Saddened by the death of our Queen but so thankful for her amazing life of duty, we can’t help remembering how much she loved flowers and gardens. King Charles III has clearly inherited that very special interest in horticulture.
The seasons won’t stop even if an epic era has ended. So while we remember her, we must start to make plans for plantings and projects next spring. In addition to the general tidy-up, how about making a hedge from cuttings, refreshing your pots for autumn and winter, or planting a new clematis…?
Room at the top
I was engaged the other day in a big cutback of a very pretty and fragrant Jasmine (J. officinale ‘Clotted Cream’) which has totally overwhelmed an old lilac. This is a great time to do such jobs, by the way – after the flowers are over and giving the plant the chance to build up a strong framework of flowering shoots for next year.
I don’t mind about the lilac – it was quite a tatty old thing anyway in rather a washed-out colour – but the job got me thinking about the best plants to grow over and up other trees and shrubs. And the ones that might spell total disaster!
A large mature tree can be enhanced by a flowering climber which provides a waterfall of colour and prolongs the season of interest. Clematis montana is a popular choice, and climbing or rambling roses such as R. climbing Cecile Brunner or R. Paul’s Himalayan Musk will provide beautiful fragrance as well as colour. I have also seen a vine like Vitis coignetiae looking spectacular in the autumn dripping down a large dull-looking conifer. Wisteria might be a great choice for colour and fragrance in late spring.
But all these have the capacity to get very big and overwhelming for the host tree, so do take care when making your choice! Decorative climbers such as Parthenocissus, Campsis, Akebia or Passiflora, and roses like R. Rambling Rector or banksiae would easily bring down a small tree or shrub, I should think. You would be better off choosing less vigorous climbing plants like Clematis viticella, perennial sweetpeas like Lathyrus latifolius, Lonicera periclymenum (honeysuckle), or smaller climbing roses like the lovely David Austin rose ‘The Pilgrim’ (as in our special feature pic this week. Queen Elizabeth II’s favourite flower colours were yellow and white, you know.)
If you are going to have a go at growing something up another plant, there are a couple of tips to consider. Remember that the base of a tree might have very dry and impoverished soil, so you will need to water and feed your climber regularly, especially while it is getting established. Plant it away from the trunk of the host tree or shrub, and train it in using long canes or twine, until it has got the hang (see what I did there!) of scrambling up into the canopy.
I hope you enjoyed our discussion about hedges last week – we know from our feedback that lots of folk did! This is a very good time to take cuttings of all sorts of hedging plants – privet (Ligustrum), Lonicera, yew etc. and it HONESTLY is simplicity itself :
- Cut off good straight shoots about 15cm long from vigorous growth.
2. Strip off all but the top leaves.
3. Push them round the edge of a pot filled with a gritty compost mix.
4. Water the pot and keep in a sheltered outside spot, cold frame or cold greenhouse.
5. Once they show signs of growth next spring, pot them on individually. Or grow them on in a spare bit of ground for a couple of years until they are strong plants ready to make a new hedge for you.
Here’s an interesting nugget of info – with yew, you can take a bushy little sideshoot with a heel of the stem it was attached to, instead of a long straight top shoot. The plant resulting from a cutting like that will be bushier (though possibly a little slower-growing!)
By the way, if you have a wildlife hedge like Laura’s, September can be a good time to tidy them up by pruning back the strongest shoots. The birds have finished nesting, and an autumn cutback will thicken up your hedge providing even more cover for wildlife next year. However, if your hedge is full of berries that the birds would love to chomp once the cold sets in, please delay this pruning until February.
- There are times when I think that I grow TOO MANY prickly plants! There aren’t many times in the year when my arms are totally scratch- or splinter-free, frankly. Lots of gloves that are thick enough to proof your hands from thorns and stings, are also too thick to let you feel your plants properly, or go rock hard and useless after they have got wet. I am very pleased to report that I have found the answer – and we sell them in our shop! Burgon & Ball Poppy gloves are strong, flexible, warm and comfortable. They are becoming as indispensable as comfy gardening footwear and a nice glass of rose at the end of the day – I might wear them till next spring!
- Cut down remaining potato stems, and dig up the potatoes ready for storage in a cool dark place indoors.
- Your summer pots might still be looking the part, especially if you prudently paid attention to watering, feeding and dead-heading. If they aren’t, oik out the tender plants and replace them with hardy things like pansies, wallflowers and polyanthus. Sprinkled among little ferns and maybe the odd small shrub or a few spring bulbs, they will cheer you through the winter right through to spring.
- If you’re planting clematis this autumn, a good tip is to make sure that the rootball is at least 8cm (3”) below the soil surface. Whatever kind of clematis it is, cut your new plant back to between 15-30 cm (6-12”) next spring to establish a framework.
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