When a woman of advancing years compliments me on my bush, I don’t feel as if I’m doing it right. I’m not shooting for a display that my mother would find attractive, I’m a dangerous, exciting, innovative gardener, or so I like to think and froufrou just doesn’t cut the mustard. I have been bimbling around the front garden all year without noticing. It was only when a pair of passersby said that they liked the froth of cerise mop headed Hydrangea, that I really paid attention. One of the very few plants that I inherited when we bought this house, the plant has thrived under my regime of care. Slow growers may subsume more desirable plantings in a sneaky creep of remorseless thuggery towards world domination. In this instance, the lather of candy was stuffing the Skimmia (Kew Green, elegant, perfumed and expensive), the Fothergilla (white fluffy flowers, incandescent autumn leaves) and Euphorbia characias “Silver Swan”. My carefully organised rhapsody in good taste was all but disappearing under a plethora of pink pouffes.
Potentilla fruticosa (shrubby cinquefoil)
Please don’t think that I harbour unreasonable prejudice. I love Hydrangeas with something to say, like H. “Annabel”, quercifolia (oak leaf) and paniculata. I have a green tinged double in the back, currently on its third year without bloom. It is spindly, skanky and sad but I shall persevere until the bloody thing blossoms, even if the lugging of compost and baling of rainwater kills me. Perhaps I see the rosy monster as cheap; giving out an explosion of goodies in return for little but neglect. I know that I chase the ones that threaten to elude me; witness my endless pursuit of toad lilies, despite the total unsuitability of my soil. If any of my readers hold qualifications in psychotherapy, perhaps you would message me privately with your conclusions.
Physocarpus ‘Diablo’ (ninebark)
In the meantime, I have been stamping about with sharper vision and more focussed judgment. In the past I allowed Helleborus foetidus “Wester Flisk” (stinking hellebore) to procreate like a rash. I think that I was proud of its fertility – another one for the psychiatrist. I’ve kept a few, potted up some as gifts for reckless friends and ditched the rest in the compost heap. The bronze fennel had reached forest like proportions, beneath which many more shy specimens were labouring to reach the light. I’ve chopped the aniseed scented stems to ground level, wherever I didn’t dig them out. The Sorbaria (false spirea) was sending runners all over the borders, into the neighbours’ gardens and indeed, was travelling towards the next county. Although striking, the Physocarpus “Diablo” has been bullying the Heucheras; the Viburnum opulus (snowball bush) was shading the Aconites to extinction and made passage through the front door fraught with difficulty. I dusted off my heavy loppers, oiled my favourite secateurs and greased the pruning saw, then stalked around with swivelling eyeballs and a demented expression, twirling my equipment as I went. I can’t say that I have established order but I’ve gone some way towards redressing the balance.
Vanessa atalanta (red admiral butterfly)
By the way, the tawdry, pink, pom-pom plant by the front gate is history.