Pruning the planters

Formal planter nasturtium fire engine 8.14

Last night, our not-so-formal planter with reds and oranges in the sunlight, harmonising with the returning fire engine at Preston Circus, Brighton

Yesterday, we finally got around to doing summer maintenance on the Preston Circus planters. It’s been fascinating to see how each planter has developed a very individual character, and reacts differently to the changing seasons and conditions. People passing were lovely and encouraging – and their comments have confirmed our aim: that the planters look pleasing, but unlike the ‘carpet-bedding’ of conventional municipal planters.

Cottage garden 8.14The ‘cottage garden’ planter by the Duke of Yorks cinema was so pretty in June with its perfumed pinks and abundance of delicate blooms: white feverfew, blue cornflower, violet verbena bonariensis, lime alchemilla mollis, and white ivy geraniums. We also put in some coreopsis to bring a vibrant yellow into the mix. But the heat of July has taken its toll on the pinks and the alchemilla, and indeed the coreopsis, and they badly needed deadheading. The cornflowers and the verbena bonariensis had been blown about and needed staking.

The ‘formal’ planter, also at the Duke of Yorks, has come into its own: no longer looking ‘formal’ but full of strong, bushy and exuberant growth. The central cornus alba sibirica has grown well and has lovely light green leaves. The white sedum – cast off from a supermarket – looks robust, as does our lavender. The red pelargoniums have brought brightness and colour, as has the unplanned dark blue lobelia at the front. And we’ve managed to restrain the nasturtiums to one starring role: a trailing yellow in the north corner. The yellows, reds and purple of the verbena are a sensational colour combination. As we left at around 6.30 yesterday, the sun was picking up the yellows, reds and oranges in this bed just as the red and yellow fire engine went past to the fire station at Preston Circus – see photo above.

Seaside 8.14 yellow blueseaside and traffic 8.14We concentrated yesterday on the ‘seaside’ planter with its blue and yellow colour scheme. This planter – supposed to be our ‘heat-loving, drought-resistant’ bed – did really well in the wet spring, but has looked tired and bedraggled throughout much of the summer. We added in some garden centre half-price refugees: a yellow argyranthemum and three pale yellow trailing petunias, along with two more intense blue lobelia to bring in some strong colour against the blue greys of the santolina and festuca grass. Eve also planted a demure nasturtium, a restrained and well-behaved variety in bright orange.

Seaside orange nasturtium 8.14


We did a summer chop on the santolina, which had gone woody, in order to free up space for the put-upon rosemary prostratus to grow more freely. We also cut back woody stems from the bewildering lampranthus – why isn’t it flowering? I think I have an idea: even after torrential rain on Monday, the soil in this planter was dry and fine. It’s just not absorbing the moisture.

I shall be down again at Preston Circus mulching with a bag of recycled-waste soil enhancer. We are due for rain on Saturday.

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150th Anniversary of Seaford line 7th June – the video

Our community film-maker extraordinaire, Madeleine Cary, has produced this lovely video of our Brighton to Seaford 150th Anniversary celebration on 7th June 2014.

Click here to view


  • our beautiful station building and our station master Nick,
  • our wonderful neighbours and Council representatives,
  • Chris’ cakes with Di and friends on the coffee stand,
  • our MP Caroline Lucas celebrating sustainable travel, stations and communities,
  • singing from The Dawn Chorus with music from local musicians, and the lively group rendition of ‘This train is bound for glory’,
  • Anna from Brighton and Hove Food Partnership demonstrating how to use our chard, mustard leaves, peppers, rhubarb and herbs to make lovely food  AND …
  • the star of the show, Oliver Cromwell – last steam loco – puffing through our station!

Even our old friend The Evening Argus finally reported on the event yesterday:

Mad video 8.14 cropped

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Thunder and rain at last

It was almost 10pm on Sunday 27 July, and I was out in a sleeveless top watering the Preston Circus Planters. Warm nights have been an unusual feature of the weather in South East England for the past few weeks. It was muggy, but the ground was very dry and the plants were suffering. It was hard work trying to get moisture into the planters.

I needn’t have worried. At 6am on Monday 28 July, I was woken by the usual call of seagulls and then the unusual patter of heavy rain against the window. Shortly after, like mortar shelling which is a sadly familiar sound from the news bulletins these days, the thunder started, cracking the sky open. I couldn’t see the spectacular lightening and in the east of Brighton, we weren’t battered by the hailstones which dramatically hit Hove. The rain fell heavily for around three hours and then again in the afternoon – what a relief for us, but there was disruptive flash flooding for those further to the West.

Our water butts in the edible plot were again starting to run dry. The plants today look refreshed, and the atmosphere is now light and airy with blue sky and sunshine. My bolted lettuces collapsed in the storm and I haven’t yet checked the station garden, but apart from obliging us to lift plants from their water-filled trays and saucers, the rain has been a real blessing.

As plants have quickly blossomed with the sun and warmth, we may need to think about replacing some in our ornamental planters. This is probably the moment to do it – while there is still moisture in the soil. We’ll be out in the station garden this afternoon and then down at Preston Circus to do general maintenance on the planters there. A moment perhaps to get in some more geraniums?

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Challenge of summer 2014

Every year brings a different challenge to us at London Road Station garden. This year, it’s pests and plant diseases, along with the perennial challenge of watering.

We seem to just about be on top of the watering, but we are realising that our various planters do imply quite heavy demands. Our water butts ran out very early (end of June) and we had to refill from mains water with a complicated connection of hoses. Last week’s torrential tropical storm in Brighton did at least top them up again.

