Tag Archives: Nick Haworth

October plant of the month – Abutilon

How to grow Abutilon


Tropical-looking Abutilon flowers in October

Our mild climate makes it possible to grow semi-hardy plants outside and be rewarded with some pretty exotic looking plants late in the season. In October there are plants either popping up as autumn bulbs or surprising us with long flowering displays. Abutilon are long-flowering Brazilian medal-winners in an autumn planting scheme. They belong to the genus of mallow plants, (Malvaceae) with an exotic look and bright colours, often golds, pinks and reds.

Abutilon ‘Victory’

Abutilon ‘Victory’ is a trailing variety, reaching up to 2m high. It’s happy outside as long it’s protected from frosts below 5 degrees. I haven’t lost one yet and as I garden on the edge of Dartmoor don’t worry about it being tender.

It’s semi-evergreen, losing leaves as new ones push through. Let it stand free as a trailing shrub, or tie it like a short climber. A wall can provide shelter from frost and support, but it might starve the roots from moisture and that’s no good for this tropical, greedy-feeder. Make sure you keep it well watered and fed.

As the days shorten you want to keep the flowering going for as long as possible, so think about the passage of the sun through your garden and position it for as many hours of sunshine as you can.

Prune if you must in late spring, when you can also take softwood cuttings for back-up plants in case we get a really hard winter that catches us all out.

I enjoy the colour this plant brings to the garden. I dot them where the colours can be seen at head height to appreciate the contrast between the gold and red flowers. They work well on the terraces so visitors experience them at different heights. I think there’s a lot to be said for looking at the detail of October plants. The big sweeping drifts of summer colour may be gone but there is still plenty to enjoy in the garden.

Nick Haworth, Head Gardener

September plant of the month – Actaea

How to grow Actaea

The Actaea pictured is ‘Black negligee’; a thigh-high plant with frilly-flowered spikes of tiny white-to-pink flowers. It earns its name from the dark, deeply bisected leaves that suggest a lace pattern around the edges.

Actaea simplex 'Black Negligee' a spike of white flowers above black foliage

Actaea is a valuable September plant in the border.

Actaeas are perennial, and a good choice for herbaceous borders. Plant them in good garden soil and mulch or feed at least once a year. They are forgiving plants as they don’t mind wet soil and they aren’t fussy about acid or alkaline. Try to give them some shelter and they will grow to a couple of feet wide and over a metre tall. If all you can offer them is an exposed, windswept site with poor soil – don’t bother. They may be forgiving, but there is a limit to their generosity!

September flowers with plenty of early morning and evening scent

They flower in September, so plant yours somewhere where you can loiter in early morning to enjoy the sweet, exotic fragrance. Maybe you will enjoy your ‘Black Negligee’ while you garden in your pyjamas!

Actaea spread by extending their rhizomes – flat fingers of rooty bulbs. They are not invasive and the rhizomes are handy as you will like as not want to divide them to create more plants in early spring. It’s easier than growing them from seed.

If you have enough room plant a few to form a dark wall of foliage, under spires of flowers that can reach waist height with a scent that will catch on the breeze and attract pollinating insects.

There are plenty of varieties to choose from; almost all have the dark foliage that I prefer. Actaea is a favourite of mine as the leaves are a perfect backdrop to pretty much any brightly coloured flower whilst the flowering spikes are worth attention in their own right. I have planted them in our long borders, fronted by bright pink dahlias, yellow fennel and a variety of other “hot” and purple flowers.

Nick Haworth – Head Gardener

Advice for August about Dahlias

How to grow Dahlias

If you want late summer colour choose dahlias. Enjoy different flower forms, from bouncy looking pompons to exotic waterlily styles, and a kaleidoscope of colours to fit every palette.
Dahlias are stalwarts, working hard in borders, pots or as a cut flower crop. Although they flower from June to late October, they are well known for the August / September period. I think they bridge the gap between blowsy summer planting and robust autumn colours. They bring zing to a border so I use a variety of them to introduce a bit of drama in different planting combinations.

Dahlia 'Sunny Boy' showing August colour in the walled garden.

Dahlia ‘Sunny Boy’ showing August colour in the walled garden.

