Tag Archives: Nick Haworth

Lobelia perennials

Lobelia – but not as you know it

Lobelia is most often seen as the little semi-trailing blue, white and purple plants that are used as frothy little annuals in borders and hanging baskets.

There are perennial lobelia too and I prefer them. I’m concentrating on Lobelia speciosa; there are just over 30 varieties of them, all of which are in the deep pink, scarlet, purple colour spectrum. Some varieties are very unusual. The most popular is probably ‘Russian Princess’ which has reddish leaves and bright scarlet flowers.

Lobelia perennial

We grow a number of varieties which are clump forming, generally getting up to about three feet high (or a metre in new money) so make sure you have the room as they won’t fit in many baskets!

They like a fertile soil that is moist but not waterlogged, and they are often planted by ponds. We keep ours in the Walled Garden, which, like the rest of Dartmoor, is reliably moist. If you have full sun or partial shade that will be fine. They aren’t too fussy but as bees love them and they are very brightly coloured I try to plant them in a sunny spot. We use plant supports in our borders so they are secured against the wind. If you leave them unsupported they should be fine but can flop a bit in very windy or wet weather. As a rule of thumb, they should be OK unsupported but pop some supports around the clump if it’s likely to flop onto a path or a lawn.

If you grow lobelia from seed you’ll find it is very fine so you’ll get a clump of seedlings to carefully prick out. Just keep the soil moist and warm until germination. I’d water from the base as the seedlings are very delicate until they get a bit more established.

With the established plants we have I divide them in spring to make new clumps, so once you have either bought a plant or grown some from seed you should have a good source of these super plants for years to come.

Happy gardening.


Agapanthus advice

Colours of the sea and sky

In the Summer Garden right now we have repeats of this deep blue agapanthus in full flower, and every day I hear people talking about it. We’ve placed them amongst grasses and alongside bright yellow achillea, so it stands out a mile. This deep, dark blue is one of the more unusual varieties. Agapanthus are more often a lighter blue or white. They don’t come in anything on the red spectrum.

Agapanthus are summer bulbs from South Africa and they will make a big impact in your borders or in containers. They aren’t cheap; (I saw two bulbs in a 20cm pot for £8 the other day), but they will last for many years so they are good value in the long run.

Agapanthus Navy Blue at The Garden House, Devon in August

I keep seeing them outside snazzy beach-themed holiday properties, and they have come to be an architectural flower of summer; a flowering version of a bay tree in a pot by the door. It makes sense as they are the colour of sea and sky and they work well on their own or companion planted with a variety of colours and forms – whatever takes your fancy.

They like a good soil and don’t like sitting in wet, so whether you plant them out, or in containers, incorporate grit if drainage is poor. Oh, and don’t bother with them if you only have a shaded space – they need full sun. They give interest for a long period as they go from leaves to flower to seed heads over many months. You can get evergreen varieties too for even longer interest, but they are less frost hardy than the decidiuous ones.

If you grow yours in pots, keep the pot snug to the root ball. They give better flowers when their root ball is constricted. Ours are in the ground where they form clumps and generally get on well. They are frost hardy and I don’t worry about lifting them at all. Flowering is decreased the next year if the bulbs dry out completely for a long time in the autumn. But there’s not much chance of that here on Dartmoor!

Happy gardening.

Nick Haworth, Head Gardener

Meadow Makers

Plants of the month – July

July is the traditional time to enjoy wild flower meadows, so I’m sneaking two plants in that combine to create a meadow feel, whatever the space available in your garden. I’m imagining them above longer grass at lawn edges, under and through hedges, or tickling around in borders to soften more formal planting schemes.

Wildflowers in a meadow with Buckland Monachorum church in the background

Ox-eye Daisy

The first is an ox-eye daisy, or Leucanthemum vulgare to give it the horticultural name. I just counted twenty seven synonyms for this daisy, which shows me it’s been in cottage gardens and wild flower meadows for centuries. My favourite alternate name is ‘moon daisy’ as the white petals really do show up in moonlight.

It’s a perennial that’s easy to grow in any average soil. It loves full sunshine, but will be happy if it gets a few hours a day. Cut the stems back after flowering (or seeding) to keep it tidy. It’s very tolerant and you don’t have to fuss with it. Just avoid planting it where it will sit in wet over winter. To propogate let it seed about the place. It’s not invasive so pull up seedlings you don’t want.

