From Smethwick to Knightsbridge

I mentioned salmon pink geraniums in a children’s book in a recent blog post and have found a reference to geraniums in another work of fiction. In Gail Honeyman’s ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’, the eponymous heroine visits her friend Raymond’s mother in a suburb of Glasgow: ‘We approached the front door and I noticed that she had red geraniums in window boxes. I find geraniums somewhat unsettling; that rich, sticky scent when you brush past them, a brackish, vegetable smell that’s the opposite of floral.’ Unlike Eleanor Oliphant I am not unsettled by geraniums, or more accurately Pelargoniums, but I agree the scent of their foliage is most distinctive.  I would however apply Eleanor’s description to the aroma of tomato leaves which for me summons memories of my maternal grandfather’s greenhouse in Smethwick which was always packed with tomato plants. Another of his horticultural passions was growing the pillowy red and yellow annuals Calceolaria, which are no longer fashionable. My only attempt at following his example and growing them from seed came to nothing, but I intend to sow the dust like seeds again next year (Suttons Seeds’ Calceolaria ‘Sunset Mix’) and shall hope for more success.

This post is a hotch potch of topics, reflecting the state of mind in which most of it was written a few days ago, jangled after a break in at home. One of the recommended deterrents is to plant something spiky around the perimeter of the garden. A friend who kindly carried out some urgent repairs for me in the garden suggested a thorny and prolific rambling rose to cover the trellis atop the fences. I have started researching potential cultivars and am deliberating between two. Rosa “Rambling Rector’ has thorny shoots and sprays of small white flowers which I can see would complement the two climbing roses which grow up the wooden archway at the entrance to the seating area in the sunniest corner of the garden: Rosa ‘Blush Noisette’ and Rosa ‘White Star’. But I am also tempted by the open and pollinator attracting white flowers of another rambler: Rosa ‘Bobbie James’. Both can grow to 25 metres: enough to protect at least two boundaries!

One of the climbing roses I just mentioned, Rosa ‘White Star’, grew tremendously last summer. It has glossy dark green leaves and open ivory blooms. Touching wood as I write this, it also appears to be resistant to disease. It gleams in the dusk of a summer twilight and is graced with a strong perfume.


When I visited the Faringdon Collection at 28 Brompton Square in Knightsbridge a couple of weeks ago, I was interested to see the different window boxes around the square. I was dismayed to note the plastic box ‘plants’ (in both ‘hedge’ and ‘ball’ form) on display at several properties, but when I noticed the parched brown remains of a blight affected box hedge in one of the window boxes, I began to understand (though not condone) the owners’ rationale in installing such monstrosities. Another house sported a prickly affair of cactuses and succulents which was certainly eye-catching, and perhaps protected from frost in this central London location.


The most attractive window boxes were outside our destination: immaculate white pelargoniums. This was not surprising given the high standard of horticulture at Buscot House in Oxfordshire, the National Trust run property owned by Lord Faringdon. A visit to his London home to see part of his art collection (£10, booking required) does not include a visit to the garden but there is ample opportunity to survey its  symmetrical design from the upper windows of the house. One of my favourite places in the house was the ‘Gazebo Room”, decorated with a trellis design and comfortably furnished with two chairs and an elegant writing desk overlooking the formal garden. Of the two garden sculptures visible from the house, one, a stylised figure of a young man, came from the Commonwealth Institute.

It was a wet and gloomy November afternoon, but the strong structural design of the space remained evident. An arcade of green metal arches draws the eye along a brick herringbone path to a small classical statue. To one side of this is an area of low growing box balls of equal size clustered at the foot of a smallish tree, almost naked of leaves: a Mulberry?

On a balcony at the front of the house I noticed two fleece covered containers. I learnt from the caretaker who showed us around, that the pots contained Agapanthus. In such a sheltered location I would not have thought such a precaution necessary, but the neatly fleeced and pegged structures were themselves an intriguing feature.


Next time: I plant winter themed containers for the front garden and recall a winter visit to the High Line in Manhattan.


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