Maintenance is easy. Dahlias enjoy the sun and like a rich, easy draining soil. They have tubers, like potatoes, so feed them well as you will be feeding for next year too. Slugs love them, so you will need to protect them. If you choose tall varieties stake well and early as stems snap easily in the wind.

Consider foliage colour, which varies from light greens to deep purple, giving opportunities to under-plant with exciting combinations. For example, we’ve married orange (pictured) on bright green stems with purples and golds from verbena and heleniums for a blaze of colour.
Grow dahlias from seed, plant tubers or take cuttings in late spring. A packet of seeds will give you dahlias for years.

They die right back at the first frost and you’ll lose them over winter in wet ground or sub-zero temperatures. It’s a good idea to lift them in late autumn after the first frost when the stems flop. You can risk leaving them in the ground with a good mulch to protect them – as long as you are confident of predicting a dry winter that’s not too cold. And if you can do that, come and see me for a job as the garden weather forecaster!

Nick Haworth, Head Gardener


It’s always interesting when journalists spend time in the garden with us. A couple of weeks ago on an extremely wet day our head gardener, Nick Haworth gave a guided tour to the aptly named Bracken Jelier of Real Places publications and local photographer, Mike Kinsey.

Bracken’s online article has now been published. It includes some great photos from Mike and also some taken by our photographer, John Richmond, the following day when the sun came out!

The article also includes gardening views and advice from Nick, so if you love what we do and want to know more about how we do it, please click here and take a look.

Nick Haworth seated in tool shed. Photo by Mike Kinsey, courtesy of Real Places

For the gardening tool enthusiasts amongst you, the photos of Nick were taken in the gardeners’ shed, well out of the way of the driving rain.  It’s the lovely old stone building that runs parallel with the walled garden. Future blog posts will include items on gardening equipment…


How to create a wild flower meadow

National Meadows Day – Advice from the Head Gardener

As July 2 is National Meadows Day, this month’s advice is to help you make a meadow. Whether you have a few feet or a few acres, the principle is the same and wildlife will benefit. The pleasure of seeing the right plants in a natural environment, providing colour and movement from spring until late summer can be achieved just by fiddling about with the right patch of scruffy lawn.

If you have been to see the garden lately you will know the meadow is full of orchids and butterflies. In spite of the cold start and the damp June, the weather has been really good for wild flowers.

Wild flowers in the meadow at The Garden House, under the silver birch trees

Soil conditions and aspect

You’ll need poor soil and lots of light; an open position is ideal, for sun all day and plenty of weather.  Buy seed, not plants.  But no grass seed; grass will find your meadow anyhow and it bullies wild flowers, so if you’re seeding a grassed area, include Yellow Rattle. It’s a pretty little parasitic plant that reduces the vigour of grass. Avoid annuals, (cornflowers, poppies etc.) because they need regularly disturbed soil. Depending on the size of your meadow, you might need a few packets or to buy seed mix by weight.

Prepare the ground by removing everything, or cutting grass as low as you can and raking great ugly patches into it. Seed wants to touch soil. Sow the seed as per instructions.  It’s a good idea to add sand to the seed mix so you’ll see where you throw it and be able to spread it more evenly.

Maintenance for your meadow

Mow (or scythe or strim) just once in late summer and leave the hay in heaps to drop seed before clearing it. Don’t feed or fertilise, but keep the soil poor and the grass miserable. Meadows aren’t high maintenance; they just need the right maintenance. In future years you can augment your meadow with plug plants and bulbs. Plants will naturalise if happy. Our meadow now has too many orchids to count, they’ve been hybridising at a rate of knots. Visit soon before they go over and get down low to appreciate them close-up. It’s glorious.

Nick Haworth, Head Gardener

PS. To find out more about National Meadows Day, read here at the Magnificent Meadows website.

Budding young horticulturists visit

Young Horticulturist of the Year 2016

It was a pleasure to welcome the 2016 Young Horticulturist of the Year, Lawrence Wright, for a garden tour with our head gardener, Nick Haworth. Lawrence beat over 2,000 entrants to win the award, which comes with a prize of the Percy Thrower bursary, which is £2,500 for a career-enhancing gardening road-trip.

