Archive for the ‘Flower Garden’ Category

Really pleased with the cottage garden feel we’ve managed to achieve

Small Garden Space

Year 1 – Like the way our cottage garden is shaping up

Hi all.
We’re back after a bit of break from the blog with a new series about how to design for a small garden. Some of you that have been following us for a while will know we moved from a ¾ acre plot in Hampshire to what is a tiny garden nestled on the banks of the Misbourne river in Buckinghamshire.

We bought the house last year as a renovation project as it had become a little neglected. We knew it was going to be a hard slog but we held on top the thought that one day we would get around to creating a new garden which is what I love.

I knew I wanted to create a cottage garden, after all the house is over 500 years old and we’re not brave enough to try anything too contemporary. Also classic english gardens are my favourtie.

As you can probably see from the images the garden was neglected and basically a slightly overgrown backyard. Well we were determined to breathe new life into it and restore it to something that would be a beautiful outdoor space.

Small Back Garden

The plot is approximately 14 meters long and 3 meters wide and pretty much down to grass. It has the regular path down one side a small shed plonked at the end and beyond the shed is a lovely stream which has trout and an abundance of crayfish. Have to say the stream is partly why we bought the house … it’s simply beautiful. 🙂

The boundary fences were rotten along with a couple of old gates that were falling apart. We had a massive concrete slab outside the back door which was hideous but functional. We inherited loads of bluebells which were stunning in the Spring and the odd crocosmia, a peony rose and a mix of daffs and the odd tulip. But it was sad and neglected … but we were determined to bring it back to life.

First job, clear the old shed as it has seen much better days. I kept the door as I had an idea for it. (Will share in my next post)

Next all the old paving and grass needed to come out so I could see what we were working with. Grass is fine but it meant I would need a mower but we got rid of most of our tools and machinery when we moved.

We knew we needed a couple of essentials like a shed and a patio for outside the back door for me to sit with my tea at the weekends!  We’d also needed a way to get to the bottom of the garden as Angus (our little Westie) would need to get to the bottom of the garden in winter.  (Needs must)

In my next post I’ll share how we went about putting this all together into a lovely little country garden.

Back soon.




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Planning A New Herbaceous Border

There is something quintessentially English about the herbaceous border that can’t be matched in my view. If you’re lucky enough to have a herbaceous border of your own you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about!

If you’re looking to create your own border then read on as we share our journey as we create a brand new border at Blackbirds.

Choosing a site
We  finally finished moving the polytunnel which has given us a much better outlook from the house and to be honest … it feels like it should have been there in the first place! As you can see from the photo below it’s left us with a fantastic space.

Planning our new herbaceous border

It’s approximately 26 feet by 16 feet which is simply crying out for a lovely mixed herbaceous flower border.

Planting a new border is great fun and I’ve been lucky enough to create two borders in the garden already. But there is something not quite right about them, so this time I’m going to do my research first before I attempt to plant anything.

After a brief consultation period with John (30 seconds from memory), I decided we’d use one-half for more fruit and veg and the other for the new herbaceous border. Should look amazing when it all comes together.

The new border will be on my neighbours side of the garden which is currently a large open space on which he stores a couple of caravans.

Planning our new herbaceous border

They’re not overly offensive, but I need to find a way to hide them without having to put up a massive fence. I’m not a fan of wooden fence panels and I prefer to use hedges if I can as it helps to bring in the wildlife.

I plan to grow a few evergreen shrubs at the back of the border to create a little more privacy and to provide a nice backdrop for the rest of the plants. We struggle to grow evergreens on our chalky soil so I’m going to need to be inventive when it comes to the planting. Probably sink a few large pots in the ground and backfill with ericaceous compost.

Designing the border
A couple of weeks ago we had a fabulous few days in Cornwall. We managed to grab the last of the late summer sunshine. Cornwall and St Ives, in particular, are simply gorgeous at this time of the year as most of the summer holiday makers have left.

