dark skies

I woke this morning to dark, dramatic skies and a wrist complaining of over use. After a full week of spending as much time in the garden as my energy levels permitted (perhaps a tad more, if I am honest), I took the hint and decided to stay indoors and review progress.

I love this time of year, the low, golden light, the slight nip in the air, the planting of bulbs. It’s always a really busy time too, cutting back the plants that, with the best will in the world, won’t provide attractive winter structure, planting the bulbs that it seemed such a good idea to order until faced with the work of getting them in the ground. It is also the perfect time to move the horticultural furniture around. The warm soil and ever present threat of rain means shuffling plants around still gives them plenty of time to establish themselves before winter sets in. So, after five days of battling with weeds, including face height nettles (they missed), yesterday I rewarded myself with some editing.

fence border needs editing

I’ve been quietly chuffed with how the fence border has begun to settle down and develop an identity, but ever since I planted it the positioning of the Phormium ‘Alison Blackman’ has been bugging me. I had originally intended to plant it in between the smoke bush and the Anemanthele lessoniana (Stipa arundinaceae), having seen a similar combination on Karen’s blog. When I came to it, I was so struck by the commonality of colouring between the phormium and the Photinia davidiana ‘Palette’ that I swapped it with the Euphrobia wulfenii. I’ve been regretting it ever since, it just jars. So I moved them.

getting there

I should have stuck to the plan in the first place.

new euphorbia home

The blue-tinged foliage of the euphorbia is a lovely foil for the aster, though it remains to be seen what I think of it next to the photinia when it is larger. Mind you, the photinia is on notice. I am not generally a fan of variegation, despite having bought that phormium, but the photinia has very pretty leaves, and is semi-evergreen. The really cold Spring made mockery of that “semi”, it lost all its leaves and has been looking straggly and sorry for itself ever since. I remain to be convinced. It has been warned.

new phormium home

The phormium fits in much better now, and if I move one of the cephelaria gigantea the pale yellow flowers should echo the creamy yellow stripe in the leaves quite nicely. I’m also hoping to get some divisions of the aquilegia ‘Lemon Queen’ that I bought at Malvern a few years ago, which will likewise work well near it – assuming I cram them in…

While I was messing about in there, I also removed the variegated leaves from the holly, which I am trying to encourage to revert fully to glossy dark green.



Much better.

I also had to trim what I had previously assumed was a completely dead stump, but which is attempting to resurrect itself into another yellow variegated holly.



The wall border is far less established, not least because it needs widening before I can plant it up in anything approaching the “final” (hah! what an idea…) design. The shrubs in it are still teeny, though the Tamarisk (‘Pink Cascade’) has started to flower, and I love the red stems on it.

tamarix pink cascade

One of the things that is taking a little getting used to in this garden is all the self seeding. It wasn’t ever anything I had to contend with in my previous garden, it was so densely planted, and the soil was so heavy, that only the euphorbia amygdaloides and the hellebores ever managed it. Here, everything self seeds, from the weeds to the stipa. And the Lychnis.

I inherited the white lychnis, which has self seeded prolifically this year, making a rather attractive ground cover. It does need rather a lot of editing though, you can have too much of a good thing, and anyway I have a load of seedlings of the magenta pink form to add in to the mix next year, to fill gaps that will eventually be filled by the shrubs. I am gradually thinning out and moving the seedlings to create blocks of colour for next year, and doing likewise with the forget-me-not seedlings.


The Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’ is rather disappointing. Can you even see it?! I am hoping that, with a hefty mulch, it will put on a bit of a growth spurt next year, it is still pretty much the same size as it was when I planted it back in the Spring.

I am a fan of re-using the plants I have inherited where I can, and earlier this year I rescued a white flowering hebe to make way for the perovskia. I don’t like it enough to keep it though, the leaves are not sufficiently interesting, at least in this context, to make up for the horrid way the white flowers die.


Fortunately mil and fil reunited me with a hebe I grew from a cutting in my old garden, which has lovely silvery foliage and makes a very neat dome shape.


A definite improvement.

I really like hebes, they provide evergreen foliage and pollinators love the flowers, but I am still exploring how to combine them well with the perennials I want to fill the wall border with.

So much still to do. When the bulb order arrives I have yet more seedling – and weed – clearing to do in this border so that I can plant the tulips really deeply, in the hope that they will persist, and then replant various seedlings over the top so that I am not staring at bare soil until April/May. I have a dahlia to plant – and mulch heavily – and a very pretty hebe to find a good home for.



