Now that the once flowering old roses have finished, and the theoretically repeat flowering roses are beginning to be bothered by black spot and are not repeating with anything like the impact of the first flush, the part of the back garden immediately by the conservatory looks rather dull. Given that this is the time of year when we're most likely to use the table on the deck down there, it seems a pity to be left staring at two blank stretches of boring green leaves, verging on the offensive where the black spot has struck particularly badly. I need to think of a way to inject some more interest into the beds at this time of year, and said so to my friend who was visiting yesterday. She laughed and said I sounded like all gardeners, telling her she should have come last week, but that's not really what I meant. I'd invited her to lunch because we hadn't seen each other for more than a quick coffee for ages. The garden was merely the incidental background. My remark was more of an outward expression of inward musing about the design issue.
It's in the nature of gardens that different areas peak at different times, since it's almost impossible to make every bed, nook, and corner perform at full whack for fifty two weeks of the year. For example, the row of Iris unguicularis against the south wall of the house are a delight in the winter, but nothing much to look at now. That doesn't matter since the slack is taken up by a succession of pots on the patio, and even if it wasn't there's no reason to spend time looking at the iris leaves. You could look at the view, if you wanted to look at something, or just use the patio as the quickest route from the front to the back garden and not look at anything beyond the basic requirements of walking. But the top lawn, which is flanked by the rose beds, forms the geographic core of the back garden. It ought to be a place where you want to linger, especially in high summer.
One problem is that the roses have grown larger than I was expecting to the point where they meet up in a solid wall of foliage. As originally envisaged there were supposed to be other flowers in the gaps between them. Should I go down the Christopher Lloyd route and ruthlessly rip out the least satisfactory of the roses? That would give space for inter-planting, and some variation in height which would be more interesting than the current block. On the other hand, I like the roses. Should I prune them drastically this winter to free up some space? Or keep them as they are and step up my efforts to grow later flowering clematis through them? I don't know. Something to ponder as I go about other tasks.
Another way of improving the look of the garden from mid summer onwards is to keep on what Fergus Garrett described as de-browning it. Flower spikes that have gone over, yellowing and damaged leaves, the odd dead and damaged shoot, that sort of thing. Cumulatively they can make a garden look tired and grubby when an objective count would show that there were actually quite a lot of things still in bloom. I am guilty of not de-browning our garden so assiduously as I should, generally because I end up being busy doing other things. Today I cut a lot of the edges, slicing through the long grass almost effortlessly with my new shears, and removed the spent flower spikes of common foxgloves, which were turning from green to frazzled brown. Clear away the trails of goose grass as well, and the whole border looked brighter and fresher out of all proportion to the work involved. Really I should forget planting out and potting on for the summer, and just spend my time in the garden assiduously edging and dead heading.