Our mini-orchard has been blighted by a serious aphid attack and last Tuesday, we noticed canker scars on poor old Crawley Beauty, our slowest growing apple tree. We’ve removed the obvious wood affected, but it looks like there may be more. A quick glance at the other trees did not reveal any spread so far. My ‘Pests and Diseases’ book is fairly low-key about canker: cut out the affected bit and improve growing conditions.

Meanwhile, though, some positive things: the plum tree is looking good with some nice plums ripening, our cavalo nero is growing well with – so far – minimal attacks from caterpillars. We’ve harvested beautiful red onions. Two large bunches are now hanging on my kitchen ceiling, sweetening for our harvest supper onion soup. We’ve also had some good potatoes – enough for around five of us to have a couple of portions. Not much, you might say, but that harvest came from three small seed potatoes that Sue couldn’t plant up in her allotment. And our courgettes – long thin and round ones – seem to be producing constantly.

Late July is relatively early for harvesting: in that respect, it’s been an extraordinary year. My greenhouse tomatoes are already ripening and we’ve had cucumbers since late June. As someone remarked the other day, at this rate, we may have to bring forward our annual harvest supper, usually planned for the end of October!

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Preston Circus summer

IMG_0159The planters are starting to take on their summer shape. Their growth is unexpected and in some cases, unwanted. The sudden warm spell during June created challenges for watering, but we’ve got our watering rota up and running now, the water butt at the Calvary Church seems to be working well and we’ve had a bit of respite with evening rain in the past few days.

It was very sad to find that our two watering cans disappeared within a week. We now have two more, firmly padlocked on a combination lock.

I was down at Preston Circus yesterday, trying to stake and tie in the rather wayward plants. One thing is for sure: our planters don’t look like traditional planters stuffed full of bedding plants. They are rather more ‘individual’ with a mixture of perennial and annual planting.

We’ve managed to get height this year, with the verbena bonariensis soaring up. What we lack are trailing plants.

Some plants have done extremely well, quite unexpectedly: others, equally unexpectedly, have done poorly.

IMG_0131Cottage garden planter: the big surprise for me has been the mass of beautiful scented pinks. This was one plant! Unfortunately the symmetry of a pink either side of a central feature didn’t survive: the ‘north’ pink more or less failed, but we put in a couple of IMG_0133 plants that we had propagated over the winter and these are now taking well. It does look lovely with lots of flowers, but also varied foliage, giving it that cottage garden feel. Eve planted deep blue cornflowers there which are growing up amongst the verbena bonariensis. And yet it looked miserable in the early spring.

IMG_0138 Traditional planter: we’re keeping the nasturtiums under control this year as last year they more or less wiped out several lavender plants. The central shrub has taken well and gives a nice, light green focus. We’ve replaced a couple of lavender plants, IMG_0137but they are NOT the beautiful lavendula Hidcote that we originally planted, but a longer stemmed, rougher variety. But in the corners nearest the main road, the lavendula Hidcote seems to be doing well. The sedums seem to the working well this IMG_0141year and yesterday, I planted as many red and salmon pelargoniums as I could fit in and a couple of dark blue lobelia for contrast.


IMG_0148Prairie planter: the grass – miscanthus  purpurescens – has grown huge and strong in the centre, but there is absolutely no sign of its advertised reddish tinge. It just looks like er … grass. We’ve planted two apricot dahlias either side, and the IMG_0145verbena bonariensis blends in well. The real surprise is the heuchera: the rather spindly rich red plant on the north side, originally propagated from one of my garden heuchera, have grown huge and very beautiful. The heuchera facing south have also IMG_0151survived well, but clearly need good watering. It was sad that the lime green carex everillo, planted in the corners, didn’t like the hot, sunny site. We’ve replaced them with uncinia rubra, which doesn’t stand out so much but is a lovely red tinged grass. It does need water though.

IMG_0159Coastal planter: this planter confounds me! It was at its most beautiful during our wet, warm and windy winter, yet it’s supposed to contain plants that tolerate drought.. Sadly, the grasses – festucha glauca ‘Intense Blue’ – have gone brown, the IMG_0157lampranthus which flowered in February is woody and refuses to flower, the cotton lavender has gone leggy and the rosemary is yellowing, not glossy. Eve planted a couple of sun flowers – I hope they take – and I’ve put in as many light and dark blue IMG_0158lobelia as I could fit. The blue and yellow theme is lovely, but there’s too much which seems dought-blighted and sad. We’ll take another look soon …

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Stanford Avenue Community Garden birthday!

First Brithday flyerI can’t believe it’s only a year ago that we went over to Stanford Avenue Community Garden to help with planting their new plot. The garden now looks sensational with lush growth everywhere – definitely worth a visit.

They are having a celebration of their 1st birthday on Saturday 28th June 2- 4pm


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Gadabout in the sun

Last year, we were plagued by a high wind on Gadabout Saturday; this year, it was a perfect, hot June Saturday, requiring water, shade, sun screen and hats. But at first, nobody came …

We chatted, watered a bit, cleared a few leaves and reorganised papers: a nice bit of down time. And then suddenly, from 2pm onwards, visitors started arriving. We had over 20 who signed our visitors’ book, all with really positive comments.

Our edible growing plot still surprises and delights – we’ve perhaps got a bit jaded with the challenges of keeping the watering going and fighting aphids – but visitors comment on how inspiring it is to see what can be done in a such a small space.

People commented on how wonderful it is to see the diversity of gardens in our area: beautiful extensive herbaceous borders in one, quirky pink steps in another, huge bamboo growing in yet another – and our tiny area of six raised beds.

The Gadabout goes on this next weekend: Saturday June 28th and Sunday June 29th. We were delighted to be a small part of it and to help raise funds for The Sussex Beacon.



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