One thing I haven’t really paid much attention to in the past is scent. We have some flowers in our garden which are scented, like the Goumi (elaeagnus multiflora), or the roses, but they weren’t chosen for that reason. This is probably it takes quite a strong scent for me to notice, but my wife has a much better sense of smell and does notice when nearby plants make an effort to be fragrant. Late last year I decided to stock up on more strongly scented plants for her to enjoy, and they’re not all either planted or at least in pots ready to go.

Finding reliable information about scent is actually quite hard without visiting a lot of gardens at the right time of year and smelling for yourself. The quality of scents are very personal and hard to describe to someone else, which makes it hard to know whether you’ll like anything you buy or not until too late, and lists of strongly scented plants always seem to over-shoot. If you filter for scented plants on any supplier’s website you’ll be presented with hundreds of options, many of which are useless unless you actually stick your nose into the flower. This wasn’t what I was looking for. I wanted plants which you can smell coming, which give bang for your buck.

Plant Choices

After much short-listing, the selected species were boiled down to the list below. I’ve indicated the claimed flowering times from the suppliers’ websites, but they may be optimistic and continuous flowering over several months may not happen.

Scented shrub flowering times

Scented shrub flowering times

I’ve mentioned the new climbing roses in a previous post. They play strongly into my plant for scent from January to December to the front, the area which gets the most foot traffic. They’re complemented with a winter flowering honeysuckle, a viburnum, and a Korean lilac. All of these have small, pale, strongly scented flowers, which suggest moth pollinators to me. This is a typical description of a moth pollinated flower:

Most ‘moth flowers’ are white or pale coloured, so that moths can see them at dusk. They are usually scented, and often the scent becomes stronger in the evening. And the flowers often have long tubes, to accommodate the moths’ long tongues and exclude other insects. If you plant these flowers you will certainly help to feed adult moths in your garden.

This makes intuitive sense – scent is more useful when other ways of attracting attention such as vision are less useful, and moths are typically nocturnal. Unfortunately it’s quite hard to find information about the typical pollinator for many species by Googling.

For the back garden coverage of the year is less even (there’s a big gap in autumn), although that’s partly compensated for by the large number of flowering and aromatic plants and herbs chosen for other reasons. To those existing plants I’ve added two more shrubs with small, pale flowers: sweet box, widely known for its scent, and a deutzia, where I’ll just have to wait and see. Finally, I have a couple of philadelphus / mock orange plants, which everyone agrees can fill entire gardens with an orange-blossom scent.

Supplier Issues

Unfortunately there were some mail order supplier issues again. I’m starting to get very nervous whenever a plant delivery is due, because it seems like something always goes wrong. At this stage, if I could get hold of everything locally I’d go for it even for a significant premium, but it just isn’t possible.

In this case, the issue was Suttons. I ordered in late November, with the website suggesting delivery within 2 – 3 weeks. I called and was told they were still awaiting stock. No updates were forthcoming. The week before Christmas, still nothing. I called and was told that they would dispatch immediately so we’d have the plants before we went away to visit relatives. Still nothing. I called again and was told the delivery had now been delayed and would definitely be in January after we got back. The next day, the plants arrived.

Don’t get me wrong. The plants are decent sized and of good quality. It’s just that there was no useful feedback at all regarding when they might arrive, and Sutton’s own staff apparently didn’t know that they’d dispatched them when I talked to them the afternoon before they arrived.

Why is running a reliable mail-order nursery and/or delivery business such an impossible thing for a customer to ask for?

Bottomless Pots

Terracotta pot

Terracotta pot

When I was growing up, my parents used to use chimney pots as planters. I’m not sure whether they just had a couple of spare or whether it was a deliberate plan, but I’ve been thinking recently what a good idea it was.

I’ve never been a big fan of pots as permanent place to grow things. They do have advantages: like raised beds, they will warm up quicker in spring, it’s often handy to have segregated areas for growing smaller or weaker plants for extra attention and coddling, and of course pots can look good as well. But on the other hand they’re always too dry or too wet, nutrients get used or leeched from the soil, and before you know it you’re spending half your time watering and feeding the potted plants while the ones in the ground just look after themselves.

