At Last, The Priory

So that’s that then. The end. Ten years after starting work at The Priory – almost to the day – I’m leaving. I’ve spent about a fifth of my life here: a sobering realisation as I hurtle through time with no brakes.



If this summer has been too fiercely hot and dry for Sussex gardening, 2018 was a good final year nonetheless. After a proper, hard and snowy February there were none of the usual later frosts to which the garden is prone. With non-frozen flower buds the big, old wisteria had more bloom than ever before – though I’ve always thought it a shame that the racemes aren’t longer.


Also in May, the leaning-over-ready-to-fall laburnum was magnificent. Normally its flowering is rather half-hearted and pathetic. A bit sparse – because of those late frosts. But this year she did me proud. I’m not particularly fond of laburnums but I make an exception for this one. Long may she not fall over.


Overall, spring was brilliant for flowers: the honeysuckle on the south side of the house looked and smelt great … though actually it always does and is a perennial joy.



Groups of peonies planted up against the house were big, old plants back in 2008 and still flower lustily. The flowers don’t last long, are way too blousy for me and so ridiculously heavy that they need a supporting steel hoop but I enjoy their arrival anyway.

Viburnum opulus 'Roseum'

Oddly, the Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’ on the west lawn, if still looking good in May, wasn’t as smothered with bloom as it so often is.

Pruned apple trees


I’m chuffed with the two apple trees on the north lawn. They were roughly hacked about in the past and responded, as apples will, with a forest of water sprouts (long, thin shoots) from their wounds.

Pruned apple tree

Removing the sprouts and forming a frame of branches over the years has been bloody satisfying. I hope somebody, anybody, will continue to tend these two old dames.

Prunus Serr. Kanzan Rubra

I’ve planted dozens of trees in my time here. Here are two of them – Prunus ‘Kanzan’ flowering in April,

Greehouse path

brightening the path to the greenhouses before the rock border stirs and buttercups flower.

Pear Concorde


I planted ten fruit trees on the meadow. This one is Pear ‘Concorde’ and someone needs to keep an eye on it and its companions too, please.

Cornus controversa ‘Variegata_


A grouping of three Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’ on the west lawn has suffered repeated deer attack this year. I had planned on removing the lower, damaged branches to lift the crown, smarten it up and allow for easier mowing, but those nibbled branches do hinder deer from rubbing away the trunk bark with their antlers – something they have already done to one.

Yellow Iris


Yellow flag irises have colonised the ditch between the two ponds and create a golden ribbon between mown lawn and meadow. I like wild interlopers, mostly.



And another wildflower, bluebell, is spreading further each year. In time they will be quite The Priory springtime feature – if they’re spared the strimmer in the years to come.

Narcissus Conspicuus (2)

In the autumn of 2008, I planted hundreds and hundreds of bulbs – amongst them, one hundred Narcissi Conspicuus. A scribble in my notebook of the time has the ominous words, “some mouldy”. I imagine that “some mouldy” is why they never flowered. Each spring I eagerly, fruitlessly looked out for the flowers until, stripped of hope, I gradually forgot.

Narcissus Conspicuus (1)

And then, one day in April this year, a tiny yellow splash caught my eye. I walked across thinking, “Surely not now. Not after all this time.” But there they were. Three hoop petticoat daffodils. Three! How can three tiny yellow flowers fill me with such amazement and joy? Being a silly old sod would be one reason. Nine years is a goodly wait for a flower or three from a hundred mouldy bulbs. If you are of an impatient disposition, you might not want to bother.

Long borders (2)


At the same time, during that first autumn, I planted a hundred Allium Aflatunense in the long borders. What a bargain they were. Reliable, long-lasting flower heads and a steady proliferation of offsets (new bulbs). I’ve dug up and replanted a multiplicity of free bulbs about The Priory and in other gardens too.

Long Borders

Definitely one for the cash-strapped, if patient, gardener. Buy a handful, plant them, enjoy the flowers, wait a couple of years, harvest some bulbs, repeat.

Tree Sugeon (1)

The rotten alder is central

Though there has been little (and often no) money for the garden, I did arrange for a final tree surgeon visit. A leaning, partly hollow alder near the house had concerned me for a couple of years. Last year, a zipper of bracket fungus ran up the trunk and this year there was a noticeable thinning of the canopy. Money or none, it had to be made safe.

Tree Sugeon (3)

Ivan the Tree Surgeon felled the tree without damaging the adjacent rose tunnel, which impressed me no end. After the deed, he told me that much of the trunk was sponge.

Tree Sugeon (2)

Though he’s retiring very soon, Ivan then scampered up into an oak like a young ‘un to cut out several dead branches. I’d worried that if these came down in their own time, they’d smash one of the greenhouses.

Forty-odd years ago as an apprentice, Ivan’s first ever job was at The Priory. Fitting then that one of his last should be here too.

The Priory Oak

February 28th 2018

In one post, a while ago, I wrote: “(The oaks) were the first thing I noticed and the last I shall say good-bye to.”

Time to say goodbye.

