Thoughts on planting and weeding…

Verbena bonarienisis with Daucus carota, Tostat, July 2019

Forced inside by the massive heat last week, I took to reading about gardens rather than gardening. Also, I am in a reflective state about the garden at the moment as I am noticing the changes from having less ‘arm’ to do maintenance, and I am curious about how this will shape up over the summer. So, picking up Noel Kingsbury’s article about planting density, which I would ordinarily have saved for a rainy day, set me thinking. I won’t recount all the detail as you can pick this up via the link, but working backwards from his reasons as to why more dense planting makes sense made great sense to me. He posits three main reasons for dense planting:

  1. Denser planting reduces the need for weeding
  2. It increases biodiversity, providing more cover and food opportunities for essential garden wildlife
  3. More plants mean more biological activity which supports an effective ecosystem

So, possibly post-hoc rationalisation, but here is what I think is going on in ‘The Mix’ my perennials/grasses/shrub combination underneath the cherry tree at the back. A spot of analysis follows…

The Mix, Tostat, May 2019

This May photograph is a little late to qualify as Spring, but it will do. You can see the massive importance of the wafty Stipa tenuissima, the tall Allium nigrum coming through, and the pink of the Oenethora all work well together.

Just now, early July, those Alliums are still there as seedheads, but the whole look has gone up a gear in height and variation. Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is sparking red through the planting, and an annual tall daisy, with many small, white flowers, which self-seeded itself last year, and has really romped this year, has taken the eye up further, whilst the Phlomis longifolia var.bailanica is giving stature with seedheads, and the grey-silver of the Helichrysum rosmarinifolius ‘Silver Jubilee’ (now also seen as Ozothamnus) planted 2 years ago is poking through nicely.

The Mix, Tostat, early July 2019

In mid July, the whole scene will change as Monarda fistulosa, which has just begun to open, will ripple through the scene with warm pink long-lasting flowerheads and will compete as the daisy goes over to take over as the main theme. Later, Patrinia scabiosifolia will come in at early August with electric-yellow umbels shooting through leading to Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ in September.

The first flower, Monarda fistulosa, Tostat, early July 2019

All that I have done is chosen some plants and threaded them between one another fairly closely, allowed a little room for self-seeders, and other than removing the odd dandelion or plantain, I have left it to sort itself out. What I have realised is that between me and it, we have built up a flow of plants that move into the foreground and change the dynamic as time passes- giving way to others as they go. Very little has needed to be removed, and the shrubby elements, the Phlomis bailanica, Berberis thunbergii ‘Maria’, Helichrysum rosmarinifolius ‘Silver Jubilee’ and Miscanthus ‘Gracillimus’ have created the beginnings of a permanent structure as a backdrop.

The other article that continues to set me thinking was Alys Fowler’s article last week on weeding. I always like her thoughtful articles, and this year weeding has taken a back seat in Tostat. I have been surprised at how little this has bothered me, and I have learnt that I have only to wait for plants to grow up and over, thus hiding the interlopers. Then summer heat will finish most of the rest off. I just need to stay calm for the month or so in the Spring when it looks as if all is lost. I am going to go easy again on weeding next year. I adore the combination of the Verbena bonariensis and the wild carrot, Daucus carota and will welcome that back. (see top)

Where I will not go easy is my eternal battle with bindweed. But, 3 years ago, I grew and planted out Tagetes minuta all over the garden where we were under siege from bindweed. Tagetes minuta seedlings have continued to work away since them, and we have a very different garden thanks to them. I have ordered more seed for next year to bulk up the population.

Tagetes minuta still doing battle for me, Tostat, July 2019

Baby, it’s cold outside…

November 2017
The last of the leaves on the Acer, Tostat, November 2017

The end of November still brought us beautiful, crisp, sunny days and some cold nights with frost when the silver birch looks at it’s most regal.  But it was still warm enough to garden and to keep working on the changes for next year.  It is true that there is a lovely clarity about the slightly-felled winter garden which often really helps when thinking about changes…which I always am.  It’s not about restlessness, more about continually working away as things themselves evolve, and create new possibilities.  There are always too those corners which, for some deep psychological reason, I occasionally torture myself with by leaving them to fall into decrepitude.  I am then forced to the altar of decision by the mess that I have allowed to develop.  Strange business, the mind.

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Frost on the silver birch and borrowed trees, Tostat, November 2017

But, after a few days enjoying a wintery London, I came back to a freezing mist and was slightly amazed that the car started first time in the airport carpark.  Back home, dawn the following morning, was a delight.  Light creeping into leaf shapes and cracks, dusting the top of iced plants and so, despite the fact that my usual dressing gown was supplemented by my winter parka, I rushed back into the house to get the camera and do my best with it.  Piet Oudolf is quite right, the best plants die well as well as grow well.