So I’ve decided to take inspiration from the chimney pots. We’ve already taken an angle grinder to the bottom of one large pot, and I’ve let it be known in the family that 30 – 40cm square terracotta pots would be a welcome christmas gift. I’m going to line some of the paths with them, and the open bottoms should let worms and plant roots in and out and avoid the nutrient depletion and moisture issues.

I just wonder why everyone isn’t already selling them pre-cut…

The missing ingredient, source: Wikipedia, by Widar23

The missing ingredient, source: Wikipedia, by Widar23

Apples and Beetroot

Food-wise, the garden’s a bit quiet now, but I have harvested a few beetroot over the last few days. I did a late sowing in early October on the basis that I had free space in the raised beds and some old seed from magazine covers. Most didn’t grow much and are still pea sized, but a few grew big enough to be worth harvesting.

Late November beetroot

Late November beetroot

The other thing we’ve been eating are apples from the garden. Of the two more established trees we have, it was the Fiesta that yielded well this year. This was its fourth year and after a lot of thinning it produced around thirty decent sized apples.

Fiesta apples 2016

Fiesta apples 2016

I chose the Fiesta because my priorities were high yield, regular yield, good storage, and disease resistance. Fiesta scores well in those categories in theory, although its flavour is mostly just sweet in a Gala kind of way. Unfortunately it’s already developed a bit of a habit for biennial bearing despite regular thinning, which goes to show that advice from suppliers isn’t always accurate.

The other apple we’ve been eating is the Spartans. My grandparents have a tree that produces enough apples for them, us and my sister’s family, with plenty of windfall left over for the birds. And what apples they are.

Spartan apples 2016

Spartan apples 2016

If left on the tree until late October, until the skin turns a deep red, they have a lovely sweet taste, soft low-acid fresh, and hints of strawberry to my taste. I do like crumbly fleshed, low-acid apples – russets are another favourite of mine for the mild nutty flavour. If sweet apples are to your taste and flavour is your number 1 criterion, I think Spartan is a better pick than Fiesta.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the new Cockle Pippin tastes like in a few years time. Not being a common variety anymore, it’s hard to find samples or even good descriptions, and I picked it mostly for being a late, upright growing tree with fruit that stores well. It is russeted and words like ‘rich’ and ‘aromatic’ are used by Joan Morgan in her book of apples, so I’m hopeful.


I’m not a cat person. I might have mentioned this before… the idea that you can buy and feed an animal then let it roam free without supervision through other people’s property has never made sense to me. Cats are extended liberties denied to other domesticated animals.

Dog fouling, for example, is subject to fines, unlike cat fouling, but cat poo isn’t obviously less offensive and poses its own health risks to humans (toxoplasmosis). Not good when a bed containing root vegetables is being used as a toilet. Especially not good when you have a young child in the garden and cats are by far the most common medium – large animal in the neighbourhood.

This has been an issue with the new rose beds next to our front door. Before the roses went in, after the soil was dug over, they were being used by at least one local feline on a daily basis. Even leaving aside the unpleasantness and health risks of finding a  ew gift ever morning, I also don’t want my new bare-root plants being dug up in the process. Something had to be done.


There are a few things I’ve tried over the years to deter without harming the offending felines. The most common cat deterrents are:

1. Sonic devices

The high-tech solution. They emit high pitched noises that cats don’t like. I tried one years ago, and it did seem to deter cats.

The problem with these is (i) firstly that they only activate when a cat passes in front of them, meaning you need more than one to cover an area, (ii) they’re expensive, and (iii) children may be able to hear the noise and find it unpleasant too. They’re a bit like the Mosquito anti-loitering device.

On the plus side, they may be the only semi-effective solution for larger areas like raised beds where the forward / restricted activation angle isn’t so much of an issue.

2. Physical barriers

For very small areas, physical barriers or netting may be effective. The challenge here is that cats are very good at squeezing through small spaces, so if there are any gaps or  obstacles preventing a tight barrier being made then they might not be effective. They’re also good at climbing and jumping. Just sticking a few bamboo canes in the ground and tying netting to them is probably not going to be effective on its own.

