Friday
Jul252014

Roses

Rosa rugosaAlthough our garden is exposed, there are still some roses that grow well. I find that the old roses do better than some of the modern hybrids and I am very fond of the ‘species’ that may not have the showiest of blooms, but have ornamental ‘heps’ through the autumn as well as good autumn leaf colours. Once the leaves have fallen, many make twiggy mounds that are a feature through winter.   

Rosa glauca (rubrifolia) is one such plant with smoky grey blue leaves held on dark stems. It makes a mound of twiggy growth and the single, bright pink flowers are set off by the blue of the foliage. In late summer and autumn, translucent red hips appear and are loved by birds as they begin their autumn feast! This is a lovely rose to grow in a mixed border with perennials and shrubs where the leaves make a great backdrop for other plants. 

Rosa moyesii ‘Geranium’ needs plenty of room, so we grow it in a shady corner, where the bright green, upright stems do not cause damage – they are very well armed with thorns! In time, the plant makes a vigorous, arching mound and is one of the earliest roses to flower. The perfectly formed single flowers of deep red have a central garland of golden yellow stamens. The flowers are beautiful enough but the real feature of this rose comes in the autumn when the orange, bottle shaped heps appear – a real all rounder as even the bare stems are attractive through the winter months.

Neither of the two roses above are particularly scented but the spiny Burnet rose ‘Stanwell Perpetual’ has richly scented, double pink flowers over an impressively long season. The plant grows well in poor sandy soil, which is unusual for Roses as they are usually greedy plants requiring well conditioned soil and fertilizer twice a year. Rugosa roses too, are less fussy about soil and carry a strong scent. I have the pure white double flowered variety ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’ which is a joy through the summer, despite the hedgehog like spines on the stems! The Rugosa roses make excellent, suckering hedges and are very useful in coastal locations where strong salt laden winds are a challenge! The rounded hips, produced in autumn are bright orange at first and mature to deep red – a feast for the eyes as the leaves fall and for wild birds and small mammals through the winter.

Other roses that are useful for exposed sites are the ground cover varieties which form an impenetrable mass of stems and are rarely without flowers from early summer until well into the autumn. As well as the disease resistant ‘County Series’, which includes deep red ‘Suffolk’ I would not be without Rosa ‘Bonica’ another variety that gives and gives until late autumn. The flowers are a beautiful shade of deep pink held above mounds of leathery green leaves that persist on the plants through the winter months before they are ousted by new ones that begin coppery red and age to deep green as they mature.

Many species roses are such useful plants for exposed sites and I love the way they change with the seasons; fresh growth in spring, flowers through the summer and the hips in autumn and winter. 

Monday
Jul142014

Loving leaves

The green and white borders around the dining area in our garden are creating a cool courtyard feel which was the plan when we designed them – an oasis to enjoy on warm, still summer evenings!

The white Phlox ‘David’ lights up the area below the Fatsia japonica with flat faced, scented flowers that are loved by bees and other insects as well as myself. A Pineapple Mint embroiders the front of this border, lacing through the Phlox without being invasive as are many of its cousins!

Both the Mint and the Fatsia are primarily grown for their foliage and there are plenty of other plants in this area whose leaves are big contributors to the cool ‘jungle’ feel. A spotted leaved Pulmonaria produces welcome glistening white flowers early in the year - vital food for early bumble bees as they forage on warm winter days. Now it has made a good ground covering clump of coarse leaves, shading the Snowdrop bulbs that are dormant beneath building their reserves for next spring’s show.

Lysimachia ‘Candela’ is yet to flower but is full of green buds that will soon burst to reveal pointed spikes of star shaped white flowers. This brilliant little plant spreads well through moist soil and is in flower for months from late summer until the autumn when the green and white theme is thrown off key by brilliant orange and yellow leaf colours before the plant dies back underground to emerge as red shoots next year.

Even the tall white flowered Buddleja gets in on the foliage act making a tower of grey green leaves soon to be topped with thick, scented spikes of ivory white flowers so loved by butterflies, Hummingbird Hawk moths and other insects. The Miscanthus ‘Cosmopolitan’ growing in front of the Butterfly Bush is a column of boldly marked green and white leaves, gently arching to soften the look whereas ‘Morning Light’ growing nearby is much more upright flaring slightly at the top to show off the deep purple feather duster flowers that do not come out until November if the plant bothers to flower at all!

