Posted on

5 Pollinators’ Favourites… and they are edible too!


I love walking around the garden and the polytunnel and hear the buzzing of bees and other pollinating insects and seeing the butterflies flutter from one flower to another. Luckily this year there seem to be a lot more insects around thanks to the lovely July weather we’ve been having…

Here are five plants to grow in and around your vegetable beds to attract pollinators:


Coriander is known to bolt when not watered regularly …but that’s okay because not only are the leaves edible but so are the tiny white flowers and the seeds which you can dry and use in many exotic dishes. Pollinators love Coriander’s white flowers.

Pollinator on Coriander flowers

Continue reading 5 Pollinators’ Favourites… and they are edible too!

Posted on

Top 10 Bee-Friendly Flowers at the Villas!

Top 10 Flowers

I have assembled a list of the top 10 flowers at the Villas (plus one for good measure) in alphabetical order that have been attracting the most pollinating insects, mostly bumblebees, in June:

Creeping Buttercup
Creeping Buttercup
Foxglove (a close third)
Hardy Geranium
Hardy Geranium
Lupin (probably second in the popularity stakes)
Ox-Eye Daisies
Ox-Eye Daisy
Rosa Rugosa
Rosa Rugosa
Thyme (by far the most popular)
Thyme (by far the most popular)
Posted on

All about my favourite tree – a Poplar Tremula Erecta


When we arrived at the Villas the garden didn’t exist. The land behind the house had been brutally razed to the ground by heartless property developers who’d de-nuded it of all its plants and mashed up rubble and waste with the soil. All that was left were stinging nettles, some couch grass and a healthy clump of Japanese Knotweed.

Early days...

Planting a Poplar

We studied aerial pictures of the property and saw that previously there had been several trees – mostly cherry plum I believe …so I made it my goal to arborally (I think I made that word up) re-populate it as quickly as possible.

In went several cherry plum, apple, peach, fig and cobnuts but the focal point of the garden remains our Poplar tremula from Barcham Trees which, although I love all our trees, I have to say is my pride and joy! I did a bit of research recently that I’d like to share with you because it turns out Poplar tremula is a fascinating tree and perfect for all sorts of gardens…

Poplar tremula erecta in May


It’s part of the Willow (Salicaceae) family and in English is commonly known as trembling Aspen or quiver leaf. In French it’s called Peuplier faux-tremble or Peuplier blanc.

Its Latin name is Populus tremuloides and it was so named because of the way the leaves tremble in even the slightest of breezes. This is due to the fact that the relatively long leaf stalks (petioles) are vertically flattened. They attach to the leaf blade at right angles to the leaf surface which makes them flutter. I always think they make a sound like a wave retreating back to the ocean over a pebble beach…

Vertically flattened petiole

The active ingredient in aspirin occurs in the inner bark and the leaves apparently relieve the itch of insect stings and bites.

Bees collect propolis from its buds which they use to, amongst other things, reinforce the structural stability of the hive and to seal alternate entrances to make it more defensible.

Honey bees need propolis too

It’s a Boy

The trees are either female or male – ours is a boy. In spring before leafing, both male and female trees produce grey, fluffy catkins which are dense clusters of tiny flowers. The catkins on male trees shed pollen and those on female trees produce seeds.

The flowers are wind-pollinated. Spring winds, unhampered by any leaves, carry pollen from male catkins to female catkins on another tree. The pollen fertilizes the ovules in the female catkins and seeds result.

Poplar bark


They also reproduce by sending up shoots from their large root system. Therefore in a garden situation be careful not to damage the roots when digging or planting because this will encourage suckers which you don’t necessarily want.

Its glossy new leaves emerge deep burgundy in colour, gradually turning to a soft olive green and then in autumn to bright reds and yellows.

New Poplar tremula leaves bright and glossy

Slim Tree

Our tree is columnar (erecta) which means the branches grow upwards as opposed to outwards, resulting in a very slim tree that casts a very slim shadow! This is a big plus in our garden because I didn’t want our greenhouse and vegetable beds cast in shade.

It is a fast-growing species but compared to some trees is relatively short-lived – from 80 to 100 years … but as my elderly mother often says about all sorts of things: “At least it will see me out!”

Time to plant your potatoes!
Time to plant your potatoes!


Finally these trees offer gardeners a handy visual reminder… they say that when the leaves appear it’s time to plant your potatoes!

So if you’re thinking of planting a tree in your garden and want something very attractive, slightly unusual and that won’t take up too much space, Poplar tremula erecta comes highly recommended …for so many reasons.

Poplar tremula erecta growing tall and proud at the Villas.
Poplar tremula erecta growing tall and proud at the Villas.



