One of the things that’s keeping us all going is the very British custom of finding and sharing humour when we have our backs to the wall. So we thought this week we would share some of our major garden gaffes with you, with our advice on how to avoid them. Obvs Elaine and I have had to search a long way back, whereas Caroline asked whether that would just be for this spring or last year as well?
1. Be wary of accepting gifts. I accepted a rose cutting from Elaine, quite early in my gardening career. ‘It’s called Rosa longicuspis and looks lovely climbing into a tree’ she breathed excitedly, (experienced gardeners amongst you will already be feeling a sense of foreboding).
So in it went, planted at the foot of an innocent little crab apple tree. Suffice to say that it’s a good job I’m married to a farmer as five years later it took a grappling iron and a tractor to pull out the bird’s nest of vicious thorny branches that had completely swamped the tree, and a pickaxe to remove the roots.
But if you ignored the fact that it was throttling the crab apple tree beneath, the froth of white bloom was quite spectacular so I ended up planting a Rosa multiflora instead, which produces the same effect without having to sacrifice a tree to achieve it.
Rosa ‘Charles de Mills’ was another gift from Elaine ‘you’ll love it, it even grows in shade’ – and it was indeed a lovely thing with ruffled petals of deep vermillion. What she didn’t tell me is that when grown from a cutting (and therefore on its own roots rather than grafted onto a more manageable rootstock) it spreads by deep underground suckers. It ran rampant through an entire bed which I had to put out of action for a whole year whilst I dug them up wherever they popped up.
2.Always read the detail on the seed packet. It was Elaine’s turn to be exasperated with me when I offered to help grow flowers for her daughters Camilla’s wedding. The theme was ‘all white’ and whilst her friends were all growing sweet peas I was given the highly responsible job of growing two good Campanula pyramidalis to flank the main event on the day. If you aren’t familiar with this plant it’s a biennial that produces a basal rosette in its first year then throws up an enormous spike of flowers in its second.
I nurtured my specimens carefully for 18 months and they started flowering bang on time, 48 hours before the big day. Problem was that I hadn’t checked the seed packet properly and instead of being beautiful white spires, mine were the blue variety…..uh oh
Thank goodness our great pal and gardening oracle Louise came to the rescue with some florist buckets of white daisies and I think I was forgiven.
Oops, sorry about the rose cuttings, Laura
So. Gardening gaffes? I’ve had a few. By that I mean of course, quite a lot. Here are a number that spring to mind:
3. Always check the ‘ultimate height’. Hands up who’s planted something in their garden that was always going to get too big for the space? Yes, I thought so, quite a lot of you…All the enormous weeping willow trees on small front lawns are witness to the fact that I’m not alone in not paying sufficient attention to the section of the plant-details that is headed ‘Ultimate Height’….
I’ve planted a gorgeous tree – Magnolia sieboldii – in my small cottage garden in Normandy. Its white flowers are utterly delightful, it often flowers later in the summer too, and, having taken off some of the lowest branches (‘raised the crown’), a great many treasures grow happily underneath in its dappled shade. But it will grow BIG…..too big, I fear. Eventual height 8m (26′), spread 12m (38′) – WHAT!! That’s the size of half the blooming’ garden. It’s lucky it’s a lovely tree because it is basically all that we’re going to have there in 10 years’ time…
4.Leave the really dirty work to someone else. We’re lucky enough to have a big pond at the house in Normandy too. It’s full of waterlilies, fish, frogs, moorhens etc. but at times it also becomes very choked with pondweed that needs a bit of clearing. It’s quite a tough job – an excellent one to delegate to the under-gardener.
All was hunky-dory until my husband found a rotten wooden pallet at the bottom of the pond and ambitiously tried to pull it onto his little boat……..KER-SPLOSH!! I heard the yell and the splash from the other side of the garden, and Nigel was delighted to see that I could grab my camera really quickly……………………………….
5. Have a strategy for rampant invaders. Like Laura, I’ve had occasional problems with rampant plants. Euphorbia robbiae was one of those doughty enemies, until I learnt the trick of sticking it underneath a hedge that bordered a lawn, and hey presto all the suckers simply get mown off.
6. Know your limits. And also like Laura, and, I suspect, like many many other gardeners, I can’t stop growing things. I keep buying more plants, sowing more seeds, digging more flower beds, growing more veg………..If I had an army of gardeners to do all the weeding and mulching and pruning and dividing, while I swanned about in a straw hat giving orders, all this …..cultivation might just be sustainable. But as it is, I’ll be the batty old girl who is discovered in the undergrowth of her own garden 30 years from now, who hobbled in with her trowel and couldn’t find her way out again………………………
You might know I’m not actually that good at gardening, so gaffes come thick and fast. Some of you might have your own examples of this one…
7. Listen to the locals. After I moved into my husband’s house on the shores of the Firth of Forth in Scotland some years ago, I excitedly planned to grow herbaceous perennials in a front bed. Mr Murdoch who’s pruned the gnarly old hebes, phormiums and olearias in this garden for 20 years offered his advice:
The wind, he said, would be a problem. Not joking as it turns out. Here’s how my newly planted bed looked during its first summer.
Here is what it looks like now…..
Being a gentleman Mr Murdoch said nothing…to me anyway. So that’s the ‘wrong plant, wrong position’ badge nailed, leaving me to share with you the biggest gardening mistake of all –
8. Doing anything with my sisters.
Want an example? We live at different ends of the country but we always meet up on the final day of Chelsea Flower show – when all the plants are sold off. It’s great fun I have a little prosecco and we buy plants like there’s no tomorrow and stagger home happy and broke. It’s only the next morning that I remember AGAIN, that I can’t fit my plants in my hand luggage and I’ll have to gift them to Elaine & Laura. Look at the picture – they knew this all along right?
And just look at the haul our gang ended up with last year you can tell by my face it still hasn’t dawned on me that none of this will actually be coming back to Scotland. I won’t be letting this happen again this year…. will I?
So much for all this bling, if you want a properly classy garden, you have to depend on Louise – she’s chosen a real beauty today for her Great Plant this Month.
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