On a Chalk Hillside - Developing our garden.
How to fill up your new garden with plants
Well, as you know there are quick and easy ways to fill your garden with plants – go to the garden centre and stock up with something in flower each month to give you a spread of interest in your garden; order from a plant catalogue either plug plants, which need growing on, or full-sized plants, perhaps in collections of “blue” or “yellow”, or “plants for summer borders” etc. Here are some of the other ways I use to fill my garden with plants.
Buying plants and seeds from gardens open to charity. I first became interested in gardening when a friend started taking me to visit NGS Yellow Book gardens in central London. The National Garden Scheme raises money for charity by people opening their gardens and charging an entrance fee for the public to come in. They often also raise money by serving tea and cake, and by selling home-grown plants. They are called Yellow Book gardens because the book that lists which gardens are open and when, has a yellow cover, and became called The Yellow Book. My favourite garden then, and one that was very influential on me in terms of the style of garden and type of plants I like, was in Chiswick Mall. It opened in late Spring when their Wisteria and tree peony, Paeonia lutea, were in flower. It had Aquilegias, Euphorbia mellifera, tree and herbaceous peonies, and the most extensive list of seeds I have ever found at a private garden. And they sold them for 10p or 25p for the “choice” ones. I bought loads and loads each year I visited. Most of my herbs came from there, all my Aquilegia, lots of Dianthus species, but try as I might I never managed to germinate peonies or Clematis, though not through want of trying. I still visit Yellow Book Gardens, and still buy plants from many of them, a great way of finding more unusual specimens.
Once family, friends and neighbours know you are interested in gardening, you can swap plants or cuttings, or help divide something herbaceous, and take a bit home with you. My friend Mary used to turn up with a Tesco 'Bag for Life' full of parts of plants she had divided off for me – I have a wonderful Lavatera Cachemiriana and an orange Phygelius that she brought from her daughter’s new front garden for me “as they grow very big and I know you have the space for it”.
Lavatera Cachemiriana in my garden
One consequence of this is that I have most of the plants that my Mum has in her garden, given as bits or cuttings over the years, and most of the plants that will grow in my very different conditions from my step-Mum’s garden.
Once you have a plant, particularly when you super-size gardens, you want to make more. When we moved to this new garden for example, I brought a piece of each of the hardy Geraniums I had in our West London garden, and gradually divided them year on year. I brought rooted cuttings of both the honeysuckles I had (bought from Woolworths) – Lonicera Periclymenum ‘Graham Thomas’, and the Late Dutch Honeysuckle Lonicera Periclymenum ‘Serotina’. Each year as I weed/prune, bits snap off them, and I stick them into pots. My aim is to have honeysuckles all down the fence on the left side of the garden – I still have a few bare gaps even now…..and all my friends and relations have at least one of each honeysuckle in their gardens.This is also true for the grape vine that my sister dug out for me as a stump from her garden (“it’s the one from Hampton Court”) Vitis Vinifera ‘Black Hamburg’.
My “Hampton Court” Vine
This is a thug in our garden, and so provides a lot of cuttings material as we hack bits back to be able to get down the path. Consequently many other people now have the Hampton Court Vine too….
I let certain plants self-seed, relocating babies as necessary – it took me several years to recognise useful baby plants as opposed to weeds, and I tend to err on the side of leniency until I am sure something I don’t recognise is a weed, eg milk thistles and teasels look a lot like each other when they are just a rosette of leaves. (In my book Milk thistles, bad; teasels, good btw).
Self-seeded Verbascum Olympicum and Teasel in my garden
I collect seed from my plants too, and grow a lot of bedding and annuals. These are a great way to fill in gaps in your borders. Especially if you keep some in pots to move to places where it suddenly looks drab. Originally I bought packets of seed, but now I try and save annual seeds and some bedding seeds too, year on year. It helps to have pockets in whatever you are wearing in the garden as you suddenly realise that a particular seed pod is ripe and needs harvesting NOW. (NB. Only works with big seeds). I try to be organised on a still, dry, sunny day to go out with pots and paper bags to collect seed, but I nearly always forget to take the pencil with me, and have to try and remember which seed is which, or harvest a leaf/whole seedpod to remind me which is which.
I was very keen to try seed from the Hardy Plant Society seed distribution, as it was a way of ensuring I was not merely replicating my own playlist of plants all the time. I don’t know whether it’s because they have their Latin names on the list, but I had to look up most of the plants on the list and see what conditions they like, which brought home to me how varied are the conditions we each garden in! This is a great way of extending my plant knowledge, as it’s all too easy for me to become comfortable with the same palate of plants, and helps me with design and planning for the next garden feature. Currently I am actively looking for seeds (and plants) for the Long Herbaceous Border I am planning. My brief from my husband is that it should not look like the rest of the garden – i.e. not the same plants.
Mind you, there are a few pitfalls with these approaches to filling up your garden with plants. Unless you get plants from neighbours, plants from far-flung family (and mine all are), or your previous garden elsewhere, may not like your gardening conditions. Worse, something that is a small charming thing in their garden may turn into a monstrous beast in your very different conditions. Letting things self-seed may turn your entire path into a jungle of teasels, flax and ox-eye daisies whilst the beds remain devoid, (My husband wishes this was an entirely hypothetical example!)
Also, as we discovered when we brought our three van-loads of plants from West London, not all of them liked our new garden conditions, or being in pots over-winter. Next time I will tell you about how the plants were introduced to the garden, and one of our projects that first Winter.