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Last Month in My Garden: October 2011

‘Jottings from Bolam’ October 2011

Contemplation to Prunus serrula

The naturalistic planting in the Contemplation Garden is still looking good and can be left alone for now – it is so easy, I love it! However, taking advantage of some dry and mild October weather, I have made a good start on cutting the herbaceous stuff down in the wall garden. I am not one of those gardeners who keep plants for their frosty silhouettes – more like cold wet mangled heaps I find. I have tried leaving them, but found that tender precocious growth induced by the protection, died on exposure when cut back and was a waste of the plants resources. Besides, there is always so much to be done in early spring that I want it out of the way.

I appreciate having the time to consider which plants need splitting and moving as I work. Congested and woody centres of Phlox for example, are more easily noticed once cut down, and can be seen to, either cut in the ground with the spade, or lifted and split with two forks with younger growth retained and replanted. Aconitums benefit from being lifted and the best shoots replanted every 3-4 yrs. Overly enthusiastic large geraniums can be inhibited by chopping a part away, or lifted and split with a smaller portion roots and tops well trimmed, put back.

At the same time I fork in some bone meal and compost, watering if necessary. Blood fish and bone I use in Spring when the nitrogen element is needed for new growth, whereas bone meal breaks down slowly and provides nutrients over a much longer period. I do not want to be encouraging new and sappy growth just before winter.

I have used the opportunity to make room for some new lilies. Old ones gradually reduce in vigour, but, and I will whisper this, we do not have lily beetles here. I love the scent and the grace of these fleeting beauties in the herbaceous planting, and treat myself to a few every year. It is worth paying for top size, quality bulbs from specialists like W. H. Hyde. offering informative websites. One of my favourites, for elegance, colour, vigour and sheer number of blooms, is ‘Annastasia’. She is an ‘Orienpet’, a very hardy cross of Oriental and Trumpet lily which can be grown in most soils, reaching 5ft or 6ft in height with strong stems.

I have also just planted more of my favourite small bulbs, surprisingly, unfamiliar to many visitors to the garden. Triteleia ‘Starlight’ has a large head of attractive soft yellow flowers rather like an alliums, opening over many weeks on a 6in stem, spent flowers looking as attractive as the pointed buds, with dark markings. It is hardy here planted 3inches deep in well- drained soil in sun, and appreciates a few twigs for support. Bulbs planted in small pots over winter will turn to mush if frosted –as I know to my cost!

We gardeners do not dwell on past failures, but prepare and look forward to next season, encouraged by plant catalogues already beginning to arrive!

Heather Russell

Text and photographs by Heather Russell of the HPS North East Group.


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