Poppies to remember

Last weekend I was in a pretty gloomy and soggy London for the day.  We made a quick diversion to go the Tower of London to see a really inspiring installation of ceramic poppies which is taking place at the moment.

Blood swept lands and seas of red

It’s called ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ and was devised by artist Paul Cummins, with the setting created by stage designer Tom Piper.  It’s a very powerful work – in my opinion.

Marking 100 years since the the first full day of Britain’s involvement in the First World War, starting on 5th August this year, ceramic poppies have been planted in the ground by volunteers, and the moat has gradually filled up with a sea of red.  The aim is to plant a total of 888,246 poppies by 11th November (to mark the day the war ended in 1918).  I saw images of the installation in the early stages on the internet, but it really is an amazing sight to see in person if you can get there, especially now as the moat fills up.  My photos, snapped on my phone, really don’t do it justice.

Tower of London poppies

And when you think that every poppy represents a British military fatality in the First World War, it makes it all the more poignant.

The ceramic poppies are on sale to raise money for 6 service charities and with the aim to raise millions of pounds it’s definitely a worthwhile cause.  Plus it’s not everyday you can add part of an art installation to your garden – enough to brighten any gloomy day!  Check out the Tower of London website to find out more.

Tower of London remembrance

Fabulous plants for October

As the days grow shorter and things start to wind down in the garden world, there’s still a lot to enjoy before Autumn truly kicks in.  Here are some of my top planting recommendations for October.

Verbena bonariensis
If I had a pound for everyone who has told me they love Verbena bonariensis I’d be a rich woman!  Its popularity is hardly surprising really as this is a plant that goes on and on – and on! It starts flowering as early as June, and often goes on into November. Talk about good value.

Verbena bonariensis

It’s tall (at approx. 1.2m) but one of those very useful plants that adds height and hazy colour to a planting scheme without blocking out views or becoming too dominant.   It’s also a real magnet for bees and butterflies, so it’s a wonderful plant for wildlife gardens.


Verbena bonariensis

Verbena bonariensis is the sort of plant I like to sprinkle through borders, but it works equally well when grouped en masse.   Thriving in sunny sites with well-drained soil, the lavender flowers of this Verbena are a perfect companion for ornamental grasses such as the equally statuesque Stipa Gigantea, and other late flowerers such as Perovskia and Gaura lindheimeri.  I also like it mixed with orange or red Dahlias for a real splash of vibrant late summer colour.

The only downside to Verbena bonariensis is that it’s not totally hardy (so it may need protecting in winter with mulch, and not cutting back till spring to avoid dieback).  It does seed around quite freely though, so even if you lose the original plant, chances are there’s another one popping up nearby to take its place.  If you’re looking for something shorter, then the newly introduced Verbena bonariensis ‘Lollipop’ may be of interest, standing just 60cm high.  I think the flowers are a touch more pink than the original, but to be honest it’s virtually identical – only at half the height.


Ageratina altissima ‘Chocolate’ AGM
This is a versatile plant that loves moist alkaline soil in partial shade, although it will tolerate full sun and a reasonable garden soil.  Commonly known as ‘White Snakeroot’, it is often still sold under its former name of Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’. Whatever you call it, it is an easy to grow herbaceous perennial with lovely chocolate-brown tinged leaves topped with fuzzy white flower heads that are very attractive to bees and butterflies.

Ageratina 'Chocolate'

‘Chocolate’ has a bushy upright habit (only starting to flop a bit right at the end of the season) and it grows to about 1m tall, with a spread of 60-80cm.  You will find information saying it flowers from July to September, but in my garden it definitely only starts to flower in late September and early October.  But to be honest the flowers are almost incidental – this is a plant to grow for its coloured foliage and good upright shape all summer long.

Ageratina by Firgrove Photographic

Looks great with Knautia macedonica and ornamental grasses, such as Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’.

