Pond Love


Since last year I have been fighting a battle with Algae (blanket weed) in the pond. The pond sits in sun and the lilies don’t shade enough of the surface water to stop the dreaded blanket weed from thriving. High levels of nutrients within the pond from the tap water used to initially fill it only add to the problem.

During the last month of sunshine and drought I have had to fill the pond with yet more tap water and, in the sunlight, great big green bubbling carpets of slime have been menacingly clouding the water.


For some reason I have taken this very personally. Having thought about this I have come to the conclusion that the pond being “clean” and “beautiful” for me is a symbol for the beautiful organic haven I am trying to nurse this derelict brownfield site back to. And so the Blanketweed has become a very personal failure.


As I dredge the endless green tresses out, although the pond is teaming with life, all I see is a comment on my failure to manage this little kingdom and give a home to nature.


As a sealed ecosystem the pond is fascinating and getting it “right” has become something of an ecological crusade. I am arrogantly trying to “naturalise” a completely man-made artificial habitat. I have sited the pond in a place where my designer’s eye would like it, but in reality a space that still water would never collect. The pond sits surrounded by intensively farmed fields of rapeseed and wheat. Although it appears a picturesque pastoral scene, – it is in fact industrial farming and my pond is suffering from all the fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides that drift in.Ponds are closed systems, so, any pollution or change in “balance” immediately affects the life within it and can be seen noticeably. They are the most amazing barometers of how chemical-free and balanced your environment actually is.

IMG_2355I wanted a pond primarily because I want my garden to be a modern wildlife garden. When we arrived here the land had been mauled and scarred by two centuries of industrial farming and misuse. In 1800 earth was moved and clay imported to make the canal. Then in 1860 the railway line was carved out of the land and piled high with ballast and all the requisite pollution that a railway brings. Then there was the dairy farm itself with its cesspit and concrete slurry yard. The industry was gradually abandoned and from the 1980s onwards buddlejah, bramble, birds and badgers gradually reclaimed the land. Then we arrived, one hot day in May 2011, and I fell in love with this place. IMG_3300

My first memories are of land: the rolling pastures of the Exe valley. My father’s family stems from there: living in the same thatched cottage that my grandfather, his father and his father lived. A lineage of landworkers: my illiterate great grandfather was a Warrener (rabbit catcher). My grandfather was a rural science teacher and my guide…. We would go for long walks along the river exe spotting kingfishers and otter evidence… as we walked he talked and wove tales about the place and us, us and the place, binding me to the landscape. And as a young child I looked at the red soil of the riverside and the tall waving heads of grass and the skies full of screaming swallows and my sprit took root… this was when I became an environmentalist.


This is the cottage that my father, grandfather, great grandfather and great great grandfather lived in, this picture was taken in June 2002 just before it was sold.

My depression about the pond is a symptom of more troubling worries about the state of our world and the environmental catastrophe that we are living in and my complicity in it. We are all of us living from nature in an economy that doesn’t value it whatsoever. The endless cleaning of the pond seems like an apposite purgatory, – a neverending backbreaking penance.


So this is why the garden has to be beautiful and the pond has to thrive because they are my token effort at rebalancing and a deep expression of love, care, and respect for the natural world.


I am desperate for this image conscious world to see that beauty, particularly natural beauty, needs to be deep in order to be meaningful… deep, transparent, and full of love….Right to the bottom of the pond.

Update: The 24th of May was a hot day and the emperor dragonfly nymphs hatched into dragonflies in their droves…

IMG_3362I counted 25 discarded skin casts on these Pontederia alone.


Why are ponds so essential for habitat and wildlife?

Since 1950, over half of the UK’s ponds have been lost along with all the wildlife that depended on them. This is due to large- scale drainage schemes, chemical pollution and neglect through disuse. Great Crested Newts have declined by 50% since 1966. Since 1970, 10% of breeding dragonfly species have become extinct.

As well as aquatic species, ponds are also wonderful for our terrestrial wildlife. They provide drinking water during dry weather, a supply of insect and plant-based food, and shelter among the emergent and surrounding plants and trees. This is especially important in environments which are otherwise lacking in places for wildlife; a rich tapestry of ponds across an intensive agricultural landscape provides a much needed refuge for birds, mammals, amphibians (which will cross even large fields to get to a pond), reptiles, and flying insects.

