I’ve barely ventured in to the garden since early Spring, and I am feeling the lack. “Gardening” this year has mostly been a case of emergency weeding, frantic bouts of back-ache inducing activity before I slink back inside and sit down at the computer again. It has not been satisfying. I’ve discovered that I am really bad at coping with only really being able to do maintenance work. I have visions in my head of how I want the various borders to look, and when I feel I am making progress I can cope pretty well with the reality gap between what actually exists out there in the real world and what flourishes in my mind. But when all I can do is weed, I get distinctly childish, and basically sulk.

I’ve been working hard, setting up the new business, learning loads, and mostly really enjoying myself, but I have really missed regular, long bouts of gardening. Its ironic really, the long years of illness accustomed me to lots of time to sit and ponder the garden, both from inside, plotting and planning, and outside, as I tinkered, planted, moved, weeded, tinkered some more. There was nothing frenetic or time-pressured about my gardening because there couldn’t be. Added to which I have been immensely lucky since we moved here, TNG has been totally supportive of me neglecting the inside of our house in favour of lavishing time – and money – on outside. So we still have ugly swirly carpet and heavily textured wallpaper, but outside I was expressing myself in sandy soil and sunshine, and reveling in the challenge.

I’m learning to do things differently. Slowly. But to add insult to injury a lot of the plants I put in the ground in Autumn last year failed to show themselves this year, and others got choked by a plague of lychnis that I was too busy to weed out in time, or by the relentlessly determined couch grass, annoyed at my attempt to widen the beds at its expense. So no Salvia ‘Amistad’ or Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone’. Only one out of my three beautiful heleniums. My cloud of perovskia that is supposed to be dominating the wall bed in the front garden is somewhat lacking oomph, as the three new plants have failed to establish well. Look at this poor specimen!

Very sad perovskia plant

Even the wonderful perennial wallflower, ‘Winter Orchid’ has rather let me down, turning into a leggy sprawling mess. It didn’t help that I suddenly got even more busy and allowed the cuttings I took to die…

I think I have drastically underestimated the challenge of gardening in such free-draining soil, as it is noticeable that the larger the plants were when put in the ground the better they have fared. Agastache ‘Blackadder’ is very happy, and it was planted at the same time as the perovskia and phlomis, in the same conditions. I think the larger plants managed to find water more easily than those with shallow root systems, so I need to mulch more, water more, and generally take better care of my plants when young. *Sigh*

agastache blackadder

So, as far as gardening goes, a somewhat challenging year. Even some of the things that, on the surface, look good, are reminders of what should have been so much better! Take the combination of Echinacea purpurea and Anemanthele lessoniana in the fence border out front.

Pheasant's tail grass and echinacea

A lovely combination. But those two blooms? That’s it! From five plants! I definitely need to mulch. Lots. And sow more echinacea…

I am determined to look on the bright side though, and celebrate the things that have worked despite my neglect. And I am also determined to brush off my dusty and underused gardening mojo and find ways to feed my inner gardener even while thoroughly exercising my inner geek and getting excited about SASS and grunt (!). So, I will celebrate the success of the herb bed, which has been buzzing with honey bees and hoverflies and frequently decorated by butterflies for most of the year it feels. The bronze fennel and the Verbena bonariensis have given me height and colour, while the herbs around their feet have been a very convenient source of extra flavour on the plate.

Bronze fennel and verbena bonariensis
Honey bee on fennel flower

The herb bed was built on the spot where the greenhouse used to stand, and despite the soil being very free draining it was clearly a little too rich for the Russian sage, which started to flop all over the path. As soon as the weather started to cool I seized the opportunity to move the Euphorbia glauca ‘Blue’ to where I should have planted it in the first place and move the offending Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ to thicken up the hedgelet that is supposed to be the main feature of the wall bed. And although the perovskia I planted last Autumn didn’t establish very well the pair of Eryngium yuccifolium plants did much better, and you can begin to see the effect I was after.

