Friday, 27 April 2018 19:14

Spring means trees - and pain

Weve waited a long time for some sunshine and heat. April suddenly delivered both for a few days and got the tulips going, thank goodness. But gosh. So much work to do in a very short time because it has been too miserable to be out there. Spring and I are horribly behind.

My onion sets had been waiting to be planted out for weeks and all the other weeding needed in advance of planting anything had been on hold thanks to the wet and the cold.

But all is now forgiven – sort of. Finally I managed to get out there and the recent sun in early May is making all the difference.

I have planted many of the onion sets. More will follow later. I have improvised netting (not the expense of a full cage) held up by cheap climber trainers plus some bird netting to stop the blackbirds and others pulling them up just for the fun of it - as is their wont.

It’s a lot of hard work to do everything that needs doing all at the same time when one thinks the frosts may or may not be over. Neighbours had a frost on 30th April. Luckily we didn't but I am still praying the huge Wisteria buds front (first below) and back (second below) will enfold into gloriousness this year (having lost most of them last year).

So I am now (slowly between showers) working my way through the borders cleaning up the old growth from Geraniums, Geums and grasses, cutting down the now straw-like stems of the tall grasses whilst carefully missing the young new shoots, weeding everywhere, tieing in the rapid growth of the Clematis and doing final pruning of roses - all much later than normal and, following my Winter report, doing some re-thinking re the garden and some of the plants.

Trees - A Magnolia?

I wasn’t planning to plant any more trees, ever, let alone this year but I witnessed a wonderful Magnolia recently that I covet. It comes over the fence from my parents’ neighbours’ garden in Worcestershire. It is a medium sized tree with pink and white flowers on bare branches and the flowers become stellata in form as they open from strong buds. I know it is the one I want one but I don't know what variety it is. Everything online looks likes it's a "Leonard Messell" bit I am not convinced. LM is too white and small. It must be something else. A pink stellata tree form.

Also, officially, I have nowhere to put it. The only place it can go is where other plants are. At the moment the ideal location for my new Magnolia is directly in the place of a Styrax Japonica ‘Pink Chimes’ (which I had hoped would grow into a tree but is clearly not going to) and two increasingly large Daphnes (odora ‘Aureo marginato’ and D ‘Rebecca’) that are thriving in the bed shown below. Depending on the tree’s pot size there is a chance I could squeeze the tree in between the Daphnes if I simply remove the Styrax. But Daphnes notoriously hate being disturbed and are in flower now. They won’t mind the extra shade if I can squeeze it in but their roots might not take kindly to ‘new tree disturbance’.

So I am going through the process of thinking “am I prepared to potentially kill three happily thriving plants to put in a new tree that will flower for only two or three weeks in early Spring?” It’s a toughie. It would look fab in April and also look lovely in its leaf most of the rest of the year and, with luck, the branches will do what Magnolia branches do best (which is sort of magical) as they gently twine and umbrella out. I want to duck underneath it, work around it and marvel in its form and bark. And I really want a tree in the middle of this bed! The Styrax just isn't doing it.


Whilst thinking of trees I forced myself to reconsider my failing Cytisus Batandieri in the Zen bed. It is still alive but it is definitely not happy. I think it needs moving to a site with more sun. So I have had to think of a tree that might work in its place. I decided that a Sorbus aucuparia (native Rowan tree) of some sort might thrive because they are very tolerant of clay and wet (and a little shade), they have white flowers and red berries beloved of birds (which can also be made into jelly – especially if you are Scandinavian). I had a fabulous one in my London garden that even attracted the famous Tiger Moth - but I inherited it, so I don’t know its exact form.

I researched them and decided that either Sorbus commixta ‘Embley’ or Sorbus ‘Chinese Lace’ would work well in the bed, soil, aspect and conditions. Both have white blossom and red berries and great Autumn colour but Chinese Lace has rather unusually divided leaves. I visited lots of local places which had them and of course couldn’t decide, so bought one of each (from different places) ie I now have two to be planted. Ooops! Now that's three trees I didn't plan to plant.

