As I have been weeding the Hardy Exotic Border this evening I thought I would give you an update.
The border was first planted a year ago this month. The premise is that it is an opportunity for me to indulge my love of foliage and to create a lush border to cover the slope. Previously I had grown various flowering perennials on the slope but with the introduction of the shed I lost the sunny part of the slope and the area that remains was very shady. The shade has reduced since I had the willow loped but there is still sufficient leaf coverage from the Prunus to provide the shade the plants need.
The border looks a little scruffy due to the dying narcissus foliage. I added some mixed narcissus bulbs this spring but I’m not sure that it really worked as when the bench is back in place you can’t see the narcissus.
The observant of you will notice the increase in ferns over the last year. I just can’t resist them and I am trying to learn how to identify them but it is a very steep learning curve. The dark leaved plant in the front of the border above is Impatiens stenantha and is twice the size it was last year so much so that I have had to relocate an Epimedium that it has engulfed.
The scent on the Buddleja salvifolia is already wonderful and the flowers haven’t quite opened fully. There are only 3 flower heads this year but I am thrilled that there are lots of new shoots appearing and hopefully next year they will each have a flowerhead. Euphorbia stygiana has also started to throw up new shoots and I suspect will become a real thug in the not too distant future. I would like to try and propagate both of these plants so will have to do some research.
From the very shady end of the slope and you can just spot the sprinkling of Arisaema consanguineum all of whose flowers seem to be facing up the slope.
I am pleased with the progress in just one year and although there is still quite a bit of bare soil I am going to stop adding now as I know the plants will soon fill out and cover the soil.
Unusually for me I’m a day late with the GBBD post but I had a wonderful surprise on my return from Rome as the Alliums have just started to open their puff-ball flowers and there are a whole array of them dancing above the prostrate rosemary.
Allium cameleon (above) is a new addition this year and I rather like the pink tones of the buds and newly open florets which then go whiter. Its a very pretty flower.
Alliums aside May is the month of the Aquilegia in my garden. I have loved Aquilegias for years and have a growing range of plants. I prefer the ones with larger flowers to the more, shall we say dumpy, flowers which I think are related to our native Columbine. I am rather taken with the second and last of the four above, both in their first year of flower so it was a nice surprise to see what the flowers looked like. However, I have a special soft spot for Aquilegia canadensis (above). I adore the vibrancy of the flower but it is also one of the first species Aquilegias I grew from seed and was the start of a quiet fascination.
Orange seems to be making more of an appearance in my garden than at this time in previous years. Both Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ and Lathyrus aureus were bought last year. I like the contrast with the purples which seem to be the prevailing colour in the garden at the moment and I think small dots of orange, especially from the geum flowers which have a habit of nodding above other plants on long stems really add some zing to the border.
Talking of purple one of the first plants I sought out on my return yesterday was the Buddleja salvifolia. I have been waiting for it to flower for weeks. Another new purchase last year it is just heavenly, the leaves are wonderfully soft a bit like Stachys byzantina and the scent is wonderful.
Umbellifers seem to be creeping into my garden more and more. I have started to appreciate the added texture their frothy flowers bring. At the moment this is from Sweet Cicely (bottom) and Chaeropjyllum hirsutum roseum (top).
In startling contrast we have Arisaema consangineum (I think) which I grew from seed many years ago and seems to really like its new location on the slope. As ever in my garden the flowers are pointing in the opposite direction to I had planned but I learnt the other day that you can rotate the bulb to put the flower in the right place and the plant will stay like that, the flower doesn’t grow towards the sun like other plants so I might give that a go.
And finally we have the wonderful Lamprocapbos spectablis ‘Valentine’ which is a real show stopper. There are other flowers in the garden, the geraniums are just starting to open as are the irises but these are the plants that are flowering their best today.
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On queue the Deutzia is flowering in time for the Malvern Spring Festival. I don’t know which variety it is as it was here when I moved in 13 years ago. I cut it back heard each year after flowering or we wouldn’t be able to get up the steps to the garden! This year is seems to be groaning with flowers more than ever before.
The garden is looking very lush and fresh. Lunaria Chedglow has been wonderful for some weeks now and I plan to try and collect some seeds so I can keep these honesty going. I do like the fresh foliage on box, it will almost a pity to clip the two cones back at the end of the month.
The Woodland Border is getting into its pace with the Solomons Seal and False Solomon Seal flowering and I am pleased that the epimediums have really clumped up in the last few years to provide good ground cover. In the background you can just spot the young leaves of the Mahonia. I do like the fact that the new leaves are coming through in reddish hues which are bouncing off the Acer in front of it. I am also pleased to see the Mahonia leaves as two years ago I ruthlessly chopped the plant down to the ground in the hope that it would produce a number of stems instead of its one very tall stem. The plant sulked for a while but it is getting back into its stride now and looking good.
The top grass path is still in need of a cut. I have been rather distracted with other things this weekend so the only gardening that occured was cutting the front grass and potting up the pelargoniums. It might look shabby but the pollinators are loving it and the cat loves the long grass.
