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Viburnum Bodnantense – Centre Stage

I chose it to go in one of the borders at the Villas because I wanted to brighten up our garden in the depths of winter when little else is in flower. With its dense clusters of sweetly scented, baby pink flowers borne on bare stems from November to March it definitely fits the bill!

Viburnum Bodnantense

To fully appreciate the perfumed blossom on this upright, deciduous shrub, it is recommended to plant in a moist, well-drained border close to an entrance or path in sun or partial shade.


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Sow and So Sunflower Competition 2015

The first signs that summer will soon be over are here. Some of the veggies in the garden are past their prime and so are some of the flowers. The sunflowers have reached their maximum height so it is time to announce this year’s winner of the Sow and So Sunflower Competition 2015.


As you may or may not know, for the last two years our friend Michael Dahl has been the winner of our sunflower competition. Will he win again? Will he win three years in a row? Let’s find out!

We have had some wonderful responses from our readers, some placed photos on our Sow and so Facebook page and some sent their entry by email. In total (including Bridget and of course Michael Dahl) we have 5 contestants this year.

5th place

I have been really busy with other things than gardening which left more room for failure. I am not even going to show you a photo of my sunflowers. It is extremely embarrassing!!!. In fact let’s quickly move on to Bridget because she has done fabulously. Her largest sunflower measures 254 cm (100 inches). Many thanks to Bridget for keeping the Sow and So name high.

Bridget's Sunflower
Bridget’s Sunflower

4th place

In fourth place we have Nicole Grabarec. Her sunflower measures 274 cm (9 feet or 108 inches). Many thanks for your entry, your sunflower has a great view over the neighbourhood!

Nicole's Sunflower
Nicole’s Sunflower

3rd Place

I couldn’t believe it either. I had to look it up and see if I made a mistake but I didn’t. In 3rd place this year is …Michael Dahl! No hat-trick for him. I think it is back to the seed catalogues to find yourself the ultimate heirloom seed to beat this year’s winner and come back next year stronger than ever!! Michael’s sunflowers are a magnificent 297 cm (117 inches). Many thanks for entering again and keep on growing!!!

Michael's sunflower
Michael’s sunflower
Michael's sunflower
Michael’s sunflower

2nd place

This year in second place we have Shyvonne Turner. Now look at those sunflowers with enormous heads. It is a miracle they are still upright! Her sunflower measured an amazing 335 cm (132 inches/11 feet). We asked her what her secret is and she said CHICKEN LITTER! (and the rabbits did not eat her seedlings). You did a fabulous job Shyvonne. Many thanks for entering our competition and sending us that great photo!

Shyvonne's sunflower
Shyvonne’s sunflower

1st PLACE!!!!

I was sure Shyvonne’s sunflower was going to be the winner this year! And then this week we had another entry. He placed a photo of his Giraffe Sunflower on Facebook and emailed me some more photos and added some extra information; it’s his first year growing sunflowers too! I have to say that the variety name is very appropriate. Congratulations Mike Harradence, you are this year’s WINNER of the Sow and So Sunflower Competition 2015. His sunflower measured an awesome 358 cm!! (141 inches).

Mike's Sunflower
Mike’s Sunflower

We very much like the little detail of the newspaper 🙂

Mike's sunflower
Mike’s sunflower

Not only can Mike grow very large sunflowers, his display of smaller varieties look lovely as well.

Sun Flower comp Mike 3

Many thanks to everybody who participated in this year’s Sow and So Sunflower competition!!

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Farewell Rosa Rugosa… Hello Daphne Odora

Just when we thought we had finally finished garden design at the Villas, I had a change of heart about Zone 2 (previously known as the Secret Garden).

Zone by Zone

So, a little bit of background information to set the scene… When we moved to the Villas seven years ago we were faced with 400 square metres of amenity land which we proceeded to landscape zone by zone, year by year.

VILLAS before

Zone 1, nearest the house, consists of the sunken garden and the wall supporting the trained fig and peach trees; Zone 2 the Secret Garden with the Poplar tremula in the middle; Zone 3 with the fruit cage, greenhouse, raised beds …and most recently Zone 4 – now known as the Fruit and Nut Garden, with a couple of cob nut trees and a Greensleeves apple tree.

Rosa Rugosa Rubra hedging

Rosa Rugosa

But it was Zone 2, the Secret Garden, that has been keeping me awake at night of late. A nagging feeling that I was losing control; that the Rosa Rugosa that I had so keenly planted two or three autumns ago, was starting to run riot at the expense of the majority of the rest of the plantage. Also its ferocity – particularly if fallen into by a small child on a a skateboard (sorry Ben) – had become an irritation, literally.