Posted on

Going Nuts at the Villas! …Cobnuts, to be precise.

Sowandso is part of a group called You Can Grow That!. Every 4th of the month we publish posts about our favourite plants, our love for growing vegetables and our enthusiasm for gardening. Want to know more about our group then go to


I have grown a nut tree once before but by luck rather than judgement. A cobnut, still in its shell, had somehow ended up on the ground outside my mother’s kitchen window where it had germinated. I spotted it one day when it had just a couple of leaves and, always enjoying a challenge, I took it home and planted it.

Self Sterile

With little or no care, it went on to do very well, ending up over two metres tall and about the same wide. However, the harvest was always rather meager. I now realise that I could have improved cropping by planting another cobnut tree nearby because most types are self sterile – the pollen from a given variety cannot pollinate the same variety and are therefore best grown in mixed groups.

Webb’s Prize

Twenty years later and about as many miles down the road, I have just planted a pair of Webb’s Prize cobnut trees that I bought recently from my favourite online nursery  Victoriana Nursery – I chose Webb’s Prize because it’s vigorous, heavy cropping …and the nuts are delicious!

Interestingly (and unusually in the cobnut world), it’s partially self fertile which means it doesn’t need a different variety to pollinate it, unlike other cobnut varieties such as Merveille de Bollwiller, Butler, Ennis and Kentish Cob which are all self sterile.


How to grow a Cobnut

Cobnut trees are happy in most types of soil as long as it’s not waterlogged – fairly well draining and nice friable top soil is ideal – but not essential. They’re not generally susceptible to disease but you might find you you get a problem with raiders such as squirrels helping themselves to your harvest, particularly at the beginning of the season!


As far as pruning is concerned, in order to maximise your harvest you have to be able to reach the top so keep it around a couple of metres high… also it’s a good idea to thin out the branches a bit from time to time to free up space to allow access for picking (you don’t want it too dense in the middle – bowl shaped is ideal). The time to prune is during the winter or early spring.

Cobnut bud


Cobnut trees produce separate male and female flowers. Only the female flowers can develop into nuts, and only if they’ve been fertilised with pollen from the male flower (catkin) …however they may not be out at the same time! If you live in the countryside where there are wild hazels nearby, then these will help to pollinate your trees.

When to Harvest

In mid to late August, cobnuts can be picked green when they taste more like a pea than a nut. Once picked they should be kept in a fridge in a well ventilated container and are delicious chopped up in a salad. Alternatively they can be stored in cool dry place in a perforated container or basket. They should be jiggled about each day to prevent them from sweating and going moldy.

However if you prefer them to taste like nuts, leave them on the tree and during September the husks (an outer casing that partially wraps the hard shell) will gradually change from green to brown. By this time the kernel inside will be developing its true nutty flavour which will intensify as the nut dries and matures. Apparently when they’re fully ripened you can just shake the branches and the nuts tumble to the ground… sounds like fun! They need to be stored somewhere cool, dry and well ventilated and given them a shake to aerate them every couple of weeks. Cobnuts have a long shelf life and if stored carefully will easily last until you are ready to pick next year’s crop.


It’s also worth remembering that cobnut, hazel and filbert trees are all an excellent attractant and nectar source for bees and other beneficial insects …and any prunings are a valuable source of hazel poles for use in the vegetable garden. So much better than using bamboo canes that have been imported from half way around the world!


Finally… great news! Victoriana Nursery Gardens are kindly offering a 10% discount across their full range which includes seeds, fruit, vegetables, herbs, ornamentals, gardening equipment and gifts – just use the discount code SOWNSO.


Now you can afford to go nuts!

Posted on

Sweet Pea – Lathyrus Odoratus – You Can Grow That!


As a child, during the summer months there was always a little vase of delicate flowers standing on my parents’ television. Every Saturday morning my grandparents would walk the few kilometres from their home to ours for a cup of coffee and my grandfather would bring some home grown flowers from his garden such as Dahlias and Sweet Peas (Lathyrus Odoratus). The scent of these colourful flowers would fill the house. Then last year for the first time ever I grew Lathyrus Odoratus myself so you can imagine the flood of memories that swept over me when I smelt these lovely flowers again. Lathyrus Odoratus

Continue reading Sweet Pea – Lathyrus Odoratus – You Can Grow That!

Posted on

Leaving Herbs and Vegetables to Flower

First time

Curiosity was the reason why I let a few of my herbs and vegetables run to flower.Leek gone to flower

Never having seen a leek flower up close, I was ready to experiment… What I didn’t expect was that insects just love it! They conquer leek flowers, fight over the rights to parsley flowers and put in a lot of effort to reach the lemon balm’s delicate white blossom.

