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On a Chalk Hillside December 2017

Planting up a rose garden 2 – Structure, height and ground cover  

As we approach the shortest day it makes me happy to think some more about rose gardens.  Following on from last month’s article about planting the rectangular bed nearest the house, this month I am moving on to the three irregular-shaped beds we created by putting the hoggin paths through (described in the October blog piece).  Now, I have wrestled with how to describe the planting in these beds as over the past 11 years it has changed and developed.  I don’t want to just list everything that I have ever planted in there, nor do I only want to reflect what is in there now, or was successful.  So with scant regard for actual chronology in some places, here is a stab at describing the planting up of an area bigger than the whole of many modern gardens. 
Let’s starts with the structural and architectural planting; how I achieved height, and the converse – ground cover.  Here are a couple of pictures to remind us of what was already there in spring 2006.  This is what the beds with the roses all pruned severely looked like to begin with firstly looking from the house; secondly looking from under the pear trees through the Rosa 'Grootendorst' back to the house:-

I hope these show you that the left hand bed looking from the house had only hybrid tea roses in it, not evenly spaced, whilst the bed on the right had a few hybrid tea roses (and a Rosa ‘Ispahan’ like the feature rectangular rose bed nearer the house) in it at the front of the bed nearest the house, and the shrub rose Rosa 'Fruhlingsanfang' and the moss rose Rosa ‘William Lobb’ at the back.  The furthest bed from where I took the second photo had the red Rosa 'Grootendorst' to the right side of it, Rosa ‘Canary Bird’ in the middle, and pink Rosa 'Pink Grootendorst' on the left, and quite a few hybrid tea’s crammed in around them.
You may recall last month I said that this part of the rose garden was to feature the shrub roses which were further from the house and backed by the pear trees, but I was going to treat the rest of the hybrid tea roses as part of a successional mixed planting.   So I already had the tree back drop for the Rosa 'Grootendorsts' and the Rosa ‘Canary Bird’, but I did not want the rest of garden to look entirely one level.  Some form of pergola/arch was required to give instant height and to help make the garden seem wider.
The first bit of structure incorporated was the old tree root we had dug out when we replaced the concrete path down the right hand side of the garden.  This was placed about a third back in the left hand bed.  Here it is in early June 2006 with a Crambe cordifolia planted in its arms.

 Crambe cordifolia is a huge plant, more than dustbin-size in girth with a huge froth of tiny white flowers to above 2m in June, ideal to pair with roses.  Here it is, one plant, a mass of frothy white flowers in early  June 2008:-

(Please note the pinks flowering along the right hand side of the path described last month.) 

Behind the stump and the Crambe, running across the centre slightly diagonally I constructed a structure out of the copper water pipes that were removed from the property when we had central heating put in.  It vaguely resembled a five bar gate in size, as you can see in the following picture:-

and I planted it up with an ivy which I believe was called 'Red Ruffles', but whilst it is ruffled in leaf shape as you can see here:-

It is only very slightly tinged with red at the edges occasionally.  I also put in a honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum 'Graham Thomas', like the one I planted on the pergola).  The idea was that these two would form a low narrow barrier stopping you seeing all the way down the garden on the left hand side, which would be clothed in evergreen leaves as a contrast to the Crambe cordifolia, and the roses whilst in flower, and would distract from the rather scraggy-looking hybrid tea roses round it when they were not in flower.  
Here is a picture looking back to the house in June 2011 showing how well the barrier had grown and was blocking views without being too tall or bulky:-

As you will notice from the picture of the bare five bar gate I planted a Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii between two hybrid tea roses to give evergreen colour (and a lovely citrus lime zing in spring), I planted another one beside the Rosa 'Fruhlingsanfang' and a third in the bed under the pear tree behind the red Rosa 'Grootendorst.  
I constructed a narrow 2.5m arch on the right-hand bed also out of copper piping which was to have the same ivy grow up it to be a solid evergreen structure in height but not bulk for when the Rosa 'Fruhlingsanfang' and Rosa burnet, double white are not in flower (or leaf!) as you can see below.