Gardening is a political act… Don’t do it in a bubble.


Garden,  April 2017

Henk Gerrritsen was a brilliant garden designer who never got to see his full potential. His gardens are about the battle between man and nature; a battle that man should enjoy losing. In his gardens he lets weeds takeover: Hogweed; Bindweed and Hemlock… because their beauty and their terrifying triphid-like features mesmerized him …I would have loved to meet him… A bold, brave man who was ahead of his time.

The other day I attended a gardening course taught by a well-known old skool gardening guru… I knew she wasn’t organic or eco… but nothing quite prepared me for the utter ignorance and exclusion of all things environmental. This was gardening in a bubble and, to my horror; the middle class and middle-aged audience were lapping it up. I felt as if I was in some sickening seventies time warp as a woman with a variegated Cornus that was suffering on the edge of a riverbank (that often flooded) was told to give it a “good feed…some meat and two veg… Nothing organic… Lots of nitrogen.”…My inner “swampy’ took up arms and wailed like a banshee demanding a justice my British politeness was unable to dispense.

So, I bunked off the rest of the class and walked back to the car through the churchyard….IMG_1528

Once my blood pressure was restored by the primroses I spent the rest of the journey home having imaginary out-quipping conversations.

Here’s a breakdown of my argument:

A Cornus is a dogwood – a native shrub that grows by riverbeds and in our hedgerows, it is often grown for its colourful stems. Firstly, I have a problem with variegation. Variegation is an anomaly in a plant, it normally occurs because the plant has genetically mutated and then the nursery trade grows it on as a cultivar…. Variegation immediately puts stress onto a plant as its leaves have less green chlorophyll to photosynthesize and get energy with. By keeping a variegated leaved plant you will always be fighting nature’s instinct to revert back AND you will have to feed it (AND it looks wrong). –What’s the point?

Nitrogen is needed by all plants in order to grow and thrive. It is very soluble, and so, when crop yield is low or an area of land has poor soil or has been flooded, it is normally the nitrogen that has gone from the soil. But what makes nitrogen “work” is the bacteria in the soil that process or “fix” atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia, which plants need in order to grow. Fertilizers used by the agricultural and horticultural industries tend to be liquid feeds containing Nitrogen. The problem is that we try and make every bit of soil “work’ and we are all using too much fertilizer and nitrogen (often because we aren’t giving our bacteria a fighting chance in the soil to produce more)… Because the nitrogen is soluble, the excess is running off the land into our watercourses causing huge amounts of devastating pollution and contributing greatly to climate change.

Of course, one woman feeding or not feeding Growmore to her Cornus isn’t going to change the world, but, I am desperate that she and all the gardeners like her understand the consequences of what they are doing when they ’manage’ their land or “break” the ecosystem by intervention. We are all responsible for our own little plots in this great beautiful planet of ours…. And that means educating ourselves on what is within them and what reactions your actions will create…

I don’t pretend to have all the answers… or to be an eco-paragon of virtue. What I would like to do is make you raise your head from your herbaceous border and vegetable bed and look around you… what you do and how you do it has consequences… good and bad and indifferent… what if you could make your garden a living metaphor for how the earth could be if we respected it? How much more beautiful would it be then?


Garden,  April 2017 (first year after completion)

Potting Shed Tips: When Wildlife gardening goes wrong



The Potting Shed, Feb 2017

Welcome to my new feature… A once a month garden musing that is purely practical and intended to help solve gardening problems… My very own GQT (as one of my best daydreams is imaging myself on the panel bossily letting my pearls of wisdom dazzle everyone with their brilliance).

img_2978This feature has sprung from the conversations that I have (mostly at the school gates) when people ask me: How do I get rid of pernicous weeds? What do I do about fungus on a tree? etc etc…(Yep – I am a regular Monty Don in my parts – without the corduroy).


