Plant peonies for a garden full of colour

Nurseryman Alec White of Befordshire’s Primrose Hall Nursery urges us to fill our gardens with peonies, that most lushly petalled beauty.

Peonies are possible the most indulgent of all flowers. Impervious to the harshest of winters they emerge soring after spring and light up the garden with masses of beautifully decadent blooms. Then, before we’ve really had time to appreciate them, they’re gone – petals scattered on the spring breeze leaving nothing but their perfume in the air … read more

Why every garden deserves at least one beautiful peony

Peonies offer a decadent and luxurious display that is well worth waiting for. Alec White, nurseryman and peony grower, shares his top planting tips and talks about why these beautiful flowers are a garden highlight. Every English garden deserves at least one beautiful peony to grace its borders… read more

Garden Jobs for October

The Beginning of the New Gardening YearEchinacea 'Cheyenne Spirit', Large 3lt (17cm) Pot

The beginning of the gardening year? Yes – because it’s the ideal time to plant many types of colourful perennials and shrubs to enjoy next year. Hardy plants planted now will settle in over the winter and will start growing much sooner and faster in spring.

What to do if you haven’t much time

  • Apply a fine mulch (not bark) to soils to feed them and improve their structure. A 2-3” (5-8cm) layer added now and lightly forked into the top couple of inches will start to be incorporated into the soil by the worms. Around plants that you find have roots close to the surface, like hostas and some shrubs, just lay the mulch on top and don’t fork it.

Other jobs

Trees, Shrubs & Hedges

  • Plant container-grown climbers and shrubs
  • Move evergreen shrubs
  • Prune climbing roses to reduce damage from the strong winter winds.
  • Prepare ground for planting bare-root trees and shrubs
  • Trim conifers again if necessary
  • Plant hedges of evergreen and deciduous plants
  • Prune climbing roses
  • Take hardwood cuttings



  • Cut back perennials
  • Plant new herbaceous perennials
  • Lift and divide overgrown clumps of perennials, adding planting compost or mulch
  • Finish planting all spring-flowering bulbs and lilies now
  • Lift dahlias, gladioli, cannas and other tender tubers and bulbs – before the frosts. Allow to dry out a little in a well ventilated, dry shed or garage and then store in a cool but frost free place that’s also well ventilated.



  • Continue planting containers with spring-bedding plants and bulbs
  • Don’t forget to buy perennials and shrubs for winter colour



  • Rake out thatch, aerate and top-dress lawns
  • Make new lawns – with seed early in the month, or with turf all month


Vegetables and herbs

  • Dig in green manure crops
  • Finish lifting main crop potatoes
  • Continue lifting carrots and beetroot
  • Plant out spring cabbages, autumn onion sets and garlic
  • As soon as crops have been harvested, start winter digging of heavy clay soils, adding lots of well rotted organic matter such as mushroom compost or farmyard manure. The frosts will help to break down the clods of clay for you. Do NOT dig sandy soils at the moment as that will increase the rate at which nutrients are washed out of the soil over winter.



  • Finish picking main crop apples
  • Clean up strawberry beds
  • Spray peaches and nectarines against peach leaf curl
  • Prune blackcurrants, blackberries and hybrid berries


Under cover

  • Buy bubble polythene
  • Sow sweet peas for next spring
  • Grow radishes, mustard, and cress for winter salad

Garden Jobs for September

SEPTEMBER IN THE GARDENAster_Monch_in_border_Oct_07_LMWHelenium 'Sahin's Early Flowerer'

This should be the time of mellow fruitfulness, so it’s time to enjoy the garden and fill in those gaps left by other plants that have gone over.  If you use perennial plants you won’t have the same gaps again next year, which will save money and effort in the long run.

