The Sharp Sting Of Obsession

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New gardeners start with the easy stuff, then move on to plants that need pruning, specialist soil or are picky about temperature or irrigation. I’ve done my time shooting for success with vegetation recommended for my situation and now I’m branching out. Conservatories and greenhouses bring out the nerd in all of us and I’m here to tell you that I am not immune, no better than some and no worse than many other anoraks.
Brugmansia (angel's trumpet)
Brugmansia (angel’s trumpet)

This week’s hagiography is brought to you by Brugmansias (angel’s trumpet), which used to be called Datura, until the botanists warmed up their microscopes and blew the dust off their gene sequencers. I’ve thrown away specimens that I couldn’t bring to bloom. In the end, a gift from daughter Cineraria took me to Google for advice. The Royal Horticultural Society calls this an easy specimen to keep. I fear that these people are sadly deluded or at least, better gardeners than I am. I dowsed between the many and varied offers of advice. Should you wish to give it a go, I would like to distil what I’ve learned.
Brugmansia (angel's trumpet) up close
Brugmansia (angel’s trumpet) up close

Plants prefer an annual re-pot in spring, or at least top dressing the upper-most 7 cm (3 inches) of soil with fresh compost. I lard mine with “Gro Sure” fertiliser, together with a sprinkling of fish, blood and bone for luck. I chop back in early winter, after flowering has finished. Failure to do this will result in four months of looking at a very large twig. Winter minimum night temperature is 7-10 degrees C, daytime 10-12 degrees C. Prune until the plant forms a “Y”, then never, ever cut below the bifurcation. Trim to within 2.5cm (1 inch) of older wood. Remember that all parts of the plant are highly toxic and that the sap may be an irritant. Don’t pinch out the growing tips, since this retards blooming. Just resign yourself to admiring the beast with binoculars. The blossom is supposed to be fabulously perfumed but that high up, you can’t smell them.
Brugmansia (angel's trumpet) buds
Brugmansia (angel’s trumpet) buds

Once foliage starts in spring, water twice a week. As growth gets busy, increase to daily dowsing but don’t over water, or they’ll drop their leaves. In August, add tomato fertiliser to the watering can, once a fortnight. I’ve found that buds form better when specimens are grown in good sunshine. Shower the greenery now and again, out of bright light and damp down the floor if the weather turns particularly hot. Chance would be a fine thing. Various bugs cause lacy, moth eaten leaves; introduce biological control or spray the bastards with insecticide, without mercy. Get busy with this task as soon as you notice the first tooth marks, since delay will leave you with herbage looking like bunting. This has been a great deal of faff and no end of trouble. Was it worth it? You tell me.

I fell and injured myself; not from toppling from a tree or too much spade work but by tripping in the kitchen. Until broken bones set, I shall be taking a break from blogging, when I can type with two hands. Thank you for reading my waffle, gardeners are the best people on Earth.

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And Another Thing

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You are going to hate me when you’re stuck out in the cold, hands frozen, knees caked with clarty mud and the bitter rainwater trickling down the inevitable gap between coat and scarf. I don’t care, since most of you don’t know where I live. You should be able to tell in spring though, since mine is the frontage with a decent display of riotous bulbs.
Arum pictum, berries
Arum pictum, berries

I was unable to resist the libidinous pageant of packets in supermarkets, budget shops and garden centres. I too, will be less keen on my nasty habits, when I’m crouched over the borders in November, planting tulips. It’s hard to forgive a species that requires contact with the soil so close to winter. The blooms would have to be very special indeed; ah well, I guess that they are. Most tulips will perform once, then disappear. If you have the time and energy, dig up the bulbs once the foliage has died down. Ripen them in a sunny, dry place and replant in autumn. Otherwise, treat them like a bouquet, enjoy them while they last and start from scratch next year.
Nicandra physalodes (shoo fly plant), flower & seed pods
Nicandra physalodes (shoo fly plant), flower & seed pods

