Tag Archives: Perennials

Harvest festival and your garden



Harvest festivals are traditionally celebrated around the time of the Harvest Moon which is the full moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox. It’s an important time in the garden as well as on the farms.

Harvest festivals are thanksgiving festivals, a way of showing gratitude to one’s God or gods for a good store of food to keep the people fed through the lean winter months. Historically, Harvest festival was also an opportunity for the Landowner to give a feast for his workers in recognition of their hard work over the growing season. The first new ale would be drunk and loaves of bread made with the freshly gathered and milled wheat.

So why is the autumn equinox important to your plants? The Harvest Moon usually falls as a full moon at the end of September, but occasionally falls at the beginning of October. It’s at this point in the year that the day and night length are equal. The plants in your garden and allotment will notice the difference as they respond to day length.


Well actually, it’s not quite that simple, not all plants decide to hibernate once the nights become longer than the days; whether we’re having an Indian Summer or an early hoar frost makes a difference too. So, without dumbing down as you’re an intelligent bunch of readers, let’s have a brief botanical explanation as to why the plants in your garden start behaving differently now we’ve reached the autumnal equinox.

It’s important for a plant’s existence that it knows not to lets its seed germinate during winter, when hard frosts would be likely to kill the emerging seedling. Nor would it be productive to flower when there are no pollinating insects around. Neither is a good plan for survival of the species! There are both internal plant factors, such as the production of particular hormones and external factors that affect plant growth. It is the two major external factors that we’re looking at, and they are, as you’ve probably guessed, light and temperature.

white tulips

Generally speaking, most plants require a certain temperature in order for the seed to germinate and for the plant to grow. Which is why many plants lie dormant or semi-dormant over the winter months. Some plant species require a period of cold to encourage germination of the seed; for example, Tulips. When these plants are grown where the winter is not cold enough, Florida for example, they can be artificially chilled so as to stimulate flowering in the spring.

Photoperiodism, or plants’ response to day length, has been constant over millennia, and it is only recently, over the past couple of hundred years or so, that humans have been successfully able to interfere with the process artificially. Flowering plants are especially sensitive to photoperiodic stimulus; for example, have you ever forced Hyacinth bulbs for Christmas by putting them in a cool dark cellar then bringing them in to the warmth and light to flower?

There are three main grouping of flowering plants in relation to day length and their growth and flowering. Assuming that the plant is sufficiently mature and ready to flower, the day length becomes crucial for many of our favourite garden flowers.


Short day plants, Chrysanthemum, for example, react to the day length being shorter than a specified time; or put another way, when the hours of darkness are longer than the hours of daylight. So these plants tend to flower later in the season, during late summer and autumn.

Long day plants, such as Gypsophilla, tend to be spring and summer flowering plant; they respond to the day length being longer than a specified amount of time. However, day neutral plants, for example, Viburnum, are unaffected by the length of daylight hours and will flower when they are mature enough to do so.

So this is why the Autumn Equinox, as illuminated by the Harvest Moon, is a crucial turning point in the gardening year.

The cover illustration for our newest eBook “In Your Autumn Garden with Plews Garden Design” shows Demeter, who was the Greek goddess of the harvest and fertility and one of the aspects of the Triple Goddess, or Earth Mother, Gaia. An appropriate subject for a book about crops and harvest and food in your garden and allotment, we thought.

In Your Autumn Garden with Plews Garden Design - cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield


Summer gardens – summer holidays – architectural plants that can cope without watering

teasels in bud

teasels in bud

Most established planting, both shrubs and herbaceous perennials, should be fine without watering by you, whether you’re at home or away. This does assume that the soil is good and that the plants have been chosen correctly, shade lovers in a sunny border are not going to be happy, for example.

This isn’t a blog about drought tolerant planting (that’s another one) but some suggestions for planting that will be quite happy if you ignore it and don’t water it, don’t deadhead it but simply admire it. I was considering the idea from a ‘going on your summer holiday’ perspective, but the plants are easy maintenance once established so would of course be happy in your garden at all times of the year.

persicaria red dragon

persicaria red dragon

The term architectural planting generally describes tall, statuesque plants often seen in very contemporary gardens, although it also includes ornamental grasses, Phormiums and bamboos. People are often put off from choosing some of these plants, concerned that they may not fit into a mixed border, or might be too big for their garden. Generally speaking though, adding a ‘wow’ plant can really lift a border, giving it a new lease of life.