WW Bee on Rosa Rugosa

To be fair to Rosa Rugosa, I’ve only got myself to blame. I’d set my heart on it because of its gloriously scented bee-magnet flowers, juicy scarlet hips much loved by birds, vigorous growth (I’m an impatient gardener) and potential height (it was meant to be a secret garden, after all) …but failing to research it properly before I put in my order.


If I’d taken the time to check carefully, I would have known that it “can produce an effect of barbed wire security without ugly barbed wire”, that it has a habit of producing suckers from below the ground (often a metre or so away where , in a confined space, you don’t want it) and individual plants can have a width spread of a metre or so; all three attributes making it somewhat unsuitable for a relatively small garden.

Rosa Rugosa bristle thorns


So, it had to come out …and there’s the rub. As well as being vigorous above ground, it is equally vigorous below ground and it had no intention of going quietly. In fact it was a two-man job and we resorted to the power of leverage, as the garden fork very quickly proved to be inadequate. We wore gloves of course, but were picking out the hypodermic-like bristle thorns from our hands for days!

Rugosa and the removal of...

Daphne Odora

Lesson learnt. Note to self: Research thoroughly before planting. I have replaced the Rosa Rugosa at one end of Zone 2 with the three young Daphne Odora plants I grew from cuttings earlier this year while the rest of the vegetation is much happier now that I’ve cleared some space and let the light in!

View from guest room MAY 2013

I have now changed the name from the Secret Garden to the Bird and Bees Garden …and am sleeping well once more.

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Sunflower Competition 2014 WINNER!

The sunflowers have all grown to their highest peak so it is time to announce this year”s winner of the Sowandso Sunflower competition 2014.

The Perfect Spot

We all started out enthusiastically enough. I was sure that I had found the perfect spot, on the south west side of the house. But then I started sowing rather late. I planted out very small seedlings while I was getting reports of others who already had decent plants going. The spot I had chosen was a bit out of my regular way and the sunflowers were sometimes forgotten during watering. To cut a long story short, I am not even going to mention the size of my sunflowers, they are so embarrassingly small  that they really do not qualify to even enter this competition.

Side Shoots

So on to my partner in crime Bridget. It turned out that this sunflower growing season is a bit different for her as well. Instead of having long stalks with one big sunflower head at the top, her sunflowers produced a flower and then decided on a side shoot going higher with another flower and so on. They finally reached their peak and her highest sunflower reached 2.15 cm!!!

Sunflower VILLAS 2014


One of the earliest contestants of this year, Old school Bill from @billsgarden sent us photos of his seedlings while mine were still germinating. I was sure he was heading in the “winning” direction with his sunflowers, only to have disaster strike. His sunflower got to a reasonable 1.90 cm but was then attacked by some kind of bug grew no further.

Bill's sunflower 2014

Second place

Johanna Smith @thegardenbird made growing sunflowers a family event. Her boys sowed and cared for the sunflowers and they did an excellent job! Look at them looking all proud and happy. Their sunflower reached 219 cm!!!!

Johanna Smith @thegardenbird sunflower

And the winner is….

The big question however was; Would last year’s winner Michael Dahl be able to beat his own record??? He did! he grew an even larger sunflower; 116 inches, 9 ft 8 inches, or 294.64 cm. That is 9.5 inches taller than last year!! So congrats to Michael on retaining his title. For two years in a row he has grown the largest sunflower in the Sowandso Sunflower Competition.

Michael Dahl sunflower competition 2014

So all you sunflower growers out there, I ask, do you reckon that you can beat Michael and grow an even taller sunflower? If so you MUST enter next year’s competition. I am sure Bridget and I are going to pay extra attention to our sunflowers and will come up with a strategy to bring the title back home!


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Fruit and Flowers – Nature not Nurture!

2014 has to go down in history as the year of happy accidents in the growing department here at the Villas! In my June update I mentioned a bunch of mystery seedlings that had appeared in the greenhouse which turned out to be Zinnia (blooming gorgeously in glorious technicolor right now).

ZINNIA technicolor

More Mystery Seedlings

Then, no sooner had I transplanted the Zinnia into pots and thereafter into a border, half a dozen more seedlings which looked very different appeared in their place . When their second set of leaves grew I could tell they were squashes of some kind but as yet, I haven’t got a clue exactly what. Pumpkins or cucumbers perhaps – I’ve grown both in recent years …but I shall just have to wait and see!

