Start celebrating Christmas here with an eclectic mix of passionate people selling tasty treats, stocking fillers, decorations and special presents to suit every pocket.

  • Katy Cox’s Mighty Fine Things include locally sourced homemade fruit liqueurs, preserves and Christmas goodies. Lots of seasonal tastes and ideal presents.
  • Rune, The Norse Baker bakes fab biscuits and sources vintage goodies to bring a Scandi twist to your celebrations. 

  • Hiroko Aono-Bilson is textile artist using antique fabrics to make kimonos and scarves. And an addictive collection of handmade soft toys.
  • Cranbrook Iron make bespoke ironwork for home and garden, from firebowls to Christmas tree decorations, with lots to tempt avid gardeners.

  • Elizabeth Harbour is Country Living Magazine’s craft’s ideas person. She’ll be bringing handpainted wooden decorations and handprinted cards and wrapping paper.

  • Kate-Beth March is a beekeeper who’ll be selling her wax products, plus delicious chocolates, Christmas puds and cakes. Also Tobi Schwenn’s stolen and biscuits.

  • Odds and ends I think you’ll like from The Kitchen Garden. The usual eclectic mix: vintage, garden and kitchen stuff, plus books at rock-bottom prices .    

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I’ll also be selling hardly- used gardening books I’ve reviewed at reduced prices. 

Funds will go to help the Whitstable Calais Solidarity Group, as will proceeds from refreshments: glasses of mulled wine and homemade cakes and biscuits.

    Email me at if you need to know more.



This is my favourite time of the year, and a bright October is a bonus. The summer’s drought has broken, plants have a brief new lease of life before the frosts and we all bask in that mellow low light that increases endorphins and shows the garden off at its best.

Try and brave the spiders’ webs every morning to pick what’s ripe and ready, and warn your friends you’ll be a pop-up greengrocer for the next few weeks, even if it’s only endless bags of cooking apples. No eggs though, my hens are moulting their pretty plumage and eating me out of house and home as they hoover up extra protein to feather up in time for the colder weather.


I’ve started collecting leaves and seedheads and we have a date for this year’s Christmas Shopping day: Sunday December 3 rd . I also have a publication date for my new book The Garden Farmer (Square Peg) on December 7 th . I’m really looking forward to both. Keep in touch via twitter and my new instagram posts.


If things get out of hand and you find high summer overtakes your garden, try these small gardens. Alpines grow imperceptively slowly, creeping across their containers, round shells, driftwood and pebbles, creating tiny landscapes, like the first gardens children make at nursery school. I buy or scavenge old metal filing drawers, troughs or sinks, anything low and shallow, fill them full of plants and beachcombings, and keep them in the rain shadow of a fence slightly on the tilt so they don’t get waterlogged.

Although you’ll probably start with the search for an attractive container, for the plants, the most important element is the soil. Make sure you have plenty of drainage holes then scatter the base with crocks. Half fill with John Innes soil-based compost no 3 mixed with grit (I like silver Cornish grit) to keep it open and free draining. Pop in your plants and populate the spaces in between with favourite shells, fossils and driftwood.

I prefer the textured foliage plants, like mossy raoulias, cushions of sagina, ferny Leptinella squalida ‘Platt’s Black’ – a chocolate brown carpeting alpine; saxifrage ‘Bob Hawkins’, sedums acre elegans and spatheulifolium; sempervivums and thymes, the ones with tiny leaves and minute flowers, like T. ‘Hartington Silver’ and ‘Bertram Anderson’.

Once settled, these tiny delights need little care or comfort, just shelter from winter rains. A small pitched roof will keep the showers off, but still allow plenty of ventilation – imagine Swiss alpine conditions.


Container gardening isn’t easy. You have to look after your plants, feed them weekly and water them regularly, because they’re entirely at your mercy and won’t flourish if you don’t keep a close eye on them.

Getting down to basics, the compost nurseries use works well getting the plants to sale, but is used to being regularly misted, sprayed and kept constantly moist. The minute it dries out it sets into a waterproof brick that can only be re-constituted by plunging the whole plant into a bucket overnight. So I shake the plant out of its pot and re-pot in a more open peat-free compost with added grit.

I usually line the base of the pot with a square of weed control fabric to discourage ants, then add crocks for extra drainage. If the container is really enormous, I’ll put in chunks of polystyrene packaging before adding my new compost. After planting, I usually sprinkle the surface with horticultural grit to discourage vine weevils.

Watering early morning with a cup of tea or late in the evening with a glass of wine (for me, not the plants) is a relaxing way to start or end the day, and a weekly water with diluted plant feed should encourage your flowers to bloom. Make sure you position your pots to their best advantage and keep plants that enjoy shade out of sunlight.


I collect containers for fun. Metal, wood, clay, terracotta or even plastic. Every car boot sale, junk shop, skip and yard sale is my hunting ground, and matching them with their plant inhabitant is one of the most pleasurable aspects of container gardening. First make sure you can make drainage holes if you intend to plant straight into them, rather than use as a cache-pot and put a plastic pot inside them. Place your container on the lawn to cushion it, then using a mallet and a Phillips head screw driver, bash a couple of drainage holes in the bottom. An electric drill works too.

Apart from succulents (see my blog for September 2016), I love grasses in pots, salvias, astelias, agapanthus, cordylines, bulbs and herbs in pots. Anything in pots virtually, and the great thing is, the minute they’re past their best you can move them out of the way and bring something else centre stage.