I planted an upright rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis 'Miss Jessopp's Upright') to give evergreen structure slightly to the front left of the arch, by the path.   Also to give height I planted a Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) in each bed.  You can see its grey leaves near the fence top left in the picture of the root stump.  In the right-hand bed I planted it in front of the Rosa 'Fruhlingsanfang' with a bronze fennel behind it to be of interest when the rose had stopped flowering.   Here they are as foliage interest in mid-May this year:-

Later in the year here is a picture of them flowering in September 2012:-

I intended to have a further structural evergreen plant on the pergola side of the bed towards the front, the other side of this cardoon but could not make my mind up what to plant putting an Acanthus spinosus (Bear’s Breeches) in beside the rose instead as a temporary measure and a clump of Geranium x oxonianum f. thurstonianum to mirror the one in the rectangular bed of roses nearer the house.  You’ve guessed it, over 10 years later they are still there, and still no evergreen structural plant…. 
One last copper structure was put in behind the small seating area which was on the left hand fence end of the diagonal path, so that you could see it from the pergola, something to draw the eye across the width of the garden.  
Here it is just constructed in March 2007, with a Trachelospermum jasminoides twined round its middle strut (a garden-warming present from two of our friends):-

The seating area was designed and built to fit this particular bench which came from our London garden with us, but as you can see by 2011 it had been replaced with a more eye-catching white chair:-

This was partly to give the Trachelospermum jasminoides more light to see if it would help it thrive, but whilst it does well in the sheltered London microclimate growing up a sunny wall, it really was not warm and sheltered enough for it on this exposed chalk hillside, and it eventually faded away.  I am currently trying to establish a variegated ivy along there – Hedera helix ‘Goldheart’.  
Moving on to the ground cover, I have just read an article by Alan TItchmarch which suggests that many gardeners are sniffy about ground cover plants.  This is a surprise to me as I prefer to see plants to bare soil, though I am not thinking of monoculture here, but interwoven tapestry of plants which includes ground cover.  On the light chalk soil we have here I find it important to have leafy planting as much of the year as possible to anchor the soil.  If you leave bare soil over winter for example you end up with a sea of flints and the very fine soil particles wash away down the hill (or blow away in the wind).  I like to have “ground cover” plants under the shrubs canopy too, and round the shrub roses in these beds.  If you look at  the picture with the root stump in it above you may be able to see the mauve flowers of the common comfrey (Symphytum officinale) planted between the orangey rose and the Cardoon.  Those three plants reliably grew and flowered together year on year and were a great combination.  I planted a different comfrey in each bed.  If you scroll back up to the first picture in this article you can see a patch of blue-flowering Russian Comfrey (Symphytum uplandicum) planted at the front of the right hand bed.   This is a great plant, long flowering, loved by bees.  Cut it back when it looks tired, and put the prunings on the compost and it will do it all again, twice more in the year.  Under the Rosa ‘Canary Bird’ I planted a more dwarf ground cover comfrey – a white flowering one, Symphytum orientale which flowers April to May whilst the Canary Bird is in flower.  Beside it I planted Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’ another early summer flowering white ground cover plant good in shade.   Both have good foliage for the rest of the year.  Here they are in leaf in late September this year:-

And here is the Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’ flowering under the Rosa 'Grootendorst' mid-May 17:-

Another ground cover plant I put in round the Rosa 'Fruhlingsanfang' and Rosa burnet, double white was a periwinkle, Vinca major, as I felt the light chalk soil needed cover to help stop it eroding and just leaving flints behind.   This is a good evergreen cover, and its blue flowers have filled many an autumn and spring visitor’s vase when little else was flowering.  
Next time successional planting in the rose garden to extend the seasons of interest.


Sheila May


Posted by Sheila May

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