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Welcome to Your Hints & Tips Page


With this shockingly cold weather, please remember to feed the birds and let them have access to fresh water at least once a day. Birds like the sparrows, bluetits and goldfinches are 'hardbills' and generally feed on seeds/nuts, goldfinches adore teasles, bluetits have a thing about peanuts.

Other birds like the robins, blackbirds and thrushes are 'softbills' and prefer fruit, hips, haws, apple and adore mealworms if you can provide them as the earthworms are further down now in this icy weather, remember to 'clean' the mealworms by putting them in a container of bran, this they will feed on. You can also mix grated cheese with bacon rind and cereal and a few smaller seeds for the birds.

Feeding the birds now will help them through the winter but don't suddenly stop, they expend vital energy getting to food sources.

That being said, we hope you all have a very merry Christmas and a healthy, happy and more prosperous New Year.

I've been out in the back garden today, 22nd December and gently knocked off the weight of the snow off our Stachyurus chinensis shrub, this already has masses of flowers buds on rigid stems ready to burst into flower in early spring as the weather warms. This was a slow starter and took two to three seasons to establish its roots, only making a little top growth, now it is magnificent. I have to judicially prune it every year to take out the stronger growths by one third and cut back hard the weaker growth, to keep it from being heavier on one side, it always seems to favour growing more strongly towards the east, funny plant!

If you have well shaped trees, shrubs and they too are weighted down with snow, gently shake/brush it off, so that the weight does not spoil their shape.

If you have not done so already prune any remaining weak growths from your roses. Prune back top-heavy climbing roses to prevent wind rock.

Take off any old foliage from the now established clumps of Lenten Roses or Helleborus x hybridus (formerly orientalis). This stops any black spot spores from over wintering on the foliage and also has the bonus of allowing free access to viewing the buds and flowers as they grow ready to flower in early February or even earlier if we suddenly go into a warm spell!

The Christmas Roses (as in the picture) Helleborus niger, have been in flower since late November and are continuing to put on bud, the weather never seems to affect them.

The Prunus kojo no mai. a dwarf japanese cherry had shed the last of its leaves in late October after an unusually brilliant show of autumn colour. Now its naturally twisted and contorted twigs are bare and dressed with snow and icicles, just as if it has been decorated for Christmas. We have a wren who uses this dense cover as a song auditorium, beautiful!

Despite the chill our Clematis armandii has started budding up, but its leaves are folded back to decrease the amount of moisture it loses in the chill, dry winds. I have two frozen flowers on our Rose 'Iceberg' which is not unusual, as I usually manage to cut some for the Christmas table.

Our various pots of plants are covered with filmy fleece, which has been turned back on itself several times, so they have several layers over them. Each layer will increase the temperature underneath by at least 1 degree. We have also put up some temporary green woven windbreak material to help filter the wind and protect certain plants from experiencing the worst of the weather, all this can be adapted for use in your garden.

Bring all your containers together, closer to the house if you can manage it and wrap the exterior of them either with bubble-wrap or with the fleece this will help protect the roots in the pots from lower temperatures, each pot will protect the others in a cluster.

If you want to break down heavy soil, now is the time to continue digging and allow the frosts to break down the clumps.

Try not to walk on your lawns in very wet weather, you'll be regretting it later as you try to make it smooth and level again.

Bring your planted winter display containers closer to the house so you can easier appreciate them.

These can be planted with Cornus especially the shorter one 'Winter Flame' which has coloured stems of yellow shading through orange and coral-red, Skimmia japonica 'Rubella' which has pink clusters of flowers buds now, which when they open have a good scent, only the male forms are scented. Cyclamen coum are in bud at this time of the year, they are completely hardy and have the most dainty but weather-resistant flowers.

Now is the time to sit thoughtfully and plan how you are going to improve your garden for next season, get out those gardening books or even send me an e-mail and I will try and come up witth some suggestions for you. 

Welcome to Your Hints & Tips Page

Welcome to Your Hints & Tips Page


Now is the time to look at your shrubs, roses and climbers and take out any damaged, diseased or crossing stems. This will prevent disease from infecting other stems, dying back and opening wounds from crossing & rubbing stems. You can also gently take the tips off a few stems and encourage them to branch, giving you more stems and therefore flowers & foliage in the coming year.

We have the most gloriously scented rambler called Rosa 'William Lobb' it has moss-covered buds and usually produces them in clusters of semi-double magenta-purple blooms. It is vigorous and exceptionally thorny, each year I cut back at least a third of the old stems almost to the ground and tip the tops of the younger stems, before tying them in as horizontal a position as I can while they are still fairly flexible.