Today’s musing is about wildlife in your garden that doesn’t seem to understand that it’s your garden and you don’t want it digging up or eaten… Firstly, let me come clean: I generally don’t have a lot of sympathy with this complaint and can sometimes get on a soapbox and retort with one of my favourite diatribes about co-existing with wildlife and the planet belonging to all creatures…


The robin who follows me around the garden, Feb 2017

And I honestly do practice what I preach (a regular tree-hugger!). Within the bounds of our garden are the most enormous badger sett; several rabbit warrens; a stoat; two pairs of tawny owls; bats; a grass snake; slow worms; frogs; toads; squirrels galore; moles; voles; rats; mice and loads of birds (not to mention the insects). These animals do damage – you can’t get away from it. But, I LOVE the fact that these creatures have found a home in my garden, – what a privilege it is to share this beautiful space with them. However, whilst on my wildlife odyssey, I have, like all gardeners, had moments of utter desolation when a squirrel with the munchies destroyed a week of work… so, this is what I’ve learnt…

The most damage comes from the rabbits that, particularly at this time of year, are hungry and like to dig up turf and plants (to eat the roots) and also do a lot of damage to young trees and saplings by stripping them of bark when the sap is rising. My tips if you have rabbit problems are as follows.

  1. Plant choice: they tend to avoid Euphorbia and other poisonous/irritant plants; spiky foliage and plants with aromatic foliage. They will always go for new fresh growth, so, protect these plants from Feb-May.
  2. If the problem is really bad, let bigger animals (foxes and badgers) into the garden or let a big dog wee freely around the garden and this can deter them.

If there is a hit list of destructive wildlife, then the squirrel must be near the top. If your bulbs are being dug up, then, it is almost certainly squirrels. Sometimes, the squirrels aren’t actually interested in your bulbs, they’re interested in finding their stash of nuts…. there’s not a lot to be done about that. Top tips are:


Woodland garden, All the green shoots are spring bulbs, the moles digs in here, but, nothing else disturbs the bulbs.

  1. Don’t plant under nut or fruit trees (like I did – doh!!)… That’s asking for trouble.
  2. Plant loads more than you need and count on a 40 percent loss rate.
  3. Try to plant native bulbs (snowdrop, bluebell and daffodil), they tend not to be interested in these.
  4. The bulbs that they seem to like are crocus and scillia bulbs that are planted close to the surface and don’t smell noxious. I have interplanted my bulbs with smelly alliums and they’ve left them alone.
  5. Please please please don’t put down chilli or any poisons…. this just means that all the wildlife suffers and it can be pretty horrible. Also, you’ll have to reapply it everyday for it to be effective.

If, like me you like tulips, try growing them in pots instead.

Badgers seem to get blamed for a lot of the damage in gardens. They are actually very shy animals and they tend not to come close to humans if they can help it. They can do alot of damage in a garden as they can dig at a ferocious rate. They have caused a landslide on the railway meadow when the ground above their sett gave-way. But, the hedge has carried on growing!

Top tips for badgers:

  1. In my experience badgers only tend to dig for food in gardens during the winter months. At other times of the year I tend not to see them in the garden unless my garden has a glut of chaffer grubs or leather jackets. Tip: look out for gluts of grubs or worms and be aware that they attract badgers. If you want to get rid of the glut, spray area with water and cover with back polythene overnight, the larvae will be on the surface of the lawn the next morning.
  2. The Badgers in my garden live on the railway line meadow and tend to stay in the meadow and not venture into the garden. They dig a lot on the meadow and make a lot of mess in the winter. However, so far this has worked to the meadows advantage – clearing areas and promoting new growth, they also seem to help with seed dispersal. In the summer (when the meadow is about 80-150cm high) they don’t dig at all… I think that the tall grass puts them off. Tip: grow your bulbs in tall grass rather than in the border and have “wild” meadow areas in the lawn.
  3. I have planted a lot of bulbs in the nuttery by the badger sett, but, have had no casualties at all…. This might be because I have only used native bulbs (apparently badgers don’t like daffodils or bluebells). Or, it might be because I have used Ransoms in amongst the bulbs (apparently they don’t like the onion smell).
  4. I fully expected the badgers to eat the Camassia bulbs that I planted…. (the native Americans used to grow them as a crop they’re so tasty), but, they’ve left them alone. This might be because of the alliums, or, it might be because they are in gravel (though given the rate they dig through ballast on the railway line I doubt it).
  5. Keep your lawn small and aerated and in tip-top condition (without using pesticides or herbicides). This will discourage insect larvae.

