Rolling along within the walls

After a few months lying dormant, having been cleared, weeded and mulched, the four beds which occupy the centre of Osterley’s Tudor Walled Garden are beginning to be planted for this year’s display of edibles and ornamentals. On 8 March gardener Ed rotovated the plots and the Friday team of volunteer gardeners raked the surface with landscape rakes to create as fine a tilth as possible. The next step was to even out the surface still further using a faded green garden roller, the ‘Ogle Roller’. This venerable machine was made in Derby at the Castwell Foundry but I’ve not been able to find an approximate date when these might have been in production. We discovered that it is easier to pull not push a garden roller on soil and that it required two of us to keep the roller steady and the lines straight, as well as achieving a neat turn at the end of each row. The latter involved a tricky manoeuvre where the two barrels of the Ogle came into play, with one remaining stationary and the other turning to help swivel the roller to a position alongside the previous ‘stripe’.

While we were occupied with this task, colleagues erected the hazel pole bean supports. Whilst the Climbing and Runner Bean plants will not be planted for a few weeks, we did plant a couple of dozen Broad Bean plants. These are the first of numerous vegetable and salad crops being raised from seed to be planted out when both weather and soil are a little warmer.


As an experiment this year, on 22 March one of the walled garden’s plots was sown with ‘green manure’ seeds. In 12 to 14 weeks’ time the plants will be chopped down, dug in and the bed planted with crops in the cabbage family for harvesting during next winter. The plot was first divided off into four triangular sections the interior of two of which were sown with Alfalfa and the other two with Purple Clover, with Black (Japanese) Oats being sown along the intersecting lines.

Whilst this part of the garden looks slightly bare at this time of year, these preparations are the foundation of the second of Osterley’s three garden zones. The Osterley garden is virtually divided into three principal zones, both for seasonal interest and to make it as easy as possible to manage with a small workforce of one Head Gardener and two full-time gardeners, albeit supported by a large team of volunteers. From now until mid-summer the first zone or Mrs Child’s Flower Garden (about which more in future posts) will dominate the scene. The Tudor Walled Garden will be at its height from mid-summer to October, followed by the third zone, the Winter Garden.

I shall plot the progress of the planting in the Tudor Walled Garden in this blog over the coming months.



Springtime showtime: Amelanchier lamarckii

Bird feeder support, squirrel roost, canopy for tiny woodland garden area: the one tree in my small garden has multiple functions. And for one week every March it stages a show which rivals the pink Magnolia in a neighbouring garden. The tree is an Amelanchier lamarckii. Its bare wood borne buds are already limbering up for the opening in a few days’ time. The elongated bud clusters have rotated to an almost vertical position, the individual flowers visible within silky pink and green flushed cocoon-like structures. Sadly this show always has a short run despite universally appreciative reviews. But the delicate bronze leaves which follow the flower show are also attractive and birds love the small black fruits which emerge during the summer before the foliage reddens for another short lived display in early autumn. Both flowers and leaves succumb to the strong winds which can occur in late March and late September weather.

A. lamarckii photographed on 14 March 2019

As well as accomodating three bird feeders and a hanging bird bath, this versatile tree provides a perch for the small birds visiting the feeders such as Blue Tits, Great Tits and Goldfinches as well as those waiting to fly down to the feeder on the ground nearby: Blackbirds, Robins, Wood Pigeons and Dunnocks. The tits also nibble the invertebrates to be found in the tree. In August the pigeons lumber clumsily about the branches in a variety of ungainly poses, reaching for the tempting black fruits.

It must be about 16 years since I planted this tree, as a replacement for a rather untidy Euonymus which was here when I came to the house. I remember driving home from Syon Park’s garden centre with the young tree taking up most of the car and praying I would not be stopped by the police. I bought a tree stake and support from the nursery on the site of what is now Petersham Nurseries, and a few years ago was able to remove it because the strong trunk had pushed the support away, rendering it redundant.

