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?

10 comments:

  1. I wonder if, paradoxically, you would find it easier to achieve nearer continuity if you grew a smaller range of flowers and accepted occasional pauses in particular borders. Eg I grow alchemilla and geraniums (just them) in one border. About now strim the lot - get a weeks pause then regrowth...

    If the plants are strong on their foliage contribution they can sometimes do a whole season with their flowers as incidents. But you have to choose carefully and focus on the power of foliage effect more than flower.

    This is interesting - have lots of thoughts about it but simplicity is the big key I think. Looks best too.. It also helps avoid the repetitious effect of several 'mixed' borders..

    XXXXXX

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  2. Hi Anne,

    You are probably right. In the rest of the garden, we do try to keep things simple, and the effect is lovely. The Greenhouse borders though are a tad nutter-ville, though the planting is relatively 'simple'. Similar colour scheme, and repeated planting of the select varieties. Though, you are probably right, that amongst that, we may need to simplify. And yes, perhaps the plants need a break, and we many just have to accept the occasional pause. Interesting thoughts. Thank you!

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  3. Would have been easier/better to be talking about it: critical topic not discussed enough..Good you raised it.
    XXXXX

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  4. This is a problem in my garden that I've been trying to work on, too. It seems there's not much going on in August, but I do add annuals in many places for continuous color. Deadheading would help, but we're going through quite a heat wave, and I can't get motivated to get much done.

    Your borders are beautiful!

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  5. Hi Rose,
    Deadheading in a heat wave, crickey I see what you mean. I do what I can but there is so much of it! The greenhouse borders are full and quite large (30mx4m). And there's the rest of the garden. But promise to try to do more of it.... !

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  6. I am surprised to see your drumstick allium blooming a couple of weeks later than mine. They are dead and gone. But we have had heat here.

    I set out this year to tackle the July/August problem in my garden, and so far we are better off than we have been yet. It is a small space, so I like continuity to keep it from feeling chaotic. That means I need a large swaths to work together. Not an easy task.

    I have taken copious notes from the famous Christopher Lloyd to see what if his boarders would fit my situation. Cannas, dahlias, cosmos, gladiolas are rather trite, but these are some of the plants that carry Dixter through til autumn proper. I added all of these this year, but I am not yet satisfied either :)

    Your boarders look very full at those low angles. I have enjoyed looking over them.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Julie

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  7. Dear Julie,

    Thank you! I will dig out my books on Great Dixter, which to date I have used mainly for colour inspiration. Which plants did you add this year?

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  8. I added cannas, dahlias, cosmos, glads, colocasias, impatients, coleus, begonias and fushias. Nothing like going after it with gusto. :)

    The larger tender plants I started in the basement in April. The smaller bedding I bought at discount from a nursery since it is past prime season.

    "Succession Planting for Year-round Interest" by CL is my favorite.

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  9. Morning Petra,

    Your borders are looking absolutely splendid!!!!! They are a picture of real beauty!

    Simon.

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