Musings From an Unopened Garden

It has been an interesting few months in lockdown, with our garden openings cancelled because of it, but it has given me time to explore, enjoy and tweak the garden without the hindrance of days when it becomes public property for a few hours. I say ‘hindrance’, but I don’t mean that in a derogatory way – I have loved the flexibility and freedom it has given me to enjoy it for myself, but nevertheless miss having been able to share it with others and will continue to open it in future years.

The outcome of this exploratory time has been very varied, ranging from new discoveries to close encounters with forgotten friends, from the joy of rambling at my leisure and plucking off spent flowerheads, to schemes for new or updated projects. Even today I noticed a new pleasing combination (above) of Salvia ‘Purple Rain’, Lychnis coronaria ‘Oculata’, heuchera and annual poppy ‘Lauren’s Grape’, and yesterday I spotted flower spikes emerging from calla lilies in the Coop, the fresh new growth having emerged from bare pots during lockdown.

As well as monitoring growth on my bargain mystery clematis, trying to establish the varieties, I have also had to puzzle out established clematis in the colonnade, where varieties have not always proved to be what they are meant to be – top left is certainly not ‘Royal Velour’, top right is ‘Vyvyan Pennel’ blooming after perhaps 5 years of no-shows, bottom right is not ‘Duchess of Albany’ and bottom left is not ‘Rebecca’. None of those mislabelled by me either, having come from the suppliers as such…

I have been fascinated watching a wasps’ nest grow inside the ‘dovecot’ (a folly, not a functioning dovecot), as it gradually fills the limited space. It seems a shame that after all that effort their edifice will just be left empty at the end of the season… The Golfer, however, is less fascinated and gives it a wide berth.

I have had time to notice what a pretty and underrated plant hebe can be, and will look out for more of these short varieties:

Being able to monitor my ‘experiment’ of moving plants from one of the bold borders into pots with little concern for what they would look like in June has been a boon. As it happens, most things have done better than they have done before, thriving it seems on the lack of competition and showing that partial shade was not the reason for their previous failure to do well. Above all, it has demonstrated that cramming a border is counterproductive, especially cramming in new plants lifted from 4″ pots. Of course a sensible gardener would leave space for each plant to mature when planning a new border, but if we like plants most of us also like to fit as many as we can into the space we have got.

Having lost countless plants from failure to thrive, it is an expensive lesson to have learned. Any new plant I buy now will be grown on before being added to a border and all borders will be vetted in due course and plants culled as required. In the meantime, I will rebuild the retaining wall of this border, add fresh soil and replant those of the pots’ occupants deemed worthy.

Reviewing a couple of the borders is a necessary requisite of my other new project, for which that pile of bricks is required – but that’s for another day. So is the realisation that planting an oak tree in the garden is not necessarily a good idea 15 or more years down the line, and removing this misjudged specimen would be sensible before it got any bigger. We have enough shade from our neighbour’s huge and elderly beech tree and our own little woodland without the ever-expanding canopy of an oak tree, so it will have to go – and last Wednesday’s aerial view shows just how much tree cover there is in the garden.

No doubt there will other projects and schemes to keep us busy in the garden till we are able to open again for visitors next year – and at least we were able to open in February, despite the floods!

In the meantime, a few NGS gardens are beginning to reopen for visitors with pre-purchased tickets so if you are in the UK please visit the NGS website to see if there are any opening near you – those opening for the coming week will be listed on the website tomorrow (Monday). There are also virtual garden tours to enjoy and the opportunity to make donations towards the NGS charities, this year specifically focussing on the work nurses do.

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16 Responses to Musings From an Unopened Garden

  1. bcparkison says:

    Wasp!? That looks more like our hornet nest. I would surely stay clear.

  2. Chloris says:

    It is lovely to have more time than usual to linger in the garden and simply potter about without the pressure of open days. And of course there are always new projects to be hatched and so often yours seem to involve bricks. What can you be up to now?

  3. Anna says:

    Your open days must bring you great pleasure Cathy but there must be benefits to having a bit of a breather. You will be raring to go again next year. Oh ‘Lauren’s Grape’ is a beautiful poppy. I thought that mine had fizzled out but noticed a seedling the other day. Whether she flowers this year is another matter.

    • Cathy says:

      I got the poppy seeds from the HPS seed scheme, my first time with them, and I am hoping they will seed about, but I need to remember to leave the pods in place!

  4. I do like the combinations of plants that you show in your garden. I’m glad you’ve had some quality time to putter around and perfect some things. I tried starting ‘Lauren’s Grape’ from seed, but with no luck. Maybe I should start it indoors in winter and move it outside. Enjoy the garden. 🙂

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Beth. I started Lauren’s Grape inside because I prefer to have control over my seedlings (and I don’t have open space outside for sowing anyway!) and it transferred OK to the borders later

  5. Angie says:

    Holy nest! I don’t think I could do it. Its pretty big! Stay away from it!

    • Cathy says:

      The wasps don’t seem to be interested in anything other than building their nest, and I feel quite safe walking past

  6. Brian Skeys says:

    This year has given us more time to review the garden without the pressure of open gardens deadline. I like you have lost many young plants from planting them into the border when to small, of course that is why big gardens like Great Dixter have nursery beds. We smaller gardens will have to contend with pots but space is still a problem!

    • Cathy says:

      Oh, I am sorry to read you have lost lots of plants this way too, but nevertheless reassuring to know I am not the only one – thanks for that!

  7. tonytomeo says:

    ‘Unopened’ sounds more interesting than ‘closed’. It makes it more interesting to outsiders wanting it to eventually be opened. I do not know why. I just noticed that in the wording.

  8. Cathy says:

    I wonder what your. ew project will be Cathy… Although I don‘t open my garden, the lockdown has meant I have also spent considerably more time in it, and have planted more containers than ever before. It has been an opportunity for us all to reflect a little I think, and yet I seem to have been busier than ever too! Is that oak tree really only 15 years old? I rather envy you the shade as it is something lacking in my garden. A good reminder of the NGS virtual tours. I must write another post about them soon.

    • Cathy says:

      Reflection is a good discipline, isn’t it? The tree was probably an 8 feet stick when it was planted and I probably didn’t notice its growth much till I finished work 9 (9?!!) years ago. I do like having some shade but we have had to take out trees over the years, most self-seeded, but also some in the woodland – and it has made a difference to the rest of the garden. Even next door’s beech tree must have been considerably smaller when we first bought the house (1996)

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