Tuesday, 04 July 2017 16:57

The mystery of growth

Apart from the late April frost this year (which was much lamented in my last blog) the Winter, Spring and early Summer have been relatively kind here – fewer strong winds and torrential downpours making all the difference.

So now, three Summers in, the garden is beginning to look quite established. Most (but not all) of the gaps have been filled and I am doing more “tending” than buying and planting.

But it is clear that some plants have done exceptionally well whilst others have done less well or even struggled and I have been trying to work out why.

For example, in the Zen bed I have two “ground cover” roses called ‘Rushing Stream’. They are at either end of the bed. One looks like this (below). It is huge (2m x 1.5 m x 1.5m) and is swamping many of the dwarf conifers it was planted between.

The other looks like this (below). It is much more meagre although one part of it has decided to climb up the fence.

I had never grown ground cover roses before so didn’t really know what to expect but I certainly didn’t think any would become so huge or upright. I think I expected them to stay close to the ground – as their name somewhat suggests? So why is one so huge and the other less so? Of course I don’t know. That is the mystery.

The bed was created from nothing (previously gravel over solid clay) but we didn’t put manure in because I was planning to grow Cistus and dwarf conifers. We only added soil improver and grit and then I added manure, compost and Vitax Q4 to things I planted later that like it richer and Mychorrizal fungi to everything.

Both roses were treated the same when I planted them. The large one gets fractionally more sun and has no tree cover (the smaller one has some light tree cover). They get the same amount of wind (quite a lot when it blows through the car port and gate). Perhaps one was simply a stronger plant (though they both looked the same when I planted them). I wonder, therefore, if the large one has simply hit something deep that it loves whilst the other hasn’t. (Remember my ‘non-climbing’ rose, R. Arthur Bell, that was first up and over the rose arch? It had obviously struck rose gold somewhere down there and is still gi-normous and dare I say it, almost thuggish now.)

In the same (Zen) bed I planted one of my favourite trees for a small garden – Cytisus Battandieri (yellow broom tree otherwise known as the Pineapple Tree). I had one in my London garden and it look like this (below) in full bloom – a lovely shape, scented, beloved by the bees and simply fabulous.

I adore this plant as a tree (it can also be a shrub) so I planted this single stemmed version with ultimate care, giving it everything it needed for a successful life. But it has failed. It is lacklustre, hasn’t grown much and certainly hasn’t flowered in three years.

Clearly it is either hating it where it is or it was a poor specimen. I fear the former must be the truth so I think I have got to move it. But it has a large root ball as I remember, so digging it up will disturb the bed. In London mine faced East. Here it faces West and has more wind. Is that why it is suffering? Who knows. It’s another garden mystery.

Where to put it is the next mystery. The flowers are bright yellow and I don’t think there is room in the hot ‘Kennett’ bed where bright yellow is encouraged – unless I take out another tree that is not loving it – the Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’ (below).

It was tall and possibly a bit skinny when I bought it and it has not put on much growth. I should explain. Having razed the garden I was keen to buy some quite well-grown trees and shrubs to establish some quick height but most trees perform better when grown from smaller saplings and I think I bought this one too large. Digging up the Sorbus would be another hugely disturbing task given everything that is now growing around it. At the moment this includes a thriving yellow/green Elder, a Philadelphus Belle Etoile (also very happy), Clematis Arabella (loving scrambling through the Philadelphus), Galega ‘Lady Wilson’ who is going bonkers again this year, a Rhamnus Alaternus argentiovariegata and the Arbutus unedos Rubra which is also thriving. So I am not sure I have it in my heart (or wherewithal) to dig up the Sorbus and replace it with the Cytisus.

Talking of which this section of the garden which is in a fair amount of shade from early afternoon is doing particularly well. My ‘pot transplanted’ acer is still loving it and I have a Physocarpus Diabolo (the dark red shrub to the right of the picture above) which is only supposed to grow to 1.5m high. Last year I had to cut it back because it was over 2m and is very “front of border” but already it has grown to over 2m again and is hiding the many other glories behind it. I feel another secateurs moment approaching.