While we were in the area we visited a fantastic garden at Lanhydrock House where I photographed this amazing border with a fabulous planting scheme. The colours are predominantly light shades of pink, purple and white with the odd rich orange crocosmia which make the border really pop!

Planning our new herbaceous border

What I noticed about it is firstly was the size. It just looks so impressive! Also, it’s planted with occasional evergreens which I think are for structure and to keep the border looking fresh in winter. (Herbaceous plants tend to die back in the winter and can look a little tired)

Fortunately for me those clever people at Lanhydrock left a few printed planting plans in a little cubby hole alongside the border to help visitors identify the plants. Just a brilliant idea … Each one numbered with the full name alongside.

We’re going to base our planting on the border at Lanhydrock House.

It is a simple basic oblong design that fits with my new space which will have a long path down the middle to add the sense of perspective. We’ll divide the area in half with one side for the border and the other for veggies. I’d like to incorporate a feature circle half way along to create a resting spot where we can simply sit on a summers evening with a glass of the fizzy stuff and watch the sun set as it drops below the tree line.

Planting A Willow Arch

We have some willow plants that were propagated from some plants I bought John for his birthday a few years back. I’ll use those to create a little willow arbour which will be trained up and over the circle to create some shade on those barmy summer days. For the moment, I’ve put my standard Bay in the middle as a focal point.

I wonder if I can find an old wrought iron seat to add a little style? …  I’m thinking an old bench like those wonderful old wrought iron benches we used to see at the local cricket field.

Constructing the border
When creating any new border I like to get the paths marked out first. Nothing fancy, just a modest gravel path edged with timber edges. All recycled of course!

All you need is a string line a tape measure, (to keep the width of the path consistent) and a few lengths of 3 x 1 timber. I’m using a few boards salvaged from a couple of old pallets.

The only snag with wood edging is it will rot after a few years … but all you do is replace them and recycle the old ones as compost. Alternatively if you can afford it then iron edging looks great and will last a lifetime but that’s not in my budget I’m afraid.

Timber path edging

I’ve made the path approx 900mm wide which is enough for two people to pass and plenty of room for a wheelbarrow. All I do is drive in a few 2 inch squared wooden pegs about 3-4 feet apart making sure they are on the border side using the string line to keep them nice and straight.

I leveled the edging as much as possible and nailed the edging to the posts. Try not to bury them too deep or the gravel on the path will simply disappear into the border which is really annoying! A minimum two inches above ground should do it.

As the length of the border is about 28 feet I thought it best to divide the other side (veggie side) in half with a couple of paths using exactly the same process with the tape measure and string. Just remember to step back and eye up the lines to ensure they are straight and square to the main path. Nothing worse than a wonky path!

I have some bricks left over from the house build which I plan to use to edge the circle and the natural material of the bricks should help soften the overall feel and at the same time provide a nice little feature.

Planning our new herbaceous border

I’ll need to buy some sharp sand and cement to finish the job.

Well, the new border is starting to take shape!  Next time I’ll share how I plan to approach the planting and make a start on selecting the plants.

Should be fun!

Best wishes

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

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Last years pink weigelia plants raised from softwood cuttings in early June

Last years pink Weigela plants raised from softwood cuttings in early June 2013.

We’ve decided to write a series of posts on the subject of starting your own plant nursery business. Partly in reply to the many emails we receive on the subject and partly because we derive so much pleasure from growing plants.

As we have so much to say we’re presenting the materials as a series of posts to ensure we get across the really valuable stuff in some detail so you can gain the most benefit.

Part 1 – The basics

I’m not even sure what we are doing really amounts to a plant nursery as such. I guess you’d call it a sort of part time hobby that has grown over the last few years. Not only it is great stress buster it also brings in some welcome funds.  It won’t make you a millionaire, at least not overnight, but if you are prepared to work hard I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you can achieve.

