Sunday, 4 November 2018

Garden Group Pot Luck Lunch - 30 October 2018 - Making a Winter Container

Now the skies are getting greyer and the garden is short of colour it is a good time to brighten things up with winter containers either in pots for the terrace or troughs for window-sills. 
The principals will be the same whichever type of container one uses. I am doing something simple with easily available plants at this time of the year but one can have fun doing more imaginative things and also prepare something festive for Christmas.

Choosing a container.

Terracotta or wood are probably best as they are not as cold as plastic . To help with insulation one can line the inside of the container with sheet plastic remembering to make drainage holes in the bottom. 

Pots standing on the ground are better raised up with terracotta feet, wood blocks or flat stones, this lets air circulate and raises the container from the cold ground also helping drainage.

In the bottom of the container put some crocks, stones or pieces of polystyrene to help with drainage.

Make a mixture of potting compost and grit .

If using bulbs in a mixed arrangement put a layer of this in the bottom of the container.

Having worked out a selection of plants, arrange them in the container and note spaces around them for the chosen bulbs, in this case small daffodils tête à tête and purple and white crocus. 

Remove the plants and place the bulbs in desired position and then fill the container to within 5 cm. of the top of the container. Now dig in your plants being careful to avoid the bulbs and fill soil firmly around them. Place the container in position and spray lightly with water.

Choosing Plants.

When choosing your plants remember that they grow very little in winter so have them big enough to make an impact.

Look for plants with complementary colours, interesting blends of leaf shapes and textures and have height variations. On the other hand one might want to make a splash  of colour with one type of plant such as cyclamen, pansies or polyanthus.

The plants  used were in the bottom layer Crocus and Narcissus 'Tête à Tête, then after another layer of earth in the middle at the back a bright green Chamaecyparis for height.  It should have been a taller specimen but unfortunately could not be found, then the rest of the trough was filled up with Pansies and Cyclamen finishing off with ivy lin the front, hanging over the trough.

For a different look instead of the Chamaecyparis a red Cordyliine and then fill up the trough with deep pink heathers, silver leaved Senecio and Calocephalus 'Silver Bush\.

If you are doing a round container and it will be against a wall put the tallest plant at the back, but if it is open to view all the way round put the tallest plant in the middle and arrange shorter plants around it.

Remember to place the container where it will get the best of the winter light.

The plants will grow slowly and do not need feeding as this would encourage new growth which would be soft an susceptible to frost.

Check soil regularly and water carefully neither over or under watering.

As plants grow remove dead stalks, leaves and flower heads.

Remember that many of the plants I will list can grow on in the garden after the winter container is over.

When planting it is a good idea to put your container in a tray. When filling up with earth the spillage will stay in the tray. 

List Of Suitable Plants

Bulbs and Corms
Tulipa 'Red Riding Hood'

Narcissus, small (like Daffodil tête à tête), 
Muscari ( Grape Hyacinths),
Scilla bifolia or similar small varieties,
Cyclamen coum
Anemone blanda
Tulipa, small tulip varieties.

Flowering Plants

Ajuga reptans 'Atropurpurea', the leaves of Ajuga come in green or reddish tints

Viola, Pansies large or small varieties
Ajuga reptans
Glechoma hederacea 'Variegata' ( variegated ground ivy) 
Ophiopogen nigrescens
Helleborus nigrum

Small Evergreens

Calocephalus 'Silver Bush'

Erica - Heathers
Nandina domestica
Skimia japonica
Gaultheria procumbens
Calocephalus 'Silver Bush' 


Festuca glauca

Festuca glauca


Hedera, various


Asplenium scolopendrium

Polypodium vulgares
Asplenium scolopendrium
Polystichum setiferum.


Salvia officinalis 'variegata'

Salvia - Sages (variegated) Parsley
Rosmarinus (rampant)
Helichrysum - Curry plant  

Ornamental Cabbages.

