The not so Secret Seed Club

I remember way back when, which is something of a miracle considering the amount of trivia now stored up top, how I used to look forward to letters from a pen pal. That’s something that dates me, life before email, text, snapchat and Instagram where if you got caught on the landline by your parents it was always ‘its ok they called me’. Correspondence with my school friend wasn’t a weekly or monthly thing, just when something of great importance happened. On Friday I was reminded of these letters when I found a hand written envelope with a proper stamp nestled between a brown HMRC envelope and one from British Gas.

Given that day’s post I saved it for later

The Seed Club for Ethnobotanical Explorers is the brainchild of Ethnobotanist extrodinaire Emma Cooper. At this point it is possible that you may be asking ‘What is an Ethnobotanist?’ Very, very simply Ethnobotany is the study of how cultures across the world have accumulated knowledge about the use of both wild and cultivated or domesticated plants. So anything from Aztecs and potatoes to Native Americans and their Three Sister growing techniques, it’s not just about food though but plant medicines, shelter, clothing and tools. Fascinating stuff just ask Emma, no really, please do as my explanation is very limited.

Happily for anybody reading this I’m on much firmer ground on my understanding of The Secret Seed Club. It is essentially the same as a magazine subscription except this is a subscription to Emma’s Patreon blog. For a monthly subscription of $10 (which is roughly £7) you get access to Emma’s planty blog posts, her book posts and the surprise seeds once a month (if you’re in the UK). The seeds arrive alongside a potted plant history and growing guide wth useful information, in this case the contrary nature of Agretti germination.

If you want to find out more about Ethnobotany and Secret seeds you can find Emma on her blog The Unconventional Gardener

Winter Gardens

I started writing a blog post, got a bit bored and checked out twitter instead. I wish, and you may also wish, I hadn’t. The social media we make for ourselves usually coincides with our work, our aspirations, people who make us laugh or make us think. So it should come as no surprise my twitter timeline is jam packed with horticulturalists and gardeners.

Over the last few weeks it’s been a visual assault, starting with the apparent need to make orange great again, closely followed by multiple pictures of purple plants. Then red plants and flowers got in on the action with a hashtag. Today apparently had to be cheered up because multiple photographs of a Summer Garden will stop us feeling Blue.

Enough now, please!

Gardening is seasonal, life is seasonal, so shouldn’t we take the now of life and celebrate it a bit more. The winter garden has subtlety and beauty that is all it’s own, you may have to look a little harder and plan a little smarter to benefit from it, but it’s there. Low winter light is a bit of a pain, in that it shows every mucky watermark on your windows, but it also picks out russets, golds, greens and silvers perfectly.

As a designer winter is a perfect time for planning and implementing a new garden. Yes we start to think about spring bulbs in September and right now in the depths of winter we are all about planning for summer bulbs. But it’s also the season for bare root hedging and perennials, soups, stews, root vegetables, winter woolies, waterproofs, open vistas between deciduous trees, guilt free biscuits hidden beneath layers (refer back to winter woolies) blue skies, frosts, rest and taking stock. Don’t wish away the year, revel in its uniqueness and look harder for its beauty if at first you can’t see it. For those that seek, the rewards are out there.

Shy Oaks

Example of Crown Shyness in Oaks
Crown Shyness

Well lovelies, it’s been rather some time since we last got together on the blog, how the devil are you all?

Like a good swathe of the country we have been enjoying a splendid snowfall. I say enjoying, I know it makes travel, work and school difficult, but from an aesthetic point of view it has brightened a dark and gloomy run up to Solstice. I still have a child like delight when it comes to snow and this year, unlike others, it came on a Sunday which was most considerate. No panic about the commute or how to get the children to, or from school, and, as I can work from home (plus said children are now at Uni) even a snowy Monday could be enjoyed rather than endured.

Originally I had thought this post would be wordless in a Wednesday kind of way, however when I was looking through the numerous pictures I’d taken over the last few days this one perhaps deserved a little explanation.

