Earlier this year the RHS launched Greening Grey Britain, a campaign to tackle the sprawl of paving and concrete in our cities and towns.

Most of us know that planting in built-up areas improves air quality, helps control temperature extremes, reduces flash flooding, increases wildlife habitats, and aids our mental and physical wellbeing.

The RHS website (and magazine The Garden) has some great stories and useful tips to inspire us all. Design ideas, planting suggestions and advice for people wanting to get involved in a community project.

The aim is to transform 6,000 grey spaces into living planted places by the end of 2017. You can pledge to plant a tree, shrub or climber, a whole flower bed, or simply a window box or pot.



I’m so taken by these tulips! I’ve not grown them before.

Meet Tulipa ‘Monte Carlo’.



And Tulipa ‘Princess Irene’.



They are brightening up my spring garden, while others are more subtle. Hellebores.


Brunnera macrophylla ‘Hopley’s Gold’.


And masses of blossom on the apple tree.


I’ve just been reading a great article by Carol Klein (Gardeners’ World Sept issue), called ‘Autumn planting for wildlife’.

Rather than leaping straight into the need for pollen-rich plants, she opens by talking about soil, which along with air and water ‘is the giver of life in our gardens’. When I studied horticulture, one of the modules that interested me most was soil science. Understanding what goes on beneath the surface is the first step in creating a garden that is low maintenance, fruitful, beautiful and wildlife-friendly. Feed the soil and the soil feeds the plants.

The article includes other useful tips: Don’t be too tidy, as piles of twigs and rotting wood can shelter hedgehogs and frogs. Think about ground cover planting, which not only looks great, but keeps the weeds down and provides vital habitat for insects. Ensure pollen and nectar is available for as much of the year as possible. Use a variety of flowers to attract a diverse range of insects. Include trees and shrubs to provide homes for bees and birds.

With a small town garden like mine, gardening for wildlife means making thoughtful use of the available space. Alongside Carol’s article is a useful feature with practical suggestions for smaller spaces, based on Thierry Suzanne’s East London terrace which is small, but awash with wildlife. And there’s another article on how to make a pond.

We have a bug hotel and a small pond (both created by my young son), a tree stump, rotting logs and piles of twigs. We have a compost heap, water butt and a policy of adding organic matter, barely digging, mulching and avoiding chemicals. But we certainly haven’t yet found a balance of nature – not helped by having two prowling cats which deter birds and frogs, which in turn means a prolific slug and snail population.

I don’t know whether I’m actually a lazy gardener, but I welcome the idea of working with nature, rather than trying to control it. I’m not striving for anything like pristine and perfect. What’s great about a wildlife-friendly approach is that it also results in a more productive garden and much less time spent weeding, watering and worrying.

Still, there’s a lot more I can do. So now when I’m thinking about filling gaps and replacing failed plants, I’ll make choices that combine good design, good horticulture and good for wildlife. And in the meantime, this autumn (perhaps during Wild About Gardens Week which starts tomorrow!) I shall be mulching to improve soil structure and nutrients, keep weeds at bay and reduce the need for watering, and boost next year’s plants and wildlife.

Wild About Gardens Week is organised by the RHS and The Wildlife Trusts to encourage gardeners to think about helping pollinators over autumn and winter.

It’s been a mixed year for fruit and veg in our garden. It’s early September and I’m still waiting for my tomatoes to ripen. I’m growing Gardener’s Delight, same as last year, but this year I’m awash with unripe fruits. And I still have a cupboard full of green tomato chutney from last year.

And I have not a single apple on my tree this year.

On the plus side, though, highlights have included loads of delicious figs – the best year yet. And masses of runner beans (I’m expanding my repertoire of runner bean recipes, it’s surprising what you can cobble together!).

Cucumber, potatoes, lettuce and courgettes have also been good. And we have a pumpkin ripening nicely, ready for Halloween.