3. Bad odors

Pellets and powders for deterring cats from lingering are commonly sold. These normally have a strong odor (garlic is a favourite) which cats are supposed to dislike. In my experience these aren’t very effective.


Al-cat-traz - keeping cats out of the rose beds

Al-cat-traz – keeping cats out of the rose beds

Welcome to Al-cat-traz! Because the rose beds are relatively small, I decided that restricting movement should be enough. In order to do their business, cats need room to dig and squat, so filling the space is an effective deterrent. The plastic netting alone wouldn’t be effective, but I’ve dotted short (blunt) pea canes around in the middle so that any squatting cat will be poked in the behind. As a final deterrent I also used some of the garlic scented pellets. This is a temporary solution since once the roses are established, having a spiny shrub there should be deterrent enough.

Of course, this doesn’t solve the issue of cat poo buried in the middle of my potatoes, which will be an issue again in the Spring. The only solution there might be one of the sonic devices, since the area is too big to successfully make cat-proof with physical barriers.

Garden Styles

I’ve been thinking a lot about garden styles recently. A few months ago, during his first visit to our house in years, my uncle called our garden a ‘wildlife garden’. I remember at the time holding back from correcting him, because I wasn’t confident what label would be better.

Before we bought the house, when the garden was only a doodle on paper, the words I would have chosen were ‘forest garden’. The very first plans I drew up had fairly dense tree cover all the way to the house. The canopy was a mix of traditional fruit trees and more unconventional trees like Siberian Pea trees, Cornelian Cherry, and Devon Sorb Apples. The first gardening book to inspire me was Martin Crawford’s magnum opus, and it showed.

Then came the compromises. The first was to eliminate many of the more adventurous trees in the plan on favour of proven productive species, given our limited space.

I also made an allowance for more open space and grass close to the house, for barbeques and social use of the garden. The whole place was still a mess back then, with young trees and lots and lots of woven plastic sheeting to clear the grass and the weeds. My wife becoming pregnant right after we moved in gave impetus to this, and I moved a raised bed to expand the lawn that I was in the process of removing elsewhere.

The next compromise to that vision came with an expansion of traditional vegetable gardening. In early years I planted tomatoes and cucumbers through holes in the mypex, expecting that eventually those spaces would be shaded. But the truth is a garden that just produces dessert fruit and leafy perennials isn’t very nutritionally balanced. I’d always left open the possibility of a greenhouse, but a couple of years ago we built one with a lot of help from the family. I added another raised bed, and when one of the plum trees died at the start of this year I earmarked some of the space as a permanent home for more vegetables.

I’ve also gradually broadened how I choose what to grow. In the early days almost everything was chosen to be directly edible or fertility enhancing. Many of these were attractive, such as violets or mallows, but to earn their place they also had to be useful.

I guess the expansions so far have been:

  1. Plants with other historical uses such as soap (e.g. Soapwort) or medicine (e.g. St John’s Wort). Some of these I might not be sure about using and are there as much for interest as anything else.
  2. Plants to attract or help wildlife (e.g. Buddleja)
  3. Ornamentals

The last category is mostly filled with low-growing ornamentals useful for ground-cover / weed supression, with roses, and with very early (spring bulbs) or late (Hellebores) flowers. In the late spring and summer I don’t need more flowers. Winter is a depressing time, and a deciduous / herbaceous garden looks mostly brown otherwise. My taste in flowers still veers to the unenhanced, even now – I’m not a huge fan of artificially huge or fluffy pom-pom flowers.

So where does this leave me? The third of the garden close to the house is lawn. Probably an additional 10% – 20% is devoted to the greenhouse and my annual veg beds. The rest is covered by deep beds separated by curving pebble-lined paths and arches, and dotted with stepping stones. The placement of herbaceous plants is a bit haphazard and has been driven a lot by a combination of ‘where is there a gap?’ and a general preference for plants to be in order of ascending height except where trees or shrubs get in the way. There are 9 fruit trees and a lot of fruiting shrubs, most of them underplanted.

