Friday, 16 June 2017

a day in the garden

I planted out the purple leaved Primula 'Garryade Guinevere' from Lincolnshire at the bottom of the garden, and remembered why there was still such a large gap at the front of the bed, which was because I had meant to move something else forwards from its current position too far back in the border where it was being overshadowed.  That meant I needed to move a small geranium I only planted the other day, to keep the gap clear and available until the autumn.  I was sorely tempted to go ahead with moving the hidden plants when I first thought of it in April, but since by then we were well into a drought it did not seem sensible to be uprooting things about as far from the tap as you could get.

After that it was a day for general garden maintenance.  I dead headed roses that had the potential to flower again if not allowed to set seed the first time, and those that don't form good hips.  It is one of the attractive features of David Austen's breeding programme to produce new varieties of repeat flowering roses in the old fashioned style that they tend to have attractive hips, so it's worth holding back with your secateurs at the end of the season and not being too greedy for a final flush of flowers.

The curved beds running either side of the top lawn in the back garden are notionally rose beds, though there are a lot of other plants in them besides roses.  The roses have all been in for some time, and are increasingly dividing themselves into two camps, those that are doing jolly well and those that are struggling miserably.  Some have grown far taller than I ever imagined or the books and catalogues said they would, and despite my pruning them quite hard last winter several have flopped over.  I am going to have to wriggle in among them with stakes and the lump hammer and try and get them back roughly upright for the rest of the summer, until the herbaceous lower storey of the planting has died down and the leaves are off the roses and I can see what I'm doing.  At that point I might start talking nicely to the Systems Administrator about wooden tripods.

As for the roses that are struggling, I took half a dozen red flowered hybrid teas out last winter, and am starting to eye up 'Mrs Oakley Fisher' sourly.  Bred in the 1920s, it carries apricot single flowers and is one of relatively few roses allowed to remain in the gardens at Great Dixter, and if mine were growing well they would be lovely indeed, but they are not growing well and have never grown well.  Life on the yellow clay subsoil that was left at the surface after the previous owners contoured the back garden is too tough for poor 'Mrs Oakley Fisher'.  When I planted up the further rose bed I was working on the principle that the gardening books said that roses liked clay.  Having grown up in a garden on sandstone and never having gardened on clay before until discovering veins of it in the back garden of the present house, I did not at first grasp the difference between a good clay soil, well worked with plenty of humus, and the awful yellow stuff that emerged in bands in our garden.

I cut down the spent stems of the Camassia in the rose bed, and the early flowering Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus, and the columbines.  I pulled up horsetail, an ancient and infuriating weed that signals the presence of the evil clay below, for in over thirty years I have only ever found it in the back garden and not a single stem growing in the sandy soil at the top of the hill.  I pruned off long, hopeful shoots from the rambling roses in the bank, that were setting off across the rose bed, and pulled dead leaves out of the monstrous clump of Eryngium pandanifolium.  That's a Great Dixter plant, and I do sometimes wonder if it's worth the space.  It is supposed to provide a spiky, dramatic, architectural punctuation point, then in late summer it produces very tall stems of prickly flowers, but it seems to fill up with dead leaves making it look very tatty at awfully frequent intervals.

It is fun watching the garden sharpen up as the spent flowers, old flowering stems, dead leaves and unwanted growth are stripped away, and deaheading gives time to look at the rose flowers up close and personal.  Meanwhile the SA cut down the dead sea buckthorn by the entrance, opening up a surprisingly large space.  My past planting efforts in that corner have been tempered by the knowledge that if the drains collapsed again or there was any other reason why we needed to get a digger into the back garden then that would be its entry point.  The sea buckthorn was chosen to be disposable if needs be, but it has disposed of itself by dying.  Once we had eyed up the theoretical digger route there was still room for a decent sized smallish tree.  Happy thought.  I shall be browsing the Bluebell Nursery website between now and October.

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