Dahlia ‘Fascination’ is very pink, which is worrying, but it does tie in beautifully with the – also pink – flowers of the tamrisk, and has lovely purply foliage. The hebe works well with the silvery euphorbia but I don’t like it against the mid green of the forget-me-not foliage. Not sure what I am going to do with that. It was a gift, and I love it, it has beautiful black stems, but it needs the right setting.

I also have plants to rescue and rehome in the overgrown rockery at the side of the garage.


As well as lots of lovely pieces of stone – and a lot of bindweed and leaf litter – this border is home to loads of gorgeous purple leaved ajuga, some pulmonaria and a Potentilla fruticosa. The ajuga will help me run purple foliage through the fence border, bridging the gap between the purple cow parsley at the house end and the sedum ‘Purple Emperor’ at the pond end. The pulmonaria will go beautifully round the lacecap hydrangea. I’m not sure where to put the potentilla. It has lovely pale creamy-yellow flowers, for months on end, so for now I think I will put it in the circle bed, where it will get plenty of sun.


So many plants to move, so little time… Not to mention a hedge to prune, fruit trees to choose, buy and plant, yet more weeding, grass to cut… Wonder if my wrist is rested yet…

How is your Autumn going? Are you disenchanted? Run off your feet? Enjoying a good harvest of fruit? Wishing you hadn’t ordered so many bulbs? We’re lucky, it is very windy but still warm here, but I know it won’t last, and I will soon be gardening in a heavy fleece and blowing on my fingers again. But while it lasts, I will enjoy every moment of plant-moving, weeding and planning, because soon I will only have the planning left. That and the fencing. Oh joy.

42 thoughts on “Busy, busy, busy…

  1. Things are coming along nicely. That Sambucus Nigra is a surprise as our grows at a fantastic rate. Our autumn has turned old and wet! I’m contemplating whether I need to buy more bulbs this year.

    1. Hi Sue, I am hoping the elder is just temporarily stalled due to the dry summer, certainly the (admittedly very established) one in the back garden grows at a phenomenal rate! Sorry about your wet autumn, never at its best when it gets like that. Not sure we are in for much autumn colour up our way, the wind is blowing the leaves from the trees before they even have a chance to turn, though I am hoping the acer will put on a show as it is very sheltered. There is always room for more bulbs, its some kind of rule!

  2. I haven’t been able to get out as much as you as our autumn has turned decidely wet and miserable – your garden is certainly looking better than I expected from your last post. Funny how gardeners are more self-deprecating about their own gardens, at least I have the bulbs all planted so that’s one job out of the way – I saved loads from last year hope they re-flower, you never know do you.

    1. Hi Elaine, sorry the rain has put paid to outside work, though I am envious that at least you have planted your bulbs, mine haven’t even arrived yet. As for the garden looking better than you had expected, I just didn’t show you the aweful bits! Though in fairness a few days weeding, and umpteen trugs full of weeds, it is looking a lot better than it had been.

  3. Hi Janet,

    My experience of black Elder (black beauty) is that they take a while to settle in. My first did nothing for around 3 years and as I neared the end of my tether I decided to cut it back, hard. It was only around three twigs high to begin with and barely any leaves. It did then produce new growth, however it was green and I was upset that I’d made it revert. Then as it produced more, higher up they were purpley so I was hopeful. Now, 2/3 years later it’s a nicely rounded shrub but still only around 2.5 feet high.
    Meanwhile I bought another, this time Black Lace, it was much taller to begin with at around 3.5 feet but it hasn’t yet bulked up so I’ll have to take another leap of faith and chop it back a little.

    As for my garden, well I’ve barely been out in it at all this week and today has been solid rain all day – to be followed with solid rain tomorrow. So I’m feeling very detached from the garden, and of course I bet by the time it clears up, it will look much different and Autumn really has hit it hard and suddenly.

    1. Hi Liz, thank you, it is good to know that it isn’t just me that finds them a tad slow on the uptake, so to speak. I can understand you feeling a little detached from your garden, it is hard to feel connected when it is pouring with rain and you don’t plan to be staying for long if you can help it anyway. I hope the sun breaks through – literally and metaphorically – soon.

  4. Well done on getting out and about, albeit doing a bit too much!
    I found my Sambucus took a while to settle in and this being it’s 3rd year is now fulfilling it’s brief.
    Tamarisk is a beautiful shrub when it gets going, I too like the red stems. I think Red and Green together in the garden is the perfect combination. I hope you finally get your planting sorted into a scheme you are happy with.

    1. Hi Angie, it is good to hear that sambucus are just slow to establish. I am really happy with the tamarisk, I really wasn’t sure about it, but I love the feathery foliage. And once the sambucus gets going they should look really good together.

