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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Guest Post – Tips & Ideas For Adding A Water Feature In A Small Garden

Water’s an essential part of any garden, whether it’s a huge expansive pond or a little fountain feature. Though I’m not wanting to build a pond in the new house, I would like to include a water feature of some kind. So, when Swallow Aquatics got in touch, I was all ears.


With Summer fast approaching it’s that time of year again when we’re all starting to think about our gardens, what we need to do to tidy away the winter debris and what we can do to make for an even better sanctuary to while away the summer evenings.

That’s right, it’s time to start investing some time into making your garden the best it can be.

So with that in mind, I thought I would talk about water features, because personally I just love aquatics and the feel that a bit of water can bring to your garden.

There are plenty of good reasons to add a water feature:

  • It adds an interesting focal point
  • Running or moving water is very relaxing
  • It adds to your garden’s eco-system
  • It attracts new wildlife, from insects to birds

But what if you have a small garden? As many of us do… If you only have a small amount of outdoor space you may think that you don’t have the space for a fully fledged pond, after all, you need to fit in your vegetable patch, a garden shed and of course somewhere to actually sit and enjoy it all!



Being Creative With Water Features

Firstly, if you want a water feature, it doesn’t have to be a pond. If your resources are limited then a simple waterfall bird bath can make a great addition to your garden. There are many powered water features which both act as a nice bird bath and provide the relaxing sound of running water all within a self contained unit. These take up little room and are a great way to start experimenting with water features. (Image credit Swallow Aquatics).




Create Your Own Fountain

Another option is to create your own fountain. There are plenty of great ideas for ways to do this and all you need is a relatively small corner of your garden, a vessel to act as the main body of water, a vessel to act as the soak-away / water-collector and of course a pond pump.

Here is a great post about doing exactly that…

The idea is simple, you dig a hole in the garden, then you get a large bucket and place it in the hole. This catches the water coming from the fountain.


Next you add a water pump and a metal pipe to pump the water vertically out of the top. Because the pipe is vertical, the water sprays gently from the top and falls back into the bucket at the bottom, creating a self-contained unit.

Next, you place a mesh trap over the hole to cover the bucket but leave the pipe protruding 2 or 3 feet above the surface.

Finally, you surround the pipe with something pretty, in this case he has used a stack of stones, but you could also use a large clay plant pot, a wooden bucket (lined with pond liner) or anything else.

Simply ensure that you set the pressure of the pump so that water flows gentle out of the pipe / pot / whatever and trickles back through the mesh into the bucket.

This takes up almost no space and looks and sounds fab.

Or Just Create A Small Pond

Ponds don’t have to be huge you know, you can create a small pond which still looks wonderful. One helpful tip is to create a formal pond (rather than an informal, or wild pond).

Wild ponds are full of plants and usually have grassy edges, but these tend to need to be bigger, otherwise you sort of lose the water for the plants. A formal pond on the other hand has defined stone edges and is more like a pool.

3Image credit Wiki Commons

In a small garden you can build a small pond using bricks, lined with pond liner and then filled with stones and pebbles to make it look pretty. You can even keep some fish if you want to, and you don’t have to give up too much space to do it!


So there you have it, water features aren’t exclusive to large gardens, you can enjoy one in your garden too. So why not make this year the year when you add some aquatics to your oasis?

On My Oasis – Addressing Height

There’s one problem I’ve always had with gardening, and that’s creating height. It’s not that I don’t know how to do it. More the fact that I never pay much attention to actually putting it into practice – it also doesn’t help that many of my beloved plants are short in their stature. However, with the break-in, alongside the need for privacy, I’m having to start thinking about creating height with a little more precision.


A lovely clematis spills into my garden from next door.

