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!


This entry was posted in garden structure, Gardening, Gardens, herbaceous perennials, shrubs. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to A Critical Eye, Part 1: Some Positives

  1. bcparkison says:

    I love the ‘over grown’ look.

  2. Christina says:

    Good assessment of your borders. Always a useful exercise.

  3. Verdant,lush and lovely. Great textures.

  4. Jacqueline says:

    Un traducteur serait le bienvenu, mon anglais n est pas très bon !
    Le lierre : un bon couvre sol mais quelle plaie pour le retirer.
    J aime beaucoup les tâches lumineuses rouges apportées par la persicaire, le fuchsia, …
    Profite bien de ton joli jardin !

    • Cathy says:

      It is probably better than by schoolgirl French. I agree about the ivy – it provides welcome green, all the year round, but just grows and grows. There are places where I will be cutting it out over the winter

  5. Jacqueline says:

    PS : vite la seconde partie !

  6. Heyjude says:

    Such a good exercise to carry out. I must do the same. There are some borders/beds that I am mostly happy with and others that need a complete overhaul. By writing down what’s in each one will help me decide what to do next. Meanwhile, I love how you have managed to include so many wonderful plants into your garden.

    • Cathy says:

      The last time I did an overhaul I was horrified at the number of redundant plant labels that came out…! I do like to stuff plants in though, which is my downfall, as you will see in Part 2 in due course, Jude.

  7. Pingback: A Critical Eye, Part 1: Some Positives — Rambling in the Garden | Old School Garden

  8. Oh a most useful exercise Cathy which no doubt got you thinking and making plans. Great to have posts like this one as a record of the development of your garden to look back on in the future.

    • Cathy says:

      Yes, I have made up my mind about the hawthorn now, which is good, but it’s the borders in the next part that I am far from decisive about…

  9. tonytomeo says:

    Oh my! Have I asked about that grass already? (I know I asked someone about such a grass.) Which one is it? It looks a bit intimidating, like a small pampas grass!

    • Cathy says:

      I will have to check the label, Tony

      • tonytomeo says:

        You would know pampas grass, because it would give you nasty paper cuts if you handled it wrong.

        • Cathy says:

          Yes, I knew it wasn’t pampas, as it is not I checked and it’s a calamagrostis

          • tonytomeo says:

            Oh, I would not have recognized it. I am not familiar with the various Calamagrostis, but I think of them as standing more vertically. My colleague down south has used some sort of it; coincidentally, because he wanted a smaller and friendlier alternative to pampas grass for that particular site. From the picture he sent, it looked nothing like pampas grass. It was rad anyway, and much better than pampas grass.

Comments are closed.