Architectural plants may be herbaceous perennials, annuals and shrubs as well as ornamental grasses and bamboos, and it is herbaceous perennials that I’ll be suggesting as if it’s your first foray into architectural plants you may feel reassured by the domestic familiarity of plants which die back over winter and shoot up in the summer.

acanthus mollis

acanthus mollis

The plants will work as part of cottage style planting, minimalist and contemporary gardens, many historically inspired schemes (the Victorians in particular were great Plant hunters and introduced quantities of species to Britain). They’ll also be useful in potager and ornamental kitchen gardens as pollinating insects and predator insects will be encouraged in by their flowers.



Persicaria are members of the knotweed or Polygonaceae family, but are now often referred to as smartweeds, rather than knotweeds to distinguish them from their invasive cousins. Persicaria like a moist or damp soil and will tolerate shade partial shade and sun, but this latter with moist soil, or it will droop and look unhappy. There are a range of varieties to choose from, with the dark pink flowered Persicaria ‘firetail’, the bronze leaved Persicaria microcephala ‘red dragon’, and the edible Vietnamese coriander, Persicaria odorata.

acanthus flower

acanthus flower

Acanthus mollis, ‘bear’s breeches’ is a wonderfully architectural herbaceous perennial that is drought tolerant, so will not notice if you’re away on your holidays and haven’t watered it. What Acanthus is not so keen on though, is being under the shade of evergreen trees, where it has to fight for its water and nutrients; it grows to a large plant and doesn’t do so well with competition. However, it will cope with being grown against a wall, so long as the soil is humus rich at root level. With its glossy green leaves and tall flower spikes Acanthus mollis suits both modern and cottage garden planting. Acanthus spinosus has similar leaves but with a spine at the tip – hence ‘spinosus’.

giant scabious in garden

giant scabious in garden

Giant scabious (Cephalaria gigantea) is a plant that is happy in the Isle of Skye, Cornwall, Greater London and all gardens in between. With large heavily dissected foliage and soft yellow flowers that are fascinating from bud stage to seed head this plant has to be a winner. Bees and pollinating insects also adore the flowers, whilst birds enjoy the seed heads. The flowers are carried on long stems and may need staking in very dry conditions, so if you’re growing it against a wall or fence where it may not benefit from rainfall, be sure to dig in lots of organic matter into the soil when first planting.

giant scabious flower

giant scabious flower

Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) is a British native species. I’ve cheated a bit as this is a bi-ennial not herbaceous perennial, but once established by sowing seed two years running you will have plants every year. As with the Giant Scabious, Teasels are a popular feeding plant for wildlife. The seed heads often last right through to the following spring, although the birds will have eaten the seed off well before then. One lovely feature of these plants is the way rain water collects in the cup like depression of the leaf where it meets the stem. Both stem and leaves are covered with prickles, so it’s a good idea not to plant too near a path or seating area.

teasel with water in stem cup

teasel with water in stem cup

When established, Giant Scabious and Teasel both have a tendency to self seed with enthusiasm but the seedlings are easily recognisable and simply removed by hand or with a dandelion trowel.

Hopefully this selection has given you some inspiration for adding a different type of plant to your garden – one which once established you can wave goodbye to when you venture on your summer holiday, knowing it will be quite happy while you’re away.

Marie Shallcross, Senior Partner, Plews Garden Design
Resolving your Gardening issues with inspirational ideas and flexible solutions

teasel flowers

teasel flowers

Sitting in the garden enjoying the sun or sitting on a cool veranda in the shade?
“In Your Summer Garden with Plews Garden Design” – the newest in our eBook series of Gardening Almanacs makes good reading wherever you are.

