Growbag Blog

Our 2023 garden successes … and failures

As we close one year and start the next, we’re sharing which garden plants and projects got the thumbs up from each of us in 2023. 

Luckily for Caroline we’re also prepared to ‘fess up’ about the plants that failed and which projects sank without trace, so she shouldn’t be short of material for this week’s blog.


Success no 1. Growing mistletoe from seed.
It’s lucky that our phone photos carry the date they were taken or I wouldn’t have remembered that it was back in spring 2020 that Elaine gave me some ripe mistletoe seeds from her plentiful supply in Normandy. Smearing them onto the branches of our apple trees they soon appeared to ‘root’ into their host tree. Then nothing, zilch, until now, late 2023 when the first little stems and leaves have popped through. Very exciting!

So pleased was I with my mistletoe project that I made a little film about- the link to the film is at the end of the blog

Success no 2 Sowing a pictorial meadow. This was a project to celebrate the crowning of King Charles III. Choosing a patch of ground which had previously been a soft fruit area meant the soil was too rich for a native wild flower meadow so we went instead for a ‘Pictorial Meadow’ seed mix, consisting of a mix of colourful, pollinator friendly annuals from around the world that bloom in sequence all summer long. Sown over the Coronation Bank Holiday weekend, this little meadow has given us so much joy that I’m planning to put together another YouTube tutorial on how we went about it so others can have a patch of magic like this too. It’s our feature picture at the top of the blog today.

Failure – Growing Clematis armandii in a pot. It all looked so promising for the first couple of years …. always succumbing to frost outside I put two big pots of C. armandii in my glasshouse where they flowered beautifully to start with. But these are real beasts and the watering required to sustain their rampant growth defeated me. I’ve cut the dead top growth to ground level and dropped the roots into a pit behind the garage praying for a resurrection, but as yet my prayers have gone unanswered.

Clematis armandii
What was I thinking? That little pot was never going to be big enough …


I told Laura that would happen. Would she listen? My Clematis armandii (okay, it is on the balmy south coast) is a monster with ambitions on gardens several doors down and needs a machete job every 2-3 years.

Success 1. A cottage garden that lives up to the name. The cottage garden finally looking like it’s supposed to. Sisyrinchiums, foxgloves, clematis and roses all doing the correct thing in June and July. It probably had much more to do with 2023’s generally soggy climatic conditions than anything I did, but I’ll claim it.

Halleluia! The cottage garden vision finally came together

Success 2: A Catalpa to be proud of. A Catalpa tree is most often grown for its magnificently huge leaves, achieving by pollarding it. If you don’t do that, and have the space for a big tree, the reward is a stunningly beautiful summer display of foxglove flowers on every branch, luring bees and other pollinators for miles around. I’m so glad I left the loppers in the shed for this one.

Absolutely amazing flowers on the Catalpa this summer – SO glad I didn’t pollard it

Failures; apples, grapes, wildflower meadow, a particular rose……..

Failures in the garden in 2023 are legion- not a single eating apple produced, and barely a grape (because I didn’t find time to prune them in winter as I should have done).

This is what the apple harvest was supposed to look like – not a single fruit this year

My ‘wildflower area’ didn’t get going at all really – I hadn’t cleared the ground enough before the seeds and plantlets went in – can you see Laura nodding smugly at this point? Most disappointing of all this year, I’ve tried growing Rose ‘Mutabilis’ in all sorts of places in my garden, and haven’t found anywhere it’s comfortably flourishing yet. Soooo irritating when even Caroline’s is a happy bunny.


I’ll take any plaudits going for my beautiful Rosa ‘Mutabilis’ although in truth I simply stuck it in the ground – the rest is its very own achievement!

I’d also like to cautiously claim a gold star for my ornamental grasses. When the lovely Sue Kent from Gardeners World confided to us last year that she hadn’t, at that time, tried growing grasses because she didn’t know enough about them, I wondered briefly if I should be worried about my own total ignorance. But, never one to allow my cluelessness to hamper my enthusiasm, I’ve been planting them like there’s no tomorrow – Stipa, Calamagrostis, Pennisetum, Miscanthus etc in the hope of achieving some lovely frosted shapes in the winter. So far I’m delighted with them – they’ve withstood Storms A-Z , and do indeed look spectacular with the sparkling rime of a Highland frost on them.

So far so good, I’m delighted with the winter appearance of my new grasses

The pride with which I might record another success – my rambling rose ‘Veilchenblau’ – is tinged with anxiety. Arriving as a squashed and tiny cutting in a box of goodies from Elaine in 2021 it has, this year, leapt into action in a wonderful if slightly alarming way.

