Six on Saturday: Late Summer Stalwarts

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A Critical Eye, Part 2: Some Not-so-Positives

My critical eye has of late been observing the main herbaceous beds, the rose garden, the blue & white borders and the bold borders (see map under The Garden tab above) , although in truth I sometimes feel like averting my gaze altogether when walking past them as there are so many things to be dissatisfied with. It would be easy to dismiss this as a seasonal certitude, the result of a July/August lull in performance, and there will of course be an element of this, but living with the borders, knowing them as I do and especially knowing what has gone into them over the years, there is more to it than that.

I am sure I am not the only plantlover who aspires to borders stuffed to the gills throughout the spring and summer seasons, and admittedly when our open garden visitors were here in June the borders were indeed stuffed with foliage and awash to a middling-degree with blooms, but once the aquilegia and oriental poppies are over first the colour  and then the foliage decreases when they are cut back and gaps appear, gaps not filled by later flowering phlox and the like. But please note the word ‘stuffed’, which could explain where some of the dissatisfaction arises, as my efforts to stuff may have backfired.

In June, the airy appearance of aquilegia, alliums and astrantia and the like may well have given rise to a blowsy cottage garden feel in the main borders, but just as an array of tasty cakes, each appealing in their own right, does not make us yearn (not me, anyway) for a diet of cakes and nothing else, then so these borders need something more filling and substantial to keep them going, and rather less itty-bittyness too.  One of these borders has taken the plunge and jumped ship, going off on a tangent, the herbaceous element of the gallery border having been swopped for Rosa ‘The Pilgrim’ and R ‘England’s Rose’, mid and dark pink respectively, taking advantage of an increase in light after the removal of two trees last year:

This has worked and should only get better in time, perhaps assisted by appropriate underplanting, but much as I enjoy roses I don’t intend to oust the contents of all the borders and replace them with roses just to ensure continuity of flowering (like a permanent diet of one’s favourite meal).

Where do I go from here? I really don’t know, although contributing in a positive way has been the addition of annuals, potted on and grown to a reasonable size before being planted out once more able to hold their own. The bunny tails grass, Lagurus ovatus, has been a huge success over a very long period and the shorter cosmos, C Sonata, has done quite well too, whilst Antirrhinum ‘Liberty Classic Rose Pink’ is contributing now but takes such a long time to reach flowering size. Pots of lilies, stored out of the way in the fruit cage until in bud, have helped fill gaps as well, although finding a stable spot within stuffed borders is not always an easy task.

All the borders suffer to a degree with the variation in height of the existing contents, exacerbated to a degree by the narrowness of many of them, like the first of the blue & white beds shown below, which also suffers from a largely north facing aspect. Tall plants at the back and low ones at the front just doesn’t work when the borders are narrow.

This was particularly brought home to me this year by the success of Knautia macedonia ‘Red Alert’ in one of the three bold borders, with Salvia ‘Neon’ and Lychnis coronaria creating a soft wall of blooms next to the path at the right hand end, flowering from early June and still in full bloom now…

…whilst the other end is a rollercoaster in terms both of height and colour, particularly since the oriental poppies were cut back.

This and the adajacent bold border, also against the brick wall that separates the main garden from the fruit cage, greenhouse and cutting beds, are no more than a metre from front to back so there is no opportunity for a gradation in height and the imposing Stachys byzantina ‘Big Ears’ for example just doesn’t look right here although at least makes an impact, unlike less solid front-of-border plants.

The hanging baskets on the wall above these borders don’t work either, getting lost behind other plants and hard to reach or remember for watering; from next year, clematis will climb trellis against the wall instead.

The third bold border is squarer in shape but little more a 1.5 metre square, and sadly is dominated by over-exuberant herbaceous Clematis heraclifolia ‘New Love’ with its appealing ultra-marine blue flowers, supposedly with a height of 60-75cm but easily reaching a metre and requiring more staking than it actually gets to discourage the woody but still flexible stems from visiting the rest of the bed. Again, the edge-of-border plants just can’t compete with this new free love  business (see the intimate relationship with Clematis ‘Gipsy Queen’?) and, as with the other bold borders, where are those new plants I added last year?