Weeds in the Spring Garden


mixed native species and bee

Eeyore, the much beloved if melancholy donkey in the Winnie the Pooh stories by A.A. Milne, says “Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.” So if weeds can be pretty to look at or useful, perhaps we should get to know them better before deciding if they’re plants in the wrong place or not. Many plants that are termed ‘weeds’ are native or naturalised species; they may have been bred and developed into the garden plant varieties that we covet; and have been useful in the past for medicinal or culinary purposes.

If we consider the possible uses of one common weed, which is also a native plant species you may get feel for the dilemma we have. The stinging nettle (urtica dioica) is native to Europe, North America, Asia and Africa and has a long history as a useful plant; to the extent that I would also classify it as a herb. The nettle has culinary uses – soup, salad, herbal tea; and was used as a woven fibre for cloth in the Bronze Age. In the garden it provides food for beneficial insects and is a compost activator. On the downside, nettles are perennial and spread by their root system, so can easily find their way out of that useful corner by the compost heap and into your flower borders. By this action, they have turned into a weed, as they’re now a plant in the wrong place.

stinging nettle

stinging nettle

Firstly let’s consider the lifespan of weeds, knowing the enemy is useful in getting the better of them.

Perennials are plants which live for many years; for example, bramble. They may have growth above ground all year or they may die back to an underground root system over the winter or dormant season. Perennial plants may reproduce by seed or vegetatively (by root or stem).
Bi-ennials are plants which live for two years, for example, spear thistle. In the first year the plant will grow a rosette of leaves at ground level (basal foliage clump). In the second year, the weed plant will flower, be pollinated, set seed and spread the seed, and then that individual plant will die.
Annuals are plants which live for one year only, for example, common chickweed. Each individual weed will grow from a seed, usually in spring, flower and set its own seed over the course of one year or growing season.
Ephemerals are plants which produce many generations in one year or growing season for example, groundsel. In other words these weeds do what annual weeds do but more quickly, with possibly four generations of flowering plants over the season.

dandelion seedhead in paving

dandelion seedhead in paving

So, how to deal with a weed problem? Cultural methods are a good starting point for all of these different types.

For annual and ephemeral weeds, regular hoeing or picking out whilst the plant is still small is the simplest method of keeping them in check. Left on the soil surface to wither, they can then be added to the compost heap. It is particularly important to remove them before they seed. Remember the old but very true saying: “one year’s seed is seven year’s weed”.

Catch the biennial weeds in their first year when they have foliage only, usually a clump or small mound of leaves. The same hoeing technique used for annual weeds will work for small plants. For the larger weed plants, it will be necessary to dig them out with a hand trowel.

Hand dig out perennial weeds such as dandelions to be sure of removing the deep tap root. A specialist dandelion fork can be a useful addition to your garden tool collection, particularly if dandelions have a habit of growing in your lawn a sit is less disruptive to the turf.


dandelion and nettle in early spring

As for seriously difficult to eradicate perennial weed plants such as bindweed and ground elder, expect this to take a few seasons. The root systems on these go down a long way and can re-generate from a small piece. If you find that bindweed has twined around your plants, try watching our video on ‘how to remove bindweed’ .

For more tips, check out our other blogs on weeds, especially “A Weed is a plant in the wrong place” which highlights problems with two common garden plants.

bindweed, bramble and clematis

bindweed, bramble and clematis

Garden Planning: Flowers for Spring Weddings and Spring Flowering Bulbs


Narcissus elka

Garden planning: in this instance, ideas for spring wedding floral displays that won’t ruin the budget and purchasing spring bulbs in the autumn. One of the aspects of garden design is to do with planning the present and future garden, and this requires you, or your garden designer, to look at your garden in a particular way.

There are the obvious garden design needs of allowing room for plants to grow but not grow over the newly laid path and patio and planning for the changing look of the garden with the different seasons. This latter is where bulbs come in…

raised curved patio with statue

raised curved patio with statue

Spring bulbs for Spring Flowers

We call them spring bulbs when we need to buy and plant them in the autumn; I’m not surprised that so many people get confused. If you think of them as ‘spring flowering bulbs’ it can help, but you still need to know that future garden planning is needed. Bulb purchasing and planting is an autumn task, but it involves thinking back to last spring and forward to next. So what can you do this spring so that you remember which bulbs to buy in the autumn? Take this opportunity to review what works and what doesn’t in your garden. Taking photos helps with the remembering process, which is why I tell my students to take photos of their own gardens on a regular basis. Jotting down the names of plants and bulbs when you’re visiting a garden or garden centre can be useful too.