Mystery squash

Accidental Tomato

And then, just when the rather entertaining unforeseen seedling saga seemed to have petered out, whilst weeding a bit of ground beside our drive this afternoon, I noticed a load of tomato seedlings flourishing in their unlikely and totally unsuitable home! How the heck?? I’m not a religious person, but as a child I went to Sunday school for a while (even though I would have preferred to stay at home and watch Batman on TV) and from the distant recesses of my memory, a parable sprang to mind  – the one about the seed that was sown on stony ground… Unfortunately however, I can’t remember the rest.

Roadside tomatoes

So, I’ve come up with a theory: the builder who was recently doing our extension, disliked the tomatoes his wife kept putting in his sandwiches, pulled them out and cast them aside… stranger things have happened. Any road up (do you see what I did there), I now feel I have a duty of care so I am going to select the three strongest plants and transfer them into a grow bag in the greenhouse …and with a bit of luck and the weather on our side, we might even get some tomatoes off them in two or three month’s time, making it happy accident number three!

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Swamp Milkweed – Asclepias Incarnata

This lovely flower with an unfortunate name has been growing for the second year in my garden and for the first time it has produced these light pink flowers.


Swamp Milkweed, also known as Rose Milkweed or White Indian Hemp is a herbaceous perennial that thrives in moist or wet soils and is therefore found growing by water and yes…swamps.

Swampweed 2

Gardeners also grow them in ornamental gardens to attract butterflies. The Monarch butterfly is particularly fond of these delicate flowers and its caterpillars feast on its leaves. Like other milkweeds it secretes sap that repels other insects and herb eating animals.


The plant needs a sunny site and will grow up to 120 to 140 cm and flowers in July and August. After flowering it produces seed pods that spring open and release its seeds. It requires little maintenance but take care handling them and wear gloves as the sap can be uncomfortable on your skin if you are sensitive to the chemicals it contains.


Its delicious floral sweet vanilla kind of scent makes Swamp Milkweed a perfect flower to grow in borders. They make an excellent cut flower too and come in pink, mauve and sometimes white.




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Wildflower Meadow in full Bloom

Remember we sowed a wildflower meadow in March? We sowed perennials indigenous to the region and suitable for the heavy clay soil we have here. As this wildflower meadow will take a while to grow we have also, as suggested by the eco nursery man, sown a mix of annuals like cornflower, poppy,  camomile, cow soapwort, corn marigold and a few others.

Wildflower Meadow 2


As you may remember, we moved into our newly built house last November having a back garden consisting of one very large slap of brown clay. We sowed the meadow seeds at the back of the garden and sowed grass in front to create a lawn. There are a few plants that thrive in places such as building sites where the ground is freshly disturbed and that’s camomile, poppies and thistles. Well, as you can see they have appeared in our garden and as an extra “bonus” in the wildflower meadow, although I do not consider the thistles a bonus to be honest.

Wildflower Meadow 1


While standing close to the wildflower meadow you can hear buzzing and that is what it is all about. Not only is it very pretty to look at it provides a wonderful source of nectar for bees and other insects. Every time I pass by the meadow I spot different flowers, it is constantly changing as one flower dies down making room for another. At the end of the season we will mow the meadow using a scythe leaving the seeds to fall to the ground before removing the flowers and composting them.

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Our very first rose…

This year I am growing roses for the first time. I never bothered with them before, thinking they were fussy and needed a lot of maintenance but when I saw a box containing two plants for 2.99 at our local budget supermarket I thought, why not!

Waltz Time

The photo on the packaging showed a lovely lilac coloured rose called Waltz Time – it would look fabulous with the anthracite window frames of our new house. Just to be on the safe side I planted them in pots and placed them outside the polytunnel and there I kind of forgot about them except for the occasional watering now and again.

Then a week or so ago I saw that they had grown substantially and had loads of flower buds. Pleasantly surprised, roses were back in my favour  once more and I placed the pots near the house, in anticipation of the lilac flowers… Then this week one of the flower buds burst and as you can see it is not lilac at all …not even close! Well, what did I expect from a 2.99 for two deal!

Rose 1 Rose 2

Never the less, it is still very pretty and has a lovely soft rose scent. I have no idea what variety it is but it is definitely not fussy and for now it requires no maintenance at all.  I may not plant them out in the front garden as planned but I will definitely find a nice spot for them later on.