Hollyhocks add decadent architecture to any garden

I’m the first to admit I’m not a fan of short-lived plants. I like to plop a plant in and leave it, allowing its perennial nature to keep it growing year after year. All this annual and biennial sowing nonsense; no, I can’t be doing with that. Aside from a few plants, however. And one of these is th…

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Design With Dahlias for Autumn Colour

‘Tis very much the season for dahlias. I’m a huge fan of these blooms, though I admit, I have a slight love/hate relationship. There are a vast array of varieties in the dahlia collection, from sinewy, single-petalled bloomers to small, clump forming plants with huge, gaudy flowers. It’s the latter …

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It's time for Tulips

If you hadn’t heard, it’s September already. That means it’s time to plant bulbs for a spring show in 2015. And, if you’re stocking up, then it’s definitely time to be thinking about tulips.

I often think that tulips are one of the more overlooked bulbs. We all fill our gardens with daffs, crocus…

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An African daisy to add simplistic chic

I always feel as if some plants are vastly overlooked for tropical looking species and varieties that are new on the scene. Osteosperumum (African Daisy), for example, seems to have a new colour shade coming out every years. However, I still have an extremely strong affection for Osteospermum jucund…

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Prepare your winter garden with Sedum Herbstfreude

Okay, hear me out; Yes, Sedum Herbstfreude is an extremely common plant that may seem rather dull to you. BUT, I feel this plant is often overlooked. It has a huge number of positives; it’s wildlife friendly, it’s easy to grow, it has fantastic cover during late summer/early autumn AND it provides s…

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Create vibrant winter pots with Skimmia

Okay, I know it’s still summer, but winter will be here before you know it. I’m honestly hoping for a cold snap this year – the wet, grey winter of 2013 was horrendous; I don’t think we had even one frost in London. That’s BAD for plants – they need dormancy. And it’s BAD for gardeners – we need a r…

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Smother a rockery with thrift

I think I must’ve first come across Thrift (Ameria) when I was a lad holidaying in Scotland. Our family didn’t head abroad, but jumped in the car and journeyed to the stunning landscapes of the Lake District, Scotland and Northumberland. I distinctly remember great swathes of thrift clinging to the …

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Delve into the world of Aquilegia


I grew up with aquilegia’s in the garden, and remember being around these plants from when I was tiny. As such, I don’t really think of them as all that exciting. Many species, particularly the wilder varieties, can be fairly bland and though the dainty flowers offer a welcome treat spring…

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Prepare for bees with Pulmonaria


Practically everyone’s heard about how troubled the world’s bee population is, and as gardeners, it’s our responsibility to help these guys out a little. Though I hate wasps, I love the sound a few friendly bumbles buzzing through the foliage in early spring, and if you’re looking for a pl…

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Create a carpet with Ajuga reptans

It’s fair to say that I love this little plant and I can never understand why it’s not used more. Interesting foliage? Check. Quick growing? Queck. Beautiful flowers? Check. Yet, when I look around gardens, especially show gardens, it’s obvious in its absence. Who knows why – maybe it just hasn’t ca…

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On My Oasis – A Tale of Two Chicks

As many of you know, only one month after we moved to the new house, someone came into our garden on a Sunday night and took our chicken from the coop. I was upset, disappointed and wary of carrying on with poultry after that, but as my pair of Japanese Quails started laying, I found a little encouragement. Hubby got me an incubator for my birthday, and after a little deliberation, we decided to try out some of the quail eggs and see what happened.

I spent the past weekend camping in Suffolk sowing our wildflower meadow (post and pics to come). Unfortunately I’d timed the hatching completely wrongly, assuming quails hatched at 21 days like chickens. It’s actually around the 17/18 day mark – slap bang in the middle of the weekend we were away. I also made some newbie school-boy errors, including leaving the eggs for about two weeks before beginning incubation, not storing them tip down, and then having a nightmare with the fluctuating humidity in the incubator itself. I fully expected to arrive home either to no hatches at all, or a load of dead chicks because they’d come out too early.

Two tiny little chicks – only the size of bumblebees!

In fact, I found a bright yellow and brown mottled chick rushing around the incubator at the top of its lungs. It’s head was still a little wet so it couldn’t have been hatched for long. About an hour later, another chick pushed its way out – this time a little dark thing with bright eyes. It’s amazing how quickly they fluff up and get on their feet. I’ve only ever hatched chicks out under a broody hen before, so I’ve never had the chance to enjoy watching them in their first few minutes of life.

