Saturday, 30 July 2011

Update on fluid continuity for herbaceous borders

Just a few days ago, I penned a post questioning how to keep one's borders looking fresh and new for the summer. Thereby, ensuring that the seasonal transitions, run smoothly for the herbaceous borders. Fortunately for me, the telly proved not just entertaining but refreshingly informative, providing some of the much needed answers. Thank you Gardeners' World, and in particular, thank you Carol Klein.

"No point faffing about", Carol Klein on Gardener's World (BBC iPlayer)

Carol's infamous Glebe Cottage garden is looking wonderful, and her borders are certainly looking their best. Though, she walked us to a patch where she was experiencing similar problems as probably most of us have at some stage this summer, in our borders. Some plants look brilliant, whilst others have just spent flowers and withered foliage, and thereby, badly letting the side down. The dilemma; if one decides to cut the lot down, you leave a gaping hole for quite a few weeks, which again lets the side down for current good performers. But if you don't cut out the spent plant, it will just continue to wither and look worse every day. 

Carol has no such fears. In her lovely enthusiastic and exuberant style, she takes no prisoners. 'No point faffing about' she said, 'sheer the lot'. I suppose, sometimes one just needs to hear that. The answer to my query therefore, is just that. Take decisive action and just cut down all old and tatty foliage. Even if that means cutting down, 'quite a lot of herbage' as Carol so aptly put it. On introducing Carol's slot on the programme, I believe Monty referred to this as the 'finger tip' approach. After all the man does seem to have very large hands.

Specific examples of herbage removal; Cirsium Rivulare and Oriental poppies. Cirsium Rivulare does not produce seeds, therefore just cut back the entire flowering stems to ground. If need be, you can sheer the leaves also. According to the master gardener, with any luck, it may flower again by September time. Oriental poppies should be sheered completely.  Once flowered, they will never again look good, unless you cut it  down completely. Within a few weeks, Carol states that it will 'Rise from the ground like a phoenix'. Consequently, water and feed, all your cut or sheered plants, and wait for the encore.

Helping plants maintain performance need not all be so brutal. According to Carol, deadheading continues to be all important to keep plants putting their energy into flower as opposed to seed production. Particularly for those plants that have trusses of flowers, such as roses. Ours are long gone, and that probably proves the point, as Carol still seemed to have lovely blooms in her garden. Naturally, I know this to be true. Though unfortunately, I hold deadheading in the same regard as I do dental flossing. I know I have to do it, but it is a tad tedious.

Still to be eagerly purchased after my visit to Hampton Court Flower Show, I noticed that Carol too seems to be brandishing a pair of Niwaki secateurs. Funny how once you have something in your mind, you see nothing but that, for the rest of time. Pondering over, I will order mine shortly. Christmas will just have to come early for yours truly.

Just as many of tweeting audience confirmed, and it is not just down to yesterday's episode, but this series of Gardeners' World has been very good indeed. But then as posted back in March this year, this particular team, always were good. Long may they continue.

Now if only one could be as enthusiastic about the programme's background music....

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Fluid seasonal continuity for herbaceous borders

A talented fellow blogger, from across the pond, wrote recently that the start of the summer is nothing but depressing. I thought at the time, that this was a rather odd statement, particularly for a gardener.  Moreover, the mighty Monty, echoed this sentiment on the recent episode of Gardeners' World, where he acknowledged that as the garden enters a new season, July and August can be pretty tricky months. Though, being the master of all things garden, naturally Monty's fantastic garden at Longmeadows is exempt from any trivial trickiness! The new season brings new colour, but also calls for the fading of the spectacular waves of fresh spring flowering. This process can be difficult to manage, particularly when it comes to herbaceous borders. As we press forward into summer, this is becoming increasingly evident.

Greenhouse Borders, 19th of July 2011



Achieving fluid continuity over the seasons in the borders is turning out to be really quite a dark art form. We are not just trying to extend the season, by including late flowering plants, but also to ensure that the impact of the passing of the seasons is as fluid as possible. There is ample learned content on the subject of extending the season, and many of the prescribed techniques are being used in the Greenhouse Borders. Starting from; the careful plant selection to ensure gradual flowering; adequate staking to ensure plants are protected from wind damage and so that they do not damage neighbouring plants; Chelsea Chopping, continuous deadheading and so on. Though, coverage on trying to achieve that fluidity between the spring, summer and autumn growth waves, is more difficult to find. Makes me wonder if perhaps, I have lost my marbles and this is all just a utopic fallacy.

