Who needs Chelsea when the gardens of Dolton come out to play!


SIX gorgeous gardens in a historic and picturesque North Devon village are all set to pull in the crowds this weekend – in aid of one of Britain’s best-known charitable funds.

Dolton is where all gardening gurus should be heading for on Saturday and Sunday to support National Garden Scheme nursing and cancer charities.

It lies between Torrington and Winkleigh on the B3217 and still boasts a thriving annual horticultural society show which I used to attend regularly – and enjoyed hugely – before I retired.

There’s also a lively community of shops, primary school and pubs and – naturally – claims to have many excellent gardens.


Those opening (from 2pm-6pm) include a couple of classic cottage gardens with festoons of clematis and roses, a couple of edgy, sustainable gardens, a large orchard garden and a mature country spread.

Visitors will also discover greenhouses and polytunnels, rockeries and ponds, multi-coloured herbaceous borders and shady woodland.

If you need to relax, there are plenty sitting spots where you can soak up the atmosphere of an archetypal Devon village.

Also on the menu – cream teas and plant sales, as well as local produce and crafts in the village hall.


If all this doesn’t spoil you for choice then just consider this . . . it’s just £6 entry to ALL SIX gardens. Which, despite my non-mathematical brain, tells me it’s a steal at a mere pound per property, five out of the six opening for the first time.

The village sextet are Court Cottage, Court House, Hillsview, 1 Thorns Cottage, West View and Higher Cherubeer which has built up a major following every February for its National Collection of cyclamen, as well as more than 400 snowdrop varieties and a wonderful assortment of hellebores.

Dolton Gardens – Saturday and Sunday, 1 and 2 June, 2pm-6pm, combined admission £6, children no charge.



■ Dolton delights: From top to bottom – seven lovely views of the gardens of Dolton which open to the public this weekend for the National Garden Scheme.


These furry friends are fabulous . . . unless they magic into strawberries!

Pasque Flower 1

AH, the joys of horticultural humour! It’s enough to make you take runner bean cuttings or bury your nose in a dahlia to sample its wondrous perfume!

Ha! How to get had in the botanical box of tricks. Well, there was I getting quite animated that the seeds of a pasque flower, botanically Pulsatilla vulgaris, which I had collected and sown from one plant last summer had started to germinate.

I spied three tiny seedlings in a corner of a tray and – by all accounts – the maiden leaves looked very much like those of these April delights with their downy buds, boss of vivid gold stamens and furry collars directly below the petals. The seeds are a bit challenging so I was feeling proud of my achievement.

How could I be so fooled? As the plants got bigger I was beginning to have doubts and now I know for sure that if they are pasque flowers then I’m Elvis reincarnated.

It turns out the seedlings are some type of strawberry – fragaria – probably one of the wild sorts which no doubt blew into the tray along with its two pals and decided to put down roots.

Indeed, on of the diminutive plantlets has already grown two runners, so clearly it intends hanging around for a while.

As for those pulsatillas – not a sign, not a glimmer! They are not always easy from seed, though I have had some success in the past. In addition, they are notoriously tricky to bring on a second year, unless conditions are pretty well A1 perfect.

The Pasque Flower – pasque means Easter in Hebrew – is an April favourite of mine, even though I try to will those gorgeous six-petalled blooms to stay perfect much longer than their oh-so-short tenancy.

There is, however, a later bonus – the arrival of fluffy seed heads that often linger for weeks, unless blown off-course by a summer gale or two. Later, these can be collected and sown for flowering the following year . . .  especially if you’d like some delicious strawberries!

All pulsatillas are low-growing, enjoy a gritty, sunny home with a touch of lime, detest being moved and seem free of ailments.

Of the vulgaris family – a UK native – the straight species comes in shades of purple, Alba glistens white and Rubra is in rich red.

The white-with-brown-shading European Pulsatilla vernalis is the ultimate in beauty and slightly lower growing, but will quickly fall victim to winter wet unless you add plenty of grit around its stem.

As for those strawberries, I shall be kind to them, allow them to fruit . . . and wonder what other tricks my garden is about to deliver!


■ Pasque flowers and not! Top – a dazzling array of pulsatillas from my garden a year ago; centre left and right – Pulsatilla Rubra and Alba; above – most definitely not a pasque flower, much more probably a wild strawberry, complete with a pair of runners.

Autumn’s a long way off but here’s a booklet to help you plan ahead

Broadleigh cat 2019

PREPARE now for autumn 2019, even though we haven’t yet hit June and the longest day. This, though, is the message from Broadleigh Gardens who have sent out their latest bulb catalogue to all their loyal customers.

