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Saturday, 30 September 2017

Planting a Small Garden

The October magazine tells the story (copy below) of a friend's small garden, to give you ideas of how to fill your own. Her garden is so full and busy that weeds don't have time to flourish. This post consists mainly of photographs. I describe at the end how to take cuttings in a confined space, which is the picture I begin with. The cuttings pot, partly planted, stacks smaller pots inside a 12 inch outside pot. Cuttings prepared in the usual way, are inserted and watered in. Then the whole is encased in a clear polythene supermarket bag with handles at the bottom and secured with another 12 inch pot. This maintains constant humidity and requires little attention. Non-hardy cuttings can go on an available window sill inside the house. Each pot should produce 30 healthy cuttings by spring, just remove each pot and knock out the rooted plants for potting on.

Next, here are the photos of a small town garden, as described in the magazine October issue. Notice plants and fruit trees are mixed together.

Garden Notes, October. Planning a Small Garden
August, when writing this, has been a mix of warm and wet. The weeds at least have thrived. By October we look to asters to give us later colour, with perhaps some leaves turning red for a late show. In planning for spring we should be buying in and planting spring bulbs, such as daffodils and tulips. Tidying up borders there will be clumps that can be divided into three or four and provide presents for friends. The plant is healthier for this since middle dies back and the vigour goes to the edge: dividing removes the tired middle. It is also time for trimming hedges now that bird nesting has finished.
The main aim of this article is planting a small garden. Our own garden is quite large but is broken up in ten or so small gardens. I have looked for inspiration, for me as well as you, at Ruth’s small garden in Old Town which is stuffed to the gunnels with plants that flower all read rounds in rotation. Photos can be found in the link below. The garden measures 16foot wide (around 5 metres) and 70foot long, a typical long and thin terraced house garden. You go out of the back door to a patio, with a boundary wall to one side and a fence the other. There are hedges but don’t be tempted to put in privet or anything that has no all year interest, or anything that will grow out of control. Lots of flowering shrubs can be used for hedging, staggering the flowering across the year. This garden has a recycled miniature gauge railway track alongside the path which came from Southend Pier.  Ruth once ran Thomas the Tank down the track. At the bottom is a garage and a little path leading to the back gate.
Every season of the year the garden is a mass of colour as plants intermingle. It is a true cottage garden, where there is no room for weeds with flowing plants densely packed. As I write this the owner has sent photos of what is in flower in early September, much of which will be still flowering in early October. I need to add that it has been well established over the past thirty years and more or less looks after itself, the owners are in their 70s. The garden is a microclimate, kept frost-free since the buildings, walls and shelter retain heat. This is the city effect where temperatures are several degrees higher than in the country. This can be mimicked in small gardens, especially where there is a courtyard feel.  They have planted apple trees along the garden and among the beds. Similarly there is a useful herb garden and runner bean wigwams.  So in early September I can see roses, cosmos, dahlias, penstemon and pink Japanese anemones in profusion.  The roses are long flowering varieties that don’t need pruning, the dahlias can stay in the ground without protection since frost will not be severe, penstemons just need a light prune in spring when bottom growth has begun. Sprinkle seed thinly each spring, and it becomes a riot of colour by summer and autumn. I cut Japanese anemones down to the bottom in November (actually I just pull them right out to stop them being thugs.  They will grow again next year). I haven’t yet mentioned fuchsias. We are used to tender fuchsias that need frost protection or replacing every year. You can take cuttings (see below) but it is a balance between paying for winter heating or spending less on plants grown on industrially. I regard tender fuchsias as annuals and just throw them away. Consider hardy fuchsias which can overwinter in the garden, without leaves, and green up in spring. The spirit of this garden is to pack in plants which flower in winter, spring, summer and autumn. Consider Christmas box and clematis Freckles for winter, spring bulbs and philadelphus (mock orange) in spring, summer free-flowering roses, shrubs like exotic yellow buddleias which give four months of flower. Try perennial sunflowers (helianthus) which vary between two foot and eight.
Cuttings.  I will keep a pot of cuttings of better quality fuchsias in the house to use free heating. You can get thirty in one large pot. Use 12, 10 and 8 inch plastic pots (you will need two 12 inch). Mix multipurpose and commercial topsoil . Put a little in the bottom of the 12 inch, place the 10 inch in and surround it with the mix, do the same with the 8 inch and finish off with a small pot in the centre. Prepare four inch long fuchsia twigs trimmed under a leaf joint (remove all leaves from the bottom two inches) and push them firmly into the mix between the pots. Do the inner circle first. Water, place a plastic bag over fairly tightly and secure it into the extra 12 inch pot. See my pictures. Place in a cool frost-free place with some light (utility room, garage, bedroom). Check them in March when you can pot them on. The multiple pots act as root-trainers. You can do the same with hardy plants, which can stay outside.

