A Seventies shrub revived
Your questions answered
A low hedge
We want to plant a low-ish hedge, waist-high maximum, on two sides of our sunny south-facing front garden and would like it to be quite low maintenance. I want to plant Osmanthus x burkwoodii but my husband is concerned that it will be too rampant. JILL THOMPSON, VIA EMAIL A south-facing site for a hedge is a bit of a gift. There are numerous other flowering evergreens that would fit the bill: personally, I would be strongly tempted to forget formality and uniformity and go for a dizzy Mediterranean/ New Zealand evergreen mixture involving phlomis, Bupleurum fruticosum, Olearia ilicifolia, some upright rosemary, cistuses, small pittosporums, Ozothamnus rosmarinifolius and your suggested osmanthus that would be guaranteed to make passers-by smile all summer, and each could be quickly shaped and pruned after flowering to create a fabulous lax hedge.
However, if formality is what you crave, then remember that all evergreens can be pruned to a required height once they have become established. Since Osmanthus x burkwoodii is springflowering, you would have to cut back a year’s worth of growth immediately after it flowers in late spring. A further cut in late summer or autumn (to create a more formal hedge) would interfere with the following spring’s flowers if too drastic, and should be avoided if possible.
New fence coverings
In April I bought three perennial sweetpea and two campsis plants to help cover a new and rather ugly wooden fence. The sweetpea plants have grown well and are still blooming. Do I have to cut these back or will they just keep going? And what of the campsis? Have you advice about their future care? WILLIAM PETRIE, VIA EMAIL Your perennial peas are hardy and herbaceous; that is, they have soft stems that will die back at the end of the growing season and new ones will emerge early next spring that will flower later in the summer. There are two commonly grown herbaceous perennial peas, Lathyrus latifolius and Lathyrus grandiflorus, known as the everlasting pea, because of its rather thug-like qualities. If you have three of the latter you may find their growth, once they are established in a year or so, somewhat overwhelming. The campsis is a woody-stemmed selfclinging climber that may be shy to flower until it has established a mature framework. I should warn you that campsis climbs best on stone and brickwork and may have difficulty clinging to your wooden fence. If/when it gets established, prune the previous summer’s shoots back a little in late spring, and it will flower on the tips of subsequent new growth.
Over to you…
I love it when you disagree with me – it means that at least some of you are paying attention. An increasing number of you have discovered the late summer delights of acidanthera, the refined “gladdie” that has such an intoxicating scent – and you clearly find growing them easier than I do, so emailed in droves (with pictures) bragging. Several did agree with me, however, that the size of the corms you buy is key. Mrs M. Hutchinson, from Newquay, is worried about insects making numerous holes in the dry, sandy soil in her garden. She is sure they are wasps and is concerned for her Jack Russell’s welfare. In my experience, when wasps nest underground they usually do so in a disused vole tunnel or some such. These are most probably miner bees, important pollinators. They are not particularly aggressive, rarely sting and I am sure the inquisitive Master Russell will steer clear.
It pains me to have to say that the squishy but obviously sweet fruits in a plastic bag that I received from Mrs Joan Rigby, from Warrington, were too far gone to identify. The branches (also enclosed) had thorns, from which I deduce that they were edible wild plums – not bullaces, sloes or wild damsons, which are all sour, even when ripe.
(As a PS: wild plums like these are excellent pricked with a bodkin, crammed into jars with sugar and cheap supermarket brandy and stored for a year.)