This is a tricky time for gardeners. Impatience can be the name of the game, as warm, sunny days are followed, as now today, with battering winds and rain. I am sitting here looking out apprehensively as a tall pine tree, within reach of the house, twists and turns in the wind with a full canopy of leaf and branch. Our mad dog, Dave and I, were out earlier and beat a hasty retreat when a large 15′ tree branch crashed to the ground about 5m from us. The only good thing is that, usually with us, a storm that brews up so quickly dies down quickly, even if it is a bit dramatic in spate. I hope the daffodils, the first ones just ready to burst buds, are supple enough to take it and bounce back.
So, the mind turns to Spring and the new plants, as well as old favourites, that I am trying this year. I have taken a firm line with my Miscanthus seedlings, dug them out, potted some up for a plant exchange in the village in April. The same thing has happened to a slightly over-enthusiastic clump of Hellebores, orientalis and foetidus, all of which have been potted up for the plant exchange. I really value Helleborus foetidus for its elegant, almost tropical foliage, and the beautiful red lip on the inside of the flower, which is glorious if caught in the sun. It is also known as the stinking hellebore, something to do with the leaves when wet- but I have never noticed this. With me, once established, it will sprint for England, so tight management is required.
This year, for the first time in years, I am having a go at using shrubs properly, and have invested in some that are new to me. Monty Python has not exactly helped the shrub- nor indeed, has the over-enthusiastic use of quite boring ones in British gardens of the 60s and 70s. But for several years, Noel Kingsbury, who I very much like as a garden writer, has been heralding the return of the shrub- so I thought I would join him.
So, at the front of the house where I inherited some rather tired old bits of hydrangea, one of which I am keeping, I am planting 2 Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum ‘Shoshoni’ between the windows where their width won’t get in the way of the shutters being folded back. Here is a second cousin of ‘Shoshoni’ which I saw at the Inner Temple Garden in London last April, and really liked.
‘Shoshoni’ will, I think, be wider, flatter shaped and only about 1.5m high, ish. But it will give a fairly classical look to the front of the house, which I don’t think wants a riot of colour, unlike what I love at the back! My plant is currently about 20cm tall, so it will take a while, but, given the vagaries of rainfall, I think I am better off waiting with a little plant that will toughen up, than spending much more on a big one that could fail.
And, pairing up with ‘Shoshoni’ will be a couple of Deutzia gracilis ‘Nikko’ growing under the windows. A small, slender, spreading deutzia, it will look very pretty there and not irritate the windows. Now, it may be a little sunny there for the Deutzia, but there is a fair bit of rain run-off from the roof, which keeps it on the moist side of dry. I was inspired to try this by the great blog written by Carolynn’s Shade Garden, whose selections are delectable and knowledgably written of, and photographed by Carolynn. I don’t have a lot of shade, but she is a great reference point and thoroughly to be recommended.
About 10 years ago, passing a super-cheap bag of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ bulbs at a Homebase somewhere, I bought the bag and planted them at the front of the house. I have now mostly lifted them all to make way for the new shrubs, but it’s a blessing because, owing to the aforementioned rain run-off, these Crocosmia have spent their entire life flattened and flowering horizontally. So, they will go to a better place in due course. I adore Crocosmia, the colours, the fine, upright (well, except for these ones) leaves and the fact that they are totally bomb-proof. I wish they flowered for longer with us, usually the late summer heat cooks them a bit.
I have another Crocosmia rain run-off problem which I hadn’t thought about till the last couple of years. Underneath our beautiful and much-loved banana, well, actually nearly 2m away, I planted a stand of an unknown orangey Crocosmia, smaller than ‘Lucifer’, which I got at a plant stall locally from an old chap. Trouble is, it only takes one big rainstorm in the summer, and the banana leaves create a Niagara Falls-type effect, pretty much flattening the Crocosmia altogether. Here’s a snap of a really bad banana deluge after a massive storm in 2014.
So, the Crocosmia need to come out, be found a new home, and a more robust solution found. I feel another shrub coming on…