My advice is don’t stretch yourself too much in the beginning. Perhaps start with maybe a handful of plants and feel your way from there. It’s fairly simple to get to started and if you’re anything like us you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it years ago!

You see I firmly believe small growers like you and I can compete with the larger garden centres at so many levels. The most obvious advantage we have is we don’t have hundreds if not thousands of pounds of overheads.

Thyme growing in the nursery

Last years Thyme plants growing away in the nursery.

That to me is the secret, only invest what you can afford and never borrow money to start your business. You don’t need to, just keep it small and when it’s going well plan for something much bigger. If you’d prefer to grow just a few varieties of you choice then that’s also fine. Above all enjoy the experience … it’s meant to be fun!

You might even consider branching out (excuse the pun) into selling your plants through a small web site?  There are several tools out there that make it easy to set up your own shop on line so do your research and you can started for free if you use PayPal for example. PayPal will take around 3% in charges which I think is a small price to pay given you are using an established payment provider and all the benefits that go with it.

Where to begin?

You are going to face a few decisions along the way and perhaps the most challenging is how do I get started?

When we started we both did loads of research on plants and more specifically learning the various plant names. We set ourselves a target to learn the names of at least five plants a week.  Appreciate this doesn’t sound like a lot but setting realistic targets makes it more likely you will achieve them. So be fair with yourself or you’ll get fed up before you’ve even started.

I know John read lots of books and researched other people’s stories and what  successful growers were doing right and where the not so successful ones were going wrong.

We also spoke to lots of people we knew to find out how and why they buy plants. The results were interesting, most replied it was therapy wandering through a collection of plants and imagining how the plants would look in their own garden. They also said when they head to the garden centre they’re usually already prepared to spend money, which is great news for the small grower. All we need to do is persuade them to buy from us instead.

What should I grow?

That’s an easy one. Grow what your customers want which isn’t quite as simple as it sounds, but you can help yourself by getting a head start. Take a trip to your local garden centre and wander around taking a sneak peak in the trolleys. This will give you a pretty good idea what people are buying. Let’s call it homework. 🙂

The garden centre industry spends literally millions of pounds a year on researching what’s in and what’s not,  so if they have loads of Japanese maples dotted around (as they seem to at the moment) then there is surely a market for Japanese Maples.

Japanese Maples

Who can resist the lovely graceful Acers.

If you’re planning on keeping your nursery small it’s probably a good idea to focus on one plant type. Choose something your really passionate about and grow lots of varieties, including a few rare varieties. It will  help you to remain focused and it’s easier keeping one plant group healthy than managing lots of different ones.

Perhaps you have a passion for roses, or rhododendrons, or maybe you’re into trees?  All I would say when it comes to trees your going to need to be prepared for a lot of heavy lifting and you’ll need plenty of space so perhaps they’re best left to the big growers.

 Is it legal to sell plants from my back garden?

Yes but you can’t simply propagate anything and expect to be able to sell it. You need to learn about Plant Breeders Rights and then forget all about it. I’m serious, don’t waste time working out if you are within the law, simply invest in the older varieties as they tend to be pre-PBR and you should be fine. Always check the label on the plant before you buy and if that doesn’t help jump on the Internet and see what information is out there on the variety. Last but no means least you can always ask the garden centre or nursery where you bought the plant.

But what if no one wants to buy my plants?

It can be quite daunting at first and we all experience doubts when kick starting a new venture. The way I look at it is if you don’t make a start how can you expect to succeed?  We were exactly the same three years ago when we started growing our own plants, but after much effort we’ve created what you might call our own little plant nursery right in our back garden which is stocked with a  range of shrubs and old fashioned cottage favourites ready for anyone that wants to buy. I firmly believe if you build it they will come … now where have I heard that before?

Next time in part 2 we’ll look at how to set up your growing space, how to kick start your collection from softwood cuttings and the equipment you’ll need to get you started.

