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.

The Language of Plants – Part 1

There  be rumblins on social media, just for a change, and not just about European breakfast or why Orange is the latest must have colour in the USA, but why we still use Latin in horticulture. More to the point how it’s use is alienating new gardeners because they don’t understand it’s frightening, elitist, antiquated ways.

I absulutely understand the reluctance of some, but I still think there is a case to be made for keeping and championing the current system. So over a few posts, in my own way, I’m hopefully going to put forward my own case.

For or many years I ran a club in a primary school teaching all things horticultural. In fact ‘Horticulture’ was one of the first words they learnt, it comes from the Latin words ‘Hortus’ meaning garden and ‘Cultura’ meaning to cultivate, and I felt it summed up what the club was all about. During the term time they would learn about different types of plants and seeds, how to grow them, propagate and prune them. We looked at soil science, composting, crop rotation and pest control. And yes these under 11’s got to grips with Botanical Latin.

The thing about Botanical Latin as its often refered to is its not all Latin, there’s a pinch of Ancient Greek, a smattering of Persian and a hint of ego. So what are the objections to using It in Horticulture?

1) It’s frightening. Is it though, I find tall buildings, sitting next to learner drivers and snakes scary but I’ve never had a nightmare featuring Latin Plant names. What is scary I think relates to number 2).

2) It’s elitist. Nobody likes to be made to feel stupid and there is a tendency to be a bit sneery when it comes to pronunciation. If that’s you stop it, nobody likes a smart arse. For instance I’ve been told off for my pronunciation of Hemerocallis in the past, mind you I’ve been told off for lots of things. I’ve always known it as hemero-callis, but have been told it should be hem-er-okal-lis with all the syllables running into each other, like an Ibix skipping over boulders. So who’s right, to be honest I don’t know. However I do know that Hemerocallis comes from the Greek ‘hemeros’ meaning a day and ‘kallos’ meaning beauty and that Polly Maasz, grower of unusual and rather special Hemerocalis, doesn’t take issue with my pronunciation. Also I can’t help thinking a gardening code which means I can converse with any Hort, anywhere in the world, with words we both understand is far from elitist, it’s actually universally inclusive.

3) It’s antiquated. Absolutely right, but there is a good reason for combining ‘dead’ languages in science. Language is like a river running through time, it’s constantly picking up influences as it flows, evolving and leaving behind the evidence of ancients in literary ox-bow lakes. An ancient or dead language will never alter, it’s meaning will always stay the same, so *Systema Naturae written in 1735 could still be read and understood in 2735


*Systema Natura written by Swedish botanist, zoologist and physician Carolus Linnaeus introduced Linnaean taxonomy (now known as binomial nomenclature) as a way of grouping living things in a consistent scientific way.





It’s a good life

We humans are multifaceted beings and I am no exception. I rather think of myself as having a practical nature but a romantic soul, if you like part Margot part Barbara. For those of you watching TV in the 70’s you’ll get the reference for anybody else you’ll have to search “The Good Life” on YouTube.

For most of the year these two sides of me rub along quite well, one side saving me from flights of fancy and the other reminding me that it’s not against the law to add a bit of sparkle. However when it comes to Christmas I often unleash my inner Barbara. Like the year I decided to make everybody chocolates, Cherries steeped in Brandy, covered with ganache and dipped in dark chocolate. By the end of it the smell of chocolate made me truly nauseous and my father managed to find the only cherry I’d forgotten to stone. It might have been at that point my inner Margot pointed out Thorntons would be a great deal easier and probably cheaper.

Then there was the year I decided diddy cakes would be a fabulous idea. Or the Christmas I thought making miniature fruity gins and vodka would be fun. To be honest both years had Margot and Barbara wanting to lie down in a dark room.

And so to Chrismas present, Barbara had decided it would be everso jolly to add home grown to the home made Christmas fare. Margot ruefully reminded her of the time they’d felt like exhausted elves by Christmas Day and a compromise was reached. Barbara would supplement Margo’s purchased presents with a home made gift, likewise food for the table. And so as I type Barbara’s stock pot of home grown vegetables is bubbling away on the hob and Margo is wondering if it’s time to go to the pub yet.