What to do if you haven’t much time

  • Plant perennials for autumn colour and for next year. Try asters (there are now new, compact forms that don’t get mildew), rudbeckias and Japanese anemones
  • Deadhead perennials, bedding and basket plants
  • Mow lawns as required



Other jobs

Trees, Shrubs & Hedges

  • Move evergreen shrubs
  • Plant container-grown shrubs and trees – they’ll have time to start getting established before the winter, ready to grow fast in spring. Use Rootgrow when you plant to speed up this process and so improve their chances of surviving if we have another harsh winter
  • Start pruning climbing roses


  • Keep collecting seeds
  • Cut down and divide perennials, adding soil conditioner as you do so
  • Support tall-growing clumps of perennials such as asters



  • Plant spring flowering bulbs, including bulbs to naturalise in grass


Annuals and bedding

  • Sow hardy annuals
  • Lift tender annuals before autumn, for overwintering in a greenhouse or cool porch
  • Plant out spring-flowering biennials and bedding perennials such as sweet williams, wallflowers and foxgloves



  • Plant autumn containers – if done now, they’ll get going before the cold weather and look better all through the winter. Don’t forget to use a little controlled release feed like Osmocote.
  • Stop feeding permanent plants growing in containers. If you used controlled release fertiliser in the compost, it will slow down or stop releasing nutrients as the weather gets cooler.


  • Start mowing less frequently
  • Remove thatch from the lawn and aerate the soil if it’s compacted and drains poorly
  • Top-dress immediately after aerating
  • Treat broad-leaved weeds with a lawn weed killer
  • Established lawns can be fed now, with an autumn feed
  • Sow grass seed or lay new turf


Vegetables and herbs

  • Cut down asparagus foliage
  • Pick marrows, pumpkins and squashes
  • Begin lifting root vegetables
  • Get onions under cover to dry out and store
  • Sow a winter variety of lettuce
  • Plant out winter cabbages and autumn onion sets
  • Continue harvesting fruit; protect your crop from birds with netting
  • Prune blackcurrants


Under cover

  • Remove shading
  • Start preparing your greenhouse or polytunnel for winter – clean up all debris, disinfecting with Jeyes fluid or similar to cut down on overwintering of disease spores
  • Reduce watering and ventilation. Change to watering in the morning if possible, so plants don’t got to bed wet
  • Bring in tender plants
  • Sow the last spring cabbages

Garden Jobs for August

What to do if you haven’t much time

  • Deadhead perennials, bedding and basket plants and roses to encourage more flowers. Apply high potash fertiliser (e.g. tomato food) to enable the growth of lots more flowers.


  • Mow regularly if the grass is growing. If the soil is very dry, raise the blades to leave the grass longer, which helps it to stay alive in a drought. Trim the egdes of the lawn – it makes such a difference!


Other jobs

Trees, Shrubs & Hedges

  • Continue to deadhead roses
  • Trim lavender lightly to remove dying flowers
  • Give a final trim to your hedges
  • Prune rambling roses
  • Propagate clematis by layering
  • Complete the summer pruning of wisteria
  • Continue to take semi-ripe cuttings
  • Layer rhododendrons and azaleas



  • Cut back perennials that have collapsed
  • Start dividing perennials (if you’re around to water them well in the coming weeks)
  • Take cuttings of alpines, penstemons and other slightly tender plants for overwintering under protection
  • Plant daffodils, narcissi, colchicums and madonna lilies
  • Pot prepared hyacinths and other bulbs for flowers at Christmas
  • Divide congested clumps of snowdrops (if you know where they are!); take care to minimise damage to their roots if they have started developing already
  • Continue collecting ripening seeds
  • Mulch soil around cut down perennials to tidy, improve the soil and suppress annual weeds
  • Continue to propagate carnations and pinks
  • If peony leaves are looking starved, give them a little liquid feed to keep them going


Annuals and bedding

  • Continue to deadhead and feed annuals (tomato food)
  • Take cutting from pelargoniums, fuchsias and other tender perennials
  • Collect seeds from hardy annuals



  • Continue watering and feeding plants in containers


  • Mow the lawn regularly
  • Apply a fertilizer with high potash content
  • Don’t water unless absolutely necessary
  • Prepare for sowing seed or laying turf next month

