In the garden with Michael Kerr

I DECIDED to prune the lower branches of the buddleja hard back to allow me to get in underneath and clear the weeds and perhaps plant one or two shade-tolerant perennials. However, once I had weeded the area, and after a few exploratory pokes with the garden fork, I realised that the ground was packed tight with bulbs which were already pushing out little pointed shoots and promising some very welcome early colour next year. Having acquired a garden at a time of year when bulbs are barely evident I must now work carefully around them and also try to identify them so that my new plantings don’t result in horrific colour clashes. Most of the bulbs appear to be bluebells with the occasional crocus or snowdrop straggler dotted here and there and I have decided to leave them exactly where they are just to see how they look next spring. I had planned to place some heucheras and tiarellas under the buddleja, but they have found a home elsewhere in the garden and instead I plan to incorporate some cyclamen (both coum and hederifolium species) and then throw in some seeds of begonia at the end of next spring; these plants enjoy the shade and should give me some colour from early summer right into next winter.

I have also been busy this month planting several climbers and wall shrubs. The pergola stood naked throughout September and October, but now I have a good, strong rose (‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’) planted at the base on one side and a potato vine, Solanum jasminoides ‘Album’ leaning towards it on the other side, and while they are by no means clothing the structure yet they are both vigorous plants and will no doubt meet in the middle at some point next year. The rose is a soft pink while the potato vine’s flowers are of the purest white and, as they both flower in summer, I think the combination of the two will be glorious. I will most likely add in two of the less vigorous clematis, one spring flowering, perhaps Clematis alpina, the other summer or autumn flowering, to extend the season of interest here. Trachelospermum jasminoides is one of the loveliest climbing plants I have ever come across and I have planted one at the base of a bare trellis where I’m sure it will do very well as it’s quite a warm and protected spot- it needs a sheltered site to perform at its very best. It’s an evergreen plant which bears fragrant flowers in late summer. It has a slight bronze tinge to the leaves right now and this may deepen to a rich red when the temperature drops. I have planted a couple of Californian lilacs (Ceanothus ‘Concha’) because, as a wall shrub, I think they are hard to beat. Their masses of deep blue flower heads will zing out in the garden next May and because they are evergreen they will do a very nice job in helping to mask the ugly larch-lap fencing that surrounds most of the garden. Other evergreens I have planted to help screen the fence include Pyracantha (currently putting on a magnificent show of scarlet or orange berries around the streets of Rye, and no doubt across the country) and Hebe ‘Autumn Glory’ which should bear purple flowers next September. I also planted an Abelia ‘Kaleidoscope’ which, to be honest, I’m not that familiar with (I’m better acquainted with the more common Abelia grandiflora) but this one’s label promised a more compact plant with terrific autumn colour so I thought I would give it a go.

The continuing mild weather has meant that my perennial seedlings are establishing themselves pretty well. Above ground they are still surprisingly green, though still somewhat tiny, but below the roots are spreading nicely. The wallflowers are also continuing to grow, sporadically, putting on a few more leaves whenever the warmer temperatures allow. And, when I decided to move a couple I could see that new, white and woolly fibrous roots had appeared so I don’t have to worry about them any longer. Next year, when they begin to add on even more growth, I will begin a regime of pinching out the growing tips to make them grow into strong, bushy plants with lots of healthy flower buds.

The digging and weeding continues. The ash from my fire indoors (and from the enormous one I burnt on Guy Fawkes night) has either been dug into the ground or sprinkled in layers on the compost heap and should help to enrich the soil. It’s best not to overdo the amount of ash you pile on- about 50g per square meter on open ground is about right, or add a thin layer to the compost heap every 15cm or so. The next job is to start clearing out a bed of mighty Jerusalem artichokes to make room for some more commonplace vegetables. These giants are towering above me at about 3 meters and their withered stems and leaves are very ugly now so it’s time to do away with them. Besides, they grow in what is probably the sunniest site in my garden so where better to grow some big plump raspberries.