The Great Gatsby gardener

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While we were in America we went to visit friends (who we hadn’t seen for years) in a beautiful coastal town just north of Boston called Marblehead. It was wonderful to spend time with them and we had a memorable stay. My lovely friend, who knows I am keen on all things horticultural, kindly arranged for a landscape gardener friend of theirs, Larry, to give us a tour of a few of ‘his’ gardens before dinner one evening. Now, these gardens were attached to houses that one dreams of, the types of houses that I imagined when I read The Great Gatsby – beautiful New England mansions with sweeping lawns overlooking the ocean. Larry was absolutely certain that it was fine for us to look around the gardens as the owners were probably out and, anyway, ‘they wouldn’t mind’. My friend reminded him of the time he’d reassured her it would be absolutely fine to come and have a picnic in a garden he was working on only to have a slightly awkward encounter with owners who arrived home unexpectedly!

Anyway, we parked outside one house but the owners were in and having a party, so we swiftly drove on to another. I had my camera with me and was hoping no one in the vicinity would notice me taking photos and think I was casing the joint… At the next residence, all was quiet so we cautiously followed Larry as he told us of his ideas, showed us his latest planting schemes, talked about views and sight-lines and his client’s wishes. He said ‘we’ a lot, so I think he (understandably) has quite an emotional investment in the gardens he works on. It was a real treat to have this private little tour and the opportunity to have a gawp at places where you could imagine Gatsby-like parties taking place. As we were leaving the final garden, the owners’ car swept into the drive. We said our hasty goodbyes, thanked him profusely and left Larry to do the talking.


In other news… My eldest’s exam results last week were good enough for him to go through to the sixth form – hurrah🙂 – so we went shopping today for cool sixth-form clothes. Five hours of shopping… I’ve told my other two that if they need any new kit, we can order it online. Have a lovely rest of the week. x

In a Vase on Monday: Homegrown


The flowers for today’s vase are all homegrown from seed this year. The seeds were sown in late March, potted on and tended for a few months and then planted out in mid-July – later than intended but it took a while to clear the area of bindweed. (As always, we under-estimated the time it would take to prepare the ground…) By the time we got round to putting the plants in situ, most were pot-bound and desperate to get into the soil and I was worried they’d be weak and wobbly as a result.  No matter. They’re fine. They are all growing strongly and blooming away, attracting all kinds of winged creatures. Only one of the sunflower plants survived the slug and snail onslaught from earlier in the year, unfortunately, but it is now pumping out branches of deep, dark flowers. I will leave the remaining flowers on the plant to go to seed for the birds. The outstanding success of the patch, however, has been the Ammi – some of the flowerheads are about 30cm across, huge plates of tiny white flowers forming large insect-helipads.

While I was cutting flowers earlier, bees, hoverflies and butterflies were all flying about ignoring me. One determined bee busied itself on a sunflower head as I carried the bunch back to the house and only flew off when I got to the door. I felt a bit bad about pinching it’s nectar!

Flowers in the vase are:
Cosmos (from a dark mix)
Tithonia rotondiflora ‘Torch’
Sunflower ‘Black Magic F1’
Ammi visnaga ‘White’
Scabious atropurpurea ‘Salmon Pink’


It’s lovely to be joining in again with Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for her gathering of Monday vases. Do hop over to see her vase (actually, her mum’s this week!) and other floriferous offerings from around the world. Wishing you a super-duper week.

The High Line

Hello! How’s your August going so far? I’m slowly emerging from the fog of jet lag and the upheaval of spending a long time away from home. We got back on Sunday lunchtime after many hours of travelling and missing a night’s sleep, and all promptly went to bed. Jet lag is a weird thing and it’s taking a while to settle into regular hours. To be honest, I’m still not fully back into the swing of things; thank goodness it’s the school holidays and we can continue with free-form days for a few more weeks. While I find my feet and reflect on what has been an amazing trip, a trip of a lifetime for me, I thought I’d show you some photos of one of the highlights (there were many; I won’t subject you to them all!).


I first read about The High Line on Jason’s blog gardeninacity a year or so ago and knew I had to make it part of our itinerary while we were in New York. The High Line is a public park – a garden ecosystem that runs along a disused, elevated railway line on Manhattan’s west side through the Meatpacking District and West Chelsea. And, as it’s a public park, it’s free to walk along it, and when practically everything else in NY city costs a blinking fortune for a family of five this is a big bonus.

