The Watch House Awaits

The Frustrated Gardener

The pots are all planted and in position, their arrangements have been checked from every angle, adjusted and appraised again. Happy with the result, we finally feel ready for our garden opening this weekend.

This article; ‘The Watch House Awaits‘, was first published by The Frustrated Gardener

It’s been a long and winding road to get here. A cold, harsh winter and very late spring put us on the back foot. Jobs that should have been completed in April and May had to be held until June and July. (We still have pots of daffodils with foliage that’s not yellowed and died yet; these would normally have been long gone by late June.) Tender plants and summer bulbs are two or three weeks behind, meaning that for the first time in years we’ll have lilies in bloom on opening day; L. ‘Golden Splendour’, L. ‘African Queen’ and L. ‘Nymph’ are set to steal the show. The gingers and brugmansias are catching up slowly but surely, having spent far too long sheltering in the workshop whilst May worked out that it was not February. Happily, Hedychium yunnanese is now in flower. She’s my favourite ornamental ginger of them all, producing spidery white flowers that smell out of this world. The only drawback is that they are over too quickly.

Hedychium yunnanense

Behind the greenhouse, alas not where anyone can appreciate it, the giant Burmese honeysuckle, Lonicera hildebrandiana, is producing apricot-yellow blooms the size of my hand. These enormous flared trumpets produce a heavenly scent that fills the garden at night. The advancement of the garden is almost the complete opposite of 2020, when everything seemed to have gone over by early August and I was anxiously scouring the garden centre for ‘fillers’ to inject some extra colour.

A glimpse into the Garden Room where begonias, ferns, coleus and plectranthus mix and mingle

We are open this year on Saturday July 31st and Sunday August 1st from 12-4pm. On advice from the National Garden Scheme we’ve decided that we will be opening on a pre-booking only basis, which ensures everyone gets to enjoy the garden in a safe and leisurely fashion. That said, if anyone hasn’t booked and there is room in the garden we will let people in with the greatest pleasure. You can find all the booking details and directions here on the National Garden Scheme website. If you are unable to visit, or don’t care to do so in current circumstances, I will be posting a pre-opening tour on my Instagram feed on Saturday morning. It’ll be fun and free, so no excuses for not joining us virtually over your morning coffee!

Catalpas, sparmannias, gingers and cannas create drama in the Gin & Tonic Garden

The Gin & Tonic Garden is probably our favourite of the two gardens this year. We’ve worked really hard on it, attempting to create a vibrant tapestry of foliage studded with jewel-like flowers. It’s best viewed from above – an opportunity we can only offer winged visitors and house guests – from which perspective the multitudinous colours and textures can be full appreciated. Our catalpas, C. bignonioides ‘Aurea’ and C. x erubescens ‘Purpurea’ have been a revelation this summer. Having become weak and lanky growing in their pots, I decided to pollard them. This has had the most incredible effect, inducing the restricted plants to produce luxuriant, colourful new foliage where last year it had been lacklustre and mildewed. Hopefully, with proper feeding, we can keep them going like this for many more years. Although we don’t really have space for another – when do we ever? – we’ve introduced a third cultivar, Catalpa speciosa ‘Pulverulenta’ which has pretty, cream-speckled foliage. Once it’s developed a decent trunk this will also be pollarded. Other plants looking fabulous right on cue include Lobelia tupaAnisodontea ‘El Royo’, Ageratum corymbosumLiriodendron tulipifera ‘Purgatory’, Lilium ‘Nymph’ and a beautiful new (to me) persicaria I found called ‘Golden Arrow’. The leaf colour has remained incredibly vibrant since the moment it emerged from the ground this spring. Joyful. I haven’t counted how many plants we have in this space measuring 20ft x 20ft, but there must be hundreds.

The Gin & Tonic Garden from above. Persicaria ‘Golden Arrow’ stands out, far right

The Jungle Garden is as extravagantly overplanted as ever, maybe moreso. Having been mainly green and red, with little flashes of violet-blue provided by Salvia ‘Amistad’, this week the garden has exploded into glorious technicolour. There are lilies aplenty and an increasing number of alternative salvias, including ‘Black and Blue’ and ‘Blue Suede Shoes’. My inspiration is a gas flame, bringing together reds and oranges with blues and violets. Such a daring combination is perhaps a bit outré for some people, but I like to think my artisitic spirit guide, Henri Rousseau, would approve of it. The fact that the local bird population has turned this courtyard into an open aviary is reward enough for our efforts. Meanwhile, our banana plants, mostly Musa sikkimensis ‘Red Tiger’ are excelling themselves, trying to outdo one another with one gigantic leaf after another. If they get any bigger they will block out the sun completely! It’s hard to imagine that three months ago these were papery trunks projecting from old compost bags.

The Jungle Garden on the eve of a technicolour dawn

Around the kitchen sink we have our customary collection of smaller pots planted with rare and colourful treasures – Bletilla ‘Laneside Apricot Sunrise’ is an absolute treat at the moment, surrounded by lantana, assorted bromeliads, Pseudopanax trifoliataAlbizia julibrissin ‘Summer Chocolate’ and good old black-eyed Susan, Thunbergia alata. The wonderful thing about growing in pots is that all these plants, with their many different origins and needs, can be brought together for our delight and delictation. The same could never be achieved in a bed or border, plus these pampered plants are much closer to eye level.

Just add plants …. even since this photograph was taken, more plants have been introduced

Naturally, over the next three days I will be tweaking and primping incessantly. At no stage will I ever be completely satisfied, no gardener ever is. Sadly, our new neighbours, having just paved over their entire garden, are in the process of erecting a monumental new fence between the Gin & Tonic Garden and their expensive concrete desert; for what reason we do not know, but we can only hope the chaos will abate before the weekend. That aside, both gardens should look the best they’ve ever looked this weekend. We look forward to welcoming our lovely visitors who, we know, will restore our faith in humankind many times over. TFG.

Lunchtime in the Jungle Garden. The dappled shade is exquisite on a hot, sunny day