November 2016


The Wreath Lecture

By City Gardener Sarah Heaton


It’s cold and dark outside, the last of the leaves fluttering to the ground and the garden almost abandoned to deep winter, so let us transport ourselves to things Christmassy in horticultural terms and bring some life into the home. Today, the Christmas or Advent wreath can fulfil our need to show some natural abundance, a warm welcome and a start to the preparations for Christmas.


Making your own wreath can be a most satisfying and decorative, even calming, part of Christmas preparations. Forget ‘stir up Sunday’, buy a ‘blank’ fir wreath and some garden or floristry wire, get your secateurs out and raid the garden or nearby park for some flowering ivy and foliage. Holly berries are late this year in London; variegated leaves look good, pine twigs, rowan (or mountain ash) berries; the smell of herbs like rosemary, bay and oregano all add to the sensual experience. Cut oranges into thin slices and bake slowly in a low oven. This adds some lovely colour. Cinnamon sticks and pine cones give that all important smell of Christmas.


Since pagan times, the evergreen plants used in wreaths have symbolized everlasting life and strength especially in deep winter. Holly, ivy and evergreen herbs such as bay and rosemary held special meaning for our ancestors and were brought into the home. Rosemary stood for remembrance and bay for valour. The holly and the ivy represented the male and female and gave stability to the home. The circle represents no beginning or end.


Feathers, bows and even twinkling lights are fun on wreaths. I once even made a Christmas wreath out of an old bike wheel, entwining ribbons and even tangerines between the spokes! A bit mad.


As a friend called Sophie said yesterday, “I get all crafty at Christmas time …!” So combine some pruning and foraging to create something lovely and set the tone for this special celebration time. I have also been lucky enough to have some expert wreath advice this week. Rebecca and Liz, on quality control, showed me how to make a wreath bold and tasteful, abundant with pheasant feathers and organza ribbon too.


At the school gardening which I ran, we made wreaths too. “Oh yes, we know how to do this,” they said, even aged six, and they did, brilliantly. A lovely end to our gardening season and beginning of Christmas cheer.





For advice on gardening and garden design, please contact Sarah Heaton


May 2016 Article for


Seed Sowing in Spring

by city gardener Sarah Heaton


As the spring sunshine warms our hearts and our gardens, I feel this great urge to plant seeds. Planting seeds of all shapes and sizes is the promise of regeneration, of new beginnings and fresh starts. They are usually bought, sometimes saved from last year, and even plundered from the fruit bowl.


At the primary school gardening club in Hammersmith, there has been much excitement about planting rocket seeds – teeny weeny seeds. The RHS has organised a nationwide, scientific experiment linked with International Space Station to plant rocket seed, which has travelled to space with Tim Peake. Or has it? We had two packets, one red and one blue.   Which has been to space? All will be revealed at the end of May. The children have been most engaged and vigilant watering is taking place.


We have also been planting larger seeds too, sunflowers, and pomegranates even avocados with some success. A book called “Plants from Pips” by Holly Farrell has inspired us to take a look at some of the fruit and vegetables around us and see what we can grow.


Pomegranates and avocados make great indoor plants too. Just wash off the fruit flesh and either plant straight away or let them dry out to plant later. With the pomegranate, take a few of the jewel-like seeds and sow in small pots of compost. You can seal the pot in a plastic bag or just put it on a sunny windowsill to germinate in 5 -10 days.


For avocados, I just put three cocktail sticks about a third of the way up the stone or pip and balance this on a jar of water so the tip points upward and the bottom, flatter area is touching the water. It is fascinating to watch the seed open up and the root and shoot emerge. My plants have got positively triffid like so I have pruned the tip to produce a more bushy plant.


While I find rocket, carrot and beetroot seeds quite small and fiddly, they are fine for the children’s nimble little fingers. The young helpers in the garden are so enthusiastic and their natural affinity with nature, adds a zest and fun to all gardening projects. My friend Betsy has just planted up a container with her granddaughter Eloise. My son has gone for carrot planting this year on his own small plot on my allotment and even my teenage daughter helped sow potatoes –pink fir apple - this weekend, a welcome half hour break from homework and revision.


The delight of sowing seeds is that it can be a small project lasting 15 minutes. It also allows the imagination to spark and wonder what might be.   And seeds do come in all shapes and sizes. Just pushing some Nasturtium seeds into containers or beds will add a splash of orange to the garden. And “woodland” seeds work well in shady areas, under canopies of trees and shrubs.



April 2016

Art and Gardening

by city gardener Sarah Heaton

 ‘Painting A Modern Garden’ at the Royal Academy of Art has firmly put gardening on the cultural map this year. Who cannot be inspired by Monet's Water Lilies? How interesting that these famous artists were so inspired by nature both to create and paint beautiful gardens and plants.

 For me, as a garden designer, plants and landscapes are my canvas and palette. Clients wanting something beautiful to look out at charges my creative mind and I work closely with them to achieve a vista they can both enjoy and feel part of its creation and realisation.

 I really enjoy developing individual designs and border plans with firm foundations on edible planting that contribute to bio-diversity. But where do I get my inspiration? Exhibitions such as the RA's ‘Painting a Modern Garden’ are a useful starting point. Often it is one picture that can inspire a whole border. A client in Kew has a house once lived in by Arthur Hughes and we used his painting “April Love” as the basis for the design and colour of a border.

I discovered and use the art of Bristol-based Fiona Willis ( to promote my gardening business. Her distinctive style reflects the busy nature of my work.