Narcissi can go in now and should return in future; not the posh species, in my experience. Plant deeply, to encourage strong stems able to withstand wind, gales and storms whose sole intent and purpose is to decimate your spring show. Buy cheap packs from Lidl and Aldi, provided that there’s nothing slippery, sweaty, slimy nor mouldy therein. A few fancy varieties at the front, will make a splash with your cash. Send them into the ground in groups. Please don’t throw down the bulbs and plant where they fall, since you’ll lose those you strew with too much vigour and those that you inter safely, will look measly.
Helianthus (perennial sunflower) “Lemon Queen”
Helianthus (perennial sunflower) “Lemon Queen”

Allium “Red Mohican” came from the flower show and has been a source of excitement since April. Towering sprouts at head height, turned into balls of unusual blossom with a two toned moho haircut. Online bulbs were advertised by a national retailer, so I dragged my spouse to the car, leaving his tea to puddle on his desk and drip from the hem of his trousers. We made a handbrake turn to a halt by the front door and hot footed inside, to demand supplies from a bewildered assistant. A little further research showed that it’s Dobies, not Dobbies who have cornered the market. Poot. Still, I felt obliged to get armfuls of beautiful bronze promise, some badged with untruthful photographs of improbable flowers, others in brown paper bags. I advised Attila to put the names on sacks of his choice but on returning home, I found myself unable to read his writing and neither could he. My scrawl was no better. I put this down to the thrill of stoking up for a magnificent shindig in the future. If you forgive me for encouraging garden guddling in the worst conditions, your regard for me may creep towards grudging respect. Eventually.

Fond Farewell To Summer

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I didn’t mean to buy them; my brain noticed the sale signs, the mouth sprang into action, the purse was opened and money changed hands before I could intervene. Really, it wasn’t my fault. A two pronged attack, then; start the autumn clear-up, whilst taking stock, noting the bald patches and planting the hardy herbaceous perennials purchased by accident.
Passiflora caerulea (blue passion flower)
Passiflora caerulea (blue passion flower)

I observed in passing that “Mme. Alfred Carrière” is still blooming, the palest of roses, faintly blushed with cheek skin pink against the azure seasonal sky. Not a cloud on any horizon, the climber is both bountiful and beautiful. After an early spring storm tore her from her bonds I gave her a stern pruning, as I’m short and couldn’t reach very high. I can’t swamp the roots with homemade compost or other fertiliser, since the plant is close to the fish pond. Any highly nutritious run-off would trickle down hill to join the residents and thus increase the algae and duck weed, which is prone to invade their sitting room. On such meagre rations, the rose arch has been covered with blossom for the last five months.
Coloured leaves & seed heads
Coloured leaves & seed heads

Compare and contrast with “Souvenir du Dr. Jamain”, which resides six feet (2m) away from Madame. When he performs, he offers deep red roses of jaw dropping glory. I’ve seen the pictures. After heaping helpings of garden goodness and a season notable for near constant rain, mine has squeezed out one bud, which mouldered, rotted and dropped without issue. I am resolved to dole out extra water and compost next year. Also I propose to show his stems my fun loving side, with a pair of sharpened secateurs. Sorry mon fils, you’ve crossed a line and I haven’t the room for slackers.
Mostly Acers
Mostly Acers

I realise that I’ve made an administrative error in allowing Attila to choose the occasional specimen which catches his eye. This seems fair in the light of his more onerous duties, except that his taste is more tarty than mine. He complains that left to my own devices, my borders would be green and white, which is a wild exaggeration. If he were steering the ship, the council would be calling to rein in colour clashes which contravene health and safety legislation. I got off lightly this time, as he picked a Hydrangea petiolaris which should thrive on the back wall and will deck itself in subtle cream petals. En route to installing the plant in the preferred pitch, my arm was grabbed by the hardened steel grasp of Rosa “Hot Chocolate”, which forms a major component of the orange scheme. This left me with thorn inflicted wounds reminiscent of one of the more lurid medieval diseases. I managed to complete my task despite dripping gore over the soil. Not long to go before I’m ensconced before a crackling log fire. If I can avoid injuring myself with a crochet hook, I’ll soon be longing for a return to contact sport.

Indian Summer

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The weather forms a major part of British conversation, since this is an island where it’s always too cold, hot, wet or dry but rarely a bit too perfect to be comfortable. A heat wave has been promised for this week, which no doubt presages a month of tiddling rain. A burst of gunk from the sun making the Northern lights widely visible, just increases the likelihood of murky skies. The meteorologists will be sniggering down their barometers at the jolly fun they’re having, yanking our chains and tugging our leashes. If good gardening conditions arrive as assured, I’ll eat my hat.
Clerodendrum bungei (glory flower)
Clerodendrum bungei (glory flower)

I shouldn’t moan. When we opened for charity this summer, we had a lovely, balmy day just right for wandering amongst the flowers. Across town, my friend Jasmine totally rinsed the refreshments. No matter how many lemons I minced and mashed into cordial, I couldn’t compete with her iced Prosecco served with strawberry scones. Several visitors viewed my plastic cups of sticky citrus juice with a jaundiced eye and despite the garnish of mint leaves, demanded to know where the plant sales were. I took note of the specimens that attracted most attention and where possible, I shall try to propagate the same. Yes friends, in order to maximise funds raised for a worthy cause, I’m prepared to flog some of my favourites. If I manage to part with them without a twinge, I shall consume my belt, buckle and all.
Malus sylvestris (weeping crab apple)
Malus sylvestris (weeping crab apple)

I have taken cuttings of Santolina (cotton lavender) “Lemon Fizz” and Phygelius x rectus (Cape fuchsia) “Moonraker”. I snipped strong, healthy soft tips of each and stuffed them into sandwich bags in haste, in order to stop them from desiccating while I meandered towards the potting bench. I find that sterile, dampened seed compost is the right medium for maximum success. I cut each 3 inch (7cm) stem just below a leaf node, stripped off most of the foliage, then dipped it in water and rooting hormone powder. Then I placed each shred of green hope against the side of a plastic pot, along with three of its comrades. Fully badged in case of lack of mental retention on my part, I placed many pots full in trays with polythene covers. I put them in the mini greenhouse, out of direct sunlight. If they all grow, I’ll swallow my shirt.
Under glass - cuttings & seedlings
Under glass, cuttings & seedlings

Last year’s Dierama pulcherrimum have germinated well and are far more numerous than I need, unless I’m starting an angel’s fishing rod farm. If they survive another winter I shall pot them up, label laboriously and sell them. I’ll grub out all of the Hellebore seedlings as they appear under the skirts of their parents and split up other perennials such as Phlomis russelliana (Turkish sage). I’ve cut the seed heads off the Levisticum officinale (lovage) and shall plant half now, the rest in spring. All of the authorities advise sowing five weeks before the last frost, which is a fatuous thing to say. If I could predict that, I would be reading the forecast after the news. I shall give it my best shot for shelves full of exciting produce and if all goes according to plan, I’ll devour my big boots, complete with mud and laces. Looks like I’m going to have a lot on my plate.

Dahlia Day

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I don’t ask a lot from my garden, just an exquisite burst of radiance at the height of the summer, together with something of interest at all times of the year. The seasonal bed is a case in point; it has to start with annual Atriplex hortensis (red orach), which forms a velvety purple coverlet from self sown seed. This is subsequently studded with Papaver somniferum (opium poppy), whose seeds have over wintered and seedlings spread, ready to explode into exuberant growth. As the pods full of next year’s bounty start to swell on the stems, the lily buds rise in a stately manner to bulge like beer bellies, then burst into blousy bloom.
Dahlia “Babette”
Dahlia “Babette”

