The courtyard garden at Calcot Manor

Planting ideas for this year

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The courtyard garden at Calcot Manor

The courtyard garden at Calcot Manor

Silver and green foliage make an attractive winter bed

Silver and green foliage make an attractive winter bed

Plenty of greens

Although there is not yet much colour in our gardens, greens can still be used to great effect. In the first of the photos above, tubs of green hellebores make a wonderful display around a raised pool in the courtyard garden at Calcot Manor; to the left and right of the doorway on which I was standing, large sarcococca shrubs give off a lovely scent, even on a wet day. In another part of the gardens, lavender hedges surround beds that, later on in the season, will be full of flowers but even now the silvers and greens of the lavender, rosemary and senecio cineraria provide colour and form.

RHS Rosemoor

Last weekend, I visited RHS Rosemoor, which has long been a favourite of mine. I like the way the whole garden is divided into rooms that are small enough in scale to inspire our own gardens – the potager has always given me great delight with its mix of herbs, vegetables, fruit and flowers. As I wandered round, I was trying out my new I-Phone, on which I am planning to make videos this year and was delighted with the quality of the pictures I took.

A robin perched on a budding magnolia at Rosemoor

A robin perched on a budding magnolia at Rosemoor

Hamamelis mollis gives colour and scent in the winter months

Hamamelis mollis gives colour and scent in the winter months


Helleborus x hybridus comes in a wide range of colours to brighten the late winter border – new breeding has extended their flowering season

Storm Eunice has just blown through as I write. I have just done a blustery tour of the garden rescuing dustbins and watering cans, righting fallen chairs and feeling relief that there appears to be little real damage. I am already making plans for the coming season as I walk around the garden and keep adding more perennials to my list of ‘must haves’. .


An Abinger Obelisk beautifully placed in Angel Collins’ herbaceous border


Geranium ‘Roxanne’ – a good ‘doer’, almost a thug!

Cirsium rivulare

Cirsium rivulare, the wonderfully named “Melancholy Thistle’

This photograph of an Abinger Obelisk in Angel Collin’s garden reminds me of several more of my perennial favourites. I love her palette with the purple Iris ‘Deep Black’ and the crimson of Rosa ‘Dublin Bay’ providing the highlights.  More muted shades of lavender and red provide a soft echo and include several good ‘doers’ that I would recommend for any garden:

  • Geranium ‘Roxanne’ – wonderful, violet-blue flowers over a long flowering season; the plants do have a loose habit but I find that letting them grow through and over a one-ring support keeps them fairly contained

  • Cirsium rivulare, the ‘Melancholy Thistle’, is a wonderful architectural plant producing spectacular deep crimson-purple, thistle-like flowers on strong stems up to about 1.2 meters; it needs little support but I find a semi-circular support will curb any tendency to lean forwards

  • Aquilegia ‘Ruby Port’, a cottage garden classic known as ‘Granny’s Bonnet’, makes good clumps of deep red, double flowers and will tolerate partial shade

  • Nepeta, aptly named ‘Cat Mint’, is a herbaceous border stalwart. ‘Six Hills Giant’ may be too robust for many gardens but ‘Kit Cat’ and ‘Walker’s Low’ both make neat mounds with pale violet spikes

Narcissus cyclamenus

Narcissus cyclamenus ‘Snow Baby’ will be planted out in the border when it finished flowering

Violet de Provence

Author’s painting of artichoke ‘Violet de Provence’

I am watching my new herbaceous border as it begins to come to life. In the autumn I planted out some Narcissus cyclamenus ‘Snow Baby’ in pots that carry our own logo (Italian Terrace personalised our pots). Once they have finished, I shall plant them out in the borders (I always hammer a stake into the middle of the hole before I plant just to remind me where they will emerge). This week I shall cut back half of the top growth of the artichoke ‘Violet de Provence’ which grew vigorously during its first season, giving me several pickings of ‘chokes’; the strong, silver-grey leaves have come through the winter but the outer ones need cutting back. The focal points in the border are three cultivated blackberries, planted in the autumn and supported by Cotswold obelisks; the vines will start into growth in March and I hope we may get berries this autumn. The blackberries will fit the violet-blue-silver theme that anchors the border. Sage and rosemary bushes are planted between them for their lovely foliage and evergreen interest. My choices were dictated, in part, by the fact that deer come through the garden along this route and the plants must be deer-resistant – I shall keep you posted!

 I shall add punch with hot pinks and oranges – a departure from my usual muted colour palette: 

  • Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’, a low-growing, clump-forming perennial that produces soft-orange flowers

  • Dahlias: ‘David Howard’ and ‘Totally Tangerine’ (highly recommended by Sarah Raven) will give me both cutting flowers and a zing of orange along the border. I shall pop a one-ring herbaceous support over the plants just to give them a little support

  • Alstroemeria ‘Orange Glory – another reliable perennial that forms clumps over time and flowers all summer; picking seems to encourage more flowers; a one-ring grid will keep the plants beautifully upright but not too restricted

  • Salvia ‘Nachtvinder’: far from adding zing, this tiny-flowered, velvety-purple salvia is intended to give airiness as it floats along the border weaving through the more solid plants and colours

Even a cold day is cheered by the snowdrops that seem to be flowering prolifically this year; the cerise flowers of cyclamen coum nestling among their dark leaves; the Tete-a-tete narcissi braving the worst of the wind; the hellebores and the scent of the sarcococca shrubs (when it is not being blown away) and I can’t wait to get gardening again.

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