by Janis on 12th January 2024 / 0 comments

The successful and the not-so-successful

How did we progress in our English country garden in Kent in 2023?

Now, I must say that some of our mini-projects were successful; some still need attention, and others need a bit of a rethink.

But hey, you win some, you lose some.

Summer in the southeast of England was a bit mixed in 2023; there wasn’t oodles of sunshine; in fact, it was decidedly lacking. However, at least this meant that our plants and lawn weren’t baked through.

Although we still got the obligatory hosepipe ban, as we installed a drip feed irrigation system a couple of years ago, our patio pots were overflowing with colour.

For further inspiration for our garden in 2023, we visited a few more National Trust sites, Nymans, Sanden House, Emmetts Garden, and Lamb House.


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Our cottage garden border

And Woodland Shady
In 2022, we spent quite a bit of time working on our Cottage Garden border; it had been somewhat neglected over the previous few years and needed some TLC. We decided we wanted there to be a lot more colour through the seasons, especially spring to early autumn.
A mixture of red, pink and purples in the cottage garden bed from a variey of lupins, poppies and cornflowers
The cottage garden bed

Our first task was to try and remove a very invasive geranium; we did pretty well with this; however, there were signs of its return in early 2023, so it was back on our hands and knees to tackle it again. I’m hoping there will be even less this year.

Our cottage garden border is reasonably long and quite deep, so to keep the cost of planting down in 2022, we purchased youngish plants. This was a good idea, although the scorching heat of 2022 made it a challenge for them.

An ornamental cornflower with a white outer and a pink centre in front of pale blue forget-me-nots in our english cottage garden bed
Ornamental Cornflower and forget-me-nots

Roll on to 2023, and quite a few of our perennials returned; although, there were undoubtedly ones we had lost. We purchased a few more to fill in some gaps and bought a few Dahlia bulbs for some colour later in the year.

However, what was a winner were the cornflower and cosmos seeds that I had previously scattered, which looked incredible, popping up throughout the bed. They helped maintain some contrast through the months, as keeping a wash of colour through summer is quite challenging.

In general, I think we certainly made good progress; I can’t wait to see how our cottage garden bed transpires in 2024.

Three different coloured heucheras in the woodland shady area of our garden.
Our three Heucheras in the Woodland Shady section

In 2023, we also decided to add more plants to our Woodland Shady section of the garden. We already had a couple of ferns and hostas, but we wanted more. We also divided one of our older ferns into three clumps, and they came on leaps and bounds.

So, we purchased another couple of ferns and hostas, three heuchera plants, a Lime Marmalade, an Orangeberry and a Wildberry. I’m looking forward to their progress in 2024.

Sowing seeds and cutting

I always nurture too many
We’ve certainly had a few successes with sowing seeds, although my main problem is I grow too many. I just can’t throw them out if they’ve made the effort to seed. This always happens when I sow chilli and tomato seeds.
The wooden cold frame on our patio full of seed trays continuing their development.
Our cold frame

For the second year, I grew some flowers from seed; now, I must say this was a bit hit and miss. I think I may stick to buying my bedding plants from plugs or trays from a local nursery as my plants did not flower as much as the ones I’ve previously purchased.

Take thunbergia, for example; in 2022, I picked up three little plants, and they went wild, growing through my obelisks and continued flowering for months. I grew about eight or ten, and they struggled to do anything.

A bee feeding on a red with white centre Oriental Poppy that we had grown from seed
Oriental Red Poppy
Now, for foliage success, my Morning Glory plants were rampant; however, they didn’t start flowering until September. I looked into why this was happening, and apparently, Morning Glory plants don’t flower when the soil is too nourishing. So, perhaps after a couple of months, they were happier when all the soil nutrients had gone.
Some softwood cuttings potted on in a shelf in our coldframe
Softwood cuttings
Another win I had in 2022 was taking softwood cuttings from my Salvia’ Hot Lips’ and Spiraea’ Bridal Wreath’. So, needless to say, I took some more in 2023, including my Salvia’ Cherry Lips’, Ribes, Erysimum and plenty of fuchsias.

New method of growing tomatoes

A tip from Monty Don

Usually, I would grow my tomato plants in individual pots. Still they were becoming very tricky to manage as my supports were struggling to take the weight.

