Every rose in England


scenic english country house


It didn’t take much prompting to convince my husband to come with me to England when I said I couldn’t wait any longer to see rose gardens on my must-visit list. The gardens include Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire,  Hidcote Gardens in Gloucestershire (both of which are run by the National Trust) and Abbey House Gardens in Wiltshire. He Google-mapped our route to the nearest centimetre, found us great places to stay, and waited in the parking lots while I visited the properties.

Wait, WHAT? Yep, that’s right. It took me some convincing, but he assured me he’d be far happier with his puzzles in the car, or in a cafe, than gazing at Bourbon roses and marvelling at the pruning and training techniques employed by the genius gardeners.

Mme Isaac Periere rose

And so I’ve enjoyed the first two gardens in rather splendid isolation, getting the chance to glimpse the roses just approaching their peak.

Mottisfont is as miraculous as you may have heard, with Graham Stuart Thomas’s collection of old roses stretching across brick walls, spread over 7-foot arches, or pegged down to create arches of colour close to the ground, as you see with rose Mme Isaac Periere here. I grow this rose, but it doesn’t look as healthy as this. It felt as if every rose in England was growing here, and that might just be the case — every old rose, anyway, which are the kind I love most. The gardens were tended for more than 30 years by David Stone before his retirement last year, and the health and beauty of the gardens are testament of his and his successors’ wonderful hard work.

At Mottisfont I also got the chance to have a sniff of roses I’d only ever read about, including Desprez a Fleur Jaunes (which isn’t fragrant enough for me to bother with) and Rosa Spinossisima, which Gertrude Jekyll reportedly included in most of her garden designs, and which smells wonderful.

Rosa Lamarque from Mottisfont Abbey

I also discovered a white rose called Lamarque at Mottisfont which is meant to be difficult to grow, but it had a rounded, full scent and an overall grace that could make me change my generally low opinion of white roses. Arching over a brick wall that was already studded with pale lichens, Lamarque looked and smelled sensational.

But it was at Hidcote (where my husband said he enjoyed an uninterrupted 2.5 hours of newspaper puzzles) where I fell in love with Blairi No. 2, a very old and overlooked rose that nevertheless has every characteristic I love most about the old roses.

The fragrance is indescribably rich but not heavy; and its flower changes colour dramatically, from palest pink-white buds to light pink heads that develop warm, dark-pink centres. The texture of the petals is like wrinkled tissue paper, and the plant (which I think must be 50 years old at least) that stretched across the warm gable wall of one of the Hidcote outbuildings reached right up to its thatched roof, with canes and canes of healthy growth. Only some canes were filled with flowers, but the overall magnificence of this rose already has me searching my mental inventory of spaces in my garden for any south-facing surface I could grow it on. There’s not a lot I wouldn’t do to get Blairi No. 2 into my life.

Rose Blairi No. 2 All Rights Reserved

Hidcote wasn’t quite what I expected. Yes, there were the endless garden ‘rooms’ I’d heard of, but there were also several empty expanses that I was grateful for: the hide-and-seek layout of the smaller rooms left me a bit disoriented, and the empty spaces were restful to the mind.

The kitchen garden, which the kindly woman at Hidcote reception advised me not to miss, was a delight of pleached apples skirted by merry, purple-headed chives, as well as rows of cutting flowers like cosmos, lupins and cornflowers. I noticed they’d stopped the cosmos after three sets of leaves to promote flowering, which is something I’ve done ever since a flower farmer in Virginia advised it (I did a short YouTube video showing the technique here – how to get more cosmos by making a bold, low cut when dead-heading).

I heard a couple visitors at Hidcote being a bit uncharitable about the relaxed planting style — “I couldn’t live with a garden like this,” one said, pointing at a crowd of plants that jostled each other — but I loved it. Hidcote allows plants a bit of freedom, and it’s a wonderful experience: it looks more like a real garden than a showpiece, with some areas left to self-seeders (like sweet rocket, Welsh poppies, columbines).

