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On a Chalk Hillside January 2020

Gravel Garden Planting – The Shrubbery part two

Continuing on from last months’ blog article regarding this particular bed in our garden I will start with my favourite plant in this border - Rosa glauca, planted centrally to the bed.   I just love this plant – its glaucous grey leaves, its delicate single pink flowers so fleeting and so enchanting against the leaf colour, and then its cinnamon coloured hips that gradually change to deep red as the autumn progresses.  Oh my.  Just gorgeous.  And as I have said before, inspired by Sandra and Nori Pope at Hadspen, planted for the foliage to be a tapestry effect with all the other leaf colours and shapes in the border.  Here is a cascade of Rosa Glauca pictures from 2017:-

From May 17 with the Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ foliage behind:-

The lovely single pink flowers:-

And a wide shot showing all the different foliage intertwined – note the way from a distance the Rosa glauca foliage references/picks up the grey foliage of the Olearia macrodonta on the left:-

By June 17 the gorgeous coloured hips are contrasting with the Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ foliage:-

By July 17 the hips are changing to red:-

In this last photo towards the end of July you can see the Rosa glauca foliage draped over the Solidago which is about to shoot through and burst into golden splendour in August.  Tapestry/foliage contrast/leaf size, texture, form.  Are you seeing a theme here?  
Moving down from this high and mid storey planting to consider the underplanting, as I said last month somethings didn’t do so well.  I did put an everlasting sweet pea under the Olearia macrodonta to climb through it - Lathyrus latifolius ‘Pink Pearl’, you will have to take my word for it, as it is always swamped by all the other plants.  In front of the choisya ternata I planted a peony.  As I said last month, having held its own, but no more, in the hospital bed a mere three metres from where it is now planted, once in the shrubbery bed the Choisya romped away up, out, over everything else, and the peony only ever produces leaves and no flowers as the Choisya overwhelmed it.   Indeed, technically I took the Solidago out of this bed and moved it elsewhere, but as you can see from the photo above, I didn’t do a very good job, and it comes back up each year.  I took the Solidago out to plant a series of Hellebores and Heucheras along the edge of the path to the water stand pipe to give foliage interest and flowers in the winter.   The most choice of these my husband bought me as a birthday present from Kew Gardens – Helleborus x hybridus ‘Harvington Shades of Night’. Here it is flowering in March 17:-

I added another Hellebore – a seedling from my Helleborus niger with dusky pink flowers planted in my little winter bed I have written about before; and two Heuchera – (Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’) to continue the purple theme, but they have not coped as well with the Solidago coming up through them, and the Choisya lowering over them, and survive rather than thrive.

From the photo from April 17 above you can see how much the four main shrubs have grown, completely altering the nature of the bed.   Because the Olearia macrodonta and the Choisya ternata ARE evergreen they both make a very dense/solid canopy all year, not only smothering and covering the lower planting, causing some to desperately lean out over the steps to get some light, but also distorting and constraining the more slender shrubby plants, and indeed each other.  Both the Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ and the Rosa glauca make slender long stems which arch upwards and have foliage towards the ends of the branches.  Which is fine if they can make these arches unimpeded, but in practice they both get stunted by the more robust growth patterns of the two evergreens planted either side of them.  

The flip side of having a tapestry effect of form and foliage is that some form and foliage is less able to make its presence felt than others, even with the gardeners help.  Even with the climbing frame, the Clematis (Clematis texensis ‘Gravetye Beauty’) and twining honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum ‘Serotina’) only appear at the very top of the shrub growth as you could see from the photos last month, and as the evergreens push their mass outwards across the border over the paths around it, not only can we not see the flowers of these climbers, we can’t use the paths or get to the water stand pipe to fill watering cans.  Here is a picture from January 18 showing you how distorted the Olearia macrodonta had become with honeysuckle growing up against it and behind it from the next border:-

My husband had taken to surreptitiously chopping bits off the Choisya ternata to get to the water stand pipe.  We had a 4x4” fence post banged in the ground for the Choisya to be tied to to try and keep it back in the bed.  Each year the ties broke and had to be redone.  In the winter of 2018 my husband pushed the Choisya back just too enthusiastically and the main stem snapped off at ground level – about 1.5m cubed of dense evergreen plant just “came off in his hand”.  A terrible sound.  Leaving a couple of tall scrawny branches at the back and not much else.  I will leave you to imagine the words that were said.  Luckily for my husband's continued health and wellbeing the Choisya survived the winter, and in late June this year we took action on the bed.  Here is a before shot:-

Here is the destroyer in happy action:-

As you can see, neither the Lonicera periclymenum ‘Serotina’ OR the Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ were spared his ruthless secateurs.  In removing them (and the birds’ nests found in the remnants of the old climbing frame) it was clear the honeysuckles were holding up the frame not the other way round.  This picture shows you the scrawny nature of the surviving Choisya branches, which have been spared, and tied to the new climbing frame to provide photosynthesis from the existing evergreen leaves until such time as the new shoots develop leaves of their own.  As you can see below:-

The Lonicera periclymenum ‘Serotina’ and the Clematis texensis ‘Gravetye Beauty’ were carefully tied into the new frame.
Here’s a shot of the shrubbery growth in mid-July – as you can see the Olearia macrodonta had flowered well in June this year leaving lots of seedheads:-

And by late July the Clematis texensis ‘Gravetye Beauty’ was flowering well – and the flowers were much more evenly distributed through the canopy – as you can see from this shot with the Rosa glauca hips in the foreground:-

The most noticeable thing for us sitting on the courtyard this year has been what a difference NOT having the huge evergreen mass of the Choisya ternata filling the bed has made.  Not only does the courtyard seem wider, but the corner bed has had a much more dramatic impact (and more light to it) which we have enjoyed.   Our current bone of contention is the Olearia macrodonta which is still growing over the path, and looks very ugly from the pond terrace.  I have taken some cuttings (which have not taken as yet, so will take more in the spring), and will prune it more drastically next year at the correct time (which frustrates my husband enormously as he wants to prune it when he thinks of it, not when its correct for the plant) to see if we can make it more of a bushy shrub rather than a tree.  I think this level of drastic prune will kill it as we are taking all the leaf growth away, and I don’t think it’s the type of shrub to grow back from old wood, but we shall see.  

Next time, a peep into my winter review of the produce side of our garden, and planning for the coming year.

Sheila May

Posted by Sheila May

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