In the Garden with Michael Kerr

Kerr's flowers
Kerr's flowers

In June, the garden seemed to settle into itself quite nicely as plants grew and filled there allotted space, and while you couldn’t exactly describe it as a riot of colour (I have opted for more muted pastel colours by and large) it is now looking quite cheery.

Most of the climbers are weaving there way in and out the wires I have put in place and are cladding the once bland walls and fences with lush new growth.

I am impatiently waiting for the trellised archway to disappear behind stems of Felicite et Perpetue and Paul’s Himalayan Musk roses that are slowly snaking their way upwards, but I understand that for the moment they are putting all their energy into producing a fine display of blooms. The great surge of growth will come later.

I bought two Victorian benches and placed them next to the archway and each day I sit for a while enjoying the heady scent of not only the roses but also the Trachelospermum and Jasmines I have planted close by.

A couple of months ago I noticed lots of little seedling appearing in the far corner of the garden. I suspected they were annual poppies and this indeed turned out to be the case- this portion of the garden could certainly be described as a riot of colour because the poppies are flowering amongst the electric blue delphiniums with purple viticella clematis and shocking pink roses as a backdrop. It is a combination that Christopher Lloyd over at Great Dixter might have been proud of and while I am trying to enjoy it I am not sure I will allow it to happen in quite the same way next year.

I continue to push plants into gaps throughout my garden and for the most part these have been seedlings I purloined from other people’s gardens. One has to be careful when doing this however as it can be a way of introducing very unwelcome weeds. I only take from areas I am well acquainted with and where I know for certain there are no weeds lurking, and I always pick through or wash the roots to make sure they are weed free. Lately I have been doing this with Erigeron karvinskianus, Alchemilla mollis, Lychnis coronaria and Campanula persicifolia, all very easy plants to move around. The reasonably shade-tolerant alchemilla and campanula now reside at the base of the north and east facing walls (where I expect the acid green and blue colour combination to zing out next year) and the more sun-loving lychnis I added to the south-facing beds which can fairly bake throughout the day.

The erigeron had been pressed into little plugs of soil I rolled in the palm of my hand and these have been pushed into nooks and crannies in the walls that surround my garden. I look forward to seeing them spill from the cracks with a frothy display of their tiny, daisy-like flowers.

I said most climbers are weaving their way up the supports I have offered them, but there is one plant that is much less inclined to cling than others- the rather un-obliging sweet pea. Sweet peas really need to be tied in every seven to ten days so that they don’t fall away from their support. If this is allowed to happen the flower stems develop and then twist sharply upwards in their search for light leaving you with contorted flowers useless for indoor displays. And, a plant picked over less often generates far fewer flowers. Carefully tie the stems in with a natural twine rather than the sharp-edged plastic ties which are inclined to cut and bruise the plant.

Generally I don’t prune my hydrangeas much, but this year, having transplanted them from London to Rye I decided to give them a reasonably hard prune and I have to say that they seem to have benefitted greatly. They are mostly varieties of Hydrangea macrophylla and at the moment they are flowering magnificently in every hue from blue through to pink; this I assume means that my soil doesn’t contain much aluminium and isn’t particularly acidic or they would have remained the bright blue they once were. They are apparently in a state of transition, but I find the multi-coloured effect very pleasing. In March I went over all the plants with my secateurs cutting out several stems right back to the base and this has obviously encouraged the plant to produce some new and very floriferous growth. I must say however that these were well-established, mature plants and it’s perhaps not such a good idea to treat a young hydrangea in this way.

The annual weeds still appear in the garden only to feel the sharp blade of my hoe, but as the beds begin to fill with plants and the space between them diminishes, I know that I will have to weed by hand more and more to avoid damaging the more cherished specimens. But, I quite enjoy this task and it’s something I tend to do often and in short bursts rather than for long spells where it might become tedious. Unsurprisingly, the plants in the sunniest border are performing the best and are almost brimming over the edge in the unruly way I intended. The somewhat untamed blend of lychnis, potentilla, viola, erigeron and campanula seems to work well with no one plant dominating, but we will have to see what happens when the monarda and achillea, both about to flower, join the melee.