Kim Wilde answers your gardening questions.
Our lawn is flanked on one side by trees and shrubs. Some are as high as a house, so the grass hardly grows. How can we improve its quality?
I would be tempted to throw in the towel as far as grass goes, and plant dry- and shade-tolerant plants. Epimedium * perralchicum, Liriope muscari, Euphorbia amygdaloides var robbiae and Bergenia all provide evergreen ground cover, while Geranium phaeum, G. sylvaticum and G. macrorrhizum will give you pretty flowers. If, however, you are decided on grass, British Seed Houses (0800 328 8276, lawn-care-tips.co.uk) has developed So-Green, a grass-seed mix which it claims is shade-proof and drought-resistant. Its Shaded Lawn seed mix is designed to produce a lawn that withstands both wet and dry conditions in a shaded area. Sow lawn seed in early autumn or spring, making sure you have first eradicated all weeds and prepared the area as directed.
Can you recommend sunflower varieties for cutting and displaying ?
Helianthus (sunflower) was the flower my husband Hal wore in his lapel at the opening night of Tommy (the musical where we met). We married six months later. Since then, it has had a place in my 'favourite flower' category, and the children grow them from seed each spring. Though associated with the sun, sunflowers are surprisingly tolerant of partial shade, even thriving at the foot of large trees.
The 16th-century herbalist John Gerard claimed the buds, boiled and eaten like artichokes with butter, vinegar and pepper, made 'an exceeding pleasant meat, surpassing the artichoke far in procuring bodily lust'. All species (the family includes H. tuberosus, the Jerusalem artichoke) flower from late summer to early autumn, attracting bees and finches, which feed on the seeds. Good ones for cutting include 'Red Sun', with its big red flowers, and H. debilis 'Pan', which has numerous 10cm-wide golden-yellow blooms with dark centres. Chiltern Seeds (01229 581137, Mchilternseeds.co.uk) has a wide choice.