It is getting very cold for gardening but there is still lots to do before the garden is ready for winter. The statues have been wrapped up in their canvas bags to prevent them getting too wet, the large terracotta pots on the terraces are now wrapped in bubble wrap and most of the tender perennials have been lifted and are now tucked up in the greenhouses in the nursery. One stalwart that has hung on longer than most is the ginkgo biloba opposite our front door. It has kept hold of its golden yellow leaves up till now, however gales are forecast so it won’t be long before they are all gone.

Our main winter project is rebuilding and re-roofing the summer house half way down the steep banks.  It was originally built in the 1930s so has lasted well but it has been gradually slipping further down the hillside and many of the oak timbers were rotten. Quite a big job as everything, including the steel beam has to be carried down by hand. To lighten the load on the roof we are replacing the stone tiles with cedar shingles but this means carrying up all the old tiles so at least we will keep warm!

Johnny and Philip will soon be cutting down our Christmas tree for the hall. Sadly this year Clare and her new husband David will be in Pittsburgh but our boys will be at home.  As promised last month, a photograph of the happy couple on their wedding day. The eight hundred and something photographs are a wonderful reminder of such a happy day.

All that remains for us to do is to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and to look forward to 2015.




I am afraid the October diary never got written ….  Clare and David’s wedding took over my life for the first half of the month and then Johnny and I went to Nepal and Bhutan for three weeks.  However we are now returned full of renewed energy to concentrate on the garden once more.

The wedding was wonderful; we woke to a rainy morning but by lunchtime the sun was shining and we were able to hold the reception in the garden until it got too chilly by 6p.m.  Clare looked radiant and the flowers in the church and marquee were sensational, all created by Annie Daniels.  We haven’t yet received the photographs so hope to share one in the December dairy.

Then off we went on an adventure!  We had visited Nepal some thirty years ago and were surprised and dismayed by the change in Katmandhu.  It is now a sprawling mass of people, traffic and building work which fills much of the valley. Political agitation by Maoists drove many people from their villages to the relative safety of the city.  We visited the Botanic Garden, an hour from the centre but built on all the way.  It covers 72 hectares of land with over 500 species of plants, all very well kept and well worth a visit.  Beautiful orchids and butterflies and an excellent collection of medicinal plants.

From Nepal a short flight along the Himalayan chain into Bhutan which feels as if you have arrived in Shangri-La.  Stunning snow capped mountains, beautiful architecture and a friendly, handsome and polite English speaking people.  We travelled by minibus across the country from west to east, exciting hairpin roads up and down the deep mountain passes where the vegetation changed from high alpine to sub tropical in a matter of hours.  October is not a time for flowering plants but we did see flowering cherries, daturas, poinsetteasand the odd primula.  The other flowering tree which was much in evidence was the schimawallichii which I wrote about in my September diary having seen it for the first time in Ireland, extraordinary coincidence!  We trekked for five days in the remote East of the country, camping at night which was a first for us for a good many years!  We were about 10,000ft high and the mountains were mostly covered in lush vegetation, bamboo, oaks, larch and firs.  There is an endless supply of water with stunning streams and waterfalls so everything grows including of course rhododendron which must be an amazing sight in the Spring.

Before we left Marguerite and David Bell who have run the tearoom for the past sixteen years decided to retire.  We will miss them enormously, and are so grateful for all their hard work and dedication over the years. I am delighted to say that Jenny Glover, an excellent caterer from Shipston on Stour and whom we have known for many years will be taking over the tearoom next season.

Now home back to reality, lots of bulbs to plant and we are tackling the magnolia delavayii which has a bi-annual heavy prune with Johnny up the high ladder.  Tina and Philip hard at work pruning the roses so life at Kiftsgate returns to normal!

Just to let everyone know we are appearing on the BBC 1 programme ‘Gardens from above’ in the afternoon of Friday 21st November.




We are enjoying a wonderful Indian summer as we approach the end of our opening season. Heavy dews in the morning and a drop of rain at times. The garden is still looking really colourful with the salvias and asters all flowering well and the dahlias an extra bonus.  There are so many good dahlia varieties nowadays, healthy and pretty and they prolong the season so well. I no longer feel any hesitation in planting them and my favourite this year is Magenta Star which looks terrific with salvia blush pink.

We have just got back from taking a group of friends to visit gardens in Southern Ireland.  Again we were blessed with sunshine every day, in fact they are longing for rain!  We started with Helen Dillon’s wonderful garden in Dublin, a riot of colour which she describes resembling a packet of smarties!  Full of interest with pots cleverly concealed in the borders to add height and focal points.  She really is an example of how to have your garden looking good at all times of the year.