The best label for a garden of deep beds where the functional and ornamental are mixed together is a cottage garden, and I guess that’s what our garden is even though it’s in the centre of a large town. Perhaps there’s also a bit of wildlife garden in there, but to me wildlife gardening has to be integrated. I don’t set aside a corner and let it go back to nature.

If it is a cottage garden, then it’s a cottage garden in the old sense of the word, where much of the planting is for at least theoretical utility, not a modern cottage garden where the ornamental side has overwhelmed the functional. I actually don’t like lot of cottage garden staples like foxgloves and delphiniums since they are too garish for my taste, which is the main reason why I’m still not sure that the label is right.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:

The earliest cottage gardens were more practical than today’s, with emphasis on vegetables and herbs, fruit trees, perhaps a beehive, and even livestock. Flowers, used to fill spaces, gradually became more dominant. The traditional cottage garden was usually enclosed, perhaps with a rose-bowered gateway. Flowers common to early cottage gardens included traditional florists’ flowers such as primroses and violets, along with flowers with household use such as calendula and various herbs. Others were the richly scented old-fashioned roses that bloomed once a year, and simple flowers like daisies. In time, cottage-garden sections were added to some large estate gardens as well.

Now if only I could get the wife onboard with the idea of bee-keeping…

Preparations for Winter

It’s the time of year now where the to-do list is mostly preparations for next year. The ground needs to be prepared for bare-root plants, and seeds that need stratification need to be sown in time to get a decent winter chill.

This weekend has been a bit of all of that. Yesterday’s task was to cut holes into the vast expanse of concrete along the front and side of the house, so the climbing roses can be planted when they arrive. This wasn’t as easy as expected… it took me and my much more powertool handy father hours with a grinder, a breaker, a crowbar and a spade to cut three small holes in the very old and very hard concrete. The end result was three mostly straight edged rectangles:

Hole in the concrete drive for a rose bed

Hole in the concrete drive for a rose bed

I dug them out and mixed in new topsoil and manure today, but we’re now debating whether to put pondliner around the outside down a foot or two to stop water ingress through the solid wall. So I might have to dig it all out again in a day or two anyway.

Today was preparations for my long lost order of non-rose plants. This was supposed to arrive last Wednesday, but the supplier sent it to another customer who happened to have the same name as me. You read that right: they dispatched it without checking the address against the order details. It was then recollected from the accidental recipient on Friday and is supposed to be arriving tomorrow. This is the second winter in a row when a next day delivery has been anything but, and I’m starting to get a feeling of dread whenever something is supposed to show up.

Hopefully, the following will show up tomorrow:

1. Chaenomeles ‘Nivalis’ – I built wire supports to vertically train this. Hopefully it’ll do better than the Cido variety.

2. Chinese Toon – a tree with onion-y leaves, popular in China. I’ll keep it trimmed and bushy. The hole is dug – I hit a few Babington’s Leek bulbs on the way down.

3. Actinidia Kolomikta ‘Dr. Szymanowski’ – less vigourous, very hardy kiwi species. Another kiwi nearby isn’t doing so well so I’ve prepared a bottomless pot for this one. With this I have 5 plants, with 2 female varieties and 1 male variety.

4. Zingiber mioga – Japanese ginger. You can never have too many shade tolerant plants when you like planting trees as much as I do.

And after all that, there was a bit of seed sowing. I normally sow seeds that need stratification early and then just leave them in the greenhouse over winter, since it’s so much easier than putting seeds in the fridge and it’s basically how nature does it. The only benefit of the greenhouse is that it keeps weed seeds and birds, rodents etc. out of the seed trays.

The most interesting seed this year is Cephalotaxus Fortunei, a species which is somewhat hard to find and that supposedly produces edible fruit in very shady conditions. We’ll have to see if the seeds germinate in the spring, and if so if any fruit is ever produced.

