One regular job is to remove the tentacles of rambler rose that advance through the bed from the rose bank. I am not sure the rose bank is so good as it was a few years back, as the most rampant of the ramblers, all with white flowers, have overwhelmed the other roses to varying degrees. I'm not entirely sure adding honeysuckle into the mix was an entirely good idea as it tends to overwhelm everything as well. On the other hand, the flowers are so pretty and it smells wonderful. It is the way of gardens to simplify themselves as the most vigorous and spreading species and those most suited to the site gradually squeeze out their less robust neighbours. For inveterate plant collectors, especially those subjected to the temptation of working in the business of selling plants, this is not necessarily a bad thing, up to a point. It is easy to end up with a garden that looks bitty, when you love plants, and bitty is not generally a good look.
A one-off job this autumn is to remove some of the non-flowering Baptisia australis. Having preached the virtues of repetition and unity in design, here am I wanting to make the far rose bed bittier by taking out two of the three clumps of Baptisia so that I can replace them with something different, probably Geranium 'Rozanne'. There are two problems with the Baptisia, firstly its refusal to flower, and secondly the fact that it grows too big and muscles its way all over the roses, the late flowering Aconitum, and everything else at that end of the bed that is still trying to do anything by late summer. The non floweringness is a bit of a mystery, since it used to flower perfectly well and I used to like it. I tried asking Rosy Hardy at the Great Dixter Plant Fair, and she hazarded a guess that it might have used up all the nutrients in the vicinity and need feeding, but she didn't look totally convinced as if this was an issue she had encountered personally and overcome. I haven't come across any mention of it in any book or article I've read either. I fed the whole bed in the spring with fish, blood and bone, but it hasn't made any difference to the Baptisia.
I started off by cutting down the patches of Baptisia I thought I didn't want, so that I could see how open the bed looked without them. Much more open and much better, was the answer, and the roses and aconites looked glad to be relieved of their late neighbour and as if they were hoping it wouldn't be back any time soon. I decided to leave one large patch at one end towards the back, where it wasn't crowding anything, slightly out of sentiment because I grew it myself from seed and would be sad to junk all of it, and out of pique to see if I could discover how to get that clump to start flowering again. Then I ran the hose on the chopped down patches to soften the soil so that I could get a fork into the ground, loosened the edge of the first patch of roots, and pressed down on the handle of the fork, which promptly snapped.
I dug the rest of the clump out with a pick axe. I have noticed that pick axes seem to feature more often in my gardening efforts than they do in most published accounts or on TV (my favourite ever non pick axe television moment was Monty Don and Joe Swift digging with spades through the last root of an enormous evergreen shrub they were going to move, that had already had a trench dug 99 per cent of the way round it, presumably by the production team and almost certainly not just using a border spade). The Baptisia had formed a very dense, almost woody crown and I wondered whether simple old age was responsible for the lack of flowers. In that case, though, wouldn't you expect it to still flower from the younger growth around the edges of the clump? I also wondered whether it would prove to be one of those plants that is adept at regenerating from any remaining roots. My hunch was that it wouldn't, but what is that worth, when I don't even know why it isn't flowering?
The ground cover of plain blue Viola cornuta has entirely died down with the drought, so I hope the roots are still alive. I was heartened to see some low shoots of sweet woodruff reappearing. That put on a lovely display about two years ago, but in more recent times has been grazed down to nothing by rabbits, so I was not sure if it had survived. I have not seen a rabbit on the top lawn for some weeks now, and am beginning to hope in a very cautious sort of way that the Systems Administrator's sniping out of the bedroom window might have finally cleared the colony that used to live under the far deck, or that the presence of the new and energetic young cats is starting to act as a deterrent.