Bold Garden Beds and Borders
Be Bold in the Garden Border
The keen gardener will always garden on the borderlines of what it is possible and safe to grow. I’m sure this is the right attitude. If you get five or six years of pleasure, thanks to a mild run of winters, from a somewhat tender wall shrub — say the Californian Dendromecon rigida, a tree poppy with bright yellow flowers and waxy lance leaves, or even the intensely blue haze created by an evergreen ceanothus — there’s no need to repine if a hard winter carries it off. Some people take their losses as a personal insult, instead of cheerfully starting again (most tender plants grow extremely fast anyway) with a resolution to do better next time.
There are precautions you can take. The great thing is to protect a somewhat tender plant from icy, desiccating winds. Plant it, initially, where these do not blow, or where they can be mitigated by some sort of . You don’t want to enclose a shrub too much throughout the winter, as it may suffer more from your attentions through lack of light and circulating air (promoting fungal diseases) than if you left it alone. A polythene enclosure, kept back from the plant by canes, can be a great help, especially if you pack dead bracken or fronds into the cavity when the weather turns really cold. But remember to set it aside during mild, wet spells.
Very often, if you can keep the lowest 90cm (3ft) or so of a shrub protected it will not matter too much if the top is killed. New shoots will break from live wood lower down.
Some plants that you expect to die back in winter anyway — less hardy bulbs, for instance, or large-floweredor that beautiful, glaucous-leaved South African foliage plant Melianthus major, only need to have the ground they are growing in prevented from deep-freezing. You can pile their crowns over with a 15cm (6in) layer of grit or spread a thick fern carpet over them — or both.
The alternative precaution that most appeals to me in the majority of cases is to strikeof your less hardy plants in the summer and autumn and overwinter them under glass that is only just kept frost-free, if that. This will encourage you to keep on growing and replacing the glamorous hebes, for instance — shrubby veronicas carrying substantial spikes of pink, crimson, purple or lavender through a protracted season from late June until the frosts. Tip cuttings of their young shoots can even be rooted in a vase kept filled with water on a windowsill if no better facilities are to hand. Planted out in the spring they will already be flowering for you next summer and autumn.
When a hard winter has struck and a number of shrubs around your garden are as ornamental as scarecrows, you’ll be sorely tempted to get rid of them. I shall not say you are wrong, especially if you are secretly rather pleased to be presented with a gap in which to grow something else. But the fact remains that many shrubs may look thoroughly dead for months on end, only to start breaking into new growth in June or July. Such might be a Garrya elliptica, an evergreen ceanothus or an Australian bottle brush (Callistemon), a mimosa (Acacia dealbata), a eucalyptus or even a bay laurel. They may break from thick old wood at the centre of the bush or they may resurrect at or close to ground level. When you can see where the living wood is, cut away the rest so as to let in more light to the young shoots.
On the other hand, hopeful gardeners will sometimes cling to a shrub long after it has become clear to me that it is as dead as mutton. ‘It’s still green underneath,’ they say, scratching a wafer of bark away with a fingernail. This really tells you very little. The tell-tale sign I look for — and it is especially significant in the hebes — is split bark. Any branches whose bark has split are probably dead, though there may be others that are still sound.
I am often surprised at the number of half-hardy and tender plants I grow, but they give so much pleasure over such a long stretch that the extra effort required on their behalf is repaid over and over again. For instance,, which love to bask in your hottest border. These are South African daisies that look dead and shrivelled until the sun comes out and the day warms up. Then they expand and relax, revealing the most extraordinary colours, varying from plant to plant. Orange and yellow are the commonest background shades, but towards the centre of each daisy is a pattern of dots and blotches that may be mole brown or speckled white or, most startling of all, vivid green.
can be raised from seed and will flower like in the first year, but there’ll be a good proportion of rubbish among the and it is better to take cuttings from non-flowering shoots on your favourite plants and to overwinter them under glass from which frost need barely be excluded. Make your cuttings in late September or early October, trimming the base with a sharp blade (the kind used in a Stanley knife is excellent) and shortening the foliage, if lanky, to 8 or 10cm (3 or 4in). You can fit ten or twelve cuttings into a single 9cm (3-1/2 in) pot and root them in a frame kept closed only for the first fortnight or so. It is as well to spray with a fungicide once a week as rotting is the chief danger at this stage. When rooted, the pots can be overwintered on an open greenhouse bench where they’ll occupy very little space. Then, when March and longer days arrive you can pot them off singly — a cold frame will be useful here, for gazanias will stand a bit of frost — plant them out in May and they’ll flower from then until October.
This routine can be followed for many tender perennials and it greatly extends the range of plants that can enliven your garden in the summer months.