We then made our way down to Waterford and the gardens on the Blackwater.  We were thrilled to be introduced to a completely new plant to us, Schima wallichii, growing in the garden at Cappoquin.  A stunning small tree covered in fragrant creamy white flowers slightly resembling a eucryphia but full out in the middle of September.  Having looked it up I find it is part of the tea family and is grown for its timber in India and Nepal.  I just hope it would survive in our rather colder climes as I notice the majority of nurseries offering it are in the mild south west. We will need to find a warm, sheltered spot to give it a sporting chance.

It was a fun and busy week with lots of Irish hospitality and charm, and we have come home full of ideas as well as a stunning dark pink nerine which I am going to plant today.

Our daughter’s wedding is fast approaching on October 4th, which is why this diary is briefer than usual. We are keeping our fingers crossed for this weather to last but a wet weather plan is in place.   It will be fantastic to have all the family together for such a happy occasion.




I am sitting writing this diary whilst the remnants of Hurricane Bertha pass through, we are not expecting many visitors this afternoon!  I always feel so sorry for people opening their gardens for the NGS on a day like this; all the hard work and effort for no visitors to appear.  We have got our second opening for the NGS tomorrow so hope the sun shines by then.
In fact we have had a lovely hot summer and the garden is already looking like September with most hydrangeas in full flower and agapanthus nearly over. Some of the new additions this year for late summer have been the salvias.  We have now gathered quite a collection and they are such good value flowering nonstop well into October.  My favourites are salvia Silas Dyson and s. Savannah Purple and of course the wonderfully named s. Hot Lips!

We have planted some of them in terracotta pots but I also intend to leave the ones planted in the borders over winter to see what survives. Just as I think I am getting to know a species a bit, along comes a shock. For years we have grown s.guaranatica up the house using the old Banksia rose for support but a friend and reliable authority comes along and says it isn’ts. guaranatica but not quite sure what it actually is.
By chance during a visit last week toWollerton Old Hall Garden from where we originally got several of our salvias, we were told that the naming of salvias is in a bit of a muddle . No doubt, but it made us feel better!  This garden is fantastic at this time of year, full of colour and interest and, like at Kiftsgate, privately owned and gardened by Lesley Jenkins and her husband John.  I was particularly struck by the large pots containing hydrangea panniculata Unique with white petunias planted underneath behind clipped box balls surrounding the rill. They looked magnificent.

The original purpose of our visit to the marches was to revisit Powis Castle which we first visited twenty years ago.  Again this did not disappoint with the tropical borders on the top terrace full to bursting with exotica.  Abutilons, isoplexis canariensis, the very good heliotrope arborescens marine and masses more that were new to me.  The whole garden was looking excellent with stunning containers and the whole beautifully cared for.   We were pleased to see that the National Trust had resisted the need to put up barriers to stop people toppling over the top terrace.




We are nearing the end of our hectic time with the old fashioned roses nearly over.  They have flowered very well, as has the whole garden, so an excellent year so far.  It is about now that exhaustion sets in and we try to have a short break.
So, this year we managed a mini break for three days in Switzerland staying with some friends.  I had always wanted to see the wild flowers in their natural state in the alpine meadows and was not disappointed. In spite of the weather ( low clouds, intermittent rain and even a fresh fall of snow down to 2000m) we saw a wonderful tapestry of colour and form.  Probably the most striking plant we saw was the yellow gentian, gentianalutea, which we grow here in the yellow border. Without getting down on hands and knees we couldn’t identify everything but we did see gentians, orchids, bell flowers and all sorts of scabious .  We were about 1700 metres high and the cows with their enormous bells provided the ideal background soundtrack.  It was a wonderful few days and we have come back re-energised to see the garden through the second half of the season. Our own annual wild flower meadow is not really a great success mainly because it is bare and dull for too long.  Next year we intend to plant bulbs and a perennial mix and try to re-create an anglicised version of what we saw. We noticed even there a lot of yellow rattle which keeps the grass low and I think will be essential to discourage growth of the tougher grasses here.

The large pots have been excellent this year as we purposely put in smaller plants to begin with in May.  Last year things grew far too large and as a result collapsed into an unstable mess by August.  All gardening is a learning curve and by our mistakes we hope to avoid the endless pitfalls that most gardeners fall in to.

I have already seen my first Japanese anemone in flower and think because of the hot weather the garden is about two weeks ahead. The fullness of the borders in July bring high summer into reality and they are bursting with colour at the moment.  I’m just hoping there will still be some colour left by the end of the season and that we won’t have to rely entirely on dahlias, salvias and tobacco plants to see us through.




You have to be patient to be a gardener and I was rewarded last week with the first flowers on a peony I bought at least five years ago in Holland when visiting Piet Oudolf’s garden.  It is called P. Jan van Leeuwen, a single white.  It is really simple and beautiful and well worth waiting all that time for.

