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March - the secrets of a well-organised garden

Updated: Mar 27

With dense planting and self-seeding key features of Gasper Cottage, during its full summer glory the garden billows and overflows in a way that feels soft, wild, and natural. Visitors are likely to contemplate the skilled balance of colour, texture, and form; to appreciate the use of the light and surrounding landscape. What they probably don’t come away thinking is “there must be an awful lot of record-keeping and paperwork involved in that place” …!

In actual fact, it takes a lot of planning and analysis to look so effortless, and the garden could not be sustained without the meticulous behind the scenes work of both Bella and Jack in this respect. With March marking the start of seed-sowing season, the importance of well-kept records is felt now more than ever – particularly on the scale at which Gasper Cottage operates. Showing flagrant disregard for the current perennial-only trends, the splendour of annuals continues to be celebrated here where masses are woven anew each year through the permanent backbone of shrubs, perennials, and bulbs. This year sees Jack sowing thirty-five different annual species/ varieties, which will amount to around a thousand individual plants to be grown on and planted out. Added to this are thirty-seven new perennial species for the Forest Garden to be grown from seed, which again is expected to produce around a thousand new plants.

Without a well-organised system in place, the process would quickly descend into chaos. We therefore felt now a good moment to share some of the hidden yet vital inner workings of the garden at Gasper Cottage. Yes, there are Excel spreadsheets, and no, it’s not deadly boring (we promise!).



“I have always enjoyed the intellectual challenge of planning the garden” says Bella, who, in a nod to her banking background, has developed her own unique style of spreadsheet-based planting plan. “Making each cell square enables a ‘plan’ to be drawn, and the required plants to be counted. Incredibly nerdy, and probably not a system recommended by schools of garden design, but I like Excel!”.

Example of a planting plan from the transformation of the Front Garden in 2019

Corresponding plant list


A garden inventory

With the best part of a thousand different plant varieties in the garden, it is important for Bella to keep records of their names, along with other key information.

“Obviously over the years there have been labels lost and impulsive garden centre purchases that have gone un-recorded. However, for the most part I keep on top of it, and the list now runs from the Abelia chinensis in the forest garden to a rather gorgeous orange zinnia on line 851, which Jack propagates from seed each year.”


“The goal is to one day link this list to the interactive garden map on the Gasper Cottage website, so that visitors can have instant access to the names of the plants they're seeing in front of them. Watch this space…!”.

The interactive map currently


Propagation log

For Jack’s part, maintaining detailed records of seeds and cuttings is vital for improving the efficiency of the garden each year. Take seed-sowing, for example – rather than follow the widespread advice to ‘get ahead’ and sow everything the moment spring arrives, by observing germination and growth rates he has been able to develop a more measured, tailored approach. Sowing times are now finely tuned to correspond with his workload later in the year. He explains “there’s no point sowing things too early or in too great a quantity, as it takes weeks and weeks to plant all the annuals out. Many of the faster-growing annuals such as cosmos can be in a bit of a state by the time you get to them if they’ve spent too long in the polytunnel”. Far better to work back from a realistic estimation of when things will get planted out; an evolution which has led him to sow cosmos in early May, as opposed to giving in to the rush of enthusiasm of late March.  

Seed sowing in action on the day of writing

Here's a few he did earlier, benefitting from bottom heat in the propagation unit

As the garden moves towards becoming completely peat-free, the quest to find an alternative compost has been another area requiring close observation and analysis. The worst – which shall remain nameless – was too rich for seedlings and had astonishingly uneven moisture retention (soggy at the bottom of the pot with a solid dry crust at the top) which severely hindered plant growth. Thankfully, a clear winner emerged in the shape of a fine bark, woodfibre, and coir blend from sustainable and ethical sources, which is now used for all propagation and potting. For anyone interested, this is... (drumroll)... Melcourt Sylvagrow.

Successful cuttings in Melcourt mixed with perlite. Those roots speak for themselves.  

It may not be glamorous or indeed what you might expect from somewhere with as much wild and natural beauty as Gasper Cottage, but the detailed plans, lists, notes, and logs are what make a garden like this possible.

If you were hoping for a less sensible and more poetic perspective on March, head over to Bella’s latest Youtube video, where she shares her thoughts on the unique feeling of the garden this month.








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