So with tulips only recently faded and memories of the dancing daffs still vibrant in our minds, we can once again feast our eyes on crocuses, muscari, scilla, triteleia and loads of daffodils and tulips . . . among others.

Broadleigh founder Lady Christine Skelmersdale has now semi-retired, so although she continues to live at Bishops Hull, near Taunton, all bulbs are despatched from near Maidstone, Kent, though items from the firm’s spring catalogue will continue to be sent out from Taunton in February and March 2020.

At just 32 pages, it’s not the fattest of handbooks, though much is packed inside, from alliums and anemones right though to a whole range of tulips – lily flowered (my favourite), greigii, kaufmanniana, species, borders and multi-floras, along with some sumptuously colourful ideas to brighten those springtime bed and borders, tubs and troughs.

There’s also a chance to buy Christine’s own book, A Gardener’s Guide to Bulbs, with a foreword by Alan Titchmarsh. It’s 200 pages long, lavishly illustrated and filled with inspiring, practical and comprehensive advice, as well as containing a seasonal A-Z of bulbs and personal anecdotes. A signed copy costs £25 to include postage.

For a copy of the book phone 01823 286231. For a catalogue or to order call 01622 845990.


Broadleigh cat back 2019

Bursting with colour: Top – the new catalogue’s front page splash; above – tulips and friends on the back page.


Dip into this stunning shrub for a stack of bonus summer surprises


MANY of us grow weigela with its foxglove-like funnels in ruby red, pink and various shades in between.

Fewer plant its more visually-similar first cousin, the kolkwitzia or Beauty Bush, which many gardeners claim to be more graceful.

Now comes a third member of the family which you may struggle even to discover at the garden centre – or maybe you’ve never heard of it.

Its name – dipelta, an import from the scrub and woodlands of China, and in need of some serious PR exposure.

Scarcely any gardening books in my collection give dipelta a mention, though the exception is that ever-reliable horticultural sage, Dr David Hessayon, in his Expert series on shrubs.

There are plenty of plus-points surrounding this little-known deciduous gem – it’s hardy, trouble-free and easy over soil demands, though if dipelta could talk it would surely say “I don’t mind growing on lime or chalk,” always hoping, of course, that such comments won’t be in Chinese!

There are more bonuses to consider, but first it’s worth noting that of dipelta’s modest clan of four species only two are readily available – or not so readily – on tap.

Dipelta floribunda is perhaps the most favoured species,  bearing yellow-marked, pale pink tubes to 1¼in long in late spring and early summer.

This one is fragrant, though the species I grow – yunnanensis – does challenge my nostrils with its tubular, orange-marked, creamy-white flowers that reach about 1in long and woo those busy bees like butterflies around the buddleia.

Floribunda is an upright grower while yunnanensis prefers to arch its slender branches in more elegant style.

And – two more perks – both species produce delicate paper bracts that surround the fruits and both display attractive silvery or pale brown peeling bark.

You won’t get these sort of freebies from either weigela or kolkwitzia!


¶ Delightful dipelta: Top – the foxglove-like funnels and the slender stems which are starting to peel; above – the creamy, papery bracts that add another layer of interest.

Pearls of the Pyrenees where true-blue gentians steal the show

thumbnail_Gentian verna
TIME FLIES – and how! Which is why it’s already a week since I’m home from seven days down in the Pyrenees where France meets Spain . . . or, to fall into line with political will, Catalonia.

Our train trips into the snow-capped mountains – on the Yellow Train and the Núria Rack Railway – produced a few interesting photos of wild flowers, though the locals were yet to decorate their gardens with colour and foliage to any great extent. Unless, of course, they don’t dedicate as much time and effort to their patches as we Brits are inclined to do!

Florally, the most memorable sight for me were clumps of spring gentian, Gentiana verna, reached by cable car, bearing the purest bright blue funnels and looking quite fragile amid the short grass which offered not a scintilla of shelter.

Other dinky gems to catch the eye included Malva sylvestris, the common mallow with pink-to-purple veined flowers, the five-petalled Potentilla villosa, Cistus albidus the grey-leaved rock rose, and Cirsium acaule, the spiny dwarf thistle which enjoys life in limy soil among short grass and is native to a huge area across Europe, including the UK.

Pyrenees scenic

And, as we were based in the very English-sounding resort of Roses – pronounced Rozzas by the locals – how could I resist snapping a smartly-painted container of red roses . . . in Roses!

For anyone seeking a frontier flirtation with Spain and France, this is a fascinating tour from Rail Discoveries which included a trip to the busy city of Gerona, lying between Barcelona and the French border, a stroll around the exquisite French resort of Collioure, and entry to the eccentric Salvador Dali Foundation in Figueres, a sizeable museum full of the bizarre surrealist paintings, sculptures, photography and numerous other works of one Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dali i Domenech, the 1st Marquis of Dali de Pubol, who died in 1989 aged 84. Let your imagination run riot.

