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.

I came back from a few days in the South of France over New Year and the whole garden was heavy with the luscious, intoxicating scent of Daphne. I was stopped in my tracks by a wall of fragrance. The dogs scampered excitedly round my feet and the garden, seemingly oblivious to the influence, focussed only on finding scent left by visiting foxes and cats. Pickle ran hither and thither barking at anything as small as a moving leaf to re-establish his male presence in his territory. Lottie busied herself doing I know not what but just being very girlie.

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.

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 buddleia. 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 buddleia when a Peacock butterfly arrived to feed on the buddleia. 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. See the video.


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 buddleia 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?

The dirtiest job in the garden

My pond is unfiltered, full of fish, frogs and toads who have all woken up and are eating and pooing. Inevitably leaves and things fall in it too so, relatively regularly from late Spring through to late Autumn, the working parts of the pump get clogged up with vegetation and the stream turns to a trickle as the pump works overtime to try and push the water around. Thus I have to clean the pump.

Despite all the poo and cold water (and the 30 minutes or so it takes to do this) I must admit I find it very satisfying. I love the fact that I know how to take the pump apart completely (no good details in the instructions of course), it gives me enormous pleasure to clear the gunk from the fly wheel and, when the new rush of water suddenly appears in the stream, I feel a little flutter of joy and, I'll admit it, a little pride. Ridiculous, but there it is.

This is the second such pump I have had in the pond in ten years. The first finally exploded after about six years with a nasty pop, which luckily I was close enough to hear. This one is a little more powerful but the same type (a Blagdon amphibious). As you'll see in the video, I have found the front fitted filter the pump comes with wholly inadequate, so I have removed this and installed the main pump unit in a special cage which I have also mounted on an old set of plastic metal shelves to keep it above the fish poo layer on the bottom of the pond. The whole thing is quite Heath-Robinson looking but works.

This video also marks my debut on camera on this site. Why didn't I choose something more glamorous? But thinking about it there's not much in gardening that's glam other than admiring flowers close up or gently dead-heading, so my plastic apron and I can be seen elbow deep in fish poo.

Filming oneself is pretty tricky. I have to guess the heights and focus, remember to turn everything on (microphone etc), try to check if I am running out of battery or card space and then hope for the best. There are already all sorts of out-takes on this pond pump cleaning procedure and other videos I haven't published (planting Camelias), so perhaps I'll create a Christmas film with all of them together.

Oh yes, I nearly forgot. Please excuse the manky wet plaster on my left forefinger. I had a nasty slice in it which I wanted to protect from all the gunk.

Later note: 18/10/2013

I have to admit that the pump finally blew up in July. Water got in through the wire at the rear so I have bought a new one. This is a different pump, a Pontec Pondomax eco 5000. It has something that chews up the vegetative matter which the Blagdon didn't. It has worked without cease since installed and the water flow has not yet reduced. I'm very impressed. When it eventually needs cleaning properly I'll work it out and let you know how to do it too. As ever, full instructions as to how to get inside it are not enclosed!


Acer palmatum dissectum 'Ornatum'

Many years ago I was entranced by Acers and bought a number to put in pots in the garden of my previous house. They all survived and thrived and are with me now except one I gave to a neighbour. I have bought many more since for planting around the pond.

As a result I still have two original A. dissectum of different sizes, in different pots. This one is now hugely spreading and fabulous (in the side passage and in its original wooden tub from 12 years ago) but I think it is now rooted into the ground.

Galium odoratum

I wanted something to thrive in the shaded earth beneath the Clematis wigwam in the ex-veg bed, so in 2012 I bought three small pots of this, otherwise known as Woodruff. It has very attractive foliage, sweet, small, white, star shaped flowers in April/May - and spreads. And I love it so far.

In May 2013 it has now engulfed the base of the wigwam as planned and is making its way into the rest of the bed which I am happy about - I think. It has bricks and gravel to stop it moving past the edges of the bed and so long as it doesn't engulf the Geranium 'Rozanne', the Lamium 'Ghost' and obviously the many Clematis, then I'm happy for it to roam anywhere within the bed.

Apparently it is also an insect repellant (I hope not to repel good insects) and can be used dried in pot pourri or fresh to flavour white wine and orange or pineapple juice. Very versatile!

First garden show of the year

It was small but almost perfectly formed. It was the Spring garden show at The Garden Museum at Lambeth Palace.  On Sunday a friend and I paid a visit. Entry was cheap at £5. The show consisted of about ten plant stalls - some outside and some in the church, plus a number of other stalls selling things of interest like greeting cards with fabulous photos of plants which made me very jealous and were only £1.50 each - see bloomsofpenge.com.

The event was well attended though I have to say the lunch and coffee tables seemed the busiest places but that may have been because we arrived at about 11.30am and the attendees were inevitably somewhat on the older side.

There were three real highlights for me. The first was that the outside stalls were set amongst the fabulous churchyard which is so evocative. Ancient tombs and stones surrounded by ‘wild’ planting in one section (daffs, tulips, Brunnera, grasses) and the other stalls amongst the formal box beds of the knot garden with a fabulous range of interesting plants.


And all surrounded by modern office buildings on one side and the ancient palace on another, a little green haven amongst the busy roads around Lambeth Bridge and St Thomas’ hospital.

Spring at last


It's all in the short video (3 minutes) and I am interested to see whether this frustrates you or not. If you want text too please comment.

Making videos of the garden


I’m really pleased with this video of birds feeding and bathing in my garden, cut in time-ish to a Strauss polka (watch the goldfinches and Blackbirds in particular). It’s an example of what I am learning as I create this Blog.

My day job is making videos for large corporates. I advise them on how best to tell and articulate their corporate stories on video – for investors, employees and other business audiences. Almost all of this video is online, so supposedly I am online video savvy. But my role is to think, advise, direct and produce – all bossy talk and no physical action! I am never behind the camera and I sit beside the editor as he/she creates the finished piece with me.

For this site, it has all had to change. I have to be able to do it all myself. I can’t wait for a cameraman to be free when a bee is in a flower – I have to film it. I can’t wait for an editor the other side of town to be free so I can create a piece to show you what’s happening in the garden.


I love violas for their colours, their little faces, the fact that they are often fragrant and that they can thrive in North facing situations and provide colour all through the year. Apart from the 'weed' Viola labridorica, I keep them in pots and on window ledges.


When I bought this house and garden I inherited a fence of different ivies down the side passage along with Hydrangea petiolaris, all perfect shade climbers. I have kept them. They have have become very dense to the extent that both blackbirds and robins nest in the ivies and I have decided I love them. They are different leaf sizes, some plain, some variegated and I can see a mass of interesting greens, yellows and whites from my kitchen window as I write this - and it's there all year.

Many people don't realise that they also flower (small) and have berries which are really important for bees and birds at the end of the year. So, all in all, in the right place, they work really well and I would encourage you to keep ivies for the wildlife - if even in only a small part of the garden.

I now also have Clematis viticella running through them and Lonicera americana, so I have flowers on them too in summer.

To keep them in control, I cut them hard in December to use as Christmas decoration around the house. As decoration they look great, last a long time, are easy to twist around mirrors, lamps etc and, with a few holly berries twigs or tree lights interspersed, are truly great Christmas decoration.

I also have smaller leafed ones as trailing plants in pots, both at the front (which is North facing) and on the terrace. So they are great for evergreen, trailing pot interest too.

Some Hedera can take a little time to establish but, once going, they are reliable, colourful, evergreen cover for unsighly anythings - and great for the birds. Highly recommended.