Greenhouse Borders, 19th of July 2011



The borders do look charming, but many of the plants are starting to look tired, not just because of spent flowers, but more so because of the yellowing of their leaves. For plants, such as Alchemilla Mollis and the hardy geraniums this is easily handled. They have wonderfully speedy regenerative qualities, and can therefore quickly regrow fresh green leaves. Though, to ensure you don't emaciate the border of their charms all in one go, chopping has to be done gradually. Not easy though, as this requires planning, a quality that I have yet to master. This can also mean that some will need to be chopped when in full flower, which seems criminal and rather contradictory. For shruby like plants, such as Salvia officinalis, of which we have quite a few, this more difficult. Cutting them back, does not make it any the more handsome and creates large 'holes' in the border. Moreover, plants like these take their time to regenerate. How one is best to manage this, still eludes me. Some pruning seems in order, though how to go about that most effectively? Cut all at once, or gradually? Both seem to have their disadvantages.

Greenhouse Borders, 19th of July 2011
Since the Chelsea Chop seven weeks ago, the plants have recovered nicely, though the majority still have some way to go. The problem therefore, is that they are still far behind neighbouring plants. Consequently, the border is missing its height and colour in the back. Granted, we did have a hot spring, where everything sprang to life much earlier than normal, hence skewing plant growth rates, which has not helped.

At Coton Manor, Susie Pasley-Tyler, explained that she administered the Chelsea Chop, a month earlier than normal this year; at the end of April. According to Susie, as spring came earlier, the early chop would help the plants establish strong clumps earlier, and consequently be more protected from strong May winds. Taking a leaf out of her book (depending on spring temperatures), next year we may do the same, and start the chop much earlier. That should ensure height earlier in the border, and by spreading the process through April to mid June, one should ensure more gradual growth. Sounds good in practice, though that will mean that yours truly will need develop serious control and restraint. Once I start chopping, it is near impossible to stop. Hence, revealing some of my issues with deadheading.

Greenhouse Borders, 19th of July 2011





Annuals and biennials are often put forward as a solution to fill any holes in borders and consequently giving the illusion of the continuously full border. In our case, From the Greenhouse borders were meant to be planted with perennials only. Only recently, have a few annuals and biennials slipped through the net. I think we may need to add more in future, though the new arrivals must be effective self seeders. Salvia Viridis (purple, pink and white) and Anthriscus sylvestris Ravenswing are great. A recent new experiment is the planting of the rather staggering Dianthus barbatus nigrescens 'Sooty'. This Dianthus is terrifically dark purple, which really catches the eye though we have yet to evaluate its impact in the border.

In addition to juggling to keeping plants happy and administering the various techniques, there is always natural decay. Plants dying is not just sad, but especially problematic for border continuity. Particularly, when it occurs to plants that are to perform at this time of year. Learning about the short comings of' perennial longevity of some plants, has proved invaluable. Though, if like yours truly one still stubbornly wishes to include tricky plants, such as Monardas, there will always be issues.

Generally speaking, the Greenhouse Borders are lovely and we are pleased with their progress. Though, they do have their best times; early spring to early July, and the final weeks of summer through to autumn. The in-between, mid July to August, period is indeed proving tricky and we may just have to accept this to be their transition period. Though, I can't help but think we can improve on that, and hence make July to August less problematic. After all Monty seems to be able to do it, although he may have an army of gardeners on staff...

Any ideas?

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Garlic glory at the Hampton Court Flower Show

The joy of planning a trip to the Hampton Court Flower Show is just that, no need to plan. Ticket purchase, is a relaxed affair, without the months-ahead-or-be-sorry Chelsea style booking procedure. Tickets can be purchased throughout the show week, providing ample flexibility, either online, by phone or at the gate. My only condition; it had to be a week day, to avoid the larger drum of the weekend crowds. Annoyingly, yet oddly liberating, I forgot my camera. Apologies therefore, for the lack of show photographs and for the poor quality of the couple taken with my mobile.

Loveliest display of the show by the deservedly Gold Award winning Garlic Farm

It may anger many, but personally speaking, the show gardens at Hampton Court are never the main attraction. I attend the Hampton Court Flower Show to meet the nurseries and plants people, exhibiting at the show. The sheer scale of Hampton Court and presumably consequent, friendlier-than-Chelsea exhibition fees, seems to attract relatively more nurseries than Chelsea. Consequently, one has the opportunity to speak to, not just to the high number of nurseries, but also to meet the very large, to the very small nurseries. The latter of which, one may otherwise never come across.

Having said that, the show gardens that I did see en route, had lovely soft planting schemes, particularly, The Stockman's Retreat, The I am, because of who we are garden and  The Copella Plant and Protect Garden. The latter may have been swayed by the kind donation of one of their delicious natural beverages, despite their rather daunting affiliation to the mega giant, Pepsico. Admittedly, I have never been too keen on the conceptual garden 'gimmicks', too frequently seen at the show. The 'Bright idea' for example, may seem 'bright' to the Phillips sponsor, though admittedly 'not so bright' to me. Probably just me though... 