Badgers do a lot of damage, but, there are many advantages to having them in a garden. They put off a lot of other pests, in particular moles and rats. They are great if you have an area of meadow or tall wild grass. But, best of all, you can get up at 5 or 6 in the morning and watch them snuffling for worms whilst their cubs play fight, – a blissful scene.


Hamamelis int. “diane”


Seedheads, Skeletons, and Structure.


The wonderful Piet Oudolf and the dutch perennial new wave have changed the way that we garden. It used to be that designers and landscapers looked for structure from evergreens, topiary, hedging and trees… Now dead perennials and grasses have been introduced into the mix.

I left the chalk slope meadow this year because the seed heads were too beautiful to cut. Particularly the carrot and poppy.


In the best perennials the structure of the plant and its shape becomes distilled in its seed head…. There are many cottage garden favourites that don’t die very well – they flop, or rot, or disintegrate… But there are many that retain a wonderful profile and becoming a majestic winter silhouette.

The naturalistic style of my garden and its aspect – looking out onto rolling countryside – does not lend itself to topiary or large blocks of evergreen formality. To much intervention looks false and unnatural. This is a garden in which I would like to push the boundaries of informality and loose naturalism to their limit.

When I designed the front entrance border (a cold, north-facing, free-draining wind-tunnel) I  gave myself the brief of “winter silhouette and warmth”. I wanted a planting that embraced as soon as you drove into the drive and that retained its shape as it would be backlit throughout the winter monthsimg_2744

It isn’t quite right yet. The Deschampsia cespitosa has enjoyed itself a little to much and the dark seed heads of Echinacea, Rudbeckia, and Sanguisorba are getting a little lost in the density of gold seed head… Which is beautiful in its own right.

But there are combinations that are working:

The gnarled mulitstemmed Amelanchier in a cloud of Deschampsia:img_2702

The dark sombre spires of Digitalis ferrunginea – a brilliant perennial foxglove, monarda, and echinacea pallida. img_2787

In the gravel garden the structure combinations have been slightly more successful. Here the tawny-gold, orange, black and silvered seed heads of largely light airy and “transparent” plants contrast with the evergreen mounds and hummocks of Euphorbia, Myrtle, Cistus, Lavender and Rosemary.

My top winter seed heads are as follows…

Fennel; Allium sphaerocephalon; Allium hollandicum; Eryngium; Digitalis ferruginea; Phlomis; Cardoon; Sedum; Succisa pratensis; Echinacea pallida; Sanguisorba; and Rudbeckia ‘Henry Eilers’

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Nevertheless the seedheads need a foil: a backdrop of lightness  that is provided by the grasses: Deschampsia cespotosia; Anemanthele lessoniana; Stipa gigantea and Stipa tennuisima.

In the Autumn we have always had flocks of finches, red wings, and tits visiting the garden to feed on the teasel heads that are left in the meadow or the hawthorns and crab apples… Now they come in great chattering congregations to the gravel border… Alliums get picked apart by blue tits… The Evening primrose is the dunnock’s favourite….the goldfinches like the Cardoon… and the pheasants just sit on the table looking resplendent (if slightly silly).






Transparency+New Romantics= Revolution

It’s the time of year when the tree surgeon comes to see me in the garden. We talked about hedges and trees and the badgers (they’ve dug up the newly cut meadow looking for leatherjackets,chafer grubs and worms). Then he remarked that to him my garden is a “see through” garden: where you look through plants and planting to the beyond, “like lots of veils”. Of course he said just the right thing and I beamed with pride (what a charmer).


Gravel Terrace, August 2016

To me my garden is Romantic (with a capital R) and it is the use of transparent wafting plants (many of them grasses) that conjures up this romance. John Keats said “ what the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth”….


Matrix Bed, September 2016

Sunlight filtering through grasses; dewdrop covered cobwebs; the filigree lace flowers of the carrot; all these moments are celebrations of the beauty of our planet. So, more soft focus low light shots of floaty, diaphanous planting are an absolute must:

This is not Mills and Boon…. More Wordsworth and Colleridge: surely our relationship with “nature” is a moral touchstone for our day-to-day lives?


