Sunday, 14 April 2013

sustainable planting

At last, a warm day.  An actually warm day, when I had to take off first my hat, and then my fleece as I gardened.  A day when we opened the door on to the veranda to let some air into the house.  A day when the birds sang fit to burst, and I saw a queen bumble bee hunting along the bank by the daffodil lawn for a good mouse hole to nest in.  It was a pity it was blowing half a gale, but you can't have everything.

In the long bed in the front garden, the pasque flowers have suddenly come into bloom, as has a pink flowered cherry.  I can't remember its name, although I only planted it the season before last, and it makes me think I must go through my garden notebook and update my spreadsheet of things planted in the garden.  There will be some deletions to do at the same time.  Today I dug out the rootball of Pittosporum 'Silver Queen', which was a thing of great beauty and delight before being clobbered by two successive hard winters.  Even now it was not quite dead, but not alive enough to be of any use.

My tally of Pittosporum and Corokia is considerably reduced from what it was three years ago, and I'm not currently inclined to increase it.  Sir Peter Smithers wrote how a garden should be designed so that as the gardener grows older, the work required diminishes, and I embrace his view entirely. My current applications of Strulch are intended to be a short to medium term anti-weed measure, the job of the Strulch being taken over in due course by plant cover.  I don't have the time, the physical energy, the money or the enthusiasm to keep replacing dead shrubs, or the inclination to spend whole seasons living with half dead ones while they decide whether they are going to recover. Or to keep endlessly applying Strulch, for that matter.

Sir Peter Smithers was aiming at a woodland ecosytem, the top storey being provided by magnolias and other exotics.  The understorey sounded pretty glamorous as well.  He said that growth rates achieved in the Swiss lakes were about twice what you could expect in England, and that after fifteen years his ecosystem was fully developed, self-sustaining and low maintenance.  That's rather what I'm hoping to achieve, albeit with a more prosaic plant palette of things that will grow in our peculiar mix of soils, and survive the drought and winters of East Anglia.  I am a little puzzled why Sir Peter's Swiss ecosystem did not contain seedling ivy, brambles, and hawthorn, plus evil running grasses, ash seedlings, nettles, or local equivalents to all the lusty native wild plants that seem happy to take hold in mine.  I think he must have had one or two Swiss gardeners working about the place to edit the developing ecosystem, and help keep it on the straight and narrow even at maturity.

Quite what would like to form a self-sustaining ecosystem in the bed by the entrance is a moot point.  I expect brambles would, given the way they are rampaging on the opposite side of the drive, attempting to engulf a tamarisk, the sea buckthorn, and the dustbin.  Although, curiously, I haven't found many of their seedlings in the entrance bed.  The combination of unutterably light and infertile soil, competition from the boundary hedge and exposure to the full blast of the south westerly gales has killed quite a comprehensive range of plants.  I'm going to try a Pinus mugo, which has been sitting patiently in its pot for a long time waiting for me to clear the weeds and the dead remains of previous planting schemes.  I know the wind and sand hold no fears for the pine, but the root competition from the hedge is an unknown quantity.  Beyond that I'm stuck for ideas. I'd quite like more evergreens, to help screen the garden from the farm.  Maybe box.  Or just buy more pines.

A plain green, moderately fastigiate form of Euonymus japonicus has done nothing since I planted it more years ago than I care to remember, despite applications at various times of 6X, fish blood and bone, and spent mushroom compost, and I'm beginning to think that it is never going to do anything.  A couple of swings of the pickaxe and I could be free of it.  Leaving room for what?  A buddleia?  A purple leaved form of hazel?  That might do, given the way the plain green ones seed themselves around, but you are supposed to plant them somewhere where the sun can shine through their leaves.  And neither buddleia nor hazel are evergreen.  Something to ponder, while I pull out as much as I can of the evil running roots of the invading weed grass, and hope for some calm, dry days so that I can keep hitting the regrowth with glyphosate.

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