The beasts and the beauties. Should they go or should they stay?

Every year I grow plants from seed. There are the “must haves” that happen every year - tomatoes, Convolvulus and Nicotiana and then I choose a few new plants to try. This year one of them was Leonotis leonurus ‘Staircase’ which promised to be tall and interestingly orange. Perfect for my hot bed I thought - it would be ideal for the back of the bed: stately and wildly hot coloured like in the picture in the catalogue.

 Leonotis as they should look - Image sourced from Nole Hace.

However, as we know in gardening, not everything delivers as promised. The seeds germinated successfully in the greenhouse over Feb/March and were no trouble to pot on as seedlings. After hardening them off in the cold frame for a couple of weeks they were getting tall and I planted them out in the red bed. Since when they have shot up to the promised 4/6 feet – and now look exactly like over-large, green, straggly, well eaten nettles – not exactly the look I was after. The ‘flower’ sockets close to the stem occasionally have a flash of red but there has been not a sepal or petal to be seen.






Leonotis In my garden

At the same time, on the other side of the garden in the pink bed, I had been contemplating the fate of the Buddleja. Despite hacking it back, nearly to the ground last year, it has grown very large and threatened roses, astrantia and all manner of plants that are now under its shade. I have been thinking it is much too large for the bed and has to go. I have cut it back and thinned it during the summer and removed the most aggressive branches but it is still in full flower.

Two days ago..... I was about to root up the Leonotis and dig up the Buddleja when a Peacock butterfly arrived to feed on the Buddleja. Since then I have had the same (or different?) peacocks feeding on it all day, every day - and these were followed by Red Admirals and even a Comma butterfly.



Apparently Peacock butterflies like to lay their eggs on nettles. All the gardens around here are very well kept and I doubt they have many nettles, if any. I used to keep a crop of nettles for butterflies but they had to go a few years ago for space reasons. Since then the closest I have had to a nettle in the garden is Lamium ‘Ghost’ – until the Leonotis.

The seed packet says, “Leonotis seedlings look a little like nettle seedlings”. Actually they look exactly like nettle seedlings and apart from being taller and non-stinging, the full grown plants look exactly like tall, manky nettles. In fact I think they are less beautiful than nettles.

I have now researched the family and the Leonitis is exactly the same family as the dead (not stinging) nettle ie they are both family Lamiaceae (mint family) of Order Lamiales and Subclass Asteridae. So it is a nettle! Incidentally stinging nettles it appears are family Urticaceae, of Order Urticales and subclass Hamamelididae - completely different.

Now the big question is, have the Leonitis fooled the peacock butterfly into laying its eggs on them ‘cos they look like nettles and are they the reason I have so many peacock butterflies in the garden – or is it just the Buddleja attraction and the two things are entirely unrelated?

And because I am now totally enthralled by the butterflies, I am in a complete quandary as to what to do with both plants. Is there a link? Should one or both go or should they stay?

There’s a monster in my compost bin.

For the past few months I have been struggling to get compost out of the door at the bottom of my plastic, Lambeth Council supplied, compost bin. It is baseless, physically not metaphorically.

Something tough was hindering the compost falling down. I ignored it to begin with and tried just forcing things down from the top with not much success. Whatever the blockage was, it was so strong that the only thing I could imagine it could be was bamboo.

Last year I had dug up and removed a patch of bamboo around the “Family” sculpture. Despite supposedly being a non-invasive bamboo, it had escaped from the pots and cement I had planted it in and was slowly killing my beautiful Acer by the pond.

Apparently Acers have shallow, spreading roots which don’t like being disturbed. An Acer expert I consulted at the Malvern Spring Gardening Show had made the position very clear - either the Acer would die completely or the bamboo had to go. There was no question. It was a back and two fork-twisting, four days to dig all the bamboo up properly – and I was pretty sure I hadn’t put any of it in the compost bin.

Identifying the compost bin blockage was not easy. During Spring the top of the compost became very unpleasant. First it was a mass of worms and slugs and then, as it got dry, it became a mammoth ants nest. Identifying the blockage from above was not going to be pleasant or straightforward. So I got squeamish and didn’t try. Even if I lay on the ground and looked up through the little door at the bottom (really tricky and painful given its location and generally yucky as a prospect), I couldn’t see what was going on. So I left it and, over time, the “thing” in the compost bin continued to take over physically - and in my mind. It took on ridiculous proportions. I knew it was powerful and strong. It became a monster and I even became a little scared of it.