Red Campion

The ox-eye daisy pairs beautifully with another common meadow and verge flower, the Silene dioica; best known as Red Campion.

I think the campion is under-rated as we get used to seeing it without looking at it. It’s easy to grow in any decent garden soil, forming low clumps that are easily divided in the autumn. It flowers between May and September,and gets up towards thigh high, so it’s great for wafting through. The small, open flowers are an intense pink on narrow stems; they mingle well with grasses. I enjoy them in our cottage garden and meadow as the summer sun sets behind them and makes them glow.

Both these plants will bring a touch of the wild to any garden. I love the link they make between formal gardens and the natural landscape of Dartmoor just over the wall.

See you soon in the garden


Nick Haworth, Head Gardener

Irises all around the garden

Siberica, Germanica, Pacific Hybrids – all welcome here

This month I’m going to talk about Irises as I’ve been thinking about just how valuable they are in the garden.

They are versatile, colourful plants and I’m happy to have plenty in various conditions. They bear bright flowers on slender stems so they’re very handy for anyone planting a border; you can have them drawing attention at different heights without using too much space at ground level. The detail within the flowers can be stunning, with fine veining, marbling and contrasting colours.

Iris siberica ‘Weisse Etagen’ in the walled garden

I’ll begin in the wet with the sibericas. These irises are all shades of blue, usually planted in pond margins. I use them in borders too, as long as they have reasonable soil they will be fine. In one bed I’ve got them with the pink geranium, ‘Rozanne’ and the colour makes me smile every time I see it. If you enjoy pink / purple / blue this combination is well worth a try.

Irises are stately plants that can be used as part of a carefully designed border or drifted through more ‘natural’ planting schemes. There really is one for every place in the garden. If your soil is well drained and sun-baked, germanicas are the species to look for. These are the ‘bearded’ Iris that grow to about 1m tall and need their rhizomes baked hard each summer. I’ve just planted ‘Kent Pride’ which has a striking peach and yellow flower. I’m looking forward to seeing it flowering next year.

The choice of colour is almost endless, especially as the Pacific Hybrids are being cultivated. This group of plants derives from cross-breeding between 11 different types of Iris, and they are extending the choices for planting colours, situations and combinations. I have these on woodland edges and shady borders as I’m experimenting with how far I can get them to adapt to all corners of our Dartmoor valley. I’ll keep you posted with the results.

Nick Haworth, Head Gardener, The Garden House

Chelsea blues

It’s Chelsea time again so new trendy plants will come onto the scene. This year it seems that the Himalayan poppy (Meconopsis) is going to be a star.  It’s made me reflect on how much blue we have in the garden at this time of year.

The Garden House has a long history with the Himalayan poppy, and it is one of a number of eye-catchers that help thread streams of blue through the garden in early summer.  Lionel Fortescue, who owned The Garden House, was well known for being fanatical about colour and ruthlessly removing any plant that wasn’t performing well. In 1961 he was being interviewed for Country Life magazine;  as the interviewer stopped to admire a large clump of what were then, extremely unusual poppies, Lionel leapt into the bed, hauled out an offending plant and threw it over his shoulder for a gardener to pick up. The interviewer was stunned and Lionel was quick to tell him, ‘sorry, but they are the wrong shade of blue.’

Back to today though, and after five decades the blue poppies share the limelight with wisteria, camassia and iris. Our Camassia ‘John Treasure’ is a particularly rich blue. It seems to have shot into life over the last week or so and it’s really caught my eye. I find camassia can be overwhelming in the borders and I’ve learn’t to just let them get on with it and plant to accommodate them. On the top lawn by the tea rooms they are growing mingled with peonies, which is certainly a pleasing look. I suppose we need to take some out really but they are almost too good to get rid of.

Camassia and wisteria in the foreground against an old stone wall in the sunken garden

Irises are always popular at Chelsea as they aren’t too hard to bring on a bit early and plenty of them are in flower at the end of May and into June naturally. You’ll see blue iris in a number of places through the garden. In the summer garden we’ve used them as part of the drift planting and created a double line of blue with Geranium ‘Rozanne’ which is particularly effective amongst the grasses.

Our wisteria has given us a long show from white through blue to lilac this year and I think there is more to come. The house has been draped since mid April and the bridge is looking good now and for another couple of weeks.  Perhaps you saw that wisteria was voted one of the top five best-loved plants by Gardener’s World magazine readers? It doesn’t surprise me as I’m always answering questions about it and stepping out of the way as visitors take photos of wisteria on our walls.