Backlit Stipa Gigantea and Cardoon on the Gravel terrace, August 2016.

Our world is increasingly urbanized, pressure is being put on natural resources and we are becoming conscious of our footprint on the planet. I see a movement in gardens back towards the “natural”: using nature and natural habitats as an inspiration to create not just beautiful evocative planting, but, to also give “something back to nature” in creating a habitat for wildlife that is sustainable and creates biodiversity.

It is important to understand that these are still heavily designed spaces. Nature is a muse and an inspiration, not the goal. The pastoral idylls of woodland glades, meadows and hedgerows that we evoke in these plantings are the result of man’s stewardship of the land, they do not naturally occur.


The Matrix Entrance Bed – Fluff and Waft in abundance, September 2016

By making beautiful, aspirational, organic, wildlife-friendly, ecologically sustainable gardens we are making a political choice in our own private spaces and investing hope in a more harmonious relationship with the natural world.

So when Moldy Warp or Crock next dig up your lawn, try my mediation: breathe deep and quote Wordsworth.

Sweet is the lore which nature brings:

Our meddling intellect

Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:

-We murder to dissect.


Enough of science and of art;

Close up these barren leaves;

Come forth, and bring with you a heart

That watches and receives.


Remember: the Romantics were more revolutionary than nostalgaic. Instead of yearning for a Paradise Lost, our gardens could be a nature regained.

Holidays and Hollyhocks

Apologies for Blog -hiatus. Whilst the children have been at home I have found it particularly difficult to put finger to keyboard and to think for a period of uninterrupted time. Life has become a series of bite-sized goings-on that are rooted in the moment. And now that the holidays are nearly over I can take 10 minutes to stand back and look at the garden and appreciate it. It has grown hugely and gone through many stages: early summer “zing” (click on photos to enlarge)

high summer abundance

and late summer “golden hue” – where the tawny bronze seedheads and the golden grasses predominate – my favourite.


Gravel terrace, late August, 2016.


I’ve just got back from Ile de Re… A small island off the south west French coast, very near to La Rochelle.


The island has a lot of protected habitat. Marshlands that were deliberately   created to farm oysters and sea salt are now havens for wild birds and wild flowers. Large sand dunes lead into pine forests.

Everywhere you go there are meadows. The sandy limestone soil suits similar plants to the ones that thrive in my garden…. Except that the heat and the sand mean that the flowers (not the grass) dominate.

Self-seeding biennials and perennials find their way into cracks in the pavement or space in the gravel or masonry joint.  The flower that has become synonymous with the island is the hollyhock… They are everywhere, in every colour.


My favorites are the lemon coloured ones. The first time I saw lemon yellow hollyhocks were at my Dad’s farm in his graveled carpark. Dad had gone on hoiday to Greece and had loved the hollyhocks, so he had brought back some seed and “thrown” it into the gravel around his yard. He had also sprinkled fennel seed liberally. The result was completely captivating: beautiful, cultivated and yet haphazard and chaotic and a “natural”- looking planting. So I am going to attempt to do the same.


I planted a cultivated hollyhock last year. The specialist plant nusery I bought them from called it Alcea “Parkallee”. I was dubious about it because it is a double flowered cultivar… But the canny nurserywoman showed me it covered in bees growing out of a crack in a polytunnel and I fell for it. So, I planted it by the big barn door and it grew and grew and grew…. Not like a hollyhock… more like a giant candelabra.


I did some snooping online and found it IDed as x Alcalthaea suffrutescens ‘Parkallee’. Apparently, it is a hollyhock crossed with a wild marshmallow. It certainly grows like a sub-shrub, rather than a straight-up hollyhock, and it has no hollyhock rust, but, it has needed staking and it doesn’t stop growing.


The bumble bees are all over it….They get so drunk that you find them sleeping in the underskirts…( It looks a bit indecent).

I like its delicate tutu-like buff flowers with maroon fringing…. But it doesn’t mix with my fennel or satisfy the hollyhock-hankering.