I had a wonderful visit to the Chelsea Flower Show, the outside gardens were slightly disappointing with very familiar themes and planting but the Grand Pavilion is always a delight.  Nurseries show off their expertise with incredible stands and it is such a treat to see new varieties and get new ideas. Quite apart from the nurseries there is an enjoyable mixture of the wonderful and bizarre, a real theatre of the absurd.

I was surprised and delighted at how uncrowded the show was first thing in the morning but must admit I left by noon just as masses of people were coming in. While in London I also visited the Matisse Cut Out exhibition at Tate Modern and was knocked out by it. From plain sheets of colour he cut out remarkable shapes to produce vibrant images, and he was well into his eighties! Let’s hope us gardeners can find as much creativity as the years roll by.

June is always a hectic month and this is no exception.  The garden is flowering at least two weeks earlier than last year and the roses are nearly all out, even Kiftsgate will be out by the end of June. Currently covered in bud so I expect it to be a fantastic sight.  There are two stars in the garden at the moment, deutzias and dogwoods. The pink deutzia Strawberry Fields is one of my favourites, and of course the white deutzia setchuanensis corymbiflora is sensational. Of the dogwoods that have been planted over the past few years, Cornus Satomi and C. China Girl are particularly outstanding.

We will be planting out our dahlias next week and have got some new varieties this year in anticipation that they will still be flowering in early October when our daughter gets married.

This is the time to really enjoy all the hard work that goes into making an English garden such a joy at this time of yer, and I must make time to sit and soak in all the pleasure it gives us and our visitors!




Rabbits ! We have had a problem in the garden this year.  Even though we fence the entire garden they somehow manage to invade.  I think because of the mild winter their numbers are even greater so I have been netting various small plants that have been mown to the ground and the lower garden is resembling a high security area! My own Mr McGregor is sent out on patrol with some success but even so, Peter Rabbit, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail are all having a whale of a time.

The garden is now open five days a week so our really busy time is starting.  The stars of the garden at the moment are the tree peonies.  We have been adding to our collection over the years with varieties from the wonderful French nursery Pivoines Riviere who have been producing peonies since 1849. The great advantage of these magnificent plants is that they flower in succession so although some are now over there are plenty in tight bud for future delight.  They not only have magnificent enormous blooms but the foliage is so attractive and varying colours.  As you can see we are huge fans and will keep planting new varieties.

We have a lovely article in this month’s Garden Illustrated written by Mary Keen and photographs taken by Marcus Harper. He came in May two years ago.   It is always interesting to see the garden through someone else’s eyes and good publicity for us.  Not too late to buy a copy, don’t all rush at once!

It is the Malvern show this week but I have decided to visit Chelsea again after a two year break. I always look forward to going but find it essential to arrive at 8a.m. to avoid the crowds.  We have also been asked by Gregory Long the head of the New York Botanic garden to a dinner on the Monday of Chelsea which will be fun and no doubt full of all the latest gardening gossip.




What a contrast to our opening of last year when it was so wet and cold.  I think the garden is at least two weeks ahead with the bluebells out incredibly early and tree peonies covered in buds ready to burst.  It really is the most perfect time of year when you have clear blue skies and warm sunshine, you can practically see things growing!

We went to stay at Boconnoc for the Cornwall Garden Society Spring Flower Show at the start of April.  What a remarkable story this is!  The main house on this estate was derelict but over the past twenty years the Fortescue family have lovingly restored it and now is a very desirable location to celebrate weddings or family events (  For the last ten years they have hosted this flower show and what a pleasant surprise it was.  In the stable block there was a fabulous cut flower display of camellia, rhododendron, narcissus and magnolia, a great chance to study the different varieties close up and beautifully presented.  Nearly all the great gardens of Cornwall had sent exhibits and it was clear that for the Cornish garden scene this was the place to be in spite of the weather.  There were also many local nurseries offering choice and rare plants and we have come home with a boot load. If you have the chance next Spring do try and go – a refreshing and exciting alternative to Malvern or Chelsea.

The gardens at Boconnoc are also well worth visiting and as it was an early year their rhododendron macabenianum were in full flower.  What a sight they are with enormous leaves and the spectacular plate size flowers towering above one’s head.  It comes as a bit of a surprise to us that we can grow rhodos here in the woods as well as the small strip in the garden which is the Bridge Border.  Here the azaleas are ablaze with lilac flowers and we have added new introductions of pale yellow and mauve varieties.  Looking through my grandmother’s planting lists I am amazed at the number of rhododendrons that she bought and as I walked through the woods I saw a number that have survived like this one on the banks.  No idea what it is called but a reminder that we should try to plant more.

I am just about to go and prick out seedlings that Tina has sown, a job which I enjoy enormously and never cease marvelling how from a tiny seed a beautiful plant can appear.   The nursery is a hive of industry at this time of year and we have got a wonderful selection of plants for sale due to the mild winter and Tina’s tender care.