On the one hand, it’s just a group of oak trees, lightly dusted with snow against an almost azure blue sky, clinging precariously to the ridge of a hill. Nothing much needed by way of an explanation there, on the other, it’s an example of Crown Shyness*. Not the finest example you’ll ever see (to actually get directly beneath them I would have had to be a mountain goat with crampons) but an example none the less.

When we talk about Crown Shyness, it has absolutely nothing to do with a suited and booted actresses meeting her future in laws for the first time, but, a phenomenon occurring when tree crowns avoid touching or overlapping their neighbours.

Nobody seems to know why it happens, although there have been various theories in the last 100 years, from self pruning where branches rub together, the effects of differing light levels within the canopy and evolved self preservation to prevent the spread of parasites and diseases travelling from crown to crown. The only things I concluded from looking at this particular group of Oaks is that they seemed to be the same age, rather beautiful and probably just do what they do with no regard to the inquiring minds of humans.

Oaks in the snow Ankerdine
Gratuitous Oak in the snow picture

*also described as Canopy Disengagement, Canopy Shyness, or Intercrown Spacing.

My Garden Right Now

I’m rather ashamed to admit to missing #mygardenrightnow back in June, apologies to the rather marvellous Michelle of Malvern Meet and Vegplotting. I did have a garden, in actual fact I had two. One at home getting on with things, in a somewhat abandoned, wild and woolly fashion and one at RHS Chatsworth. That one being primped and cosseted with extreme care and tenderness to within an inch of its leaf.

Moveable Feast Show-garden at RHS Chatsworth designed by Tanya Batkin for Vergette Ltd Garden Design
Our Garden right then – RHS Chatsworth

My own garden right now resembles a twenty something clubber returning home in the dawn hours, slightly rough around the edges but still ready to party on.

Vergette Ltd Garden Design Gone to Seed
Crocsmia Lucifer looking a bit seedy in a sculptural way

Case in point with Lucifer gone to seed with the surrounding Symphyotrichum laeve about to come into its own and carry on partying into the Autumn.

Vergette Ltd Garden Design No time to relax
Clematis at rest

The garden seats haven’t seen much use in recent months, but this somewhat neglected Clematis has taken advantage in the manner of the aforementioned slightly exhausted reveller.

Rosa glauca in all its Autumn finery with glossy red hips
Hips of Rosa glauca backlit by Hellianthus

Rosa glauca doing its Season of Mists and Mellow fruitfulness thing, with the thicket of Helliantus bringing up the rear. *Note to self a spring cull is in order

Autumn colours in a Hereford designed by Vergette Ltd Garden Design
Parrotia persica starting the Autumn ball rolling

It may not be officially Autumn but the Persian Ironwood has its own ideas and dances to the beat of its own drum.

Hide ‘n’ Seek

There is a certain softness and a hint of romance to this subtle combination I feel. With any other flower these almost cobalt blue Nigella can be retina burningly bright, but here, combined with Digitalis trojana there’s just enough undertone of grey to calm and soothe.

Self sown Nigella with Digitalis trojana also known as the Helen of Troy Foxglove Vergette Garden Design scheme
Digitalis trojana nestled in a sea of Nigella

I’ve been growing this particular Nigella for nearly 15 years, the foxglove however is a more recent introduction having purchased the seed at RHS Chelsea Flower Show a couple of years ago. It’s a combination likely to be repeated next year if I let the Nigella self seed, actually I always let the Nigella self seed so…..

A beautiful time

Tulip 'La Belle Epoque'
Tulip ‘La Belle Epoque’

I am trying very hard to love this particular tulip. Named after a period in French history between two wars, the end of the Franco-Prussian War and the outbreak of World War I,  ‘La Belle Epoque’ is much raved of in the land of social media and the tinternet.

The colour is described variously as coffee mousse, caramel, dusky rose…….

Image searches turn up the most glorious array of photographs with the feel of an Old Masters oil painting. I rather liked the notion of a 3D Old Master gracing one of my spare pots. I have watched and waited in anticipation as the first spikes of green gave way to fat buds and held my breath (poetic licence) as they began to open.