The Priory Oak (1)

April this year

In another post about The Priory’s Tulip tree, I said that though I loved the Tulip tree, it wasn’t my favourite. I never did say which of the garden’s trees is my favourite, though you might have guessed.

The Priory Oak (3)

The oak tree on the east lawn isn’t the oldest, it isn’t even the biggest here but my word, it’s the most beautiful, loveliest oak tree I’ve known.

The Priory Oak (2)

X marks the spot

I’ve never thought of the term ‘tree-hugger’ as a pejorative and I happily hug my oak when the mood takes me.

Priory Oaks

And, whilst I’m at it, I’ll hug another one. I might even hug them all. Call me a tree-hugger, I shan’t care.

Priory Ash

The BIG Ash with an added anxious gardener for scale

These massive trees were a big draw for me when applying to work in this secluded corner of Sussex. Looking after them, keeping them safe for the gardener working beneath, admiring them, occasionally hugging them, and planting new ones was a delight during my time here. In the future, they will still need occasional attention but mostly they’ll be just fine without my hugs.



As will all of the old shrubs which flowered before, during and, I’m sure, after my time.

Broughton Bride clematis (2)

Clematis ‘Broughton Bride’

I’ve added so many plants to the garden, so many, and most of these will hopefully continue to thrive too.  Or else not.

Young manadrin ducks

Young Mandarins – July

As will the wildlife, of course; whether or not I’m around to watch. Kingfisher will still dart across the ponds, deer will come and go as they please, rabbit will tear through the wire netting, buzzard and the new arrival, red kite, will circle high overhead and the midday hoot of the tawny owl will still startle. Or so I hope. If the mallards haven’t raised any ducklings in recent years, then mandarin ducks succeeded in 2018. There’s always room for new life at The Priory.

Rhododendron (2)

Sadly, there are no plans yet for a replacement gardener, though someone will take over the lawn-mowing.  And gosh, but I’m very happy to hand over the mowers to younger hands. I’ve mowed enough.

The Priory

I thought you might like to see this aerial photo of the house and grounds. It was taken fifteen or twenty years ago and though I’ve studied it countless times, I still pore over it to see how the garden has changed, and how it hasn’t. The west pond is clearly visible with the six large weeping willows not large at all. The Despondent, bless her, sits upon the water – probably bearing a happier name. By the Land-rover, one of the two original beech arches is still being trained and there is a glimpse of the old, long-gone greenhouse, garden top right. My oak is above and slightly to the right of the house. The straight path-to-nowhere – without the Verbena bonariensis beds – is very obvious. And there were many hot mowing days when I could have made good use of that paddling pool.

Please shut the gate

I seem to have something in my eye, so I’ll leave The Priory now, closing the gate behind me. I used to think that I would work here until the day I retire. But outlook shifts, plans change, opportunities arise and another part of this island tugs me westward. It is the right time for me to go.

Margaret the Farmer is one of my greatest discoveries of the past ten years, and when I visit her in the years to come, and after a cup of tea and a hearty gossip, we’ll walk down through the fields with her sprocker spaniels, and peer over or climb the fence into the garden.

I’ll let you know what we see.


Jim, the boy and I are leaving our Sussex home next week. We’ll be rootless for a while until we complete on our new house in the Cotswolds. We’re putting all of our stuff into storage and thanks to the kindness of family and friends, we shall be flitting between spare beds until our new home is ready. When we do eventually land and settle, I’ll post again. But I may be some time.

Thank you to everyone who has followed and shared my interest, my love for The Priory.

The Priory In June

I will be leaving Sussex and The Priory very soon.  And if I’m excited about my future life in a different part of England, my lower lip trembles sometimes at the thought of leaving this garden; a garden in which I’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of my days.  (By a rough calculation, more than 1500).

I’ve been so busy selling a house here and buying a house in Gloucestershire, that I’ve neglected to show you The Priory during her best time: May and June. But then, as I was walking about the grounds last week, I noticed so many pretty things, so much darn flower that I paused, slapped my forehead and ran for my dusty camera. Here’s a little – mostly rose and clematis – of that Priory June colour.

Rosa ‘New Dawn_

This Rosa ‘New Dawn’ was growing by the front door on the day I started work in 2008.  I haven’t done much to it other than train it upwards and along the flat leaded porch roof.  I don’t even feed it but, despite neglectful care, it flowers heartily and gives a warm welcome – to non-existent visitors.

Rosa 'Madame Alfred Carrière'

Whereas, Rosa ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’ I did plant. It grows above the kitchen door and window in almost perpetual shade, barely suffers from rust nor black spot and bears heavy, fragrant, repeat blooms. My kind of rose and perfect for this north facing wall.

Rosa ‘Sander_s White_ (1)

On the rose tunnel, R. ‘Sander’s White‘ is a big fat show off.

Rosa ‘Sander_s White_

This is not an understated rose. It has a superabundance of blooms with a scent that punches you in the nose – in a playfull way. For a few days in June, it flowers quite delightfully, quite madly.

