Friday, April 27, 2007

Trimming to size

Back to the monster mahonia again yesterday - I came to the conclusion that I'd see what happened after I'd done some restorative pruning (i.e. thinning out the very congested centre, removing crossing branches and so on).

Luckily that did take the height down a bit and what with a few judicious cuts which removed the remainder of the really tall bits, I managed to take about 5ft off the top without actually changing the shape of the tree much. I also had a lot of fun climbing about in the canopy - it doesn't take much to get me up clambering about in trees!

Result is a happy client - he got his view back - and happy me, having preserved a very special plant. I've revised my opinion of mahonias and will be recommending them as an unusual architectural plant to designers - but as 20ft trees, not the modest little specimens you see in most gardens.

One other thing - I have for my sins agreed to take over running the garden at my local primary school. Why is it we gardeners are such suckers for co-opting more things to grow and spaces to grow them in? Hopefully I can delegate a lot of the work to other parents - but I have to confess, I'm secretly quite excited about this little pond area they have there, which I plan to make into a fantastic little wildlife garden. Minibeast heaven. More later...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mystery tree

I found a tree at the bottom of the garden I had no idea I had the other day.

This is all part of my little project to clear the overgrown mess around my garden pond and make it into an intentionally overgrown jungle area, so I've been removing a big old forsythia and a massive clump of Kerria japonica (both great shrubs but only if you like that particular shade of brassy yellow... I don't).

Having done that I realised there was a multi-stemmed something-or-other there and since I don't get rid of things I can't identify I've been watching it with interest as it leafed up and formed flower buds.

Well now it's flowering - and looks just like a honeysuckle. Except that it's about 20ft high... and the flowers are about half the size of a climbing honeysuckle - here's a pic:

Pretty, isn't it? I've been emailing the Cambridge University Botanic Gardens, which has a national collection of honeysuckle (Lonicera), and good old Wisley, both of whom have asked me to send them a sample. So I'll chop off a bit today and post it. I think either way, it's such a pretty thing it's staying (even though it's not very jungly) - how lovely, just like getting a present!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Monster mahonia

You know those modest unassuming mahonias you find tucked away in a corner in most gardens, doing their stuff in about February with puffs of yellow pompom flowers and then retreating into the background for the rest of the year?

Well - I met one that was 25 feet tall yesterday. It was in the garden of a client of mine and he was asking me to prune it back, since it hadn't been touched in the 20 years or so since it was planted. It's such a magnificent plant: craggy bark like a crocodile's skin, bright yellow wood and these wonderful, architectural leaves. This time of the year it's hung with strings of bluish-green beads which eventually will develop into black seeds (apparently they can be eaten and are known as Oregon grapes in the US).

Normally you only ever see these as shrubs a few feet high if you're lucky. But what nobody tells you is that they can serve as small multi-stemmed trees if they're happy enough. They can be stooled and grown from the base if they get leggy, but though this one is, it's also very deeply architectural and quite amazing to look at, so I'm very hesitant about butchering it. With special plants like these, taking your secateurs (or pruning saw, in this case) to them is a doubly scary thing to do. I shall ponder for another week before I have to finally make a decision next Thursday.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Cornwall #1 - The Lost Gardens of Heligan

I'm just back from a little break in Cornwall, where gardening is a religion. The result is some of the most beautiful gardens in Britain, and I had a fantastic week sampling some of the best.

Top of the list for me was the Lost Gardens of Heligan, a valley a little way inland from the coast at the fishing town of Mevagissey, "discovered" by entrepreneur Tim Smit who put his considerable talents into making it happen and then ensuring everyone knew about it. The best thing about him is that it's not just hot air - the projects he gets involved with are genuinely worthwhile and something to get really excited about.

The Lost Gardens are no exception. This is a truly magical place that has such atmosphere: you can do the technical gardening thing in the extraordinary, and beautiful, walled vegetable garden, or wander gently through the northern gardens or along the valley bottom and lose yourself watching tadpoles wriggling in the shallows of the necklace of pools that runs along it. Or you can marvel - and I really mean marvel - at the jewel in the crown, the fabulous jungle ravine where tree ferns jostle each other among Californian redwoods and unbelievably massive rhododendrons. If you haven't been yet - you're really missing something. It'll change the way you think about gardens forever.

The flower garden was spangled with ranunculus for cutting while we were there - and just look at those glasshouses.

We were lucky enough to catch the rhododendrons in full flower. I'm not usually that keen on them - but this was a breathtaking sight.

... and here's a single flower close-up. Amazing colour.

Rhododendrons were also a feature of the jungle garden - this one is a single plant, 75 feet across, and over 100 years old.

Gunneras were just unfurling their prehistoric leaves just below the rhododendron pool.

And here's a view down that fantastic jungle ravine.

You can't talk about Heligan without mentioning tree ferns. This was the garden that made them fashionable: and these are among the first tree ferns ever imported into the country, at the beginning of last century.

And last but not least - the beautiful natural mud sculptures by Cornish artist Sue Hill, seemingly carved from the earth, and just adding to the fantasy feel of the place. For me this just sums up Heligan: natural, as old as the hills, and so, so beautiful.
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