The Big Border is finally filling out this year and I am glad that I took the decision not to leave spaces for dahlias and other annuals this year. Its main focus is late summer which lots of aster and rudbeckias but at this time of year the camassias and aquilegia provide a bit of colour.
Finally one of those unexpected delights – Paris quadrifolia – which I have forgotten I planted last year. I have to say that the flowers are a little smaller than I had anticipated but it is still a delight.
I think one of the things I love about gardening are the small moments of delight and joy when something has germinated, a planting combination works well, or a gamble pays off. They are all small triumphs which often only the gardener really appreciates but they come with such a good feel factor that they make a real difference to day to day life.
Back last November I took a plunge and had the willow that dominated the end of the garden lopped back, I would say pruned but it just wouldn’t give credit to the drastic work that was undertaken. For a while I wondered if I had done the right thing but gaining so much sky and extended views to the Malverns compensated for the starkness of the tree. As Spring has progressed we have been peering at the willow to see if there was any sign of life. I know that it is hard to keep a good willow down but the tree surgery had been so severe I was sceptical that it would re-shoot. I had even got to the point of deciding that if the tree didn’t re-shoot then it would be fine as I could cut it back further and grow a climber over it and enjoy the view of the neighbour’s trees which had been revealed due to the tree surgery. Of course as soon as the tree heard me talking to my son about maybe giving up on it it started to produce shoots and over the last couple of weeks there has been a distinct fringe of foliage appearing.
By cutting the willow back the surroundings border have found themselves open to the sky. I have worried that the woodland shade lovers would suffer but so far they seem to be thriving. Take for example the Osmunda reglais above. I have never known it to grow so upright and so tall, I am sure that the warm weather we have had has contributed but I also believe that the plant is benefiting from a more open aspect. It will be interesting to see how they do over the summer.
My focus in the last year has been on gardening better, learning more and caring for my plants better. The rhododendron at the top of the post is a case in point. This was bought some years back as a dwarf rhododendron, it has lived in the woodland border for many years, rarely producing any flowers and generally looking sad and unloved. With the departure of the Acer and the clearing of the area around it I moved the rhododendron up to the slope by the base of the Prunus. It managed to survive the big feet of the tree surgeons and thanks to a good dollop of ericaceous compost it has put on good growth and this year for the first time is covered in flowers. I am really pleased.
Whilst I get pleased when plants work well together or seeds germinate what thrills me most is when a plant reappears that has struggled or in the case of the Arisaema above has suffered from being relocated too many times. I grew this from seed some years back and this is its third location – I have promised it and its 4 friends they will stay put. They have suffered from the attention of the badger, or maybe a fox, and I have found the bulbs on the soil in the winter, carefully replanting them. This year they are looking very strong and healthy and again I think they are benefiting from the removal of the heavy tree canopy. The only downside is that the flower spathe is at the back of the leaf stem so not very obvious but I have been told that you can rotate Arisaema bulbs to bring the flower to the front so I will try to remember to do that once it has finished flowering.
Finally the Eranthis are seeding and hopefully there will be seedlings next year and they will start to spread and I will have another small moment of triumph.
It’s amazing how much growth there has been in the last month. The temperatures in April have been higher than normal and there has been little, if any, rain. There is still a risk of frost so I’m not being fooled into putting tender plants out too early. Whilst everything is looking lush the ground has developed a bit of a dry crust and I worry that if it is dry this early in the year how will the garden cope if we have a dry summer. Time will tell.
Above is the main woodland border which has exploded since last month. I am really pleased with it especially as in the past it hasn’t quite lived up to the image in my mind. It just shows that you need to be patient and wait to give plants a chance to bulk up and establish. The highlights in the next month will be Solomon Seal (Polygonatum xhybridum) and False Solomon Seal (Maianthemum racemosum) whose scent I love. A couple of years ago the Solomon Seal was decimated by Solomon Sawfly and I was pleased last year when the plants reappeared and passed through the year trouble-free. They have started to spread around the border so fingers crossed this year the horrid sawfly caterpillars won’t return.
The less inspiring end of the woodland border. This is the area which was previously occupied by the Azalea which died. I have added a couple of shrubs, some foxgloves, some anemones and I am adding plants as the year progresses to try to create a longer season of interest.
The border alongside the gravel steps is beginning to fill out. I have been adding some Dianthus right up against the step edges in the hope that they will eventually spread and soften the side of the steps. The first group of pots are outside the shed and I think there is scope for something bigger and bolder there although the flat space is quite narrow – something to think about. I have also started to put out pots of things running down the steps, at the moment they are pots of bulbs going over but in the summer the pelargoniums will live here.
The view from the bottom path looking back towards the shed. The camassias are now flowering and I had forgotten how many there are in the Big Border, I suspect they are starting to bulk up. I particularly like the way they work with the Euphorbia and the Calamagrostis ‘Overdam’. I am pleased with the border so far this year as the asters are filling out and the aquilegias I added for an early summer interest seem to be doing all right.
