxymoron in our garden. Especially so this year. I can’t have spent more than two or three hours out there in November and the only pre-Christmas job I did in December was stringing up fairy lights.

But at last the festivities are over and I managed to sneak out for a few hours yesterday morning.


I mostly wandered about and caught up with where things are at. Snowdrops are beginning to push up leaves; bright red peony shoots are breaking through the soil. We’ll be enjoying the witch hazel flowers’ acid-yellow spideriness soon.

frosted foxglove plant, cottage garden, gardening blog

foxglove ‘Alba’ – we sowed these early summer and planted them out in September to flower next year

The main borders are a jumble of stalks and seed heads. We deliberately avoid chopping plants back in the autumn to provide food and shelter  for wildlife.

frosted rudbeckia stems, cottage garden, gardening blog

Over the past weeks I’ve noticed hordes of finches in the garden – far more than in our previous winters here. Many of them have been flitting in and out of clumps of rudbeckia stalks. I thought they were hunting for insects taking refuge there. But it turns out they’ve been feasting on the seeds.

rudbeckia seed head, cottage garden, gardenig blog

rudbeckia seed heads are being stripped by finches

Embracing untidiness instead of fighting it makes gardening at this time of year an unhurried, leisurely affair.  It couldn’t be further from the mad spring dash to get seeds in and young plants hardened off at just the right moment – exciting though that is.

On bright, crisp mornings this attitude pays off. The collapsing heap of last summer’s growth is transformed into an ice-encrusted wonderland.

frosted rudbeckia, cottage garden, gardening blog

frosted rudbeckia seedhead

We have a few new projects in mind for next year. The two main borders are being extended to give us tons more ‘full sun’ space. And we’re going to start creating some wildflower areas. There will be lots to do, but for now I’m happy to potter and procrastinate.

the generosity of dahlias

I felt like I’d been swindled when my new dahlias arrived in March. They were such meager little tubers. When we lifted last year’s, I discarded some that were bigger.

I was cross with myself for having been seduced by the fancy catalogue I’d ordered them from. I potted them up, but vowed that if they didn’t grow well I’d write a stiff letter of complaint.

When the time came to plant them out in May, they were doing OK. Not as vigorous as the ones we’d stored over the winter, but well enough to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Most of them went into a newly cleared border, along with verbena rigida, statice and gaura lindheimeri that we’d grown from seed. There were a couple that still didn’t seem big enough to turn out to the open soil. I popped them into big pots so they’d be a bit more cosseted. Nothing much happened for a couple of weeks and I moaned about them to anyone who’d listen.

Many times over the summer, one of my mum’s favourite sayings ‘Oh ye of little faith’ has echoed in my head. Because the dahlias turned out to be an absolute joy.

dahlia rosamunda, dahlia summertime, cottage garden, gardening blog

Since July they have been flowering their socks off. Each of those small, dry tubers must have produced close to a hundred flowers so far. With October round the corner, the ones in pots are slowing down a bit, but those in the ground are still throwing out new buds on a daily basis.

dahlias, cottage garden, gardening blog

quintessential summertime

Two of the varieties we chose have become firm favourites that I’d like to have in the garden every year: rosamunde and summertime. They both produce long-stemmed flowers that sit high above the foliage. They bounce around a bit on breezy days, but we’ve only had a couple snap right off when it’s been really stormy.

dahlia rosamunde, cottage garden, gardening blog

the beautiful dahlia rosamunde

Rosamunde in particular is an absolute stunner: semi-double, peony-like flowers in a gorgeous pink with dark bronze foliage. She works really hard too, producing flower after flower after flower. It probably helps that I now know how to tell a dead-head from a bud – last year I didn’t find out until quite late in the season that it’s only the pointy ones you’re meant to snip off.

dahlia, cottage garden, gardening blog

fat, round dahlia bud (not to be mistaken for a dead-head…)

dahlia dead-head, cottage garden, gardening blog

pointed dahlia dead-head (not to be mistaken for a bud)

The dahlias have flowered generously for three months now. Providing we don’t get hit by an early frost, we should get another four or five weeks out of them.

bee on dahlia, cottage garden, gardening blog

single and semi-double dahlias provide a four-month feast for nectar lovers

I can hardly believe they had such an unpromising start.

dahlias, cottage garden, gardening blog

each tuber produces tonnes of flowers all summer long

dahlia, cottage garden, gardening blog

dahlias are gorgeous whichever way you look at them

in the night garden

Much as I love gardening with my daughter in tow, the time I catch out there after she’s in bed on summer evenings is very precious.

sunflower vanilla ice, night garden, cottage garden, gardening blog

sunflower: vanilla ice

If I’m lucky, I get an hour or so of weeding, deadheading, watering or whatever jobs need doing. Totally uninterrupted.

rudbekia, night garden, cottage garden, gardening blog


The garden takes on a whole new personality in the half-light.

dahlia summertime, night garden, gardening blog, cottage garden

dahlia: summertime

Some flowers seem disembodied from their plants – beacons to passing moths.

dahlia swan lake, night garden, cottage garden, gardening blog

dahlia: swan lake

The borders are less defined; everything is a bit blurred about the edges.

hosta francee, night garden, cottage garden, gardening blog

hosta: francee

But it has its own quiet beauty.

anemone wild swan, night garden, gardening blog, cottage garden

anemone: wild swan

This week M asked me what ‘blissful’ means.  I think pottering in the garden with the bats is as close as you can get.

rudbekia, night garden, cottage garden, gardening blog

Tonight I tried to capture it on film. These pics were taken around 9pm, just before the garden descended into darkness.

gaura lindheimeri, night garden, cottage garden, gardening blog

gaura lindheimeri