February 2013

Hello Everyone

February 2013

As I start writing this first newsletter from Frensham Gardens, there is a young man who is about to propose to his girlfriend in our garden… This story will continue later in the newsletter.

Returning home recently after a three weeks away, I wandered quietly around the garden, enjoying the peace and ambience, and wondering what it is really like for people who see our garden, or any garden, for the first time. And in reverse, what is a garden that I see for the first time like for a person who sees it on a daily basis? The art of gardening is so complex, that despite the fact that so much has been written about gardens and gardening, I wonder if we can ever stop writing about the subject? One of our first time visitors wrote to me recently, saying “I fell hard for the beauty of Frensham when I walked around it for the first time…”. This summed up how I have felt when visiting a garden that absorbs me.

And I was hoping that the young man’s girlfriend was feeling the same.

The many experiences at Frensham, the seasons, the plants we grow, and the combination of plantings, mostly planned, but sometimes not, the design, structure, and reference to the landscape, give me much to think about when it looks as if I’m not doing very much.

One of my keen interests is the plants that we can grow and I am going to share observations on some of these with you.

Clematis viticella ‘Alba Luxurians’. Raised by Veitch & Son in England in about 1900, this clematis, which has white flowers with green tips, flowers from mid-summer until early autumn, there being more green in the flower earlier in the season. I have observed over the years that it is one of the most admired plants in our garden, partly, I guess, because it is not often seen in gardens, and partly because it is so attractive. The flowers move very gently in a breeze, are great as a cut flower, and the plant doesn’t get clematis wilt. If you decide to grow it, cut it back to one metre when it has finished flowering. Clematis viticella ‘Alba Luxurians’ is native to southern Europe.

1. Photo of Clematis viticella ‘Alba Luxurians’ by Andy Duck.

Clematis heracleifolia davidiana ‘Wyevale.’ Cuttings of this plant were given to me by a gardening friend. I have only seen it once and that was in the Jardin de Cinq Sens on the shores of Lake Geneva, but I am sure that some of you will grow it. Being a member of the heracleifolia group ‘Wyevale’ is deciduous with erect stems. Flowering in soft lilac from mid-summer until autumn, with the most divine fragrance which I am not able to describe, most visitors to our garden are told to step into the border to experience the fragrance. You will find good images on Google. ‘Wyevale’ can be seen in the photo below, in the ‘V’ shape of the pink roses, its erect stems about to come into flower.

2. Photo by: Alenka Jereb

Clematis ‘Kiri Te Kanawa’ and Lathyrus ‘Matucana’. One of the things that people find most interesting is the way in which I have let clematis and sweet peas weave their way through one of the herbaceous borders. This saves all the fuss of training these plants onto some sort of climbing frame, the flowers appear randomly amongst the other plants, and it is such an easy thing to do. Lathyrus ‘Matucana’ (sweet pea ‘Matucana’) is an old variety, thought to have been introduced to Britain at the beginning of the eighteenth century. It is deliciously fragrant, flowering profusely from late spring until autumn, with the stems becoming shorter as the season progresses. I have given so much of this seed away that I think half of our readers must be growing it.

3. Photo: Lathyrus ‘Matucana’. Photo by Andy Duck.

4. Photo: Clematis ‘Kiri Te Kaniwa’, Lathyrus Matucana and the rose ‘Ripples’ which flowers from late spring to autumn, and needs deadheading on the day this photo was taken! Again Clematis ‘Wyevale’ can be seen in the right. Photo By Alenka Jereb.

Rose ‘Chateau de Clos Vougeot’. Being one of my favourite roses, we have perfected a planting combination on a trellis of this dark red rose (tinged with much black in its second flowering) climbing with the thornless blackberry, and Clematis ‘Niobe’. Relatively thornless, I found that ‘Chateau de Clos Vougeot’ has a lot of rust on the foliage. Not wanting to be rid of the stunning flowers, we planted a dark green ivy which camouflages the rose foliage, but the exquisite rose flowers peep through, along with blackberries now, and earlier in the season, Clematis ‘Niobe’. Google for images of Clematis ‘Niobe’ and you will get the picture. I remember driving in Burgundy in France a few years ago, and calling in to the vineyard of the Chateau du Clos de Vougeot, expecting to see roses of Chateau de Clos Vougeot in abundance; the lady at reception had never heard of the rose!

Continuing the story of the recent proposal in our garden. The young couple came early one evening and told us that they were going on to dinner at a local restaurant. We happened to be going to the same restaurant, at the time the couple were in our garden. At the end of our evening, as we were about to leave the dinner table with our friends, the musician asked if we would stay as he had a special occasion to announce; that of a proposal. We introduced ourselves and our friends to the musician, told him that it was our garden where the proposal took place, and we sang a song to the couple to celebrate their special occasion.