Both little chicks have now been moved to the brooder and I’m awaiting signs of life from any other eggs. I have no idea if they’re fertile even, so I’ll leave for another week and see what happens. Either way, there’s two new littl’uns in our menagerie, and I now know that the quails are laying fertile eggs so as soon as she starts popping them out again, it’ll be on to round 2!

With new hens coming in a few weeks, the quail chicks and the ongoing veggie growing, I finally feel that this suburban smallholding is finally getting on it’s feet.

Don’t Forget Furniture When it Comes to Garden Design

It’s RHS Chelsea this week, and anyone who’s visited the stunning event will know that alongside the planting and show gardens, it’s also the chance to drool over the vast array of stunning furniture. I don’t know about you, but when it comes to gardening I’m normally so into the plants, I actually forget about seats, tables and benches. It’s a mistake on my part; after all, isn’t a garden an extension to the home, a place to sit and relax, somewhere to entertain guests and actually enjoy some outdoor living?

In this garden from RHS Hampton Court, two benches create the perfect retreat.

I’ve been thinking a lot on the subject of late. My last garden was miniscule and given over entirely to plants with a thin, curved path dissecting the space. Could I actually just be in the garden? Not really. There was a bench overcome by ferns and a prickly rose, and a cheap pair of IKEA chairs that rocked when they were sat on. It really wasn’t inducive to life outside. So, my garden was green, but many others are the complete opposite. A number of my friends’ gardens have minimal planting but they have taken a moment to include furniture. BUT, do you actually want to be outside by the brown lawn, wilting shrubs and ornamental flowers that were never deadheaded? It seems to be time to bring both planting and furniture together for us regular, non-Chelsea showgarden, folks.

© Geoff Wakeling 2012

This wooden plinth offers some formality to the cottage-esque planting.

I’m attempting to design the new garden with some functionality in mind. The Mediterranean retreat will have a proper seating area that faces a log burner. It’s right outside the kitchen, so along with the herbs, I want a space where it’s easy to dine alfresco-style. Meanwhile, the cutting garden is to have a garden bench so that you can actually sit amongst the flowers and enjoy them. It’ll be just visible from the connecting path in the hopes that it’ll draw people through the garden. I’m also using a lot of pots in various places around the garden; partly to create some staggered height, but also to house plants that I’m already ear-marking for another move in the future.

There’s also the fact that the choice of furniture can actually have a huge effect on a garden’s ambiance and feel. Terracotta pots and tiled tables give a nod to the Mediterranean. A concrete plinth or chunk of wood cut to precision can give a contemporary edge, whilst hardwood chairs and tree-surrounds like those at Britannic Garden Furniture create that quintessential English garden atmosphere. And, lest us not forget the choice of wicker for creating a natural and beautiful cottage feel.

I don’t think I’m ever going to naturally rush to furniture instead of plants, but it is important to remember that carefully selected pieces work with planting and hard landscaping to create an overall design. So, when you’re next pottering around your patch, take note of whether you might actually need a bench for guests – or, shock horror, even yourself, to take a moment and enjoy the oasis you’ve created.

On My Oasis – Cordon’s and Cannas

What a difference some sunny drizzle makes. The past week has been a turbulent mixture of smothering grey clouds and bright blue skies, bringing much needed moisture and sunlight to the garden. It’s the time of year when things are taking off in abundance – both plants AND pests. Has anyone noted the vast plethora of green fly this year? I vividly remember a lack of these pests in 2014, mostly because I’d run out of food for my tiny baby dart frogs and was hunting high and low for a aphids. In 2015? Everywhere! And to make matters worse, I’ve only seen one ladybird larvae. I scooped it up from the soil it was rumbling across and popped it onto a rose where it began to get a huge and delicious foodie fix! Take that greenfly!

IMG_4552The first cordon…

One of the first things I did in the new garden was to get an apple tree. I’ve wanted to grow fruit for a long time, but I’ve never been too keen on actual trees unless there’s plenty of space. Luckily, Dobies had some wonderful Braeburn trees, and though not specifically grown as cordons, I was able to prune away a lot of the material and get the single trunk formation I wanted. This variety is spur-bearing, which means apples are produced on older material instead of newly grown shoots; ideal when you’re creating a cordon. Pruning trees in February/March when the first leaves have started to appear is not advisable, particularly as you’re stunting flower product and, therefore, your fruit harvest. Luckily, as you shouldn’t harvest fruit from a cordon in its first year – a step which helps boost root growth and set a good foundation for later seasons – I wasn’t too worried. Now it’s been a couple of months and I’m really happy with growth that’s appearing and have high hopes for 2016’s crop! I still need to clear away most of the bed that it’s planted in, but there’s A LOT of day lily, and I’m waiting to see what colour they are before I decide to replant or chuck.