In other areas of the garden there are also many plants grown for the value of the leaves rather than the fleeting show of their flowers, enjoyable as they are.

The golden leaved Viburnum opulus ‘Aureum’ glows in a shady corner under a tree-like Cotoneaster ‘Rothschildianus’ which blots out much of the light with its glossy evergreen leaves and clusters of felty white flowers that the bees adore. Nearby is one of my favourites, Abelia ‘Francis Mason’ with polished bronze leaves soon to be garlanded by clusters of soft pink, tubular flowers which will last for months and please us with late colour and a beautiful scent. Tropical looking Euphorbia mellifera, the Honey Spurge grows behind this and makes a perfect dome of long, glossy leaves with a silver midrib. The plant bristles with bright green seed capsules which carry brown coated seeds that ping around the garden and grow away rapidly if we are not on alert!

Gardens are always changing and flowers are a fleeting part of many plants growing season. The leaves last much longer and should be enjoyed in their own right and even planned for when plants are purchased to replace those which have outgrown their space or are lost through old age or adverse weather conditions. 

Tuesday
Jul082014

Fabulous Fuchsias

Fuchsia Delta's SarahSome of the most rewarding plants in our garden have to be the hardy Fuchsias. I prune them almost to the ground in the spring once the new growth starts and feed them with pelleted chicken manure along with the rest of the borders. Fuchsias like moist soil and a cool root run so plenty of homemade compost is added as mulch once a year – usually in the autumn so that the crowns of the plants are protected through the winter months.

One of my earliest memories of these beguiling plants is being told off for popping the flower buds before they were ready to open in my grandmother’s garden! They made such a satisfying noise - this was in the days before bubble wrap was widely available!

The varieties that were grown in borders then often included ‘Mrs Popple’ with red and deep purple flowers. This is still a popular choice today and makes a good low hedge in milder areas. Many of the varieties had red or purple flowers but now there is a much wider range of colours even within the hardy Fuchsia varieties. ‘Delta’s Sarah’ is a huge hit with cool blooms of white and slate blue. This tall grower will get to 120cm but can be contained by pruning in the spring. It looks great in a shady corner where it can arch gracefully when the branches are weighed down with flowers. It makes a beautiful backdrop to silvery pink Dahlias and other late flowering perennials.

There are plenty of varieties which have coloured leaves so that there is interest over a longer season and some have stunning autumn colours of red and plum shades before the leaves fall to reveal a mass of twigs through the winter months. Fuchsia genii is an upright grower with bright gold foliage which starts orangey red when the new leaves appear in spring. Fuchsia magellanica ‘Versicolor’ starts with coppery pink young leaves which age to deeper pink and creamy white. Left to its own devices the plant makes a huge mound of arching stems festooned with slender red and purple flowers and pruning hard ruins the shape, so give it lots of room – it’s an ideal choice to fill a big area and will need very little attention!

There is a gap at the back of a shady border in our garden which could do with some height and a splash of colour so I am going to plant Fuchsia genii and keep it pruned if it starts to grow too large. The plant will make a good climbing frame for a late flowering Clematis viticella which can be pruned in spring at the same time and the golden leaves will set off a deep burgundy or purple flowered variety perfectly.

I am also taken with Fuchsia ‘Sunray’ which is lower growing and has pink and cream leaves. It is very hardy and I have decided to grow one on the patio where it will love a spot in part shade and contrast well with some fiery orange Dahlias that are growing in large pots for late colour. The two plants will light up this area for months to come with a little feeding and dead heading.

Monday
Jul072014

Welcome rain

At last some welcome rain for the garden! Plants seem to have doubled in size overnight but there are plenty of petals from the Mock Orange Blossom lying like confetti on the ground – one casualty of the hard rain that fell. However it was much needed and there are still plenty of buds on the Philadelphus so I will not need to wait until next year for the powerful scent that wafts into the dining room when the patio doors are open.

