It is always good to have your approach or views challenged and sometimes those challenges creep up on you unexpectedly. This weekend, having been encouraged out into the garden to take some photos for my Six on Saturday post I found myself pottering around for an hour accompanied by the under-gardener.
One of the jobs I wanted to tackle was trimming the stems of the Phyllostachys aureosulcata ‘Spectabilis’ or what I call the Zig-Zag bamboo. It’s a practice I adopted a couple of years back so that the wonderful golden zig-zag stems of the bamboo are showcased. It’s a fiddly job and best done in the winter as the new shoots start to appear along the stems; if you catch the new shoots early enough you can reduce the amount of knobbly bits and have cleaner stems. I have to admit it’s quite a satisfying job and ideal for a cold day when the ground is too cold for digging or planting. After a bit of work you can clearly see a result for your work.
I also remove the leaves from hellebores and cut back epimediums (not the Japanese ones) in January in order to allow the flowers to show. Of course in nature this doesn’t happen and it is purely a human intervention in order to show off a plant. Interestingly, I was surprised some time ago to discover that some gardeners remove the flowers from hostas as they grow the hostas for the leaves and they felt the flowers compromised the effect and I have always smiled at those who pressure wash the stems of birch in the winter to show off the white bark. So there is no consistently in my approach.
While I was snipping away at the bamboo stems and admiring the sea of honesty foliage growing around the bamboo I started to wonder where the idea of removing the shoots had come from and given how much tidying up I had to do in the garden why was I spending time undertaking a purely cosmetic task. My questioning continued when one of the commentators on my last post described the joy of hellebores with the flowers hidden amongst the leaves and this really got me thinking.
I suppose it comes down to what effect you want to achieve in your garden and what is more important to you. Do you grow the plants to focus on one particular element: flowers, stems, bark, leaves? Or do you grow the plants to create an overall impact? Or, like me, do you have a more random approach picking out those plants which are maybe more important to you or actually those you can see best from the living room window!
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 is a family joke that my parents, especially my father, loved to dome shrubs when he was pruning. I often despaired as to me the beauty of many shrubs is their ranging wide-spread form.
Over the last few days I have been seeking solace in Christopher Lloyd’s The Adventurous Gardener and reading bits of mum which amuse me. The passage entitled ‘Some Reactions to Cutting Back’ made her chuckle too. In it Lloyd discusses the differences between pruning and cutting back:
“Pruning is supposed to be for the welfare of the tree or shrub; cutting back is for the satisfaction of the satisfaction of the cutter. Some gardeners have a cutting back mentality..”
Lloyd argues that regular cutting back of shrubs which should have “branches laden with swags of blossom” turns them into a “kind of hedgehog on stilts”. Mum and I laughed as this reminded us of Dad and his doming.
Shortly afterwards I went out to tackle the Grevillea ‘Canberra Gem’ which has been outgrowing its space in the front garden (see top photograph – taken in May). If we have heavy snow the branches can snap so I wanted to give it a good cutting back which I also hoped would promote more flowers next year since over the last few years the amount of flowers have declined. The Grevillea has a very coniferous appearance with branches splaying out. The shrub was completely dominating the border in the front garden which was fine but it had got to the stage were the branches at the back were beginning to obstruct the footpath and crowd the birch.
And the result? A dome much to my mother’s amusement. A fine example of ‘hedgehoggery’. However I don’t see how else I could have pruned it! I suspect I should have cut it further back as you should prune a shrub to smaller than the actual size you want but I was worried that if I went further it would look really awful. No doubt I will regret this decision and if so I will prune it again next year and be more aggressive. I shall give the shrub a feed and hope that it will reshoot in a less dome like fashion. Now to work out what to plant in the border in front of it which is a disaster.
At last we have had rain. Good steady persistent rain through the night resulting in 16.6mm of rain, although when you convert that is only just over half an inch. However, it’s a start and the garden feels and looks fresh as a result.
Whilst I have been doing an hour or so in the evening most of this has been potting up and tidying pots of alpines on the patio so not much to report really, there has also been a lot of research going on into plunge beds etc. Saturday was spent at my favourite garden club, the Hardy Plant Society’s Western Counties group. I think this group is incredibly unusual as it attracts serious plant growers and gardeners from a wide area. The main attraction is the morning discussion, usually hosted by Bob Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers, which is completely fascinating. People bring in plants that look good at the moment and this stimulates the conversation which can be varied, wide-ranging and often very funny. This month’s afternoon speaker was Fergus Garrett, from Great Dixter, and anyone who has read this blog for a while will know I am a huge Christopher Lloyd and Fergus fan so I was in my element. As ever having listened to Fergus talk for an hour and half I came away inspired, excited but also deeply aware of how small my plant knowledge it, but then for me that is what it is all about – learning. And of course there were plants for sale mainly members own and as good a selection as you will see at any plant fair – I came away with Pelargonium Artic Star, Oxalis triangularis and Clematis bonstedtii, oh and Christopher Lloyd’s book on foliage.
Sunday, the plants were hanging under the weight of the rain but at least weeds could be pulled from the ground. Generally most of the plants looked a lot happier and I am hoping that the Prunus incisa ‘kojo-no-mai’ which has lost quite a lot of leaves already will rally. With my head still full of images of Dixter and ideas from Fergus’s talk I spent time considering the garden until I was completely confused! So instead I decided that pruning was the answer, a therapeutic past-time which I find good for clearing thoughts. I started with the Deutzia at the top of the patio steps which is glorious every May/June but really is too big for its space so needs regular pruning. Moving quickly on to the Ceanothus and my secateurs started to get a little snip happy.