But there are also sculpted and formal areas, like the much-photographed white bench framed by white wisteria, which was visited by a hungry red admiral butterfly while I was watching.

espallier apples and chives at Hidcote

At the time of writing, we’ve still to visit Abbey House Gardens in Wiltshire, and it’s currently pelting rain here. But I hear the garden owners provide umbrellas, so even though the puddle outside my window is dancing with raindrops, we’re suiting up and heading out.

A note on garden-touring: it’s not so bad going around the gardens myself, although I felt more than a little guilty that my husband holed up in cafes rather than walk around with me.

But at this stage of the tour, I’m convinced we’re both doing what makes us happiest: having a few days of indulgent me-time, away from work and parenting responsibilities, and enjoying relaxing dinners and chats without thinking about email, deadlines or school lunches.

Being driven from garden to garden while I relax and take in the ludicrously gorgeous English countrywide feels terribly indulgent — I feel like a horse box, being lugged from place to place — but I’ll get over it. When a casual glance out the car window shows castle-like cottages draped with roses and flowers like something from a story book, it’s hard to feel guilty for long.

And we’ll be back at the deadlines and school lunches in no time, so we might as well make the most of it, dancing puddles and all.

white wisteria and red admiral at Hidcote


Have you visited any outstanding rose gardens you’d recommend I see? Let me know in the comments.

When two frogs love each other very much


frog in hosta by sheila averbuch stopwatch gardenerPeople tend to think you’re kind of crazy if you count the plants in your garden, which is why I stopped at 157. That’s 157 different kinds of plants, not the number of things out there that have roots, or different varieties of the same kind of plant. From herbs to fruit bushes to bulbs, annuals and evergreens, this tiny patch has stuffed itself with more types of plant than I would ever have thought possible for such a modest space. I was trying to estimate its size today, and I reckon it is 20m x 10m, with two additional strips of 11m x 5m each.

But even now, as osmanthus, daphne and fancy double narcissus push April to its fragrant, flowering peak, there’s not a single plant in the garden that’s making me more excited than the pile of translucent goop I found in our tiniest pond this afternoon. We’ve been in this garden for 12 years and no frog has ever laid spawn in any of our three micro ponds. That’s all changed this spring, when two frogs who loved each other very much found a quiet corner. We’ll watch with interest to see whether gloop turns into tadpoles that turn into frogs. I wonder what baby froglets eat when they get big enough to do so – frog eggs, maybe? We’ll see.

I think the diversity of plants in the garden, and my total moratorium on pesticides (and the mini-ponds, of course), has helped birds, frogs, toads and newts make themselves more at home here. There is the occasional bird casualty from our predator cat, and my children know to warn me if they see anything disgusting I wouldn’t want to come across (“Oh, Mummy! A mouse head!”). But overall, the wildlife and the cat have reached a kind of detente, and things are right with the world in terms of wildlife friendliness here. This year I also loaded up a bird feeder with niger seed, curious to see if its reputed powers of goldfinch-attraction were true. Sure enough, the yellow-winged, red-faced goldfinches showed up in January and haven’t left.

It’s a challenge, in garden design terms, to fit a huge variety of plants into a garden without giving it a piecemeal, chaotic feel. I’ve tried to repeat plants down the longest stretches of the garden, and I’m trying to fit in another osmanthus delvayii in the farther reaches of the garden, although it might mean the ruthless extraction of something else. (As I wrote in an earlier post, I’m a huge fan of purging plants I don’t love, and I gleefully yanked out a perennial pea last autumn that did nothing for the space.)

I’ve also become a big fan of empty containers, and thanks to our local Freecycle I picked up four enormous terra-cotta pots that had been painted white – something I never would’ve done myself, but which has picked out the paler narcissus, the white flowered osmanthus, and earlier in the year, the snowdrops. The stretch of garden outside my office tends to be dark, and the white pots are like beacons, luring me into the garden and away from my desk.

Must. Resist.

What’s going on in your garden this time of year? Has wildlife made its presence felt?

Non-tacky garden wall fountains are hard to find




In 2007 I started collecting pictures of garden water features I’d like to have, but the reality at retail level was disappointing. Unless I wanted a leprechaun spitting into a pot of gold, shops both online and off-line were destined to be a dead-end for me.

