My growing obsession blog

Struggles and successes in a suburban garden

Beautiful brassicas August 30, 2011

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Look at these beauties! 

I took this photo yesterday at Titsey Place and Gardens ( where I saw what is possibly the best walled vegetable garden ever! Titsey Place is situated just outside the village of Limpsfield between Westerham and Oxted. The house (which I didn’t visit this time) has its origins in the sixteenth century but the walled gardens were restored in 1996 to showcase Victorian techniques.

I don’t know how authentically Victorian the garden is but it completely blew me away.  At this time of year (late August) the garden is full of  fruit, veg and perennials.

The photo shows what must  be an area of about 5 square metres. In the photo (taken on my phone so apologies for poor quality) you can see cabbages, Brussels sprouts and Kale ‘redboor’ behind. They were beautiful, with no sign of cabbage white damage. (I was even impressed with the way they’d constructed their netting.)

I have no idea how large the walled garden is but it was huge (not very helpful I realise). It has a very formal structure, with paths bisecting bed after bed. Fruit trees and currants grow against the outside walls along with climbing and shrub roses. Height is provided by wigwams of sweet peas, an arbour of gourds and a great archway of runner beans and ipomea growing together (definitely something to try to grow at home on a more modest scale). 

It wasn’t just the size of vegetables that impressed – the range of fruit and veg grown is incredible. You name it, it was growing there. From celeriac and asparagus peas to Jerusalem artichokes and amaranth. And who knew there were so many different varieties of asparagus and gooseberry?

I could whitter on and on but I’m really not doing the place justice with my description. Suffice to say it’s definitely worth a visit.

Thanks to my friend Yvonne for telling me about it – I can’t believe I’ve never been before!


Shopping and raking January 6, 2011

Now that the extension is finished (bar the decorating) my mind has turned to new starts and springtime. Especially in the garden. As a result, I spent the weekend ordering seeds and raking leaves.

A tidy seed box = a tidy mind

The weather on Sunday didn’t appeal, so I sorted through my vegetable seed tin and chucked away anything over two years old. (I’ll have to look over the seeds of annuals another day). I found this really hard to do and actually I have sneaked back in some seed I saved from my runner beans at least two years ago.

Anyway, feeling virtuous, I set about making a list of what I had left (how I love lists!) and another list (any excuse!) of what I needed to buy fresh this year. I then headed to the Thompson & Morgan website (  and started shopping. I should point out that I’m not a slave to T&M – I had a £10 voucher burning a hole in the pile of recycling – and recommend looking at Marshalls (, Suttons ( and Sarah Raven ( – if you’re feeling flush).

The big veg plan

The list below is what I’ve decided to grow this year. I’m quite hopeful about some of the veg (eg beetroot) and expecting to fail with others (eg artichokes). I’d be interested to know what you think of my choices.

  • Beetroot globe coloured collection. This is a pack of three varieties: Boltardy (which I’ve grown successfully before), Burpee’s golden (because I fancied trying a yellow one) and Chioggia Pink (a striped pink one which I thought looked pretty and therefore worth a go).
  • Dwarf French bean purple tepee. I used to grow this variety years ago and always had good results. My climbing purple ones last year weren’t that good (maybe I didn’t plant them in the right place) and I struggled to reach the climbers in the raised bed, so I’ve decided that I’m going back to the dwarf variety.
  • Courgettes Soleil (yellow) and Tristan (green and allegedly a scratch-free variety).
  • Potatoes which I’ll grow in the planters purchased a few years back. Last year’s potatoes were not my finest (I’m blaming blight) yet the year’s before were great. Such temperamental tubers. This year I’ve decided to grow Rocket (a first early variety), Vivaldi (a second early or early maincrop if you leave the tubers to get big enough) and Charlotte (a second early which I’ve grown successfully before). 
  • Tomatoes Garden Pearl (already have the seed and love the small pink-ish fruits) and Costoluto Fiorentino (hopefully a big, beefy variety that will eventually ripen outdoors). Both will be grown in tubs. 
  • I found lots of lettuce seeds and will be giving all of them a go, squeezed into any gaps I can find. These include Merveille de Quatre Saisons, Cos Blonde Maraichere, Rossa di Trento, Radicchio Chicory and mixed salad leaves (peppery mix). 
  • Carrot Sytan. I’ve tried to grow this before and the results really weren’t worth the effort but perhaps this time I’ll have more luck. 
  • Artichoke – why not?! It’ll look attractive at least. 
  • Red swiss chard (an acquired taste but I like it and it’s really easy to grow). 
  • Kales Nero de Toscana and Redboor (because they were my big successes last year). 
  • Squash Sweet Dumpling (because I ran out of room for this last year and gave my baby plants away to friends).
  • Runner bean Painted Lady (tried and tested). 
  • Yellow Climbing French bean. I am least hopeful of these doing anything but as I only have a few of these seeds left and a few of the aforementioned runner beans I thought I’d stick them together against the same wigwam and see what happens.

I’m also going to try and squeeze in some leeks and peas but I’ll buy these in the spring as baby plants from my local garden centre.

Getting the garden in order

Bank holiday Monday saw a glimpse of sun and, thanks to the great views of the garden from the extension, I couldn’t put off raking/tidying any longer. A few hours later, I’d managed to make the part of the garden I can see best from the house look ten times better (although not good enough for a photo I’m afraid!). Weather and decorating permitting, the rest of the garden will be spruced up next weekend.


Great Dixter August 24, 2010

On Sunday I visited the late Christopher Lloyd’s garden at Great Dixter ( The weather was unkind – wind and heavy rain – but it wasn’t enough to dampen my enthusiasm.

This is only the second time I’ve been to Great Dixter but I’ve been a fan of Christopher Lloyd’s books (eg Succession planting for adventurous gardeners) and garden writing  (Cuttings) for a long time. I wanted to go in August to see what’s in flower right now.

And the garden looked great, so why doesn’t mine?! There were plenty of dahlias and grasses (the fabulous Stipa Gigantea  and Miscanthus Sinensis) looking very impressive, even in the rain. They also used quite a lot of annuals (zinnias, marigolds, nicotiana) to plug any gaps. I really enjoyed discovering lots of different clematis that were clambering through shrubs, up poles, and anywhere else they seemed to get a hold. I definitely need to get some more clematis in my garden – and get better at successional planting.

Christopher Lloyd is well-known for his unusual planting combinations and the garden certainly challenged a lot of my preconceptions but I have to confess I don’t like all the planting combinations used in this garden – probably because of my plant prejudices. For example, I can’t warm to all the Evening Primrose and Verbascum that they’ve let self-seed around the place. (Think I’ll start a new blog post on plant prejudices!)

There is also a very impressive, very tidy, vegetable plot. I wish I had more room to grow vegetables, or to build a compost heap the size of theirs!

As if all this wasn’t enough, there is a really great nursery attached where you can buy more unusual perennials (approx. £4 each) and clematis (£7 each).

I left the garden smiling, slightly damp, clutching a copy of the nursery catalogue. I’m already looking forward to a visit in spring to see the tulips…


One Pot Pledge July 30, 2010

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This is a great campaign run by Garden Organic. For those of you who are new to vegetable gardening and who have never plucked up the courage to have a go, take a look at this

They might even send you some free stuff…