It’s a gorgeous river of mixed planting – grasses, perennials, shrubs and small trees – through the cityscape and a welcome slice of nature. Piet Oudolf was involved in its creation and his influence is evident in the beautiful, relaxed planting. The plants are largely native, inspired by those that had self-seeded between the old tracks, drought-tolerant and low-maintenance.


My children (who claim they were ‘forced to visit gardens all the time’ when they were small and are disinclined to step foot in any these days without protesting loudly) liked it, especially the art dotted along the way, but they were rather overcome by the heat. It was incredibly hot while we were in New York – mid-to-high-90s and very humid – which did sap our energy somewhat. They skulked from shaded bench to shaded bench while David and I tried to take it all in. We loved it. I was struck by the juxtaposition of lush planting and buzzing, bee-laden flowers with the heavy construction work going on all around. It just goes to show that planting practically anywhere will attract wildlife. If I lived in the city (and, gosh, if I was 20 years younger I’d be sorely tempted), it’s somewhere I’d hang out every lunchtime!





Back home and back to earth, the garden is definitely starting to feel slightly autumnal. Crispy leaves from next door’s enormous copper beech are sprinkled on the back lawn, many flowers have gone over and gone to seed, the tomatoes are ripening and the autumn raspberries are doing their thing. My mother-in-law very generously came to dog/cat/house/garden-sit while we were away and she deadheaded, picked, watered, cleared, and even made sterling inroads in the ‘work-in-progress’ area. A huge thank you to her for looking after everything while we were away.

We’d hurriedly planted an area with grasses, cosmos, nicotiana, sunflowers, tithonia, sweet peas, amaranthus, scabious and Ammi visnaga – a few weeks before we went away and I’m delighted with how it’s come together. Plenty of pickings for a Monday vase🙂

More again soon. Have a super-duper weekend.




A Postcard from America


Hello! Hope you’re well. We are on holiday in the USA; if you follow me on Instagram you’ll know this already😊. The photo is of Yosemite Valley, California which has been added to my Favourite Places Of All Time list. I saw monarch butterflies here – in Cook’s Meadow – which was so thrilling. The rest of my family walked off and left me as I tried (unsuccessfully) to get a good photo of one with its wings open! I am the archetypal Embarrassing Mother.

We’ve been overwhelmed by all the new experiences and wonderful sights we’ve seen. It’ll take a while for it all to sink in.. Of course, there have been the usual irritations, usually in the car during long drives – same bickering, different scenery!  Six more days to go, though, and we’ll be back home, so we are trying to enjoy every second. I’ll tell you more next time (a few highlights only, don’t worry!). In the meantime, have a good week.

Sam x

Katharine’s Garden (and more)


The first time I visited Katharine’s place, it was pitch black (a winter’s evening gathering of our book group) and I couldn’t see the outside of her house or her garden. I knew she was a keen and knowledgable gardener; we had chats about it and she kindly helped me to clear a patch of our overgrown back garden not long after we’d moved in. Like every gardener I’ve ever met, she is enthusiastic and generous with her knowledge and time. When I did get to visit her home in the daylight and walk around the garden I was blown away and a few weeks ago I popped round in the late afternoon to take some photographs to show you.



When Katharine and her family moved here 15 years ago, the house had been empty since the early 1950s. It was very ramshackle and surrounded by an overgrown jungle of brambles, sycamores and elder. Crucially, there was No Garden. The house took 8 years to renovate to a point where they could live in it but with great foresight they decided to start making a garden straight away, planting hedges, fruit and other trees. Being so close to the coast it’s often extremely windy, so this was a good move; the plants established quickly creating much-needed shelter belts.

She describes her approach to gardening as ‘a little haphazard’. “My mother is a huge influence and keeps me amply supplied with cuttings and plants. I love things when they blend into nature – seeing a rose rambling up a crab apple tree and also allowing an area to run a little wild, like long grass and bluebells. On the other hand, I also love defined areas – neatly trimmed edges happen every now and again and they really help to offset what is growing in the flower beds.”

“My favourite plants are often those given to me by other people, as I think of them when I see the plant.” She also loves plants that have taken a battering but pull through against the odds, such as her patch of monk’s hood (Aconitum). Every year since she planted it, when it was full of promise and about to flower, it would be cut down by footballs landing on it or flying through it (she has four sons…). Over the last couple of years it has increased to such an extent the it manages to flower prolifically and withstand the footballs.