This year I have embarked on a mission to plant spring bulbs and dahlias, very much inspired by both RHS Chelsea 2015 and a NGS (National Garden Scheme) garden I visited last autumn in Ham. The owner of Stokes House near Ham Common kindly opened her garden to the patients I work with at a therapeutic community. Her extensive dahlias, ancient Mulberry tree, gorgeous pink autumn flowering cyclamens, as well as her resident hedgehog delighted us!

I selected three of Lucy Auge’s pictures of flowers to headline my spring bulb and dahlia planting service. Bath-based Lucy Auge ( has drawn 500 Flowers including dahlias, many from a garden in Wiltshire where Bayntun Flowers ( is based.

The inspiration of these artists and gardens are reflected in my own garden where this year I have made bold changes to create a garden designed for me. I found being my own client quite hard but settled upon introducing and extending a silver leaf palette and contrasting it with deep reds. Why? Well, an existing olive tree represents my love of the Mediterranean and I have planted silver and serrated leaved Melianthus major to reflect my early years in South Africa and Eucalyptus gunni for the time I spent in Australia.   I have planted another small tree, the Chinese paperbark maple or Acer griseum, a native to China, as a reminder of two years spent in Hong Kong, and of course for its crimson autumn colour and its burnished copper bark. Under its canopy, I have chosen dogwoods including purple black stems and foliage of Cornus alba 'Kesselringii', Berberis with deep red dahlias such as Bishop of Llandaff and orange Bishop of Oxford.

Monet’s ‘Wisteria 1’ has inspired me also to plant a Wistera sinensis against my west facing sunny brick wall.



February 2016

Therapeutic Gardening in February (appeared in The Gazette)

by city gardener Sarah Heaton

 The winter, and especially February, is my quiet time of year. The gardens are resting and so am I, supposedly. But gardeners are busy, active people so while I like a time to contemplate and plan for the year, I also feel slightly uneasy and restless. A sunny day can make me quite full of energy and gloomy one, quite grumpy. So what is it about gardening, nature and the outdoors that is so therapeutic?


Seeing green lifts ones mood.   So it may be a pretty indoor plant, a container on your doorstep, a garden or park. Connecting with nature and growing things really is a pleasure, however small or large a task you set yourself.


I garden at a hospital and primary school and high on our list at this time of year is ‘inspiration’ for the season ahead. With my hospital patients we visited Ham House in Richmond. The ‘cherry garden’ is spectacular even on a freezing winter day. The domes of lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) and santolina (Santolina chamaecyparissus) arranged geometrically create a sense of order and structure and a striking visual impact, set among mini hedges of evergreen box (Buxus sempervirens) and yew obelisks. The kitchen gardens also have much to inspire including tripods of silver birch branches for climbers and ready-to-pick deep purple swiss chard. I must put that on my growing list for this year.


Getting the potatoes ready for planting around Easter time is also a fun activity. Called “chitting”, my husband groans as egg boxes of little brown seed potatoes appear on every windowsill. They are best bought from seed catalogues or nurseries as the ones in your fridge or vegetable drawer which are naturally, desperately “chitting” at the moment might carry diseases which will transfer to your garden or container when planted. But yes, you can plant them and a seed potato is just a potato. And a potato is a stem tuber, which is why they go green. They can go green when exposed to light. It means they are photosynthesising. We earth them up because the potatoes grow on the stems but if we keep them under-ground they grow and swell into some of our favourite foods – chips, crisps and roast potatoes.


Varieties I grow because I think they are delicious are knobbly, nutty ‘Pink Fir Apple’ and creamy, tasty ‘Charlotte’. Neither needs peeling. I plant them at the end of April or early May, at the same time, but dig up the Charlotte in July and the Pink Fir Apple in September.


Daffodils are the heralds of spring and a few of these either in a vase or in a pot on your doorstep will be a sight to delight. I planted some today for a client who hoping to sell her flat and how cheerful and welcoming they looked by her front door. They are available from nurseries and I got mine from Cultivate London, based in Enfield Road, Acton. This is a social enterprise, which trains unemployed young people in landscaping and horticulture and produces edible and ornamental flowers for sale.


Gardening is a good therapy. Even at this time year, there is plenty to think about and plan for the seasons ahead and much to be inspired by even during mid winter.



January 2016

 Growing Medicinal Plants by city gardener Sarah Heaton

 Gardens and gardening make you feel better. The research is out there. “Food Growing for Health and Wellbeing” published by Garden Organic and Sustain (April 2014) is one that highlights and reviews worldwide research to underline the health benefits of community gardens, gardening activities and food growing. Medicinal plants are those that have healing properties. Bringing this all together might be just the tonic for planning your garden this year.


There are a few main points I would like to pass on.


  1. Gardens are evolving living things, a sort of scientific experiment, crossed with an artist’s palette. So mistakes are fine, just keep experimenting.
  2. Developing your own garden or joining a community garden will improve your wellbeing.
  3. Deep in my psyche, I enjoy plants that are beautiful, practical and ideally edible so either useful to eat (eg strawberries), drink (like herbal teas) or attract the birds and bees thus enhancing the biodiversity of our cityscapes and improving our urban environment.


This weekend I met two people with different experiences of growing plants and herbs on their balconies. Jasper in Shepherds Bush was having a bit more trouble than Fabio in Pimlico.   Fabio has a south-facing balcony. He is from Sicily and has brought his Mediterranean plant knowledge to the micro-climate of London. He grows herbs such as oregano, as well as a lemon tree and even a banana tree with its large luscious leaves.


At the hospital in Richmond, where I work, we planted similar plants in large terracotta containers in their conservatory-like entrance area. The lemons are ripening beautifully and were all bought at the Palm Centre in Ham -


So I hope Jasper can re-ignite his interest in his balcony with some of these plant ideas and maybe think along medicinal lines with hardy herbs that are good for you and gardening, which is therapeutic. Here are a selection of herbs you could plant now in a container. He scent they release will tickle your senses.