The final act is the Dahlias. I retrieve the tubers from the garage in spring and settle them with homemade compost and fish, blood and bone meal fertiliser in their dedicated patch. This enables me to put them in, dig them up and generally furtle about, without disturbing the roots of more permanent plantings. The lilies don’t seem to sulk, being fairly patient with my fumbling and the annuals are plentiful enough to spare a few casualties. This week, I gave haircuts to the other residents, who have given their all. I removed the seed heads from the Lilium, to reserve their energy for bulking up their bulbs for next year’s show. The orach had grown taller than me on the rich mix of soil. Since they were hogging the light or flopping over other inhabitants, I cut them down to the ground without mercy. In doing so, I stirred up the plentiful seed, which fluttered about my ears in a dusty brown gale. There will be pink seedlings to come, sprouting from one end of the garden to the other.
Dahlia “Kelvin Floodlight” & Atriplex hortensis (red orach)
Dahlia “Kelvin Floodlight” & Atriplex hortensis (red orach)

The Dahlias have now been given some room to do their thing, unimpeded by the ambitions of others. Old favourites are already looming large, having made sturdy clumps of leaves with intense balls of petals glowing brightly. I’ve tried to curtail the colour palette, towards the plum, pink and white side of the spectrum but I am unable to resist some of the oranges, yellows and scarlets. Every spring I swear that I need no more, then I find myself in some purveyor of planty delights, by accident. I always end up with a selection of packets of grubby roots clutched to my chest. The vivid photographs catch my eye and my imagination until I am as dazzled as any magpie.
Across the Dahlia bed
Across the Dahlia bed

The sunshine and rain have been good for the crop. “Babette” is a wonderful magenta shade with a long flowering period. Plentiful, sculpted ball blossoms gleam out and makes a loud statement. “Nuit d’Ete” (syn. “Summer Night”) is a medium cactus type, so dark as to disappear from a distance but in close proximity, is incomparable. “Tsuki yori no shisha” is a white, semi cactus dinner plate specimen which despite its tarty tendencies, remains one of my favourites for texture. Despite the hardships of lugging compost and boxes, through which I put my spouse, this is the moment when all of his hard work comes to fruition, in a crescendo of colour. How can I resist? How can you?

Emergency Ward

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The passion flower in the big square pot has died. It followed its predecessor into eternity, except this one never formed a bud, much less a bloom. I decided to get to the bottom of the problem. I called Attila and asked him to move the other large containers out of the way. Thank you. Then I asked him to shift the huge obelisk, festooned with twining stems of defunct climber. It’s too heavy for me to manage. I’m obliged. The soil was wet, hefty and compacted. “Oh Honey, here’s a bucket, would you take out the soggy compost and put it on the heap around the back? And remove the crocks, yes please, all of them.”
Passiflora “Purple Haze”
Passiflora “Purple Haze”

I asked him if he had seen any vine weevil grubs, or anything else that might have been chewing roots, cocooned in the dark out of sight. He complained that the sweat from his brow impeded his detection skills, which was fair. The pot had one drainage hole, entirely inadequate for such a vast container. “Oh Darling, would you drill me some more, to prevent future waterlogging? Don’t break the trough”. “Sweetheart, get some more crocks from the shed and make a decent layer at the base. Get the gigantic bale of fresh compost from the garage if you would and empty it in. Put the obelisk back on top, now that I have cleaned it off. Now get out of my way, while I plant it up with new Passifloras”. “Constance Elliot”, all white and “Caerulea” in blue and green are evenly matched in growth rate and will look wonderful, scrambling their way up to the eaves of the conservatory. “Now put the other colossal pots back in place, if you would be so kind.”
Asplenium bulbiferum (mother spleenwort) & Phlebodium pseudoaureum (Virginia blue fern)
Asplenium bulbiferum (mother spleenwort) & Phlebodium pseudoaureum (Virginia blue fern)

