The English Garden

Jim’s Garden Diary

This month, Jim Cable is balancing cultivated colour with native wildflower meadowmats, propagatin­g shrubs by layering and ordering exotic spring bulbs


The Deanery garden is alive with colour thanks to plants from around the globe. Hydrangeas and Japanese anemones from the Far East o er whites and pastel pinks in one bed. In another I have selected fuchsias and dahlias from South America to shout out with bright, hot hues. There has been much horticultu­ral debate over the summer about how far gardeners should adopt a rewilding approach and favour native plants over alien. For me, gardens are primarily about beauty. Flowers, with their intricate symmetry, colour and often scent, are a key contributo­r to this. British flora tends to flower in spring and early summer. I want more natives, but in addition to my ‘garden’ plants – not instead of.

With this in mind I am busy laying more ‘meadowmats’, having enjoyed great success with samples from a turf company called Harrowden. They sell a range of wildflower turf products each containing a particular mix of flowering plants and di ering percentage­s of grasses. I unroll the ‘woodland shade’ turf to find a dense collection of plants already establishe­d on a loam and biodegrada­ble coir mat. I have selected this for beneath a mature apple tree where my standard lawn is struggling.

Installing the meadowmat starts with using a sharp spade to cut into the existing turf and mark out the perimeter and 30cm wide strips. I then use a turfing iron (a spade would also work) to undercut by around six centimetre­s and remove the turf, rolling it up as

I go, before forking over the soil and raking it. I am not bothered about the odd dandelion resproutin­g, but if the area contained docks, brambles or bindweed I would need to remove all remaining roots. I then unroll the meadowmat and cover the area, cutting it to fit around the edges with an old knife and butting the turf strips closely together. After pressing the turf down with the back of a rake, I give the area a good watering.

To liven up the edges of a grass path leading to the vegetable plot I’m laying strips of Birds & Bees Meadowmat, a blend of 41 pollinator-friendly native wildflower­s and four grasses. I’ll need to ensure the new meadow areas do not dry out over the next few weeks. This should be easy to achieve in autumn with dew-laden mornings and some rainy days. Another job I prefer to do in early autumn, despite many books suggesting spring as the better time, is to propagate some of my favourite shrubs by layering. The weather over the months ahead will settle the soil snugly over the layer and keep it moist. This year I’m targeting a much-admired deutzia and a philadelph­us, but many subjects respond well including evergreens such as camellia. I pull down a thin low-growing branch and use a trowel to dig out a channel in the ground beneath it. I add a handful of homemade compost to the hole and then bury a section of the stem, bending it so the end re-emerges from the bed and can be secured with twine to a vertical stake driven into the ground. It is vital to secure the layer very firmly in place. Sometimes I place a large rock over the submerged piece of stem or a stout wire staple. Next autumn I will carefully excavate around the layer to see if it has formed roots. If so, it can be cut

British flora tends to flower in spring and early summer. I want more natives, but in addition to my ‘garden’ plants – not instead of

away and potted up to give away or planted in a gap elsewhere. E-mails are coming in urging me to order spring bulbs. My evolving wish list is very di erent to previous years. Gone are the tulips, which always became squirrel fodder. To replace them more da odils: not the demure types I used to use but exotic-looking cultivars from spotted at the Chelsea Flower Show. Lateflower­ing ‘Tricollet’ with white outer petals and a split orange cup and ‘Limbo’ with lemon petals and orange cups are what is called for.

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