Herb container with rosemary, thyme and sage



There are many varieties of thyme but the most common is (Thymus vulgaris) which can be used in cooking. It has a pretty mauve flower, which attracts bees.


Medicinal use: as a tisane, thyme is recommended as a cough mixture and for its digestive qualities.



This evergreen plant is called Rosmarinus officinalis, which means ‘dew of the sea’. It originates from the Mediterranean and likes an open sunny spot. It is an excellent herb to add to cooking especially lamb and chicken, as well as roast potatoes.


Medicinal use: It makes a strong flavoured tea that helps with headaches and insomnia.


I love purple sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurea’) particularly with its silvery and purple leaves. Its name, sage is connected with ‘old wise person’, and its Latin name, Salvia, comes from salvation meaning healer.


Medicinal use: drink as a general tonic, a few leaves in a cup of herbal tea or as a tisane.


If you are interested in joining a gardening community group, there are several sources to find one near you including the BBC, which publishes projects by area and The National Trust runs many voluntary gardening groups.


To visit a truly medicinal garden, the Royal College of Physician based near Regents Park has an extensive medicinal garden which is open to the public at selected times:




September 2015


** I have contributed an article, called "Drinking Garden Herbs", to this lovely book  **

By RBG Kew 
ISBN: 978 1 84246 588 2

Hardback £18

60+ Colour & b/w Illustrations
October 2015

Kew’s Teas, Tonics and Tipples is a celebration of the huge diversity of flavour, colour and fragrance plants bring to the drinks we consume. Containing over 80 recipes the book is split into sections covering teas and tisanes; hot winter warmers; boozy iced teas; fresh summer tonics; ciders, beers and wines; botanical cocktails; party punches; fizzy celebration drinks; and shorts and tipples. There are drinks for every taste in this beautiful book, including beetroot wine, meader, vanilla chai, mint and fennel tisane, chilli hot chocolate, pineapple punch, limoncello fizz, chilli martini, rhubarb cordial, marmalade-ade, ginger gin and many more.

In addition to the recipes are nine short essays which tell the stories of how these drinks became part of our everyday life. Recipes and essays have been written by a wealth of contributors including Bob Flowerdew, Caroline Craig, Sophie Missing, Susanne Groom, Shelia Keating, Hattie Ellis, Susanne Masters and Kew staff as well as historic recipes from the royal households at Kew, Mrs Beeton and many more.

Running throughout the book are materials from the Kew archives, including beautiful colour illustrations of the plants, along with historical black and white photographs and objects from Kew's Economic Botany Collection.                              

It is ideal for entertaining, as well as making a perfect gift for lovers of Kew and botanical art.

Author information The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding collections as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international and a top London visitor attraction. Kew’s 132 hectares of landscaped gardens, and Kew’s country botanic garden, Wakehurst, attract over 1.5 million visits every year. Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009. Wakehurst is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. Kew receives approximately half its funding from Government through the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Further funding needed to support Kew’s vital work comes from donorsmembershipand commercial activityincluding ticket sales.

Kew Publishing is the publishing house of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

More here

 September 2015 - Appeared in the Gazette Series, 11th September 2015


September is the time plants go to seed. I like self-seeders as they appeal to my sense of the cycle of life. They are not really the end but a beginning. The key is to decide which self-seeding plants you like and encourage them in a specific area of your garden or in containers on your balcony.

We returned from our holiday to find a giant thistle at the end of the garden distributing millions of air-borne seeds like beautiful snowflakes gently falling all over everything. While beneficial to butterflies and insects, I felt I should probably try and contain this particular weed.

However, for the last two years, I have grown foxgloves with the positive intent of self-seeding. Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) are biennial plants so they start growing in year one into a rosette of soft, hairy, oval leaves, then in year two the plant grows a long spire-like stem with light purple, bell-shaped, tubular flowers. This plant is beneficial to bees particularly and even features a run-way on each flower guiding the bees to the nectar. At this time of year, the flowers have gone over but a gentle tap will releases zillions of seeds from which I hope my foxglove forest will emerge. Last year’s seedlings are coming along and popping up nearby and I should have more now every year. And I do like the way they pop up unexpectedly here and there. Foxgloves work well in partial shade and mine do well in a north-facing border. It should be noted that they are poisonous if ingested.

Forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica) is another liberal self-seeder which gives a lovely carpet of tiny, sky blue flowers from early Spring onwards and is a great backdrop for tulips. It has slightly taken over a section of my allotment and likes partial shade in my garden. At this time of year, I can see dense clumps of small leaves despite having dug up much of it when it finished flowering. It’s good to know it is always going to be with me.

Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber) is a good flowerer for all summer. Mine is raspberry pink in colour and still going strong and it self seeds easily. In a city garden, it adds colour all summer and autumn. As the flowers go over, you can cut back for a second flush, then when the feathery seeds appear I brush them in area I would like them to colonise and see what happens. I also like the white variety and these plants like a sunny, south or west facing position.

 Verbascum (Verbascum thapsus) is much like a foxglove but I think of it as Mediterranean with its silver, velvety leaves and its sunny, yellow flowers. It is biennial too, growing from a beautiful silver-leaved rosette in the first year. I was told the shepherds in Greece use the stems as walking sticks and it also has a common name, “Aaron’s Rod”. It has many medicinal uses and needs open ground to self seed so not as invasive as others mentioned. It regularly appears on my allotment.