Encouraging blooms on climbers.

The above method of tying down the stems as horizontally as possible, works for most climbers, to great effect! The growth hormones which are generally at the tip of the stems, are then distributed along the top of the length of the stem. This encourages more growth and more flowers.The same can be applied to Clematis, Lonicera (Honeysuckle) and Jasmine.

We also have a mature Trachystemon jasminoides or 'Star Jasmine' which has lots of white flowers in small clusters and they are highly perfumed.It is an evergreen, which prefers a sheltered position out of the coldest winds, which dessicate its foliage. In our garden it is in a south-easterly position and is doing very well. This year, 2017 I planted 2 more Trachystemon jasminoides, this time on wires on a sheltered north facing site, underplanting with Hardy Geranium and the fern, Polystichum set. 'Herrenhausen' with Anemone 'Honorine Jobert' in large clumps to the right and left of them and also planted Galanthus, Fritillaria and Erythronium in that area too.

Mulching in autumn

Before the ground has a chance to become cold, it pays whatever type of soil you have to water well and then add a thick mulch around your plants. Do not dig it in, the worms will do that for you over a period of time and it will aid the organic content of your soil, opening up heavy soil and bulking up light soils. In addition to this it acts as a protection for developiong root systems and does not let so much frost get into the ground, it also acts as a superb weed suppressor. I generally use either a thick layer of homemade compost or composted forest bark if there is not quite enough compost. Remember to add bonemeal, which is a slow-acting fertiliser to the soil, before you mulch.

Cocoa-shell warning

Cocoa-shell can be bought by the bagful and plants which are woodlanders such as Hellebores, Hepatica and Anemone nemorosa really benefit from this being added to their compost either in the soil or in containers. Again it makes a good mulch which after it gets wet sticks together and then looks a complete mess until it begins to break down.

Please be aware that if you have dogs and they ingest this it can make them severely ill as we found out to our cost. There were no warnings on the bags. I now restrict its use to the front garden, where my adopted Terrier Cross 'Matt' has no access.

Planting bulbs

Now is the time to plant most bulbs apart from Tulips which really need to be left until November, if at all possible.

Norfolk is very windy, so I tend to stick to Dwarf Tulips, Miniature Narcissus, Muscari latifolium (The Oxford & Cambridge Muscari) so called because of its dark & light blue flower combination, Anemone blanda, Anemone nemorosa 'Robinsoniana', Erythronium dens canis (Dogs' Tooth Violet), its American counterpart Erythronium 'Pagoda' (The Trout Lily) and masses of Snowdrops or 'Galanthus'. Last autumn (2016) I planted several large clumps of the Iris reticulate, this spring they were absolutely stunning asnd gave me a lot of joy (much needed!)This autumn I will dig up the bulbs and replant with a little more space around them and extend the number of clumps to a new area I will be developing. Don't forget that after they have finished flowering, the foliage can be fed and it gets taller, do not cut back, let it die back naturally and this goodness all goes to the bulbs. 4 Just as a footnote reticulated means 'netted' if yopu look at the bulbs when you receive them you'll see the net coating the bulb. The Iris reticulata do well in containers with Ophiopogon pl. 'Nigrescens' or the so-called 'Black Grass' as do the smaller species Crocus chrysanthus types.



Dahlia 'Moonfire is just one of the Tender perennials which are available at present. They grace many a garden and along with such favourites as Cosmos atrosanguineus  commonly known as the Chocolate plant as the scemt of the flower resembles Bournville chocolate and the airy Verbena bonariensis, whose stems allow you to view the flowers behind it and whose flowers attract the butterflies and bees which as so in decline. They usually have a very long flowering period, especially if dead-headed regularly, so even if they only last a couple of seasons, they have more than paid their way in the garden with their beautiful flowers.

I would not be without them, despite being a hardy perennial enthusiast!



I have been to many shows and talks these past few years It has been so enjoyable, especially looking up and seeing that a plant you've recommended has just been bought by an enthustiastic Horticultural Club member. We used to travel all the way from Norfolk to attend a Plant Show at Chenies Manor in Gloucestershire, bowled over by the organisation of the Show, the friendliness of the owners of the house and grounds, who brought us all round croissants and coffee for breakfast, the start to a perfect day. Who do we see as one of our first customers there but a regular customer of ours from Norfolk! Customers came from Cornwall, Scotland and closer to Gloucester of course.

