Falling in love again…

The cottage garden and I have reached the stage in our relationship where the honeymoon is over and reality beckons. All was bliss in April, even if the starlings did peck the heads of all the scillas. May was a little more difficult as the herbaceous plants were slow to get going, the weeds rapidly filled the bare patches and the slugs ate every new shoot before it had a chance to think about producing leaves. The chickweed and the nettles made a bid for world domination and I grew grumpier and grumpier as all my time was spent on my hands and knees weeding. My normal Zen contemplative approach to weeding was replaced by an angry seething of discontent. Penance for being seduced by the pictures in the Sarah Raven catalogue and being deluded into thinking that I could create beautiful herbaceous borders too. Such hubris! Oh the temptation of the glossy photograph! I couldn’t even blame the weather, as the spring and early summer have been wonderful – perfect for growing weeds and feeding slugs!

I was tempted to reach for the “Round-up” and order a ton of grass seed or a lorry load of gravel, but fortunately common sense prevailed and I realised that my garden and I had to have a full and frank discussion of our problems. The garden equivalent of my “marriage guidance counselor” is my camera. It makes me look at the garden and the plants in an entirely different way. The weeds and imperfections are still there, but camera is objective, although with selective angles and close-ups it can be made to lie. This had to be a warts and all study, a forensic analysis resulting in an action plan.

Long heraceous border

I deliberately chose an overcast day so that I would not be fooled by the effect of the sunlight, so the photographs are deliberately dull. Like all gardeners I am hyper-critical and often fail to stand back and take the long view. So for once a little consideration instead of recklessly reaching for the shears and the spade.

The path to the ossuary bed is getting a little overgrown. Dead heading the thrift will help, but it will need some thinning in the autumn. The raised bed is still “under-development” but is now less of a problem child.The ossuary corner is still a little thin in places but the thuggish Polemonium has been replaced by Verbascum, which is reasonably slug resistant. The leaves of the Hemerocallis remain a sickly yellow, despite regular dosing with high potash food and seaweed, and refuse to flower. I think these will be on the compost in the autumn. However, the real problem is at the far end of the bed which has degenerated into a tangle of rampant chickweed and Alstroemeria. I have a love hate relationship with this species, I love the flowers, but it is a thug and I always let it get out of hand before getting out the fork and the plastic sack. The time has come for its removal and I vow I will never be tempted to grow it again! I know that it is reckless to keep the Alchemilla mollis, but is such a favourite that I can live with its bad habits.

The structure of the herb garden is best described as informal, although it was not designed to be this relaxed. Predictably the mint has escaped, the comfrey is about to collapse, the buckler leaf sorrel is profligate with its seeds and the chives are looking ragged. So the chives and sorrel will be severely clipped and although it will look dreadful the new growth will soon appear, provided we have some rain soon. As for the comfrey, three plants will have to be removed as they are badly affected with comfrey rust; the fourth has a reprieve as it is a great favourite with the bumblebees. I will probably replace them with either lovage or sweet cicely; I am tempted to try angelica, but this area may be too dry. However, while I’m thinking about it and growing some more plants, the mint and marigolds will doubtless take over the vacant ground – squatters rights!

herb garden and herbaceous border

Now we move to the herbaceous borders, the large square border which sits over the stub wall from the herb garden and the long border along the wall on the southern edge of the garden, all of which have their problems.

I hate to confess that the big border also has the Alstroemeria blight. This has to be tackled immediately as it is a major source of irritation. I know it will leave an empty patch, but it has to be better than the current mess. There are a couple of very sad and chlorotic escallonias to remove and a barrow full of borage seedlings along with assorted docks, nettles and thistles to eject.
l still have to solve the problem of how to hide the dying foliage of the spring bulbs. Sowing annuals has not worked as the bulb leaves persist until July and autumn arrives in August. I need to think about this some more – any suggestions would be appreciated.

I still have some gardening dilemmas to solve and I’m still short of plants, although I have some ideas for next year. Apart from nasturtiums and escholtzias I think I’ll forget about annuals, our growing season is too short, and stick to perennials. I have to be more disciplined about cutting plants back after flowering, that way I may have a chance of keeping the garden a little more under control.

Finally after all this angst, I remembered that I’d photographed the garden last June and after looking at the garden in 2012 and 2013 I’m beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about. Just a lover’s tiff!