Stephen Bigger, Roman Court, Hunts Hill. Blog: .                         

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Garden Notes, Parish Magazine. June

It was 2014 since I last wrote Garden Notes for the magazine. A lot has happened since then, starting with my mother having a serious stroke and fall, passing away this February. She loved her garden, having two gardeners to keep her tidy, and a figure of Alan Titchmarsh to remind her of when she cruised with him visiting gardens across the world. The village magazine committee have asked me to write some more pieces. I hope to write one a month and copy them with photographs in this blog. 

Since 2014 I completed a project of personal interest. My wife and I have been involved with Kelmscott Manor near Lechlade, the former home of William Morris the arts and crafts wallpaper and curtain manufacturer. I went in twice a month the photograph the garden in flower between March and October. You can see what will be in flower there in early June (when this magazine comes around) by going to I see there are old fashioned roses, variegated weigela, delphiniums, solanum (potato vine), cardoon, ornamental poppies, foxgloves, geraniums, sysyrinchium, honeysuckle, and aquilegias. The meadow has yellow rattle in flower, planted to keep meadow grass short.

Since 2014 I have, with Conor Hurst's help, restructured the garden at Roman Court and will share some of that with you. we have about two thirds of an acre which includes natural springs which feed a bog garden. Blog addresses will be given at the end. The spring has meant daffodils, tulips, hellebores, camassia, alliums, lungwort and primroses have been centre stage. Before that, the snowdrops filled January and February, the tallest being the earliest. I have rescued quite a few snowdrops from building sites where they are dug out and left to die. One clump of tall early flowers came from John Henry Newman's house in which we were working, where builders had decimated a Victorian snowdrop bed. The churchyard where we buried my mother in March was covered in snowdrops, disturbed by the digger, which with the vicar's permission I brought home to pot up to give to family members next winter. My plant of the month (April) must be the caltha or Marsh Marigold. A bed where I mixed white daffodils with black tulips have flowered together for the first time. Jobs to do include repairing the greenhouse, repairing the pond and of course keeping the weeds at bay. As the plants wake up from winter, this is a good time for softwood cuttings which I will share with you next month.

Looking ahead to June, in my own across-the-year photos from 2012 (  I notice I started with sempervivums, their brief flowering easily forgotton, then lots of roses, starting with the yellow Banksian Rose (already in flower in April). Another favourite is the white corydalis I begged from the gardener of Down House, Charles Darwin's home which seeds around freely (without being a pest) and flowers from March to November. I created an ericaceous bed which has three large Camellias, three Pieris, all looking lovely. Just out elsewhere is the acid-loving Fothergilla with white bottle-brush tassels. Grow in a pot with ericaceous compost.We have since savagely pruned the tunnel which is rejuvenating the climbers growing there - Rose 'Rambling Rector', Clematis 'Freckles', white Wisteria, variegated Jasmin and Honeysucle 'Roy Davidson'.Some roses are already flowering and June will be rose season
Stephen Bigger. 22.4.2017. 


Double hellebores

Miniature flowering cherry

Anemones and hellebores

Flowering plum

Magnolia stellata

White flowering current


Amelianchier in blossom

Snowflakes (leucojums)

Gordon's flowering current (hybrid)


Sunday, 24 May 2015


Early May.

The evergreen  Banksian Rose, collected for |Joseph Banks in 1807 from China, where it was already popular. Flowering period about a month.


Symphytum (dwarf comfrey)

This tub started with daffodils, then switched to tulips, and now has iris siberica in (see a later photo)

Kingcups and bog cabbage in front, purple hazel behind, and invisible pond in between. The hazel marks the grave of our first cat Sally.

The tulip Greenland

The Cercis flowers before its leaves come - this one is cercis canadensis Forest Pansy.

Apple tree in blossom, with lilac behind.

Pieris, in the ericacious bed as it needs lime-free conditions.

Alpine phlox

Mid May.
New additions to the auricula theatre.

A new bearded iris from East Ruston Garden

Giant alliums

Geranium, with choisa behind

Little nodding geum

The pea lathyrus verna

The rose 'Dunwich Rose', foreground




Pittosporum in flower.

Geranium kashmirianum


Late May

Dwarf lilac

Dunwich Rose


Banksian Rose

Solomon's Seal

Auricula theatre

Rose 'Canary Bird'

Persicaria, highlighted with geranium


Rosa moyesia Geranium

Ferns, behind the stately gunnera

Plants in pots, awaiting planting or sale.

Crinodendron, in the ericacious bed

with pieris in foreground

Purple leaved weigela

this one with a variegated sport

Iris time, Iris siberica 'Stephen'

Cornus in flower.