Ceratostigma willmottianum
Few flowers have the ability to linger late into the year. But as autumn progresses the gentian-blue heads of Ceratostigma willmottianum attract butterflies in search of the last nectar before hibernation, and the foliage turns a rich russet-red.  This presents opportunities for zazzy combinations with orange-reds, such as Crocosmias like ‘Star of the East’, or more muted schemes with Aster novae-angliae ‘Violetta’, and Penstemon ‘Raven’.

Ceratostigma willmottianum by Firgrove Photographic

Ceratostigma (commonly known as ‘hardy plumbago’) is a small deciduous shrub growing to about 1m high with a similar spread, and grows best in a sheltered sunny situation, in free draining soil. If a hard winter kills the top growth it can be cut hard back and should shoot again from the base.   You can also find a spreading ground cover version of this plant in the form of the herbaceous Ceratostigma plumbaginoides which should be cut back over winter when all the flowering action is over.

Euonymus europaeus
Euonymus europaeus, commonly known as the spindle tree, starts to go psychedelic this month, with its fruits deepening to hot pink before splitting open to reveal red-orange berries which are very attractive to birds. As the fruits begin to split open, the foliage tries to keep up by turning its own shades of purple, hot pink, and deep red.

Euonymus europaeus 'Brilliant' by Firgrove Photographic

It is an easy spreading shrub (or hedging plant), tolerating a wide range of soil conditions and will flourish as long as it has at least part sun, although the show of berries and foliage will be best in full sun. Euonymus europaeus ‘Brilliant’ is a very narrow, upright selection, reaching a height of 2 – 4 metres.

Hakonechloa macra Aureola AGM
Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ is one of the most gorgeous ornamental grasses, and also one of the few that prefers shade.


This deciduous perennial grass forms a neat clump of arching stems with cascading layers of narrow leaves striped with bright yellow and green that are reddish-tinged in autumn and early winter.

Hakonechloa macra Aureola

Easy to grow in moist, well drained soil, reaching about 50cm in height and spread. Looks good with Geranium such as ‘Rozanne’ and works well as ground cover.  I like to grow it in pots in shady areas where it really brightens things up and contrasts beautifully with the red foliage of Japanese Maples.

Hydrangea quercifolia
The oak leaf Hydrangea is a statement shrub for a partially shady area, but it can get quite large so it needs sufficient room to spread (1.5m +).  At this time of year the large leathery leaves start to turn deep purple and its long-lasting creamy white flowers gradually change through shades of faded pink as they die.

Hydrangea quercifolia

The leaves hang on quite late into the winter and the cinnamon-coloured stems are attractive in their own right too. This is a Hydrangea that copes well in slightly drier conditions than most other Hydrangeas so all in all I find it a very worthwhile shrub to grow.

To find out about other fabulous plants for this time of year, click on the links below:

Top plants for autumn colour featuring
Acer palmatum
Vitis ‘Brandt’
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’
Schizostylis coccinea

Autumn Glow featuring
Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Worplesdon’
Betula jacquemontii

Picture credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Jobs for the productive garden in October

If you are growing fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers for cutting, here’s my quick round up of what you can be doing this month.

In the kitchen garden:

Protect late crops such as carrots, pak choi and peas with horticultural fleece to extend their growing season and give you more produce. 

pumpkin ripening

Leave squash and pumpkins on the plants as long as possible to allow skins to harden (this will help them store well).

Lift and divide overgrown herbs such as chives, lemon balm and mint.
Plant overwintering onion sets and cut down asparagus foliage. 

Prune blackberries and hybrid berries after fruiting.

Store freshly picked apples and pears (making sure the fruit is perfect and unblemished first).  Keep checking the fruit every few weeks to make sure it’s not going bad.

If you’re planning to plant more fruit trees this autumn, you should be planning now.  To read more information about what to consider first, click here.  You can also take a look at the RHS website which is always a great source of information.

In the cutting garden:

You still have time to direct sow seeds of hardy annuals such as Ammi majus, Opium poppies and Nigella.   You can plant out biennials such as Wallflowers and Sweet William, and if you’re really organised sow sweet pea seeds in the greenhouse or on a window sill for an early crop next year.

'Pheasant Eye' Narcissi

Plant your spring bulbs, apart from Tulips which should ideally be planted in November.

Please note that the information on my blog pages applies to gardens in the UK and, of course, you should always take account of your own local weather conditions when carrying out any work in the garden.

Picture credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Jobs for the garden in October

It’s time to start thinking about clearing your garden and preparing for winter.  Here are a number of jobs you can be doing this month:

If you have heavy or wet soil, carry out any digging now before the ground gets too waterlogged.  

rake up leaves

Rake up dead leaves to make leaf mould (put damp leaves into black bags with ventilation holes and set them aside for about 18 months before using to condition your soil).

Tidy borders, clear weeds & cut back any herbaceous plants to the ground that are not needed to provide winter interest.  Leave those that will stand well into the winter as they look very attractive with frost, and will also provide a habitat for insects over winter. Leave seedheads for the birdsMulch your borders with ready-made leaf mould or garden compost.

Plant out container-grown trees, shrubs, climbers and roses now (as the soil is still warm and there should be plenty of moisture to get them established). If the weather and site conditions are favourable you can also plant out herbaceous perennials and grasses. Make sure you prepare the ground thoroughly beforehand digging well-rotted organic matter into the soil.

Remove old nests and clean out bird boxes (use soapy water and rinse well).

make an insect hotel

Make a simple insect hotel for ladybirds and other beneficial insects to survive the winter by collecting and drying out hollow stems of plants such as Delphinium, Allium and cow parsley. Cut stems into equal lengths and tie together with twine.  Hang the hotel horizontally in a sheltered tree or shrub, or under the eaves of a house.

Check that trees are tied securely to stakes to minimise damage in windy weather.

Privet hedges can have a final cut for the year.

To avoid  wind damage over autumn & winter, cut back (by about one third) tall Buddleia davidii and Lavatera.  Prune climbing roses and tie in stems and tie in any other climbers that might get blown around and damaged. 

Virginia creeper

Cut back overgrown climbers such as Virginia creeper, if necessary and once leaves have fallen.

Pick off rose leaves which have blackspot or rust and dispose of any lying on the ground.

Many ornamental grasses such as Miscanthus sinensis are very attractive over winter and add movement and height to the garden, so don’t cut them down unless they look unsightly or they collapse.

Lift tender perennials (such as Salvia, half-hardy Fuchsia, Pelargoniums) and bulbs (Gladioli) and put indoors or in a frost free greenhouse.  Move citrus plants and young Olives into the conservatory or glasshouse.

Continue to lift and divide overcrowded herbaceous perennials.

Plant out biennials eg; Wallflowers and Sweet Williams. Sow sweet pea seeds in the greenhouse or on a windowsill for an early crop next year.


If you haven’t already done so, plant spring bulbs as soon as possible.  Leave Tulips until colder weather in November to reduce the risk of tulip fire (a fungal disease).

To have beautiful scented white Narcissi in the house at Christmas, pot up Paperwhite bulbs soon in multipurpose compost with the bulb tops just clear of the surface, and leave on a warm sunny windowsill or greenhouse.

Lay new turf at this time of year, and sow grass seed if the weather if favourable (moist but not frosty). Regularly clear fallen leaves from lawns to stop grass turning yellow. 

Keep off grass during wet or frosty weather to reduce damage and compaction.

Lilies in pots will rot in wet compost so need moving somewhere out of the rain (or cover the pots). Plant up pots with autumn, winter and spring colour.  Add a slow release fertiliser so you won’t need to liquid feed in spring.

Clear out your pond, cutting down the dead foliage of marginal plants and remove blanket weed. If possible, net your pond to keep leaves from falling into the water.  And if you have a Gunnera in your garden, use cut leaves to protect the crowns over winter (adding straw or fleece for extra protection).

water feature

If you have a water feature in a pot and you’re not sure how frost-resistant the pot is, it might be a good idea to empty it out at this time of year to avoid any damage over winter.

Clear the garden of weeds that can act as hosts for pests and diseases.  Avoid composting any diseased material as the disease may survive the composting process.

 Picture credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic