31. May 2020 by Isabelle Van Groeningen

The Queen has arrived: the rose season has started

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Wurzelhaus-Roothouse Roses © Isabelle Van Groeningen

Flagge Deutschland für deutsche Übersetzung – Zur deutschen Version – Having taken a strong dislike to roses very early on in life, it took many years before I accepted them back. I still don’t think they make a great contribution to the garden as a plant,  unless they are in flower, or covered in rosehips.  They rarely have a good shape, mostly their form is ruined through pruning, and with time they develop stout, prickly stems with knobbly  joints where they have been pruned in the past.

Our tender treasures

Rosa 'Bengal Crimson' - roses © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Rosa ‘Bengal Crimson’

Saying all that, I have been enjoying these past weeks being greeted by one familiar sight after the other, as the season slowly comes into full swing. At the Garden Academy there are two not very hardy China roses I brought over from my previous garden in English which have been tucked into the most sheltered corner. Here they have established well. They get severely knocked by frost in the harder winters during the past 12 years, but the recent mild winters have been very kind to them.  Both are single, relatively small flowered, but for that they are very profuse and particularly the red ‘Bengal Crimson’ will, in a mild climate, flower all year round. We are not that lucky, but, having flowered up to Christas, she took only about 3 months off before starting again.

Coopers Burmese taking off - roses © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Coopers Burmese taking off

Similarly, the first scattering of flowers has already faded on ‘Mutabilis’ which starts off pink fading to apricot as the flowers mature. I prefer not to prune these shrubs, and let them become tall (2m or more), slightly unruly shrubs, with great character. Next to those is another tender special climber ‘Coopers Burmese’ (Rosa laevigata ‘Cooperi’) with large single white flowers and glossy dark green leaves. The hope is that it will cover the roof of building one day, its strong new shoots are promising.

Rosa laevigata 'Cooperi' - roses © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Rosa laevigata ‘Cooperi’

The great dames

Great Dames meet - roses © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Great Dames meet

The root house is reaching its peak at the moment. The South-easterly façade has been slowly covered by three totally different climbers. Central stage is a very blousy, large flowered semi-double Rosa ‘Madame Grégoire Staechelin’. Pink and strongly scented, she is always the first. Though only once-flowering, she produces huge rosehips in the autumn.

Rosa 'Madame Grégoire Staechelin' - roses © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Rosa ‘Madame Grégoire Staechelin’

Similar in character is ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’, probably my favourite climber. When not pruned too hard, she is always one of the first climbers to start flowering, and will continue to produce her large, loosely filled creamy coloured flowers that are heavenly scented into the autumn. She is a large climber, in need of a tall wall.

Kletterrosen: Rosa 'Madame Alfred Carriere' - roses© Isabelle van Groeningen
Rosa ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’
Mad Alf! Rosen © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Mad Alf!

Roses with nodding flowerheads

Peopl are sometimes quick to  criticise some of the David Austin hybrids as some tend to let their heads nod down. Both the above two Dames tend to do so too, and for a climbing rose, this is actually a great benefit as you can look up into the flower, rather than up its back side.

Therefore, a climbing ‘Graham Thomas’ is just the right plant to grow up an arch or a pillar.

Dainty climbers

Rosa 'Guirlande d'amour' © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Rosa ‘Guirlande d’amour’

On the righthand corner of the roothouse is ‘Climbing Cécile Brunner’ in total contrast to the large blousy dames. Her charming miniature pale pink rosebuds open into fluffily filled, deliciously scented small pompoms. These dainty flowers belie her true character: in reality she is quite a beast. With great vigour she will produce strong new dark red shoots generously covered with thorns. She requires quite a bit of pruning to keep her under control (and she’s quite a prickly candidate!) On the opposite corner of the building, is another vigorous Rose – this one a repeat-flowering rambler: The white, filled ‘Guirlande d’Amour’. She is always a few weeks later than the other two, starting when ‘Madame Grégoire Staechelin’ is nearing the end.

Rosa 'Cécile Brunner' - roses © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Rosa ‘Cécile Brunner’

I apologize if you think I am repeating myself – I have written about some of these roses in the past, but they never fail to charm me so that I have to share them with you in the hope of convincing you to plant them. There are more roses coming into flower in the coming weeks so that more Blogs will be dedicated to them!

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24. May 2020 by Isabelle Van Groeningen

Chelsea Chop and the Flowershow

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Our Garden, Chelsea 2007 Chelsea Flower Show © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Our Garden, Chelsea 2007

Flagge Deutschland für deutsche Übersetzung – Auf Deutsch lesen – This week I would have been in London for the annual Chelsea Flower Show, but as with all large events worldwide, this too was cancelled. It has long been the main event in the gardening calendar for many gardeners.  The very first Great Spring Show took place in 1862 at the Society’s Gardens in Chiswick in West London, but in 1888 it was moved into the city at the Inner Temple by the Thames.  In 1913 it moved once more to the Royal Hospital Grounds in Chelsea along the river embankment. Only during World War 1 and 2 were the annual shows cancelled, until now.

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17. May 2020 by Isabelle Van Groeningen

Popping poppies

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Mohnblumen - meconopisis cambrica 'Frances Perry' © Isabelle van Groeningen
Poppies – meconopisis cambrica ‘Frances Perry’

Flagge Deutschland für deutsche Übersetzung Auf Deutsch lesen – This is such a difficult time of year for me! Although I quite often sit in bed on Friday mornings, wondering what to write about, it is rarely so hard as it is right now. In the depth of winter it may be difficult to find a suitable subject, but right now it is hard to decide what not to write about. It is all so beautiful and exciting!

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10. May 2020 by Isabelle Van Groeningen

Mind travels

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Flagge Deutschland für deutsche Übersetzung – Zur deutschen Version – Even though movement is restricted at the moment, nothing prohibits our minds from roaming around the world. Walking through my own garden, observing plants emerging in spring, coming into flower or turning into a glowing autumn display, often evokes memories associated with this plant.  Certain plants always remind me of particular gardens I have visited in the past. As the plants are seasonal, the mental visits to these gardens are defined by seasons. Continue Reading →

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03. May 2020 by Isabelle Van Groeningen

Green is the colour of spring

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Beech in spring © Isabelle van Groeningen

Beech in spring time

Flagge Deutschland für deutsche Übersetzung Zur deutschen Version – The awakening of nature has always brought great joy to my life. Even though I have come to love autumn with its glorious colours, it is this time of year that excites me most. The first enchanting rush of small, delicate bulbs and early, mostly shade-loving perennials is over.  It is now replaced by the exhilarating emerging of trees and shrubs. Some are early risers, others take their time. Continue Reading →

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25. April 2020 by Isabelle Van Groeningen


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Vole or mole

Voles or moles?

Flagge Deutschland für deutsche Übersetzung Zur deutschen Version – Few gardeners will ever qualify to become a Buddhist. On numerous occasions I have had murderous thoughts. I have been annoyed by slugs eating treasured plants, even devastating entire lettuce crops. Vineweevil grubs that sneakily eat away at the fleshy roots of my favourite auricula primulas frustrate me. But most dispiriting of all are destructive voles: Like the damage inflicted by vineweevil grubs, one does not see the destruction caused until it is too late. The disappointment is huge when the eagerly awaited springtime bulb display does not appear, or you find that as the snow finally melts, the roots of the ornamental grasses haven been shaven away. I have seen long-established fruit bushes keel over as the roots were missing, and mature apple trees die.

Voles threaten the most beautiful garden © Isabelle van Groeningen

Voles threaten the most beautiful garden

Voles or Moles?

It can be difficult to tell the difference between these two creatures that cause havoc in beds and lawns. Both dig underground tunnels and create little soil heaps which make paths uneven and lawns unsightly. Moles are comparatively harmless as they are meat eaters.  They feast on earthworms and other soil-dwelling creatures. Voles on the other hand are vegetarian. They love tasty, fleshy roots such as carrots and tulips but also have a soft spot for roses and many herbaceous perennials. Under German law moles are protected and it is forbidden to kill or disturb them, whereas voles may be eradicated.

How do you tell the difference between moles and voles?



It rare you see the creatures, and when you do, they tend to be so fast that you don’t have time to notice much details. Moles are larger, dark grey-black in colour and have rather sweet-looking pink paddle-like paws they use for tunneling, whereas voles look much more like a mouse.

It is easier to tell the difference by looking at the heaps: that of a mole tends to be higher and conical, whereas a vole’s is flatter, more spread out and often contain plant debris.

Vole’s tunnels are narrower, more upright, devoid of roots, those dug by the paddling feet of a mole tend to be wider than high. Put a piece of carrot in one of the tunnels: if it gets eaten you’ll know your guest is vegetarian.

How to deal with them

If they are in your garden, they often are an eternal problem – one couple can produce as many as 100 offspring in a year, as the babies become sexually active one month after birth… The moral of the story: start your eradication campaign as soon as possible.  I used to have cats with a good hunting instinct, that kept sharp-teethed pests like rabbits and voles at bay. As the cats got older, I noticed the damage gradually increased. I can imagine that certain breeds of dog may also be effective at catching the little critters.

You can set traps, baited with tasty carrots, or I find a cooked potato also works. There are live traps, which are more humane, but leave you with the problem of where to dispose of the unwanted garden guest. You cannot throw him (or her) across the fence – they will come back and it would severely damage neighbourly relations. We use a guillotine-like contraption which is inserted into the tunnels. It is quite effective, and is fast and painless. Ordinary mousetraps also work.

There are various noise contraptions, mostly battery-operated, that you insert into the ground that are meant to disperse them. They produce a high-pitch or a buzzing sound which apparently they do not like. I find these extremely irritating, and the animals do not really seem all that bothered by them. A robot mower can also work, as it is constantly on the move and causes vibrations in the soil. However this may be more effective at chasing moles out of your lawn, than voles in the middle of the border. There is also poison, though this should really be a last resort. I have heard of somebody regularly fishing drowned voles out of her water feature. Despite an animal-friendly ramp, that helps hedgehogs, mice and other garden visitors to escape the water, voles never seem to manage and drown. I have also heard a client praising small solar-powered garden lamps, that provide faint light at night, which assists owls in their search for food.