Other residents are afflicted with a nasty dose of mealy bug. The white fluff around the swines protects them from spray-on insecticides and they seem to laugh at systemics. The best method of control is to dab them with a Q-tip loaded with methylated spirit. Try to resist making jokes at the chemist, that the stinky substance is for drinking. They give you a somewhat humourless stare otherwise known as the fish eye. I quartered the tropical plants, removing deceased cacti, trimming faded leaves, tying up drooping stems and rehoming spiders. I swept the floor most thoroughly.
Reaching the roof
Reaching the roof

Spouse had gone outside to cut lumps off the old cherry tree, which has fallen off the twig to my immense regret. He says that ladders and power saws come as something of a relief, after a little light hothouse gardening with me. He’s proud that he hasn’t broken any terracottas or residents therein. I don’t care about the ceramics. Husbands are hard to come by, especially one as good as him.

Let’s Talk About Sex

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You know that all of this bountiful exuberance isn’t laid on just for your benefit, don’t you? The sensual, silken petals are flags to attract the attention of creatures with many more legs than you or me, generally speaking. The perfect perfume is there to encourage the chitin coated day trippers to bimble about, transferring male micro gametophytes which produce sperm cells, to the female parts of the blossom. It seems like a popular pursuit; I can’t walk around the garden without disturbing clouds of buzzing, humming, flying beasts, all intent about their business. It pays to keep your mouth shut when bending to inhale the scent of a lovely bloom. Bringing in cut flowers is fraught with peril, since the kitchen fills with fluttering, waddling, squirming squatters. If humans don’t consume them by accident, the bugs form the bottom of the chain that feeds the rest of nature.
Caryopteris (bluebeard) & bee
Caryopteris (bluebeard) & bee

All of this insect activity has borne fruit, literally as well as metaphorically. Strange shaped pods are ripening in the August sunshine and have started to rattle. I spread newspapers all over the dining table, to allow seeds to drop out of their cases. Outdoors, the stems cannot be shaken to remove any tenants, for fear of wasting the good stuff. So it is that Attila’s meals are made hazardous by wildlife, seeking only to make their escape to pastures less burnt.
Vitis vinifera “Purpurea” (ornamental grape)
Vitis vinifera “Purpurea” (ornamental grape)

Since Spouse is computer literate, I asked him to acquire some inexpensive manila envelopes in which to store my treasure. I declined plastic food bags which, although cheap as chips, would make seeds rot and risk suffocating the spiders not evicted or eaten by misfortune. We’re vegetarians, so he wouldn’t scoff them on purpose, I promise. He bought me specialist paper packets so alluring that I feel inadequate in their presence. Any more posh and gold plating would be the next logical step. I’ve filled them to bursting with incipient Aquilegia (columbine) and nascent annual poppies. Now I’m pimping around the district, pushing my largesse into the hands of those who will rear them well.
Euonymus oxyphyllus (Korean spindle tree) seed pod
Euonymus oxyphyllus (Korean spindle tree) seed pod

Anthers, stamens, pollen and ovaries, the flowers are all about the birds and the bees. In order to achieve fertilisation, some will do it themselves, while others must have another, to provide cross pollination. This is especially true of fruit trees. The only way to sort the men from the boys is to do a little light reading. Amongst my gardening customers I included a retired policewoman. General conversation on the subject lead her to confide about the time that she arrested a lady of the night, who was plying her trade in the high street. In the course of the takedown, the hooker mentioned that there were over one hundred sexual positions. The WPC declined to investigate the topic, which I regarded as a squandered opportunity. I would have requested some edited highlights, since an education is never wasted.