  5. Oh Janet -I’m impressed with all the details of your garden busyness but the top image says so much. The view over the wall is enticing but closer to home that triangular corner has really come alive – tantalising to the passer by

    1. Hi Laura, oh dear, I think you would feel somewhat differently about the pointy bit were I to show it in ghastly close-up, it is a mess of weeds, plus a viburnum that has spread to cover a vast area and that I am really not looking forward to trying to remove! But happily from the house it all looks fine, as you can see. I spent a happy coupls of hours this afternoon day-dreaming about things to plant there that really will be a good view for the neighbours and dog-walkers that pass by so frequently, but the first task is to get rid of the wretched bindweed….

  6. I love the editing bit.. quite often all it takes is one plant moved and everything else seems to fall into place.
    The Tamarisk is lovely, as is the potentilla.
    It’s a busy time of year and it’s definitely ‘run off your feet’ stage here, although we are making progress. Does it ever get any easier, that’s what I want to know!

    1. Hi Jessica. Easier – hah! I wish I could believe it does. Maybe a little, if you are trying to renovate a garden? We can hope! Surely there’s a limit to the landscaping and heavy lifting side of things?! Glad you are making progress too, it does lessen the “rabbit in car headlights” feeling, I’ve found. I just wish it was always as easy to get things looking right – or at least better – just by moving a couple of plants!! But there again, that’s what winter is for, pouring over catalogues and websites, dreaming.

  7. Yes, I’ve learnt this year just how much ground-cover lychnis can provide. At first I potted the seedlings up as ‘spares’ but then realised I had more than enough to cover most of the Priory (or indeed Sussex) if I so wished. I have had a Sambucus nigra sitting in a pot for several weeks now. From your experience it seems that I should have got it into the ground straightaway if it is ever to do anything. Dave

    1. Hi Dave, good to know I am not alone in having a plague of lychnis. Maybe a sea of Lychnis would improve Sussex, or at least parts of it?! Guerilla gardening perhaps? I started saving the seedlings as I went along like you, but there really isn’t any point, is there!! At least I know I won’t ever be without it anymore… I wonder if the pink one will be as prolific? Oh heck, I wonder if I will be able to tell the difference between pink seedlings and white seedlings?! As for the sambucus, I’d have thought if you get it in the ground it should at least begin to make a good root system, even if nothing much shows up top, but it does sound as if they need lots of time before they make much of a statement. Shame I was relying on it for some screening. Wish I’d not run out of mycorrhizal stuff before I planted it…

    1. Oh good. I think. Except that I m not keen on suddenly finding I have a tapestry of magenta and white. Won’t happen next year, I’ll know exactly where I am putting the pink, but the year after? Eeek.

  8. A most enjoyable post. I prefer dark green holly to variegated, in fact I’m generally in two minds about most variegated plants.
    I’ve got a red lychnis and will be interested to see what your white variety as that’s a colour I like.
    Do you not lift any dahlias now to store and replant in the spring?
    I’ve still got things to do on the plot but I’m beginning to wind down having done most of what I need, and want, to do before the onset of winter. xx

    1. Hi Flighty, I really love the glossy dark green of the holly, why anyone wants a variegated holly I’m not sure! The white flowers tend to be slightly flushed with pale pink, I’ll try and remember to photograph it next year Flighty, becasue if you like it I can certainly send you some seedlings. In fact, if you want me to, I am happy to try sending you some anyway and you can try them out?

      As to the dahlias, it is pretty mild here and I have free draining soil, so I am going to try over wintering the dahlias under a thick mulch. Neighbours have gladioli coming back year after year, so I am hopeful! Enjoy your winding down – and your alternative plotting.

  9. Give the Sambucus a little time, spring planting isn’t great for most shrubs or trees to establish; it will look wonderful, just give it a year or two, then you’ll be cutting it back to keep it to the size you want. Here today was glorious (lunch outside on the terrace), unbelievable after the grey wet week we’ve had – yesterday it rained so hard the roads were all rivers including the main road to Rome!

    1. Hi Christina, you’re right of course, it didn’t have a very happy start given how very cold it suddenly got shortly after planting, hopefully it will start to put on some growth next year, I’d just like it to actually show up in a photo of the border! Wonderful to have lunch outside, although it was so mild here earlier in the week I was gardening in a T shirt (albeit one with long sleeves) and sitting at the garden table drinking tea quite happily, staring at the border plotting fruit planting. Still no rain, despite the forecasts, but there is a distinct nip in the wind now that it is northerly, and I need to show mercy and clear the tomatoes out of the greenhouse, and think about bringing the chillies and peppers into the conservatory. Hope you get some more sunshine soon!