daffodil foliage growing through geranium machorrizum

Planting bulbs in the border requires thought as to what else will be on show when the bulbs are flowering and also when the foliage is dying down. When designing a border to include bulbs, where the client’s brief is for easy maintenance, I need to consider the bulbs as part of a long term planting scheme, so I often plant herbaceous perennials for the bulbs to grow through. These won’t have much if any foliage when the bulbs are in flower, but will help distract the eye from the bulbs’ dying foliage.

And sometimes we get asked to plan for other events, such as weddings…

Flowers for Spring Weddings Growing your own wedding flowers obviously needs to be planned in advance and may not suit everyone for reasons of space, time or lack of knowhow. Floral displays, bouquets and buttonholes play a leading role in the decoration of a church or a wedding venue, and they can take up a large part of the budget. Two ways to reduce the budget without compromising on style are firstly to grow many or all of the flowers yourself or ask a green fingered family member to do so. Secondly, would be to use foliage and flowering plants that can be transplanted into the newlyweds’ garden after the big event; providing a living memory of the happy day and personalising their garden at the same time. Indeed, sharing the plants around the newlyweds and their parents’ gardens, would be a lovely memento for all to enjoy for years after.

ribes (flowering currant)

ribes (flowering currant)

As for some ideas for Spring wedding flowers, the following extract from “In Your Spring Garden” gives some inspiration. There are more planting and floral ideas in the eBook.

“For scent and an air of delicate romance, low hanging baskets and raised planters filled with sweet violets (viola odorata) would be lovely. A traditional Valentines’ Day flower, their heart shaped leaves are as apt on a wedding day and their ‘retro’ feel would work well with a vintage chic inspired wedding breakfast theme. As British natives that flower from mid February to May, they would be happy outside and inside, although their scent would be more noticeable in the warmth. 

If you have a marquee, you could have terracotta troughs filled with low clipped hedging of Buxus sempervirens (Box) surrounding the soft apricot tones of Narcissus ‘Replete’. Both these designs balance the femininity of the frilly, soft hued daffodils with the more formal masculinity of the clipped hedging.”



As for inspiration for spring displays, some of the Plews team is off to view a modern art exhibition – not as odd as you might think, the colour combinations can be exciting.

If you’d like a border planting design or a total re-think of your whole garden, why not get in touch?


Narcissus ‘silver chimes’

Daffodils – the Heralds of Spring in your Garden on St David’s Day



The link between March and Daffodils is of course St David’s Day. St David’s Day – or Dydd Dewi Sant in the Welsh language Cymraeg – is March 1st and Daffodils, along with leeks, are a recognisable Welsh emblem.

Although it is possible to have flowering bulbs throughout most of the year, most people tend to think of bulbs as being springtime flowers. Whether you were organised enough to plant these up in the autumn, or whether you’re planning a trip to the nursery or garden centre, there’s a lot of choice when it comes to spring bulb display.

In our last blog we looked at some of the botany about bulbs and admired some snowdrops and tulips. As it is now the beginning of March it seems appropriate to look at some planting ideas for Narcissus, which are also known as Daffodils.

Some planting ideas for Narcissi

The following extract is my contribution to an article on Narcissi collated and written by Vanessa Berridge for the March issue of Homes and Gardens magazine and including suggestions from Matthew Biggs and Christine Skelmersdale, whose Broadleigh Bulbs’ display I enjoyed at the recent RHS Plant and Design Show.

“Marie Shallcross of Plews Garden Design recommends pots of scented narcissi by the garden door or on a balcony, containing the fragrant pheasant-eye daffodil, Narcissus poeticus planted with Narcissus jetfire or Narcissus pinza”















Both Narcissus jetfire and Narcissus pinza add a splash of colour to brighten dull days.  Narcissus poeticus ‘actea’ has a totally wonderful scent but is one of the more toxic daffodils so do be sure not to eat it by mistake!