Daphne – a joy and sorrow

Daphne has been my joy and sorrow this winter. She was a water Niaid supposedly, a great beauty sought by Apollo, a water spirit. December is transformed by Daphne in my garden as the six year old, evergreen, D. bholua ‘Sir Peter Smithers’ beside my swing seat once again comes into flower as the rain and snow falls. But as a water nymph she has failed. It’s now clear I have lost all the fish in my pond bar three to the heron. Clear in every way. The unfiltered pond is now crystal clear from the freezing temperatures. I can see every leaf or piece of gravel on the bottom as well as the pump, waterlily tuber, and each fish as it “hibernates” as low down as it can.

On first looking into Ebay and PayPal – with apologies to John Keats

Much have I travelled through the Internet

And many Google sites and pages seen;

Through many searches have I been

For likely purchases I need to vet.

Oft of two sites I’d heard but yet  

On EBay I had never been

Nor PayPal used in this demesne

‘Til antique tiles I had to get.

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies

When a new world comes into her ken,

With reclamation yards and private buys

As far afield as York and Penn

Who yield their goods, to my surprise,

More swift and cheap than shop-based men.


So now I’m charged with power and might

To buy and sell at my own will

It really is an awesome thrill

This new world order seems so right!

A pallet firm I’ve found on site

Called Speedshift, and for a small bill

Your order they will more than fill

They’ll even do it overnight.

So now I’ve also sold, yippee,

Old tiles and borders I don’t need.

Buying power it seems to me

S’been shifted, I hope we’re all agreed,

By EBay, PayPal - and they’re free!……………….. well almost.

The first butterfly of summer?


The cuckoo is still silent. Frogs and toads have yet to populate the pond – normally the first sign of the end of winter – and I am still wearing more layers than a good filo pastry. Yet today, in the first sunshine for weeks, a Red Admiral butterfly came to bask on my Choisya ternata “Sundance” in all its red, black and white splendour. It is still only about 12 degrees C. in the sun (and very cold out of it), and my butterfly and moth books tell me the Red Admiral arrives from Southern Europe in May to October.

I don’t know what to think. Is this a lone migrator pushed North by winds? Has it over-wintered through the snow in one of my insect houses around the garden? Or is this the result of something much greater ie climate change? A friend has just seen a flock of 20-30 waxwings feeding on old figs and ivy berries in her garden in Clapham, London – they should be on the east coast, if anywhere here the moment.

However, the rest of the garden is doing roughly what it should at this time of year. Everything spring and summer flowering is budding, especially the roses and many of the clematis. Tulips and daffodil leaves are about six inches up, the Viburnum is just beginning to wake, deciduous leaf buds are ripening all over and the Camelia are in fat bud, but only the Daphne, Snowdrops and Rosemary are actually in flower.

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The brief

The brief

The brief for my new back garden was:

  • a modern, “country style” garden in a small London space
  • different areas;
    • room to entertain
    • a pond with moving water for sound and wildlife
    • separate large beds to allow me to create substantial borders and to have hot colours (reds, oranges, yellows etc) as well as classic pinks, purples, blues and whites in the same space
    • a working area with a greenhouse, shed, compost maker and water butts
    • space to relax and contemplate it
  • highly scented for me and the wildlife
  • have height so I could grow things upwards
  • be in flower and scent for as much of the year as possible
  • allow as wide a range of plants as possible
  • be curvy and soft not hard and square looking
  • stone and gravel to be light and warm coloured
  • include art
  • having lighting plus power to the shed and greenhouse
  • and be as eco-friendly and chemical free as possible.

The garden I bought

The garden I bought

On purchase it was a playground for four young boys with a raised playhouse/den, a young apple tree in the middle of the end of the lawn, the classic edge borders and a



 View of old lawn  View of old terrace

meagre terrace. The previous owner was a frustrated gardener and keen on plants (despite the footballs) and I have inherited and kept a number of her plants - in particular the sweet fruiting cherry tree and the silver birch at the end of the garden, the amazing pineapple broom (Cytisus battandieri) which is now a tree in what is known as the “hot” bed on the east facing side, as well as the ivy and Hydrangea petiolaris and an unknown yellow climbing rose in the side passage, a rowan tree and a Berberis in the west facing pink bed, plus an unknown scarlet climbing rose on the West facing fence by the house.


It had an outside tap in the side passage but no other water supply and no power outside the house.


This is what the same two views looked like by May and September that year.



And two years later.





Through the Years

I will this area to look back Through the Years