Finally, for this part of the critical round-up of the garden, comes the rose garden, further revamped by brick edging to the ground level beds and terracing and the addition of new roses either side of the ‘bus shelter’. This has certainly boosted the original ground level beds which retain moisture and compost much better now, but the roses were bare rooted little over two years ago and still establishing themselves but were certainly much happier this year. The dedicated rose garden isn’t in the sunniest spot of the garden, but light levels were improved when the two trees were removed and the sun reaches it it for more of the day now, which will make for happier roses, and this was the justification for adding roses to the terracing. Planted as bare root specimens in the early months of this year I can forgive them their half-heartedness this season (photo shows just one half of the area, which is mirrored to the right) :

I have been reluctant to write this second part of my critique, recognising that despite throwing time and money at these borders I still haven’t got it right, perhaps trying to avoid acknowledging to myself just how many plants I have bought that haven’t thrived, and without being any closer to a solution. Perhaps I never will be ‘satisfied’, perhaps the garden will always ebb and flow with the seasons, with my changing taste in plants, with with my urges for new projects. Today’s post has proved useful in one respect though; as I wrote tongue-in-cheek about not filling ALL the borders with roses, it did occur to me that adding roses amongst the perennials in some of the borders could indeed add structure and fill some of the seasonal gaps…. Any such scheme would inevitably require judicious planning and most definitely the removal of some sitting tenants, but hurrah! it’s a positive amongst the not-sos!

To complete the round up there will also be a Part 3, the oddments and parts of the garden that don’t get seen as often but which, like Part 1, are likely to be mainly positive and therefore rarely see any changes, perhaps more of an enhancing rather than an improving. The broom will then have swept the whole garden, and even if only just a little bit cleaner then that’s got to be a good thing, surely?!

Posted in annuals, garden structure, Gardening, Gardens, herbaceous perennials, roses | 2 Comments

Wordless Wednesday: Juliet, Wet and Single But Still Happy

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In a Vase on Monday: On a Slow Gravy Boat to China

Without a clear plan in mind, I cut a few stems from Echinops bannaticus ‘Blue Glow’, just beginning to colour up, before moving onto the cutting beds where I was drawn to white-bloomed Dahlia ‘Twyning’s After Eight’ from where a vague plan began to take shape.

Staying with a solely blue and white palette, these two were joined by blue and white cornflower, Cosmos ‘Double Click Snow Puff’, Ammi visnaga, Clematis heraclifolia ‘New Love’ and rogueish Japanese anemone. Not only have all the cosmos suddenly shot up in height, despite flowering since June but on fairly stunted plants, but both ‘Snow Puff’ and ‘Double Click Cranberry’ are producing more double flowers, instead of their earlier singles. I haven’t grown any ammi for a few years due to previous mixed success, and this year’s A visnaga is still struggling to flower and certainly would have looked better in the vase if it was more white than green. This year I have tried hard to deadhead the cornflowers to keep them flowering, with some success, but like many people I find them ungainly and straggly – how can we keep them more compact?

When thinking about a vase for these assorted blooms, I checked my random blue and white china pieces for a possible contender but when first picked the stems were a decent length and

there was nothing tall enough for them; by then, however, my mind was doing its usual thing and coming up with props and titles so the stems were duly cut down to fit in this china gravy boat (is this just a UK term?). The props were 3 little Chinese sampans made of shells, bought from a ‘Chinese shop’ in the late 70s, a shop no doubt filled with stuff in the Chinese ‘style’ and produced purely for an export market.

Rarely coming up with a vase wider than it is tall as there are no vases of that shape in my Vase Wardrobe, this gravy boat was an interesting diversion from my typical vases. The chunkier stems of the echinops, ammi and herbaceous clematis were affixed in a metal frog in the base of the vase and the lighter ones gently inserted between them, and although in hindsight the ammi could have been cut shorter to hide the airy gap in the centre, it will still bring me pleasure for much of the week. Could you take a few minutes to pick something from your garden to pop in a vase and bring you pleasure at the start of the week? If you would like to share it with us too then please add links to and from this post.