Hubris

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I really do know everything about gardening. I’m so sharp that I have thought up bright solutions for peculiar problems. I purchased two scrawny specimens of Phygelius x rectus (Cape fuchsia). The two were so close in colour, I thought that planting them together would show up the differences. Not a bit of it; now I have an amorphous tangle of stringy, sticky bush and the very occasional peach/pink flower. If there is a distinction between them, I can’t see it. I returned from Bodnant clutching two Euphorbias to my chest. They each do the familiar spurgy thing but one’s bracts are bigger than the other. I put them in a sunny bed, to show up the variations and as you can see from the picture, I haven’t learned a blasted thing from my earlier excursion into smarty pants territory.
Anemanthele lessoniana (pheasant's tail grass), self seeded to perfection
Anemanthele lessoniana (pheasant’s tail grass), self seeded to perfection

I endeavoured to grow soggy plants in sand, by sinking pond liner beneath their feet. Anything precious put there, promptly died without ceremony. The ground elder scrambled over the top and thrived. I tried growing Ligularia dentata ‘Desdemona’ (leopard plant) in a muddy tub which I kept topped up with water. The whole lot festered, stank and kicked the bucket in record time. I germinated moisture loving Inula magnifica from seed and boxing clever, installed it in a shady border. They departed this life after one season, to my immense regret. Now I see that they have self seeded in the baskets of marginals in the pond.
Euphorbia sikkimensis (red stems at back) & Euphorbia cornigera (bigger bracts)
Euphorbia sikkimensis (red stems at back) & Euphorbia cornigera (bigger bracts)

There’s little point in trying to teach Nature any lessons, I have to conclude that She knows much more than I do. I have a lot of success with Iris germanica (bearded iris), which can take as much sun baked stringent drainage as I can provide. My only limitation is the amount of brightness afforded by an English summer. I have a stand of white “Lady Snowflake” which have bloomed magnificently for ages. Sadly, the flowers have dwindled until I ended up with a single stalk. The bad news is that the rhizomes need breaking up and dividing every few years. After tearing off each piece with a growth bud and throwing away the spent central lump, the good news is that there will be lots of new plants, for free.
Geranium pyrenaicum “Bill Wallis”, grows only where it pleases

Geranium pyrenaicum “Bill Wallis”, grows only where it pleases

The same goes for married life; you cannot force a man to do a job that he doesn’t want to. I had four slabs of concrete, removed from a path at considerable personal expense, in order to site a blackberry cane. I had asked Attila to break them up to go into rubble sacks and then spent six months reminding him. Then nagging, followed by bitching. Came the Saturday when his team lost at football, to a bunch of spindly, knock-kneed teenagers. My spouse stalked out of the back door and pausing only to pick up his sledgehammer, reduced the blocks to dust in less than a minute. The moral is, don’t just pick your battles but time them properly, as well.

Ponder This

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Despite England’s reputation for moderation in many things, occasionally we get a moment of blazing summer sunshine and that brief instant is when my friend chose to move large quantities of dirt, from one end of her garden to the other. Jasmine had been very busy digging herself a water feature on one of the hottest days of the year. After all that hard work, she retired to the kitchen for a well earned cup of tea and a treat. Upon turning her back for a millisecond, she found that her large and handsome dog had eaten her custard tart. Jasmine was laughing when she recounted the story; if it had been me, I would have had a new rug in front of the fire. If I was feeling merciful, he would still bark when I stepped on him.
Begonia “Connie Boswell” in the conservatory
Begonia “Connie Boswell” in the conservatory

I wanted to give the girl a gift that her pet would not inhale from the table and consume without tasting. I dragged Attila out for a little forced labour in our own pond, to grub out some Iris pseudacorus (yellow flag). I rinsed the duckweed off the plant and its prodigious roots, since I didn’t want to make another a martyr to the filthy stuff, for the rest of their lives. I potted up in ordinary garden soil, since rich compost will promote the growth of algae and blanket weed. I topped it off with a thick layer of gravel, which will weigh down the container once immersed and will prevent the earth from floating away. The whole thing made a large statement, which I hope will go some way to extending a pooch’s prospects.
Lathyrus latifolius “White Pearl” (perennial sweet pea)
Lathyrus latifolius “White Pearl” (perennial sweet pea)

