Monday, 3 April 2017

hedges and gravel

The eleagnus hedge has been a mixed blessing.  In its favour, Eleagnus x ebbingei grows fast so you have a functional hedge without having to wait too long, it is incredibly resilient to wind, it survives and grows on dry sand, its greenish-grey leaves and especially the new little silvery leaves are a pleasant colour and less oppressive than that much yew or laurel might be, the flowers in autumn smell sweetly of clove scented carnations, and the fruit are food for birds.  That's quite a long list of positives.  On the negative side, it grows fast so needs a lot of clipping, the constant nibbling away at it means you don't always get the flowers at least down at nose level, it has a fairly lax habit so is difficult to clip to a tight structure and after every gale you find the top has sagged to leeward, and the old leaves blow around the garden and make a pale brown leathery mess that takes years to rot down and disappear.  That's a quite long list of negatives.  The books warn that it has a final trick up its sleeve that I have not yet had to contend with, which is that after couple of decades plants can randomly start to die.

At the moment it's the old leaves that are concerning me.  I scooped as many of the fallen leaves as I could reach out of the base of the hedge a couple of months ago, and picked them out of the gravel after the next gale, but recent strong winds have dislodged lots more, which are now caught among the emerging growth of the beach garden in the middle of the turning circle.  Lodged between clumps of thrift, piled beneath the spreading arms of Euphorbia myrsinites, there is no quick way of raking them up.  After grabbing the bigger handfuls you have to resort to a fingertip search to get most of them, holding up the sprawling stems of the euphorbia with one hand while raking leaves out with the fingers of the other and picking them individually out of the burgeoning tufts of Asphodeline lutea.

The warm weather has brought the weeds on as well.  There is a very coarse leaved clumping grass and a fine leaved one, neither of whose botanical names I know, but which seem to prefer light soil since the weed grasses in the back garden are different.  There are freshly sprouted shoots of creeping sorrel, and a very fine leaved vetch whose botanical name I don't know either.  And there is a cultivated grass, whose name I ought to know since I originally planted it, which has seeded itself by degrees without my quite noticing how far it had got, until I realised this afternoon that it must be taking up practically a full quarter of the entire area.  Most of the clumps have collapsed badly during the winter so there is a lot of old dead grass to clear away, following which I think I shall take a border fork to the clumps and edit them severely.

I was hoping that the Echium vulgare I planted last year and which flowered would have spread themselves, but haven't come across any likely looking seedlings so far.  It has the splendid common name of Viper's bugloss, and produces a spike of bright blue flowers beloved by insects in its first or second year, following which it will die.  Life is too short to keep raising them from seed and planting them out from pots, and I hoped that once I'd got it growing in the gravel it would persist like the Californian poppies or love-in-the-mist.  Maybe it will pleasantly surprise me in due course.

Gravel makes an excellent seed bed, and fallen leaves become a major issue if you have any source of leaves in the vicinity as soon as you start planting in your gravel and can't simply rake it clean like a monk in a Zen monastery garden.  My aunt very sensibly ignored the garden designer who wanted her to turn her (large for London) back garden into a gravel garden, reasoning that she did not want to spend her spare time crawling around picking the leaves from her neighbours' trees out of it.  After an afternoon spent collecting eleagnus leaves I do have a dark suspicion that I should have planted yew.  It would have been a slow wait at the beginning to get the shelter from the wind, but I'd be laughing now.

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