16 thoughts on “Falling in love again…

  1. But your garden is lovely! But I have to admit I have patches of mayhem too. Not letting everything seed this year. Alstroemeria become a weed in my city garden, didn’t bring it with me though!

    • Thank you. From a distance the garden is lovely, but I would not wish to give the impression that it is perfect, it is still a work in progress. As for Alstroemeria, I only have myself to blame!

  2. How much of this I identify with! I too let beautiful photos persuade me that I must be able to grow more things than I can, despite a real effort to garden with thought and understanding of the serious limitations of my soil and site. I remember being very impressed with the atmosphere of your cottage garden. It was gentle, natural and buzzing with life and I very much like the herbs. I grow a lot of bulbs too because they grow well here and find the best cover for dying foliage is hardy geraniums, particularly Anne Folkard, and Alchemilla Mollis, the alchemilla cut back fiercely after flowering. I also find Tellima Grandiflora grows well for me and persicaria, nepeta and crocosmia. All seem to cope well with a thin, stony soil which kills off quite a lot of things! I have been out of love with my garden too this year as family ill health has stopped us from spending time in the garden and every where is full of weeds, choking out even those bits of the garden I was happy with last year. I am trying to remember it is only a garden!

    • Hello Elizabeth, I understand your situation- last year was my annus horribilis. However, I have recovered and this years is proving to be good for my entire family. You are right a garden is just a garden and most will tolerate a degree of neglect. I am always amazed when I discover my plants under a tangle of weeds either thriving or all set to burs into new life.
      Thank you for the plant suggestions, I certainly must grow some more hardy geraniums and nepetas and have been thinking about moving some of the A.mollis to other parts of the garden. Unfortunately I think the garden is too dry for Tellimia, but it is a lovely plant and worth a try. Crocosmia is a terrible thug here and although persicaria is a lovely plant I suspect that would be the same.

  3. Your garden looks lovely. I always fall a little bit out of love with my garden in early July. I feel that the exciting happenings are all over and it is so sad when the roses are going over. Never mind it is only temporary and there are more nice things to come of course.

    • Perfect in very small patches and I’m pleased with some of the plant combinations. Gardens are a changing tapestry, one day a lovely display of flowers the next a mass of spent glory. I suppose we all expect too much of our plants. falling out of love is not a bad idea, if it prompts a critical review.

  4. I think it looks stunningly beautiful

    • Thank you. You should see it now I’ve been through it like the grim reaper. The compost is groaning under the weight of weeds. It looks a little shorn, but I think better for the treatment.

  5. Gerrie Mackey

    Great post ….we’ve got a few mint plants squatting in the garden too.

    • Thank you. Mint is not a problem – gallons of mint tea and a heavy sprinkling on the new potatoes. Fortunately on our sandy soil it is easy to pull out the errant runners.

  6. I recognize those problems! Here in southern Ontario, June is my best garden month. But late July-early August, I think of all the flowering plants I should have put in, to hide the bloomed-out ones.
    But your garden looks healthy, and those stone walls – wow! They’re magnificent.

    • I’ve not started to think about the state of the garden in August – that is quite a different set of problems.
      The walls and the view are the best part of the garden and provide structure and character. This is a real benefit as I’m limited in the range of plants I can grow.

  7. I’m wondering too! It all looks so pretty and I’m amazed at all the lovely flowers you CAN grow! Hope you have made up with your garden now. 😉

    • Definitely only a temporary state of affairs. I feel much better now I have tacked some of the problem areas. Look at bit bare in places, but although it means more weeding it creates space for some new plants next year.

  8. The walls and the view the best part of your garden? Come come, it’s not as bad as all that – and I know what my Mum’s is like so I can see how much you have achieved, as you can when you look back on June in previous years. I smiled as I read through your love/hate relationship with various plants, and how you have managed to have diseases that I have never heard of like comfrey rust and alstromeria blight (or perhaps we have them and don’t realise it…). You have got lots of lovelies (as you say your nepeta, sea holly and clary is a particularly lovely combination) – and like almost all gardens it is a work in progress anyway. By the way, you talked about the birthday project, but what about the birthday? Has it been and gone and you have kept quiet about it…? 😉

    • Thank you Cathy, we all need positive feedback when we have the gardening grumps. Fortunately I have bounced back and just ordered some more seed for next years effort.
      I actually posted the Birthday Project on the actual day. I’ve celebrated so many times this summer I’m thinking having a series of un-offical birthdays every decade!

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