I think I prefer those gentians!

Cistus albidus, grey-leaved cistus

Malva sylvestris, common mallow

Roses in Roses

Pyrenean pulchritude: From top – spring gentian, cable car view of mountains and conifers, grey-leaved cistus, common mallow, dwarf thistle (left), potentilla and roses in Roses.

Lucky and a rose conundrum: This is definitely not lilac-pink!

Rose Lucky (poss)

Lucky? But certainly not unLucky! The beautiful bloom of a rose labelled Lucky but which is probably a different variety.

AROSE by any other name . . .  or rather, a rose by any other colour? I found myself asking these questions after gazing at the first blooms of floribunda variety Lucky today.

Bearing such vibrant orange-red flowers immediately reminded me of the veteran sensation of 1960 – Super Star – which burst onto the scene that year in a shade that had “colour break” written all over it.

My bush of Lucky was one of several bought from Handley Rose Nursery & Plant Centre in Sheffield a couple of years ago, but when I checked the nursery’s description of it I was in for a double-take moment when the colour was revealed: Lilac-pink. A scan through other nurseries’ Lucky all showed up the same.

Well, there’s no way my Lucky could be so described and, yes, I had a beady-eye look at the label which clearly stated “Lucky”, just in case there had been some sort of error over identity.

No complaint here, of course, as whatever my rose is called is a clear favourite with me. Could it be Super Star? Absolutely no, as that old warrior – now struggling to ward off disease and declining in availability – had dull, matt foliage, not Lucky’s shiny armoury.

As for Lucky itself, it was voted Rose of the Year for 2009 and described by Handley as a “phenomenal floribunda” and one that will win “praise and adoration from both modern and old-fashioned rose enthusiasts alike”. I think I’ll join that club!

Incidentally, all my roses from Handley have performed outstandingly, all of them bought bare-rooted and all among the most reasonably priced I have known when bought this way.

Come the autumn, however, and customers can take their pick of more than 200 varieties in many different forms.

As for me, I count myself Lucky to have this one to admire . . .  whatever its label and despite this piece of botanical bafflement.

www.handleyrosenurseries.co.uk/01246 432921

Dave’s super sedum – a chance discovery and now a Chelsea champion

Sedum Atlantis (Sut)

THE STORY of sedum Atlantis is as fascinating as its name is mysterious – a legenday island reputed to have existed in the Atlantic Ocean west of Gibraltar and said to have sunk beneath the sea.

This versatile perennial, as revealed here yesterday, was very much on dry land as it won for Devon-based Suttons one of the top gongs at the on-going Chelsea Flower Show – the show’s Plant of the Year, no less.

One of its most noted features is its striking foliage (shown above) that forms rosettes of serrated green, with thick, creamy margins and tips that turn a pink blush in autumn.

Here’s where we introduce Dave Mackenzie. He is a noted perennial ground cover and living wall plant expert and has penned several books on the subject.

At the start of the 21st century, he was even asked by the Ford Motor Company for advice on how to create a ten-acre green roof for a new factory the firm were building.

One day, while inspecting plants in his Hortech nurseries on the banks of America’s Lake Michigan, he became excited when he spotted a sport of an unusual “Atlantic sedum” and – like any astute businessman – immediately recognised its commercial potential.

Dave is something of a perfectionist. He prides himself on not releasing plants until they are ready to thrive in the hands of his customers – and this striking and adaptable plant is no exception.

After years of testing in his nursery to prove its genetic stability and vigour, he was finally ready to release it into the wider world.

Suttons saw the inherent popularity of this sedum and introduced it into their comprehensive plant range, as well as nominating it for Plant of the Year at the current RHS spectacle.

As for planting and TLC, this sedum is happy in hanging basket, window box, pots, for indoor displays, rockeries or borders.

Beginners and time-poor gardeners will appreciate its tolerance to drought, while bees love it for its pollen.

It flowers from July to September, reaches around 6in high and spreads twice that distance. So, all in all, there’s not a lot of downside to this challenger!

For those not too familiar with sedum, this is a genus of an impressive 600 species and all are succulent to the touch.  They range from the European Sedum acre, the biting stonecrop, with tiny yellow flowers, to spectabile from China, a stunning border jewel which displays flower heads of vivid pink, tinged mauve, or in deep rose, carmine or Meteor, depending on the variety.

Several, such as the Japanese sieboldii, are half-hardy and should be grown in the greenhouse or in a sunny spot outside during the summer. It produces grey, notched foliage, edged pink, grows in a prostrate manner and bears 2in-3in wide pink blooms in October.