Narcissus 'jetfire'

Narcissus ‘jetfire’

I like to mix the jonquilla and cyclamineus Narcissi for the contrast in form they offer. Narcissus jonquilla are like a smaller version of the familiar trumpet daffodils, whilst the cyclamineus, as you can see from the photo, sweep their petals back like an Olympic swimmer at the starting block. They offer an overall delicate feel that works well in small areas. This could be in a raised bed next to a formal terrace with lawn beyond (the green is a good back drop); or alongside a flight of steps.



Many town front gardens are not only small in themselves, but planting has to fight for space with car parking and recycle boxes.  We have made green roofs or raised beds as covers for the recycling and bins and filled them with saxifrage and dwarf narcissi; Narcissus ’ canaliculatus’ is attractive because of its multi flowered stems; and it’s scented too so with the flowers nearer nose height it maximises the enjoyment.

Narcissus canalucutatus in a raised bed

Narcissus canalucutatus in a raised bed

Daffodils, Leeks and St David’s Day

It would seem that the Daffodil was encouraged as an alternative Welsh emblem to the leek so that the Welsh were discouraged from remembering their past victories over the English in battle. St David, or so we are told, suggested that the Welsh army wear a leek on their shoulder into battle not so much for a packed lunch but so that they could recognise friend from foe in the heat of the mêlée. The wearing of a badge or token into battle so that you knew who your mates were, was common, so the story has a factual basis. Not that daffodils have made the Welsh forget their victories – they’ve just written stories about the English attempt to make them forget…and laughed at the naivety of the Sais (English); such is the way of all “conquered races”.

Leeks grow well in the Welsh climate; they’ll stand in the ground all winter until they’re needed for dinner. A member of the onion family, leeks are distinguished by their long white stalk. The white section has a milder flavour than the green; this is encouraged during the leek’s growth by covering the stem, with soil or with a tube to protect it from the sunlight. This blanches the stem, reducing the amount of chlorophyll (this is basically what makes the green part of the plant green) and making the stem easier for humans to eat.



However, do not get your daffodil bulbs muddled up with your onions. Narcissus are toxic, bulb, flower and leaf but especially the bulb will give you severe stomach cramps and possibly convulsions. Not generally fatal, narcissus bulbs did however cause the death of Dutch cattle during World War 2, when the livestock were fed them on account of there not being any other food available.

For more on Spring bulbs and Spring Gardens, why not have a look at our new eBook   “In Your Spring Garden” ?

In Your Spring Garden with Plews Garden Design - cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield

In Your Spring Garden with Plews Garden Design – cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield

Vodka drinking Tulips and heroic Snowdrops

Snowdrops (Galanthus) and Daffodils (Narcissus)


Or how the bulb kept its secret in your garden all winter.

Unless, of course, the bulb in question is a corm, or a rhizome or a tuber (not the wind instrument, that’s a tuba). What is the difference? An extract from our new eBook “In Your Spring Garden” may help explain…

“A bit of botany about bulbs

Some of the flowers we think of as growing from bulbs are in fact from corms or tubers. Although these are fundamentally the same, in the sense of being a storage depot where the plant keeps it resources in order to flower the following year, there are differences. Bulbs and corms are stems, whereas just to confuse you, some tubers are stems, such as begonias, and others, dahlias for example, are roots.

Bulbs have a swollen compact stem with fleshy leaves attached to it; daffodils (narcissi) tulips and the onion family are all bulbs. New bulbs are formed from buds between the leaves of the parent bulb, which itself will last many years. These small bulbs can be separated from the parent and planted separately, its best to take ones with roots buds showing at the base to be sure of their growing on. Corms have a short swollen stem in which the food is stored; this is covered by old dead foliage. New corms are formed on top of the old one which will eventually wither away. Crocus and gladiolus are corms.

Stem tubers such as begonias and cyclamen, are long lived or perennial; although not all stem tubers are. Their tubers have developed from the ends of rhizomes, which are underground stems; hence stem tubers. Dahlias and some day lilies (Hemerocallis) are root tubers.”