Seen from an upstairs window, Amelanchier lamarckii in the foreground prepares to upstage a nearby Magnolia.

Amelanchier lamarckii is named for Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829), a French naturalist who took up botany and zoology after a military career. He is best known for his contribution to evolutionary theory, making him a precursor of Charles Darwin. I was intrigued to read that in 1790, at the height of the French Revolution, when he was keeper of the herbarium of the Royal Gardens in Paris, he changed the garden’s name to the Jardin des Plantes, which did not imply such a close association with King Louis VII. As well as my beloved tree, Lamarck’s name has been applied to other plants including species of foxglove and evening primrose. A honeybee and numerous marine organisms also bear his species epithet.

Like the plant featured in my last blog post, Sorbaria sorbifolia ‘Sem’, A. canadensis is a member of the rose family, the Rosaceae. One of the common names for A. lamarckii is Snowy Mespilus and when it is in flower it does look as though it has been sprinkled with snow. Mespilus is the botanic name for the Medlar tree, also a member of the extensive rose family but Amelanchier is a distinct genus in its own right.

When I was in Kew Gardens earlier this week I went to see if another member of the Amelanchier tribe, A. canadensis, had started to flower and found it at a similar stage to my tree. These are dense, erect, suckering shrubs which when in flower form a magical grove to the north of the Waterlily House.



The grove of A. canadensis in Kew Gardens on 18 March 2019

Amelanchier lamarckii is an ideal tree for a small garden. It grows to between eight and twelve metres, although mine seems to be happy to remain at approximately six metres. Its small leaves almost dissolve into the flowerbed below in the autumn and apart from having to sweep them off the yard beside the house are not the nuisance some larger trees’ leaves can become in smaller gardens, for example Sycamore. I can’t wait for my specimen to reveal its spring costume and perform.

A. Lamarckii photographed on 22 March: flowers poised to open


Sem and Armand

Until the end of last week, each time I glanced through the living room window into the garden, I wasn’t entirely happy with what I saw. Despite regular tidying, trimming and weeding since the start of the year, the end of winter garden looked a little unloved. But two elements have now combined to present an altogether more pleasing aspect.

The first of these was the application of four 50 litre bags of well rotted manure as a thick mulch. This should have been done in February before the herbaceous perennials began to emerge but I was able to work around the few that have already emerged without causing any damage. The dark material has had a unifying effect on the garden by highlighting the woodland plants at the foot of the only tree, an Amelanchier lamarckii, about which more in a later blog as well as the plants which line the gravel path leading around the little rectangular pond to the seating area beyond a wooden archway.

The second element which improves the appearance of the garden at this stage of the year is the rapid eruption into growth of one of my favourite small shrubs, a species of Sorbaria. Several years ago a friend with a very grand garden in Edgbaston gave me a little rooted plantlet which immediately made itself at home in Kew soil. It has serrated and neatly veined leaves and until I started to research it for this post, I have identified it as Sorbaria sorbifolia, but I now realise that it is the compact cultivar ‘Sem’, which grows to a maximum height of 1.5 metres. The RHS describe its distinctive leaf colouring as ‘yellow-green flushed with bright reddish-pink and bronze in spring’. And it is that blend of shades which has this week brightened the far corner of the garden, in front of the bare stems of the Wisteria whose flowering spurs I pruned to two or three buds last month. Even during heavy rain earlier this week the vibrant ‘Sem’ has shone out, a beacon of light on a dreary day.

In summer it will bear frothy spires of small white flowers which remind me of Aruncus and Astilbe, but for me its foliage is its best characteristic. That and its willingness to sucker freely meaning there are always new plants to give away or introduce into Weeds Roots & Leaves’ planting schemes. Last autumn I took several cuttings and I’m thrilled to see they have all taken.

Sorbaria sorbifolia ‘Sem’ is a member of the rose family, Rosaceae, so it is appropriate that one of its neighbours in the garden is the climbing rose, Rosa ‘White Star’, which I am encouraging to wind around one pillar of the wooden arch. Implementing the advice given by Osterley Head Gardener, Andy Eddy, in his recent rose pruning and training session for volunteers. I have trained the stems to twine in as horizontal a direction as possible although in reality they are on a diagonal leading upwards. Even before leafing and flowering I believe the plant looks tidier and more elegant.