The raspberries have not only coped with being replanted (to improve air circulation and access for harvesting), but have been prolific for months, and we had more blueberries than we knew what to do with (the surplus is in the freezer). The blackberry bush was also moved, and is taking its time in establishing itself – not too much fruit this year, but plentiful new growth for next year.

Almost everything in the garden is grown from seed, without the use of chemicals or slug pellets. This means that some is lost, but by planting a bit more than is needed, there’s enough for us and for the creatures of the garden.

Varieties that have done well and that I’ll be growing again next year are:

  • Cucumber: Vega
  • Potatoes: Rocket, Charlotte and Maris Piper
  • Blueberry: Berkeley
  • Fig: Brown Turkey
  • Raspberries: Redsetter, Glen Ample and Autumn Bliss
  • Runner beans: Celebration
  • Courgette: Venus
  • Pumpkin: Jack of all Trades

My last post was in praise of the purples and whites around my garden – the precursor to a bold end to the summer.

I’m delighted that it’s bright, vivid colours that are singing out now – some planned, some not. This Californian poppy (Eschscholzia californica) has self-seeded and spills over the path. I love the way it nestles up to the Lavandula angustifolia ‘Imperial Gem’, which is still in flower (unlike other varieties I have).


I’m a big fan of Crocosmia and have the very popular ‘Lucifer’ as well as this lovely ‘Gerbe D’or’. Crocosmia can spread – mine hasn’t yet, as this is only my garden’s second year, but I’d welcome it filling out a bit more, so I can dot it around other bits of the border.


One of the other bright-lights at the moment is Rudbeckia fulgida deamii, which will be in flower for a while yet.


There are still plenty of warm purples, particularly from varieties of Sedum. This one is ‘Carl’. For the first time this year, I cut back my Sedum (can’t remember exactly when, I think late spring) to encourage more flowers and to prevent them from flopping from the centre.


The Sedums are great for wildlife, as are Anemones. I have five varieties around the garden, but my favourite is the classic Anemone hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’. Beautiful.


I’m not a big fan of pastels in the garden (or anywhere else really). I prefer strong, vivid colours, especially reds, oranges and (some) yellows. And plenty of greens.

At the moment, however, although you still won’t find soft creams, delicate pinks or dainty shades of pale blue in my garden, you will find a fair amount of purple and some lovely crisp whites.

These Allium sphaerocephalon have been a fantastic surprise. They have only just come into full flower, much later than most other Alliums. The heads are fairly small, about 3cm, and the stems are thin and long (mine are 80cm). I have them in a pot, so I’ve moved them to the patio where they’re in view all the time and look great against the lush green Fatsia japonica leaves. I love them and so do the bees and hover flies.


Also loved by insects, of course, is Verbena bonariensis (I have the usual tall ones, but also the ‘Lollipop’ ones which are half the height – the two look great jumbled up together).


And Salvia nemorosa ‘East Friesland’ (starting to look a little crispy now – it’s been in flower for weeks).


Brightening up my shady border, Astrantia ‘Buckland’ – this is probably as close as I get to pink.


And I love this Solanum laxum ‘Album’ which is starting to clamber along the fence.


We’ll have a riot of hot colours soon – Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ and Crocosmia ‘Gerbe D’Or’ are on their way and Rudbeckia fulgida deamii won’t be far behind.

Spring has sprung and gardens are starting to pop with colour. Flowers are a huge joy at this time of year. But leaves shouldn’t be overlooked, for their colour, form and texture.

Current stars include Epimedium, Heuchera and Pulmonaria.





And young foliage on shrubs such as Nandina and Photinia.



Acer and Cotinus.

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Some lovely effects can be achieved by combining different shapes and shades, providing masses of variety and delicious colour, even where there are no flowers in bloom.




When planning for year-round interest, we often look at flowering times. And when devising colour-themed borders, we have petals in mind. The effect of foliage can be over-looked.

I love a spring garden that’s more reliant on leaves than flowers. It’s a great warm-up act for the summer floral explosion that’s around the corner!