Euphorbia glauca blue with Perovskia 'Blue Spire'
perovskia and eryngium yuccifolium

I have been trying to add bronzey-orange plants to the central bed for a while now, to tone with the lemon yellow of the Anthemis tinctoria ‘E. C. Buxton’. The terracotta achilleas were wonderful in the first year, then came back rather reluctantly in year two, and are now officially AWOL in year three. I really thought they would enjoy the sunny conditions and well drained soil, particularly as the soil in the central bed is better than that in the wall bed. Apparently not. But, finally, on the third attempt, I have managed to grow some Digitalis ferruginea, the rusty foxglove, and in the hazy morning sunshine of late August, they definitely made me smile. I shall collect seed and try again.

digitalis ferruginea and anthemis tinctoria E. C. Buxton
Misty morning

I am also happy to see that ‘Bowle’s Mauve’ is very happy in the front garden, as are Lambs Ears and lychnis. The lychnis is a veritable plague, self-seeding so thickly if I don’t dead head in time that I wind up removing a layer of topsoil to get rid of the thick mat the seedlings form. And to think I thought I might not have it this year because I failed to collect any seed… It is also behaving like a perennial, though no doubt a short lived one, so at least I have something to fill in the gaps left by the no-shows. Come to think of it, I wonder how many were actually choked off by the lychnis seedlings as they tried to break through the ground in Spring… Oh the shame…

purple and silver plants

I’m actually starting to feel a little more cheerful about it all, despite the litany of failures! And besides, it is impossible not to smile when I see winter cyclamen shining out at me from the back border, or when I am stopped in my tracks on my way back from the shed by the sight of the persicaria flowers against the purple beech leaves.

persicaria and copper beech

Cyclamen hederifolium

So, sorry , garden, for the neglect, and thank you for still giving me plenty to smile about and more motivation to make things better for next year. Oh, and I think I may have moaned about the fact that Verbena bonariensis doesn’t self seed in my garden. I was wrong. Very, very wrong…

self-seeded verbena bonariensis

Enough for a small hedge, methinks…

52 thoughts on “Creeping back in to the garden…

  1. Your garden still has plenty of blooms despite the lack of attention. I mean this in the nicest possible way, but I’m glad to find I’m not the only one struggling with Echinacea. I’m growing it on heavy clay & despite adding lots of compost it never grows much. So much for the dreams of sweeping drifts.

    I love the bronze fennel and Verbena. I’ve found in the past that goldfinches like the verbena seeds in winter, so maybe you’ll get some winter visitors & they might stop it from self seeding quite so much.

    I didn’t realise Lychnis could seed so readily. It does look good with the Bowles Mauve.

    1. Hi Julieanne, yes, I used to garden on heavy clay and the only echinacea that ever thrived for me were the straight purpurea, as I am growing here, and ‘White Swan’. I keep reading that all the beautiful cultivars are very short lived as perennials, and I am sure I read somewhere that to keep them going it is best to plant them on a slight mound, but I am probably mis-remembering. Anyway, it is to not be alone in my echinacea struggles!

      The self-seeding capabilities of lychnis are proving challenging to deal with, but hey, its a pretty plant, and provides valuable early summer colour.

  2. Yaaaaaaaay – I was about to turn my computer off for the night Janet when I saw a post from you which has bought a smile to my face. I was about to launch a search boat down the Mersey estuary and round the corner to North Wales to see what you were up to. It has not been the best of summers in these parts which together with the lack of time factor is not a formula for a satisfied gardener. The scene in your second photo must make your heart sing though. My agastache ‘Black Adder’ planted last autumn did not come through the winter so I need to know the secret of your success before I try again.

    1. Happy to have made you smile Anna! I have been away from all things blogging for way, way too long. I do love that agastache, I must take lots of cuttings, apparently we may be in for a harsh winter thanks to el nino :-( As to the secret, I am baffled, quite frankly, since I have lost all the other agastache. The only difference was the size of plant, which is confusing since everywhere else I find that smaller plants establish better. Humph.

  3. Well if it’s any consolation I have a perovskia that looks identical to your poor specimen. I planted it in too much shade. And if you have a moment to pop by my bloom day post tomorrow you will see my.. two.. echinacea blooms. Sometimes even when you are working in the garden these things happen, so worry not.
    It all looks rather lovely to me Janet. Agastache ‘Blackadder’ is just wonderful and now I want one. Or several. I’m not sure how they will fare in my heavy wet soil, having read Anna’s comment.

    1. Thank you Jessica! Though mine don’t have the excuse of shade. I think they just didn’t like the competition from the lychnis and poppies. I raced straight off to read your bloom day post and have duly admired the prolific flowering of your ‘White Swan’, comforting to see yours are just like mine. Well, like mine were, they never reappeared in year 2. ‘Blackadder’ is beautiful, I hope to make more from cuttings, though there are no non flowering sideshoots, so I will have to get brutal before the weather turns.