Initially, I set out to use climbers. They’re quick to grow, offer that wonderful addition of blooms and can cover all many of nasty, disintegrating fences (of which I have many and no means to actually have new ones installed). However, I have an aspect problem, in that the sun hits the left side of my garden, leaving the right side – the fence I need to cover and gain height on – in shade. It would be lovely to smother this fence in climbers but, alas, all the blooms would end up in my neighbour’s garden. As you can see, I have a lovely clematis courtesy of my neighbour! I planted a passionflower against the shed today, and a hardy jasmine in the Mediterranean garden, but they’re not going to create the privacy I want. As a result, I need to turn my attention to sturdy shrubs – and quick-growing varieties at that. I’m in a complete quandary over what to do, particularly because I can’t really use the same plants all the way down as the areas transition from the Mediterranean garden, through the fern border and into the cutting garden. Mid-way, I have my acer, callicarpa and climbing rose which will, in time, grow up and create a boundary between two of the garden rooms. This only serves to dissect the garden space though; not to provide screening. So, if you have any great ideas for creating quick, dense yet sculptural height, let me know!


The first of my marmalade geums are opening

Meanwhile, it’s amazing what a week of warm weather and a little weekend rain can do. The ferns are uncurling like nobody’s business, whilst the first geum and aquilegia flowers are now making themselves known. In the no-dig bed the onions and broad beans are coming along extremely well, and I have numerous pots of spinach and tomatoes steadily growing. Even the little cordon apple tree – despite my vicious pruning – is putting out it’s 2015 leaves.

I’m still recovering from last week’s break-in, and am up and down like a yo-yo in the evenings, particularly when the security lights flicks on – which is pretty constant because of the local feline population. I know we’ve put additional security measures in place, but the quicker those blackberry and pyracantha plants grow, the better!!


On My Oasis – A Crime Worse Than Burglary

IMG_4197I’ve been burgled before. It’s not a nice feeling; knowing someone’s been in your home, fingering and pilfering your belongings. But things can be replaced. On Sunday night, someone came into my new garden and, unable to get into the shed, snatched Charlotte off her perch as they left. She was an ancient hen; eight years old and the last girl standing from the original four I bought almost a decade ago. She didn’t lay, had experienced a hormonal change and crowed in the morning, and was a little bantam living out her retirement. As those who follows Twitter know, she almost died a few weeks ago as she didn’t like the move. But she pulled through and has been the happiest I’ve seen her in a long time over the past few weeks. And now she’s dead and in a watery chicken broth grave, no doubt.

Stealing things, is one thing, but taking animals reaches a new level of vile. I knew the garden wasn’t the most secure, and took to keeping tools inside and locking the shed. I never thought someone would take a little, scrawny, old bantam.

As many of you know, I’ve been so excited about the new garden and the opportunities on offer. Now I feel unsettled and disheartened. My focus now, after only being here a month, is on the dream home – the self build in rural suffolk. I’m sure the feeling will pass, and I do hope to get more hens, but my desperate need for an isolated small holding has become an increased priority.

In the actual garden, there’s been a few security systems planted; thorny blackberries and pyracantha along the boundaries. In the greenhouse I have leeks, peas, squashes and tomatoes coming on, and in the small no-dig bed I’ve finally got the broad beans and onions planted out. I also managed to get some swiss chard, hollyhocks and nicotiana sown today.

I shall continue, I shall march through this knock-back, but my enthusiasm has taken a hit. I feel like building a thorny fortress worthy of any fairytale and hiding away until we have enough cash to sell-up and move to the Suffolk small holding.

Friday Finds – 10/04/15

I’ve slacked at Friday Finds recently; largely because there wasn’t a lot to discover during the winter (plus the fact that I had my mind on other things). Here’s a few things I found this week;

FullSizeRenderExciting New Seeds

Marshalls have got some intriguing new vegetable seeds out this year, and I’m lucky enough to be trialling a few. So far I’ve popped in a couple of the gnarly looking ‘Knucklehead’ pumpkin, some ‘Griller Mix’ courgettes and the beautiful ‘Fenda’ and ‘Oxheart’ tomatoes, which, as the packet champions, should be more resistant to the dreaded blight than ever. I’ll be reporting back on these seeds through the season, but why not try some for yourself?








drawing-with-features-optStacks of Flavour

Suttons Seeds have revealed a new concept; Stacks of Flavour – the idea being that you grow all your lovely quick and easy vegetables in crates. Because of their size, they can be easily moved around and are ideal for small spaces. They can also be personalised, which is a nice little extra and great for gifts. I would show you my crate, complete with speedy salads, but the cat knocked it off the windowsill mid-move so I’ve had to start all over again. Pics in a few weeks, I promise!