IMG_4513The tropical bed….

Meanwhile, the tropical bed is coming on really well considering there’s only been a border there for a few months. It’s not tropical in the true sense of the word because I’m not a huge fan of wrapping plants up and moving them inside during winter – I like to work with what I’ve got. To this end, I want to create a feeling of lush tropics, rather than including a vast array of extremely delicate plants. At the moment, the ferns are uncurling, there’s a highlight of dark-leaved heuchera and the whole bed is interspersed with red and orange geums. As the year goes on, I’ll be placing out the banana plant – in it’s pot – amongst the bed and planting in the vivid dahlias ‘Arabian Nights’ and ‘Bishop of Llandaff’. These, I hope, will not only create some height but also add a little extravagant colour. Being on the budget I am – i.e. being skint – I’m also growing Cannas from seed. Yeah – they’ll take quite a few years to develop, but they’ll be mine. I wasn’t expecting a huge amount because the banana and tree fern seeds I sowed in January haven’t made the slightest movement and, like them, cannas are subject to rather erratic germination. However, the first one has popped up today after only 10 days – I’m delighted!

All in all, the garden’s coming on extremely well. There is a VAST amount still to do, and I’m hating all the bare patches of soil, especially because it’s RHS Chelsea this week. But, alas, most of us don’t have the thousands of pounds required to product an instant garden, so it’s lots of loving and nuturing care from here on in.

What’s growing on your plot or garden? Let me know in the comments!

Making the Most of Your Garden Birds

You know it’s truly spring when adverts for the BBC’s Springwatch start to appear. In fact, the majority of those spring months have actually passed  before this event starts, but it certainly gets everyone’s minds back to British wildlife. It’s easy to forget about wildlife as the warmer weather appears; harsh winter’s naturally cause us to spare a thought for the creatures battling to survive the cold. But, as spring arrives and our lives become busy, our garden’s inhabitants get forgotten.

It’s fair to say that most birds can do without us. It’s easy to romanticize that Mr Robin, who’s sitting on your garden fork and warbling away, is desperately needing worms. Actually, he’s taking advantage of you – he’s an opportunist; why seek out grub when you’re doing the hard work for him? If you disappeared, he’d be quite able – though possibly not as happy – to look after himself and his family. But it’s a treat to watch the birds, and there’s nothing quite like working away in the garden with a few birds fluttering around to make an afternoon, so we continue with the rosy ideal.

In general, if you feed birds during the winter, it’s a good idea to be consistent around the year. They’ll come and go of course, not always requiring the food you put out, but by establishing a food source, you’re saying ‘when times get tough, come here and there’ll be food‘. A sudden cold snap in early autumn can be devastating to birds, but if you’ve created a sanctuary for them, they’ll know where to come.

Vine House Farm have created a great little video with all the information you need to keep the local feathered population healthy and fed. Growing up in Clopton, Suffolk, I remember our feeder absolutely smothered in chaffinches and greenfinches; a sight I’ve never seen again. I love tits, robins and blackbirds, but there’s something exciting about seeing something a little special – though, my old London garden did have a pair of resident wrens and blackcaps. Our new area has a VAST number of cats, so I’m not sure encouraging birds into the garden is a great idea. Still, if I’m truly going to be a happy gardener, then I do need Mr Robin singing me along, more for my benefit than his.

On My Oasis – A Tale of Petals and Peas

Oh, I have to say, I like this non-allomenting lark. I had an allotment for many years but I just couldn’t get into it. Despite what many people believe, I’m not really a sociable person. This, combined with the fact I had to actually travel – albeit only about 15 minutes – to my allotment, meant that it was all too easy to put it off; mañana, mañana, mañana! So, when I moved to the new house, I made the conscious decision to create a vegetable garden out back. Funnily enough, I was actually offered a plot at the allotment near the new house from my friendly neighbours but, alas, there was concern I couldn’t take it on AND do my own garden. I’m glad those concerns persisted, because a ‘no’ to the allotment has meant a ‘yes’ to growing at home.

The Vegetable Patch

The chard seedlings are emerging.