No matter if you’re a Barbara, Margot, Gerry or Tom wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Problem Solving

Problem solving is an everyday part of a job, any job, not just garden design, and so it wasn’t unusual to have a phone call last week asking for my help. It went a bit like this……

“Hi I’m a bit worried about one of my trees, it’s changing colour”

‘Right, do you know what type of tree it is?’

“No, could you come and look at it and tell me what’s wrong?”

Well I’m always happy to help, and having established that it wasn’t a deciduous tree (I have had enquiries at this time of year about yellowing leaves) I booked a visit into the diary.

Well the tree in question is a form of  Cupressus and it was indeed yellowing. It was also listing in the fashion of a first year student during Freshers Week and possibly like said first year is only partially upright as it is slumped against a handy nearby tree, in this case a rather sad looking Sorbus.

At at this point I can’t see the base of the tree, so I’m thinking about all the possible rots and fungi that could cause problems with the roots. Sometimes you just can’t tell what’s caused a tree to keel over but it does help when choosing a replacement so as to avoid planting something that may also be susceptible.

As I clear away the carpet of ivy, looking for bootlaces in the soil, I’m also wondering if whatever’s caused this sad demise might spread to other surrounding shrubs and trees. After a thorough investigation I haven’t found signs of honey fungus but I have worked out what the problem is.

It’s not a problem I’ve ever come across before, one that obviously occurred at the planting stage but happily isn’t going to cause a problem when we come to replant, which is a relief.

Probably best to take it out of the pot before planting

I havent been able to find the Latin name for this affliction but my lovely reader if you should know please feel free to enlighten me.


Malvern Spring 2016

Every year the Show Gardens at Malvern Three Counties get better and better and this year was no exception, with five out of the twelve being awarded well deserved Gold Medals.

Two of the biggest Gold medal gardens were opposite in style. The first of these two having a loose mix of the formal and natural with a relaxed languididy and the second being most definitely a representation of control and formality.

Vergette Ltd Garden Design Malvern Wedding Garden 2016
The Garden of Romance – Villagio Verde

Once again Villaggio Verde brought a little slice of the Med to Malvern with their Garden of Romance. The edged beds filled with roses and lavender, although formal in design, were soft enough to blend seamlessly into the informal shapes of the surrounding trees and shrubs.

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Reflections of Japan

Even if you weren’t in possession of a catalogue, which I wasn’t at 7.30 am, there is no denying where Peter Dowle and Richard Jasper found their inspiration. Perfectly executed and like the garden before making very effective use of the borrowed backdrop of the Malvern Hills. I may not have adequately captured in the picture one of the things I particularly liked here, however, look closely and there is a mix of both reflective and rippled water.

Vergette Ltd Garden Design Malvern 2016 UCARE
The UCARE Garden

Another garden making the most of reflective water was raising awareness for The Urology Cancer Research and Education charity or UCARE. Large pots of Tulipa ‘Caress’, which feature on the Charity’s logo, were used to good effect as focal points.

Vergette Ltd Garden Design Millefori Malvern 2016
Millefiori ‘A Garden of a Thousand Flowers’

Now I have to be honest, I didn’t take the time to count, but, I wold think this garden features significantly more than a thousand flowers. Inspired by a glass work stud found amongst the Staffordshire Hoard, the jewel like colours echoed the glass of the gazebo above.

Vergette Ltd Malvern 2016 Primrose
Time is a Healer Supporting Primrose Hospice

More jewel like colours again, this time in the garden designed as a space for bereavement counselling. I’m not a 100% convinced by the colour used in the central sculpture but it would certainly brighten up a grey day.

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The Sunken Retreat

More colour in the Sunken Retreat, and yes green is a colour often overlooked in a garden despite it being the the most prolific. The background colours of bronze and green being echoed amongst the blocks of planting. I wasn’t sure I felt that this was a retreat, it seemed to me a brilliant space for socialising and a great party space with the central fire pit.

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The Low Line

A different angle on formality was shown by The Low Line, one of the Three Festival Gardens, although a similar Bronze feel featured, this time with accents of blue and grey from the planting and composite decking.

Vergette Ltd Malvern 2016
Hidden Gems of Worcestershire

Blue grey again in the Hidden Gems of Worcester garden in the hard landscaping, which was a work of precision. It cannot be easy fitting a square peg, or in this case square cut Digby Stone Slate into concentric rings, as the GK Wilson Landscaping team managed. This was softened considerably by the surrounding planting.