Snowdrop (Galanthus) 'Wendys-gold'


Hopefully that’s clarified the main differences between bulbs, corms, tubers and rhizomes for you. As a side note, some plants, water lilies for example, only have rhizomes; that is they don’t have ‘true stems’ above ground. Or in the water lily’s case, above water. Seriously though, have a look at a water lily next time you get the chance, the only stems are under water, ie beneath the surface, all you see ‘above’ are foliage and flowers.

Snowdrops (Galanthus) and Tulips are both bulbous plants, as are Daffodils (Narcissus) and Hyacinths. All of these are well known spring flowering flowers. Hyacinths may be ‘forced’ that is specially prepared to flower for Christmas, but naturally they would flower outside in April and May. Snowdrops flower from January through to the end of March; Daffodils flower from February to April and Tulips from late March to late May. The dates do vary with where you are (local and regional weather and micro climate) and how long the bulbs have been in the ground (did you plant them late for example).

Snowdrop (Galanthus) 'Robin Hood'


So what about those heroic Snowdrops I mentioned? Galanthus nivalis ‘Robin Hood’ is the snowdrop in question and I was busy admiring it again at the RHS Plant and Design Show in London this week. First mentioned as a snowdrop variety in 1891, Galanthus ‘Robin Hood’ has markings on the inner flower that look like crossed sabres, which is arguably a disappointment, I feel the markings should look like a bow and arrow. But I am fond of this particular snowdrop nonetheless.

The Horticultural Halls were full with many different plants, but I always see the Snowdrops and Daffodils as the undisputed stars of the show – they are at their prime. And it’s when you view snowdrops that are at table height that you begin to realise that not only are their flowers beautifully marked with green and yellow and cream, but that many also have a delicate scent that would be totally lost if you only planted in the flower borders in your garden.

Tulip 'smirnoff'

Tulip ‘smirnoff’

And the vodka drinking tulip? An attractive white flower with fringed petals Tulip ‘smirnoff’; although I’m not sure that its cup shaped flowers would work as a shot glass, it is a very attractive plant.

Seasonal offer:
Our eBook “In Your Winter Garden with Plews Garden Design” has been drastically reduced in price as “In Your Spring Garden with Plews Garden Design” is due for release next week.
Available in formats for PC, Kindle and iPad from Amazon and Smashwords

Jack Frost and Plews

cover illustration “In Your Winter Garden with Plews Garden Design” by Lucy Waterfield

Rhubarb – growing your own Rhubarb Triangle


rhubarb-ginger-cat-gardenA confused plant? We eat rhubarb in crumbles, with custard and we make jam with it (rhubarb and ginger jam was one of my mother’s specialities) but actually rhubarb is a perennial vegetable and not a fruit.

Rhubarb has been cultivated for over 2500 years but has become renowned for its “Britishness”. The Yorkshire Rhubarb Festival, in the famous Rhubarb Triangle, where you can hear rhubarb growing epitomises our native quirkiness.

The farmers in the Rhubarb Triangle produce specially grown rhubarb in the dark in heated forcing sheds. The rhubarb crowns, ie the central section of the plant from which the edible stems will grow, have been carefully selected to produce early stems under these conditions. This trick was discovered by accident at the Chelsea Physic Garden in 1817, when some rhubarb crowns were covered with soil overwinter and the resulting stems were found growing earlier than the rest of the rhubarb. This provided fresh food when there was little else growing plus the further benefit of an especially delicate taste.

But the Yorkshire producers took rhubarb forcing to a whole new level and outperformed all rivals, at one stage producing 90% of the world’s winter forced rhubarb. From providing much needed home grown food during the Second World War to being awarded a Protected Designation of Origin in 2010, Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb  (Rheum rhaponticum) is a world class vegetable.

rhubarb-ready-to-eatTo properly force rhubarb requires more time and effort than most of us have, but any gardener or allotmenteer can force, or should we say blanch, some of their rhubarb crop and so extend the season.

Rhubarb is a native of Siberia and positively thrives on cold; you will probably see shoots peeping up through the snow in your garden after Christmas. Rhubarb needs a period of cold to break dormancy, ie to start it growing, and you need it to be at this stage before you can force the plant. A rhubarb crown needs to be at least two years old before you encourage it into early growth this way as the plant uses up a lot of energy.