Whatever you use, it is best to wear gloves and avoid contact with trap and bait: they have a very good sense of smell!

Which plants survive?

Over the years I have been experimenting with various plants in a garden that is particularly infested with voles. Looking at the original plan of the herbaceous border, very few plants survive. Catmints, ladies mantle and Geranium ‘Rozanne’ are still there. The roses are trying hard. Phlox is also still there, but lovely asters like A. frikartii ‘Mönch’ has long gone. I keep experimenting. As a new plant goes in, an old one gets eaten away. Although I tend to see the disappearance of a plant as a positive thing, as it makes space for something new, in this case, my patience is wearing very thin.

Voles don't like Nepeta 'Walkers Low' © Isabelle van Groeningen

Nepeta ‘Walkers Low’

Rethink your approach to planting in vole-infested gardens

Monarda 'Ou Charm' © Isabelle van Groeningen

Monarda ‘Ou Charm’

I have learnt that the plants which under normal circumstances could become troublesome are ideal in these gardens. Self-seeders and runners stand the greatest chance of survival.  There are numerous opportunists that like to self-seed in vacant spaces. Foxgloves, Welsh Poppies, Astrantia, Thalictrum, Aquilegias and Hollyhocks will germinate in gaps and fill the spaces. With runners I mean plants with invasive rootsystems. These have a better chance of survival. Several asters will oblige, as will Leucanthemella serotina and Monarda.

Orange & gelbe Meconopsis cambrica © Isabelle van Groeningen

Orange & yellow Meconopsis cambrica

Plants worth trying:

Not this list is not definitive, and I do not guarantee they will never touch them. After all, us humans do not all share the same taste either!

(*means the plant will tolerate a shadier position)


  • Aconitum iS.*
  • Alcea iS.
  • Alchemilla mollis
  • Aster ‘Le Vaterival’, A. laevis,  A. pringlei ‘Monte Cassino’, A. ageratoides *
  • Astrantia iS.*
  • Baptisia australis
  • Centaurea dealbata
  • Delphinium iS.
  • Digitalis purpurea*
  • Doronicum ‘Little Leo’*
  • Epimedium iS.*
  • Eupatorium atropurpureum
  • Euphorbia iS.
  • Geranium iS.*
  • Hemerocallis iS.
  • Hosta iS.*
  • Iberis sempervirens
  • Iris iS.
  • Ligularia iS.
  • Meconopsis cambrica*
  • Monarda iS.
  • Nepeta ‘Walkers Low`
  • Omphalodes verna*
  • Phlox iS.
  • Rudbeckia iS.
  • Sedum iS.
  • Thalictrum iS.
  • Veronicastrum virginicum
  • Vinca minor*


  • Anemone nemorosa*
  • Convallaria majalis*
  • Eranthis hyemalis *
  • Narcissus iS.


  • Amelanchier lamarckii
  • Euonymus iS.
  • Hydrangea iS.
  • Rhododendron iS.
  • Viburnum iS.

What about roses in vole-infested gardens?

Rosa spinosissima © Isabelle van Groeningen

Rosa spinosissima

Roses are difficult as they seem to taste particularly good. We have observed voles jump into the wire cage used to protect the roots of a freshly planted rose.

vorne rechts Rosa 'Chrales de Mills' © Isabelle van Groeningen

‘Chrales de Mills’

The same rule seems to apply to roses as for perennials, those that sucker stand a better chance.

Unbekannte historische Rosen © Isabelle van Groeningen

Old rose – sadly nameless

We have an lovely old (sadly nameless) variety, once flowering and strongly scented, that thrives despite the fully hollowed out soil. The voles, rather than killing it, keep it in check and stop it from spreading all over the garden.  I can imagine that the beautiful historic rose  ‘Charles de Mills’ which I adored until I discovered what a pest it had become as its roots spread all over the border, would be perfect. The sweet little spinosissima varieties and the beautiful repeat flowering ‘Stanwell Perpetual’ should also be worth a try.

Rosa Stanwell Perpetual © Isabelle van Groeningen

Rosa Stanwell Perpetual


I can understand people’s despair at such vicious attacks on their beloved plants. Feeling helpless as they watch their hard work being destroyed. But do not despair. Do not give up. Take stock of what works and develop this, rather than trying to achieve the impossible. Good Luck!

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19. April 2020 by Isabelle Van Groeningen

Holiday at home

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Under palm trees... Mediterraner Urlaub © Isabelle van Groeningen

Under palm trees..

Flagge Deutschland für deutsche Übersetzung Zur deutschen Version – Many have already decided that 2020 will be the year for holidaying at home. Why not? You don’t have to worry about a stressful journey, whether the bed will be as comfortable as your own, if the food will be nice. The biggest concern for many is who will look after the plants? Continue Reading →

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