HELEN YEMM THORNY PROBLEMS
This week: a wall of greenery in a small garden, how low can you go with autumn cutbacks and a tour of French gardens
My daughter’s proposed home on a new estate will be overlooked by other properties. There are 6ft high garden fences, but she will have little privacy. Can you recommend any plants which will quickly provide cover?
MICHAEL ORMSBY – VIA EMAIL
In increasingly squashed-together new-builds we are just going to have to get used to limited privacy – and I suggest the idea may be slightly less of a trauma for the younger generation than it is for ours.
My simple answer to your question is this: yes, you could create a mini Colditz using fast-growing laurels or potentially monstrous bamboo all around your daughter’s (probably) tiny garden. This rather boring thicket, of limited aesthetic or ecological value, would go some way towards blocking out her view of the neighbours and their view of her, but also would keep out something far more vital – light.
Or you could encourage your daughter to grow and enjoy roses, honeysuckle and clematis on the fences and attract beneficial insects, create a distraction by installing a tiny pond, and add a strategically placed, small-leafed deciduous tree, the light canopy of which could become a focal point and a visual distraction from the houses.
My front runners would be Betula utilis var. jacquemontii (a birch whose trunk and branches become bright white as they mature, brilliant in winter) or a blossoming tree such as a rowan, hawthorn or amelanchier.
Every autumn I cut back perennial plants such as crocosmia and Japanese anemones, leaving stumps. However
TIP OF THE WEEK
I have noticed that other people take them down to the ground. Which way is best for the plants?
MARGARET TURNER – VIA EMAIL
Everyone has their own way of “doing” autumn. Some do very little cutting back, relying on a spring blitz to restore order. Others cut back and clean up with the aim of preventing a build-up of debris that could harbour fungal spores, small slugs and other pests. But this leaves an orderly wasteland, with nothing for birds and other beneficial wildlife.
Like you, I do a “half-way-house” treatment, but slightly later, in early winter. By that time the leaves and stems of some perennials (e.g. crocosmia and alstromeria), pull away
cleanly in my hand. Autumn leaves are down, so as I clear them I also I cut tougher-stemmed perennials, leaving visible stumps, so that I will know the extent of most border plants come spring. In early March I trawl the border again, tidying, mulching and feeding. So, to answer your question, the “best “, I think, is what suits you and your garden.
Cut back large specimens ofand top-heavy roses (but not onceflowering old shrub roses like ‘Charles de Mills’, that will bloom next year on last season’s new growth) to prevent gale-damage to roots. Return to them in early March to prune more elegantly.
SCULPTED LANDSCAPE Nicole de Vésian’s La Louve garden in Provence