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.


stirring dull roots with spring rain

I don’t know exactly when it happened. But at some point in April the garden came back to life. Where we had bare ground and dead-looking pots we now have vigorous new growth and the promise of flowers.

Some perennials reawaken eerily.

hosta shoots, cottage garden, gardening blog

hosta shoots clawing their way out of the ground

Hostas poking finger-like out of the soil. Ferns unfurling their fronds almost before your eyes. And the blood-red peony shoots that bear so little resemblance to the blooms that will soon be weighing them down.

Dry dahlia tubers I stashed in the garage took me by surprise this week. I walked past their grubby window and saw leaves had quietly materialised with precious little care or attention from us.

The allium bed is about to burst into a sea of sparklers. I’ve left it too late to support them with a web of string as planned. I’ll just have to hope they don’t topple.

allium bed, cottage garden, gardening blog

alliums bursting into purple balls of bee-manna

All around us is the magic of germination. I can see tell-tale patches of nigella, foxglove and poppy seedlings where their parents lived last year. They aren’t always exactly where I want them, but for now I’m leaving them to their own devices.

bean germinating, cottage garden, gardening blog

french bean pushing its way towards the light

The lengthening days and the spring rain have got every growing thing stretching towards the light.