I love this time of year when the garden is awakening again after the long winter. We are flat out getting ready for opening at the beginning of April and unlike last year there will be plenty to look at with the mild winter and up to now warm sunshine.

The magnolias are now fully out, such majestic trees covered in spectacular flowers shown to their best without the leaves to distract you. They are expensive to buy and you have to be patient but they are so well worth planting, especially now with all the new introductions and colours. One of our oldest ones, M. dawsoniana, a Wilson introduction, is in full flower at the moment.

We have had a busy winter as always and have installed hand rails along the steep paths down to the lower garden. Hopefully this will help visitors to navigate more easily but I will need time to get used to the effect which I feel detracts from the natural and personal feel of the garden.

The early clematis armandii is flowering well this year having escaped any frost, it is a charming variety but the leaves do tend to look rather messy in the summer months. The pond around which it grows is now full of frog spawn, a sure sign that spring is on its way.

We are still getting used to the great void in the wide border where the old acer had to be cut down. A stump grinder has removed some of the roots and we have re-planted several large shrubs and trees to fill the gap, including osmanthus yunnanensis and paulonia kawakamii which we bought from Pan Global plants last year. The paulonia is quick growing and if it proves hardy enough should fill the space in a short time. It is going to take several years to get this area as we will want it but gardening is all about trial and error combined with patience.

We are looking forward to another year of opening and a busy year ahead including our daughter’s wedding in early October.




Today spring is at last in the air. The snowdrops, crocus and aconites are all flowering their heads off and I am about to unwrap the large terracotta pots to let the tulips feel some sunlight as they have already started to shoot under their bubble wrap duvet.

However the past month has been far from spring-like: torrential rain and hurricane winds have caused havoc in the garden. Luckily none of our enormous pines have fallen but branches and uprooted shrubs are scattered throughout. A lot of clearing up will need to be done before we open in April. A large larch has fallen on the front drive and the top of the magnolia in the north border has been torn off. We are lucky compared to many in the south whose homes are flooded but the impact of all the rain combined with extreme wind has severely weakened the root systems of trees and plants so it will be necessary to keep a beady eye through the next few weeks and months.

We were fortunate to escape one week of the storms by flying off to Grenada in the Caribbean. A wonderful tropical island and one of the Spice Islands. Walking in the hills we saw masses of spice trees. Nutmeg (and mace) is their main crop but there were also cocoa plantations, avocado, papaya and bananas plus cinnamon and ginger. Our local guide whipped out his machete and sliced a cocoa pod in half and much to my surprise a jack-in-the-box array of seeds popped out. Sucking the outer flesh of the seed produced a refreshing citrus taste but I was advised not to bite into the seed proper as it is not pleasant. To get what we all expect from a delicious bar of chocolate takes a week of fermenting and further processing.

We also visited the winner of last year’s Small Garden category in the island’s Garden show. It was full of exotic and colourful plants which for the most part we recognised only as houseplants. Right on the sea and in the full blast of a permanent wind, it was a blaze of reds, oranges and purples. Interestingly it is the foliage which gives the wow factor to these plants, sanchesia with its green and white striped leaves, and acalphya Inferno which turns scarlet in full sun. There was also a wonderful grey leaved shrub known locally as the silver mangrove tree (conocarpus erectus sericeus), very effective and only wish it would be hardy enough to grow here.

We had relaxing and recharging time and have come home with our batteries topped up and ready to go!




Christmas and New Year are behind us and life returns to normal. Our Christmas day afternoon exercise took us round the garden to find out what was in flower. As you can see we collected a surprisingly good selection, probably because we haven’t really been hit by a severe frost. Already the hellebores are beginning to flower and I have cut away all the old leaves to reveal these little jewels of spring.

The tree surgeon has finished his work on the wonderful old acer in the wide border. It has made a huge empty space and opened up the view over the Vale. We are busy planning what to plant but think it will take a few years to establish this area, and no doubt we will change our minds several times in the process.

I mentioned a few months ago about the BBC coming here to film part of an episode of Father Brown. Well the ‘Mysteries of the Rosary’ was on earlier this month, and you may still be able to catch it on I-player. Only a few minutes of Kiftsgate at the beginning of the episode, but lovely views from the lower garden over the countryside. A marvelously dotty story line but the locations around the Cotswolds all looked wonderful and I’m not surprised that the series has been a success.

Talking of television two and a half cheers for the BBC. Their Great British Garden Revival was a timely reminder of what a great late summer we had. Clearly the series was a rushed job, all seemingly filmed in August and September. We were contacted about filming the roses in September but said no, not the right time of year. What a pity the planning of the programme was so rushed and could not take in spring and summer in the gardens. Perhaps the BBC can plan a ‘Revival’ in good gardening programmes, which might challenge the ubiquitous cooking programmes!