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On a Chalk Hillside April 2022

One thing leads to another –  His brilliant idea for relocating the plants in the hospital beds 

Starting with a star plant for early April - Irish primrose Primula vulgaris 'Carrigdale' taken on 5.4.20:-

As I showed you last month, many of the plants had been in their “temporary” beds in the veg garden for many years and were now mature specimens of quite large proportions, would they survive being dug up and relocated?   Ever since we purchased the bottom 175ft (53.4m) of next doors garden we had been having ideas of how we were going to use the steeply sloping land, and had been landscaping parts higher up the slope from the veg beds, with lots of different ideas for other parts of the slope.  However, we were not in any way ready to put any of this into practice, and certainly not able to say we wanted any particular plants from any hospital bed to go in a particular spot elsewhere.  Hmmn.  Perhaps we should just make a new hospital bed higher up the slope and relocate everything there.   I started trying to make a list of what was in the hospital beds, and explain to himself what they were.  Quite a few of the larger ones were shrubs, honeysuckles, herbs, hardy geraniums, ferns, at least two yucca…… 
 Somehow, he suddenly had a brainwave.   We would use as many plants as possible from the various hospital beds to make an evergreen hedge as a boundary for the vegetable garden.  As you know we are on an east facing slope, so we agreed that the hedge would be pruned low (1m), so that the shadow it cast didn’t interfere with the vegetables’ need for sunshine.  Interspersed with the evergreens would be “five bar gates” like in the rose garden for the many honeysuckles in the hospital beds to grow around.  I had to do a lot of maths to work out how high up the slope this hedge would come – 72 ft up from the bottom fence (22m).  The hedge would go all the way across the 55 ft (16.76m) wide space.  We would reuse the wrought iron gates that had been in the Wilson’s honeysuckle, L. ligustrina var. yunnanensis hedge part way down the garden, which was removed when we built the Mediterranean courtyard  many years ago, as the opening in the new hedge into the Productive Garden on the right hand side as you walked down the hill.  
So, February 2019, we started.  A line was created across the ground, and de-turfed:-

As you can see, it went dangerously close to the back of the second hospital bed – the silvery foliage is a Caryopteris x clandonensis which I bought as a “Heavenly Blue” but which flowers in spring rather than August as expected.  The poles are from the raspberry supports from the soft fruit bed which he is about to reuse to make the “five bar gates” for the honeysuckles to grow over:-

You may be able to see the condition of our chalk hillside soil from the trench?  The barrow has some of our leaf mould in it, and together with some blood fish and bone, was added to any planting area along the hedge to give it a bit of humus.  The honeysuckles are all cuttings struck as bits of the mother plants elsewhere in the garden snapped off trying to get brambles out of them.  For the hedge they are either all Lonicera periclymenum 'Graham Thomas' or Lonicera periclymenum 'Scentscation'.    Just to amuse me, here is a side-on picture of five bar gate construction to show you what vertical looks like on our slope!!

Because this was to be an evergreen hedge, it had runs of Lonicera ligustrina var. yunnanensis; Box (Buxus sempervirens); native holly (Ilex aquifolium); Yew (Taxus baccata); Hebe ‘Great Orme’ and a burgundy leaved Hebe, all dug out of the two enormous hospital beds and rehomed – all the smallest possible plants of their type in the bed to give them a chance to establish.  We had learned with our native hedge that  you need to plant in groups – planting in V shapes rather than a straight line so that they bushed out, in three’s or fives where possible.  The Yews were all sproutings the birds had sown for us from the seeds of the Yew in the front garden – mainly from sitting in the Hawthorn tree and excreting them from the branches there.  The Hollys were seedlings dug up from my Mother’s garden and relocated here over the years.  The Box and the Hebes came from the bed by our sunroom window and had been rehomed into the “new” hospital bed in 2014.  (The Hebe ‘Great Orme’ was here when we moved in.)  The Lonicera ligustrina var. yunnanensis  were all rooted bits from the hedge with the wrought iron gates in that had been across the garden where we put the Mediterranean courtyard in 2008.   Very much a “recycled” hedge!
 Below, the gates propped in place to give us an idea of where the gate posts needed to be concreted in:-

Here is a bit of the hedge planted up – I didn’t want to prune all the evergreens too low in the dead of winter, so some of the Box looks leggy – a problem with plants being heeled in too closely together.  You may be able to see the structure for the blackberries we were relocating behind the hedge:-

My plan with the hedge was also to put spring flowering bulbs in the base of the hedge – snowdrops under the five bar gates with the climbing honeysuckles on, and daffodils along elsewhere.  Also, possibly some grape hyacinths, depending on what got dug up from other work elsewhere.  As you can see from mid-March a very poorly plum tree went over, and digging it out, I had to relocate the daffodils from round its base – not the best time to relocate them, but on the plus side, for a change I had just the places to put them along the hedge:-

Obviously whilst putting a dent in the plants in the hospital beds, the evergreen hedge did not use up all the plants in them.  The Escallonia rubra var. macrantha I showed you in the distance last month was SO HUGE that there was no way to get its roots out even vaguely intact, never mind including it in this hedge.  With a huge effort, here is the smaller one from the other corner of the bed on the move to a NEW hospital bed cut into another bed elsewhere on the slope (Note the Day Lillies already moved into the new bed):-

Here is the new hospital bed with the Escallonia, an enormous Lonicera periclymenum 'Graham Thomas' (nearest to you), an upright rosemary (Rosmarinus ‘Miss Jessopp's Upright’) and culinary bay tree at the far end; and rather a lot of herbaceous perennials that are all just about to break the surface all heeled in.  (They are still all there as I write…..):-

We did our best to get the Buddleja ‘Black Knight’ out, but it did not survive.  We jettisoned the paler, huger buddleia altogether.  The Burnet Double White rose was successfully relocated elsewhere also.  At the other end of the original hospital bed had been several “dwarf” conifers that had come from our garden in London and were now taller than me.  With his very best efforts, and excavation holes that looked like moon craters to try and get all the roots, they did not cope with being relocated.  Two went into the ground elsewhere, but even with staking were too tall and could not stay upright against the wind here, and the two in pots took slightly longer to dessicate away, but we gradually lost them all.  Even with all that herculean work, this was still what was left in the original hospital bed:-

So I think you will agree, we had certainly broken the back of clearing the original hospital bed, and the herb bed behind it – which look like one bed all together as the Euphorbia polychroma, the Ajuga reptans ‘burgundy glow’, and the pot marjoram in particular had grown through the grass path between the two beds and had to be lifted and separated to replant elsewhere.  
Next time I will continue with the development of the evergreen hedge.
Lets finish with a late April star plant from the pond, Caltha palustris, with shafts of Iris pseudacorus ‘Variegata’ poking through:-

Sheila May

Posted by Sheila May

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