Vegetables and herbs

  • Sow green manure crops
  • Harvest onions
  • Harvest beans and freeze them
  • Sow Japanese onions, salad crops, spring cabbages, parsley
  • Continue earthing up celery
  • “Stop” outdoor tomatoes by pinching out the growing tips
  • Pot up other herbs such as chives
  • Take semi-ripe cuttings from shrubby herbs


  • Harvest early apples and pears
  • Continue pruning summer-fruiting raspberries – chop already fruited canes down to the ground
  • Summer-prune trained fruit trees
  • Plant new strawberry plants

Under cover

  • Check greenhouse heaters
  • Damp down regularly in the morning (NOT in the evening)

Garden Jobs for July


What to do if you haven’t much time

  • Keep mowing – not too short, as longer grass survives heat better (if we get some)
  • Trim the edges of the lawn for a quick tidy up, even if you don’t have time to mow. Trust us – it works!
  • Deadhead roses, alstroemerias, pinks, day lilies, petunias (not needed on Million Bells), annual geraniums (pelargoniums).
  • Feed, feed, feed pots and baskets with high potash food like tomato food.

Other jobs

Trees, Shrubs & Hedges

  • Watch out for black spot, rust and mildew on roses in particular
  • Cut lavender for drying
  • Prune early summer-flowering shrubs
  • Remove any unwanted growth from the bases or trunks of trees and shrubs
  • Take semi-ripe cuttings
  • Pot up or plant out softwood cuttings
  • Trim conifer hedges
  • Try air layering climbing plants
  • Prune wisteria


  • Divide irises
  • Disbud dahlias
  • Continue to cut back faded flowers
  • Harvest seeds from perennials
  • Layer pinks and carnations
  • Plant autumn-flowering bulbs

Fruit & Veg

  • Keep harvesting vegetables as soon as they are ready
  • Harvest early potatoes, shallots, onions, globe artichokes, garlic planted last year
  • Sow peas, vegetables for  autumn harvesting, spring cabbages
  • Sow autumn and winter salads
  • Finish planting out winter brassicas
  • Stop outdoor cordon tomatoes
  • Endives can be blanched
  • Watch out for tomato problems
  • Begin to earth up celery
  • Lookout for potato and tomato blight
  • Stop climbing beans when they reach the top of their supports
  • Pick and dry herbs
  • Take cutting from herbs
  • Harvest summer-fruiting raspberries, blackcurrants, red and whitecurrants
  • Summer-prune red and white currants
  • Prune summer-fruiting raspberries
  • Continue training new canes of blackberries and other hybrid berries
  • Continue training fan-trained fruits
  • At the end of the month begin summer- pruning trained apples and pears
  • Thin out fruit on apples and pears
  • Support heavily laden fruit trees branches


  • Mow and trim edges once or twice a week
  • Don’t water unless absolutely necessary
  • Give the lawn a boost with a liquid fertilizer

Containers and bedding

  • Maintain annuals and tender perennials
  • Finish planting out summer bedding plants in baskets
  • Transplant biennial seedlings
  • Cut and dry everlasting flowers
  • Disbud tuberous begonias
  • Water and feed containers regularly


Under cover

  • Keep the greenhouse well ventilated
  • Start taking fuchsias cuttings
  • start removing foliage from tomatoes
  • watch out for tomato disorders

Garden Jobs for June

What to do if you haven’t much time

  • Apply and renew mulches
  • Water plants thoroughly through hot spells
  • Hoe or hand-pull annual weeds
  • Fill any gaps in borders with bedding or perennial plants
  • Deadhead plants

Other jobs

Trees, Shrubs & Hedges

  • Watch out for greenfly and leaf-rolling on roses
  • Prune mature deciduous shrubs that finish flowering
  • Continue taking softwood cutting
  • Keep on top of training climbing and rambling roses
  • Propagate climbers by layering