After much thinking, searching and persuading of my husband to organize an electrician and an outside power point, I have assembled this (admittedly blurry) slate coloured fountainhead in the shape of a lizard, pouring into a stone-effect slate coloured trough which is in fact fiberglass. In the foreground is a hellebore. The fountain head is from Haddonstone and the trough from Dunbar Garden Centre near me here in East Lothian in Scotland.

I promise to post more pictures of the wall fountain as soon as the growth is more lush and/or I found some way to disguise the transparent pipe that carries water from the submerged pump in the trough up to the fountainhead.

Apologies for the ten-month absence on this blog. I became ill and stressed last May and needed to step right back from lots of things, including the podcast I had been publishing on this blog. However I plan to start posting at least monthly here again.

What are you doing in your garden this month? Does March make you feel as restless and as eager to garden as it makes me? Leave a comment below.

SWG009 Mid May: garden purples and wonderful wisteria


May garden with wisteria and alliumsThere is no better month in the calendar than May. In my garden the lilacs, dusky parrot tulips, early alliums and herbaceous peonies all cavort with the aquilegias I never got around to weeding out (and I’m glad I didn’t).

In this episode of the podcast I’m sitting back and marveling at what this month does in the garden. All of the things I love best, including lilacs, rhododendrons and wonderful wisteria are at their fragrant, flowering peak.

Most of the tones in the garden are purples, with the occasional shot of Barbie pink from a herbaceous peony I’ve never managed to identify. If you’d like to come see for yourself, my garden here in East Lothian is open this Saturday 24 May from 10am-1pm, raising funds for research into an ultra-rare disease that affects a close family friend.

So in this podcast I’m also looking at some of the stunning plants donated for the “Rare Plants for Rare Disease Research” fundraiser. If you are within driving distance at all of Edinburgh, please visit us (postcode EH34 5DA if you’re traveling by GPS), and enjoy wonderful homemade cakes and teas, as well as a selection of plants from some of Britain’s best-known nurseries, many of whom just picked up medals at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014.

All proceeds go to researching the causes and potential cure for neuracanthocytosis (NA), a neurodegenerative disease which affects just one in 7 million people: sadly one of those people is Alex, daughter of my very good friends in London. Please come on Saturday with a fat wallet and a full heart, and help us fund the research that can make such a difference to Alex.

Here are some of the plants I’m looking at in this episode:

  • Rhododendron purple splendour
  • Wisteria floribunda
  • Allium Hollandicum Purple Sensation
  • Tulipa Muriel
  • Herbaceous pink peony – unknown name
  • Narcissus Baby Moon
  • White lilac
  • Purple lilac Charles Joly
  • Rambling rose Lykkefund
  • Clematis Montana
  • Geum montanum
  • Aquilegia saximontana
  • Geum Borisii
  • Osteospermum
  • Mertensia lanceolata
  • Primula (alpine various)
  • Trollius
  • Scilla peruviana



SWG008 Early May: white bluebells and water features


white bluebells with parrot tulipThe abundance of May slightly takes me by surprise every year. So much of the greenery that strikes my eye, from the herbaceous peonies to the delphiniums, was invisible in January, but now it is all part of the greenscape that makes the May garden seethe with life.

This week in the podcast I’m appreciating how well white flowering spring bulbs look up against all those greens, including the unusual white bluebells that grow in this garden, as well as leucojum (the summer snowflake). In this episode I’m also looking at a few new sponsors for my charity plant sale on 24 May – including David Austin Roses (donating a raffle prize of a cut roses bouquet), Macplants, and Binny Plants – and I’m giving a brief rundown on the water feature I’m planning in the corner of this small garden.

Do you have a water feature in your garden? I thought and dreamed about one for years, but I could never find components that wouldn’t look twee or cost a fortune. I have finally found a stone-effect trough that is convincing to my eye, along with a classy wall-mounted fountain spout from Haddonstone. I’ll keep you posted as and when I get it installed, if I figure out how to make all the pieces work together.

What are you doing in your garden this week?

Want to subscribe automatically to the podcast to hear it on your mobile device? Go to Stitcher and learn more about downloading the app.


« Older Entries