I now realise that I’ve been living in the lap of luxury for the past two years, during the Covid pandemic – I’ve had someone else to do the hedge-trimming and lawn-mowing. Normal service has resumed …
During those two years we purchased a heavy petrol lawnmower and a small shed, installing both at the bottom end of the garden where I’m making new borders.
So far it’s only been the BV that’s used the mower.
He described it to me as ‘a bit of a beast’. Did that help? I’m not quite sure. I recall being mortified that I couldn’t play some very fast, high, flutey notes in orchestra, notes described by our director as ‘easy’. Only to find out later from my music teacher that this comment was supposed to encourage us to attempt something fairly challenging! If you want to be kind, perhaps best to remain silent if something has the potential to be tricky?
I’m not sure what the best, most encouraging approach is, but I do know that I conquered my fear today and got right out there. So proud (and exhausted!). Not all an unmixed blessing, because there are still small areas that have to be strimmed.
I didn’t used to be frightened of lawnmowers. I remember wielding massive great rotary beasts up and down the fairly narrow strips of grass on the order beds in Oxford Botanic Garden. Obviously I haven’t lost my gift, even if I’m not as strong and am definitely a lot more fearful. Why couldn’t I be that lady who coyly told me a while ago that her husband did all the mowing, because it was ‘too heavy’ ?
Anyway – back to the strimmer. Of course it broke down on those little bits that the mower can’t handle, marring my pleasure somewhat. Always in May when the mechanic has about 20 million people beating his door down!
Generally I’m pleased with how these new ‘meadow style’ borders are shaping up, although they are far from perfect. (I’m quite good at photography and I know the effect I’m after, even if I can’t achieve it in reality … yet.)
I need more grasses. I planted out some American prairie grasses in the autumn (Andropogon gerardii, Schizachyrium scoparius and Sporobolus heterolepsis) – all grown from seed, to add to the Stipa, Miscanthus, Molinia, Pennisetum and Panicum that I had planted in the spring. But there were not nearly enough, so I need to get a push on to choose/sow more. That autumn planting was an interesting experiment, since it’s the first time I’ve planted grasses in the autumn. Normally it’s advised to plant/divide grasses in spring in a colder climate.
The perennials, however, have been very disappointing on the heavy clay. I’ve reached the stage where I wonder if I can grow them at all! A very wet summer last year and then a wet winter has seen off Achillea ‘Credo’ (of which I had become unreasonably fond), Agastache ‘Black Adder’, Salvia ‘Amistad’ and, it appears, some Heleniums as well as most of the Monardas (I had planted ‘Scorpion’, after reading that it was longer-lived, having already experimented with the ‘usual suspects’ – there’s a trace left).
Below is a picture of what the huge slug infestation this spring did to the usually ‘tough-as-old-boots’ Ratibida pinnata. I did actually see little excavated holes in the soil, during April. Because the bottom of the holes were rich in small sluggy-type things, I think we must have had an underground population explosion over autumn/winter. This is something you learn when making completely new garden areas on previously uncultivated ground. The existing residents always strike back in the two years after you’ve finished. Whether it’s voles, chafers (whose larvae were feeding on the grass roots) … whatever …
Where do you go from here, when (given the soil) it is always to wet or too dry for about 75% herbaceous perennials? Keep using your imagination of course … and learn that grasses and steppe-adapted bulbs spell ‘success’.
There’s lots to be happy about, however. Particularly these two lovely oriental poppies.
‘Beauty of Livermere’, which I’m unlikely to lose unless I try to move it (that’s usually a come-on to the grim reaper in this garden).
I grew foxglove ‘Pam’s Choice’ from seed – but am not expecting it to self-sow. This is not because I’m pessimistic, simply that I know when I want something to self-sow it refuses.
I still struggle with the all kinds of honesty (Lunaria – but, cross fingers, may have got there) and also with Dame’s Violet. Hesperis matronalis was a thug higher up in the garden in my first gardening year here (2012), when I grew it from seed to ‘fill space’. It was beautiful, but totally intolerant of any other green thing. I think it probably has not forgiven my attempt to to curb its desire for world domination and now cowers shyly in the background whenever I try to introduce it to a more appropriate environment.
Aquilegias I have no problem with – if I did nothing, this garden would only be aquilegias. I remember sowing Hardy Plant Society seed from ‘Greenapples’ and a ‘black form’ with so much excitement. I was very naive about my soil’s ‘potential’.
I’m also pleased with the effect that the espaliered ‘Cox’s Pippins’ are making on the shady side of the orchard borders.
Time to move some of my lovely irises – the four cherry ‘Tai-Haku’ are beginning to make it too shady down here. You’ll see from the pictures that follow that the slugs & snails have been making themselves known on the irises too – not a particularly outstanding year for the irises when these critters take a starring role.
This gorgeous bronze is called by us ‘Sylvia’ – it has no name, but was given by a kind friend called … you guessed it … in front of ‘Sylvia’ is ‘Foggy Dew’.
The first flowering year for ‘Black Suited’, which actually went in the ground about 3 years ago, I think, having one prizes for Iris Cayeux.
‘Ciel Gris sur Poilly’ is close at hand (sad to say that ‘Comme un Oeuf’ did not flower this year). I adore this Amoena group of irises, I’ve recently realised. Whenever I look at a Cayeux catalogue it’s those plants that raise my lust level.
Rose ‘Cardinal Richilieu’ looking typically glum, but better supported than in the past! He is in front of the Cox’s Pippins, next to a ‘gardener’s path’ in the middle of the border where I can keep an eye on him, because the cardinal for whom this rose is named sacked our village in 1635.
As an addendum – today in Aldi nobody, not even the cashiers, was wearing a mask. The first time since 17 March, 2022.