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Six on Saturday: Combo

Today’s six are all combinations that bring me pleasure. Do visit our host, Jon and his Propagator’s blog to see a wide range of other sixes from around the globe.

I have shown the above combination many times, and as largely foliage plants it brings me joy for several months of the year. Pittosporum ‘Tom Thumb’ and the carex on the right are both ‘evergreen’, as is the dark mondo grass Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’. The fleshy leaves on Sedum ‘Jose Aubergine’ have just begun to change from green to (surprise surprise!) aubergine, which not only mimics the adjacent mondo grass but the dark flecks in the variegated persicaria, P ‘Painter’s Palette’, which in turn links to the bright foliage of the carex. This was an entirely coincidental grouping

Just a little to the left of this is another coincidental placement, Nandina ‘Obsessed’ next to Rosa ‘Munstead Wood’; the rose has just started flowering again after a short break so the impact isn’t quite as great as it was earlier, but the new foliage of the nandina is glowing in a way that really picks out the gorgeous deep-redness of the blooms. A further hint of red is given by the dangly blooms of hardy Fuchsia magellanica, whilst Sedum ‘Purple Emperor’ is beginnning to colour up too.

Taking a few steps further along and looking towards the stream and the streamside border I could photograph my third winning combo, Persicaria ‘Blackfield’, Lythrum ‘Dropmore Purple’, Clematis viticella ‘Rosalyn’ and rambling rose ‘Rural England’; there had been another clematis on the pillar itself but this has finished flowering,

I have shown a pot of Busy Lizzies recently, and here is another one, especially pleasing because of the absence of any ‘coral’ shaded ones in the random selection I planted. I love how all the pots of these have become domed in the centre as they have become increasingly floriferous – no idea how that happens but it adds to their attraction:

There were several other combinations vying for inclusion today, but for my fifth selection is that clematis pairing again, C viticella Prince George and C texensis ‘Princess Kate’ who have been bonding floriferously since June and show no signs of stopping yet:

My sixth Six is from the cutting beds, where I was trying to capture the deep burgundy shades of Rudbeckia ‘Cherry Brandy’ and Scabiosa ‘Black Knight’ in one photograph; it didn’t quite work out as I had hoped but instead I have a pleasing photograph of a resting butterfly on the rudbeckia; from the wing shape I am guessing it is a comma, which has been seen occasionally in the garden in recent years. That’ll do me for me:

Posted in container & basket plants, cutting beds, foliage, Gardening, Gardens, herbaceous perennials, shrubs, Six on Saturday | 20 Comments

A Critical Eye, Part 1: Some Positives

The woodland may not look much in August apart from being a relatively cool and shady place, but I know that in early spring it will be awash with, in succession, primroses, wood anemones, snakeshead fritillaries, bluebells and wild garlic. Other than the addition of the bulbs, rhizomes and primrose plants, it has changed little since it was created from a patch of grass in 2000. Maintenance is minimal, requiring an occasional redefining of the bark path, but I do regularly divide clumps of primroses and wood anemones and deadhead the wild garlic to try and prevent it spreading further, and in due course will probably dig up some of the latter. The last few years have seen the gradual addition of the fritillaries which I know will seed around if they are happy.

Similarly, the woodland edge border hasn’t really changed since more of the grass which made up most of the garden when we came here was dug out in 2003. Home to rhododendrons, 3 witch hazels, epimedium, Geranium phaeum, G nodosum and G thurstonianum, many hellebores, ferns, Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’ and hundreds  of common snowdrops, it has also seen the addition of various ‘sink or swim’ plants moved from elsewhere, some of which have swam and some of which sunk.