Presentation, text and photos by Mavis McQuade
Some photos from the Web

Monday, 22 October 2018

Jardin de la Graviere, Pierrefeu-du-Var, 25th September

Driftwood Horse

Text by Sue Spence
Photographs by Gilly Phillips

Our visit to Jardin de la Graviere, Pierrefeu-du-Var on 25th September on a glorious sunny afternoon was the last for 2018 and turned out not to be a gravel garden (Graviere was the name of the area, not the type of garden!).   Quite the opposite, it was a haven of green spread over 13,000 sq.m. in what had been a corn field when the owners (Alain L’Honoré, professor of Physics, and his wife Francoise, hospital theatre sister, both now retired) bought the house in 2000.

 Initially they kept horses there and as the number of horses reduced, the garden grew larger (or was it the other way round?) and now it is all garden and no horses.   The boundary of the plot was planted up first and the large pond dug out.  They received the status 'Jardin Remarkable' 18 months ago.

Victoria amazonica, a water lily that can be 3m in width on a stalk of 8m long.  Native to tropical South America.The genus name 'Victoria' was given in honour of Queen Victoria. 

Nymphaea 'Blue Beauty'

Metal Heron Sculpture

An enviable difference between gardening on the flat and in the hillier areas of the Var is the absence of hidden rocks.   In Jardin de la Graviere they were able to simply dig the hole and plant, whereas elsewhere in the higher areas of the Var it is all about compromise.

Dasylirion acrotrichum, native to Mexico

Corymbia ficifolia, Eucalyptus family

Corymbia ficifolia, Eucalyptus family

Where you wanted to spend max 30 minutes planting your latest purchase turns out to be an all afternoon exercise wielding a pickaxe to remove what now transpires to be a metre square rock!   At which point you give up and plant it one metre to the right or left;  a couple of years later you wonder why the plant is mis-placed by one metre, start moving it and re-discover the rock!

Cycas revoluta, originally from Japan/South-East Asia

Hedychium coronarium

Add to that the natural water lurking beneath 2.5m of fine earth and then a layer of shale with the result that huge mature trees turn out only to have been planted some 15-18 years previously.
One member remarked “there are no weeds!”   No, because where there is planting there is  professional pepiniere-strength weed suppressant membrane pegged to the ground with crosses cut through which to insert plants which is then covered by mulch, gravel or stones to retain moisture (the L’Honorés have a mulcher and, of course, they have several stands of bamboos whose leaves make a great mulch).

String of dried flower pods

Alyogine (Hibiscus) huegelii (Mavaceae family), I think. The leaves that are visible are deeply lobed like they are for the Alyogine.  The summer heat must have caused the leaves to drop.  A plant will always try to flower as a last resort to form seeds for the next generation.

The visit ended up by the entrance gates in the totally shady fernery with a great collection of New Zealand tree ferns amongst the ferns.   It was a strange sight to see such a wide verdant selection of healthy plants in deep shade, a tribute to the green fingers of Professor and Mme. L’Honoré.
The garden is described as a “botanical garden” but also has intriguing objets and sculptures from the Far East and Africa together with wonderful driftwood sculptures scattered throughout the garden which include a wooden Catherine wheel which turned out to be a cut-off tree stump positioned vertically so I will let the photos do the talking.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Return visit to Les Confines, Noves, 25 May 2018

Four years later and we were making a return visit to the gardens of Les Confines, south of Noves in the Bouches des Rhones, since 2015 in the ownership of Andrew Trotter (British).   In 1990, this bare 20-acre field with four trees, a large farmhouse and a barn was bought by architect Bruno Lafourcarde and his wife Dominique, an artist.   He renovated the house, she designed the gardens.

Set in the flat plain of the Durance valley, the house had no view so Mme. Lafourcade created a view from the deep gravelled terrace the length of the house with its lily pond created from the foundations of the original barn.

Two different views of the lily pond with the garden stretching out beyond

A central rill flanked by a line of huge terracotta pots planted with olive trees each side of the rill. Next to the terracotta pots, a parallel line of topiary in the shape of semi circles on a square base. Viburnum tinus was used for these large shapes, native and very suitable for our climate.  This again was bordered by high yew hedges.  A sense of perspective is created by newly planted, clipped  Quercus ilex ( Evergreen/Holm Oak) at the end of the central part.

Terracotta pots planted with olive trees in the background 

To counteract the fierce mistral wind, individual “rooms” are surrounded with high hedges.   Andrew Trotter told us that when Dominique Lafourcade owned the house the gardeners were not allowed motorised tools to cut the hedges and it would have been wonderful to have seen the face of Serge, the gardener, when he was presented with a can of petrol and a selection of motorised garden equipment!

