In the garden with Michael Kerr

Garden bed
Garden bed

Bleeding heart, muscari, bluebells and wallflowers vying for attention.

Strangely, it has rained almost every day since the hose-pipe ban came into effect. As a consequence, the water butt is bulging, full to the brim, and the soil is well and truly drenched.

While this is good for all the plants I have been adding to the garden, it is also good news for the annual weeds whose seeds have been lying upon the soil surface waiting for the heavy rains that will drive them down into the soil a little so that they too can put out roots and begin to grow.

By the time I came to this garden last September many of the annual mercury plants had already dispersed their seeds so I wholly expected to see their seedlings appear this year- and indeed they have! They are everywhere. However, I saw no sign of the hugely annoying and very sticky cleavers plant or Galium aparine to give it its latin name, yet the seeds must have been lying dormant in the soil ready to germinate this spring- they too are in every nook and cranny.

I take some consolation from the fact that this plant is an indicator of good, loam-rich soil, but this will not help me get rid of it. I have been hoeing over the areas where these and the mercury plants have taken hold, cutting the roots as a I go, but this hasn’t been entirely successful because the soil is so wet that any roots left in the ground have re-established themselves quickly, so I have taken to meticulously pulling out each one individually and then disposing of the plants carefully. I had intended to fill any gaps in the garden with Californian poppies and love-in-a-mist, maybe even some cosmos, and I would simply have flung some seeds of each into the spaces, but in doing so I would make weeding out the offending weed plants much more tricky so I will have to leave it till next year.

When I haven’t been weeding I have been planting. A new fence has had several climbers planted at its base and I have hammered in vine-eyes and strung wires across its length to provide a strong network to support them. On the south-facing portion I have planted a jasmine and a white passionflower (White Lightning) and I have a planted a Kiftsgate rose just around the corner. This rose is wonderfully striking when in flower, but it’s not for the faint-hearted; it is incredibly vigorous and while it states 20 feet on the label I know gardens where this rose grows to 100 feet and more. Luckily, I have the space to accommodate it and I look forward to seeing it’s dense clusters of creamy-white flowers in summer followed by masses of crimson berries. I also planted lots of shade-tolerant perennials around the base of the cherry by the smokery.

I didn’t want to detract from the stark, fan-shape of the cherry tree itself, so I planted low and ground-cover plants such as vinca, tiarella and heuchera which will in time grow into one another and form a rich carpet of varying colours and textures. Had I planted say foxgloves and aconitums, plants which would also have coped with the shade at the base of the building, the cherry would have been lost among these taller plants. I did plant these shade lovers elsewhere, at the back of the garden, together with Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ and Tellimas.

In the sunnier parts I put in several tree peonies and some more grasses, Stipa tenuissima this time, and these will help give the garden a wilder, more informal, feel.

The garden is beginning to fill up now as the plants grow and fill the space around them and I am quite pleased with some of the colour combinations. At the moment, one bed is looking particularly good with bleeding heart, muscari, bluebells and wallflowers all vying for attention. I was reliably informed by the nurseryman who sold me these wallflowers that they would be of the purest white, but of course they are not- they are very variable and are more commonly cream or primrose yellow, but I’m still happy with the result. As the climbers grow I have been nudging them in the right direction and tying them in. The potato vines will flower very soon and some of the clematis will not be long behind. To my great surprise, hundreds of lily-of-the-valley have pushed their way up through the cracks in the brick path and already have tiny flowers appearing, they look so incongruous in the pathway, so delicate and fragile amongst the riven brickwork, but they seem to be thriving there.

Lately I was mulling over two small problems I had in the garden. The first was one of privacy, or rather the lack of it, in the sunniest part of the garden where I have positioned a table and chairs only to find that this area is overlooked from two upstairs windows of the neighbouring property. The second problem was more of a design dilemma. There is a path which runs parallel with the smokery and allows access to the beds that flank it and also into the area hidden behind the building, however, it leads you straight to a brick wall. The effect is very negative and displeasing. I decided I must position something quite special there to make a feature out of the space and decided it should be a planter (not being one for nymphs, cherubs or rustic birdbaths) and began searching for something appropriate. A hunt around the antique shops of Rye and Hastings yielded nothing and so I turned to Ebay where I very quickly found what I was after- a job lot of three Victorian, king and queen chimney pots. The queen now sits beautifully at the end of the path waiting to be adorned with a little shade plant, an evergreen fern perhaps, or an abelia, and the stately king has been positioned behind my table and chairs and will soon be planted with a large Ceanothus ‘Trewithen Blue’ whose dense crown will obscure the windows above perfectly. The third pot now sits at my front door and will perhaps become home to yet another climbing rose as I continue to embrace the inner twee-ness in me.