Another star of the garden this week is Clematis armandii. Rescued from the sale table at a garden centre three years ago this is its first year to flower profusely. It has produced a mass of large ivory star-like blooms above its clusters of plump rosy buds. I’m not a fan of its leathery evergreen downward hanging leaves which always remind me of washing on a line, but the beauty of its fragrant flowers this month outweighs such reservations.

Garden Ode: horticulture meets Hamilton

The last time I received feedback in verse was in the form of a poem in praise of the Victoria sponge in one of the cafes at Kew Gardens! That was several years ago so it was a delight to hear from the client for whom I completed a new front garden planting scheme a couple of weeks ago that her husband had celebrated the new garden by writing a poem. They have given me permission to reproduce the poem. To set the context, the garden was a birthday gift to my client. The brief was to come up with a scheme that would be magical, as one might imagine The Hobbit’s garden, with something of the traditional style of a National Trust garden and a Farrow & Ball influenced colour palette.

The L-shaped plot included a generously proportioned corner section into which I planted a multi-stemmed birch: Betula pendula ‘Jacquemontii’, under-planted with pastel shaded Digitalis purpurea ‘Excelsior’, blue flowered Geranium ‘Philippe Vapelle’ and the silvery foliage of Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’. Along the front and side of the already beautifully laid out driveway with its variety of complementary surfaces, I planted Philadelphus ‘Manteau d’Hermine’ for its summer scent and white petalled flowers, a fluffy headed Pennisetum villosum and in the shadier section of the beds, the Hard Shield Fern, Polystichum aculeatum. Evergreen structure is provided by blue-flowering Hebes and Skimmia japonica ‘Kew White’. Verbena bonarienis will sway above the low wall surrounding the border and the cottage garden feel will, I hope, be enhanced with the blue bell-shaped flowers of Campanula persicifolia.

I also planted two hanging baskets for the front door porch with trailing ivies, Helleborus niger, Periwinkle and Grape hyacinths.

As for the form of the poem, my client’s husband is an admirer of the musical ‘Hamilton’ with its hip-hop style lyrics composed by Lin Manuel-Miranda. So with grateful thanks to my client for the commission and for allowing me to reproduce the poem and to its author Dan Coles, here it is:

Birthday Garden poem

Every garden has its beauty and its contradictions
Katrina gave us one that takes our favourite floral mixings

With borders brick the trick is truck the soil and toil the peat on
Then hanging baskets mask the house with colour schemes repeat em

We wanted Hobbit themes with trees and plants and teeming grasses
National Trust we must or Farrow flavours in their masses

Upkeep must be low and crucial parking unaffected
With blues and purples purposely procured and pre-selected

It’s for a birthday so the cost it cost was not an issue.
Just hand the invoice over with a smile and box of tissues.

So thankfully Weeds Roots and Leaves delivered to the letter
Even the Virgin TV cable looks a damn sight better

Birds can now perch on a new Silver birch
And a fern at the turn and the lavender works

And the weeds will recede for the seeds we decreed that we need and stampede into bloom.

This one’s for you!


Dickie’s Border

My last blog post included a reference to a clock and ‘Tick Tock’ is the nickname of the gentleman after whom a very imposing border in the gardens at Osterley is named. Dickie Denton was a gardener at Osterley from 1948 who lived in a flat in the stables, a short distance from the border, and looked after the clock in the stables.

In this brief image-based post I share images taken last Monday 25 February of a few of the shrubs featured in the middle tier of the planting scheme in Dickie’s Border.

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ : Winter daphne
Rhamnus alarternus ‘Argenteovariegata’: Italian buckthorn


Arbutus unedo f.rubra:  Pink strawberry tree
Teucrium fruticans:  Tree germander