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The Water Spout

The last, *but by no means least, in the trio of Festival Gardens was the beautifully executed Water Spout garden. A relaxed and naturalistic garden filled with colourful shrubs, perennials and bulbs and accompanied by the relaxing sound of water from the natural spring in the garden. *It was most certainly not least as it scooped the Best Festival garden Award.

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Gardening Amongst Ruins, an homage to Capability Brown

At first glance I wasn’t convinced by the Gardening Amongst Ruins garden, but I think once you overlook the plastic pots of the roses, which were still proudly on display and suspended your disbelief to remember that at any moment an 18th century gardener is coming to move the chickens to a new site before everything in the enclosure is trashed, then it works very well. Lots of detail in the planting and a skilfully achieved bucolic feel.

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The Woodcutters Garden

Nested amongst the trees and set apart from the rest of the garden I happened across the Woodcutters Garden. It made the most of its surroundings this was a representation of the home of Angus and Poppy Rowan, characters featuring in the novel ‘The Woodcutters Story’

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Macmillan Legacy Garden

The Macmillan Legacy Garden is another rustic garden in the round, just to show how sublime all aspects of this garden were the above photo is a view of the back of the garden. I’m afraid I failed to capture the truly exceptional qualities of this garden with my snaps.

You could spend a happy half hour or so looking at the intricacies of the planting and marvelling at the attention to detail shown here. This is 2016’s Best in Show and most deservedly it wouldn’t be out of place at Chelsea.

The forecast looks set to be sunny for the weekend of the show, so you may want to find a shady cloister to enjoy your ice-cream before it melts.

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Villaggio Verde – Garden of Romance



To sow, or not to sow…Hardy Annuals

…..That is the question Hamlet might have internalised had he been a gardener rather than a disenfranchised Danish Prince. To be honest had he been slightly more interested in flowers I can’t help thinking things would have turned out better in the long run, however I digress.


Orlaya grandiflora
Saved seed

At this time of year “When to Sow?” is a question a lot of newbie gardeners are asking on social media and replies are often accompanied by lots of pics of seedling germination. However, look a little closer at these pictures, and you may notice something they all have in common – a greenhouse.

So what to do if you haven’t been blessed with a greenhouse, pollytunnel or cloche? Well you wait, you twiddle thumbs for a week or two, and what you are waiting for is for the soil outside to warm up. Now, if you’re new to gardening, the following is a guide passed down from Mater Gardeners to their Apprentices for ages past…..

Firstly, you need to be properly attired, a pair of stout boots is essential as the soil may be wet and if you’re gardening on clay a little sticky. Secondly, loose trousers are an absolute must, as will become apparent shortly, or if you’re an adventurous chap or chapess a kilt is perfect. The techniques will differ slightly depending on your choice of clothing but choose something you feel most comfortable wearing.

Once attired correctly, make your way to the area set aside as your seed bed, it doesn’t have to be huge, however testing soil is easier if the bed is at least the width of your hips. Next as is the age old tradition stand in the middle of the seed bed, feet slightly apart for balance and slide your loose fitting trousers and undergarments down your legs so they are roughly level with your ankles. (If wearing a kilt in the traditional fashion you can skip this step.) Next maintain your balance while gently lowering your posterior until it comes into contact with the surface of the soil, kilt wearers will find it necessary at this point to flick the hem of the kilt out of the way so as not to sit on the fabric to avoid a false temperature reading.

If the soil is ready for seed sowing, you will barely register a change in temperature but if the cold wet soil causes a shock to the derrière then you will need to wait a week or so and test again.

I have to say these days I prefer to be guided by the rule of thumb, as opposed to the rule of bum and now favour a second method which is to wait for a nod from Mother Nature, who better to guide you in your seed sowing enterprises that the world’s foremost gardener, let’s face it – she’s been at it for millions of years.

Allium and Lunaria seedlings
Self sown Hardy Annual seedlings germinating in the garden

So if you’re not thinking of exhibition gardening wait until you see germination happening in the garden, whether its weed seeds or self sown hardys, then you’ll know the time is right to get sowing.