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On a Chalk Hillside February 2019

Boundary plants and pruning
I am going to tackle this subject in two bites.  This month I shall talk about some of the boundary plants along the boundary of one of the larger rose garden beds, and next month focus on a different boundary area near the pond and bog garden.  
I have mentioned before that I wanted honeysuckles almost every other plant going down the boundary fences, and that over the years I have planted many interspersed (and intertwined) with other climbers and shrubs.  I might even have mentioned that whilst we had thought we had dug out all the brambles in the beds before we planted them up they keep reappearing.  Generally each year I have two or three concerted efforts to cut back or pull out the brambles down the boundaries, once in the winter, again in later spring, and hopefully during the summer as well, which creates cuttings material (ie the honeysuckles branches snap off as I pull out the brambles) but does not eradicate the brambles, which are growing in and through the roots of the other shrubs and climbers.  Usually I simply tie the climbers’ growth back to the support/trellis/climbing frame and vow to tackle it properly “when I have time”.  (Which I never do) or “when the weather improves”.  
This latter is the main issue, it is all very well knowing that you should prune the majority of your climbers and shrubs in the winter when they are dormant, but getting the weather to do it is another matter – with ground frozen solid, freezing winds, freezing precipitation etc etc.  Consequently the climbers and shrubs lean further and further over the paths into the garden and get more and more difficult to weed round.  However, last January Storm Ernest took a hand, I don’t know what damage he did in your garden but we woke on 5th January 2018 to discover that he had snapped two of our fence posts and almost taken a third completely out of the ground as the fence had gone over with it into our neighbours’ garden.  (Our fence posts are about 3meters apart, so it was quite a large amount of fence that had come down), and next door’s three dogs were besides themselves with excitement in our garden.    Something had to be done urgently.  
With such a long fenced perimeter to our garden we are used to repairing and replacing fencing due to storm damage, but this damage was comparatively near the house, and in order to get to the other side to actually tackle the damage we had to undertake some severe pruning of shrubs to get through, and it brought to light two other problems – 1) how much common ivy had grown up the fence and particularly round the posts and along the ground, 2) That at least two of the trellises that two of the honeysuckles were growing up were completely broken and useless.  Additionally, and extremely unusually in our experience, January was (for January) comparatively mild, and was dry, allowing us to be outside working each day, which ensured we actually were able to “have the time” to do a “proper job” as they say in Wiltshire.
Here are a couple of shots of the same Winter Flowering Honeysuckle (Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’), one taken on 1 January, the other on 5th January, showing how much had to be pruned away to get behind it to where the fence had blown down:-

I have several Winter flowering Honeysuckles along the perimeters, this is one of the plants I brought from our tiny London garden where it was pruned into a small tree at the curve of the path through our tiny garden, and indeed was the only shrub still standing untouched due to its supple trunk when the whole of that fence gave way under a storm in the 1990s.  I do tie the odd branch back to the fence or a trellis here to help it grow upright (and to stop my husband lopping at it frenziedly as he passes) but it generally is self-supporting, and this year has started flowering and being in full scent before the end of November.  As you probably know it needs a small amount of warmth for the scent to carry, but it is a lovely citrusy hit as you work in the winter garden – and the honey bees love it – here is one visiting the flowers on 29th January last year:-

So, as part of repairing the fencing we took the opportunity, whilst we had access from our neighbours side to try and get rid of not only the brambles but also all the ivy (Hedera helix) that had grown up along the fence line (ie was coming in from their side - the roots of which we couldn’t get to otherwise).  Once that had been done, we had a much better view of the state of all the rest of the fence posts, climbing frames and supports.  A couple of other fence posts were replaced, and we took the decision that all the supports for all the plants needed replacing.  The few supports that I had thought were still ok, in fact were being held up by the honeysuckles growing up them – see here, a copper pipe support held up by a honeysuckle growing through a birds nest on top – the black berries in it are from the mature Hedera helix that has been removed:-


(Note the bramble branch along the bottom left too!!)

This was our opportunity to do a drastic winter prune of our boundary down that side for 150ft (45.72 metres).  
As you can see from the photo below, the honeysuckle had got very over grown and fallen off its support :–

The robin is actually sitting on a branch of an Olearia macrodonta that has grown forwards seeking the sunlight as the honeysuckles thickened up behind and above it.  You can see a few of its grey holly-like leaves towards the top right.  
I was quite concerned as we pruned and cleared years of top growth from the various honeysuckles, ivies and shrubs what effect this would have on our garden birds as we uncovered several nests – such as this one in the Forsythia x intermedia:- 

Let me show you one small area of the boundary plants as an example.  Here is a “before” shot of the “five bar gate” which you may recall from previous articles goes across one of the big beds in the Rose garden, clothed with Hedera helix ‘Red Ruffles’ and Lonicera periclymenum ‘Graham Thomas’ planted up about 10 years ago.

Apart from the Hellebore leaves bottom left almost all the green leaves in this picture are from the Hedera helix ‘Red Ruffles’ which as you can see are at the bottom and covering most of the bed rather than climbing up the support – the Lonicera pericymenum ‘Graham Thomas’ is at the top of the structure.  It is trying to strangle the rose in the far right of the picture, AND is trying to join its lonicera friend on the fence, far left (which did have its own trellis which has disintegrated so it has fallen forward away from the fence.)  We found a nest in the middle of this too.
Here is the ‘After’ shot – much thinned out and corralled onto a new structure – you can even see the two twigs of the Wintersweet by the fence now! (Chimonanthus praecox).

In the following picture you can see the new supports for the climbers on the fence before we put up the new 5 bar gate structure – the Ivy is clearly in a heap bottom right:-

The Honeysuckle on the post on the far right is also Lonicera periclymenum ‘Graham Thomas’.  Between that and the “five bar gate” is a rose that has been completely swamped and is struggling – this year is its make or break year – either it comes back strongly after being unearthed last winter, or its days are numbered.  The evergreen leaves and the diagonal branch running in front of that is an extremely thorny Pyracantha ‘Orange Charmer’. This has very many lovely orange berries in summer and autumn. Technically they are each planted a minimum of 45-60cm apart from each other, but naturally they have grown together rather than upwards or away from each other so there is a gap before the next rose and the other Lonicera at the left hand side – Lonicera periclymenum ‘Scentsation’.  I can confirm that the Pyracantha is a real danger to your digits it is so spikey.   
I need not have worried about the birds having enough cover after our drastic pruning and remodelling. Here is that support structure on 28th April 2018:-

Note how the Honeysuckle is clothing the new five bar gate on the right.  The blackbirds made a nest in this, which prevented me getting to the bindweed in that bed for the rest of the summer!   By 10 June, the Honeysuckle ‘Scentsation’ is in full flower and the fence is quite well hidden:-

(FYI the pink rose in the foreground is Rosa 'Zephirine Drouhin', a thornless Bourbon climber with a lovely scent.)
Next month as promised, more boundary planting and pruning near the pond and bog garden.

Sheila May

Posted by Sheila May

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