Go upstairs and look out of a bedroom window. Which bits are bare? Go outside and inspect everything again. What’s not pulling its weight? Mine is a small garden and I haven’t got room for dead wood. I have a system which usually works. If a plant does not do that which was promised on the packet, I menace it with an appointment with the shredder and then cruel consignment to the compost heap. You flower next year, or you’re out.
Eryngium x zabelii (sea holly) ‘Big Blue’
I have a Pernettya (prickly heath) which occupies a prime position and has done little but sit for some years with a recalcitrant look on its leaves. Last year I delivered the ultimatum and it promptly burst into measly, spotty white specks, followed by unattractive zitty pink berries. I remain underwhelmed but feel guilty that I bullied something into giving its best but still it fails to cut the mustard. Having been out to an open garden at the weekend, I now have some Cirsium rivulare (crimson thistle) which would relish the sunny spot and reward my favouritism with explosive tufts of burgundy beauty. This is a short lived perennial, so it won’t last as long as the shrub it replaces but will be striking and reliably so, for the few years that it lasts. That settles it, I’ll go and get the spade.
Acanthus mollis (bear’s breeches)
I’ve cleared out the dead bits of spring blooming bulbs and I’ve cut down brown stems of Euphorbias (spurge) and hardy geraniums. The patches of naked earth give the borders a mangy appearance, which I’m covering with terracotta containers full of burgeoning lilies which I potted up in April. I labelled most of them at the time but if I got it wrong, it’s no hardship to move them around in the case of a violent colour clash.
The yellow garden
On a somewhat larger scale, our home is covered generously with a cloak of Parthenocissus tricuspidata (Boston ivy, mistakenly called Virginia creeper). Every autumn, Attila has to get out his big ladder and with a certain amount of cussing, gives the house a haircut. This was amusing to start with but I no longer enjoy the wobbling rickety scaffold, the rungs missed in descent and the secateurs dropped due to spider attack. My advancing maturity and the acquisition of some common sense is a bitch, which cuts down the opportunities for cheap laughs at someone else’s expense. I’m thinking seriously about calling a professional to strip the climber off the walls. I shall arrange a comfortable chair for my partner, so that he may enjoy the destruction of what could have been his nemesis. None of this would have been an issue but for the chance discovery of a strapping specimen of Schizophragma hydrangeoides “Moonlight” (Japanese climbing hydrangea), a charming plant that I have lusted after for decades. Of course I bought it; what do you expect from me, self control? Something will have to give and I’m looking at the over enthusiastic, roof tile lifting, window obscuring building mugger. I think that this is a promise; I’m not even going to make threats.