  • Remove old leaves and flower stems of hellebores
  • Cut back oriental poppies – they’ll look terrible right now but new leaves will grow in a month or two. They’ll flower again next year.
  • Deadhead Euphorbia robbiae and E. characias
  • Continue to stake tall-growing perennials
  • Deadhead lupins and delphiniums
  • Take cutting from pinks
  • Cut down the foliage of bulbs that have been naturalised in grass
  • Plant out cannas
  • Lift and divide bulbs that have finished flowering
  • Plant anemones to flower in autumn

Fruit & Veg

  • Continue to harvest all crops as they mature
  • Water and feed plants regularly
  • Plant celery in trenches prepared during winter or spring
  • Plant out celeriac raised earlier
  • Plant out runner beans
  • Sow radicchio (red chicory), Chinese cabbage, peas, salad vegetables, turnips
  • Plant out sweetcorn, tomatoes, marrows, courgettes  pumpkins and  ridge cucumbers
  • Plant out all winter brassicas
  • Plant herbs in containers
  • Remove cloches from strawberries
  • Control grey mould on strawberries
  • Put up pheromone traps
  • Continue pruning and pinching out shoots on wall-trained fruit
  • Gooseberries can also be thinned for larger fruits
  • Don’t thin apples and pears
  • Continue tying in new canes of blackberries and hybrid berries


  • Mow lawn regularly
  • Don’t forget edging
  • Feed lawn with liquid fertilisers


Containers and bedding

  • Plant out summer bedding plants
  • Sow polyanthus and winter pansies
  • Plant up a hanging basket
  • Water and feed all plants regularly
  • Plant up half-hardy annuals and tender perennials in containers outdoors

Under cover

  • Damp down regularly
  • Water and feed all plants regularly
  • Shade the greenhouse
  • Pot on all young plants and seedlings that are ready

Get flowers for twice as long with this simple trick

What is the “Chelsea Chop”, and why bother?

The “Chelsea Chop” is a QUICK and EASY technique you can copy from professional nurseries to make sure you get more summer and autumn flowers in your garden over a longer period.  It is quicker and easier than “deadheading” and costs nothing but a few minutes of your time.

How to do the Chelsea Chop

How does it work?

By cutting back some of your summer and autumn flowering “herbaceous perennials“ (cottage garden plants) in late spring, you can make them produce more flowers that will bloom later.

If you “chop” HALF of your flowering perennial plants and leave half alone, the flowering period could easily be doubled in length, and you will get more flowers in total.  If you only have one clump of a plant, cut down the front half, leaving the back half untouched. The back will flower first, and the front will flower a little later, and a little shorter in height. If you have several clumps you could cut down some but not others.

A variant of the method is to reduce ALL of certain types of plant in height by half or more, to make them flower more compactly. This works with the taller kinds of sedums and reduces the chance of them flopping. e.g. Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’ (‘Autumn Joy’) and Sedum telephium varieties.  It will also work on taller phloxes, heleniums etc – they’ll flower later and lower, and need less (or no) staking.


How to do ‘The Chelsea Chop’

Cut back appropriate plants by one third to one half, cutting just above a strong-looking buds (or pair of buds).  Use sharp secateurs or scissors, shears, or a sharp thumbnail if you have one!

Although not a key part of the “Chelsea Chop” process, this is also a good time to give the plants a bit of TLC if you haven’t already:

  • Check for disease and damage done by slugs, snails and insects
  • Scatter some slow release fertiliser and lightly hoe it in
  • If the soil is dry, give it one good watering
  • Cover the soil surface with composted bark or homemade compost (not peat which goes dusty, has little nutrient value and is not environmentally friendly). This will keep in moisture and improve soil.


Late May, around the time of Chelsea Flower Show, hence “Chelsea Chop”. But if you’re too busy watching Chelsea on TV, a week before or after is fine too.

