Sunday dawned cold but sunny, making a welcome change from the dull grey we have been treated to recently. I knew, when I got the allotment, that there was a danger of me being so distracted by my bright new shiny toy that my first love would be neglected. My determination not to allow this to happen, coupled with a pressing need to make room in the compost bins for more kitchen waste, sent me out into the back garden determined to mulch the Magnolia bed. It would be disingenuous of me to deny that the specific choice of chore was also influenced by the End of Month View meme hosted by The Patient Gardener…
I’m a little lackadaisical about mulching my borders, it tends to happen irregularly, but it is a process I really enjoy. Clearing a border of leaf litter and other detritus and then tucking it in with a thick layer of rich dark compost or leaf mould not only brings with it the self-satisfied glow of having “done the right thing”, it is also a wonderful opportunity to get up close and personal with an area. Weeding allows this too, but in theory I like to plant everything so close together that weeds don’t stand a chance. One of the advantages of mulching in Spring, rather than the traditional time of Autumn, is that you get to spot new Spring growth. I say Spring but of course it is in fact very much still winter, so frequent mugs of tea to warm my hands on were a welcome distraction!
I always think that there is something vaguely sinister about the way new hellebore flowers gradually rise up from the earth, or is that just me?
Cutting back the leaves on the hellebore might have denied me the welcome green but I prefer to allow the new flowers to spring up and show themselves unecumbered. Unsurprisingly, removal of a few leaves also revealed a healthy collection of seedlings. Once they have filled out a little I will dig them out and pot on a half dozen or so in the hope that at least one will be beautiful. For a celebration of the unpredictability of hellebore seedlings see the recent post at Carolyn’s Shade Garden.
Some discoveries were more surprising. I’ve never had ivy self seed before, but I found two little ivy seedlings. Even more surprising, they don’t appear to be from the large leaved variegated ivy that has been flowering away on the nearby fence for months now. This looks like the more delicate ivy that I have on the fence behind the compost bins, which hasn’t flowered at all. Any ideas?
Sadly, there is no sign of any of the foxglove seedlings that I had hoped would survive. I have a few elsewhere that I will transplant when Spring arrives, and I will sow some more too, but it will mean an unwelcome gap in this border that I will have to address somehow.
I really enjoyed the process of scooping up large handfuls of rich dark compost and nestling it around plants, seedlings and emerging bulbs. It provides a wonderful foil for the new growth of the Aquilegias and emerging tulips. Sadly, I am worried that it also revealed a problem with my Oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia.
As you can see, the bark is pealing away from the base of the trunk revealing the bare wood beneath. To be honest this shrub has been struggling since day 1. It is the reason that, although I still happily buy perennials from Crocus I never buy shrubs or climbers from them. When it first arrived it had spindly growth, and although it seemed a lot happier once I moved it to its current location two years ago, it hasn’t flowered. It has also seemeingly forgotten that it is meant to be a deciduous shrub with gorgeous Autumn colour and has stubbornly hung on to its leaves until this week. I fear it is now taking exfoliating bark to new extremes. Any thoughts? The only thing I have come up with so far is crown rot, but the soil here is well draining.
Part of my concern stems from the fact that two years ago I removed an overgrown Choisya ternata from this location that also showed signs of disease, the bark at the base of the shrub having split away and pealed back. This was at the same time that we lost the acer that used to grow in this border that was exhibiting the same symptoms. The tree surgeon who had come to deal with our Eucalyptus noticed it and said he thought it had some sort of virus and that we should take it out before other plants became infected. I removed both plants and the soil around them, and dug in fresh compost and topsoil before I replanted. Now I am wondering if the problem remains. I would love to be told I am worrying unnecessarily…
Still, the end result is that the Magnolia border is looking much smarter for its spot on the End of Month View than it had been earlier that day. There are lots of bulbs to come through, with Aqueliegias, the sweet rocket and later the Veronicastrum, and I will hopefully have some umbellifers – either Cenolophium denudatum or Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’ – to fill it out and add another layer.
The pond bed, on the other hand, is looking its worst. This is not helped by the fact that the sun was very low by the time I finished my mulching. This meant I couldn’t show you how the Euphorbias, ferns and shrubs in the back and side borders give the eye something to rest on as it skates over the drab wasteland of the late winter perennial border. Too much lens flare. I’ve left the miscanthus for a while longer as at least they add a little interest, and their new growth starts later than other grasses. I’ve also left one other grass clump and a sedum because they seem to be full of ladybirds. Normally the border would be uniformly covered in the pebble mulch, which makes it look a little more presentable, but I have been taking so many plants out, and have so much digging in of compost to do, that I have left the gaps to make this easier later. Right now, I am rather regretting that piece of laziness. Roll on Spring proper, when hopefully even this wasteland will be transformed by bulbs and Aquilegias etc..