Like the woodland, it looks very different in spring, when the geranium, persicaria and epimedium foliage has died down and the excitement of snowdrops, witch hazels and hellebores herald the new season. In the summer, the border is a patchwork of form, colour and texture. I have added two ‘old roses’ this year, ‘Felicia’ and ‘Jacques Cartier’, but they have yet to make their mark; they would be greatly assisted in this by a substantial reduction in the clump of epimedium, which has grown unchecked for the last 16 years. Maintenance of the border is normally fairly minimal though, just the cutting back of herbaceous foliage at an appropriate time, but sometimes a cull is needed and this year it will be the turn of the epimedium.

An overhaul of the clematis colonnade early this year, with the the structure (created in 2012) rebuilt and the beds underneath levelled and raised with brick edging, has changed it from a never-quite-worked feature to an almost-there one. The beds are now deeper, more fertile and less dry than previously, and the roses that have replaced the never-very-happy hardy geraniums are settling in although not yet providing the almost continual flowering I was hoping for, but hopefully that will come in time. The clematis themselves, an early and a late one on each post, are generally thriving although refurbishing the beds has also stimulated the growth of previously defunct varieties and I am having to search old records and abandoned plant labels to establish what they are. Overall though, another positive.

The shrub border was created from another grassed area in 2014, following the discovery of a neighbour piling topsoil into a skip, a process we immediately halted and turned to our advantage, rescuing the soil and very quickly deciding on a good use for it. The shrub border is exactly that, shrubs and roses with just a few perennials and grasses and two obelisks added for height and to support additional roses and clematis. Some of the plants were moved from existing pots and have thrived in their improved location and others were bought specifically for the border; all have generally thrived and filled out and the border is shown below from left to right, beginning by the apple trees and ending at the corner of the house (see the map under The Garden tab above):

Last autumn saw a rearrangement of some of the roses, moving two from the front of the border (where their excessive height had detracted from their companions) to the back; they haven’t flowered as well this year but have fully settled down again by next year, all being well. The two obelisks were also moved to slightly better positions, and their climbers are climbing all the better for it. This border is one of the few that I see as essentially ‘complete’ and is generally pleasing in shape and form with year-round interest as a result of winter-flowering shrubs and foliage plants, with but two minor niggles to deal with.

The three cornus at the left hand end have put on a huge amount of growth since they were cut back to almost ground  level in early spring and are overhanging the path (very attractive, but not pleasant when it is wet) so need a judicious trim – hard to believe I was ever reluctant to cut these back after enjoying their vibrant winter stems! Secondly, I talked earlier in the year about removing the pink hawthorn at the other end of the border, close to the house – it is one we planted ourselves, perhaps 10 or more years ago, but the bigger it gets the more impractical its position becomes. Having bought a small Daphne bohula ‘Jacqueline Postill’ (still in a pot)  to add additional early season blooms and fragrabnce to the garden, I visualised it in the spot vacated by the hawthorn; moving on a few months, however, rambling rose ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ got into his stride and for the first time began using the doomed hawthorn for support… Especially wanting the daphne to be seen from the house, I considered other locations but without success; however, in hindsight I can see that the rose itself was totally impractical for this location, spreading  up to 40 feet, and it looks as if both the hawthorn and the rose can go…

The final, largely positive border is the small shady(ish) one behind the Coop, created just last year in part of the area vacated by the chickens and with soil excavated from levelling for the Coop itself. Like the shrub border, it benefits from a less ad-hoc approach and shows how quickly plants can fill out, given the space to grow – in less than a year the border, again mostly shrubs with some grasses, hardy geranium and tellima, has filled out nicely and the Clematis armandii against the fence makes a great glossy green backdrop. I lost a couple of plants to last year’s dry summer, but these have been replaced and the border is once again replete, with just a couple of plants to move round because of a height issue and a rogue self-seeded buddleja to remove.

The rationale behind the latter two fairly recently created borders is mostly absent from the borders that will come in Part 2, and logic tells me this is the main reason why I am not yet satisfied with them – see what my critical eye has to say in due course!


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Wordless Wednesday: Ethereal White Persian Pond

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