Later care

Do you know how much difference “deadheading” (cutting off old flowers) makes? Some plants can flower for three months instead of one, giving you three times the value!  Give it a try – take out some secateurs with your drink on a nice summer evening.  Last year my helenium sunflowers were still colourful at Christmas!

What plants respond best to the Chelsea Chop (and to deadheading)?

Summer and autumn flowering perennials like Astrantia, Campanula (Bell flower), catmint (Nepeta), Coreopsis, Day Lilies, daisy type flowers like Echinacea, Helenium, Rudbeckia and Shasta daisies, Gaillardia, Geranium, Lychnis, Monarda (bergamot), Border Phlox.

If in doubt, try it on part of a plant and see what happens!

It doesn’t work on shrubs, although some later flowering shrubs (those that flower from July onwards) can be cut back in spring and may flower later than usual as a result.Phlox Cosmopolitan

Helenium 'Double Trouble', Large 3lt (17cm) Pot


Why is Bedfordshire Rooting for Us?

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is coming up and we’re Going for Gold (well, hopefully…!)

Alec has designed a very contemporary style of display as part of a special RHS scheme to encourage new, original types of display. No ‘pretend’ gardens, old logs, moss and shabby chic props for us. Just timeless elegance.

Find us in The Grand Pavilion at GPD/150, or read the article in Bedford Today

Will we get GOLD?timeless elegance at RHS Chelsea

Garden Jobs for May

A Riot of Colour is Everywhere

What to Do in Your Garden in May

Whatever the weather, higher light levels will mean that the garden is growing fast now. Enjoy all the colour, and think ahead to how your garden will develop over the coming months.  If you plan (and plant) ahead you can have colour right through to the frosts.

If you haven’t much time

  • Hoe on a warm day to keep annual weeds under control.
  • Watch out for forecast frosts and cover tender plants with horticultural fleece, removing the fleece as soon as weather warms up.
  • Ventilate greenhouses and cloches as much as possible on sunny days


Other jobs

Trees, Shrubs & Hedges

  • Prune spring flowering shrubs once their flowers have finished. Do it now because next year’s flowers will form on the new stems that grow this season.
  • Prune off any frost damaged shoots.
  • Carry on tying in shoots of climbers.



  • Last chance to put in place supports – plastic coated wire mesh supports, canes, twigs etc. Tie in shoots is using canes.


Fruit & Veg

  • Indoors, sow tender vegetables like courgettes, cucumbers, runner beans, French beans and sweetcorn early this month, for planting out in early June.
  • Plant tomatoes and leeks sown earlier in modules or pots.
  • Continue successional sowing of salads.
  • Earth up early potatoes so that the crop doesn’t get light on them and go green.
  • Put straw under strawberries to keep them off the ground and prevent rotting.
  • Remove sideshoots from cordon tomatoes (see photo).



  • Feed and weed lawns if not already done.
  • Last chance for sowing new lawns or bare patches.


Containers and bedding

  • Buy summer bedding and basket plants and harden them off by taking them outside during the day, gradually increasing the length of time they stay outdoors.
  • When planting, add to the compost some controlled release fertiliser with a high potash content (‘K’) to maximise flowering and minimise work. Avoid fertilisers high in nitrogen such as Growmore and some MiracleGro, as they will encourage leaf production at the expense of flowers.
  • Plant out bedding later this month if the weather seems warm enough
  • Plant out sweet pea plants, from the beginning of this month.


Copyright 2016 Alexia Ballance

Why Plant Intersectional Hybrid Peonies (Itoh Peonies)

Intersectional Peony 'Hillary'

Why Plant Intersectional Hybrid Peonies (Itoh Peonies)?

Intersectional or Itoh hybrid peonies are crosses between herbaceous peonies and tree peonies, and offer the best characteristics of both.

They have glorious flowers like those of Japanese tree peonies. They are relatively compact in growth like herbaceous peonies but, unlike them, the mound of foliage stays looking good. They bloom for longer than either.  Blowsy and colourful, easy to grow and excellent as cut flowers, they are the perfect colourful plant even in small gardens.