Parsley gone to flower

For that reason alone I am glad I allowed it all to happen. Happy pollinating insects equals one very happy gardener.

Lemon balm gone to flower


Posted on

Blue Giant Hyssop


I love fragrant plants. There is nothing nicer then burying your head into a bunch of flowers and taking a deep breath. This year I have sown and planted a lot of flowers such as Sweet Peas, Freesia, Gladioli and Sunflowers. Other flowers have just come up from a sowing last year like Calendula and Cosmos.

More flowers have been sown but for now there are two that seem to do very well in the conditions I gave them: Sweet William, about which I wrote a post a few weeks ago and now Blue Giant Hyssop (Agastache Foeniculum) – which in Dutch is also known as the liquorice plant.

Giant Hyssop 2


Blue Giant Hyssop or Anise Hyssop is a perennial plant with square stems instead of the usual round ones. It is a bushy, branched plant with long bluey purple candle-like flowers. When brushed the plant gives off a strong aniseed scent and it’s a big favorite of butterflies and bees, which is one of the reasons I bought the seeds in the first place.

Giant Hyssop 1


Blue Giant Hyssop belongs to the mint family (Limiaceae) and the leaves do resemble mint leaves.I found out that Native Americans used the plant for medicinal purposes, to cure a coughs, fevers and wounds. The leaves are wonderful in teas or used dry in potpourri. A friend of mine suggested using the leaves to infuse vodka to get liquorice vodka which is sold in some clubs and bars in the Netherlands (not made with herbs).  For now though I am using the flowers to make a fragrant bouquet in combination with Sweet Peas, Cornflowers and Cosmos. Pretty as a picture!



Posted on

Planting flower seeds at the Villas!

Secret Garden

Rosa Rugosa 'Alba' Now our vegetable garden is cruising along under its own steam, I can concentrate on the new Secret Garden. I always think flower growing makes a refreshing change from vegetable growing – less pressurised, somehow. Anyway, I took advantage of a BOGOF offer at a local hardware store last week and treated my self to some flower seeds – two packets each of white foxgloves, Tom Thumb wallflowers and Calendula. With the Rosa Rugosa and Cherry Plum that are already romping away around the perimeter,  it should soon be a haven for bees and other pollinating insects –  that’s the plan, anyway. I chose these particular seeds because the flowers they produce will provide a long flowering season stretching from the spring right through to the autumn.

Heated Propagator

Flowers for the Secret Garden... I used my heated propagator to kick start the seeds’ germination and within days green shoots were peeping up through the compost – so satisfying to see! I have now moved the seed trays to the racks in the fruit cage to grow them on a bit and already the wallflowers and calendula look ready for pricking out and potting up. That will be a job for the weekend.

Selling the Surplus

Meanwhile, the foxglove seedlings are extremely small (as are the seeds themselves – almost like dust) so I shall leave them a while longer before I handle them. I am thinking that if I have over estimated how many plants we can accommodate at the Villas (which is possible, looking at the number of seeds that were in the packets and the number of seedlings I now have) I might have a go at selling the surplus plants at the gate. We live in a beautiful part of the country that attracts lots of visitors particularly at this time of year, so there is no shortage of passers-by…

Posted on

Dianthus Barbatus – Sweet William

Sweet William

Dianthus Barbatus

Yesterday I walked beside a patch of land where we grow meadow flowers and to my surprise I saw a haze of pink and purple standing out between the daisies and poppies. On closer inspection I discovered the flowers were Dianthus Barbatus or in English “Sweet William”. Then I remembered I’d planted some leftover seedlings there earlier in the year, after having created a new flowerbed elsewhere in the garden. Ironically, the new flowerbed still shows no sign of any Dianthus, flowering or otherwise!

Pinks, purples and dark reds

Dianthus Barbatus

I remember my grandfather used to grow Sweet William and a few months ago when I found myself choosing organic flower seeds to order, Dianthus sprung to mind. This is what Wikipedia has to say about it:

Dianthus is a perennial plant native to South Europe and parts of Asia. The cultivated ones come in a range of pinks, purples and dark reds. They grow to a height of up to 75cm (30 inch) and have clusters of around 30 flowers. The petals have ragged edges which give them a somewhat crude but interesting appearance. The exact origin of the English name Sweet William is unknown but the plant appeared in botanist John Gerard’s garden catalogue in 1569.


Dianthus attracts bees (always a plus), birds and butterflies and are excellent as cut flowers, which was one of the reasons I selected it.

Dianthus Barbatus If you need an added incentive to grow Sweet William then how about this: not only are the flowers very pretty, they’re also edible!