Tactile & beautiful – unique works of art by Rachel Dein


I’m someone who loves to try new things and for some reason I seem to be strangely attracted to pastimes where I usually end up dirty – gardening, blacksmithing, woodwork…  Last September I was tempted by a friend to spend a day in north London on a workshop where I found myself pressing flowers, bashing clay with a rolling pin and messing about with gooey plaster.  And all in the name of art!

Salvia, Heather, Lavender and Welsh Poppy (2)

Plants pressed into clay

The workshop was run by former prop-maker Rachel Dein of Tactile Studio.  Rachel creates really beautiful works of art by casting flowers, foliage – and even vegetables – in plaster.

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Rachel’s workshop – the critical bit!

The effect is really stunning – at least it is when Rachel is in charge. My little tiles, produced after hours of patient tuition and words of encouragement, aren’t exactly stunning, but they are unique (!) and I have to say I’m very proud of them.  (Not surprisingly, the photos I’m showing here are not of my own work!)

clay peeling off tile

Peeling the clay back. Photo by Andrew Montgomery

It’s the detail the technique captures that I really love.  The veining in a Nasturtium leaf, the prickles in the stem of a Teasel, and the seeds of a fennel flower are all now immortalised in plaster and hanging on my wall.

My friend Eva ordered up sacks of plaster pretty much the minute we got home so we are planning to have another go ourselves now that our gardens are coming to life after winter.  I’d better dig out my rolling pin…


On Saturday 18th April, Rachel will be talking at the inaugural Gardens Illustrated Festival in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. She’ll be discussing her work, her inspiration from the Arts & Crafts movement and artists such as Karl Blossfeldt, and also her key moments in the history of botanical art.  To find out more, visit the festival website page.

As well as running workshops from her London studio and creating work for sale, Rachel takes private commissions and will cast any number of different things (whether it’s a bridal bouquet, or just valued personal objects). Most of Rachel’s pieces are for interior use only but she can also create work for the garden, and you can see the range of her work on the Tactile Studios website.

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Photos courtesy of Rachel Dein & Andrew Montgomery

Fabulous plants for April

As spring really kicks off now, woodland gardens and all their associated plants really come into their own.  Here are just some of my favourite plants for lovely April flowers.

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’  AGM
This fantastically useful ground cover plant is a real bonus in early spring.  It has pretty blue forget-me-not type flowers and very attractive heart-shaped leaves with beautiful silvery white markings.

Brunnera Jack Frost

‘Jack Frost’ is a star of the shady garden, where it will thrive in the cool, moist air, especially if the soil is fairly rich, although it can tolerate periods of drought.

At an approximate height of 40cm and spread of 50cm, it’s good for putting under shrubs where group plantings will soon spread into a carpet of silver.

There are many excellent varieties of Brunnera macrophylla – the silver-leaved white-flowering ‘Mr Morse’ for example, or variegated ‘Hadspen Cream’ which has an attractive creamy yellow margin around the edges of the leaves which combine beautifully with its blue flowers.  ‘Betty Bowring’ is has lovely white flowers and plain fresh green leaves.

Once Brunnera has flowered it should be cut back (both the old flowered stems and the foliage).  This may seem a little strange, but the plant will soon regenerate and by doing that you’ll be rewarded with a tidy clump of fresh new foliage to see you through the summer.

Tiarella cordifolia AGM
Tiarellas are commonly known as foam flowers due to their frothy blooms.

Tiarella cordifolia by Firgrove Photographic

They are related to the popular heucheras and heucherellas, but prefer more shade than their cousins. They also flower a little earlier.   Last April on a visit to the Savill Garden, the sight of a carpet of Tiarella cordifolia under a flowering crab apple tree just about took my breath away.  It was such a beautiful combination.

In large gardens the species can be allowed its head, and will happily cover the ground under trees and shrubs.

Tiarella cordifolia ground cover

For smaller gardens Tiarella ‘Spring Symphony’ produces a mass of dainty flower spikes containing white stars that open below a tight, apple-blossom-pink poker of buds. The foliage, which is deer and rabbit resistant (allegedly!), has fingers of vivid green, etched in black along the mid-rib. It spreads, but not invasively.

Tiarellas are very useful small plants for shady areas, and are fairly drought tolerant once established.

Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-No-Mai’ AGM
This ornamental cherry shrub is sensational in spring when its profusion of light red buds open to pale pink flowers with red centres. These are followed by attractive dark purple fruits in autumn. Yellow-green foliage follows the flowers in spring, turns mid-green by summer and then a vibrant orange red in autumn.

Prunus Kojo no Mai by Firgrove Photographic

Prunus ‘Kojo-no-mai’ prefers full sun, although it can tolerate some shade, and will grow (slowly) to about 2.5m x 2.5m in any moist but well-drained, reasonable soil. It can be pruned, after flowering, to restrict its size, and is often seen as a bonsai specimen in tiny Japanese gardens. It can also be used as a hedge.

This shrub looks wonderful underplanted with Pulmonaria or Tiarella.

Osmanthus x burkwoodii AGM
Osmanthus x burkwoodii is a dense, slow-growing, large evergreen shrub that can ultimately reach 4m high and wide, but can be clipped to keep to size. It is invaluable for dry shady areas, and works well as a wall shrub, or trained against a fence.

osmanthus burkwoodii

Delightful (but small) highly scented jasmine like white flowers are produced in April and May. The glossy, dark green leaves make a lovely backdrop for other flowering plants and brighter foliage through the summer months.   Admittedly not the most exciting of shrubs, it’s one of those easy, tough, unfussy plants for more difficult areas of the garden – and one I’ve come to rely on!