I have deliberately used a lot of self-seeding plants in my gravel gardens. Allowing and encouraging plants to self-seed must be part and parcel of gardening with nature. Garden guru, Noel Kingsbury says:

“Once we planted things and expected them to stay where they were put. Gardening now is much more accepting of spontaneity, of natural processes of birth, death and decay. Embracing plants that self-seed is part of becoming a manager of nature rather than a controller. Seeding is a vital way in which plant communities thrive and survive. Allowing it in the garden can be seen as a way of the garden becoming an ecological system.”


This approach means that the naturalistic planting schemes that I admire can be attained much more readily. But, its major downside is its unpredictability. Some species may not do as well as imagined, and, those that do too well can quickly become weeds.

So, my gravel beds have been planted to a “plan”, but it was the evergreen “permanent” planting that I concentrated on, by contrast the self-seeder plants were placed where I thought they might like, but I expect them to move and find their own spaces. Most of these plants are shallow rooted annuals and biennials. Here is a run down of some of my mainstays (Click onto photos):

The advantages of using self-seeders is that from a packet of relatively cheap seed you can have instant colour and introduce plants to the garden that are valuable food sources for wildlife (honestly – the bees are amazing). The disadvantages are that you need to weed carefully, – identifying new seedlings and letting them grow on and weeding out weeds as well as over dominant plants. You will not be able to completely control your planting; you are merely an editor. And, in order to make sure your seed can germinate you need to keep some soil/ gravel surface bare (which means more weeds and more weeding).


As the saying goes: The only constant is change. Sow some seed and add a bit of chaos to your gardening… its addictive.

Enthralling complexity and the imagination

Watch out! This one’s philosophical!



Gravel Terrace, July 2016

Whilst it has rained relentlessly I have been stuck indoors looking at the garden being battered through the framed windows. Our house is an old hay barn and milking parlour and all its doors and windows look south across the garden to the view beyond, framing the garden and making it into a series of pictures. This has got me thinking about gardening as a form of art.


Gravel Steps,  July 2016

The gardens that I think work best are the ones that I can lose myself in… Not just literally, but, also ‘let go’ of the material and everyday and imagine. Just as in a good book, I read unconscious of the author’s voice, so, in a garden, there is a constant process of imagining, responding and being surprised and delighted by the unexpected and the ‘art’ of nature. (Click on photos to enlarge).

All successful gardens hold a sense of place – both of the landscape and architecture they sit within, and of the mind that created them… Added to this is the special dynamic between garden and visitor…for viewing a garden is not a passive occupation.

For me, the most exciting gardens play with this dynamic: the eyes can wander where the feet can’t; spaces flow into each other, but, you decide upon the journey; combinations of plants and spaces evoke memories and archetypes.


Concrete henge, Railway meadow, July 2016


Ferns grow in dappled shade, July 2016


Gravel Steps, July 2016

Detail is central to a good read and the most enthralling element of gardens is their innate complexity. For in gardens, as with art, the idiom that divides the well conceived from the mediocre is “the more you look the more you see”.


Chalk slope meadow, July 2016

Gardens are like delightful Russian nesting dolls: layers of design and planting that can be appreciated and imagined and responded to at each and every level.


Wild Carrot (looks a bit like a flower version of a snowflake), July 2016.

And everyday, and every time of day, and every season, brings a new complexity. It is not art: it is nature considered and appreciated.


The perfect head of the drumstick allium and a contented bumblebee, July 2016.



The Pond, June 2016

We spent September, October and November 2015 digging a pond, making a terrace, and re-landscaping the garden around the house…. The rest of the garden is going to remain as the semi-wild naturalized space it always has been.

The Pond is the biggest venture so far. I’ve never water gardened, I have no idea about the plants or the maintenance, and, I have tried to design it so that we can use it as a natural swimming pool (it is really only suitable for a dip)….

What I have learnt so far is that the plants can be brute: so you need to chose your varieties carefully and manage their growth by ruthless yearly pruning. I’ve learnt that in order to keep the pond clean you have to balance three things; the oxygen level, the nitrogen level and the ammonia level…. This is done primarily with the planting, with pumps and UV filters stopping fluctuations in vegetation and seasons becoming imbalances…

I always wanted a body of water in this part of the garden…. What I never imagined was how much the water would “lift” the garden… This spot was a dark shaded place that divided us from the landscape beyond…. The pond completely reversed this: light is reflected back into the garden and draws the landscape beyond within.


Pond is planted, June 2016

I’m hoping that the pond will add to the wildlife… All the machinery work and the dogs (all landscapers have dogs!!) have put them off… Please come back and let me give you a home.


Water lilies, June 2016


When we first came the animals were bold. Owls hooted at us when we arrived back from the pub at 10 o’clock and talked too loudly as we opened the door. A badger interrupted a game of hockey with my 3-year-old son as it chased another boar off its patch. And every morning at 6 o’clock on the dot a barn owl would float across the cow meadow below us, skimming the top of the sunlit long grass in a stunning silence.


Pond is filled, October 2015

Now, 6 months after the pond’s construction and with the planting in, the creatures are just starting to come back. Almost straight away there were tiny larvae and water fleas. Then, in May, there were tadpoles…. We hadn’t even noticed the frogspawn… then suddenly there were literally hundreds of black fishtailed dots bombing about the pond.


Tadpoles, May 2016

Then in June we couldn’t mow the lawn for froglets.

IMG_2281Then the invertebrates started to show up: water boatmen; diving beetles; damselfly; dragonfly; and pondskaters. With the invertebrates came the birds: pied wagtails; yellow and grey wagtails; and the swallows, who have taken to using the pond as a ‘dipping’ pond. They circle and scream at each other, and then in a seemingly-impossible flying formation, take it in turns to “dip”.


Dragonfly, very difficult to photograph!


The gardened meadow

IMG_2360This is the Walnut meadow and the Blossom bank.

IMG_2358A mass of cornfield annuals: oxeye daisy; poppy; corn cockle; corn marigold and corn chamomile.


These are a one-hit wonder: they won’t be here next year and they’ll only last about a month.


The cornfield annuals are what are traditionally thought of as “meadow flowers”… But they aren’t… They are plants of the cornfield, they need for the surface of the ground to be disturbed (ploughed/tilled) and clear of vegetation in order to grow. They can grow on fertile ground; unlike many other meadow mixes.

Meadows are different. Dame Miriam Rothschild believes that a meadow only really comes into “being” when its about 15 years old… and even then it is not really “established”. Strictly speaking, meadows are areas of land that are man-managed, but, have their own unique grassland ecosystems.


Railway meadow, July 2015.

My “meadows” are not “farmed” or large fields of land, so, I have to manage them differently and in many ways they function differently… These are extended areas of the garden and I am learning as I go how to create and maintain small areas of wildflowers and long grass within a garden. And, because they are part of a garden, they need to be decorative and sit within that setting while still being a meadow rather than a flower border.

The railway meadow is about 100 metres by about 12 metres and is now in its third year…. It is cut at the end of July and all the hay is cleared and piled on the railway bank for the animals (mostly badgers) to use as nesting material. It is as near to a conventional meadow as I have.

The Walnut meadow is a “stylized” bit of long grass. This area is close to the house and I wanted to make sure that it looked like a deliberate feature rather than a bit of unmown lawn….So, it has nearly 600 bulbs planted within it so that it always has some colour.

Narcissus “Thalia” and Anemone Nemerosa in April


April 2016

Camassia Lechtlinii in May


Allium “Purple Sensation” in June


I sowed this area and the bank behind in October last year. The topsoil and the turf were scraped off and the subsoil was then raked and sown with a meadow mix for chalk soil and cornfield annuals (as a nurse crop).

The greatest difficulties I have found with meadows are:

  1. Most people want a cornfield not a meadow and are disappointed when the showier annuals don’t come back the next year. This is why I am experimenting with bulbs and introducing vigorous perennials (like aquilegia) in my meadows…. To see if I can get to something that could become a garden-worthy “meadow”.
  2. Perennial weeds. There is a pernicious perennial weed bank at the farm… Bramble, Bindweed, Hogweed, Thistle, Rosebay Willow Herb and Hemlock come back and back and back… having stripped and disturbed the soil we have brought these weeds back to the surface and it has been back breaking work weeding them out of large tracts of land. – Meadows are perceived to be “low maintenance”, but, I can assure you that this year we have worked harder on the meadows than the borders. My hope is that once the perennial grasses and flowers are established the weeding will reduce to spot weeding.