A good view of the yew hedge and recovering buxus, previously attacked by the box tree caterpillar.  This Asian caterpillar made its appearance for the first time in 2005, when it arrived in Germany with imported Buxus (Box) from China.

A trellis on either side of the central part is made up of Wisteria and Vines, underplanted by Iris, Nigella, Aster, Hemerocallis, Petasites hybridus (overgrowing areas in the shade) and Perovskia and many more in the different seasons.

From the trellis walk, one of the areas you come to is the pool area which used to have an African theme.  On the wall near the pool house are some African heads sprouting green leaves.  This is very cleverly done.  The shrubs, Viburnum tinus are planted on the other side of the wall and then led through a hole above the heads to form the hair (foliage):

A tree house at one end of the gravel terrace leading to the Buxus garden

It is always fascinating to hear the history of a garden and house, and the story of the 2015 purchase of the property will surely be entrenched in the annals of the history of Les Confines.   Andrew Trotter was one of two final offers under consideration for the purchase of Les Confines and he was summoned to a meeting with Mme. Lafourcade who asked what his plans were for the gardens.   “To replace trees where necessary, add a tennis court and an arboretum.  The other hopeful purchaser, a German whose offer was higher than Andrew’s, was asked the same question and he immediately said “remove all the hedges and create a huge lawn”.   Predictably, his offer was not accepted!

There are several play areas for the children to enjoy.  Last Easter each of Mr. Trotter's 4 children was allowed to choose 2 chickens, an interesting variety of what they chose is now present in the chicken coop.

At the far end of the garden

The pond with Ligustrum lucidum in the background

One of the areas to be replanted was the rose garden (enclosed, of course, by a wall and high hedge), where all the roses except the two climbers were removed and replanted with bare-root repeat flowering David Austin roses.   The roses were so well established it was difficult to believe that this had only been done 18 months ago.

 A wrought iron pod planted with Erigeron karvinskianus

Little of the garden has changed from the original design but at the entrance to the house and tucked close to the boundary hedge in what had been rough grass parking area, a tennis court has been built with classic square black-painted metal posts topped with round balls (the attention to detail extends to the black fruit cage netting used instead of the usual chainlink fencing).   Time will tell whether it will survive the rigors of children using it as a climbing wall !   The old parking area is now mown and a grassy mound sits in the middle – the result of Andrew’s reluctance to part with €2,000 to remove the earth excavated during the creating of the tennis court - a miniature piece of Dorset in Provence.

The garden is full of topiary and evergreen hedges.  For low hedges Lonicera nitida as well as Rhamnus alaternus has been used 

For larger topiary shapes, Viburnus tinus.

For evergreen hedges Taxus baccata (Yew), for deciduous hedges,  Corylus avellana (Hazel) and Carpinus betulus (Hornbeam).

Text:  Sue Spense
Photos: Mavis McQuade

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Visit to the old Ellen Willmott Boccanegra garden in Ventimiglia - 27 May 2018

In the late 19th century, early 20th century, it became popular for wealthy people to own properties in southern France, from Hyeres to Liguria in Italy.  The temperature in this area very rarely drops below zero.  They were keen collectors of exotic plants for which they needed a warmer climate than northern Europe. Boccanegra was one of these gardens, closely associated with the plant collector Ellen Willmott.  Mavis has written a detailed account of Ellen Willmott further down the blog.


'The garden group headed for Italy on Friday, 27th April, blue skies all the way, and the Villa Boccanegra, now re-named Villa Piacenza Boccanegra for the family who now own it,    Finding the villa was not easy (Google maps, get your act together) but we were warmly welcomed by owner Ursula Piacenza who sat us down in her living room for a fascinating summary of the history of the house and its owners.   Stepping out onto the terrace overlooking the steep wooded sloping ground down to the sea gave no hint of the terraces with their rich, historical planting". Unquote 

A bit hard to see,  a peachy coloured rose called 'Senateur La Follette' over the years has made its way to the top of the tree.  To achieve this effect the rose and the tree  have to be planted together at the same time.