Fritillaria meleagris

Fritillaria meleagris

This dainty but stunning spring bulb deserves close attention – which may mean getting down on your hands and knees to take a look as it only gets about 10 inches high!  It’s worth the effort though.  The snake’s head fritillary has a lovely nodding bell-shaped flower, which is covered in a very distinctive checked pattern whether it’s the purple or white form you’re looking at.

As a total contrast, Fritillaria imperialis ‘Maxima Lutea’ AGM (commonly known as the Crown Imperial fritillary) sends its bright yellow bell-shaped flowers up to 1.5m in height, and tops them off with a tuft of pale green leaves.  Very dramatic!

Fritillaria imperialis Lutea

Fritillaries prefer fertile but well-drained soil, in full sun or (preferably) partial shade – which makes them ideal plants for borders or naturalised in grass in woodland conditions.

Magnolia Stellata

Another sure sign that spring is on the way is the sight of the Star Magnolia) flowering in gardens across the land.  This is a really popular shrub (or small tree) for small gardens, with its white flowers which smother the plant for weeks.  They make a stunning site against the backdrop of a clear blue sky.

magnolia tree

Magnolia stellata ‘King Rose’

Magnolias prefer a reasonably fertile soil which is neutral to acid in pH.  Stellata is an early flowerer which is probably one of the reasons its so popular.  It’s best to position it in a sheltered sunny site, as the weather can be so unpredictable here at this time of year, and it would be such a shame to see all those beautiful flowers disappear in a strong gust of wind!

Click on the link to read about Rhododendrons & Azaleas which are also coming into flower at this time of year.

(AGM denotes that the plant has been awarded the prestigious Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit)

Picture credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Jobs for the garden in April

It’s starting to get busy now as plants really begin to take off.  It’s such a lovely time of year to be outside enjoying the garden – even if it can feel a bit overwhelming at times!

Keep on top of hoeing and weeding, and apply mulch to weed-free moist ground if you haven’t already.

Feed your garden this month!  Sprinkle a slow-release fertiliser around the base of your plants (including spring bulbs), fork the fertiliser in and water well.

Clematis benefit from a liquid feed before they start flowering and diluted tomato or rose feed is ideal for a fortnightly soaking at the base.


Don’t forget to feed your container plants too.

If you grow acid-loving plants such as Rhododendrons and Azaleas in lime-free but not particularly acidic soil, then use a Rhododendron feed on them (and avoid using a mulch such as mushroom compost around them as it’s alkaline).

Tie in wayward shoots of climbers including climbing and rambling roses and wall shrubs to supporting wires and trellis regularly.

Climbing rose

It’s hard to put a date on it (and it will depend on where you live) but when all danger of hard frost has passed and new growth is starting, you can think about lightly pruning evergreen shrubs such as Cistus, Lavender, shrubby sage (Salvia) and Perovskia.  Lightly clip them over and remove any frost-damaged stems.


Photinia and Pittosporum can be pruned now.

This is an ideal time to plant pot-grown evergreen shrubs and conifers.

Cut back old foliage on Epimediums as flowers start to appear.

Finish dividing perennials.  And start thinking ahead, putting stakes and supports in place for big plants like Peonies, Asters, Delphiniums and large Geraniums.

plant supports

Continue to sow hardy annuals and think about removing winter protection from less-hardy plants.  Towards the end of the month start standing bedding plants outside on fine days to harden them off gradually.  Keep them in a frost-free greenhouse the rest of the time.

When the weather allows you can think about planting summer-flowering bulbs, corms and tubers such as Canna, Eucomis, Dahlias, Gladioli and Lilies in containers and borders.

Feed lawns at the end of the month if the weather is warm and not too dry.    Treat moss and weeds if you didn’t get chance last month.  Now is the time to sow grass seed on any bare patches or to sow wildflower meadow mixes.

Start mowing your lawns regularly always choosing a dry day.

Pick off rose leaves with black spot – only treat with fungicide if necessary.

Watch for red spider mite and whitefly under glass.  Keep an eye open for aphid outbreaks – at this time of year they can multiply rapidly before predator numbers have built up.  Squash by hand for the non-squeamish, or spray with an insecticide.

NB. this is general advice only, keep an eye on the weather and be particularly careful if frost is forecast.

Picture credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Jobs for the productive garden in April

In the kitchen garden it will really be a question of keeping an eye on the weather this month, and judging when the time is right to sow seeds and plant out more tender things.

Sow tender vegetables such as courgettes and French beans into small pots and then plant out when the weather improves and your young plants are sturdy enough.

Towards the end of the month start taking frost tender vegetables out of the greenhouse and stand them outside on fine days to harden them off gradually.

Sow Carrots, Peas, Broad Beans, Beetroot, Spinach, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks and lettuce outside as soils start to warm up through the month.


Sow hardy herbs such as coriander, fennel, parsley, chervil, dill and marjoram.

Potatoes can start going in the ground now if they haven’t already, and it’s a good time to plant strawberries, grapevines and fig plants.

Start successional sowing of salad crops to ensure a steady supply of produce.  Cut & come again salad leaves can be grown very successfully in large pots or window boxes if you’re short of room.

Feed soft fruit and container plants with general-purpose fertiliser.

Harvest rhubarb (watering during dry spells).


Ventilate the greenhouse on sunny days but shut it down mid-afternoon to retain the heat over night.


Sow annual flowers for your cutting garden.

Photo credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic