When is it time to refresh a garden?

Keeping borders under control and casting out lost plant causes is easier said than done

Keeping borders under control and casting out lost plant causes is easier said than done
To talk to the Plant Heritage group about the development of my former two-acre garden and subsequent tricky transfer to a smaller one seven years ago. In the aftermath of my talk I was pleased to see Sue and Wol Staines, owners since 1976 of Glen Chantry, an atmospheric garden (alas no longer open to the public) absolutely stuffed with flowers _ a great inspiration to me years ago. Had I, Sue asked, got to the difficult stage of rethinking my "new" garden? Am I able to turf out old plants and introduce new ideas as my tastes change? And, added Wol, do I still hang on to no-hopers, or have I learnt to concentrate on only growing plants that I know will perform well for me? It gave me food for thought for my journey home.

In my experience, a well-planted, well-tended garden peaks after about six years or so, needing constant reappraisal thereafter. Circumstances have dictated that I have never put my roots down anywhere for more than a decade. But am I "growing up" despite my wanderings? Have I satisfied my need for bountiful borders and, more importantly, am I keeping it under control? Or is my garden sinking into gentle chaos, the result of green-tinted, myopic complacency? And have I learnt to give up on no-hopers, plants that I "must have", but that fuss and sulk whatever I do to them?
I like to think I am maintaining the upper hand _ but possibly only just.

I have certainly kept a constant beady eye on my shrubs. Having honed my pruning skills years ago in a small London garden, I manage deciduous flowering shrubs and roses with confidence, keeping them flowering well at their optimum size by cutting them back and thinning them out at the appropriate time for each. I know, too, when it is time to heave out and replace the sprinters (in my case much-loved cistuses) that were invaluable early on. And slower-growing shrubs, the kind that tend to creep up on us? I endeavour each year to look at my garden from every possible angle to see if everything is in balance. If it isn't, I am capable of ruthless pruning. The leafy evergreens, hedges and screens that provide vital privacy, and the vigorous large-leafed ivy that clambers over my garage, are cut back early in the summer so that recovery is swift and I don't have to look at the resulting raw edges (or revealed neighbours) for too long.

But I am a lover of natural-looking border planting: orderly disorderliness carefully stage-managed, blowsiness unprinked. So some might say my stuffed borders are poised on a trowel's edge. Every spare inch seems now to become embroidered with self-seeded perennials, allowed (through my softheartedness) to thrive and expand where they will. So as well as now splitting and replanting/rejuvenating major showy perennials _ the campanulas and thalictrums, the phlox, the big clumpy daisies, cranesbills et cetera _ as they weaken with age, I am determined, during the next month or three, to get on top of other things

It won't just be the common rogues such as Welsh poppies and lady's mantle that get the heave-ho, but also bucketfuls of some more refined perennials that self-seed excessively. Astrantia major, Knautia macedonica, Libertia grandiflora, Lamium orvala and Tellima grandiflora are among the most loved of my plants, valued for their subtlety and long flowering season _ I wouldn't be without them. But enough is enough. This year, for many, it's going to be curtains. Or donations to friends.

Finally, do I irrationally harbour no-hopers? Of course I do. Where to start? A rooted scrap of winter jasmine (a plant generally relied upon to grow in the most hideous conditions) shoehorned four years ago into a difficult gap remains tiny, glum and unproductive. A Rosa glauca, with its thundercloud-coloured leaves, is a big player in the sun. But another, planted in deeply dappled shade of my all-green "leaf garden" to provide a subtle contrast of colour, is a skinny wretch however I treat it _ but yet is spared the axe. Worse still, I can't find a good spot for a small-leafed unusual evergreen magnolia given to me five years ago (label lost and donor's identity shamefully forgotten), so it still resides uncomfortably in its original pot. I could go on but mercifully I have run out of space. As one does.

The Guardian |By Helen Yemm

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