Go stroll around an NGS garden – and be inspired!

THE GATES are being oiled, the roses pruned to perfection, the beds hoed to weed-free purity and the lawns manicured like a film star’s finger nails.

Such actions can only mean one thing – it’s almost time for the NGS charity fundraisers to welcome the first garden-goers of 2017.

The National Gardens Scheme in Devon will this year host more than 100 open gardens in its 90th anniversary year, as well as focusing its sights on beating last year’s stunning countywide total of around £160,000 for nursing charities.

It’s sure to be a spring and summer of excitement and expectation!

The contrast in these horticultural havens is immense – from rolling acres and woodland walks to feature-rich creations and modest oases in suburbia.

This year 23 gardens will be making their NGS public debut. And that means many weeks of painstaking preparation to make sure everything comes up roses on the all-important opening dates.

Devon’s first-timers: 7 Wilton Way, 16 Wilton Way & 18 Wilton Way, Abbotskerswell, Sat-Sun June 3 & 4 (1pm), part of village group openings; Ash Park, East Prawle, Kingsbridge, Sat-Sun, Sept 9 & 10 (11am); The Brook, Bovey Tracey, Sat-Sun, June 3 & 4 (1.30pm), part of town’s group openings.

Little Orchard House and Scorelinch Farm, Clyst St Lawrence, Sat-Sun, June 24 & 25 (2pm), part of village group openings; Dorweeke, Silverton, near Exeter, Sat-Sun, May 27 & 28 (11am); Dunley House, Bovey Tracey, Sat-Sun, June 17 & 18 (2pm).

Greatcombe, Holne, Newton Abbot, Sat-Sun-Mon, May 27, 28 & 29 (1pm) and other dates; Hawkern, Ladram Road, Otterton, Budleigh Salterton, Fri, May 19 (2pm) and other dates; Higher Orchard Cottage, Marldon, Paignton, Sat-Sun, June 17 & 18 (2pm).

Beachborough Country House, Little Ley and Spring Cottage, Kentisbury, near Barnstaple, Sun, June 25 (12 noon), village group opening; Monkscroft, Zeal Monachorum, near Crediton, Sat-Sun, April 8 & 9 (11am); The Olde Cottage, Dippertown, Lewdown, Okehampton, Sat-Sun, July 8 & 9, Sat-Sun, Aug 5 & 6 (11am).

Park House, Liddaton, Coryton, Okehampton, Sat-Sun, July 8 & 9 (11am); Pynes House, Upton Pyne, Exeter, Sun, June 25 (1pm); Riverford Field Kitchen, Wash Farm, Buckfastleigh, Sun, July 9 & Sun, Sept 3 (11am).

26 Hazeldown Road and 65 Teignmouth Road, Sat-Sun, June 24 & 25 (1pm), part of Teignmouth group openings; 6 Rectory Close, Willand, Cullompton, Sat-Sun, July 1 & 2 (2pm), part of village group openings.

And the next openings: Sun, March 26, Gorwell House, Goodleigh Road, Barnstaple (2pm), four acres overlooking Taw estuary, rare and tender plants, walled garden, follies etc.

Haldon Grange, Dunchideock, Exeter (1pm), 12 acres, spring shrubs, mature trees, lake, ponds, water cascades, arboretum, lilac circle.



¶ Devon’s renamed Yellow Book, available from bookshops, libraries and garden centres.

Zinnias – zupreme colour specialists of the summer borders

FEW of us, if any, have heard of Johann Gottffried Zinn, one-time professor of botany and medicine at Göttingen University in Germany.

There’s a clue in his surname. Now you’ve got it – zinnia.

To salute his brilliant botanical research and writings and his expert knowledge of the human eye, his peers named the zinnia after him.

Tragically, when he died in 1759 he was just 31 years old. Yet he would certainly be astonished at the way these brightly-coloured big daisies have been transformed since those early days in the 18th century.

Seed specialists Chiltern Seeds, run in Oxfordshire by sisters Heather Leedham and Sally Redhead, list a fine collection of zinnias in their new and highly informative, 188-page catalogue.

One newcomer, Lilliput Purple, which looks stunning with abundant small and perfectly formed pompon flowers on strong, 2ft stems, will benefit the charity Thrive for every packet sold.

Chiltern will generously donate £1.50 from each £1.95 pack to this charity which uses gardening to bring positive changes in the lives of people living with disabilities, ill-health or who are lonely, vulnerable or disadvantaged.

Further varieties include Zinderella Peach (2ft) with unusual – almost quirky – layers of cream, peach and salmon petals nestling inside large fluffy domes.

And what about Queen Red Lime (2½ft)! This exceptional zinnia bears double blooms of pale red fading to lime green towards the maroon centre. No wonder this one has earned numerous plaudits.

Zinnias, chiefly natives of Mexico but spilling south to Chile and Argentina and north to the southern USA, are either hardy or half-hardy annuals. They’ve never been in the same popularity league as dahlias, delphiniums or dianthus, and the Chiltern folk reckon it is chiefly due to the misunderstanding that they are tricky and temperamental to raise.

Absolutely not! Give them sun and a bit of shelter and away they’ll go. Seeds can be sown direct in early summer or under glass a month earlier.

Few plants can match their colour span – white to pink to yellow and orange, red to purple and even green, with Envy (1½ft) in chartreuse-green and stocked by Chiltern the best-known of the “rarer” shades.

They flower all summer, relishing full sun and wooing winged wildlife. They can be single or double, last well in the vase and span 18in to 3ft, depending on variety.

Indeed, it would be hard to find an annual that’s less demanding and more obliging.