So there you have it, a quick overview of the key blue plants adding colour to the garden this week. The sun is shining and the birds are singing so I’m back off into the garden – where I might take another look at those camassias and see if I can be as ruthless as Lionel Fortescue.

May plant Iris where she don’t belong

Right plant wrong place! Moraea huttonii

Well, as we’ve had one of the best behaved springs I can remember, and we have plants all ahead of themselves, I thought I would keep the optimism going and feature a plant that behaves better for me than all the descriptions suggest.
It’s name doesn’t trip off the tongue too easily; Morraea huttonii is a bit of a mouthful for a plant that most of us would describe as a yellow Iris.

Moraea huttonii a yellow Iris

Moraea huttonii at The Garden House, Devon

It’s a super plant that I use down through the summer garden to lead the eye all along the planting scheme. At 1 metre high it gets your attention and the vivid yellow flowers really stand out amongst some quite lofty grasses and colourful perennials.

If I believed the plant dictionary description I wouldn’t plant it though. It should be in a sunny, south or westerly position, on sand or loam so the corms; (rhizomes if you prefer) bake in heat, stay on the dry side and never sit in water. It should avoid wet winters and frosts and if it’s really cold I should have it in a greenhouse.

Poor Iris – but it does well

Well, I keep it on a slope that faces east and tips north. It’s often sat like an island in the stream in winter as the rain comes in torrents, and as if that wasn’t enough it’s planted in shale. About the only thing that’s working for it is that here on Dartmoor we’re on acid soil.
I never lift it in the winter, so it doesnt get the dry, dormant period its supposed to need. Each year the corms are raised and split after flowers have faded, which is the best way to propagate in the Iris family.

Worth taking a risk for a plant that suits your garden design

This lovely Iris is a perfect example of how sometimes it’s worth taking a risk with a plant that just feels like it’s right for the effect you need. It’s too easy to buy a plant on impulse and then keep it in a pot because you don’t have perfect conditions and you don’t know where to put it. I say get it in the ground and give it a chance. Just like the weather, any plant can surprise you and leave you smiling. Right plant, wrong place can sometimes work. Now I just need to get out in the garden and start doing a sundance!

Enjoy May  – it’s certainly off to a fine start.

Nick Haworth, Head Gardener

Arisarum proboscideum…mouse mats!

An unusual plant for April & May

We’re spoilt for choice in the garden now so I decided to look around for plants that are a bit different to the run-of- the-mill spring blooms. Take the Arisarum proboscideum for instance. It’s a great little plant with a long Latin name and a fun common name. Mouse plant. It gets its mousey-moniker because the protective cover over the flower extends to a long tip that looks like a mouse tail. It looks as though a little brown mouse has just dived for cover headfirst into each flower.

A small plant that looks like a mouse

Arisarum proboscideum

Apart from being a conversation starter, these perennial plants are easy to grow. The little rhizomes spread to form a mat (a mouse mat?!) of dark green, heart- shaped glossy leaves, before the flowers appear for April. It will spread happily in shady spots of good, moist soil. I wouldn’t say it’s an invasive plant, but like real mice, it will make itself at home if conditions are perfect, so keep an eye on it.

It grows low to the ground, about 15cm high. It’s a good idea to plant it where you can see it and enjoy the quirkiness. It’s in the Araceae family, so it’s related to the arum lilly. The small white flowers have that similar sort of funnel shape, although they tuck over rather than stand upright. It’s definitely the unusual form ‘mouse tail’ that makes it special.

Arisarum is a woodlander, and fully hardy, so it will survive a tough winter, whether it’s cold or wet or both. You can propagate it from seed, or increase numbers by digging it up and dividing it in the autumn or winter.

i’m very happy to have this plant in the garden and it’s an excellent choice whether you are a novice gardener looking for something that you can’t break, or an experienced gardener wanting to have something unusual growing in the spring.

Happy gardening!


The Marsh-uns are coming

What to see in the garden in March

When I was thinking about what plant to feature this month I found myself listing the virtues of the Caltha palustris – or marsh marigold as; ‘easy to keep, wildlife attractors, good colour, virtually indestructible.’
All of which makes me feel very confident in recommending this native pond plant to any gardener with a patch of boggy ground or waterside planting place. Here on Dartmoor we’ve no shortage of wet ground to make these tough plants feel at home!
Marsh marigolds splash patches of bright yellow clumps around the lake and at the sides of our streams from mid-March for a month or so. They die back by summer and emerge again proudly to their 50cm height next spring. I enjoy seeing their bright green, heart-shaped leaves emerge, before the vivid flowers open.
They are in the buttercup family and although they have rhizomes they’ll spread by seed if left alone. They look very similar to buttercups with their yellow cupped single flowers but unlike their common cousins, they don’t spread vigorously or invasively.

