This week in the garden

A couple of breaks in the dreary, cold and wet weather have allowed some forays into the garden this past week. Impatient to get on with the new season’s work, but thwarted by the climate, these were invaluable and soul-lightening sessions.

I embarked on a major ‘spring clean’ of Mrs P’s garden. This is my favourite client’s garden, the first one I took on, and the one where I feel most at home. Last summer I made a small ‘Shakespeare garden’ on behalf of Mrs P’s colleagues, as a retirement present. I remember planting it up on a miserable wet July day, when the storm scene in ‘King Lear’ was more appropriate than ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ – but it has overwintered reasonably well. A number of Thymus have suffered in the rain, and may need replacing, but otherwise all is well, It did need a good weed and hoe though. I am hopeful that it will flourish this spring and summer.

In the rest of the garden I took a fairly no-nonsense approach to a number of shrubs that have been getting unruly. Buddleia davidii was taken right down to its base, to promote (all being well) some new flowering stems – with flowers at head height, rather than 12ft in the air. Given that one of Buddleia’s redeeming features is its attractiveness to butterflies, it seems a shame for them to be way up high. A very large Cornus also needed a good prune – leaving enough of the red stems to play off against the bright lime green of a neighbouring Fatsia japonica for the moment – but bringing the overall size in by about half, and allowing the underplanted spring bulbs some space. I will take the rest back when more colour appears elsewhere, and this will promote new, brighter coloured shoots next winter.

One of the things I have learned, belatedly, as gardening has come to play an ever large part in my life, is that timidity is no use when it comes to most plants. Few are the plants which will not benefit from being taken firmly in hand; fiddly, fossicky pruning is no good at all; plants in the wrong place need to be moved and found a new, better home. For many years I allowed the plants to dictate too much: they still dictate some things, by virtue of their different needs and habits, but it is only a garden if the gardener has the final say.

At home, I did a final clear-up of the herbaceous perennials in the borders – Scabious, Verbascum ‘Clementine’, Acanthus, Sedum spectabile amongst others – all of which had nothing left to offer. And doing so revealed any number of new shoots pushing through as the days lengthen. Clematis ‘Freckles’ had passed unnoticed where it grows against a trellis at the far end of the garden – but, there it is, with delicate white and purple spotted flowers hanging discreetly: what a nice surprise. The cold frame has finally given up the ghost and needs replacing this year: I might take it to the allotment if its crumbling wood will survive the (albeit short) journey… A few strawberry plants have been in the frame over winter, and will soon be heading for the allotment themselves.

Finally, my 3yo girl and I sowed some Broad Beans – ‘The Sutton’, a dwarf growing variety – in toilet roll tubes. They will be brought on in the relative warmth of the conservatory before heading up to the allotment to kick-start the growing season there.

Then there are the plans – which wet weather allows to flourish indoors. The decked area at the top of the garden is going to go ‘tropical’ this year – I want some hot colours and some exotic foliage to create the feeling of a Caribbean or African verandah when we are eating there in summer. Cannas, hardy Banana plants, masses of trailing Nasturtiums, Passiflora – this is what I have in mind.

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