Some of the annuals in Mrs McGregor’s cutting garden have also been damaged by the heavy rain drops and the ‘everlasting’ Strawflowers and Statice will need to be picked as soon as they have dried out so that they can be preserved for the winter. The Sunflowers are very robust and don’t seem to mind the rain – they just grow taller than ever! A bunch of these in a large vase really does bring a taste of France into the house on a dull day but the winners in the cut flower stakes at the moment are a bunch of Alstroemeria in shades of green, yellow, cream and soft mauve which have lasted for weeks and made a blowsy arrangement in a big vase. Alstroemeria are grown commercially as cut flowers, but they are very easy to grow in gardens and make a long lived clump in a sunny border with moist soil. Just watch out for slugs as the new growth emerges in spring!

Now that we have had some rain, I am going to try some late sowings of Cornflowers and Love in a Mist along with Calendula (Pot Marigold) to improve the choice for cutting until the late summer perennials begin to flower and we move into the ‘harvest festival’ colours of rich gold, magenta and deep pink that Michaelmas Daisies and Chrysanthemums bring along with rainbows of colour from Gladiolus and Dahlias which we would not be without.

The allotment too is glad of the rain and it is time to dig the first of the potatoes and monitor the plants for Late Blight which is a problem in showery, humid weather. Tell tale signs are yellow patches on the leaves which quickly turn brown before the top growth collapses within a few days and often overnight. Once it strikes, the only thing to do is cut off all of the top growth and get to work with your fork to harvest the entire crop before the infection spreads to the tubers. Late Blight can also affect tomato plants which are in the same family as potatoes.

I have kept the courgettes and runner beans well watered through the dry spell of weather and the courgettes have loved the sun. They are flowering well and soon I will be able to harvest finger sized fruits to fry in butter and lemon juice – one of my favourite summer dishes!

The hot weather was lovely if not a little trying to work in, but I am glad of the rain and for a few days plants can take a breather and regain their vibrant colours which seem to fade in prolonged dry spells. Watering from a hose or water butt can keep plants alive, but they seem to thrive after a few hours of gentle rain and the garden always looks much better for it!   

Friday
Jun272014

To weed or not to weed

At Notcutts we’ve caught up with Anne Wareham again to see what she has been up to since her last piece, Beware Experts Bearing Punitive Advice in 2012. Anne is a garden writer for newspapers and magazines, and the editor of the website  Thinkingardens.co.uk. Along with her husband, garden photographer, Charles Hawes, they made the garden at Veddw, which is open to the public. Since publishing her book, The Bad Tempered Gardener in 2011, it has since become a ‘best seller’ according to the Daily Mail. Anne is now looking forward to some royalties to convince her of that. Now two years on since we last spoke to Anne, the keen gardener has struck up a conversation about whether to weed or not...

Ground elder and pots, Late June, VeddwWeeds attract repetitive garden articles, as useful as those about slugs. So I’ll try and spare you the clichés and report my current thinking.

A visitor yesterday took me to see the flower of some ground elder at Veddw, thinking it was cow parsley. No difference as far as he was concerned, nor me neither. He thought it shouldn’t be there. I thought it looked great.

But this is not to say that flowering ground elder looks great everywhere. But it looks good in the crescent border where it mingles with the pink Thalictrum and the matching Persicaria bistorta and Rugosa rose. I love the way those colours match while the forms are so totally different, and the white ground elder adds a touch of froth.

The effect, to me, is country casual. A sort of heightened rural lane verge.

The fact that there are a lot of all those flowering things, well massed and the masses intermingled, helps. But it doesn’t help the gentleman (yes he was just that) who enquired about whether the cow parsley should be there. He has probably spent many hours attempting to eliminate such plants, so the look is just one thing to him: weedy.

This is not simply that old chestnut about ‘it’s all a matter of taste’ though. It is hard to see the merits of what we have come to instantly spot and fear as a BAD plant. But if we look at gardens with discernment I think we can cope. The challenge for the garden visitor is to look twice and take in the overall scene and intention. The challenge for the garden maker is to create a picture that works and a picture which doesn’t look weedy when you stop labelling/stereotyping the plants.

There is no recipe for this. This is where the skill of a good garden maker tells – the looking, the judgement, the adding and removal, the adjustments. I have never found trailing or climbing plants look good to me in amongst a mixed planting – Cleavers is just horrible, anywhere – and the partly smothered look they create always says wasteland.

Almost always. I have a Clematis Montana which flowers amongst a Rosa Wichuriana (vigorous rambler) and ground elder. The flowers are beautiful, large and telling. The effect is – not weedy.

See what I mean about judgement and adjustments? This is gardening.