It is no mystery however that most of the roses are thriving (they love clay) and I think I have solved the mystery of those few that weren’t (the underground water problem spoken of in a previous blog). But it is more of a mystery that the peonies (shown in the picture below on the top row) have been doing as well as they have in this heavy soil.

Top row above: Peonies. Bottom row: Roses

The new ramblers planted at the end of this year in the raised beds as a result of the underground water problem (Albertine on the left and top right below and Francis E Lester on the bottom right) have each put on an amazing show, especially given it was their first year. And they are both wonderfully scented. Albertine has a one-time show but I think it has to be one of the most beautiful roses with its stunningly bud, leaf and open flower combination and lovely scent.


The Clematis have been/are being wonderful again this year (see pic below), as have many others plants too numerous to mention.

Finally, both the two more unusual, smaller flowered Clematis that I bought a couple of years ago have decided they like 2017. The pink and white one called 'I am a Lady Q' is thriving on the swing seat. She is very floriforous on the South side (see below).......

......but I think the flowers on the North side, inside the swing seat (shown below) are more beautiful. They are more protected and don't seem to mind the aspect or more shaded situation at all.

The other one, C. 'Vanessa' which is pale blue has a very fine tracery of stems which at the moment are covered in buds which are just opening on time (she is August to October officially) and may go on until the frosts. See below.

And, as promised, I have finally addressed my pots problem which was this year's project. I have been ruthless-ish. It involved much cutting into pots with a tree saw, pulling, cajoling etc plus a few pot smashes to get old root balls out and then many trips to the dump.

All this takes longer than you might expect because I like to save worms (where I can) and put them into the beds rather than into the green waste or  compost bins. It is up to them from thereonin and sometimes it can be a race.

I am now regularly joined by a very savvy and brave robin who arrives the moment I deal with earth of any sort. So whether he takes the worms or the many other insects disturbed by the activity is down to nature and how quick they all are.

Then it required new compost and plants (shopping trips hurray!) plus all the new thinking and planting. There are still a few old pots from London around the place that need dealing with, cracked and full of weeds as they are, but most have now been re-planted to create something respectable around my kitchen terrace and on the pond terrace.

And before you ask that swing bin in the top right is there to stop my delightful, happy, always busy puppy Daisy from sneaking out between the gatepost and the gate - she is very skinny.

And finally I should announce that I have a new, part-time garden helper. She potted my Dahlias up in March – now already in flower before my sweet peas (which I got to very late this year).


She helped plant the onions (which are looking great) and to harvest the winter ones below (which I am now eating and storing).

Talking of which I harvested the first garlic I have ever grown a couple of weeks ago. There are two types - four Elephant ones which have done well and about 16 others that I don't remember which are a bit small but very tasty.

So of course I had to try to plait them. I can do three strand plaits - no problem. 20 strands in one plait is quite an ask. I went online to get instructions but inevitably my plait doesn’t look anything like the theirs.....

........but it’s sort of there and looking suitably rustic on my wood store under the carport. Apparently it should hang somewhere airy, cool, dry and shady (which is quite an ask in July).

And I have cropped and stuffed my first home grown marrow.

It's an F1 hybrid called Tiger Cross. It looks just like it should and I have to say I think it is very beautiful. It is also delicious except the skin is so hard it has to be discarded - which they don't mention in the blurbs. But I suppose this makes it better protected from slugs as it grows - so it is swings and roundabouts. I have to admit I quite like edible marrow skin so I may seek a new version for next year. I am very partial to a stuffed marrow. They take lots of time, string, and silver foil but are very special as a result.

In the same bed as the marrow I have a yellow courgette (doing OK) and a very small pumpkin which was grown from seed in a lab in water and cotton wool by my new helper (who is my new Japanese ward). At the moment she is at language school but she'll be going to proper boarding school to do her GCSEs and A’Levels in September and staying here in between on her shorter breaks.

So now, near my marrow and courgette plants I also have an unplanned pumpkin. It is taking up a huge amount of space in the raised bed but I am assuming it will grow very large. It is still looking pretty meagre at the moment but it is growing at last.

Whether a pumpkin will be ready for Haloween is another mystery.