The great autumn shut down continues. Yesterday I remembered to open the umbrella over the table in the back garden while the sun was out, so that it could dry, and then take it down and stow it in the garage before the dew could fall on it. Today I brought in the stone with the hole in it, to symbolically mark having finished weeding and mulching the bed where it's mounted, and before I could forget until I found the frosts had crumbled it.
Although things are flagging now after three months of near drought, the wet June was enough to send some shrubs into a wild growth spurt. They are growing into each other and across paths and attempting to annhilate their smaller neighbours, and some tactful editing is called for. When we visited the marvellous garden at Millgate House in Richmond I noticed a small yew that had been pruned back to a stick, with a sign on it explaining that it had been hard pruned to control its size, something they did a lot in that garden. On a larger scale I am going to have to do the same thing in the ditch bed.
The mophead hydrangea 'King George' has got much bigger than I want it to be. It has achieved this partly by layering several of its branches to form a hydrangea thicket. I've always shrunk from pick-axing its offspring up, since it seems such a waste of potential new plants, but I don't actually need or have room for more than one. And it has simply grown, branches extending year by year, on one side muscling into an azalea and on the other flopping over a choice hellebore, while at the front it was straggling out over the lawn. The branches at the back were craning up for the light so that they overshadowed my last remaining Glendoick rhododendron ( I have to admit it to myself. This garden is for the most part too dry for rhododendrons). If I were a better and more organised gardener I would have pruned it regularly. Better late than never, I took out some of the longest and presumably oldest shoots at the base, including all the lowest growing ones that were jostling the hellebores and spotted leaf arums. Hydrangea macrophylla flowers on old wood, so the theory of pruning it and controlling the size of the plants is that you should remove some old branches completely, not go over the entire bush shortening every shoot. If you do that you will lose a year's flowering, while if you take away some of the old wood it should respond by sending up new shoots and so over the period of a few years you can renew the plant.
Pruning is different for the grandiflora and paniculata types, which is why before seeking or offering advice on hydrangea pruning you do need to know what sort of hydrangea you've got.
Near the hydrangea is a Magnolia stellata 'Waterlily', which has also made prodigious growth this year. It spends the later part of the summer draped with the herbaceous climber Dicentra scandens, which I should now call Dactylicapnos scandens. Changes to plant names feel like hard work sometimes, but I feel I ought to keep up. Otherwise we'd all still insist on referring to hosta as funkia, in defiance of the botanists. The Dactylicapnos is a climbing yellow version of the familiar cottage garden bleeding hearts. While not very rare it is not enormously common, and I grew mine from seed and am rather proud of it. When I set it to jazz up the magnolia at a time of year when its host wouldn't be doing anything interesting I had not grasped quite how big or vigorous it would grow. From a zero start its stems have pretty much buried the magnolia by late summer, but fortunately the magnolia doesn't seem to mind. They are fleshy and fragile, and I imagine this is one reason why you don't see it offered for sale as a growing plant very much. Something that quickly makes eight feet of growth, clings to all its neighbours and breaks when you touch it is not going to be easy to stock and sell in a nursery.
The slightly obscure yew relative and winter flowering viburnum have been busy as well, but since I am on chef duties this week and I need to go and check the rice they will have to wait to another day.