Moments like these bring a special pleasure. Back to the garden, its continual creation and maintenance…

In my Workbook for February, I have written that a very good fertiliser for perennials, to be applied this month, is:
4 parts superphosphate, 1 part sulphate of ammonia and 1 part of potash.

I have been aware of this for years, although we haven’t done it for a while. As some of you will know, it is a very old recipe. And now is the month to move trilliums.

How exciting to receive emails such as this:

“Dear Margaret,

Just a short email to say that I shall be calling in on my way to Lincoln tomorrow morning, Wednesday. If you are not there it will not be critical because I shall leave the signs of my visit for you to see.I am bringing for you: Asarum caudatum, Epimedium pinnatum and Echium wildpretii.

There is always something happening at Frensham.

A very important part of the garden throughout the year is our tree collection. On these very hot days they are providing protection from the heat for plants, people and cats. Looking across the front lawn, I can see a tree smothered in white flowers. It is Eucryphia x nymansensis ‘Nymansay’, buzzing with honey and bumble bees. I “fell hard” for the eucryphia family when I was first shown a Eucryphia ‘Nymansay’ at the Powys Castle gardens in Wales over 20 years ago. Deciduous or evergreen, this family of trees or shrubs is native to South America, Tasmania (Eucryphia ‘Lucida’) and the eastern coast of Australia. I grow many varieties of eucryphias, including ‘Lucida’, or leatherwood, the flowers being used widely in Tasmania for making honey. Another leatherwood at Frensham is Eucryphia lucida ‘Pink Cloud.’ The hybrid ‘Nymansay’, as its name suggests, was bred at Nymans Garden in Sussex.

Garden visiting is a whole subject in itself. As people are increasingly opening their private gardens for visits and events, I feel inclined to bash on a little about some of the etiquette of garden visiting. Having had visitors to our garden for 18 years, like many others who have done the same, I have stories to tell. Since 1993 our garden has also been the venue of many fundraising events; nearly all of them a real pleasure to do. Next month I will comment on the subject of admission charges.

As this is my first newsletter, I’m not sure what most people want me to write about, or how much, so I look forward to your feedback.


Courgette Chocolate Cake: Marilyn McRae

  • 125g butter
  • 1/2c each of brown sugar and white sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2c plain yoghurt
  • 2 1/2c flour
  • 1/4c cocoa
  • 2 tsps Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • salt
  • 2 tsp Baking Soda
  • 3 cups grated courgette

Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs one at a time then vanilla and yoghurt. Mix and add dry ingredients. Add courgette. Do not over mix.

Bake in a buttered or sprayed and base-lined 23cm square tin (or similar capacity) at 170degrees for 45 minutes. Cool in tin before turning out onto a rack.


Chocolate chips can be added to the mix with the courgette.

The recipe can be baked as muffins, with or without the chocolate chippies or as cupcakes and iced. Bake for approx 12 – 15 minutes. The cake can be eaten plain or iced with a chocolate icing or a chocolate ganache.
It is delicious served just warm with whipped cream, yoghurt or ice cream! Or try a berry couli.

125ml of light oil eg. Rice Bran can be substituted for the butter if preferred…in which case just whip the oil with the sugars and then follow remainder of instructions.

And don’t forget that courgette are lovely raw in salads; eg sliced and mixed with garlic, chopped dates and a lemon juice/oil/mustard dressing, marinated overnight and then feta and mint tossed through the next day….or…. cut in small ‘sticks’ and mixed with shreds of capsicum, long bean sprouts cut in similar lengths, lots of parsley, some spring onion and your favourite dressing. Other sprouted seeds can be added for crunch (mung, blue pea, etc).

Strawberry Marshmallow Margaret Long

  • 3 tbsp icing sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla essence
  • 300 ml cream
  • 1 punnet strawberries
  • 180g pink and white marshmallows

Whip cream with icing sugar and vanilla essence, add chopped strawberries half melt marshmallows in two batches in microwave and add.

The secret to the success of this recipe is to partially melt some of the marshmallows, thus creating pink swirls and leaving some marshmallow pieces. If the marshmallows become too warm the texture of the cream will change. Takes about 10 seconds for each batch in the microwave.



About Frensham

Our relaxed country garden started twenty nine years ago. In the early days I had very little gardening experience and no vision for the site, but an interest in plants was quickly developing. Over the years, with much trial and error, a garden has emerged which we and our visitors do enjoy.

© Frensham. All rights reserved.

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139 Old Tai Tapu Rd, Christchurch 8025, New Zealand
+64 3 3228 061

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