There’s something extremely satisfying in pottering. I get home after work, patter down to the greenhouse – waving at the aviary finches as I go – and water, check my seeds, pull a few weeds out and tend the vegetables. This isn’t possible with an allotment. It’s like the gym; you’ll say you’ll go, you even pack your bag, but you never actually get there.

With the warm weather of the past few days, everything’s whooshed up. The broad beans and onions in the no-dig bed are faring well, and I’ll planted out a couple of spinach plants and the peas because I was running out of room. I’ve kept some pots of both back, just in case there’s a frost that does damage, but so far, so good. In the greenhouse, the three varieties of tomatoes have that blissful smell when you brush against them, the chard seedlings are coming up and there’s a couple of gourds awaiting a mound of horse crap to thrive in <- I haven’t managed to get my hands on that yet.  My leek seeds were too ancient I think, as none of come up so, even though it’s a bit late, I’m going to pop some in. The speedy salads are also coming along well, and every time I potter, I can’t help but munch on a few fresh mustardy leaves.

The Ornamental Gardens

A beautiful geum flower enjoys a ferny backdrop.

Meanwhile, the ornamental gardens are coming on nicely. It’s a little higgledy-piggledy at the moment, partly due to the no-dig vege plot having to go into an ornamental bed this year, and partly because I haven’t yet got the planting correct. The Mediterranean garden looks a bit barren as the verbena and lavenders I have are rather small. However, the echium is flowering and the jasmine is starting to send out tendrils across the fence. Meanwhile, the cutting garden is less ‘cutting’ and more ‘lets just put all these random plants here’. Well, it’s working for now. The fern garden is coming on beautifully though, with those fresh green fronds uncurling and making the perfect backdrop for the geums. Later in the year, the banana and canna lily pots will be going into that border from some tropical inspiration. And, by next year, I hope to have foxgloves throughout too, so springtime will give a woodland vibe, turning to a more tropical ambiance later in the seasons.

In the greenhouse there’s delphiniums, dahlias, hollyhocks, cosmos and nicotiana on the go to name but a few, so lots of potting up and nurturing to do!

What’s happening on your oasis? Any plants being champions this spring? Let me know in the comments!

A Wildlife and Flower Meadow is BORN

wansteadI have to say a HUGE thank you to all you wonderful gardeners and donaters out there. Though we didn’t reach the funding target for the wildflower meadow project, we did get enough money to start the field. That’s a big accomplishment, so I’m over the moon.

What is this project?

The project was first conceived back in January when I realised there was no point waiting to get things done; especially when it comes to growing. Any reader of this blog will know I’ve got a deep-seated desire to return to our family farmland in Suffolk, build a house and work the land as a smallholding. That’s years off because I just don’t have the money. However, with the land just sitting there, I wanted to do something of significance NOW. 

The wildflower meadow project will see 2.5 acres of fallow farmland sown with a wildflower meadow mix especially created for heavy clay soils. I have to say an additional thanks to MAS Seeds ltd (meadowmania.co.uk) who’ve also donated some extra seed for our project. If you check out that link, you’ll be able to see the various plants being sown, including the iconic corn poppy, beautiful cowslips and the Ox-eye daisy.

When’s the project begin?

We started fundraising back in February. Unfortunately I didn’t read the smallprint (oops) and wrongly thought donations could be received after our funding period ended – even if we didn’t reach our target. Oops again! However, you can still donate if you want, but you can’t do it through our Indiegogo page any longer.

If you’d like to pop us some cash for additional seeds and trees (a later woodland-boundary-extension project) just pop the money via Paypal to user geoff_wakeling(at)hotmail(dot)com with a subject of Wildflower Meadow.

Now we have the seed, the field will be sown later this month! I’m seriously excited! So check back for photographic updates and, once again, THANK YOU!

Welcome to The Guide to Gay Gardening's new look!

Living in the grey smog of London utopia, I forge my little existence in a slightly loopy, hermity, hippy manner, sharing my life with the hens, cats and other menagerie that have somehow taken over my life.

If I'm not enjoying the great outdoors with my netbook in hand, I'll be snipping, pruning, planting, cutting, propagating, shovelling, or just plain admiring. You can even catch the occasional glimpse of me on the TV now and then!

Take the weight off for a while. Sit back, relax, read, send me feedback, but mostly just take a moment and look around you.....mother nature is beautiful.

Geoff Wakeling

Mail Me: geoffwakeling(at) theguidetogaygardening(dot)com
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