It’s been flinging out flowers, plus a battery of four-foot stems, like confetti. I cut it back quite firmly in late summer but I can feel it trembling with the anticipation of doubling its size again at the first opportunity. Slightly intimidating for the hobby gardener but really a marvellous performance.…

Rosa Veilchenblau
Rosa ‘Veilchenblau’ blooms may look like fragile ballerinas but they are simply a beautiful cover for the hefty rugby player that lurks beneath.

Finally, I’m 100% running up the white flag with my lemon tree. For three years I’ve moved it in and out of my greenhouse, sprayed it with neem oil, scrubbed scale insects from its leaves, wrapped it in fleece, fed it special food, all but taken it to bed with me… to absolutely no avail.

It hasn’t afforded me bragging rights for a single gin and tonic.

If it sprouts at all in the spring I’ll donate it to a proper gardener (grudgingly I admit this might have to be Laura who is coming down with home-grown lemons 😤), but I fancy it’s already relocated itself to the great compost heap in the sky. 
What were your 2023 successes and failures – we’d love to know!

Here’s the video on ‘How to grow mistletoe from seed’ .

And if you wanted to order a starter pack for your own mistletoe project The English Mistletoe Shop is the way forward (they even do gift cards – what more perfect Valentine’s Day present could a gardener wish for?)

Meanwhile Louise is enjoying the winter flowers on a tree she first spotted in a National Trust garden. Click on the box below to find out what it is.

Parrotia persica

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By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

9 replies on “Our 2023 garden successes … and failures”

Could you tell me a bit more about the Pictorial flower mix? I am renovating an area of my garden that previously was home to hens and is therefore pretty rich. Long term I am thinking of a small prairie style garden but need to reduce the fertility of the soil.
I enjoy your blogs and look forward to reading more next year. Thanks very much

Hello Katy,
Thanks for getting in touch. The beauty of a Pictorial Meadow is that it seems to thrive on rich soil, but the secret to success is to start with a clean seedbed. This can be achieved by allowing all the weed seeds to germinate first, then hoeing them out on a hot day so your Pictorial Meadow seeds don’t have to compete with them. There are several different mixes to choose from so it’s best to have a browse through their website at (sorry you can’t actually paste links as such in these comments so you’ll have to type this into google) I’ve also made a video record of how we went about ours, which I’m planning to turn into a short film, and your interest has spurred me on to do this in the next few weeks, so watch this space! Best wishes Laura

Hi Katy
Can I also chip in and say that I used a pictorial meadow seed mix sowed during the first lockdown. I took up the turf, and put down a clean top soil along with a layer of sand to reduce some of the soil fertility. It flowed magnificently that first year and continued to give me several years of interest. I planted some camassia bulbs into mine as well.
I will say though that the annuals obviously didn’t come back the second year although I had some self seeders and I did end up with a lot of daisies- the large ones- my brain has forgotten the name! But a huge success and definitely worth trying!

A big THANKS to you ALL, you’ve provided relaxed fun, banter and of course great ideas and entertainment throughout the year. I might not have commented to many of your blogs, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t appreciated them. I acknowledge you must have spent good time and energy in organising the subject matter, to enrich (or remind me) what to do, as well as today, “failures”. May you all keep well, happy and active throughout 2024 and ….. PEACE to yourselves and throughout the world!! With LOVE, Sxx

Scott how absolutely lovely to hear from you again – we were wondering if you were OK (or if you’d got bored of us 😱!) What lovely compliments. Yes it does take quite a bit of time to put it all together every week, but we have great fun doing it, and so enjoy hearing from other gardeners like yourself. It feels like an extended family. Yes, when we were little we didn’t think there would be any more wars because the lessons had been learned. It’s sad to think how naive we were, but like you, we continue to hope one day it might be the case. Wish you, too, a very happy 2024 Scott XXXX

A very happy new year, Laura, Elaine and Caroline. Thanks for all your blogs in 2023. Good gardening in 2024. Very best wishes – Roger

Thank you Roger – you’ve been such a great supporter of the blog right from our early days. It’s so nice to think of all our friends and followers dipping into our lives every Saturday morning and keeping in touch with us this way.
Have a very Happy New Year ! Laura x

So glad to have found your refreshing blog. Thank you! Here’s to a joyful 2024 to Laura, Elaine and Caroline in their gardens!
I’m curious to know what the mystery winter flowering NT tree is- the link appears to be broken…

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