I went on weeding and edging in the back garden, while musing on what was looking good and what wasn't, and whether there was enough in flower at the moment. At lunchtime I wrote down my first conclusions on a garden ideas page of a spreadsheet, having lost enough pieces of paper with scribbles of gardening ideas on them to prefer a more permanent record. It is a good idea to write good ideas down, since what seemed blindingly obvious in late June may be a total blank by October when the borders are clearer, the ground damper, and you are ready to plant things.
The dying leaves of the Camassia leichtlinii in the far rose bed are a problem. The Camassia flowers, first blue and then the white, are delightful in the spring, The leaves are fine before they flower and for a while afterwards, but they are now dying down disgustingly. Last year I experimentally planted some Geranium 'Rozanne' in the same bed, to see if it would sprawl across the collapsed and yellowing remains of the Camassia, but the foliage of the latter was so dense that the geraniums struggled to get through, and they are still not romping away. There again, it has been very dry for chunks of the year and it may be that they will be more vigorous when they are more fully established. I racked my brains to come up with the idea of using 'Rozanne', and nothing has sprung to mind so far that would wait to emerge until late June then accept some shade, cope with the horrible clay, be content with twenty-one inches of annual rainfall, fit into a blue and yellow colour scheme, and be the right size to work as ground cover around roses.
The failure of potentially repeat flowering roses to produce further flushes given the meagre rainfall is also an issue. Many of the hybrid teas and the David Austin roses have ground to a halt. There are buds on some, but not nearly all of them. From that point of view the once flowering old roses are less of a disappointment. At least you know what you are going to get. I have been to visits to RHS Hyde Hall in the summer when they have been irrigating their flower borders outside the dry garden, which gives a clue to what might be necessary if you really expect a garden in East Anglia to keep going at full floral tilt into July and August.
On the plus side, some of the clematis are very good. I have fed them all religiously for the past couple of years, and I think they appreciate it. A couple of years ago I took to covering their roots in cobbles and sliding old plastic water bottles over the base of their stems, partly to protect the new growth from the rabbits that were living in the garden and partly to keep tabs on where the roots were. When the borders are fully grown in summer it can be impossible to tell where a clematis stem is coming from. I have a purple viticella type clambering through a white flowered single rose and another on a pink and white double old rose, a pale blue draped over the ochre leaved shrubby honeysuckle 'Baggeson's Gold', two dark reds entwined on a tripod and a third brighter red that has managed to make itself visible this year from its position a little too far back in the border partly because old rose 'Madame Hardy' has fallen over and I haven't got around to staking her. The non-climbing but leggy herbaceous clematis 'Alionushka' has taken enthusiastically to her new tripod, after years of wandering off to bloom unseen in the undergrowth, and the shorter herbaceous blue 'Petit Faucon' is equally happy on its new shorter support. There is a white one just waiting to get going in the far rose bed, that has opened one flower so far, and while I haven't seen any flowers yet on the dark mauve double 'Mary Rose' there was lots of growth last time I looked.
Sadly these represent only a fraction of all the clematis I have planted in the past twenty years. They are not the easiest things to get going in dry north Essex, among dense planting, or in the veins of heavy clay. Some quietly disappeared in the winter, probably rotted away, and others died of drought in the summer when I failed to get in among the other shrubs to water them sufficiently. Some were planted in too much shade too far back in the beds and lacked the strength to grow up to the light, even though if only they had been established they'd have easily reached to the tops of the roses they were meant to adorn. But when you can get them to go they are a great way of adding a second season to shrubs that flowered earlier in the year, or making delightful combinations with those roses that are still flowering.
The hydrangeas are just starting. First to open are the Hydangea macrophylla types, of which I have 'Ayesha', which has amazingly fleshy pink petals unlike anything else, and a nameless pink that was sold to me by mistake for 'Ayesha' and which I was all set to dig out, until it broke my spade and won itself a reprieve.
The alstroemerias are going well, those that took. Again, they are not the most reliable things when first planted, having fleshy and slightly tender roots vulnerable to freezing and rotting. I have a good orangey red, a cheerful pink and yellow, an amber and yellow, a soft orange, and one that is rather slow to get going and I can't remember what colour it is. A nice red planted a couple of years ago never came to anything, and a freebie yellow that had to be rescued and repotted when it was overshadowed by the surrounding asters seemed to recover, but failed to take when planted out again at the front of the bed. One of the difficulties of filling in what look like potential planting gaps in established borders is that in the first year the old plants shoot up so much faster than the newbies that the latter perish from lack of light, if you don't forget to water them because you can't see where they are. Alstroemerias don't seem much in fashion at the moment, I suppose because they look so highly bred and although we saw some in the cottage garden at Sissinghurst, they don't fit in with the New Perennial, prairie planting aesthetic. I like them anyway. Some are very pretty and they go on flowering for ages. Philip Tivey is the place to go.
Leaves are important too, in summer as well as autumn. The Japanese maples in their big pots are looking great, and so far I have managed to keep them properly watered so that the leaf margins have not gone brown and crispy. They will live happily in pots for decades if treated properly. The oldest of ours was a moving-in present when we came to the present house, so we have had it for nearly twenty-four years. They now get sun for about half the day and are well sheltered from the wind, which suits them fine. The first plant lived in the porch for several years but was a slightly sad and wind-blown thing until relocated to the back garden.