The First Home-Grown Medlar

So my hopes in May of a decent medlar yield were dashed again. My Iranian medlar tree set quite a few fruit but most didn’t develop well and dropped off early. That’s an improvement over last year, where the flowers dropped off before the fruit stagr, but still a long way from the tens or hundreds of delicious medlars I was hoping for.

But one fruit did make it, and today it was ripe enough to eat. Medlars are described by almost everyone as an ‘acquired taste’, but I don’t understand why since I liked the first one I ever tried. They taste like apple purée with a dash of  lemon juice, and with a slightly flakey, oat-like texture and dryness mixed in there. Since they’re eaten when overripe (but not rotten) they also often have a slight winey taste to them. Since the skin is tough and there are big seeds mixed in, the only way to eat them is to suck the flesh in, swirl it around a bit, then spit the seeds out.

Based on my first trial of an Iranian medlar, the flesh was smoother, sweeter and less dry/oat-like in texture than the more common Nottingham variety. Definitely a good taste, I just hope that next year’s production is more than one ripe fruit.

Ripe medlar

Ripe medlar

Inside of an Iranian Medlar

Inside of an Iranian Medlar

You Can Have Any Colour, As Long As It’s Rose

Since the first batch of wine I ever made was very drinkable, I’ve done a second batch with more of the frozen fruit in the garage. I used most of my red gooseberries last time, so this time I mixed up what I had to get:

33% blackcurrant

58% redcurrant

9% oriental quince

I then added other ingredients based on ‘averaging’ the recipes for the different ingredients in my book. To be honest, most of them are more or less the same apart from the amount of sugar, so the book’s a bit repetitive. And speaking of sugar, I upped the sugar a bit since last time it was a bit dry for my taste, and the volume since it’s not much more effort to make 20 bottles than 6.

So far it all seems to be going well, the only disappointment is the colour. I thought the blackcurrants would have more impact, but so far it’s only a slightly deeper pink than the gooseberry wine. Like Ford used to say, you can have any colour as long as it’s rosé.

I’m looking forward to tasting it in time for Christmas! Fingers crossed the slightly loose interpretation of the recipe(s) works out.

Mixed fruit wine, with blackcurrants, redcurrants and quince

Mixed fruit wine, with blackcurrants, redcurrants and quince

Choosing Roses

So I’ve spent the last rose shopping. We just had some work done on the house to move an external door, and a plan to plant a climber where the door used to be has expanded into a project to cover up as much of the pebble-dash rendering as possible. We love a lot about our house, and it was a good compromise for us, but the external rendering isn’t one of the pluses.

My idea is to cut some holes for beds into the concrete driveway and then plant three climbing roses with smaller shrubby roses underneath for groundcover. I decided to go for roses because whatever covers up the rendering should be attractive, my wife wanted something scented, and I didn’t want anything likely to leave marks on the wall. Even climbing roses aren’t really true climbers, they’re sprawlers that need to be tied in place. It means more effort up front but less problems with removal or hacking them back.

The things I was looking for, the things the perfect rose for us would have, were:

  1. Thornless, or if thorned then flexible/trainable enough so family members and guests don’t get caught and shredded in passing
  2. Strongly scented
  3. Repeat flowering
  4. Single flowers and attractive to pollinators
  5. Good disease resistance, since I don’t plan on spraying
  6. For the climbers, growing big enough to cover most of a two storey wall (e.g. 4 – 5m), but not so vigorous that I need to be up a 5m ladder every month trying to stop it going over the top and engulfing the house
  7. Nice colour – white, pink, scarlet are good, yellow and orange are a much harder sell

Needless to say, it’s pretty hard to find any rose that meets all of those criteria. The harder ones are the thornlessness, which I basically gave up on, and the single flowers. Repeat flowering tends to be a property of highly bred roses, and many of those have also been selected for double flowers.

So, after much agonising I can now reveal the compromise to achieve something for both myself (wildlife friendly, nice colours) and the wife (scented, long flowering).


The roses below go in order from largest and wildest to smallest and least wild (double flowers). All of the climbers are supposed to be strongly scented.