Rosa ‘Sander_s White_ (2)

As you probably know – if you’ve been reading my record of a Sussex garden for a while – I grow several different clematis in amongst the roses on the tunnel.  The Sander’s White is a short-lived phenomenon after all.

Clematis ‘Warsawska Nike_ (2)

The large flat plates of Clematis ‘Warszawska Nike’ is one of fifteen varieties of clematis here.

Clematis ‘Warsawska Nike_ (1)

Conventional wisdom would have me prune this pruning group 3 clematis* each spring to 6-8 inches above ground level but I’ve learnt that doing so presents beak-level, tender new shoots to hungry pheasant. So, I don’t do that. No. I cut back to a pair of shoots at about 3 or 4 feet – out of reach of pheasant and also beyond concerted slug attack. The clematis grows taller too … with its flowers intertwining amongst the roses rather than staring at my navel.

Clematis ‘Etoile Violette_

Nearby is Clematis ‘Étoile Violette’ – also pruning group 3. Again, I leave several feet of stem when pruning in spring. If I thwart the attention of pheasant, I provide handy nose-level morsels to deer. Win some …

Clematis ‘Etoile Violette_ (2)

Étoile Violette bears lots of deep, purple flower and eventually scrambles far above the regular attention of deer. This year, the deer damage to trees, shrubs and er, most things actually, has been particularly bad.

Clematis 'Princess Diana'

On a shadier tunnel post, is C. ‘Princess Diana’.

Clematis 'Princess Diana' (2)

She’s a gaudy pink but I forgive her that – given the beautiful tulip shaped flower. No deer attack on this one yet.

Clematis 'Empress Amy Lai'

A fairly recent addition is C. ‘Empress Amy Lai’ – another purple,

Clematis 'Empress Amy Lai' (2)

filling the bare stems of climbing roses overhead. C. ‘Empress Amy Lai’ is pruning group 2.

Clematis 'Crimson King' (2)

I moved C. ‘Crimson King’ from elsewhere in the garden. It struggled in the long border with competition from so many herbaceous plants and is much happier here. But it ain’t crimson. Group 2.

Clematis ‘Betty Corning_ (2)

C. ‘Betty Corning’ is a favourite – after seeing it in my mother-in-law’s garden – here growing amongst honeysuckle

Clematis ‘Betty Corning_ (1)

and deftly hiding an old, ugly chain link fence near the house. Also group 3.

Clematis 'Roko-Kolla'

I really like another newbie – Clematis ‘Roko-Kolla’ .  It bears large white flowers with subtle green stripes. Another group 3 but you know by now my feelings about pruning back hard.

Campanula lactiflora ‘Pritchard_s Variety (1)

Over in the kidney beds is Campanula lactiflora ‘Prichard’s Variety’ taking over nicely

Campanula lactiflora ‘Pritchard_s Variety (2)

as foxgloves fade away. This is a splendid, large plant with several impressive flower spikes, forming an excellent centrepiece for a June border. At least, that’s what I think.

Clematis Jackmanii (3)

On the east wall of the house is another clematis, Clematis Jackmanii.  Growing through a rose (variety unknown), this is the only Priory clematis I didn’t plant.

Clematis Jackmanii (2)

I keep its roots well shaded (clematis don’t like their roots sun baked) and tuck in shoots that otherwise wave around in the air.

Clematis Jackmanii (1)

A vigorous plant with a good bold colour too.  Pruning group 3.

Verbena bonariensis (1)

My two twelve metre Verbena bonariensis borders are just coming into flower.

Verbena bonariensis (2)

I don’t normally water them but June and July 2018 have been shockingly dry and I’ve relented.  I should hate to see this spectacle shrivel and turn yellow before I leave.

It’s a funny job mine. I tend a big garden which hardly anyone ever sees. What’s that about?  A week can easily pass without a visitor and now that the house is empty, the owner won’t be coming back.  Plants flourish (or don’t), flower (or don’t), and fade away, with only me as witness … with sometimes you too, of course.

Butterfly Painted Lady (2)

But I do have guests of a sort.

Butterfly Painted Lady (3)

If butterflies, like this Painted Lady, and bees and a host of other insects are attracted to something that I plant, then … well, hell.

Butterfly Painted Lady (1)

I must be doing something right.  Attracting wildlife to The Priory has given me a huge amount of pleasure and satisfaction over the years; so much so that this morning, I watched a doe standing in the shade of the rose tunnel.  Rather than frothing with rage at chomped roses and clematis, her lithe beauty filled me with awe.

Just about.


* Here’s that note on pruning groups, cribbed from an earlier post on Clematis

  • Group 1 – flowers on previous year’s growth and needs hardly any pruning. Tidy up as necessary and reduce in size if it gets too big. If it does need hard cutting back, do so right after flowering.
  • Group 2 – flowering stems produced from previous year growth. Cut back weak, damaged stems to a pair of strong buds in late winter. Tie in stems to form a framework in summer.
  • Group 3 – flowers on current year’s growth. Cut stems back to a pair of strong buds in early spring, a foot or so above ground level (if you’re pheasant proofed).