  10. I do love that creamy yellow Potentilla. I never know how much to prune my bright yellow one back, but It was a real picture this year so I must have done something right! My pink Lychnis produces lots of seedlings every year, but the white ones disappeared last year… no idea why. I’m hoping for some drier weather to get bulbs in soon too. It’s been pretty cold already so I need to get a move on!

    1. Hi Cathy, I’ve never had potentilla before, I was going to look up when to prune it on line, but I might as well ask you since whatever you did worked! When did you prune yours? I was assuming Spring, though I suspect mine will need some heavy duty rennovation because of where it has been growing, poor thing. Pity you don’t live closer, I would send you some white lychnis seedlings, I have plenty ;-)

      1. Hi Janet
        I was pretty brutal with it and used the hedge trimmer to give it a good haircut all over, shaping it nicely at the same time! I did it in late October and cut back about 20cm (it was getting very large), making sure new growth was below the cut, as I do for lavender. I have no idea if this is the “correct” time to do it, but it looked much better this year than it ever has!
        Good luck!

        1. Now that’s my kind of pruning! And actually, if I manage to move it this month, it makes sense to cut it back quite hard, less stress on the plant as it puts down new roots. Now I just have to finalise where it is moving to… Thanks Cathy!

  11. Well, I went a little mad with bulbs this year myself. I always buy too many, but this year took the prize. Fortunately, we’ve had a brilliant October and I managed to get everything in fifteen or so big pots with pansies on top. Pansies seem so boring, but come February when everything looks dismal, it’s great to see them bright and colorful with bulbs beginning to poke up between them. Good luck with your Photinia. I have a whole screen hedge of it and it can be a beast. It does remain green, and then a rich red in our climate and is in leaf throughout the winter. Hope you can give it a chance! But location is everything. Once again you cracked me up with the word “chuffed”, which I love. Did you know that I featured your blog and that word in an older post? I said that Janet had taught me a new word!


    1. Hi Susan, happy to have taught you a new word!! I agree with you about pansies, I have loads self seeded about the place, violas too, and although at the moment they are somewhat lost in amongst everything else, I now later on I will be really grateful for their little blooms. Goodness that’s a lot of pots, but hey, easier than putting them in the ground! I’m not sure it is possible to over do bulbs, except perhaps in terms of th energy it takes to plant them. Or running out of pots. I am hopign the photinia will stop sulking now that the fence behind it is complete and therefore it has more shelter, I can’t think of anywhere I could move it to that would get enough sun.

  12. I think the Hebe works well where you’ve placed it (the pot anyway) but if you continue to feel its not right there then I’m sure you’ll find another place for it :) looks like you’ve had a very productive week in the garden indeed. Still hoping autumn will remain mild for as long as possible.

    1. Hi guys, jury still out on the hebe, complicated by the fact that I am not entirely sure where the edge of that border is going to end up, plus I have some lovely bronze carex and a very pretty agastache to work in and around that area too. A nice kind of dilemma. And yes please, more mild autumn!

  13. I always forget how much gardening there is to do in the autumn until I get out there and start doing it! I hope your hands have recovered and are ready to continue transplanting and bulb planting. I’m also glad to know that I’m not the only one that changes their plans!

    1. I change my plans all the time! I always forget what a busy time of year this is too, though hopefully once the garden is more settled it won’t be quite as crazy. This morning I woke up and decided to put some of the plants that are in the worng place in the veg patch to look after them while I work away at the landscaping over the winter. Wonder if I will have room for sweetcorn next year, hope so, at least it goes in the ground later than lots of other things!! My biggest problem is that I am generating too much garden waste for the compost bins and the council recyling bin. I need a trip to the tip. At least I know it will all be turned in to compost and that next Spring I can go and collect some to put back on the garden.

  14. It does sound as though you had a busy week and such a productive one, too. Hope the weather stays mild so that you can carry on doing all you want to this autumn. I have a potentilla dilemma, too – I bought a couple very cheap from a local nursery’s closing down sale, and keep changing my mind about where to put them! I’m considering moving one of my young hebes as well, – so good for the bees but it is getting swamped by other shrubs where it is.
    I must admit I love your dramatic skies over the sea!

    1. Hi Wendy, I thought my luck was out when I woke up this morning, it was dark and wet, but it has turned out glorious, so pulmonaria duly relocated and mulched, four Hebe ‘Red Edge’ moved to a nursery bed while I work out what to do with them, yet more weeding, and perhaps a new idea of where to put my potentilla. Funny, isn’t it, how some plants take a while to tell you where they need to go! As for the skies, I never get tired of the evr-changing colours, I’m very lucky to garden with that as a background.