-ends -


29th May 2015 - Appeared in the Gazette Series on 19th June 2015


by city gardener Sarah Heaton

With all the coverage on the BBC for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, there hardly seems anything else to add. The thrills and spills of gold medals, the celebs, the sheer madness of so much creation and hard work and the knife edge dynamic of the diehard RHS juxta-positioned with earthy gardeners and prima donna designers is an explosive and highly enjoyable spectacle.

So I thought I would pick the aspects that might appeal to Londoners, overall themes and the gardens and displays that really meant something to me.

Sustaining communities came through throughout actually. Not just in Matthew Wilson’s garden which will become a centre piece in a new East London community project, but the team effort and collaborative work of gardeners, sponsors and all involved in the show.   ‘Wellbeing’ could be seen in many gardens from the Breast Cancer Haven garden, Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Matthew Keightley’s Sentebale winning garden and Charlie Albone’s Time in Between. Also new designers from abroad made their mark such as Kamelia Bin Zaal’s “Beauty of Islam” and Tan and Toh’s “Hidden Beauty of Kranji”.

 The Breakthrough Breast Cancer Garden, based on a DNA helix shape, struck a cord with me with its beautiful and feminine pink planting. For me, the metal sculpture of a woman was both striking and strong against the dark yew (Taxus baccata) hedge. Yew is the prime ingredient of the drug Taxol used to combat ovarian and breast cancers. My mother, who died of breast cancer, would also have loved this garden.

Breakthrough Breast Cancer Garden

Along this vein, the Breast Cancer Haven Garden with its magnificent willow woven nest designed by Tom Hare showed another focal point with a profound message in support of breast cancer patients and their families. The Haven is based in Fulham, and also Hereford and Leeds with centres Hampshire and Worcestershire opening soon, and provides entirely free complementary therapies and counselling.

 Esther Ranzen on Tom Hare’s willow woven oak leaf nest

Attracting young people into horticulture also captured my attention. I run my own small gardening business and a school gardening club, and strongly believe and support encouraging the young into gardening, as a hobby or vocation.

There was a space theme aimed at children. The RHS launched Rocket Science an initiative where rocket seeds (Eruca sativa) will be flown to the International Space Station. This is part of British ESA astronaut Tim Peake’s six month mission, as an experiment to see what growing plants in space can teach us about life on Earth. And the ‘Dark Matter Garden’ aimed to excite and inspire school children in the study of astronomy. Both slightly obscure and off the mark for me, when I think just simple gardening, plants and biology are fascinating in themselves but I hope these very scientific routes will interest the kids in my school gardening groups.


And it was the young, groovy botanist James Wong who said last week, “There are no mistakes in gardening, just experiments”. This kind of approach I think works well for kids. Soil testing has been one of the most fun experiments we carried out and each seed we plant too is a wonder in science for children.


Capel Manor College, where I trained, showed the benefits of a stumpery, the perfect habitat for beneficial insects, decomposers, micro beasts such as the endangered stag beetle. The college has established a stumpery and will feature this and the fascinating, June flowering Dragon Arum (Dracunulus vulgaris) at its centre in Gunnersbury Park, Acton, and open to the public as part of the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) on Saturday 13th June and for an Open Day on Saturday 20th June.


In the Great Pavilion, it was Pennard Plants which linked up with Lambeth-based Roots and Shoots, which caught my eye to display my kind of garden. “It’s the soul of Gertrude Jekyll – pale yellows, blues and creams,” said Kew trained horticulturist and landscape architect Tony Danford who designed the Edwardian themed garden. With inspiration from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Glory of the Garden”, Roots and Shoots Linda Phillips said, ”A garden has a place for everyone’s skills and abilities. Kipling wrote ‘For the Glory of the Garden occupieth all who come’. This is very much part of the Roots and Shoots ethos.” Roots and Shoots provides vocational training in horticulture for disadvantaged young people from the inner city.

Thyme and Nasturtium fill containers at Pennard/Roots and Shoots potager at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show


The RHS launched its ‘greening grey Britain’ initiative, which I wholly endorse. It is basically to encourage us to plant rather than pave our gardens. It is an important message to Londoners where we are at high risk of flooding from our archaic Balgazette sewerage system. London is the worst place for paving front gardens with half of all front gardens paved over, a 36 per cent increase in the last ten years. It was pertinent that Sean Murray who won the Great Chelsea Garden Challenge for designing a front garden comes from Northumberland, which is the only place in the UK to reduce the number of completely paved gardens. His garden was an inspiration.

Insect hotels in baked bean cans in Sean Murray’s garden.


And finally, a word on design trends and directions: wild and naturalistic planting continues, our love of art brings much sculpture into gardens, water features from Jo Thompson’s natural dipping pond to Waterside Nursery and its simple but lovely pond plants, and statement trees featured a lot and colour trends of blues, pinks, whites with spots of orange Geum and purple Lupin.


Gardening is where science meets art, not rocket science!




For advice on plants, gardening or garden designs and plants for front gardens, please contact Sarah Heaton on or visit her website


March 2015


The WONDER OF TULIPS - Appeared in the Gazette Series on 29th April, 2015


By city gardener Sarah Heaton


Tulips are about hope. They are about vision, foresight and delayed gratification. They bring out our imagination, the artist in us, and the promise of spring, growth and renewal. In the autumn, the packet says pink and we plant these onion shaped bulbs. We may forget about them over the winter or worry about the squirrels and mice eating them, but come April what delight they bring. From the earth spring these colourful jewels.


I love London in the spring when daffodils, tulips and crocuses adorn window containers, front gardens and the parks and green spaces around us. Tulips remind me about faith, faith in nature and the seasons, that the spring will come and the growing season rejuvenate. And we all need a bit of faith.