We had 'ummed and arred' over which plants to take to this show, we hoped it would be plant oriented and decided to take some rarer plants, although not in colour and then visited our favourite nursery at Wortham and spent an entire morning selecting Hemerocallis (Day Lilies)the one in the photograph is 'Summer Wine', Kniphofia and Anchusa in bud and colour. When we arrived at the Manor their South border was awash with colour from Hemerocallis, Mel thought I had second sight! Needless to say we sold virtually everything we had taken apart from a few Agapanthus not yet full out. So our van felt very light as we drove back home. I think our second best seller was Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra' or 'Red Baron' as it is alternatively known, its common name is the Japanese Blood Grass and customers were buying it to  place in containers, modern in style which really sets them off. They're so easy to look after.

Later, we were at Sandringham Flower Show, no croissants and coffee! We had been really spoilt at Chenies Manor. We saw Charles and Camilla go past in an elegant open carriage was it a landau, wished I'd spent more time looking and naming carriages. Again we met customers from recent talks at Garden clubs and W.I's, many plants were left with us as they wanted to see the gardens and heavy horse display. The favourite plants this time were Dahlias, Imperata, Polemonium 'Stairway to Heaven', Heuchera especially, 'Obsidian' and 'Green Spice' and once again Hemerocallis like 'Buzz Bomb' and 'White Coral', the Roscoea 'Purpurea' outsold the cream, 'Kew Beauty'. Crocosmia didn't sell as we expected, despite them just colouring up in their 2 litre potfuls, whereas one litre pots of Rhodohypoxis 'Mixed' were flying out despite finishing their flowering two weeks ago! I 'd just taken them in case there were some unusual bulb collectors there!

Back in my mothers garden she still had buds appearing on Magnolia 'Jane', 'Leonard Messel' and the white 'John Coutts', these really are out of season! Sooty mould had appeared on many leaves of one variety of Camellia in a sheltered corner of her back garden. So I pruned out a lot of the finer stems to make it more open and allow the wind to blow through it and then cut off all affected leaves, washed off a few others and then sprayed with a systemic insecticide. It is the greenfly secreting 'honeydew' on the Camellia leaves which causes the 'sooty mould' to grow on the 'honeydew', very unsightly, but it is the cause you need to treat which is the greenfly and lack of air circulating the plant and going through it, encouraging the greenfly.

A lot of her mature Agapanthus have been in flower for some time, so I was able to look for some seed and collect it, we allow the stems to die back naturally, we dug a large circle round each of the clumps in preparation for moving them later.

Autumn Crocus are putting in an early appearance and I am really looking forward to when her Colchicum come into bloom, these are more commonly known as 'Naked Ladies' as they flower before their leaves come through and they put on a wonderful display as they clumps mature and expand, just like having posies of flowers erupting through the soil.

I had to do some drastic pruning to several of her climbing roses, normally I would gently pull down the flexible shoots and tir them in to her obelisks, giving the plant a chance to make more bud, but we need to move the obelisks, so I was pretty ruthless and cut them all back to about two feet and again cut around them in preparatio for moving later, as a lot of the plants held special memories for both my mother and myself as they were usually planted when she lost a dog after years of friendship.

Her lawn like most everyone elses at present is looking very brown, it is useless trying to give it a sprinkle here and there as this just brings the roots to the surface looking for more water, better to give one thorough drenching, as it will then get to the roots.

In August we are off to Norfolk Autumn Garden Show at the Norfolk Showground towards the end of the month, this is a three day show, so at present we will be going through our stock making note of what might be ready by then , or cutting back and hoping they will be ready for a later show in September, when we visit Southend and finally the Suffolk Sutumn Show.

Already I can see the Crocosmia should be on cue, the Roscoea out of flower but still very good plants, Brunnera Jack Frost and Silver Wings look good. I have completely sold out of the herbaceous Clematis 'Cassandra', I think I mentioned it at too many talks! Several hardy Geraniums were cut back earlier so they should be ready.


Cyclamen coum both plain leaf and marked are still in flower, while the Cyclamen hederaefolium is in full leaf, having flowered in autumn. Iris reticulata are in full flower a gorgeous purple colour. A form of evergreen Clematis cirrhosa is in bloom, cream on the outside and darkly freckled maroon in the inside. I shall be cutting back all of my Clematis viticella types to 18" once the very cold weather has finished, that's the beauty of this species. Hellebores x hybridus (orientalis) are budding up, low down among the new leaves. It's not too late to cut off old over-wintered foliage, to prevent Hellebore Black Spot, then spread a mulch around the plants. This will stop any latent spores on the surface of the soil from splashing up onto the plant. Unbelievably there are still Penstemon in flower in my south facing bed despite the harsh weather we've had.