  15. Like many other people have commented I planted a Sambucus and it also took a while to get going, I think like you say its just on hold for a bit, I’m sure it will grow better next year. Although things are calming down it is still such a busy time isn’t it. Your garden is developing nicely but good to have an edit and swap around. I’m regretting some of my bulb purchases, well not really, just need to get going with planting, they look so gorgeous in the pictures but such hard work planting!

    1. Hi Annie, lets hope so. I am enjoying the way the garden is starting to take on it’s own character, I just try not to think about how much I want to do! Good luck with your bulb planting, I am hoping I won’t regret my own bulb purchases when they arrive. Those pictures in bulb catalogues and on websites should be banned, pure plant porn.

  16. Oh Janet, you HAVE been busy – and you made such a pertinent point in your last paragraph, about the time coming when there will be little more than the planning to do, till our list of garden jobs gets longer again in the spring. Your border rearrangements are looking good – it shows just what a difference a subtle colour change can make. From experience, your holly stump will keep on sprouting unless severely dealt with – and beware holly seedlings generally (if your holly has berries, that is)!

    1. Hi Cathy, fortunately the planning bit is fun too, and doesn’t get me filthy. Actually, I have plenty of winter jobs this year too, fencing, filling in the pond, knocking down a couple of walls… I’m pleased with the border tweaks, but I fear you are right about the holly, I may need to treat it with something. Not seen any holly seedlings yet, but the myrtle, that gets spread around all over the place, I have enough small plants for a hedge now which is perfect. Who knew that I would get a whole hedge thanks to the propagation techniques of the local bird population! I wish they did stem cuttings too.

  17. With little time and no gardening in the beds from spring through summer, I am just adding a raised bed, a few bulbs, planting garlic, herbs and shrubs that have waited all season to go in the beds…then I will have but a couple of weekends to clean up a bit, cut back and wrap shrubs against the rabbits and deer….hurried is a mild description.

    1. Hi Donna, that sounds pretty busy! I’m exhausted just reading about all that. I wound up planting a load of myrtle seedlings into one of my raised beds, so I hope I manage to get round to clearing the area they are due to become a hedge for before I need to plant the bed with peas…

  18. Hi Janet. You’ve been so busy, you put me to shame. I was given a sambucus this summer and I’m afraid to say it sat in a pot for a few weeks. I did plant it up but it hasn’t looked well since. Having read the comments the idea that it might take 2-3 years to become established doesn’t sound good. I’ve just got tulips waiting to go in but I’ll give them another couple of weeks before I do that. I’ve still got quite a bit of colour in the garden so I’m reluctant to do too much tidying up. I’ll probably wait until we get a frost. The garden is very soggy. Much as I love the milder climate in the west I don’t like the dampness and I can feel hibernation mode engaging. I know I need to fight it. ;)
    I LOVE that tamarisk. As for self seeding, I’ve got alchemilla everywhere and primroses popping up, valerian is a bit of a nightmare and calendulas but I don’t mind really. I let some do their thing. Hope the wrist is feeling better and that you don’t run out of energy. :) x

    1. Hi WW, I have to admit that I am not sure I would have chosen the sambucus for that position if I had realised how long it would take to establish, guess I should have done more research. Ho hum, hopefully it will be worth it in the end, and at least the Tamarisk is lovely! I know what you mean about the tidying up, and one of the problems I need to tidy is the valerian seedlings, which are everywhere. I wouldn’t mind calendula self seeding in the back garden, but I hate the way it keeps popping up all over the front garden, I can hear them laughing at me, and my efforts to keep to a muted colour palette. No finesse ;-)

      Good luck fighting the urge to hibernate, hope you are getting the same glorious weather we are here today, it is actually warm enough to eat outside, would you believe! I really should take advantage and cut the grass, but that is such a tedious idea…

  19. Hope that the wrist is recovering after all that action Janet. Your last sentence sums up this time of year so well. Definitely best to have a frenzied rush now whilst the fingers are not fighting off frostbite and there is no competition from those little seedlings shrieking out for attention in the spring.

    1. Hi Anna, the wrist is much better after a break thanks Anna, I just need to remember to wear a support bandage. I like your description of spring seedlings yelling out for attention, that’s exactly what it feels like, isn’t it. Currently it is the newly arrived bulb order that is calling out “Hey! Here I am! Do something with me before I rot already!”

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