As well as this hardy monk’s hood, she also loves her irises and Alchemilla mollis (lady’s mantle) and grows some beautiful, classic old roses – ‘William Lobb’, Rosa rugosa ‘Rubra’, Rosa rugosa ‘Magnifica’ and Rosa mundi – and climbing roses ‘Alberic Barbier’ and ‘Paul’s Scarlet’. The unpredictability of the garden is one of the things she loves most about it – each year different plants seem to do well – and her favourite spots change throughout the seasons depending on what is out: banks of snowdrops in late winter, the bluebells patch in spring, in and amongst the apple trees when in blossom, and later in the year, when the sun is low, she loves to sit in the gazebo. And it’s not just the plants and favourite spots, her chickens are also important: “I would never not have chickens now. They bring a sense of life to the place and having something to look after every day gives you a good anchor to notice how things are changing around you.”

I asked Katharine whether there are any specific gardening challenges she faces: “This year the rabbits have discovered the vegetable patch and we will have to look at rabbit-proofing it for next year. Slugs, too, have been a real problem, but it has also been an odd year in general for growing things. Plants have taken a long time to get going and planting things straight into the soil has not yielded good results. Wind is an on-going battle and we need to make sure the chickens do not escape for the sake of delicate seedlings. Bindweed (say no more) and footballs.”

And plans for the future? “I feel we have only just begun! I would like to divide the garden into different, defined areas, so each area has more of an identity of its own. We are creating a pond at the moment and I am excited by the possibilities that will bring – different wildlife and learning about bog and water-loving plants.”

I’m looking forward to seeing how it all develops. A big thank you to Katharine for letting me wander around snapping away, for answering my questions and for and sharing her lovely garden.


In other news… I can hardly bear to turn on the tv or radio at the moment with the shocking news from Nice and now Turkey. My desire to be well-informed is being overtaken by my desire to keep sane. Almost every day there is an atrocity somewhere and it is heartbreaking. It might seem flippant to be posting about gardens and flowers and our everyday lives, but I think it’s especially important at times like this. Good moments, nature, beauty, kindness, love, compassion, dignity – these are the things to cling on to. Sorry if that sounds trite; it’s hard to find the right words. My family will be travelling soon and I am taking deep breaths and giving my irrational, what-if-everything-goes-wrong side a good talking to. Give in to fear and you’re giving in to the haters, and I’m determined not to do that.

All will be mostly quiet chez acoastalplot now until late August. In the meantime, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, I wish you peace, love and contentment.
Sam x




The wildflowers here on the chalk clifftops are absolutely breathtaking at the moment; they have been looking beautiful for a while but seem to have reached a peak this week. I find myself dawdling while the dog goes on ahead;  she occasionally looks back to make sure I’m still in range. I’m too busy looking at the little yellow vetches and rough hawkbit; the bright-pink pyramidal orchids (there’s a patch of about 30 in long grass on the sea-side of the cliff path); the delicate, lilac-coloured field scabious; the thistly purple knapweed… And there are many plants that I am unable to identify which frustrates me – I must get a good wildflower book. Whatever they are, they all blend together to create a wonderful natural tapestry.

IMG_7582IMG_7560IMG_7587These pictures were taken with my phone camera and aren’t amazing quality, I’m afraid. Taking photos with my DSLR while walking the dog, having to juggle dog lead and poo bags, is rather too high-risk for my liking. I’m looking into getting a decent compact camera that will fit into my pocket and that I can operate with one hand on dog walks!


In a Vase on Monday: better late than never




I completely forgot about Cathy’s ikebana challenge for this week’s Monday vase (oops) and instead went for a soft confection of whites, pinks and purples in a departure from the bold colours of recent weeks. I started with sweet peas ‘Anniversary’ and ‘Windsor’ (sowed in early March) which have started to flower well, despite being completely tray-bound due to me completely neglecting them and late planting out… It is said that sweet peas hate having their roots disturbed but I had to pull each one apart in an attempt to untangle them before planting them in the ground. They seem to have recovered from the indignity and are flowering away happily.


I’m also delighted that all the cosmos plants we finally got into the ground a few weeks ago have settled in, are covered with buds and now flowering well. These had also become very pot-bound and leggy and I cut them back quite hard, snipping off many flower buds in the process, to encourage vigorous growth. This always seems drastic and I hate doing it but it seems to have worked. They should keep flowering until at least October.

Instead of the blue/purple anemone I showed you last week, I’ve picked the delicate white Anemone coronaria ‘The Bride’, which is also looking lovely at the moment. Finally, some lavender (because it smells gorgeous and is at its peak), a couple of stems of an unknown pink penstemon (bought at a plant sale last year; I’ve lost the label) and a few sprigs of pink Linaria purpurea (toadflax) complete the bunch.


Do visit Cathy at Rambling in the Garden to see her ikebana arrangement and links to others around the world.

Have a good week.