Loveliest display of the show by the deservedly Gold Award winning Garlic Farm

The sheer scale of the Hampton Court grounds, allows for numerous additional attractions, such as the  'themed areas'. Here one can delight, as I did, in such areas as Grow Your Own, Rose and the Plant Heritage Marquee. All crammed with super knowledgeable plant experts and lovely displays. Not forgetting my regular favourites, all with beautiful displays; Jekka's Herb Farm, Bowden Hostas and Perryhill Nurseries.

Cenolophium Denudatum in the lovely Garlic Farm display

As the photo's suggest, the Garlic Farm caught my eye. They outdid themselves (and other exhibitors) this year, with their stunning 'wild flower' style garden display, studded with my personal favourite, Elephant Garlic. My first cloves came from the Garlic Farm, purchased at the Hampton Court Flower show, many years ago. Much cherished, though admittedly even more for their flowers, than the bulb.

Much cherished Elephant Garlic in my Kitchen Garden

Commercially speaking, Hampton Court Flower Show, has to be the place for garden shopping. I therefore had no qualms to indulge in some seriously shameless shopping, around the various designated marquees. Apart from the dizzying mass of lovely plants for sale and the sincerely scrummy Jalapeno wafers at Fudges, my favourite find has to be Niwaki. Never having come across them before, Niwaki have a tantalising array of some seriously sexy Japanese secateurs, clippers, garden scissors and ladders. As Japanese knives are much loved in our household, the concept of razor sharp Japanese secateurs is very appealing indeed. Foolish not to buy one on the spot, but guilt flashes of our numerous, somewhat unloved, collection of Felco's, prevented the purchase. Though surely, the recent episode of Gardeners' World, confirmed my right of purchase. During Rachel (thank-goodness-my-husband-wasn't-watching) de Thame's report on shrub pruning, the Garden Manager, Hardy Ornamentals at RHS Wisley; Annette Dalton, was expertly, brandishing a pair of the Niwaki secateurs. This can only be described as divine intervention...

Despite the fact that the layout of the show is always somewhat muddled, no public show maps in sight and annual overdose of wind chime purveyors, the stunning setting of Hampton Court Palace makes up for it. Thoroughly enjoyed the show, and thanks to the dizzying array of seriously clever plant experts, my questions and queries were answered.

All I need to do now, is provide a home for my newly purchased plants, and have a serious chat with my Felco secateurs about early retirement...

Other great blogs covering Hampton Court Flower Show;

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Recovery of the Chelsea Chopped

Four and half weeks have passed since braving the Chelsea Chop on some of the summer- and autumn-flowering perennials in the Greenhouse borders. Since, their drastic crew cut, it has been intriguing to see how the individual plants have responded to this infamous border maintenance method.

Eupatorium Purpureum recovering from Chelsea Chop (02/07/2011)

Just under five weeks ago, the Asters, Sedums, Eupatoriums, Veronicastrums, Chelone and Phlox all had the Colin-Crosbie-50%-off short back and sides treatment. Regrowth varies per plant, where the Eupatoriums and Asters showing the fastest recovery, compared to the Veronicastrums, which though responding positively, are recovering at a slower pace.

Ageratina altissima (Eupatorium Rugosum 'Chocolate') post Chelsea Chop (02/07/2011)

Generally speaking, all plants have responded very well indeed. The plants are filling out with the desired new growth, both around the level of the chop, as well as, from the ground.

Chelsea Chopped Veronicastrum and Eupatorium Purpureum (02/07/2011)

Interesting to note the differences in plant recovery amongst varieties. The Sedum Spectabile Brilliant is bushing out very quickly indeed, whereas the Sedum Matrona is recovering much slower.

Chelsea Chopped Sedum Matrona (02/07/2011)

The Phlox are showing similar results. Phlox Paniculata David has regrown into a mass of lovely new shoots, whereas its sibling; Phlox Paniculata Blue Paradise, is showing much slower progress.

Phlox Paniculata David post Chelsea Chop (02/07/2011)

So far, the results are very pleasing indeed. One is greatly comforted in the knowledge that so much is still to come up in the border, which looks so lovely and full already. Moreover, now including the Chelsea Chop as part of our border maintenance routine, means that we have finally managed to extend the borders' season by at least six to seven weeks, which is very gratifying indeed. 

Having said that, the stately plant height in the border is certainly missed, and could have added more impact for the recent NGS Open Day. Therefore, next year, the chopping may be a tad more strategic, leaving some plants for the height, whilst chopping others for season extension.
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