Tulips, unlike a shrub or perennial plant, give us scope for change and experimentation. This year all white tulips, next year mixing the dramatic dark purple tulips like ‘Ronaldo’ with orange ‘Ballerina’, another the romantic pinks and whites. They can also be arranged in containers or added to borders. Their symmetry brings order and their many colours excitement.


Plant combinations are at the very essence of gardening. So I also like to think about which plants compliment tulips. This year, I have stuck again to wallflowers, which have grown quite wild and rangy, rather like my teenage nephew.   In October, my daughter planted her own bulb container with forget-me-nots and tete-a-tete daffodils and tulips yet to blossom, at the W6 Garden Centre workshop. Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘robbiae’ provides a lovely lime foil to dark orange, red and purple tulips. Deep, dark ‘Ronaldo’, a favourite of mine, looks lovely with Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’ or white bleeding heart.


I have also seen Sarah Raven grow pink tulips with the mauve leaves of Mustard ‘Red Giant’ (which you could sow directly at this time of year to complement tulips). Brunnera’s delicate blue flower and silver edged leaves is another good option for spring ground cover with tulips, as is the herb, Sweet Cicely.


Tulips can add edging to a border or vegetable bed and guard your lettuces like soldiers in a row.   But I like them en masse in a pot or a patch of the garden.

Tulips at Petersham House

Tulips have interested local resident Diana Everett who lives on a house-boat on the Thames has recently written a book called “Tulipa – Tulips of the World”.


Anna Pavord has also a written about the history of the tulip called “The Tulip”.


Tulips hale from the mountainous regions with temperate climates, spanning Spain, North Africa, Greece through the Middle East, Iran, Siberia, Mongolia and North-west China. They need a cold snap to come to life, known as vernalization, which is why we plant them on the autumn.


The cultivation of the tulips probably began Persia in the tenth century and became popular during the Ottoman Empire. They were introduced to western Europe by Busbecq, an ambassador for Emperor Ferdinand I to Suleyman the Magnificent, along with hyacinths and narcissus.


Luckily, if you missed autumn planting, it is possible to buy tulips, hyacinths and daffodils that are about to bloom from garden centres like W6 Garden Centre and market stalls.




Six easy plants to grow indoors Succulent, or fat plants, have thick, fleshy stems and leaves and are ideal for growing indoors where the dry conditions of our centrally heated homes replicate the environment of the plants’ origins. Bringing living greenery into the house at this bleak time of year is a fun activity and houseplants are varied and often exotic. Overwatering is the main killer of houseplants, so a little neglect and these plants will thrive. Here are my top six houseplants with some advice on propagating from leaf or softwood cuttings:

1. Houseleek or Sempervivum I love this exotic group of succulent plants for their clumps of round rosettes, which often feature a beautiful spiral akin to a Fibonacci spiral in Mathematics. I will be giving a workshop at the W6 Garden Centre, Ravenscourt Park on Saturday 21st February on planting containers with succulent plants. This decorative wall of houseleeks was featured at the Bridal Show in Battersea last year.

2. Aloe Aloe is a succulent plant, which comes in hundreds of varieties, and its claim to fame is the healing properties of the gel found in the fleshy leaves, especially on skin.

3. Orchid These lovely flowering plants really like the steamy atmosphere of a bathroom as they come originally from tropical climes of Asia, Africa and America. A dunk in water for 20 minutes every week or two is all they need. Mine is flowering now and looks lovely. W6 Garden Centre or M&S sell some lovely varieties.

4. Streptocarpus or Cape Primrose This pretty flowering indoor plant comes from South Africa and in several lovely colours from light pink to deep mauve. Mine came from leaf cuttings made as part of my course at Capel Manor College. You take one large leaf and cut it into six chevrons or across the mid-rib into 4 cm strips. These are then gently pushed into a tray of houseplant or multi-purpose compost. Water gently and cover with a polythene bag. Plantlets should appear in 4-6 weeks. This could make a lovely Mothering Sunday gift, a long lasting alternative to the traditional English primrose posie.

5. Scented Pelargoniums I have two varieties of these attractive evergreen perennial plants with scented leaves and pink and deep red flowers. Touching the leaves releases pungent strong aromas from cedar to pine, rose, lemon or peppermint. They can survive outdoors in the summer but are tender so I keep mine indoors all year. They are very easy to propagate. Take a cutting of a leaf with a stem of 6-10 cm and either put in a jar of water or a pot of compost and they magically grow roots quite quickly and establish new plants. They like air and light so prune occasionally and feed in their flowering season, which is usually summer, with tomato fertiliser. My step-mother boasts a cutting from the Queen Mother’s pelargonium collection via various nefarious routes. When it’s so easy to take a cutting, why not? Woottens of Wenhaston is a specialist grower with many beautiful varieties available mail order. Pelargonium x Ardens Palargonium Bitter Lemon

6. Avocado Avocado pears are not really for dieters as they are deliciously fattening and highly nutritious. Strictly speaking, they are a fruit and it is fun to grow an avocado plant from the stone or pit. Clean the stone or pit and insert pins or toothpicks around the side. Then suspend the avocado on a jar of water so the bottom (flat end) sits in about a centre meter of water. Watch and wait. When it looks like a plant, plant it in a pot. To book the workshop on succulent containers at W6 Garden Centre, please call 020 8563 7112.



how to capture Romeo and Juliet’s teenage romance on your balcony with wildflowers

Getting today’s teenagers away from devices, facebook or the latest fad is a complicated business I find. Are they love-lorn, hormone-saturated or plain not interested? I discovered a small gardening project with my 13 year old has been a most enjoyable outward focus and simple, pleasurable pastime we can dip into now and again. Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei struck a cord with me when he explained about the making of his zillion sunflower seeds from porcelain. It was the fact that families, grandparents or students could dip in and out of painting each seed while attending to other duties whether domestic, work or study that made the project entwine into the tapestry of their lives. Gardening is similar. A little pottering now and again brings results and this many little lots of ten minutes here or there makes it especially easy for children and teenagers.