PS. A big thank you to the 1000 or so visitors who came to our Whitstable Open Gardens for the NGS.

We raised about £4500 for the NGS and £1000 for our local community garden. Thank you to the ten participating gardeners, cake bakers and the Yellow Balloon gardens.


I’m not a great fan of pastels. Of course the garden looks pretty in the spring frothy with blossom and pale bulbs, but as the year moves on, I need a punchier hit of colour. That’s why the backbone of my spring garden is euphorbia with its acid green bracts and strong shapes: wulfennii and mellifera in the border, robbiae in the woodland and myrsinitis in pots. And acid green looks good with the strong maroons and burnt oranges of wallflowers, with dark tulips and purple/black elder foliage.

Wandering round my garden (a regular occurrence with pre-NGS nerves), I’ve noticed how much strong colour comes from foliage: caramel Rhus cotinus, lime or flame spirea, dark lysimachia ciliate, cut elderflower and the pretty heart-shaped leaves of the Judas tree, sprinkled with fuschia buds. Even some of the dreaded multi-coloured heucheras are acceptable as ground cover, though bugle (Ajuga reptans) now comes in a good range of leaf colour with bright blue spires.

In the flower department I love my dark velvet iris with chance honesty seedlings; wallflowers with spirea foliage and sedum rosettes; and bright blue forget-me-nots with ‘Black Parrot ‘ tulips. And they all look good in vases in the kitchen too. My bantam hens fit in perfectly with this colour scheme and are enjoying their new-found freedom in the garden after their four months’ imprisonment in the run.

Ten gardens are opening for the NGS in Whitstable this year on May 21st, including three new ones: a beachcomber’s garden, a seaside roof garden and a plantsperson’s garden in an ex-pub. We’re opening three weeks earlier this year to give another picture of the gardens, but the vagaries of the weather may mean that they look pretty similar.


March is charted by the bursting of buds. From the earliest flowering cherries to the last fruitful trees to blossom, the garden is a kaleidoscope of fluffy shades of white and pink, fit for a Disney princess. First to flower in my garden is the winter flowering cherry plum Prunus cerasifera with reddish leafbuds and palest pink blossom, beaten in the wild by the white wild bird cherry – P. avium.

None of the above needs special treatment, but I’m keeping an eagle eye on my apricot, watching to see how many bees are awake, and out and about in the pale spring sunshine. Bumble bees in their furry overcoats are usually the first to pollinate, so if they’re still hibernating from the bad weather, I’ll be out with my tiny artist’s paintbrush, transferring pollen from flower to flower so I’ll get lots of delicious apricots in summer.

In colder areas, it’s worth keeping an eye on weather forecasts too, so you’re ready to cover fragile blossom at night if there’s a nip in the air. Take the fleece off in the morning though so insects can do their job. Now’s a good time to make sure you have plenty of other early flowering plants around to attract your pollinators. Hellebores, pulmonaria, rosemary, bugle, crocus, and all the pussy willows look gorgeous and will tempt them into your garden.

Whatever you’re growing, think of the insects: the bees, moths, butterflies, caterpillars, hoverflies and beetles that eat pollen and nectar and will turn our garden into productive havens. Offer them year-round food, shelter and habitat, and somewhere they can safely drink.

Next to perform, hugging tight against my east-facing hedge are a trio of Japanese quinces (Chaenomeles) with big cup shaped pure white or terracotta flowers, turning later into large yellow fruits that are just as good for jelly as the glorious felty leaved standard quinces – Cydonia. My tree is just about to burst into leaf with big furry leaf buds and art deco flower buds that’ll open into saucer shaped palest blush flowers.

The apples, crabs and pears are still dormant, and I bring in any pruned branches so they can burst open on the kitchen table, but cherries shouldn’t be cut during winter or you’ll encourage disease in the cuts, You can snip away a few stems as the leaves start to open, but leave the rest till June. The plums, damsons and greengages will burst their buds in April, but some of my semi-wild damsons have become biennial croppers, having a rest between heavy fruiting years.

Valentine Flowers

The garden is coming to life.  Wandering round, I can see buds about to burst, catkins and pussy willow already in flower and hellebores flowering their socks off.  More or less safe in the knowledge that I won’t get a bouquet from elsewhere, I’m going to pick a bunch from the garden to cheer me up and believe the promise that spring really is just around the corner.

Just before Christmas I found a silvery punch bowl at the boot fair which despite having spent the intervening month or two out in the garden is still resolutely shiny. So I’ve bought a spray can of matt black metal car paint from Halfords – from a wide range of colours including Rover green and Fiesta yellow, and roughly sprayed the offending bling to make it look tarnished.

A really big bunch of twigs would need a stone in the base of its vase to stop it toppling over. I filled the interior with a ball of scrunched up chicken wire so I could safely position my stems and went off into the garden, armed with secateurs to see what I could pick.

From memory of my mother’s Constance Spry flower arrangements – you need a framework of tall stems, then texture, a little scent, colour and trailers. I picked in threes, cutting woody stems at an angle. Flowering cherry in neat tight bud, pussy willow and hazel catkins for the framework; fern leaves and euphorbia for texture; rosemary and Viburnum bodnantense for scent and colour; hellebores and Arum italicum pictum for interest and trailing Clematis cirrhosa, the season’s most lovely flower.

I filled the bowl with water (ideally it should be refreshed every day) and covered the chicken wire with a handful of moss from the bottom of the garden. I’m looking forward to seeing all the buds come to life and watching the season come and go on my kitchen table. Will tweet as the bunch develops.