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Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ just touched by the dawn light, Tostat, December 2017

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Seedheads of Monarda fistulosa, Tostat, December 2017

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Telekia speciosa, Tostat, December 2017

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Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberfeder’ punctuated by the fantastic winter crowns of Phlomis russeliana, Tostat, December 2017

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Rosa ‘LD Braithwaite’, with the hips of Rosa ‘Pierre de Ronsard’ behind, Tostat, December 2017

 

After the Rain…

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Acidanthera murielae, Tostat, September 2016

On Tuesday night, the heavens opened, and it has rained off and on, mostly heavily and without wind, since then, till this morning when cool air but also bright sunshine appeared.  Bliss. You can almost feel the earth drinking the water.  Truth is, most of the garden is pretty much crisped to death.  Not total death, but certainly over for this year.  The watered pots are still doing beautifully, but, with the exception of a few things, everything arrived too fast and went over too fast in the heat and dry.  So, this autumn will not see a lot going on in the garden.  But there are some surprises.

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Eucalyptus gunnii Azura, Tostat, September 2016

I bought this in the ‘bin-end’ section of a local nursery about 4 years ago, and planted it thinking it could be a sentinel plant at the opening into the New Garden. It was almost too bright to photograph it this morning and so I only just got the very top of it in the picture.  I adore this tree.  Yes, it works as a sentinel, with it’s fine, elegant and delicate columnar shape and colouring, not to mention the round, grouped leaves that give it an almost frothy look- but it is also not going to get too much bigger, currently about 2m at the widest and about 3.5m high (well, that’s what the websites seem to agree on) and so it won’t dominate the area around it.

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Passiflora fruiting almost done, Tostat, September 2016

Just caught this view as I was wandering past.  It makes the most of the remaining colour in the garden and airbrushes out the drought- rather well, I think.

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Poilanthes tuberosa ‘The Pearl’, Tostat, September 2016

I bought some of these bulbs on offer in a cold and wet June.  They looked pretty dull till the other week, when up shot these tall, slender, grouped cream flowers with a pale yellow centre.  And the perfume is even available for the Piasecka nose.  Deep, dark and rich, with a strong vanilla tone, or at least I think so. Strong and gorgeous scent that hung near the plant on the hot evenings we have had lately.  Absolutely knockout and with many more flowers to come, which we will miss but our housesitters will enjoy.

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Looking down on Begonia luxurians, Tostat, September 2016

Also a pot-dweller, and one that will need a far bigger pot next year, is a real find for this year, Begonia luxurians.  I thought it might be a little delicate as it’s structure is so airy and fine, with these Edward Scissorhands leaves grouped around a centre.  But it has withstood passing people bashing it, wind and rain with aplomb.  It is tender and so it will come in to the house for the winter.

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Eucomis autumnalis bearing seed, Tostat, September 2016

Several friends in Tostat are busily growing Eucomis autumnalis seed that I collected last year, so just before we head off next week, I will be collecting as much as I can.  I am imagining about 3 years to a flowering plant, but it is such a great plant, you can’t have enough in pots, and is handsome at every stage of it’s life.  Meanwhile, on the slowly evolving labyrinth, which has suffered the last 2 summers and is not therefore complete with plants, I was collecting seed from good plants (sown 2 years ago) of Carex buchananii ‘Red Rooster’ before the rain.  I now have a big brown envelope full of seed- which might mean that I can finally grow enough, probably about 150 plants, to complete the outer circuit and fill in the odd hole. Fingers crossed.

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Dryopteris erythrosora, Tostat, September 2016

There has been so much gratitude for the rain.  This Dryopteris has even reverted to a semi-spring position, instantly throwing up new leaves and looking pretty content.

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Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’, Tostat, September 2016

This plant, Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’, is only in it’s first year and so has a way to go.  But it has been redoubtable in the heat and dry, and so next year it should be in fine fettle.  I love the arching delicacy of the flowering branches and it’s fine vase-shaped, upright form.  It does look heat-weary, but it has pulled through, albeit with a little spot-watering.

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Maurandya antirhiniflora taking on Salvia ‘Ember’s Wish’, Tostat, September 2016

At the same time, the change in the weather has brought the sharper early morning light of autumn, which allowed this small flower to steal my gaze as I went out with a cup of tea this morning.  It’s good to be alive.