Growbag Blog

Is it time for some garden re-thinks?


Now you might think that since you have been slogging night and day in your garden for months and months this year you can now put your feet up. Oh no, no, no! You’ll be thrilled to hear that September is an EXCELLENT time to renovate your garden. Laura can tell you why, later.

You know in your heart that one or two things weren’t totally perfect out there this year – plants or features in the wrong place, maybe, shrubs in need of an overhaul (or the bin), more space needed for all the entertaining we’re going to do next year……

We’re going to tell you about a few things we Growbags have resolved upon, just to give you some ideas and get you started.

I once had a lovely Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ in my garden (our feature pic this week) and it was very happy. So happy, in fact, that it grew too big for the area allotted to it, and I started lopping bits off it. It promptly lost its good humour and died. A bit of a ‘bright side girl’, me, so I thought ‘I know I’ll keep the trunk and grow nice climbing things on it instead. I tried a climbing rose, then a couple of clematis, a choice honeysuckle. They have each flickered for two or three years without ever looking like they were enjoying life. So now, today in fact, that ugly old trunk is coming out, lock, stock and barrel. I shall beef up the soil with compost and leaf mould, and use that spot for something that actually wants to grow.

My tree trunk is not a thing of beauty, and now it’s for the chop..

That brings me on to the subject of soil and my shameful neglect of it over the past four or so years. The wet winter we had in the south followed by the glorious weather of spring (which almost took our minds off what was happening in the world but, funnily enough, not quite) lulled me into thinking that all my plants were thriving.

They flowered with all the enthusiasm of a spaniel at a chicken convention. But now I can see that my garden soil is tinder-dry, and being chalky clay, it has become rock-hard in places. It needs HEART put back into it. I intend to tackle each problem area one at a time, mixing in compost, fertiliser, a dead donkey or two if required. The idea is to at least make it possible for my poor plants to put a few roots through the earth next summer.

Don’t get distracted by the posing cat Mercedes, you’re supposed to be looking at my weird Astelia……

The last thing I’m prepared to tell you about is my Astelia chathamica. She is, truth be told, quite a venerable old lady now, and like many old ladies, she has gone rather off-message. Instead of providing an architectural group of shiny silver spears in my gravel border, her ‘bits’ have gone walkabout with silvery tufts appearing at the end of fat furry sausages! Since this is not a feature much sought-after (in gardens or indeed, old ladies), I shall chop off the tufts with some roots and replant them in the hope of something less peculiar-looking next year.


Gawd, Elaine’s gentle renovations are really just tinkering around the edges compared with the total annihilation of any traditional herbaceous perennial required in my garden this autumn.
Climate change coupled with my maturing internal hedges (whose idea was ‘garden rooms anyway?) have sucked the lifeblood out of my previously verdant herbaceous beds set in each corner of a hedged garden compartment and I‘m tired of looking at the shrivelled mess.

Garden room
Any moisture in my trendy ‘garden room’ has been sucked out by the high hedges – I blame Monty Don

Luckily autumn is the best time for planting – according to the RHS 65% of UK adults don’t realise this (note to self, must remind Caroline). In autumn the soil is still warm enough to allow for some root growth and the all- important network of water-imbibing root hair systems will be in place before winter dormancy sets in. This lessens the need for watering during the following summer compared with that required by a spring sown plant which will have to start this work from scratch.

But what to put in? The beds are too sheltered for prairie plants, which really only come to life in an open breezy site, and too dry for exotic plants a la Great Dixter.

Hedicychium gardenaria
These exotic ginger lilies are spectacular but wouldn’t thrive in this desiccated little corner

I’m thinking of a socking great species rose in each of the four corner beds. Elaine will be horrified, she prefers her roses to be more refined, with names like ‘Shakespeare’s Scented Sonnet’ but honestly I just need something completely bombproof.

Rosa multiflora
It’s not subtle and hasn’t got a fancy name but at least this species Rosa multiflora is making an effort.


My sisters’ plans to overcome water shortages will chime with a lot of you (surely though Laura could have tried a little harder, what a mess her garden looks!), but here in Scotland we had gallons of it this year and, worse, some almost supersonic wind speeds.

I’ve acted. I’ve had enough.  I’ve already shared with you the abandonment of my ill-advised seaward herbaceous bed earlier this year. Well on this occasion the experts’ advice to look around and see what does grow in your conditions is spot on. We’re surrounded by sea buckthorn so in went four forlorn little sprigs this summer and although they’ve grown to look alarmingly like Chewbacca from Star Wars – it turns out that a 40mph biting salt wind is right up their street. I’m putting more of these bad boys in all my windiest spots for next year – tough, beautiful and if times get hard, edible too!

Life on the ocean wave – couldn’t be better for hardy old sea buckthorn.
If things get tough this winter, we may be competing with the crows for our sea buckthorn’s delicious berries.

Encouraged by this I decided to once again seek expert advice for my next 2021 challenge – a shelter-belt for the exposed eastern boundary of our new home in the Highlands. 

I reached for my Bible –  ‘Garden Plants for Scotland’ by Ken Cox.  Not only does Ken condone the judicious use of the widely loathed Cupressocyparis leylandii  (of which I have already covertly planted two)but he cites the benefits that a welt of oaks, rowan and birch can deliver in such inhospitable locations as Colonsay House gardens in the Hebrides. Exactly the trees I’m hoping to get from the Woodland Trust at the start of bare-root season (end of October apparently). There is a link below to the tree packs they offer – some of which are subsidised.

Could 2021 mark a turnaround in my reputation as the3growbags least competent gardener? 

There are no question marks over Louise’s competence as a gardener or her plant choices – it’s another winner as her plant of the month, click on the box below to find out what it is.

NB If you’d like a bit more gardening chit-chat from the3growbags, just enter your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

4 replies on “Is it time for some garden re-thinks?”

Thanks Wil! I might well take you up on that. The only tricky thing is that the garden that needs it the most is my little one in Eastbourne, rather than the one in the neighbouring village to yours in Normandy! Awkward thing to transport across the Channel, and probably not legal but it’s a very kind thought…..All the best,E

I love reading your posts and all the amusing comments apart from all the tips etc. I store a lot of them for our seasons here which of course in South Africa are opposite yours. Thanks Mary

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