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I recently wrote an update on the difficulties faced by the Newton- Golding family, whose Northamptonshire house, formerly a farm, was surrounded by inches-thick concrete. They were looking for ways to transform the concrete into a garden. Diana Rothenstein from Braintree writes with an ingenious answer to the problem. Her garden is also made on the site of a concrete farmyard, though a sloping one. "I first built two little retaining walls, one at the bottom and one half-way up the slope. I have no masonry skills, so it was just bricks set side by side in a bit of cement with a few gaps left for the water to run through. Then I ordered two tons of pebbles. Not gravel; that's too fine. The pebbles I had are what they use as ballast in road building. It sounds a lot, but they were incredibly cheap, from a big builder's merchant. I trundled them through the garden and tipped them over the concrete and instantly it transformed itself into an interesting beach. I had some big flints dug up in the garden, and they went in too. Into this I have planted any little alpine or seashore plant simply by cutting the bottom off its pot and pushing it into the pebbles. Some of them have died. Others, such as hebe and thrift, have thrived year after year. I think the lesson I have learned is to keep the area absolutely soilless, so weeds don't grow."

The Alpine Garden Society is holding its summer show today (11.30am- 4.30pm) at Merrist Wood College, Worplesdon, Guildford, Surrey. There will be displays of saxifrage, campanulas, lewisias, orchids, dwarf daphnes, ferns, sedums and sempervivums. Admission pounds 1.

Portland roses, like the rich, warm pink `Comte de Chambord' and the fabulously scented `Rose de Rescht' were favourites of Napoleon's Empress Josephine. English Heritage is putting together the only complete collection of Portland roses in the country at Brodsworth Hall, its property in south Yorkshire. The roses were named after the Duchess of Portland, though they were first bred in France in the 1790s. As many as 23 varieties will be planted in the Quarry Garden where Brodsworth's first rose garden was created more than 100 years ago by head gardener, Samuel Taylor. Brodsworth Hall, six miles north west of Doncaster, is open Tues-Sun (12pm-6pm) Admission to garden, pounds 2.50 (house and garden combined, pounds 4.50).

Anna Pavord