16 thoughts on “Taming the beast”
Your progress in the garden is great. Congratulations. I cannot mow the grass here! We used expanded shale to break up really heavy clay soils when I worked further north…now I am gardening on the complete opposite.
Very beautiful photos. My personal beast is my chipper. Daunting in it’s size and very powerful. But so satisfying when the brush pile is reduced to ramial chip mulch and I can return the beast to it’s lair.
What treasures and loveliness! Your garden has a magical look — like one might find a poet in seated repose around the next corner, pencil in mouth and notebook in hand, pondering a day in the life of a dragonfly. … Congrats on your new mower and tackling that job! I (female) do most of the mowing at our property too. I tell people that my husband and I have non-traditional roles, which is actually the truth. I’m with you on the No Mow May–I love the idea although we already have a great deal to support the pollinators and much other wildlife here. I have to keep up with some of the mowing now or it will be five feet tall by summer and we have wildfire danger to consider. … That plum colored poppy is a beauty!
Your poppies are beautiful. I almost ordered a few this winter but just don’t know if there’s anywhere they would like in this garden. Good job on the mowing! -good luck with the strimmer
The failure/struggle with the perennial plants is a rather unusual one; certainly not one within our experience here. Slightly alarming to have your choice of plants restricted to such a degree. The bearded iris seem to like the conditions. Lots of shrubs? Loads of compost/manure?
Yes – it’s sad Paddy. As a prof. hortic who has always preferred herbaceous (especially woodland plants), I am sort of non-plussed because little that I have adored over 30 years works here. I worked in Alpine & Herbaceous at Kew, so this matters to me.
Summing it up: exceptionally poorly draining clay soil; extreme summer heat; winter wet. There’s a book here – I am already compiling lists of what works!
At the moment, I’m even down to examining my potting compost, because things I propagate are not growing. For instance, my last compost has been bought (delivered next week) online, instead of locally. Lots of research involved!
Could show you pictures of pelargonium plugs I received in March! Horrible – the originals, from a grand French company (Baumaux) were lovely, but they didn’t like me! And are about the same size at the end of May as they were in March. And looking very, very stunted.
How can a Dip Hort Kew not work out what’s going on? Nothing puts roots on – it is the rooting that’s the issue.
In the ‘good news’: ‘Brazen Hussy’ is alive and shouting. The little viola is, I think, in heaven!!! RIP
You will eventually sort out the selection which you can grow!
Thanks Cathy, you certainly have a lot of work on your hands. Love the pictures particularly the poppies and irises.
Thanks so much Paula – we need to have a bit of lunch?
I think your garden is a delight. Love ‘Patty’s Plum’ and the irises. My daughter has clay soil in her Esher garden, I never realised how difficult it is to dig until I was helping her plant some new additions over Easter. Roses seem to like clay soil so perhaps you can try adding a few? Also Hydrangeas. I have issues with S&S so I feel your pain when things get chomped to the ground. Heleniums just do not survive here (Cornwall).
I have ‘a few’ roses – about 50 cultivars- they were my first big love, particularly the old cultivars. Graham Stuart Thomas being my great hero.
Yes, they don’t seem to mind the clay or the heat – but then we get terrible rain, often, just as they are about to flower (and Souvenir de la Malmaison is ruined 2 years out of 3 – but I keep going, because she’s incredible).
The blackspot here is awful, when it rains, particularly on the David Austins.
I have a lot of David Austins – they are petering out after about 9 years. I think they are more disease-prone and weaker in my conditions. Have observed all their little differences! The old varieties (apart from SDLM) seem to do the best, with less disease.
I need to do a proper post when the roses are flowering, which is at the moment – I can’t believe they are all flowering at once, end of May!
I used to do it in the past, when fewer people read my blog. But it is useful to pass on my observations.
Heleniums – I thought I was doing better, but this year with a silly wet summer (2021) (not normal for us) and winter and the mollusc problem … you understand!
Was never mad about hydrangeas in the past, but love the lacecaps and we have started adding.
You make me realise that I should be passing on experience more – it’s what we all thrive on, n’est-ce pas?
It’s all so lovely Cathy, and you are doing a great job of keeping things in check on your own. Love that dark iris – very dramatic. The poppies are gorgeous too. I have been looking for Patty for years but she hasn’t appeared in any nurseries near me yet! I tried from seed many years ago but I think the slugs got to them if they did germinate. Good to hear the masks are falling… still a few in my local supermarket, but the cashiers were finally allowed (by their strict boss) to stop wearing them! This all went on for far too long. 😜
Thanks so much Cathy. I don’t post enough – or read others enough. I think you should try buying from Peter Nyssen (bulb supplier, shipping from Holland so European).
I got my ‘Pattys’ online from them (and they are normally who I buy bulbs from). They do quite a nice list of pot-grown, bareroot herbaceous (which are hard to buy here in France, locally). I’ve found them very good, decent price, strong growing (although my garden kills them off nicely, thank you!!!)
And oh yes – such a relief. Although we haven’t all started kissing each other here in France again.
That’s a mixed blessing. I feel the alienation, but when it’s an orchestra or music thing, one’s entrance (when there are 15 to 30 others there) is not so prolonged or boring!!!
Thanks for the tip about Peter Nyssen. When Brexit happened they weren’t delivering to the EU, but things have changed and I see there is a German website. I actually ordered bulbs from Farmer Gracy in the UK last year and was really pleased with them. They must have their stock in Holland too. Now I wish Chiltern Seeds were shipping here. Maybe one day they will get their act together! 😉
Oh so true – I miss Chiltern as well! Used to buy a lot of grass seeds from them. They were among the last to stop shipping over here – was horrified this spring when I tried to order!