I have to say my disappointment at the distinctly orange petals is now giving way to a slight feeling of revulsion as they become distinctly Salmon Pink. My only hope is that they will fade in the most glorious fashion that is the way of tulips, to achieve those mousseline caramel tones I was hoping for. Until then I am constantly reminded of a most traumatic decorating disaster which left us with walls the colour of Seafood Sauce.



Visitors to this blog will be aware that the garden at home is not something that ever really features in the posts. There are lots of reasons for this but the main one is, just like a million and one other people, our garden is personal and private. We don’t open to the public and it isn’t the subject of this blog, until today.

So why the change of heart, well should you follow Michelle Chapman aka @Malvernmeet you might have noticed the above hashtag in her timeline this weekend. The #MyGardenRightNow project was born after a TV company got in touch wanting Michelle to advise a couple on how to grow vegetables, a great opportunity, but sadly the researcher expected a burgeoning mid summer veg patch at the start of March. Michelle’s good but without the aid of a sonic screwdriver or hogwartian time turner not something that was realistic.

You can read more about the project here

So here we go, a little tour of My Garden Right now…..


Mo Veg Fedge

Scene of last Summer’s bean (Phaseolus coccineus), tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) and annual flower fest,  now home to an over wintering smorgasbord of self sown hairy bitter cress (Cardamine hirsuta),  foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) , marigolds (Calendula officinalis) and other lovelies. For those of you with an enquiring mind “Mo Veg Fedge” is a Modesty Vegetable Hedge who’s creation was necessitated when the existing hedge was rejuvenated resulting in mahousive gaps.

Hot Spot

Just past the Mo Veg Hedge on the opposite side is one of the hottest spots in the garden. South facing and slightly sheltered it benefits from a microclimate  generated by the central heating flue. All of the above pots will be destined for our garden at RHS Chatsworth if they perform on time, there are plants in them honest, but you know it’s still only March.

Oakey woodlanders

Moving on to the path past the Oak (top right of the hot spot pic) this is pretty much North Facing and gets very dry and very dark at the height of summer. We don’t bother collecting the leaves in Autumn they hide the straggly old leaves of the Primroses and assorted ferns rather nicely. This part of the garden is home to Cyclamen, Primroses (Primula vulgaris), Ferns (mostly Dryopteris species), Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea f. albiflora) and a few Crocosmia (nope no idea how they got there but they seem happy enough) There may be a mid season cull of Dandelions (*Taraxacum officinale) and Wood Avens (Geum urbanum), or not, they might just be deadheaded instead.

How much for a Helebore

The farthest point of the garden from the house where once was a wild scape of brambles, docks and Christmas Tree dens is the newest planting. A bit of experimental planting (shocking wind eddy in this part of the garden) which will be developed over time but currently contains Hellebores, Epimediums, Cyclamen, Nigella and others all snuggled up under a toasty blanket of Lesser Celandines (Ficaria verna)

Midden Bed

Moving back up towards the top of the garden is the Midden Bed so called because it hides the concrete septic tank in the middle of the lawn. It’s one of the last parts of the garden to be tidied up in Spring as I’d rather look a a bit of natural decrepitude than a concrete poop bunker, call me old fashioned if you must.

Odd pot spot

Another pot spot but being North/West facing it’s the coldest spot in the garden, perfect for holding things back, should you need to, and also tends to become temporary home to the odd ‘Where should I put that’  impulse purchase.

So there you have it warts, weeds and (**nearly) all of #MyGardenRightNow



*Possibly Taraxacum officinale or Taraxacum vulgare all I do know for sure is the bees like them and they seed around the clock just like any other Dandelion.

**well a girl’s got to have some secrets after all 😉

Message in a Tiny Bottle

Algerian iris
Iris unguicularis

In Greek mythology Iris was one seriously multitasking Godess.

Meaning “rainbow” in Greek,  Iris was one of the goddesses of sea and sky serving as a messenger to the Gods. She was also known as the personification of the rainbow and served as a link between human kind and the Greek Gods.