Then, one evening, I was watching Gardeners’ World, and Monty Don explained how to support your tomatoes when planting them in a grow bag. Well, there’s no looking back for me now. I’m sticking with this method, and here is how it worked.

Eight tomato plants growing in two grow bags on our courtyard patio
Planted in grow bags

Ok, the way that Monty Don plants his tomatoes is that he has twine in place first, from the base of his greenhouse to supports at the top. The string is around 2 metres in height, allowing the tomato plant to grow around the twine.

Monty cuts a long length of twine, allowing enough to reach from the compost or grow bag at the base to the support at the top and plenty of string to be wrapped around in small circles. These multiple circles or loops of twine will be placed underneath the roots of your tomato plant.

Eight tomato plants growing up against our fence, supported with twine thread
Tomatoes growing up against our fence

We don’t have a greenhouse, so the tomatoes were growing outside. On our fence, we attached three wires across the fence panel horizontally to give the twine and the tomatoes support.

Take your tomato plant out of its pot, place the rolled twine in the hole of your grow bag, and pop your plant on top of the string, pressing down firmly and gently. Pull the twine up taut, being careful not to drag it out from under the plant’s roots, loop it up through the horizontal wires to the top, and tie it off securely, et voila.

It worked a treat.

You can never have too many roses

Or so I’m told
We already have quite a few roses in our garden; however, Gary convinced me we needed more. Although I must admit I didn’t need too much persuading because, in 2022, we purchased two half-standard roses, ‘Margaret Merril,’ and the scent is divine. They smell just like candyfloss; I can’t stop walking past them.
A close of the mottled red and pink bloom of our new scentimental rose in our cottage garden section of our english country garden
Scentimental rose

As mentioned, we live in Kent, and not too far from us is Rumwood Nurseries, who specialise in roses; what could be better. Rumwood Nurseries offer an online ordering service, so you don’t need to live in the southeast of the UK to benefit.

Now, I must admit that I am no expert in roses or gardening come to that, but what I will add is that ensure you do some research before buying your perfect rose.

Do you want your new rose to be a rambler, climber, floribunda, hybrid tea, miniature, shrub, patio feature, ground cover, standard or half-standard? Most importantly, the colour of the rose and do you want it scented?

Three orange and red tipped blooms of our new tequila sunrise rose in our english country garden in august
Tequila Sunrise rose

We visited the nursery in late August with the intention of buying two roses, but you guessed it, we came away with five. Although I must add they were all 50% off and were incredible specimens.

We planted them in the garden, and as they were reasonably established plants, they looked like they had been in our garden for years.

Spring flowering bulbs

Another 175 bulbs planted

In autumn 2022, I planted around 400 spring flowering bulbs in our garden and within our patio pots and planters. I must admit some of them looked stunning, and others looked a little bit lonesome. So, guess what? Gary and I planted another 175 bulbs to brighten up spring 2024.

I’m now keeping my fingers crossed that our efforts are all worthwhile.

Multi-layered yellow daffodils in bloom on our patio in april
Daffodils in Bloom in early April
Last year, I bought a selection bag of allium bulbs from a supermarket, and I couldn’t believe how stunning they looked and how long the blooms lasted. So, with this in mind, I purchased some more alliums to fill out our borders further.
Bags of bulbs from J. Parkers spread out on our patio day before planting in autumn
Plenty of bulbs from J. Parkers

I purchased our bulbs from J. Parker’s. We’ve used them before, and they have a vast selection of bulbs and tubers and are also reliable. An added bonus is that I got a discount as a Gardeners World magazine subscriber.

As well as the mixture of alliums, I bought more daffodils and narcissus.

I can’t wait for spring.

Plans for 2024

Our front garden

I need to re-plant our two front garden beds. Nothing is cast in stone yet, but I’m toying with the idea of planting some low-growing grasses.

Our two front beds did have Buxus edges, but unfortunately, they managed to become infected with a Buxus blight, and they all died, so they had to be removed. Additionally, the lavender planted in the centre became too woody and needed removing, so I now have two empty beds.

Any ideas for low-maintenance evergreen planting would be welcome?

The partial removal of one of our four raised beds in an area of the garden we have yet to finalise.
Removal of the raised beds

The other project that we are planning, is to remove our tired raised beds and replace the area with an attractive rock garden. We want to use local Kentish stone and the planting will be simple and delicate.

I think this may be a challenge, but let’s see how we progress.

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