Those shoots that you see after Christmas should be ok to force, but for a really early crop you need to start the process sooner in the winter. This will be dependent on the weather as a mild winter is not conducive to the amateur blanching of rhubarb. Digging up the crown and putting the rhubarb in the freezer is not an option.PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

The preparation for blanching begins in autumn, when you clear away the dead foliage, exposing the rhubarb crown to the frost. In a dry autumn you may need to water the plant. Once there are small signs of growth, cover it with a traditional forcing pot or forcing jar. These are convenient as they have a removable lid so you can easily check the growth progress; but an upturned bucket with a stone to keep it in place will suffice. The idea is to create a darkened environment. You should have rhubarb ready to pick by the beginning of March. Once you’ve harvested the sweet delicate stalks, mulch around the rhubarb crown with compost and leave it to recover over the season.

One of the delights of rhubarb is how well it fits into an easy or low maintenance garden, proving that you can grow your own even if you have a busy lifestyle. Rhubarb crowns are best planted between mid Autumn and early Spring; and should not be harvested in the first year but given chance to establish. A popular early variety is ‘Timperley Early’ whilst ‘Victoria’ is a later variety.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERADo remember that whilst you can safely compost the leaves do not eat them. Rhubarb leaves contain a toxin which at the very least will give you a stomach upset and at the worst could send you into a coma until next winter. On a ‘green’ note, the toxin is supposed to make an effective rat poison if they’re a pest that you need to get rid of.

This is the time of year (end of January – end of February) for the Yorkshire Rhubarb Festival and there is much useful information on it and on the Rhubarb Triangle here, including how to visit the forcing sheds to hear the rhubarb growing and see it being picked by candlelight.

Design Inspiration from Cawdor Castle Garden


A rainy day in June and a Scottish garden full of interesting plants. This week’s blog is largely a photo blog, letting the flowers, trees and shrubs do most of the talking.

It was a very damp day, overcast with that constant fine drizzle that epitomises a British summer. But the weather didn’t stop the garden at Cawdor Castle from looking wonderful. Or rather the three gardens – as the whole is made up of The Walled Garden, The Flower Garden and The Wild Garden.

The family motto ‘Be mindful’ may not mean ‘take time to reflect on the delights of this garden’ but it is a good interpretation – the garden has many different faces and they reveal themselves through glimpses and long vistas and then suddenly close to.




The Walled Garden
The Holly Maze was being renovated when we were there (a good excuse for another visit) but the knot garden was a delight, as was the orchard with its statuary.









The Flower Garden
Originally the borders gave interest in late summer when the family were there for the shooting season. The planting has been added to and this looked lovely in mid June with Himalayan blue poppy (Meconopsis betonicifolia) and other early herbaceous perennials.

Cawdor castle did not actually have anything to do with Macbeth until Shakespeare put the two together in a play, as the castle wasn’t built until the 14th century and Macbeth was king of Scotland in the 11th century.

“This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air nimbly and sweetly recommends itself unto our gentle senses” [Shakespeare, Macbeth]

Is at least a true reflection of Cawdor Castle in its garden; we took away lots of inspiration from our afternoon there and look forward to our next visit.






Gardens of Remembrance


The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Even gardeners stop for two minutes to observe the silence.

Remembrance Sunday is about gratitude and respect for those who gave their lives to protect us. The planting around the headstones and in the graveyards is in the charge of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).

Sir Frederic Kenyon summed up his vision for the Commission cemeteries in February 1918 thus:

“The general appearance of a British cemetery will be that of an enclosure with plots of grass or flowers (or both) separated by paths of varying size, and set with orderly rows of headstones, uniform in height and width.”

Many of you will be surprised to learn that the CWGC is one of the world’s leading horticultural organisations. To keep the cemeteries looking good seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year in all weathers is not an easy task. Not only does the planting need to offer something in all seasons, but the number of visitors in all weathers puts particular stress on the turf paths and lawns.

The headstone borders are generally planted with a mix of roses and herbaceous perennials. Of these latter some will die back over winter and regrow in the spring; others will retain their foliage year round; the Heuchera in the photograph is an evergreen herbaceous perennial except in the hardest of weather. Care is taken in choosing plants for each cemetery, for example, there are Maples from Canada at Dieppe.

