Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Wed: Sun! I saw the sun!

Yes, this morning I actually saw the sun, and what a lovely sight it was. Still very cold, I went out fully thermalled, but it was sunny, oh joy!

My morning client greeted me with the news that she's expecting visitors next week, so we agreed on a couple of jobs to be done first: edging the lawns - always makes the place look neat - weeding of the front courtyard, and de-mossing the back steps.

First job, the edging: I love edging, I know a lot of people don't, but I find it easy enough to do, and it makes such a difference to the look of a garden.

I can bore for England on the subject of compost, and I could probably bore for one of the smaller Home Counties on the subject of edging.

I like good clear cliff-edges: none of this feeble grass-trailing-off-into-the-bed lark. I like sharp, crisp edges, nice flowing lines: if they're straight lines, then I like them to be straight, and most of all I like them to be AT LEAST 2-3" deep.

There's a very good reason for this, and it's called Couch Grass. Oh, don't we love our couch grass. It's ok in the grass, in fact it gives strength and structure to a fine lawn, and as long as you keep on cutting it, you'd never know it was there.  But once it gets loose into a bed - oh dear!  If you've ever tried to dig out couch grass, you'll  know that it makes great long stringy roots all over the place, and they go down at least a foot and a half.

However, when it is growing in a lawn, it sends runners out pretty much parallel to the lawn, and only an inch or two down.

Now do you start to see the reason for my insistence on cliff edges? Chop off those runners every time you edge, and they never get into your beds.

Plus, of course, a neat edge makes the lawn look as though it has just been cut - so if you haven't got time to do the whole thing, do the edges, you'll be amazed at the difference.

Here's one of the beds I was edging today.

Can you spot the deliberate mistake?

Yes, there's a dirty great kink in it. This is a perfect example of the sort of thing that annoys me: there's no "design" reason for the bed to have a kink in it, and it just looks untidy.

In this case it was caused by the Caryopteris, I'm not sure which one it is, incana I think: anyway, it's become a good-sized shrub and in summer, it overshadows the grass and caused it to die off just below. A common problem with big shrubs.

This led to a "bite" being missing from the lawn at the point, and all through last summer and autumn I was gradually trimming back the lawn to make a strong edge that wasn't too close to the Caryopteris.

Aside: Gardener's Lessons: when a shrub or other plant hangs over the lawn and spoils the grass, there are three options:

1) Move the plant back from the edge of the lawn.
2) Chop the plant back hard so it doesn't interfere with the lawn.
3) Reshape the lawn edging to accommodate the shrub, ie enlarge the bed.

Of course, there is always the fourth option, ie put up with it, but I like neat edges, so I rarely go for that one.

In this case, moving the shrub was not an option, it's too big: cutting it back hard wouldn't work, I've been carefully training it for years and it's now a woody framework about 4' high, I chop all the "fronds" right back to stubs each autumn: over winter, it looks rather like a well-pruned vine! So I couldn't cut it back any further without taking out the framework, which would spoil it.

(Of course, it shouldn't have been planted so near to the edge of the bed, but it's easily done: people often don't realise how big things are going to get.)

So, the best option was to recut the lawn edge. Two minutes quick work with the edgers, and lo! and behold, a nice neat edge.

In case you are wondering about the planting in this bed, it's known as the Perfume Bed, and was originally just filled with Philadelphus. Weigela, Vibernum opulus (Snowball tree) etc. Underneath was pretty much bare, so when I started here, the client and I decided to fill the space with easy-care aquilegias and polemonium. Then we decided it was still a bit bare in winter, so we started off a few Hellebore Orientalis - and this was quite a big thing, as my client didn't like Hellebores at that time. I persuaded her to give them a try, and we put in a few dark red ones, and a couple of white ones.

They did well!  Over the last two years we have also added snowdrops, Eranthis hyamelis (winter aconite, which we have in abundance elsewhere in the garden) and daffodils, and now it's a picture:

 And best of all, my client is completely converted to Hellebores now!

We talked about it this morning, and we think that she didn't like them because of the coarse, brown, battered leaves. But I "manage" her Hellebores: I cut off the majority of the old foliage just as they start to flower, so you get the slightly strange effect of the flowers on their sturdy stalks, emerging straight from the ground. Not to everyone's taste, and I can remember it "coming in" as a fashion, but I think it makes them much more appreciable, if there is such a word - instead of a mass of dark leaves, you can see the flowers much more clearly.

And they looked lovely today: they've spread over nearly the whole bed - judicious lifting and splitting on my part, and the preservation of any good seedlings - and the colours are still strong dark red, and some clumps of white, which just shine by comparison.

After all that excitement, I did the other jobs, and weeded around the Vegetable Garden, so all is neat and ready for visitors. 


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