My children are quite long suffering about my garden exploits. But my 13 year old and I decided together to colonise a small shady area with pots of wildflowers. We were given some clumps of viola, alpine strawberries (tiny delicious bursts of joy) and ox-eye daisy plants from my step-mother, scattered woodland wildflower mix and added some scavenged forget-me-not, comfrey and scabious to our potage. So a mixture of plants and seeds gave us something instant and something to come. Last year’s long wet summer produced at few flowers and this year’s looks really promising. I see forget-me-not, calendula, poppies, vetch and verbascum slowly emerging. Many have self-seeded from last year, perfect for the lazy gardener. What I find so appealing about wildflowers are that they are pretty robust flowering plants, needing not too much attention but a bit of jollying along and delightful when they blossom, rather like teenagers.

Back to those romantic balconies and Karen from Fulham who said to me that every year, she buys plants for her balcony and every year they die. “Wherefore art thou, oh long lasting hardy perennial?” Thinking about her sunny, south-facing balcony, her poor annuals were dying in the arid desert of her pots. What Karen needs is the robust succulent plant, which adapts brilliantly to dry conditions and soaks up all the water when it rains. Sedum spectabile is a favourite to see and pronounce! Sedum comes in many shapes, sizes and colours and is low maintenance. It is very attractive to wildlife and especially butterflies. Most of all, it is pretty! It dies back in the winter and beautiful rosettes emerge in spring leading to this lovely, long-flowering perennial over the summer. Some of the smaller varieties have evergreen or ever-purple foliage. They are also very easy to take cuttings from.

For the less romantic teenager, the environmental credentials of Sedum might appeal. They are used for green roofs, requiring little soil and adapt to a variety of conditions. And for all those revising for Biology GCSE, unusually with succulents, the main site of photosynthesis can be the stem as well the leaves. For romantic north or east facing balconies, you might consider feathery ferns (eg Phyllitis scolopendrium) with Heuchera ‘Chocolate Truffles”, both of which come in fantastic colours. Look out for purple, marmalade or bright lime varieties of Heuchera at W6 Garden Centre near Ravenscourt Park or Fulham Palace Garden Centre.

At Capel Manor College in Gunnersbury, where I trained, there was a fabulous combination of wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae) with Forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica) which flourish at this time of year. This would work well on a smaller scale in pots on a not too sunny balcony. To refresh your containers, remove or refresh old compost. Add a layer of crocks (broken bits of terracotta pot) at the bottom to improve drainage. Check for vine weevils, which can eat roots over the winter. Buy a selection of plants to suit your aspect, water them well before planting in pots on your balcony and sharethe fruits of your efforts with family and friends or even Romeo or Juliet!


The Psychological Gardener

The psychology of a garden is interesting. Busy, calm, a mess, sorted. It reveals a personality. The colours, the order, the texture can mean vibrancy or coolness. Its owner would have inherited some traits, like shrubs, from earlier generations, put in some new plants perhaps annuals or herbs and maybe some misplaced Lavender. It may be artistic, it may be for the cook, it may be blank but for children’s play things, a pastime or needing some attention. Perhaps a garden says something of its owner, as a house does. One friend has a long empty garden except for a huge spiky yukka plant, given to her by her mother-in-law and never to be removed! Another friend would like to sift through the inherited shrubs, redress and start afresh.

In a way, choosing plants for your garden, like psychology, is all about relationships, with other plants, the soil, the sun, the aspect. What combinations will work best? What do you like or dislike? What memories some plants evoke? What it says about you? Essentially, a small, rectangular garden is a blank canvass upon which to impress your personality and create moods. I am in favour of creating round shapes in gardens. Living in towns makes everything angular. Plants help soften this. I like a theme of domes and spires. In the plant world, the enormous and wonderful roundness of creamy Hydrangea aborensis “Annabelle” located near hazelnut tripods of Lonicera peryclymenum (honeysuckle) with their beautiful, delicate scent recreates something other-worldly, even spiritual.

Horticultural therapy works on many levels. The cadence of the seasons and simple tasks such as planting seeds in spring as the sap rises can provide a practical activity to take one out of oneself. Leaf sweeping in autumn has to be good for sufferers of OCD and what about digging and pruning for anger management – big holes and shrubs much reduced in size! Just looking at a lovely garden can be uplifting. Colours hugely influence the psychology of a garden. Yellow Rubeckia hirta (Black-Eyed Susan) and deep reds or purples of Dahlias or Clematis viticella “Etoile Violette” add vibrancy while the blues and limes of Nepeta fassennii (Catmint) and Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle) provide tranquillity. Pink Roses with Peonies and Sedum and Geranium’s like Johnson’s Blue give romance. The mauve Verbena bonariensis with feathery Stipa gigantea (Giant feather grass) catching the late summer sun bring calm. Mixing textures and shapes of leaves such as Ferns with curly leaved Heuchera fascinates children and adults alike. The ancient natural history of ferns connects us with an earlier, more primitive mankind and provides a link with continuity.

I find particularly appealing the nurturing aspect to gardening. I run a gardening club for a primary school in inner London. It is a perfect place in my life to bring out the oldest sister in me: boss, nurture and create! Hammersmith Community Garden Association ( runs the Grow Well project which provides therapeutic gardening sessions for carers. Meanwhile Gardens ( based in North Kensington offers many activities especially for young families. Thrive is a national charity that uses gardening to change the lives of disabled people (


The Lazy Gardener by City Gardener Sarah Heaton

With the summer upon us, August is a time to reflect on our gardening efforts of the year so far and sit and enjoy the garden or balcony. It can be a thoughtful time to plan ahead for Autumn and get inspiration from our travels, near and far. I have school-age children so the end of summer term is a milestone in the calendar. It’s an end of the academic year and the culmination of much hard work, end of term reports and presentations. And it is nice to end the summer break in high spirits and with warm good feelings, which is what I did this week.