PlantstoPlantA New Plant Website

A couple of weeks ago on Gardener’s World I spotted a plant I wanted – Verbena ‘bampton’ – and noted it down. I posted it to my Pinterest board and hubby, as I thought he might, went out and bought it from a website new to me – PlantstoPlant. I have to say, the verbena is a very good and healthy little specimen, it came quickly and I’m impressed with their overall site. Hop over and take a look – there’s a ‘special offers‘ section too which always helps.

A Chicken Coop for all Occasions

For the past few years, my hens have been housed in a stationary run; once home to my aviary birds, it became a make-shift coop when I was desperate to start keeping chooks. Knowing I was soon moving and that I wanted to return to the flight back to my finches, I started looking for a decent yet affordable coop. If you’re anything like me, you see an Eglu, breathe a sigh of pleasure and then gasp at the awful price! Most of the elaborate coops on the market are extremely expensive for what they are and, I suppose, are aimed at those with a large disposable income. Even at a few of the pet centres I visited, coops were over £100; a price that, when renovating a whole house, I really couldn’t allow myself to spend. Luckily, in swooped Cocoon…and the rest is history.

10464162_10153051904530330_3453223773300802030_nI’m seriously happy with my new coop; not just because of the price – a very pleasurable £70-odd*. Cocoon’s coops come as a flatpack, but whereas IKEA’s famed furniture sets demand specialist tools, you’ll need a screwdriver and that’s about it for this coop. It was very straight-forward to put together and, even better, it only took ONE day to be delivered – that’s what I call service. The other thing to point out was that by delivering a flatpack, products are open to a degree of scrutiny because you see every part. Cocoon’s coop was very made, with beautiful wood and perfect mesh – I’m impressed. But, down to the coop itself….

It’s a neat little design which allows ultimate ease for cleaning and access. The shelter has a ramp down to the run, with a door that can be closed from the outside – a very important feature for a moveable run that doesn’t have a base mesh guard. IF a fox manages to get underneath, the door’s closed at least. There’s also a door to the run itself so if, like me, you intend to let your flock roam around a little, letting them in and out is easy.


The nest boxes are easily accessible

Meanwhile, a metal tray collects the chicken poop from inside, which you can then throw on your compost heap, and a separate flap-up lid offers a simple approach to the two nest boxes. As an aside – having grown up on and off a farm with straw EVERYWHERE, I find it extremely painful to have to actually buy bags of the stuff as nesting material – especially knowing there’s a whole barn of it up in Suffolk. I’ve found a great alternative material is sheep’s wool. I have several friends who receive meat deliveries (think Riverfood/Abel and Cole but protein) and it’s wrapped in plastic-covered wool for insulation. It’s ideal for chicken nest boxes, soft to the touch, doesn’t get pulled out and shed everywhere, and it’s FREE. It’s also recycling, to a degree, so see if you can hold of some – it really works.


A metal tray makes cleaning extremely easy

Overall, I’m extremely happy with the new coop and my lone surviving hen is too. It’s light enough for me to drag the entire frame to a new patch of grass very easily, yet sturdy so that in the gales we had a few weeks ago, I didn’t have any concerns about it being blown over. There’s also a main lid so that should you need to access the main nesting area for a thorough clean, you can get right in there. Charlotte seems very at home, and in a few weeks time I’m rescuing some ex-battery hens so they can call it their own too. My only warning is that I bought the ‘5-6 hen’ coop and I would never house that many in it. I’ll have four at a push, and that’s with letting them out when I’m around. Just bear in mind they’re smaller than you think when you’re shopping, and buy a model that’s for more hens than you intend to keep.