Glorious Flowers

Peony, Paeonia 'Garden Treasure’ (Intersectional hybrid)

The flowers of intersectional peonies are similar to those of Japanese tree peonies.

Colours available include flame colours like yellow and apricot, as well as pink.  Most of them bear lightly scented, semi double flowers around June and all have beautiful long, yellow stamens. The flowers close up at night to protect themselves, and so they last longer than other types of peony.  Each flower lasts up to five days, and the total bloom period is up to four weeks.  That’s twice as long as others. They are followed by attractive, furry seedpods (which are unfortunately empty).

Compact Growth habit

They look like herbaceous peonies, but a little more upright.  The woody stems hold the flowers up well so they don’t need staking.  The leaves can be shiny or matt and are deeply divided.  After blooming has finished, the leaves continue to look great until they turn brilliant red and then fall. Most varieties grow 2-3’ high (60-90cm). This combination of attractive habit and lovely flowers makes them very useful in the garden.

Easy to Plant and Care for

They do best in full sun and a fertile, well drained soil.Peony 'Hillary', HUGE 5.5lt (22cm Square) Deep Pot

Plant them with their crown and buds about 1” (2-3cm) below soil level. Planting too deep is one of the most common reasons why peonies sometimes don’t flower. Water well at planting time, then occasionally but thoroughly as the foliage grows. All our peonies are containerised in big 5.5L pots so they can be planted at any time of year.

If planting bare root specimens, plant in winter or early spring, first cutting back any damaged roots. When you plant, make sure you jiggle some soil between the roots. Water lightly.

In autumn or winter cut down the woody stems to the base, just as you would with herbaceous peonies. Once they’ve got to a good size, they can be divided by digging up the clump, chopping it in pieces and replanting to the right depth.  Being woody, it’s hard work though!

They are highly resistant to peony wilt.

It’s all in the name

The name “Itoh hybrid peonies” is a fitting tribute to horticulturist Toichi Itoh from Tokyo.  In the 1940s, he used pollen from the yellow tree peony “Alice Harding” to fertilize the herbaceous P. lactiflora “Katoden”.  This resulted in a new category of peonies, the Itoh or intersectional cultivars.

The peony genus, Paeonia, is named after Paeon, a student of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing. Asclepius became jealous of his pupil. Zeus saved Paeon from the wrath of Asclepius by turning him into the peony flower.  According to Wikipedia

Buy Intersectional Peonies

To view or buy some of our favourites, please click on these images. All of them are containerised in large 5.5L pots.


Peony 'Cora Louise', HUGE 5.5lt (22cm Square) Deep Pot

'Julia Rose'

Intersectional Peony 'Hillary'


Peony, Paeonia 'Garden Treasure’ (Intersectional hybrid)



Planting Combinations

Alstroemeria ‘Barace’

Campanula ‘Loddon Anna’

Geranium ‘Rozanne’

Lupin Gallery ‘White’, ‘Pink’, ‘Yellow’


This week in the greenhouse…

Welcome to our greenhouse…

This week we are keeping a close eye on the temperature we have many plants that have recently been potted on and are vulnerable to the frost if it gets too cold even the fleece will not protect them. For the majority of our crops we try not to use artificial methods in our growing processes meaning that our plants are acclimatised to British growing conditions. This is great for our customers as our plants are less likely to go into shock when exposed to our rather varied weather conditions!

You can almost hear the peonies shooting

Thousands of potted peonies are now shooting up, sending out their delicate looking red shoots. Now’s the time to give them a little water – too much and they won’t root well, too little and the new leaves will dry out the roots. I love this time of year!

Peony Charles Burgess shooting ASB Primrose Hall Nursery  Alex watering peonies 090216


But I can’t wait until they look like this in a few months!


