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

Another Tulip Coming Through

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!

Emerging Hellebore Flower

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?

Hellebore Seedlings

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.

Ivy Seedling

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.

New Tulip Growth

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…

Mulched Magnolia Bed

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..

45 thoughts on “End Of Month View: January 2011

  1. Hi Janet,

    It’s nice to see you managed to get out and about in the garden – I’m tempted to get mulching the plants too now!

    I’ve had plenty of bad experiences with plants from Crocus that I now no longer buy anything from them. The worst is buying 4 Dierama from them last year and only 1 survived! The three which died looked dead when they arrived and were still very much dead come June and at £9 a go, I was really rather annoyed at spending almost £30 on three dead plants.
    I also got a Black Elder, which for the past two years has done nothing, it’s had about 5 leaves on it, and if it does nothing yet again this year then I’ll have to get rid of it.
    That’s only two of my stories of their poor service, they used to be very good but over the past three years it’s gone downhill.

    I look forward to more photos of how your garden is developing and I do hope you don’t have a disease in your border (sorry I wouldn’t know about anything like that)

    1. Hi Liz, sorry to hear you have had bad experiences with them too. I agree that things seem to have rather deteriorated in the past few years. Particularly sad about the Black Elder, it is one of my favourite plants. Happy mulching ;-)

  2. There is something so very satisfying about mulching, as you say, and it does certainly help a lot with weed control and for me keeping some moisture in the soil for a little longer than it would without. We reached the end of the month and until I read your End of Month review I’d completely forgotten about writing mine – so thanks for the reminder. I hope you’re wrong about the desease but I fear you may be correct. Christina

    1. Glad to remind you about EOMV, I always look forward to reading yours! Sorry to hear you think I am right about disease though…

  3. I enjoyed your post. I love the look of fresh compost on the beds but find that I get a lot of seedlings from the compost. I try not to put any seed heads in but must miss a few. I think your ivy seedlings are from our native ivy (Hedera helix), the birds bring the seeds in and I get a few in my garden and they look just like these. I was surprised about the comments about Crocus as I haven’t had any problems, while other well known nurseries have sent bad plants. I think it is a bit of pot luck!

    Best wishes Sylvia

    1. Hello Sylvia, glad you enjoyed the post. I’ve had some wonderful perennials from Crocus, its just been shrubs and climbers – and then customer service – that I have had issues with. Like Liz I used to find them wonderful, and back when I was cash rich but time poor used them a lot.

      I think you must be right about the ivy seeds. Re seeds in compost, I got lots of tomato and squash plants growing in all sorts of places last year, but they were very easy to pull out. I’m lucky with annual weeds, I don’t seem to get many, so the compost tends to be OK apart from that.

  4. Janet, I don’t think the pond area looks too bad – spring always seems to have that fresh, bare look – so soon to be filled in with all the good things gathering strength now under ground. That hydrangea may not be in trouble – may be part of the natural exfoliation. Love seeing all your little signs of growth.

    1. Thank you Cyndy, encouraging on both counts! I did wonder if it was just the natural exfoliation but it just seems to extreme, and after the Choisya disaster…

  5. The Ivy could have been ‘brought’ there by birds for quite some time, the dormancy of the seed was broken as it got stratified by the cold weather. It will be interesting to see what sort of Hedera it will turn out to be.

    Don’t worry too much about your Hydrangea quercifolia just yet. It sometimes does that with little harm as the exposed bit just hardens off later in the season and carries on as normal. Cross fingers it will be fine :)

    1. Now that is what I wanted to hear! Two votes for “it will probably be fine” and counting…

      I really like the look of the ivy leaves, so I will leave the plantlets to bulk up a little and then pot them up. I love using ivy as a backdrop to the other plants on the fences.

  6. it is lovely even baren because it has no snow but new growth which is what I long for…I hope the shrub issue can be cleared up for you….you may want to consult an expert and just pant containers there until it is sorted out…

    1. Hi Donna, good thought about the containers. I was thinking about re-joining the RHS with some of my birthday money, and they have a free advice line for members…

  7. This is really a good review. I like the idea to get out in the garden at month’s end to inventory and inspect. You have been so busy with the allotment, I bet your garden has been real happy to see you.

    A good habit to get into at month’s end, you get to see and record what is happening. I always like spring with the new buds and shoots. I don’t have much of a garden then, but it always signals what is just around the corner. Here we have snow cover and more by mid weed. I know the plants are toasty under all that snow, so I hope they stay that way until the weather breaks for Spring. I am just patiently waiting.

    1. Hi Donna, I suppose you must be used to all that snow by now, and there is always the greenhouse, but I don’t envy you! It would be great to have you join in the meme next month?!

  8. lovely seedlings and bits of green already, that sounds like signs of spring to me. You must have some healthy hellebores to have so many seedlings. That’s a sign they like where they live.

    1. Hi Marguerite. They all seem to like my garden, they self seed all over the gravel path too!

  9. Janet, I like your garden, I think it looks great. As for the Oakleaf Hydrangea….I know it has exfoliating bark, perhaps this is how it begins?
    I worry about ivy that starts self seeding. Here in the south it can be invasive.

    1. Invasive ivy sounds like something from a Hammer Horror movie! I’m going to try to find out more about how much exfoliation is “normal” and see how things go once Spring takes hold. If there is lots of fresh new growth I will assume this is just normal behaviour.