This shrub has been growing against the fence more or less since we moved in nine years go, it is meant to be an autumn flowering one. I have to admit that it does flower but you have to look for the flowers and compared to one I had in a previous garden we could be talking about two completely different genera. It was hit hard two years ago when we had the very cold winter but rallied and every year it puts on nice new growth but few flowers. The border along the fence is narrow and cannot be widen due to the path and steps and the Ceanothus fills the gap but doesn’t really contribute any thing good. I also had to cut it back hard as the electrician will shortly be running electric cable along this area for my son’s workshop and well ….Sir Roy’s voice could be heard in my head (worrying I know) saying if the plant doesn’t perform get rid of it – so I did. It has gone, it is no more!
It’s amazing how much lighter this area already feels and although the plant never overhung the path it feels more spacious. I am pondering on its replacement. I am not desperate to hide the fence since I noticed in the States that there isn’t such a move to hide fences many of them are decorated in some way and this is something I might explore. I have a Cistus I was given which might work here but then I also have a fig in a pot which either needs drastic pruning to make it suitable for growing in the pot or it needs training against fence. So I shall be hitting the books again to research growing conditions and training of figs – there’s always something to learn in gardening
This weekend has been particarly busy with my eldest’s 19th birthday and decorating my youngest’s bedroom ready for new fitted wardrobes. However, I did manage to get about an hour all told in the garden to get my theraputic fix. There is so much to d at this time of year especially as it has been very difficult to get into the garden over recently weekends due to the snow and cold. So what to do first?
Well I had received a lovely package from Plants of Distinction with some seeds which I had ordered earlier in tthe week. As some of them such as the Bergonias need starting off asap at at high temperatures I decided to set up my window sill propogator and to start sowing the first batch of seeds of the year. Sowed Begonias, Verbenas, Nemisias, Eryginiums, scented leaf Geraniums. Its very saitsfying to see the little trays of seeds each with its own clear plastic lid.
Then, what to do next? I also needed to write my article for Yellow Pages and this meant that I had to come up with something seasonal along with an appropriate photo. Having looked through my gardening advice books I was reminded that I should have pruned my Cornus bushes in order to promote new stems with strongly coloured bark for next winter. I set to and decided that instead of cutting the whole shrubs back hard that I would leave one or two of the newer tall thin stems. I had read that my doing this the plant may produce flowers and the plant will be stronger. The above shrub ended up with only three stems left but I do think it looks so much better. Photo dutifully taken for Yell.com post where I shall do a more detailed description of pruning dogwoods.
Hopefully, next weekend I will get abit more time to try and complete some of the work that needs doing. I have tidying up to do, plants to move, borders to redesign, seeds to sow, summer bulbs to plant, seedlings to pot up etc etc!!!
I have noticed from the stats on my blog that my post on cutting back my Sedum in June is frequently looked at. So I thought people might be interested in an update of my trial.
In my previous post I commented that I had experimented with cutting back one of my Sedums in June. I was following the advice I found in Tracy DiSabato-Aust’s book The Well Tended Perennial Garden which recommended cutting back in order to prevent the plants flopping especially on rich soil. I think this technique is referred to here in the UK, as the Chelsea chop as it generally happens around the time of the Chelsea Flower Show in May.
The Sedum above is not the one I cut back but you can see what happens in my garden. I have rich clay soil which makes Sedums grow very vigorously but results in a sappy plant plus we have had so much rain that its been a challenge for any plant to stay upright.
However, below is the Sedum I cut back. They are the same variety, in fact they are off shots from the same parent plant. When I cut back the Sedum, I started to chicken out as it looked awful so I left some of the shorter side shoots and these are the ones which have the larger flowers on them.
You can see that a more compact plant has been produced which is more floriforous and attractive. I like the mixture of flowers at different stages and size, I think it will prolong the period of interest. I also prefer the smaller leaves that have been produced and there is no ghastly bare patch in the middle.
So in conclusion I will be partially Chelsea chopping all my Sedums next year and will be seeking out other plants that I can do this to.
I took this photo as I was so relieved I hadnt killed my Sedum. About 3 weeks ago I decided to give Tracy DiSabato-Aust advice in The Well-Tenderd Perennial Garden to give your perennials a haircut so that they dont become leggy and flop eveywhere. “Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ for example, cut be cut in half when 8 inchs tall or it can be pinched.” “Pruning also helps prevent flopping on plants growing in partial shade or very rich soils”. This particular sedum is growing in partial shade and on very rich soil and flops everywhere. So in a moment of madness while tidying up I chopped it down by half – well most of it. I used some secateurs and as I chopped away I started to panic that I was being too drastic so I bailed out at the last moment and left a few stems. I wished now that I had taken a photo when I had finished but it looked so awful that I couldnt look at it. Anyway, I am pleased to say that it was the right thing to do after all. As you can see from the photo above the plant is looking very lush with lots of growth. The leaves in the lower right hand corner are originals and escaped the chop, whilst the rest are new growth. This has given me the courage to re-read Tracy’s book and to see what other plants might benefit from this treatment.