As we reach the end of 2000 Rosemary Verey takes the opportunity to look back over her horticultural year, and anticipates pleasures yet to come
When my gardeners are working on the borders I always tell them to look both ways. It is the same with our thoughts about this year. We must look back to January when we started with great expectations thinking of all the bulbs we planted between the myosotis and the imaginative ideas we had about putting Salvia patens with rehmannias for a surprise September effect. Some ideas worked and others were overtaken by too much rain and will have to wait for another year.
All the foliage plants have done well. The Rheum palmatum rubrum excelled itself and so has the New Zealand flax, Phormium tenax. This latter has grown to a record 9 feet with an abundance of flower spikes, then a show of shiny black seeds. Any newly planted shrubs and perennials have rejoiced in the cool damp days, concentrating on increasing their roots, while being shy flowering.
In our garden the plums did poorly, there were not enough insects about to help with the fertilizing during the cool days, but the currants (the bushes are now well established) did extremely well.
Have you been pleased with your lilies? Ours are all planted in pots, our own soil is too alkaline for them. So we have control over their fertilizer and watering until the moment they come into flower, then they are dropped into the flowerbeds, concealing the pots and looking as though they had grown there. An idea stolen from Gertrude Jekyll.
In our small arboretum the sorbus (Mountain ash) have put on lots of growth and I am hoping that next spring they will flower profusely. In the autumn borders the late-flowering annuals like cosmos have given an extraordinarily bold display. Andrew Lawson, the photographer, planted his in individual beds and when I saw them in October they were sensationally beautiful, and will go on flowering until a really killing frost. What more can a gardener want?
It is important to make winter join hands with spring. What does this easy sounding sentence mean? It is my belief that there is always a horrid hiatus after Christmas (in England) when it is best to stay indoors, write your thank you letters, bury your head in catalogues and the new books you’ve been given and make and record all those New Year resolutions that will transform your garden. This indoor stay must only be for an instant, the flicker of an eyelid; if you leave it any longer you will miss the wonderful scent of the winter honeysuckle and winter sweet. Everything has its own season and will not wait while you sit indoors.
We cannot tell what next year will bring, even if we study Old Moore’s Almanack. Prepare for the best and the worst. Plant acanthus, agaves and nerines for a sunny summer, but have enough annuals to fill your gaps as my friend did with his cosmos. The great thing is to have your options ready. If your garden starts to look drab by late August then make some gaps where you can drop in clumps of late asters. Your local market or WI stall may have some treasures for you.
Don’t be downcast if December in the garden depresses you – there will soon be lots to see as long as you use your eyes. The first hellebores, probably H. foetidus, will be opening and those amazing tough primulas will have a flower here and there to cheer you, and Iris unguicularis will shyly be hoping that you will notice its first flowers.
Think ahead so that you have enough kindling wood and dry logs to tide you over the Christmas holiday. A fire is always welcoming to your guests so keep it going in case they arrive early.
I have recently been given The Names of Plants by D Gledhill. The glossary tells you the meaning of all those Latin names you have been puzzling over recently. I have just discovered that uliginosus means marshy, so now search for plants that love wet conditions. Your winter evenings will be fully occupied.