Hope you found this useful.

Best wishes,

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

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How To Start Your Own Plant Nursery

Firstly … so sorry we haven’t posted for a while … it’s Sunday evening and John and I have just come in after a very productive day working on our new little nursery venture. It’s going to be our main focus for this year as it offers a real opportunity to make a little extra money for my garden budget.

It’s soooo exciting to see all the plants all laid out all in neat rows just like a real nursery 🙂

I’m beginning to realise people just can’t resist plants!

We were out to dinner with friends last night and eventually we got onto the subject of our gardens and I happened to mention our new venture. Well, … you’d think we’d won the lottery!  “We’ll be over on Monday to pick out some plants”.

Not quite what I expected … but I have to say that’s pretty much the reaction we’ve had from most of our friends and family.

If you’re considering growing your own plants from cuttings you should read this first!

If you’re thinking of starting you’re own little back garden nursery venture then you need to research something called Plant Breeders Rights.

Basically it’s a law that was introduced to protect the rights of plant breeders … a sort of patent for plants if you like. Essentially it made it illegal to propagate plants for profit … but the good news is there are loads of plants out there that were around before Plant Breeders Rights were introduced that you can propagate.

My advice is:

1. Always read the label on any plant that you buy. It will clearly state if the plant is subject to Plant Breeders Rights.
2. Look for the older varieties and you should have no problems with propagating them.
3. Propagate these older varieties so other growers can access these unprotected varieties.

The more ‘protected plants’ that are introduced to the market the more demand there will be for the unprotected varieties.

June is the time for softwood cuttings
We raise most of our plants from softwood cuttings … except the Japanese Maples which we buy as one year old seedlings and grow them on for the garden.

Acer - Orange Dream ... one of my favourite plants.

Acer – ‘Orange Dream’ … a gorgeous variety … one of my most favourite plants.

I’m so pleased with the roses we raised from cuttings last year. The blooms are not huge, but the plants look really healthy and seem to be growing true to the original old variety.


So wish you could smell these Roses

The most gorgeous perfume is filling the Polytunnel at the moment … and to think these gorgeous roses were all grown from softwood cuttings last year.

The idea of starting a little plant nursery happened quite by accident. A couple of years ago I was growing a few Rosemary and Lavender cuttings for a scented hedge for outside the back door. I realised I was growing far too many  and needed to find a place for my surplus plants.


One year old Lavender plant ready to go into the nursery.

Then one weekend my friend Sarah was round for coffee and she was admiring my new lavender hedge and asked how much it cost to plant.  Absolutely nothing! I grew them all from softwood cuttings … and they all came from the one plants!

I offered Sarah the eight or so I had left over … to which she said … “You must let me pay you for them”  Of course I said no … but that was my eureka moment!

If Sarah was prepared to offer me money for my little lavender plants … perhaps the public would do the same?

Since then I’ve grown over 400 cuttings, from Roses, Philadelphus (Mock Orange and different species of Weigelia, Viburnum and Variegated Dogwoods, to Honeysuckle, Clematis and Blue Fescu Grass.

What’s so great about this whole back garden nursery thing is you can get started with virtually no investment … all you need is a plant pot, some compost and a plant from which you can take the cuttings. The rest you can learn … there are so many growers out there willing to share how you can make it work … and You Tube is also a great source of inspiration.

If you’re planning on having a go at starting your own little back garden venture I’d recommend reading my earlier posts on growing plants from softwood cuttings. It will help you get started and dramatically improve your chances of success.

Until my next post … please enjoy these few photos with our best wishes.

We’re planning to record a short video tour of the garden tomorrow (weather permitting) which I’ll try and post to the You Tube Channel tomorrow evening.

As always please leave any questions or comments below and feel free to drop us an email if you’d like to know more about any of our projects.

Best wishes.


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How to make a natural support for your herbaceous perennials … A great little weekend project that took just over an hour to make.