  10. Hello Janet, I also was out mulching the borders last week, very satisfying, you have to be careful of the emerging bulbs though. Emerging Hellebores, a bit (Little shop of horrors) like. Shrubs which tend not to do well in a spot where others have been, I read a suggestion that this can be the same as the problem when planting Roses in the same spot. A new product which many are raving about called (Rootgrow) is well worth considering for future use.

    1. Hi Alistair, that’s why I removed so much soil before replanting. I knew about roses but I thought that was because of diseases that are particular to roses? Who knows – not me yet!

    1. No problem, I always like to know how other people do things as it often gives me new ideas too.

  11. Those little seedlings are a sight for snow blinded eyes. We’re still dressed in Winter Whites here.

    1. We may not have seen the last of the white stuff ourselves, or so I hear. Could put a crimp in the Spring growth.

  12. Janet, I have a favorite photo of a hellebore flower that so looks like Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors! Oakleaf hydrangeas do exfoliate~but, if it hasn’t good drainage it will decline away. You might try lifting it, shaking out the roots, making sure they aren’t starngling the plant, then planting it higher with a good bit of what ever you have to improve the drainage. Hope that helps. gail

    1. Hi Gail. I find it hard to believe there is a drainage issue as the ground was well dug and lots of lovely soil improver added before the Hydrangea was planted, and there is never any sitting water or sense of lots of moisture being held. I’d describe the soil as moist but well drained slightly acidic clay.

  13. Hi – thanks for joining in again this month.
    I think your ivy seedling may be a gift from the local birds! Ivy berries are quite hard and I would have thought would need to be digested by a bird first to get them going if you see what I mean. I have all sorts of weird things turning up in my garden and I can only assume this is the case.

    Thanks for reminding me I need to remove the leaves on my hellebore, I nearly did it yesterday but we went down the allotment instead. I also have a feeling of split loyalty between the garden and the allotment. I am trying to limit the allotment to one day at the weekend and the garden to the other – who knows if it will work out but it will have to as I have lots of plans for both!


    1. Birds does seem to be the consensus, and it does make sense. You put their role very delicately ;-)

      Hard being split two ways, isn’t it! Your plan sounds like a good one though. Looking forward to some pics of how the plot is coming along, must be so lovely having some help. FIL did some digging up there on Sunday, and am really looking forward to getting up there tomorrow and admiring his work. He is very thorough!

  14. Your mulched magnolia bed looks very happy. Wow, so many hellebore seedlings! I can’t wait to sow some hellebores; I have in mind a tiny “woodland” area at the feet of our horse chestnut and beech trees, with hellebores, aconites, snowdrops, anemones…
    Sad discovery with your hydrangea; I hope that it turns out to be nothing.
    The end of month meme is great. I will have to join in as soon as we have a garden to show!

    1. Hi Sara, yes, do join!! And you don’t need to have a garden already, just post progress reports on one or two areas! Would be grand. Your woodland plans sound beautiful.

  15. Oh, I just love getting out in the garden in the early spring and discovering little bits of green! And finding happy surprise volunteers like your ivy…unfortunately it will be several weeks until I spot any new green growth, so it’s lovely to see yours. :)

    1. Hi Hanni, thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. Sorry you are having to survive on other people’s pictures of green shoots, and hope you have your own soon.

  16. Thank you so much for linking to my hellebore post. I hope you will be rewarded with several beautiful plants in your new seedlings. Ivy is terribly invasive once it flowers and seeds in everywhere. I am always ripping it out. Oakleaf hydrangea does hold its leaves forever, but they usually turn a beautiful claret color in the fall. If it was a weak plant, it might take several years to recover. Not sure about the “raw” bark—I would check mine but it’s under 2′ of snow (with more on the way tonight). Don’t give up on it yet.

    1. You’re welcome Carolyn. I am going to apply patience with regard to my hydrangea, but I have a plan B in my back pocket just in case, by which I mean that I know exactly what I will try in that spot next should it be on its last legs.

  17. I always find mulching a large back breaking chore. Perhaps it has to do with the amount of pine bark mulch I have delivered and have to wheel barrow all over the house. We don’t get a lot of leaf fall as we are mostly pine forest. Pine needles break down very rapidly.

    I like the little rubber duckies in the water feature.

    1. That does sound like hard work. Happily I have a small garden, the back-breaking all takes place up at the allotment, and would be somewhat alleviated if I got around to pumping up the tyre on my wheelbarrow…

      The ducks were a wedding present many years ago, and I rather like the naff note they add! Doesn’t do to take life – or gardening – too seriously.

  18. It’s part of the excitement of a new year watching everything emerge again. I had never thought about hellebores looking sinister but I see exactly what you mean :) I hope that the seedlings produce some real treasures for you Janet.

    1. Thank you Anna, it will be a couple of years before I find out, but hey, I could be in for a treat!

    1. Hi Ashely, thanks for visiting. Me too, I currently spend an unhealthy amount of time staring at green shoots wondering if they are longer than when I last looked.

  19. SOOO loved the pictures of the emerging seedlings. There is something so hopeful and exciting from such tiny beginnings….

    Feel all encouraged now to take pics of the tiny things as well as the bigger picture. Furking around amongst my miscanthus yesterday espied many emerging shoots amongst the debris….life is returning!

    1. Hi Chris, glad to have encouraged you! “Furking” is a wonderful word, and I love suddenly discovering the fresh year’s growth emerging from the debris of last year’s.

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