They say there is always room for another Clematis (which I have found to be pretty true) but is there always room for another tree - or three?

I have made it happen of course. I have planted the S. Commixta on the edge of the left hand border where it will match the lovely Crataegus prunifolia (frosted thorn) tree the other side of the “gate” at the end of the garden. Both have blossom and deep red berries for the birds but the Sorbus doesn’t have the wicked thorns.

The Sorbus ‘Chinese Lace’ will go in the zen bed to replace the Cytisus where I hope its divided leaves will be more Japanese-like and fit in well with the Acers, dwarf conifers and sculptures.

The Cytisus will be moved (wrong time I know) to the end of the garden by the swing seat (after I have completely re-dug the bed, removed the two Ceonothus that were killed by the frosts and snow this Winter and the myriad weed grasses and other invaders –major blitz). There it will get much more sun (happy making) but also more wind – potentially a problem. If it thrives where I move it to then fab.. If it dies I’ll find something else to replace it. If this marvellous shrub/tree that I really want in my garden doesn’t want to live here with me then I’ll just have to cope. I have finally hardened my heart.


But all this sudden energetic heavy weeding, digging up and planting after almost no gardening work all Winter, has left me with strained muscles. Gosh. I hadn't even thought about that. I used not to have to. But now I am nearing the end of my 50s I am horrified to realise that I now have to really think about the strenuous work I do in the garden.

I have been aware for some time that it's good, at my age, to do one type of activity (like weeding on your knees) for a bit and then do something different (like dead-heading or pruning) for a bit before doing something else (eg heavy digging work) but I have never before been as affected by the early year work as I have been this Spring.

The first thing I did one day when the sun came out was to clear a huge area of weeds in clay, plant a tree, remove an old vertical tree post (really hard), then start to dig up large dead shrubs etc and I can tell you this is not a good idea! I had to have a week off hard graft whilst my muscles recovered. So I spent the time in the greenhouse as the rain came down.

What next

I had thought this blog would be all about new perennials and annuals - not about trees. But because the growing season is so late I have decided to postpone my purchases of the aforementioned until I go to the Malvern Spring Show in early May. It’s always a treat and now I shall have things to really look forward to buying from some very good specialists. I recommend The Malvern Show to you if you are in the UK. It’s the perfect time to buy and plant almost everything and it is a wonderfully relaxed and friendly event. It’s my favourite of the year and I much prefer it to Chelsea, Hampton Court etc.. Perhaps I’ll see you there? I am going on the first day.

I also visited National Trust House and Garden 'Hinton Ampner' for the first time the other day. It's a truly wonderful garden with spectacular views. The garden is well worth visiting and really well looked after with an amazing walled veg and fruit garden that feeds the restaurant (much better than most NT cafes) and it is filled at the moment with blossom on really unusual and wonderful old versions of apples and pears. Is there anything more beautiful than the deep pink, light pink, white and young green of apple blossom? This is my Bramley coming into blossom.

Hidden away at Hinton Ampner I found a border where the ground cover is all glorious Epimedeums. Their low, heart shaped leaves and slender flower stems are very attractive and it set me thinking. I have a bed that is being overtaken by ground elder and I am wondering whether planting Epimediums throughout might help eradicate the ground elder. I know it's an ask but the conditions are sort of right. Watch this space. In the meantime I am eating the ground elder (since that what the Romans did when they introduced it - thanks a bunch) and tonight it is performing the role of parsley in a fish dish!

And as the sun shines on this May holiday the Dicentra is out ......

... as are the early Clematis...

and the Ranunculus in the pond....

...which is full of fish and a gazillion "toadpoles".

I have just seen a couple of orange tip butterflies and a cream spotted ladybird which is rather fun because it has a rich brown coat.

So, I wish you good gardening, good weather and please keep your fingers crossed that we don’t get last years’ very late frost because my Wisteria buds front and back are looking even more amazing than when I started this blog and I don’t think I could cope if they got zapped again!