Spouse has long, muscular arms with which to reach the overgrown plants at the far side, without taking an involuntary bath. Having introduced him to the concept of a little aquatic employment, I pointed out that all of the marginals could benefit from some attention. I said that there really wasn’t much to do, just a bit of a tidy-up and pointed out that after his initial anointing with mud and slime, he could hardly smell worse.
Sanguisorba canadensis & Potentilla fruticosa (white burnet & shrubby cinquefoil)
Sanguisorba canadensis & Potentilla fruticosa (white burnet & shrubby cinquefoil)

Lysichiton americanus (skunk cabbage) is reviled in the UK, where it has escaped from garden cultivation into natural waterways and is giving native plants a run for their money. I’ve never noticed any egregious stink for which the species gets its common name. If it is a bully elsewhere, in my estate it is a sissy. Iris and Inula have seeded themselves in its container and made it into a shrinking violet. I attacked the squatters and re-homed them, while husband beat up the farthest specimens. Perhaps in revenge for the grubby jobs doled out, maybe because he thought it was amusing, probably from inattention to detail by the man in my life; when the fountain was given a jet wash to improve the flow, I got several gallons of ice cold water in the face, made interesting with a soupçon of eau de rotting vegetation and parfum des fish poop. When I remonstrated, Attila said that I should be grateful for his assistance and I am. I maintain that he now owes me a turn of the compost heap, to even up the overall niff, reek and pong.

Mid Term Selections

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During the early clear-up, the sharp, dried stems left behind the Campanulas (bell flower) gave me an unexpected jab in an unprotected place. Not wise when I have secateurs on my belt and sturdy scissors in my back pocket. The culprits were cut to the ground as they should be but probably with less mercy than had they behaved in a more gentlemanly manner.
Allium “Red Mohican” & “Christophii”
Allium “Red Mohican” & “Christophii”

The Santolina rosmarinifolia “Lemon Fizz” (cotton lavender) and Anthemis tinctoria “Sauce Hollandaise” (dyer’s chamomile) are both hardy herbaceous perennials, now past their best. They have been a mass of delicate yellow blossom giving me a wealth of golden texture, untroubled with pests but pestered by bees. I gave each plant a fairly austere haircut and rewarded their exemplary performance with a dose of fish, blood and bone fertiliser. I have a fabulous book on how and when I should be doing this: The RHS “Pruning And Training” by Christopher Brickell and David Joyce (ISBN 0 7513 0207 4) is my favourite reference for necessary attacks on weird stuff in the conservatory. When I’m knee deep in the border, muddy, sweaty and a long way from the library, generally I do my chopping immediately after flowering.
Cynara cardunculus (cardoon)
Cynara cardunculus (cardoon)

I cut the tops off the lilies, leaving the leaves to photosynthesize. The colonies of snails hiding beneath were collected and put in the green bin, to go on their holidays with the council. The Sorbaria sorbifolia (false spirea) has been busy suckering all over the front bed. Proper practice is to sever the unwanted shoots at the parent but I couldn’t dig up six feet of heavily planted border to get to the source. Whilst endeavouring to remove roots below ground level without endangering my secateur blades, the shrub’s woody stem caught me a glancing blow. I bleed if you were to give me an unkind look. Now I had a trickle of my own life-giving fluid splashing on the soil. The Sorbaria learned a harsh lesson thereafter, since sheer temper helped me to give the brute a sound battering. It will be back, I know but for now it is temporarily subdued.
Eucomis comosa “Sparkling Burgundy” (pineapple lily) in the conservatory
Eucomis comosa “Sparkling Burgundy” (pineapple lily) in the conservatory

How do you decide where to prune? Little old lady gardening decrees that you hack things down to sap oozing stumps. If you are a twenty first Century gardener, perhaps better to resist slashing shrubs down to sticks like Grandma. Aim to leave a pleasing shape from which new growth will sprout. Doing the job now, means that a halo of leaves will have time to grow before the season ends. Any plant which causes you pain, either physical or emotional, may be trimmed, thrashed or trashed and deserves what it gets.