Finally the view along the middle path which shows that the grass really needs a cut although the daisies are popular with the bees. It also demonstrates that we are poor at cutting grass which adds to the argument for removing the front lawn. The border to the right of the path is much fuller than last year and it feels better this year since I replanted it.
So there is my garden at the end of April. Any one can join in with the End of Month meme and you can use it as you wish, focussing on one year or giving us a tour – whatever works for you. Many people have found it helpful as they find it makes them look at their garden more critically. If you would like to join in all I ask is that you link to this post in your post and leave a link to your post in the comment box below so we can all find you and come for a nose.
Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Valentine’
Today the forecasters predicted low temperatures of around 10C and wind and maybe rain. Now I would certainly have welcomed the rain since it hasn’t really rained all month and whilst the established plants are fine those I have been planting out over the last month are struggling. However, the reality of the weather is that we have had an amazingly beautiful spring day with temperatures reaching around 18C this afternoon. We had rain overnight, not enough to make much difference to the water butts but at least it was some. I was meant to take my mother out to buy a lilac for her garden as a birthday present but she was so convinced by the weather forecast that we went and bought it during the week meaning that today I was free to play in the garden.
The focus of my efforts today was to address all the seedlings that have been germinating and need pricking out. I am very good when it comes to sowing seeds but the looking after them once they have germinated, certainly beyond the initial pricking out, leaves something to be desired. I am trying very hard to do better. It is that time of year when space is at a premium and I am conscious that in a week or so I will be sowing the tender annuals such as zinnias. Both the cold frames are full on the top shelves although the bottom halves are empty since this is very shady and not ideal for seedlings but good for storing tall plants over winter. Anyway, as ever it started out with some organised pricking out and then the greenhouse got yet another reshuffle. The temporary shelf was replaced with a wider one – its amazing what wood you have to hand when your son is a cabinet maker. Whilst this was a distraction I finally took cuttings of the aeoniums and malmaison carnations which I have been meaning to do for weeks. I am really hoping that with a little care I can get the carnations to flower this year. I have started to pull some of the larger plants out during the day to start hardening them off so hopefully it won’t be too long before the space issue is no more.
The border along the patio which I really sorted back in March is looking so much better now. By removing all the bluebells the lily of the valley has re-emerged and its fresh leaves look very pretty. Sadly there aren’t that many flowers and I wonder if this is because the plants have been swamped for years; time will tell. The four meconopsis poppies are still in existence and have grown slightly, hopefully if we have the rain they forecast later this week they will put some real growth on.
But the thing that has been occupying most of my thinking is the front garden. I was going to say I have a love/hate relationship with it but that would be far to generous – I hate it. I always have and it has defied all my attempts to engage with it and make it something I am proud of. Maybe that is a little harsh since obviously it’s not the garden’s fault that I don’t like it but I do despair particularly with the area at the very front by the birch. I have added loads of organic matter and mulched it over the years but as soon as we have some dry weather the clay in it turns to rock and it is pointless trying to weed or plant or anything. I have blamed some of my apathy on not enjoying working in the front garden as it’s not very private but both the laurel (not my best idea) and beech hedges I have planted have grown and provide a degree of privacy. I squared off the lawn a few years back to provide some formality and have tried an approach of planting an edge of alchemilla mollis, bergenia and as you can see ballerina tulips but whilst I love the tulips I think this style/approach isn’t me. When I was weeding here earlier in the week I found myself telling myself off. The front garden is the size of many a small garden and here I am ignoring it whilst I am desperate for more space for the plants I love in the back garden. It dawned on me that part of the problem is that my favourite plants are woodland plants and I enjoy planting shady borders. Whereas the front garden is anything but shady and I need to embrace a new range of plants and a new approach to make the most of this space. Where to start? It occurred to me that I needed to consider plants that could cope with baking in the clay in the summer so I started to re-read Beth Chatto’s The Dry Garden which was quite inspiring. The thought process lead to the notion that really I should just dig up the lawn and be done with it. Lawn is far to grand a term as it is mostly moss which goes dry and yellow in the summer. I think I find the strong shape of the lawn quite limiting for some reason, I much prefer the more relaxed approach I have in the back garden. I also looked at the recent book on A Year in the Life of Beth Chatto’s Garden which is very photogenic but lead me to conclude that a dry garden wouldn’t necessarily work given the wet clay in winter and to be honest I struggled to see me working with this style of planting. Then by chance yesterday, I won Dream Plants for the Natural Garden in the raffle at the local HPS meeting and this coincided with a thought that maybe I could finally get grasses to work in the garden. So the current thinking is to go for a naturalistic approach. I want to add a small tree and I can visualise some Stipa gigantea catching the morning sun, then….. well that as far as I have got. My block at the moment is that there is no reason for anyone to go in the front garden. The front door is roughly in line with the side border where the tulips are so anyone coming to the house walks up the driveway and to the door. I have toyed with putting some sort of path through the garden but again it would be too contrived and no one would use it. I think there needs to be some sort of path or clearing if only to assist me with working in the space but I just can’t visualise it yet.
I don’t plan to do anything drastic until late summer/autumn so lots of time to think and plan and draw up lists of plants.