How To Make A Support For Herbaceous Perennials

Now that the herbaceous borders are starting to grow they’re going to need supporting.  Every year I stick a few old bamboo canes in and tie them up in with string … and every year my Lupins either snap, or end up being blown over by the wind. 😦

Well this year I’ve come up with something a tad more substantial that will look completely natural and will do a great job of supporting the plants. It may look a bit rough now but the plants will soon grow through and it won’t look quite so obvious … but I think it looks more natural than the shop bought ones, and I’m recycling.

I’ve made mine from hazel stems that we coppiced from our hedge at the end of last year. If you can’t get hold of hazel sticks then bamboo works just as well.

It requires virtually no DIY skills, other than drilling a few holes and fixing a few screws  … and when you’re finished you can say you made it all yourself!


You’re going to need the following:

  1. Nine (9)  lengths of hazel … preferably as straight as possible
  2. An electric drill and a thin drill bit.
  3. About a dozen screws long enough to go through one hazel stick and about half way into the other. Just make sure the screws are not too thick or you’ll likely end up splitting the wood .. the thinner the better.
  4. A screwdriver and tape measure.

Construction method


Basically we’re going to make a grid out of the pieces of hazel and fix them to three uprights, a bit like a three legged stool.

There is no set size for the support as it depends how big the plant is … mine are approximately 18 inches long and about 1/2 – 3/4 inch thick.  The hazel needs to be reasonably fresh as it’s more pliable and less prone to split.

Begin by cutting the 6 pieces of hazel for the the top and three slightly thicker pieces for the uprights. Although I provide sizes you can adjust the sizes to suit your need … I’m using mine for my Lupins.

Take the hazel sticks and lay them out on the ground in the grid pattern of your choice.

Hazel stems for herbaceous support

You can lay them out in any configuration you like, but the man thing is to leave enough space in between the hazel for the plants to grow through … minimum six inches should do it.

Next, drill a hole through the top piece taking care not to drill into the piece beneath, just touch the drill bit and the screw will do the rest.

Fix the top piece to the bottom making sure you position the screw as near to the middle of the piece underneath at the thickest point.  Repeat the process on all the cross pieces and you should end up with a neat (although slightly wonky looking)  natural grid pattern. 🙂

Next you’re going to need 3 supports much like the 3 legs on a stool. Also you’re going to need a slightly more substantial piece of hazel for the supports, not because it’s heavy or anything, but you’re going to need to drive it into the ground and you don’t want the ends to split.

You can use more uprights, but I tend to use odd numbers for this sort of thing … don’t ask me why, I just find using odd numbers in the garden looks more natural. I adopt the same principle when I’m planting out.

Decide the height of your support and cut all the uprights to this size.  A hefty pair of loppers come in handy.

The supports in the prototype are roughly 18 inches long … remembering about 6″ will be in the ground.

I used a small chopping axe to chop one end of the upright to a point … makes it much easier to drive the upright into the ground … then cut a small step (rebate) out at the opposite end of the upright on which the top will sit.

Next position the uprights around the plant you want to support and push them in at least six inches.  Position the top onto the supports and check for level. You may need to twist the uprights so the rebate is at the right angle for the top … and you may have to adjust the depth of the uprights to get the whole thing level …  it’s worth taking a bit of time over this part to get everything nice and level, or it will annoy you every time you walk past it.


I appreciate we’re very lucky to have access to the natural resources around us … but if you can’t get your hands on any hazel you can always make it out of bamboo … just use string instead of screws.

A great little weekend project that took just over an hour to make.

As with all the projects in our garden making this little herbaceous support was a lot of fun and cost virtually nothing to make. Yes it will probably only last a season, but next year I can do it all over again!

Now it’s your turn .. get out there this weekend and make your very own patented 100% recycled herbaceous support! 🙂

Now all we need are 10 more like it … better get cracking!

