In The Garden with Michael Kerr

After Garden
After Garden

I like my garden. While I recognise there are certainly some things that could be done to improve it, I seem to have arrived at a stage where I feel satisfied as I walk through it or sit in it. It’s a good feeling. I suppose I have been very lucky this year because so much rain has fallen and the result has been good strong root growth with plants establishing quickly. Yes, some plants such as the tomatoes and peppers would benefit from a great deal more sunshine but, in the main, everything looks fine. The beds are pretty full and there’s a good degree of colour around me. Not too bad for the first year I think.

When I came to my garden last September I noticed I had a great number of hemerocallis plants already growing in it and, having planted a huge number of largely pink, blue and purple flowering plants since then, I feared a horrendous colour clash should the day lilies prove to be bright yellow or orange as so many are. Well, last month the buds unfurled and displayed their orange contents, but thankfully it’s a pale, almost burnt orange and while it doesn’t perfectly compliment the surrounding colour it’s something I can live with. I may however plant in front of them next year, perhaps a clump or two of the white-flowered Veronicum virginicum ‘Album’ which reaches a lofty height of 1.5m or maybe one of the larger leucanthemums, to veil the orange day-lilies behind. I have a while to decide.

On the subject of colour, I found myself wondering recently why, generally speaking, yellow gets such a hard time in the gardening world. Many clients tell me they don’t mind what colours I include in their planting plan- other than yellow! I have to confess, I too have a problem with it. I can make it work well in a hot border alongside red and oranges, that’s easy, and I can also make it work well if it’s a pale, primrose yellow mixed in with say blues or mauves, but a strong yellow, for me at least, is tricky. It has to be said it does look wonderful as a mono-culture where, for example, an entire field is filled with corn marigolds (Chrysanthemum segetum) or daffodils and it can look amazing peppered amongst some of the annual or perennial meadow mixes that are available nowadays, but I have yet to work out how best to include it in a garden full of pink without setting it completely apart. One yellow-orange flower I do love though is the California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) and so, encouraged by the uninvited, but very welcome, annual poppies that appeared everywhere in my garden I cast masses of their seeds around the front door of my house (where no other plant grows, pink or otherwise) hoping for a blaze of orange to brighten up this dull area. The rain has obviously done the trick and washed them into the cracks in the brickwork so that several plants have appeared and will soon be flowering, not enough for a blaze of colour, but I can still look forward to some bright splashes of fiery orange here and there. I might add some love-in-a mist to the mix next spring and have that lovely blue mingle with the orange- one ‘clash’ I think does work.

That’s enough musing about colour, down to the nitty-gritty of gardening. One plant that needed to improve in my garden was the rhubarb. A couple of months ago I thought it would give up the ghost, but it has bounced back and is now thriving, largely due to the large amount of good compost I turned into the soil around its base followed by regular doses of a liquid seaweed feed. I also watered it frequently because it grows near the base of a wall and this spot never really gets much rainwater. Known as the rainshadow effect, this is when a strip of land along the base of a wall doesn’t get much rain falling upon it. It can be as much as a meter wide, depending on the topography of the garden and the height of the wall, so it’s always a good idea to check these dry zones even when other areas in the garden seem wet to see if the plants there are suffering from drought-stress and crying out for a good drink. This is also the same for plants beneath tree canopies, particularly underneath evergreen trees where rain never really penetrates.

I reckon my garden is at its peak right now with plants looking full and lush and colour in every bed. Everything has grown a great deal yet I know that it will be next year, when all the plants are more fully established, before some plants really get going. My pergola for example is not cloaked in green, but next year the roses and the solanums will have covered it completely and I wont have to look at the ugly wooden grid-work. However, one plant I am slightly fearful of (if one can be fearful of a plant) is the climber, Rosa filipes ‘Kiftgate’, because I know the dimensions it can achieve almost in the blink of an eye. I have reassured myself that there is plenty of room in my garden to have it stretch almost right around the perimeter fence, but it has already thrown out long arching stems that need tied in regularly and I find myself worrying that I have made a mistake. I will just have to be firm and make sure I only allow it to fill the space I intended it for. I have decided that after achieving a good solid framework of horizontal stems (it is horizontal growth that encourages flowering) I will be firm and always prune it back to this main structure each year.

Lately I have been considering the vegetable patch in my garden. This is a rectangular section surrounded by a low wall which I think at one time was probably an asparagus bed, although when I came across it there was a forest of Jerusalem artichokes growing there. One or two artichokes still pop up amongst the peppers, raspberries and tomatoes, but they are quickly uprooted before they take hold again. I have decided to grow flowers and not fruit and vegetables here because the space is too small to really get much food from it and also because it is right next to the seated area where yellowing tomato leaves and scraggy raspberries don’t make for an attractive focal point. A matter of opinion I suppose. I think I will perhaps put my name on the waiting list for an allotment where there will be plenty of space for growing edible plants and give this area over to flowering plants. I had toyed with the idea of turning the bed into a pond, but my best idea, so far at least, is to turn it into a formal area, a sort of parterre that will sit amongst the wild informality of the grasses and wildflowers. I think this odd juxtaposition of two gardening styles might look very interesting. I have in mind a central shrub or small tree and a simple criss-cross pattern of lavenders and perhaps box with infill of say heucherellas or epimediums (both are evergreens). I’m already looking forward to embarking on this new mini-project.