I work with patients and staff on their kitchen garden at a hospital in Richmond. We went for a trip to visit Ham House’s kitchen garden and found much delight in their giant Globe Artichokes and yellow Tansies, ours being a foot high and theirs six foot high. Our similar planting of courgettes, cabbages and beans were reassuring and I was especially pleased with the patients’ pride in our work and that they were the happy recipients of carrot cake (of course). So when you let your garden go a little, over August, it is also like letting go of all the stresses and strains of city life. It might get a bit wild but will be all the more interesting for it and can be reined in during September. As long as you don’t get a first warning on your allotment, which I sadly managed to last month, I think a little letting go is just the ticket for August.

Travelling in England and abroad or just being a tourist in London, is a wonderful opportunity to visit other gardens and bring back treasure for your own, even if just in your mind. I have been admiring a marvellous pink tree in a front garden of a local road, with beautiful under-planting of tulips, lavender, rosemary and a fabulously large pink hydrangea. I found the pink tree again on the seashore of Dorset and identified it as Tamarisk (Tamarix ramossissima). It thrives in coastal regions and the streets of Shepherds Bush! It goes really well with purple Hebe (Hebe ‘Neil’s Choice’) and the succulent Sedum, which does so well in dry conditions as well.

And what can those holidaying in the Mediterranean introduce to their garden on their return? I love silver leaved herbs such as Lavender, Rosemary, Sage and Verbascum. Also Olive trees manage London’s micro-climate well. The pungent smell of Eucalyptus leaves and delicate blue of Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) can keep the hot lazy days, near the Med, fresh in our minds. Having been rather negative about Lavender in an earlier article, I am going to give this remarkable and popular plant a second chance. I have discovered a supplier in Sussex which recommends certain varieties for our London soil, namely Folgate, Melissa Lilac and Cedar Blue available from, home to the world’s only Scientific National Plant Collection ® of Lavender.Otherwise ask Fulham Palace Garden Centre or W6 Garden Centre to get them in for you.

At Ham House, the historic parterre with Lavender and Cotton Lavender is a joy to the senses. And if you are London based this summer, there are some lovely gardens to visit including Kew Gardens, Chelsea Physic Garden, Geffrye Museum (showing the history of gardens over 400 years), Fulham Palace gardens renovated walled garden, Ham House and the Garden Museum. So, really a lazy gardener is an oxymoron, as gardeners on the whole are busy industrious people, but now is the time to enjoy a summer break.



– swap your Blackberry for a blackberry bush to improve your mood

The gardeners among us know for sure about the healthiness of gardening. But what is that makes gardening so healthy? Is it that it is an activity or hobby that takes one out of oneself? Is it that it exercises the mind, body and spirit? There is some evidence that supports this as well as an intuitive link with nature that makes us feel well in the great outdoors or even our backyard. A recent study by the University of Essex on “green exercise” found that participating in outdoor activities improves psychological well-being, generates physical health benefits and can facilitate in social networking.

I was led to this study ( by Hammersmith-based clinical psychologist, Dr Frances Goodhart, who is writing a book about how to recover from severe illnesses, following her award-winning book The Cancer Survivor’s Companion. I asked Frances why she thinks green exercise such as gardening helps recovery. She said: “We know that even as little as five minutes gentle exercise outside in a green setting - rural or urban - can have significant benefits for physical and mental health. We also know that patients recovering in hospital get better faster when they have a pleasant, open green view rather than a view of a brick wall. Why this is the case however is harder to know. Some researchers claim that a natural green view has an evolutionary effect on us - making us feel safe and secure in an environment associated with plenty of food. Others suggest that exercising outside and feeling closer to nature reduces blood pressure and muscle tension thus making the health benefits of exercise more effective. Whatever the reason, it is clear that gardening with its physical effects, social contact, intellectual stimulation and pleasurable outcome is a wonderful way to boost your well-being.”

Nature boosts your mood I garden regularly with a number of community groups including children at a local primary school and patients at a hospital in Richmond. For the school children, I am always so impressed that week in, week out, these five and six year olds voluntarily attend gardening club in their lunch hour. We tend a small patch with several parent helpers at hand. For these children, I feel it is a genuine interest in nature that keeps them coming along and the fun of being in our small peaceful green island, away from the noisy tarmacked playground. I know little Polly loves insects, bugs and worms. She even found a frog once. While for many of the children it is the love of collecting flowers, but harvesting is the highlight. We managed to hold back a week on strawberry picking before they descended on our bed and picked our rosy harvest in a nano-second. “Shall we eat them now or at the end of the session?” I asked. “Oh I think we should wait til the end,” said Jonah, age six. These kids know about delayed gratification! We’ve waited weeks and weeks for these strawberries to grow and ripen, nurtured them, mulched them, weeded them, admired the prolific flowers, watched the fruit appear. They could wait another 20 minutes and the strawberries were simply delicious for the wait. A good lesson to learn at their tender age, I thought, and a healthy attitude for life! Better nutrition from home-grown produce It must be healthy to grow your own, no GM, no pesticides, no insecticides! Growing and eating fresh vegetables is healthy, full stop.

Gardening is healthy exercise, full stop. Being outside is healthy, full stop. Children are more likely to give new foods a try if they’ve grown them, full stop. We can’t grow enough rhubarb at the school allotment.

