Like most of us I haven’t been able to get out lately, let alone onto the garden, but what I have been doing is thinking about extending the layers of planting in the one garden I have been able to do some work in. Wet days in winter are a good opportunity to look around the garden and with little to obscure the view dream in some more planting to complement the bare twigs of winter, in summer your observations may lead you to decide on a climber to complement a shrub or hide a bare wall. Even if it’s not the right time to do it, plan it! A note in the diary – I list some of mine below.
Making the most of the different layers of planting in a garden is a good way of getting as much as you can into a limited space , for introducing plants that succeed one another or live happily in the same space at groung level, as well as high up among all your exisiting plants. Making use of all these layers also helps to make you garden interesting all year round and gives it a feeling of permenance and history , a satisfying feeling that it has been there for a very long time- I think this is because nature works this way without our help- think of the snow drops coming up in the wood, and the Old Mans Beard swathing the trees at the woodland edge – we can use cultivars with better features and that are more suited to a garden scale.
Bulbs , climbers, large shrubs and small trees are the simplest way of achieving this layered effect- most of us use the middle space already filled with beloved shrubs and perennials.
Choosing well and choosing a sensible place for them helps make a success of all this – so that plants in the same space don’t get disturbed when you forget about them and cultivate – an excellent example of this from Christopher Lloyd ( Great Dixter Garden) is to plant winter aconite in close proximity to hostas- the aconite will come up and flower long before the hostas- then when the hostas are up the leaves will protect the dormant aconite from your trowel as there would be no need to weed or cultivate under the leaves of the hostas.
At The Courts, a National Trust garden in Holt some of the mixed boders are completely covered in Crocus tommasinianus at this time of year – by the time the perennials and shrubs are leafing the foliage of the crocus is dying away- mulching the ground beautifully – by the time the border is in flower you would never know the crocus were there at all- for small flwered bulbs mass planting is the most successful.
Now-Buy Eranthis hyemalis ( winter aconite) to plant under the big horse chestnut tree, and under the hostas! - buy now – this is best (green) or August (soak bulbs over night)
Now-Buy snowdrops to plant under the Cornus amongst the grond cover ivy buy now’ in the green’ or beg some from a friend
Now -Buy clematis ( texensis group) to plant under the Cotinus coggygria’Palace Purple’ – it will climb throught the branches poking its flowers through to the sun and texensis are small and won’t swamp the shrub – I will choose a colour to contrast with the purple of the Cotinus- probably the new one Clematis ‘Princess Kate’ ( very apt to put with ‘Palace purple I think!) . The texensis group of clematis are very useful for pairing with small shrubs- particularly early flowering shrubs- the texensis will flower late when the shrub has finished in effect giving you another flush of flower.
Now or next winter:Buy species rose Rosa moyesii to plant behind shrubs to give height to a corner space – height in corner is a good thing
April – buy Vitis coignettiae to cover the shed in summer
April – buy Thymus serpyllum to plant between the paving stones
March- order Lilium martagon ‘Claude Shride’
August – order Colchicum bulbs to plant in amongst the Vinca minor – these will flower in September and disappear again till the leaves come up in spring
So – put it in the diary- plant it where you dreamed it and watch. The more you see this work the more you will want to do it. Spring really is on it’s way. Christopher Lloyd says in his book “Cuttings” that ‘every gardeners New Year starts with a euphoric gush of hope’ he’s not wrong.
Tip- try not to walk on wet soil ! If you must then put down a plank and walk it -it will spread your weight and help avoid compacting the soil –it will also stop you getting very muddy feet.