He visited the garden along with fellow RHS students Brendan Arundel and Tom King. The three of them enjoyed a sunlit garden tour, through all ten acres, including a behind the scenes opportunity to chat with all the gardeners.

Garden House Magic is working this summer

The garden made a great impression on the students, who dropped in as part of a Devon garden tour. In horticultural circles the Garden House is famed for it’s evolving naturalistic style and this summer it is looking incredible. The new planting is magnificent and many visitors are telling us they have never seen it looking so good. Perhaps Lawrence, Brendan and Tom will take ideas back and in future years we’ll see more gardens that have a touch of Garden House magic.

Young Horticulturist of hte Year 2016 Lawrence Wright stands in a wild flower meadow

L-R Nick Haworth, Tom King, Brendan Arundel, Lawrence Wright, pictured in the cottage garden.

If you would like to learn more about the award, please visit The Chartered Institute of Horticulture.

Head Gardeners’ Walk and Talk for Friends

Friends of The Garden House are invited to enjoy the garden in the company of our head gardener, Nick Haworth. These special, informative events provide a behind-the-scenes look into what it takes to keep such a wonderful garden looking good throughout the year.

Learn how the winter-work changes the garden throughout the year

A June walk in the garden is a treat. You’ll spot the changes and recognise the impact of the winter work that Nick and his team carried out. Come rain and shine – but more often rain, they were out landscaping the area around the dovecote, crown-lifting many of the trees to re-establish lost views, as well as laying new pathways so that visitors less able to manage steps and slopes can enjoy more of the garden.

Man in grey jumper admiring a Magnolia Felix 'Jury'

Nick Haworth, Head Gardener

The fist changes each season after any winter work are always interesting. As we move through a very wet, cold spring into late spring and early summer we can see for the first time the way the trees are coming into leaf without restricting the views.

The area to the dell of turkey oaks is one of the original viewing points and has come into its own recently. It’s become a peaceful, secluded place, just a few steps up from a main path but offering a new way to reflect in a very green, restful area of the garden. The long view out towards the church at Buckland Monachorum is truly lovely.

The next talk for Friends is on June 2nd at 2pm. Meet at the Jubliee Arboretum entrance. Tea and cake afterwards.

If you aren’t a Friend why not become one? Friends membership costs just £28 per year and entitles you to visit the garden as often as you like. You will also be invited to special events. It’s a great value way to support the work of the charity that maintains and develops The Garden House.

Free introductory garden tours for all visitors are held each Friday.

Advice for May from the head gardener

How to grow Pulsatilla vulgaris

This bright little rock plant is one to reach out and touch. The leaves and seedheads are so silky smooth and feathery you can barely feel them. Better yet, when the light catches them from behind they almost have a halo glow.  The flowers can be upright or nod around on the end of the very slender stems. They are plants for gravel gardens and very well drained soil. They’re no more than 30cm high – usually about 20cm, so we’ve hundreds of them planted on hummocks and slopes in our quarry garden so we don’t have to bend too far down to appreciate them close-up.  A slope helps with drainage too and lets you see them backlit when the sun is out.

Close up of a single pinky mauve flower with a yellow centre.

Pulsatilla vulgaris is perfect for gravel gardens

Perfect flowers for a well drained site  – see them in our quarry garden

They’ve a reputation for being in flower at Easter and a common name of Pasque (passion) flower to go with this Easter link. Mind you, with the cold start and the early Easter this year ours were nowhere to be seen and they’re a bit later this year than normal. They’ll flower for a good 4 – 6 weeks though so they earn their place. The colour range runs from a very deep red wine through violet, lilac and pinker shades to a white.  I don’t think any are garish colours, there’s something soft and sophisticated about them.

They are best grown from winter root cuttings, or by potting on self-sown seedlings. Bear in mind they take a while to establish a long tap root and mature plants hate to be disturbed. Put them where you want them rather than mess them about.  Once established they will give you years of enjoyment.”

Man in grey jumper admiring a Magnolia Felix 'Jury'

Nick Haworth, Head Gardener