The prodigal returns
Egged on by his friend Kate, Frank is on an autumn shopping spree to overhaul his garden’s borders, but before he completely empties his wallet it could be time to exercise some self-restraint and learn from past mistakes
Columnist Frank Ronan is on an autumn shopping spree to overhaul his garden’s borders
Buying plants is too easy. With half a garden to refill there have been some serious raids on nurseries this summer, often in the company of my friend Kate, the one who has moved in down the road and has an entire new garden to fill. She is also a thoroughly bad influence, as am I on her no doubt, when it comes to acquiring plant booty, egging each other on to buy the things we are only half convinced of ourselves. But the dopamines of shopping will not necessarily lead to the deeper satisfactions of horticulture. I know people who garden by attrition, shoving the same plants, over and over, in the same places encouraged by the one per cent that sometimes succeeds. I have never hoped to be one of them.
At the same time it has been a little sobering while overhauling this garden to find all the labels, sometimes legible, usually not, of easily acquired things set loose to take their chances in the borders. So many tiny plastic tombstones could be depressing, or they could be instructive. Sometimes it was a case of planting in the wrong place, more often the fault was in setting out a plant to sink or swim in an environment it wasn’t ready for. The places we buy from are called nurseries, not universities, and yet we expect the alumni to enter the world of work straight from a four inch pot.
So now I have evolved, I hope. No more wandering the garden with a miniscule new treasure in hand, looking for an ephemeral opening to squeeze it into, thinking that I was being virtuous by planting it straight away. A couple of years ago I made a stockbed with that principle in mind, but now, between the flood of new acquisitions and the deluge of refugees coming from the revamping of the border, and that border being not yet ready for the current occupants of the stockbed, something more had to be done. The terrace has become a school for plants.
New things are immediately potted on and up and divided if and when possible, and potted on again. There is a creeping tide of black pots f lowing across the f lags. It looks fine now, with most of the plastic covered by foliage, but will be hideous come winter, which is a good incentive to graduate most of it into the ground by then, but with caution.
The first job will be to empty the stockbed into the border and refill it from the pots. It’s tricky to know what should be given priority. Last winter two delectable Japanese anemones perished in plastic pots. I know it was a long and eventful winter, but who knew that Japanese anemones were the least bit sensitive to cold? The only safe option will be to get everything into the ground, somehow.
It has, happily, been a good summer for growing, and almost everything is looking strong enough to enter the next stage of life. All the same I can’t help worrying about the phloxes. Much as I love them, they do not love competition and so have a hard time in this garden, where it’s all whelm or be overwhelmed. I’ve found some promising looking new ones, in particular Violet Flame, which is a bit like the previously adored and often lost ‘Blue Paradise’ but a lot more robust. Still, I don’t want to put it out until there is an army of it, capable of defending its own territory. That might take a while.
And in the meantime, what should I do about the autumn haul? There are several plant shopping months left in the gardening year, and not much time for growing on (and I really don’t want to be looking out the window at bare plastic pots all winter). Probably I should be disciplined and sit on my wallet until the spring, but having learned so much self-discipline already this year, is that asking the impossible?
THERE IS A CREEPING TIDE OF BLACK POTS FLOWING ACROSS THE FLAGS. IT LOOKS FINE NOW, BUT WILL BE HIDEOUS COME WINTER
Frank Ronan is a novelist who lives and gardens in Worcestershire.