Low-impact exercise gets your blood moving.

One thing we do as well as growing vegetables and fruit is take a walk in the local park. What a pleasure and how uplifting to just walk for the pleasure of walking, not to get anywhere, but just look around and take in the environment. The secret scented garden in Ravenscourt Park is a delight especially at this time of year. With the patients and staff in Richmond, we discovered another secret garden and just enjoyed the child-like pleasure of exploring and discovering new things and foraging in the (semi-) wild.

Soil improves the immune system

For me, gardening is also a creative escape into a series of little projects. When the stresses of everyday life are reaching fever pitch, I dig and delve in the soil. There is some research at the University of Colorado which says that soil contains harmless bacteria which can boost our immune system and have a similar effect to releasing serotonin. I get that! I pot up a pansy on my patch, pull up a weed from under those fragrant roses, delight at the runner bean tendrils winding around the bamboo stick. I am transported into an earthy world. This year I can see my runner beans growing in a pot from the kitchen sink, just outside the kitchen window. Also I hope the carrot seedlings will keep growing apace. I am experimenting with carrot as the biennial plant it actually is and looking forward to seeing its orange flowers next year, forgoing the root vegetable later this summer.

Better mental health

Gardening is often thought of as therapeutic because it is an activity that makes you feel better by engaging in a project, doing some exercise, growing and nurturing plants. It is about growth and renewal, a very basic human instinct. It is healthy and therapeutic to grow in our inner world too. Another reason gardening is healthy is its universal appeal, cutting through generations, genders and nationalities. In London’s melting pot, the influences from around the globe are fascinating: the Jamaican lady and her banana tree, the Dutch mum and her tulips, the Aussie and his yukka plant.

Natural inspiration

The beauty of plants and the way they inspire artists, landscapers, scientists and mathematicians continues to enthral me: Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Turner’s landscapes, a magnified pollen grain or Fibonacci’s spiral on a pine cone. Even Wimbledon’s verdant show this year is spectacular complete with hydrangeas and a giant tennis ball made of Sedum Gold Mound and the seam from Echevaria These alpine wildflowers by Hammersmith fine art photographer, Tim Hall ( have inspired my wildflower area.

A healthy environment

The broader context of a healthy and natural environment can start with us in our gardens. We can encourage bio-diversity. Bees, butterflies and insects will flourish on our wild or well-tended gardens given the right plants and provide a healthy environment for all to enjoy now and in the future. There is a healthy gardener in all of us if we give it a chance. Nature has much to offer us urban dwellers and it is all around, from potting up some pansies to walking in the park, simply getting out there.


The Sensuous Gardener For children and adults, gardens evoke the senses. To see a beautiful garden vista, stroke the smooth grey leaf of Lamb’s Ear, smell the scent released by touching Lavender or hear the gentle rattle of a dried poppy seed head is to have an affinity with nature and somehow makes us feel connected. For me, plants and gardens are also very much about people, children and adults.

My friend Cathy remembers buying her first pot of herbs and Jeni has a thing for Wisteria. And, why not? Their smell, their beauty, grand or small, improves our lives and even our souls. My first memory of a plant was eating small round cherry tomatoes in South Africa probably aged around four. Smelling the pungent leaves and tasting little explosions of joy remains strong in my psyche. The sensuousness of a garden makes it ideal for children. They are natural diggers. There is a fascination for worms and a delight of picking a posy of herbs, so far from Club Penguin and Friv. Finding a radish, potatoes, a centipede deep in the soil is like finding treasure. Nature and its many facets also allows children to move to the next interesting thing quite quickly; a snail, many snails and snail race.

I run a gardening club in a small Hammersmith primary school. It is terribly oversubscribed and the reasons are that the children have little or no garden; lunch-time is a long, complicated, social minefield; parents are busy and simply growing things, despite perceptions that it is for old people, is fun. So this week, we have been delving in compost heaps, making them, stirring them, chucking kitchen waste in them, working out how long things take to decompose, poking worms, smelling yukky worm juice. Touching, poking, smelling, back to those senses again.

Most plants strongly appeal to the senses but children and adults are especially impressed with herbs. We have a herb bed on our postage stamp, school allotment. I grow herbs indoors and outdoors, on my doorstep and on my kitchen windowsill. Musts are evergreen and perennial rosemary, bay, sage and chives. Rosemary is robust and releases such a delicious aroma with lamb. Old wives tales tell how it grows well where a strong woman is in control. Early Christians believed its symbolic meaning was for remembrance and brought it and other evergreen foliage into their homes to represent everlasting life in the dark days of winter. Their pretty blue blossom is just emerging this spring. The other great thing about herbs is you can buy them easily in nurseries like W6 in Ravensourt Park, Homebase and supermarkets.

You could also get them from Cultivate London (, best producer at the Observer Food Monthly Awards 2012, and located next to the beautiful Brentford Lock. The charity converts disused land across London and produces herbs, salad leaves and vegetables and trains young people in practical horticulture. A stroll or bike ride along the tow-path, some herbs – a no- brainer really. So not to be too evangelical about it, every child and adult need a herb pot and here is what I recommend: buy a terracotta pot from W6 or Homebase or use an old wooden wine box (with holes drilled in the bottom) chose a selection of herbs eg chives, sage, rosemary, thyme and viola (edible, colourful and available at this time of year); add some nasturtium seeds for summer colour put crocks (or broken bits of pots) in the bottom for good drainage fill with multi-purpose compost soak each pot fully with water before planting plant each herb in your container fill up the pot so it looks full and vibrant locate near the kitchen on a windowsill or near the back doorstep see, touch, smell and taste and use in your cooking and make bouquet garnis for Granny