Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Horrible diseases

Here's something to strike fear into your heart: first box blight laid waste to our clipped hedge topiaries, then it was sudden oak death threatening the most English tree of them all. Now that stalwart of the English garden, the fuchsia, is under threat from a new bug, the fuchsia gall Mite.

It's been spotted in Hampshire and causes twisted, distorted growth at the end of fuchsia shoots and branches. Let's hope it doesn't get much further - fuchsias may not be my favourite plant, but they're good-looking, dead easy to look after, I grow lots of them in various gardens and we'd all be poorer without them.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Plant of the month - September

Leycesteria formosa

Pheasant berry

This has to be the best value shrub in my garden. Just now the purple berries are starting to darken to almost black, bringing this year-rounder to its peak. The year starts with brilliant green leaves emerging: later in the summer they develop a purplish tinge. The flowers start appearing early - about June - in fountains of raspberry ice bracts held demurely under the leaves, each one harbouring a tiny, relatively insignificant white flower. The flowers, though, develop into these fabulous, luscious berries which last well into autumn - unless, of course, you have pheasants in the area, in which case you'll be besieged. The interest lasts through winter, too, as the vibrant green stems stand right through till spring. All this for the price of a little pruning in spring (remove about a third of the oldest branches to keep the youngest, brightest stems) - this is truly a plant which has it all.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Cloud-pruning hedges

One of my clients has an accidentally cloud-pruned hedge. This arcane art from Japan is all the rage at the moment, but when I informed her she was cutting edge (literally and metaphorically), she'd never heard of it. The hedge, she told me, had just grown like that: she and her husband had been pruning it with shears since they moved in about 50 years ago and they just followed the contours of the hedge without bothering too much about straight lines and sharp edges.

It's a lovely thing: all curves and sensual, billowing waves. It takes me eight hours to prune it with hand shears each year, which is a real labour of love, but it's worth it. You can see bits of it swelling and retreating as the years go by: holes appear and disappear, and bulges are smoothed out and then turn up somewhere else. I've never been so aware that a hedge is made up of living, breathing plants: beats a boring old box square any day.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Back again!

No prizes for guessing where I've been!

What precious seconds I've had to spare this summer in between juggling small children on school holiday and the normal demands of work have been spent out in the garden dodging the raindrops, so my computer has remained lonely and neglected in the corner. Now though with autumn in the air and everything beginning to wind down, and - most importantly perhaps? - the kids back at school, it's time to catch up with what's been going on!

Verdict on this summer - a washout, and I think everyone agrees. It hasn't been much fun for anyone on the beach, but I think it's been fantastic for the garden despite misery-guts moaning about floppy perennials from telly gardeners. That just hasn't been my experience at all: the roses have been flowering fit to bust, having for once in their lives had enough water all summer in my thin sandy soil; my Amelanchier - which I shouldn't really be growing since it's from the American wetlands - has put on a foot of growth; and I haven't had to pick up the hosepipe once. After the horrors of last year's drought, I've been revelling in this summer: the light may have made it hard to catch the flowers at their shining best, but they really have been at the best I've ever seen them. And a few wet pairs of gardening gloves is a small price to pay for that.
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