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A gardeners musings – Layers of Plants – February 14

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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.

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August – keeping it all going

Every time we have a hot dry spell am reminded how fast plants flower and give up displaying just for us, the job of making seeds having been accomplished in double quick time,the seed cases browning and ready to disperse their bounty. I am not a particularly neurotic person but the thought of ‘Oh my- how I am going to keep it going’ always arrives around mid July ( oh, apart form last year when summer came in April)and I don’t imagine that I am alone in this. Some of these things help:
Dead heading and chopping: Dead heading becomes very important- we need to trick the plant into believing it still has a lot of work to do producing flowers to makes seed- most plants will only do this if they are not allowed to set seed in the first place so rigorous pinching off of spent flower heads will achieve this. Some perennials like most of the hardy geraniums can be dead headed by simply cutting the whole plant down to the ground- it will grow back a nice neat mound of leaves and will often give you a second flush of flower, this can be done with Alchemilla mollis and Nepeta too.
alchmilnocutback If you have repeat flowering roses dead heading every day will get the best out of them- cut down to the next leaf joint so that you don’t end up with a plant that looks a though it has been deadheaded by a deer. Chopping, or the Chelsea chop( done in June) as it is known, is a way of both reducing the size of a plant making it more sturdy and less likely to flop- Sedum spectabile can be stopped from flopping in this way)- and a way of making it flower later.Not all plants respond to this so be careful- it must be a perennial that will grow side shoots such as Golden Rod or Helenium sp – you will get smaller flowers but many more of them and by cutting down only half the clump you will extend the flowering season instead of delaying it.
Leaves : Apart from the highly bred cultivars particularly in bedding plants and bulbs most plants are more leaf than flower,and their leaves are present for a lot longer than flowers so choosing plants with interesting leaves helps maintain interest and bulk. Coloured foliage like purple, bronze, silver as well as the many many different greens can make a fabulous display with an accent of flower mixed in. Interesting shaped foliage like Carex, all the grasses,Cynara,Iris, Acanthus all mixed with the more usual leaf shapes help to provide contrast and texture both of which engage our interest.
Annuals ( bedding):Planting hardy annuals in situ amongst the perennials, or transplanting half hardy and tender plants into gaps is very important as a way of keeping the garden looking bright well into late summer- the ubiquitous Cosmos bipinnatus will flower until October and beyond if you dead head it, as will Antirrhinum majus , Petunia, Pelargonium and many of the plants we use as bedding or infill.
Succession planting: Planting for a succession of colour so that your garden looks fabulous at all times of year is an ideal that most of a chase- it is not easy and is the skill by which many of us judge our gardening prowess- it takes an enormous amount of plant knowledge to select companions that will gracefully give way to one another and die back beautifully in an orchestrated wave of pure magic – my how I would love to achieve this- someone who has written of his work to this end is Christopher Lloyd( now dead) of Great Dixter garden in East Sussex. Succession Planting for Adventurous Gardeners BBC Books tells of how he and his head gardener Fergus Garrett managed this year after year, as well as photos there is lots of practical stuff too- they share their knowledge with us- having a go is the only way to get there but using all the layers you have is a good start- bulbs, ground cover, perennials, shrubs, climbers and maybe a small tree.
Mulch, organic matter and water :You may remember that I spoke of mulching in a previous article- well I can’t stress enough how it will help your plants to survive our hot spells with minimal need for watering, adding organic matter to the earth in autumn or spring, and mulching the soils surface then too will really help as it holds onto the water that is present and stores it for roots to find- If you do have to water then water the base of the plant lots – watering overhead wastes a vast amount of water as only a small proportion of it gets to where it is needed- at the roots of the plant. Water planting holes , watering and mulch newly planted things- this means that all the water you have applied will be under the ground- in the root zone and not being evaporated from the soils surface.

The weather: I have stood next to a planting recently thinking ‘maybe I should change it all for Mediterranean
plants that love the heat and the dry’ and have had to remind myself that in the last couple of years this summer heat has been the exception – that if we do have a prolonged spell of hot weather nature will take its course, I will be dead heading like crazy and watering more than I would like to, that I must get more organic matter into the soil next spring, and that this weather is so much needed, not by the garden plants maybe, but by us – definitely.

Written in mid July-
I wonder what the weather is doing now.

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Topiary Hedges

In late July rather later than I might have preferred I trimmed our topiary hornbeam hedge. The long new season growths had increased the size of the hedge by about 2 feet. I like my hedge to have a formal shape although one of the glories of the Hornbeam is that it becomes very informal during the growing season.
However I leave a Mohican of long growth on the top or the hedge to give extra privacy and informality, I find trimming a shoulder accentuates the longer growth. Along the hedge are shapes on stems. Inside in our garden is an arch linking with a Yew hedge and an arbour projecting out both formed the hornbeam hedge. The front picture is looking into an arch from the road.

The picture below is the neatly trimmed hedge on our shared drive, which give our neighbours a stimulating view as they pass it !

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Overview of projects

Hugh rises to a challenge, his garden designs range from a small urban bungalow, to public & community spaces, to gardens in the countryside.

Designing gardens in; Bath, Somerset, Wiltshire & the Cotswolds.  Hugh & Kate have designed specific localised areas of gardens such as, hard landscaping features as well as; rockeries, climbers, ponds, shrubberies, parterres, perennial borders & wild flower meadows ( to name but a few ).  Kate brings her individual touch to planting plans, complimenting Hugh’s strong forms & structure.