Peony 'Bowl of Beauty'

Peony ‘Bowl of Beauty’

Peony 'Catharina Fontijn'

Peony ‘Catharina Fontijn’

Garden Diary – Jobs To Do In Late Winter

Garden Diary – Jobs To Do In Late Winter

Isn’t it tempting at this time of year to stay indoors and dream of spring? To read your gardening magazines and plan the changes you want to make this year? That’s a very reasonable and enjoyable thing to do, but there’s also work to do outside. Here’s a reminder of some jobs that, if done now, will improve your garden no end once growth starts again.

Improving your soil through mulching

Whether you have the local heavy, sticky clay or the easier light sand, adding rotted down plant material of some sort will improve your soil and make your plants grow and flower better. It may seem contradictory, but clay soil will become better drained, and light, dry soils will retain water better. Both soil types will be able to provide a better range of nutrients (food) for your plants.

The easiest way to get this improvement is to add a mulch of material to the surface of the soil and let the worms take it down into the soil for you. If, like many people, you don’t make much of your own garden compost, then you can buy composted, shredded bark green waste, or well rotted farmyard manure. Spread compost 2” (5cm) deep between the plants, or manure 1” deep. Make sure it doesn’t pile up against plant stems. Spiking the surface of the soil with a fork to a depth of a few inches will help the worms to mix the material into the soil.

Ideally this should be done every year, but every other year will be much better than nothing. This will make more difference in your garden than almost any other winter gardening job!

Clean your empty pots

Herb pots

It’s worth washing and even disinfecting your empty pots before you use them again in spring. Soak in warm water with a little washing up liquid and some mild disinfectant if you have some (not bleach). Then scrub them clean. You might like to look on Pinterest or elsewhere online for fun ideas for labelling your pots.

Plant ties

Check that stakes and plant ties are still doing their job after the winter storms, replacing those that have broken or are worn.  Make sure they’re not rubbing through the bark, which can lead to infection and death or branches or even whole plants.


Clear out any leaves that have fallen into the pond.  If ice forms and you have fish, make a breathing hole by pouring a little boiling water onto the ice.  Hitting the ice can kill the fish.


If you have any true alpine plants (that is, the kind that don’t like waterlogged crowns or roots), protect them from water by covering them with a well ventilated cloche or by propping a sheet of Perspex or polycarbonate over them.  Winters seem to be getting wetter, so if you don’t want to have to do this every year, you may need to replace them in spring with plants more suited to the conditions.


If the weather isn’t freezing, it’s a good time to prune evergreens such as laurel, Euonymus and Viburnum, while they’re dormant.


If you store dahlia tubers in a frost-free place over the winter, check them on a dry day to see if there’s any mould. If there is, remove badly affected parts with a sharp knife and, if you have any, dust with fungicide before replacing.

Christmas pot plants

If at Christmas you had some flowering plants like cyclamen, violets or azaleas, they can continue flowering for months if regularly deadheaded and fed.  Just pick or cut off the dead flowers, as low down their stems as you can reach.  A plant’s job is to reproduce itself by producing seed – by removing dead flowers before it can do this, you fool the plant into producing more flowers!  Water in some tomato food to give them a burst of energy.



Copyright Alexia Ballance 2016

Our Plant of the Month

Dicentra spectabilis

Our plant of the month is a real favourite and is looking great on our nursery at the moment, selling well at RHS Cardiff Flower Show a few weeks ago we thought we would feature it here. Dicentra spectabilis (Lamprocapnos spectabilis AGM) is also commonly known as ‘Bleeding-heart’ and flowers throughout the Spring. The flowers are heart-shaped in pink and white, hanging on arching stems. It truly is a lovely flower. The foliage is attractive being light green and divided. It is a herbaceous clump-forming perennial, returning every year and loves a shady position in the garden and will tolerate pretty much any soil conditions once established. It is pretty resistant to pests and diseases and requires little pruning or staking. It’s really easy! The plant will grow to about 60cm high and spread to about 60cm wide. Dicentra is a plant that has been around for a while (it came to the UK in the mid 1800’s) and it is an old favourite. Another common name is ‘Lady-in-the-bath’ which seems daft until you take a flower and turn it upside down – fascinating! The plant is highly regarded and has been awarded the prestigious RHS Award of Garden Merit. We love it and we think you will love it too!