Rosa Senateur La Follette

The orchid 'Dendrobium' in the pot on the terrace.

Mavis wrote:

Ellen Willmott, 1858-1934

Elllen Willmott was one of two great women gardeners of the 19th century. She was the eldest of three sisters born to a wealthy businessman. The whole family were keen gardeners and the father decided to move the family to Warley Place, a large country estate in Essex, from where he could commute to London.


On her seventh birthday her Godmother gave her a cheque for 7,000 pounds, a great deal of money in 1863. This was the beginning of Ellen's lifelong passion for gardening spending and building up of her incredible knowledge of plants. On her 30th birthday the family went on the grand tour of Europe and shortly after she and sister Rose went to Europe again, her younger sister having died of diphtheria. During this visit she fell in love with Le Chateau de Tresserve near Aix-les-Bains in France. She inherited money on the death of her father plus Warley Place, plus money from her Mother and her childless Godmother.

Her sister now being married and living on the other side of England, the wealthy Ellen "took the gardening world by storm" joining the RHS and becoming a committee member, joining The Linnean Society and becoming a great friend of the other great gardener of the period, Gertrude Jekyll.

For Queen Victoria's Jubilee the RHS Instituted the Victoria Medal of Honour, it's highest award, for 60 horticultural greats, Gertrude Jekyll and Ellen Willmott were listed with 58 men.
Ellen Willmott , unlike Gertrude Jekyll, was not interested in garden design, that is not to say she did not plant artistically. She had a hugh knowledge of plants, growing over 100,000 of species and  cultivars of trees, shrubs and flowering plants at Warley.

Like many great gardeners of the period she desired the exotic and having visited Sir Thomas Hanbury at La Mortola on the French Italian border at Ventimighlia she bought La Boccanegra .
Sir Thomas Hanbury had just bought the land at Wisley, Surrey for the RHS's new garden. Sadly Sir Thomas died in 1907 two years after Boccanegra was bought.

With three great gardens plus travelling, committee meetings and writing, her life was an obsession of gardening. She helped finance the third expedition of the plant hunter F. W. Wilson
(Chinese Wilson) to China and for this reason there are many plants with the name Willmott or Warley after their name e.g.

Rosa willmottiae

The shrub and close up flower of Ceratostigma willmottianum

Syringe 'Miss Ellen Willmott

She is quoted as confessing to Charles Sprange Sargent, the director of Harvard's Arnold Aboratum. "my plants and my gardens come before anything in life to me, and all my time is given up to working in one garden or another and when it is too dark to see the plants themselves I read or write about them". It has been said that at this time, 1907, she employed 140 gardeners.

Slowly her extravagance ate into her great fortune and she went bankrupt. After her death at Warley in September 1934 it was sold along with many of her possessions to pay her debts.
Warley is now a nature reserve and the house is gone. Chateau Trevesse burnt down and the garden no longer exists. Boccanegra was sold several times in the last century due to the fact that each family had no heir. It is now owned by the Piacenza family who kindly hosted our delightful May garden visit.


Boccanegra is built on a slope.  Narrow paths lead down to the sea. As you can imagine if you want to take a dip into the sea it is quite a tiring exercise to get back to the house.  They have a funicular cage that goes up and down to the beach.

The tallest tree in the garden, Agathis robusta,  comes from Queensland and Papua New Guinea.  It is a pine tree. Interestingly it has  broad, flat leaves:

The two photos below and above are of Limonium sinuatum, also known as Statice or Sea Lavender, used a lot in dry flower bouquets.

A bit hard to see, the blue spikes of Echium fastuosum, native to Madeira.  We have our own Echium, in northern and southern Europe, Echium vulgare, not so spectacular though.

Echium vulgare

Arbutus andrachnoides, with an attractive peeling cinnamon-brown trunk and branches.  Family of our Arbousier, Strawberry tree.

Two strikingly pink flowers, a geranium with 4 petals and Geranium maderense with 5 petals.

 Senecio glastifolius

The flower looked very much like a Hawthorn flower, the leaves are pinnate, Osteomelis schwerinnii

Photos: Jacqueline Hodkinson, Mavis McQuade, Isabel Pardoe and the web.

Bibliography:  The Web and Jane Brown's biography of Ellen Willmott.


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