I’d definitely recommend though – it’s made chicken-keeping far easier and A LOT more pleasurable.

*at the time of purchase – back in January 2015.

On My Oasis – Living and Landscaping

Good news – we’re officially moved in! I still have at least a car-load of plants at the other house, but we’re now in residence at the new house. It means the menagerie’s moved across now, including my lone chicken which – if you follow me on Twitter – you’ll know I almost died. For the first time in my life I also have a greenhouse now – Hoorah for no longer taking over every windowsill with seed-trays!

IMG_3978Greenhouse placement

I’m pretty happy with the greenhouse, particularly as all it cost me was a few hours taking it down, transporting it and then, this past weekend, fiddling it back together (it actually wasn’t as difficult as I thought it was going to be). Though it looks as if it’s at the bottom of the garden, when all landscaping it complete it’ll actually be about two thirds down. Behind the low brick wall is an oddly shaped triangle of garden. It has a robust shed and concrete all over it at the moment, but once the boundary wall has been increased in height, I’ll be taking the buildings out, smashing the concrete up and planting the vegetable patch. I haven’t the heart to take out the yew (originally I thought it was conifer and it was definitely going to go), so I’m going to cloud prune it; taking off the lower branches and shaping it into a lollipop-like shape. That will allow more light below without having to take this ancient and beautiful plant out.

I’ve taken a huge branch of next door’s sycamore tree off to allow additional light, so the greenhouse will create the perfect transition between cutting/ornamental garden and vegetable patch.

IMG_4001Lawn Shaping

Until this weekend I was still in a quandary about the lawn’s shape. Most the garden won’t be lawned, mostly for convenience but also because I just think they’re a waste of space in smaller gardens. However, what with a dog, niece and a husband that likes to lay out on sunny days, I realised something small was needed. Originally planned to be egg-shaped, with the base curling out from the path, it’s now going to be an oval with each end connecting the path to the greenhouse/vegetable patch entry. It means that I can get some large, deep beds on either side, as well as a few shallower areas; one of which will be close to the fence on the left hand side – useful for accessing the cordoned pear and apple trees that will be going in. In addition, with the vegetable garden plans delayed until next year, I’m going to create a small no-dig bed on the other side of the birdhouse. It’s an extremely sunny patch and will be ornamental eventually, but with salads, onion sets and broad beans already coming up, I need somewhere to grow food!

The lawn is also ideal for the hen coop at the moment until that, too, can be moved the other side of the wall into the vegetable area. Hopefully I have an additional 3 ex-batts coming next month so then egg production will begin again (my current hen is eight and way past her laying days), and I can move the run around the lawn, getting it mown and fertilised at the same time!

IMG_3983It feels awesome to have a lot of the groundwork done and actually have beds to plant and live with. The aviary and birds are in, and the spring air has certainly got them in the mood for nesting. The Mediterranean bed is yet to be planted, but I did find two affordable olive trees – IKEA of all places (£10 each) and they’re in two large planters in the sunroom so they can acclimatise properly. I also need to do some more shopping for this area – both plants and landscaping pebbles/shingle/slates for the patio area and path. I also need to come up with something innovative to do about the coal bunker – currently i’m thinking of chipping out holes and planting it up with succulents.

I’ve also started planting out a few cheap purchases (The Range is AWESOME for this), so I’ve got a couple of begonia’s for the sun-room, five dahlias and some gladioli for the cutting garden and a few white agapanthus bulbs for our Mediterranean retreat.

This isn’t the forever home so I’m trying to restrain myself from over-spending – particularly on plants that wouldn’t easily be moved. However, there’s no way I can’t garden for the next seven years, and what with the progress so far, I hope I can complete this oasis before we move on. Then the process will start all over again….but that time we’ll be in our dream location and can build a garden that’ll last the rest of our lives.

What did you get up to this Easter weekend? Planted ornamentals, veggies? Let me know!

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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