Cows hate them, bees love them. I tend to garden for bees more than cows so I’m not bothered by their nasty taste. Early in the year they are a great source of food for wildlife and a welcome sign for gardeners that the season is stepping up a gear.
As long as their roots can stay wet they will be happy in any soil, or popped at the edge of a pond in an inch or two of water. They will do best in full sun, but don’t mind part shade. Hopefully you are getting the picture that if you keep them wet they are a very rewarding plant. If you have a small space, a plant or two will give splashes of bright colour. If you let them spread down the side of a stream or in a damp gully you will enjoy bold, bright springs for years to come.

Winter iris

Winter iris bring a touch of blue

The early spring bulb meadow is an area of the garden that I keep coming back to. Early flowering bulbs tend to be low to the ground as they are hardy enough to cope with lingering, rough weather. When I crouch down to look at the early iris and crocus bulbs in February and March they are a blast of colour and fascinating detail. Stand up and look down on them and they can look a bit humble before they really get going.
I haven’t got time to spend all day crouching, so the solution is to look at where they have come from, and plant them in a similar way.

Iris histrioides  ‘Angel’s Tears’

Iris histrioides ‘Angel’s Tears’

Iris histrioides – the winter iris

Take Iris histrioides, commonly known as ‘winter iris’. It’s typically a vivid blue iris in various shades. In Turkey, where they grow in the wild, they burst through the ground on naked stems and turn mountainsides blue. Inspired by this I’m planting more and more bulbs for early spring, so that in years to come we will have our own carpet of colour.
Some of the iris varieties here are unusual, so bulbs are expensive or impossible to find in bulk. That’s why I’m letting mine bulk up their numbers naturally, whilst under-planting with the easy-to-find Crocus tommasinianus. The light mauve of the crocus and deeper blue of the iris work perfectly together. I’m looking forward to the days when they have naturalised so abundantly that we need to thin them out.

I can’t recommend winter irises strongly enough. Look out for the readily available Iris reticulata in the garden centres or online. There will be a number of varieties to choose from. Plant them in the autumn a couple of inches deep and look forward to the day in February when they push up and turn out blue.

You don’t need a bulb meadow or mountainside to enjoy the power of these irises. They are perfect for well-planned pots partnered with violas or winter pansies. They also make an impact in small areas where their colour will pack a punch. Just make sure the drainage is good. They are pretty tough, even pushing their way through snow and ice. Get your camera ready for that; it makes a change from snowdrops!

Nick Haworth, Head Gardener

January – delightful Daphnes

Daphne scents – a Christmas present


One of the joys of being a gardener is sharing experiences in the garden. However, the garden is closed through the winter, so special moments can pass by unnoticed.
Right now if I could share one thing with you it would be the scent of a Daphne growing near the path by the arboretum. It’s a non-descript shrub for most of the year, an evergreen column, head-height, with narrow, glossy leaves. Thousands of people walk past it, eyes drawn to more dramatic views. However, this Christmas, a present all for me was the scent of the Daphne, drifting in a mild breeze.  Dartmoor is nowhere near as high as the Himalayas, where Daphnes, also called ‘Nepalese Paper Plant’ herald from. Imagine the knock-out scent of a host of these plants on a high mountain breeze!
You don’t need much space to grow one. Daphnes vary from small bushes at almost ground level, to 2m shrubs. There are a number of varieties. The one I am describing is Daphne ‘bholua’. I think they are relatively expensive to other shrubs, but I forgive them as winter perfume is worth a few extra pounds.
If you can, invest in a taller plant to enjoy scent at nose-height. You’ll need a sheltered spot, but don’t get hung up on that – just avoid wild and windswept! They tolerate most soils; moist and well drained is best, sandy and exposed would be worst. Part shade suits them better than drying out in full sun.
They are easy to look after, very hardy and slow to grow. Bear that in mind as its worth buying the biggest plant you can. Spring planting is best, so your Daphne can get established for a winter display.
I wouldn’t be without one in any garden that has winter interest. And frankly, this Christmas, it was the best present I had!

Nick Haworth, Head Gardener