Look out for Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’ which has white pendant shaped flowers, Dicentra spectabilis ‘Valentine’ which has red and white heart-shaped flowers and Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’ which has gorgeous golden leaves and pink/white heart-shaped flowers that will really brighten up your garden.

Buy this plant NOW!

Planning a Garden for Retirement

Planning a Garden for Retirement

As you grow older it makes sense to plan a garden that will cope with the downsides of aging so that you can continue to enjoy it and not have to work quite so hard to keep it up to scratch.  At the same time, one of the pluses of retirement means that more time can be devoted to creating the garden you’ve always wanted.

Look for plants that are easy to look after and that stimulate the senses.  Bright colours, strong scents such as herbs and different foliage in dramatic shapes and sizes provide a contrast for failing eyesight and a weakening sense of smell.   Contrast the planting between light and dark as your eyes start to fail so you can see where the edge of the border and path is and use strong colours such as hot yellows and reds to help with this.  In particular look for vibrant Crocosmia George Davison, or Liatris spicata, even marigolds and the long-flowering and colourful Coreopsis grandiflora ‘Sunray’ and, of course, lilies.

Raised flowerbeds give character to the garden, are kinder to aching backs and can be used for vegetables or flowers. View your garden in retirement as a journey.  You may start with vegetables in these beds but, in time, they can also be turned over to less intensive usage such as shrub borders which will supply regular flowering all year round.

Wider paved paths – not gravel – with gentle curves are low maintenance and easy to get around.  Gravel requires raking regularly to keep it weed-free which can be time-consuming.

Adding seating areas in different locations is not just kinder on the eyes they also enhance your enjoyment of the garden and provide regular resting spots. Include wider edging of raised beds or ponds so that you can take a break and perch there to enjoy your plants or fish more closely without having to bend down.

Ponds and water features are also excellent in retirement, providing interest and variety. Add flowers that attract wildlife too such as Lavender and Sedum matrona for bees and Buddleja ‘blue chip’ for butterflies.

As you age, it is wise to reduce the amount of lawn in the garden and increase paving areas, adopting gently sloping paths as they are easier to maintain and better for mobility.  That said, if viewing a verdant green lawn is your pleasure, then stick with it.  A lawn is still a great economic and forgiving surface – even in drought – but edge it with paviours or natural stone so that the mower can go straight over the top and you avoid the need to clip the edges.  Locate these seating areas so that they have a clear view of the wildlife and then create activity areas with bird tables and bird baths, feeders or coconuts.

Lighting is not just an aesthetic but an essential feature, especially as you age making it easier to get around. It also extends the garden’s use allowing it to be admired from within the house at night-time and even highlighting the wildlife in the garden at night.

It’s important to make sure that there’s plenty of shade as well as sunny areas in the garden as we are less tolerant of heat as we age.  Cultivate trees and bushes add a pergola or create a shady cool area for hot uncomfortable days with the use of plants in cool blues, purples and whites to sit and read and do the crossword.  Bushes and tree requiring little attention include viburnum bodnantense Dawn, box and Lonicera lemon beauty and great small trees such Amelanchier canadensis or Prunus subhirtella Autumnalis rosea

Drought tolerant plants will also make the garden easier to maintain. Look out for the almost totally green Euphorbias, grassy santolinas or hydrangea petiolaris.  Don’t forget alpine and low growing plants which often don’t grow too big and which will flower for ages providing they have plenty of sun and well drained soil. Look out for Erodium bishops form, Primula auricula or sedum voodoo.

If one of the joys of retirement will be time spent with grandchildren, you may wish to create special areas for them. Open spaces whether paved or lawned are perfect for outdoor games or for erecting climbing frames or trampolines.