Designing the planting requires thought to the length of flowering season, of foliage interest, so that visitors have something to see. It also needs to be reasonably low maintenance, both for the border planting and for the turf, or grass. Not merely from a time and therefore economic perspective, but also because it would interrupt the mood for those paying their respects to have a gardener trundling around with a mower for a couple of hours. These particular pressures have encouraged the War Grave horticulturalists to be innovative in planting designs and in the equipment they use. Petrol lawn mowers were introduced in the 1920s; and many of the mechanical tools developed for the CWGC have since become standard domestic gardening tools and equipment.

Climate change has its own requirements and a proactive approach has been taken. Drought tolerant planting, including turf have been introduced and trialled.

So next time you buy a poppy for Remembrance, important though it is as a symbol, remember it’s not the only flower that grows in Flanders fields.




For garden design and planting ideas; or Christmas gift vouchers for garden lessons in your own garden from a qualified teacher, why not drop us an email? info@plewsgardendesign.co.uk

Apples:Designing the Garden of Eden?


Designing a garden to include lots of fruit is always satisfying: at this time of year my imagination leaps off the page and sees next year’s mini orchard in full harvest. Apple trees are especially popular – did you know that Britain is “apple monarch of the world” with over 2000 varieties available?Image

This year’s weather has affected the apple harvest, by reducing the quantity and quality, and generally giving a later harvest. A single apple tree can produce up to 200 apples and live for 100 years, so there is time for another harvest, a better harvest.

Not sure when to pick your apples? If they’re dropping to the ground as ripe rather than unripe ‘windfalls’ then it’s time to start picking. Cup the apple in your hand and twist gently; they should drop easily into your hand. Not all the apples may be ripe at the same time, so it may take 3 ‘goes’ at picking before the whole tree has been cropped.

What if you don’t have an apple tree of your own? If you’re thinking of buying one or two, now is an excellent time to taste different varieties and see which you prefer. You may find a good selection of apples at your local farmers market or farm shop. If you fancy them fresh off the tree why not find out if there’s an apple tasting day near you?

There are apple festivals aplenty – including one at Brogdale, home of the National Fruit Collection, where they’re also celebrating their diamond jubilee this year, just like Queen Elizabeth II. The National Fruit Collection at Brogdale houses the world’s largest collection of temperate fruit on a single site. To see row upon row of apple trees is an impressive sight. And then you move on to the pear trees, the quince, the medlar, the plums, the cherries…

Choosing an apple tree isn’t just about taste of course, the size of the tree, whether you’d like a free standing tree or a trained form are also important considerations. Trained forms are particularly suitable for smaller areas as they make use of often overlooked space, for example, training an espalier along a fence. Single cordon apples can be grown in a large pot, ideal for a patio; I remember seeing some of these at Trinity Buoy Wharf many years ago, as part of ‘growing food in the city’ project.

But perhaps you fancy a tree with history? If you’re a scientist perhaps the Isaac Newton tree might appeal? The story an apple landing on his head in 1667 thus leading to Newton’s laws on gravity may tempt you to have an offspring of the same tree. The original tree stood in the garden of Newton’s home at Woolsthorpe manor, in Lincolnshire, and over the years grafts have been taken to grow new Newton trees. It is claimed that the original is still there, having regrown after falling over in a storm.

ImageThe Egyptians were among the first people to grow apples – apart from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, I suppose. But the first person to grow the world famous Bramley cooking apples was Mary Ann Brailsford in the family home in Nottinghamshire in the early 19th century. If you’re wondering why they’re not called ‘MaryAnn’s’ that’s because the family moved away and it was a man called Bramley who owned the tree when some fifty years later a local nurseryman took cuttings and grew the fruit and trees commercially.

So what else do you need to know? Apple trees are sold as scions or grafts onto a rootstock. Basically, the rootstock determines the ultimate size of the tree whilst the scion will give you the variety of fruit. You’ll also need more than one, or need your neighbours to have a tree as well, as apples are not self-fertile.

In the meantime, taste away!Image