Two other debutantes picked at random from the catalogue pages: Papaver rhoeas Pandora (2ft), a unique new poppy with unusual double blooms in the deepest vintage burgundy to paler pink reds and with silver-grey stripes.

Carthamus tinctorius Shiro, the Saffron Thistle (3ft), with majestic, creamy-white thistle-like heads on tall, spiky stems. Guaranteed to menace and impress in the rear stalls and surely one for the flower arrangers.

www.chilternseeds.co.uk or call 01491 824675.


¶ When zinnias were first introduced to Europe the plants were called the Poorhouse Flower because they were common and child’s play to grow in any kind of soil.

¶ Aztecs originally dubbed the flowers Mal de Ojos, in English Hard on the Eyes, because of the brightness of their petals.

¶ Orange zinnias blossomed on board the International Space Station in January last year and survived many weeks as they zoomed around Earth.

¶ This year is the Year of the Zinnia, according to the Fleuroselect organisation of plant breeders and growers.

¶ It pays to keep dead-heading zinnias to stimulate more blooms rather than seed creation. But save a few seed pods for sowing next year – you never know what may emerge.

¶ They look fabulous when mixed with dahlias, marigolds, asters and petunias.

¶ Top, from left, Lilliput Purple, Queen Red Lime (both pictures courtesy of Sabina Ruber), Zinderella Peach, Johann Zinn, of zinnia fame, above – poppy Pandora and carthamus Shiro (remaining colour photos courtesy of Chiltern Seeds).




Vesuvius has got nothing on the Reaper, so bite if you dare

THINK OF Etna, Vesuvius, Krakatoa or even Eyjafjallajökull – that’s in Iceland, by the way – and then bite into Carolina Reaper.

You may find thoughts and actions much the same!

That’s because we are talking about the world’s hottest chilli pepper that packs a volcanic punch so dynamic it carries a “wear gloves” warning when merely handling plants or fruits.

Carolina Reaper, which was bred in the “South” US state, has been certified as the world’s hottest by Guinness World Records and is now offered as seed as well as young plants by D T Brown, the specialist kitchen garden supplier.

The firm’s Tim Jeffries stresses that the chillies should always be cooked and never eaten raw.

“It really should be treated with the utmost respect,” he says. “The fruits are incredibly hot, not for the faint-hearted, and should be used only very sparingly in dishes.” A packet of ten seeds costs £3.99.

Taking it a stage further, the variety notched up more than 2,200,000 Scoville Heat Units for one individual pepper and registered an average of 1,569,300 SHUs. And that is almost too painfully h-h-h-hot to handle.

But, Tim Jeffries explains, Carolina Reaper is not simply about intense heat.

He explains: “It has a sweet, fruity flavour with chocolate and cherry undertones. All super-hot chillies are a challenge to grow from seed as they need to be sown early and require real warmth to get started. A heated propagator set at 28-30degC is ideal because the hotter the chilli the more time and heat it needs.”

Tim adds that DTB have seen a “surge of interest” in growing very hot chillies. Seed sales were up 21% last season over the previous year.

“When we introduced Bhut Jolokia, the “ghost chilli,” which at the time was the hottest we had sold, in its first season it accounted for more than 10% of our total chilli seed sales,” Tim recalls.

D T Brown are also listing seed of Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Red (£3.49 for ten seeds), the world’s hottest chilli until superseded by the Reaper, and Bhut Jolokia (£2.49 for ten seeds).

¶ For a copy of the new Fruit & Vegetable Grower’s Catalogue, call 0845 371 0532 or go online at www.dtbrownseeds.co.uk

¶ Bite if you dare:The world’s h-h-hottest chilli, Carolina Reaper. Is that the Grim Chilli Reaper alongside?

Go cottagey for a nostalgic and tasteful rainbow of colours

COTTAGE GARDENS can, at almost a stroke, bring the heart of the countryside to town or edge-of-town suburbia.

And with last year’s Chelsea and Hampton Court flower shows once again featuring several cottage-style layouts, this quintessentially British concept remains popular and is still very much “on trend” for 2017.

Informality is usually key to a beautiful cottage garden. Flowers are often planted in a colourful jumble and can even be interspersed with vegetables and herbs.

Most of you are familiar with this gorgeous team of flowers – annuals and herbaceous perennials – that jostle to be admired in multi-coloured beds and borders and against high stone walls.

Here is a favourite few in no particular order: Foxglove, penstemon, poppy, delphinium, hollyhock, rambler rose, cornflower, helenium, sweet pea, sweet william, carnation, lupin and miscanthus.

Seed people Johnsons have made the job of plant selection much easier for anyone wishing to create their own nostalgic plot with the introduction of a range of flower seeds called Create your own Cottage Garden.

The carefully selected list of 12 annuals and perennials, including much-loved choices such as lupin Russell mixed, verbena bonariensis, bergamot Panorama mixed and erigeron Profusion, is presented on an attractive, easy-to-view display.

This helps both keen gardeners and those new to growing from seed to “pick and mix” the varieties and species they wish to blend in with their existing plantings or into whatever space they have available.

No one has done more than Margery Fish (1888-1969), whose seminal work, Cottage Garden Flowers, was published in 1961 to promote the popularity of this informal, relaxed style of flower garden which she created at East Lambrook Manor in Somerset after World War Two and after the death of her husband, who had favoured a more formal style.

¶ Johnsons range of seeds is available from garden centres, supermarkets and leading DIY stores and at www.johnsons-seeds.com

¶ Cracking cottagers: Top – lupins in a rainbow mixture; above left – delphinium; right –  erigeron Profusion.