Rosa moschata

Rosa moschata, source: Wikipedia, by Arashiyama

This one is very much my choice. It’s basically a wild rose that flowers late but over a period of 2 – 3 months. It’s supposed to be very strongly scented, as in you can smell it tens of feet away, and very attractive to bees. I’ve seen conflicting reports about size and David Austin claim it needs a warm wall to hit 4 or 5m, so we’ll just have to see how it works out. Hopefully it can cover 10 – 15 m2 of wall if it can get high enough and spread horizontally as well.

The Lady of the Lake

The Lady of the Lake, source: David Austin

This one is is one we can both go for. It’s a highly bred, repeat flowering English rose, but the flowers are only semi-double so you can actually see the stamens and stigma. In the pictures it looks an attractive shade of pink. It should be a big less vigorous than r. moschata, and I thought we might train it around the bathroom window and over the door.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Tess of the d’Urbervilles, source: David Austin

This is very much not a wild rose in terms of flower shape. A bit fluffy for me in shape and probably useless for wildlife, but chosen for scent, colour, and lack of vigour. It can go against the single storey utility room wall.

Groundcover / Shrub Roses

Centre Stage

Centre stage, source: David Austin

A low growing groundcover rose. Single flowers, supposed to flower continuously over a long period. Probably not strongly scented.


Cambridgeshire rose, source: David Austin

Another groundcover rose, repeat flowering. My wife loved the colours. I agree the mix of gold and orange looks really good, I just need to decide which climber to match it with. Supposedly not strongly scented.

Munstead Wood

Munstead Wood rose, source: David Austin

This one is more of a small shrub. Supposed to have a very strong scent, and it looks like a good colour match for Tess of the d’Urbervilles, or maybe it would look good under the pink Lady of the Lake. Double flowered.

So I guess the scores, based on available internet info, are:

Criteria Score
Thornless 0/6
Strongly scented 4/6
Repeat flowering 5/6
(Semi-)single flowering 3/6
Right size for the space 6/6
Nice colour 6/6

Which I guess means my priorities ended up being colour, size > repeating > scent > single flowering > thornlessness. I wish I’d been a bit more successful in finding single flowered varieties that also had the right size, repeat flowering and scent, but combining single flowers with repeat flowering in particular is pretty hard. For example, many ramblers, and especially the fairly common single flowering ones, do not repeat.

I’ll let you know in a year or two how it all works out…

Post-Equinox Blues

The Autumn Equinox is always a depressing time. It’s not just that the days are getting shorter, that’s been happening since late June, it’s that now is the point when the days are getting shorter fastest. You can almost see the night coming earlier day by day, and you know that before too long you’ll be driving to work in the dark and driving home in the dark and the sun will be a distant memory.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. I was outside today putting down stepping stones in some of the beds, before the perennials start to die back and I don’t know what’s where, and the weather was amazing. There were plenty of bees and butterflies making the most of the sunshine and the remaining flowers, and I couldn’t resist taking some photos.

We should still have a month or so until the first frosts arrive, and some things will soldier on until the bitter end. So let’s make the most of what’s left, and hope for a warm and sunny Autumn!

Verbena 25/9/2016

Verbena 25/9/2016

Perennial and annual sunflowers 25/9/2016

Perennial and annual sunflowers 25/9/2016

Buddleja with a Red Admiral in port 25/9/2016

Buddleja with a Red Admiral in port 25/9/2016

Marigolds 25/9/2016

Marigolds 25/9/2016

Marshmallow 25/9/2016

Marshmallow 25/9/2016

Anise hyssop with bee, 25/9/2016

Anise hyssop with bee, 25/9/2016

Hydrangea, 25/9/2016

Hydrangea, 25/9/2016

Viola, 25/9/2016

Viola, 25/9/2016

Bergamot, 25/9/2016

Bergamot, 25/9/2016

Feverfew and lavender, 25/9/2016

Feverfew and lavender, 25/9/2016

Bellflowers, 25/9/2016

Bellflowers, 25/9/2016

Bee on winter savory, 25/9/2016

Bee on winter savory, 25/9/2016