The Walnut meadow and Blossom bank will be cut in July. It will be strimmed (as I can’t scythe – need an extra from Poldark!) and the hay will be raked into a pile and (after a few days) removed.

I have sown the same “chalk” mix on my south-facing limestone bank…. However, the mix has been slower to establish here and the weeding has been incessant…. Literally thousands of Rapeseed, Hemlock and Thistle seedlings.

IMG_0771I have another mini-meadow bank (6m x3m) outside the Potting Shed. Here I have Primroses and Celandines and Pheasants eye daffodils, followed by cow parsley annuals (Ammi Majus, Anthriscus Sylvestris, and Ammi Visnaga) …. After these have set seed this area will be mown until the following Spring. This is an area of reasonably fertile soil (as in many gardens) and I am trying to get the meadow “effect” with vigorous garden plants within the grass.

And then I have my entrance “matrix bed”: a Piet Oudolf inspired planting that is designed to look like a meadow/ naturalistic planting, but, uses cultivated garden plants and grasses to mimic the naturalistic wafting transparency of a meadow in June…..

Are these all meadows, or pale imitations of them? Gardening really is the subtle chemistry of nature and man’s management of it. How far you go is a question of taste rather than horticulture.



IMG_2237We drove down to Cornwall on the Bank Holiday weekend… I really enjoy this drive as its mostly off the motorway and across country… and, as I am not driving, I get to look and take in the scenery.IMG_2236

I took some photos of the hedgerow on our lane as we left. The end of May is the ultimate time for hedgerows, especially in Cow Parsley covered Somerset. Cow Parsley seems to have come back into vogue, maybe it’s the native wild plants being used alongside other perennials in a naturalistic style by Chelsea designers. (This year Cleve West’s garden and Catherine MacDonald’s garden were almost evocations of hedgerows)….


Cleve West’s garden at Cheslea 2016.

Or, maybe it’s just a zeitgeist thing?…Or maybe we all want to put the wild back into our gardens? I hope so; because that is definitely the way I want to go.IMG_2231

I love Cow Parsley, I love the froth and the dancing filigree nature and as soon as I see it I feel a primal joy about the coming of spring. It is instantly recognizable and it assimilates really well with most grasses and cottage garden favorites.


Woodland border, May 2016.

I have sown it in my mini meadow outside the potting shed and in the woodland by the house….If it gets too vigorous I pull it out, if it’s in the wrong place I don’t let it seed, it’s a bit like managing chaos, but, because its tap rooted it’s a really easy ‘weed’ to manage… My biggest problem is distinguishing it from the extremely poisonous Hemlock (which is a problem weed – but still beautiful all the same).

During the drive the hedgerows change from a sea of Cow Parsley and Pink Campion backed by Hawthorn to oxeye daisies, foxgloves, ferns and sorrel, eventually turning into banks of Bluebell, Foxglove, Campion, Sorrel, Ferns, and Bracken. These “banks” are old, stonewalls filled with rubble and the local acidic clay soil: the ultimate “living wall”.

The reason I love gardening is because it feels to me to be a direct contact with the natural world. In my garden I want to make plant communities that look and function sympathetically with how they evolved in nature. So that they don’t just look naturalistic, but, they are better adapted to their site, richly layered, and resilient.


Fowey, Cornwall, May 2016.

So, on a patch of land by the house densely shaded by a laurel hedge, a conifer and deciduous trees, I have begun to plant out and seed what I hope will become a “hedgerow-like” planting. On a steep bank that used to hold the canal steps I have sown Foxgloves, Wood anemones, Snowdrops, and some Ferns… adding to the Harts tongue and Pulmonaria that were already there.

The rest of the planting is a mix of ferns, architectural foliage, ground cover, and a lot of dynamic frothy umbelifers and white rosebay willow herb that will hopefully take off in late spring and summer.


Woodland Border, a hedgerow in progress, May 2016.


If you are interested this is the list….Woodland border

I have deliberately mixed “wild flowers” with garden species that can hold their own. I have also let some of the Oxeye daisies and Campion and Wood avens seed about, hopefully, in a few years there will be no bare soil just a patch of”cultivated hedgerow” (if there is such a thing).