Enjoy your bank holiday weekend.

Very best wishes,

The Rural Gardener

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How To Grow A Rose From A Cutting

It’s National Gardening week this week and to celebrate I’m planting one of last years rose cuttings!

I didn’t know how to take rose cuttings until I came across a video from a gentlemen in the US who demonstrates in the video how to take cuttings from roses and grow them on into the most fantastic roses . It’s well worth a watch if your interested in growing your own roses. (I’ve included the link at the end of the post)

I’ve had a reasonable amount of success with my rose cuttings in the past … but I have to confess this last winter 3 out of 10 didn’t make it through the winter. Not sure why but the stems turned black and they withered away. 😦

If you’re considering growing your own plants from cuttings you should read this first!

If you’re thinking of growing roses from cuttings then you need to research something called Plant Breeders Rights.

Basically it’s a law that was introduced to protect the rights of plant breeders … a sort of patent for plants if you like. Essentially it made it illegal to propagate plants for profit … but the good news is there are loads of varieties that were around before Plant Breeders Rights were introduced that you can propagate.

My advice is:

1. Always read the label on any plant that you buy. It will clearly state if the plant is subject to Plant Breeders Rights.
2. Look for the older varieties and you should have no problems with propagating them.
3. Propagate these older varieties so other growers can access these unprotected varieties.

The more ‘protected plants’ that are introduced to the market the more demand there will be for the unprotected varieties.

Do rose cuttings need any special treatment?
Not really …. I generally plant my softwood cuttings in sharp sand as a rule, but for my rose cuttings I prepare a slightly richer mix of sharp sand, spent compost and a little bone meal. Reason for the bone meal is to provide a little sustenance for when the roots start to grow away.

Also it means they can stay in the pots longer and I don’t disturb the delicate fibrous roots until they’ve had a chance to grow nice and strong.

After that I take a few stems in June approximately 9-10 inches long and plant them around the outside of a 10″ plant pot and leave them at the back of the polytunnel. The secret is to keep them moist and spray the leaves at least 4 times a day until they show signs of growth.

How can I tell if my cuttings have roots?
I don’t use any particularly scientific methods to be honest. The tell tale signs are the stems remain green and healthy looking and the cuttings show signs of new growth … alternatively carefully turn the pot upside down and ease the contents out and examine the roots.  If the roots are bursting to get out of the pot then you know it’s time to transplant it to a bigger pot.

Here’s a picture of my small collection of rose cuttings I took last June still in their pots, in a sheltered spot outside the polytunnel. They cost me virtually nothing to produce and with any luck they should give me some lovely blooms this year.  Now how cool is that!   🙂

Last Years Rose Cuttings

What potting mix should I use for my rooted cuttings?

Not sure if you can spot it from the picture…  but the compost mix I’m using is a light and free draining compost I make up myself just for potting on my cuttings. I’ve been experimenting with composts for a few years and I now feel I have a winning formula.

Do I need to protect them in any way?
Rooted cuttings are not keen on the wind, so best to keep them in a sheltered spot … at least until the worst of the weather has passed.

I plan to post another piece about rose cuttings in June so you can see exactly how I go about it, by which time I hope to have my new home made 5-star mist system installed! 🙂  More on that little baby a little later …

In the mean time if you’d like more information on taking softwood cuttings there are loads of really good content out there, and I’ve also written a post all about taking rosemary cuttings which you might find useful.

Now I’m off to raise a toast to National Gardening Week!

If you’d like to know more about National Gardening week you’ll find loads of information about the scheme and some of the fantastic stuff they’re up to this week at the NGW web site.

Best Wishes,


By the way here is the video I refered to earlier … Rose propagation video (Just love the beard sir)

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I hope you don’t mind but I thought I’d share a few of my favourite pictures from last year which certainly restore my faith in this wonderful English climate.

Click the picture for a large version.

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

Best Wishes,


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