  4. Dear Janet, I hear you! I have been hardly gardening except doing the absolute necessary things to keep the garden going since the end of June this year and I am missing it sooo… much. Gardening is really an essential part of my life and if I can’t do it, I really feel unsatisfied and get grumpy. Coincidentally today in the morning I had two precious hours to garden and boy, did I enjoy it. I planted two new plants and was happy as a clam!
    Despite your unintended neglect of your garden your photos are proof how much beauty is/was still there. I love the second photo. The plants and colors are complimenting each other perfectly.
    Also the combination of the Echinacea purpurea and the Anemanthele lessoniana is so fascinating and beautiful. Hope you get some more Echinacea blooms next year. Have you thought about to just buying a few more plants now and plant them in between the grasses? I guess, that is what I would do to have an instant remedy ;-).
    I also especially love the photo with the white lychnis. I wish I had your troubles with this plant. I love it very much, but since years I fail to sow the seeds at the right time of the year.
    Wishing you that you get some more time to garden and if not, that you truly enjoy what your garden has to offer despite the fact that you are not able to take ideal care of it.
    Warm regards,

    1. Hi Christina, unfortunately I haven’t got funds to buy echinacea at the moment, so it will have to wait until I have managed to grow some more from seed, nice idea though! Putting this post together helped me reconnect with the garden and see past all the gaps and failures to the good things that have just got on with it despite my neglect. I have some moving around to do in a couple of days, and lots of cuttings to take ready for next year. I hope you get some good and satisfying gardening time in again soon! It is dreadful to miss it so, isn’t it.

  5. Janet, your garden looks stunning so please, please stop beating yourself up about it. The colours, the textures, everything… Fab. Interesting how our gardens teach us to garden (yours likes bigger plants, for instance, to be put in) – we just need to listen. Mind you, currently mine is asking for more sun and the weather’s not listening, and more weeding and I’m not listening…

    Love the persicaria!

    1. Ah, well, you see I was very careful with camera angles, so as not to horrify myself or you lot… But thank you, it is lovely to see little corners coming together and doing what I had hoped they would, at least it helps me see I am on the right track.

      I am frankly baffled my the plant size thing. I have always found – and still do elsewhere in the garden – that smaller plants establish faster. I can’t help thinking I am missing something, and I am sure water has a major part to play. Mulch. Lots and lots of mulch. But not too much round the perovskia as they prefer sparser conditions. Or something…

      The persicaria is a delight – all persicarias are a delight! I must post a photo of the bright green foliage one bought because of the one we saw at Fron Goch…

  6. Welcome back to the blogosphere! I have missed you! Never mind about the bits that didn’t work – concentrate on the glorious successes! Gardens are forgiving places and happily, some plants thrive on neglect. Have a squeeze of an Agastache leaf, give it a sniff, and remind yourself what a brilliant choice of plant that was!

    1. Thank you Sarah, I have missed blogging and bloggers almost as much as I have missed gardening, it is good to be back. And you are so right to remind me to celebrate the successes. Plus, if I am going to carry on being this busy, I need to find and grow more of the plants that shrug off neglect and perform beautifully despite it. I really hope ‘Blackadder’ is one of them, but I shall take cuttings and attempt not to kill them this time, just in case…

  7. Good to see you back Janet! when I saw the poor helenium though I thought your garden had gone to pot as they say but then so much else has survived the absent gardener – seems like you set the plants up in colour and formation and off they went. The bronze bed works beautifully.(I grew Digitalis lutea ‘Small Foxglove’ this year but it might do well alongside your rusty ones). Having gardened on a terribly well-drained soil I know the demands it makes on plant and carer. In some ways, your occupation elsewhere has meant that you can now see what works and rather like Beth Chatto’s dry garden need to opt for the direction so that you can focus on your business [I’m biting my tongue as to asking what it might be].

    1. Hi Laura, it is lovely to be back, I have missed blogging, and bloggers, hugely. I am chuffed with the combinations that have worked, which is why I am so cross at the lack of growth on the perovskias, where the combinations are working with larger plants it just makes me want to see it flowing down the whole border! Ah well, patience is a virtue, I am told…

      I shall look out for that foxglove, sounds as if it would be an excellent addition, I want to thread the bronzes through the fence border too to help tie everything together. As to the business, it is no mystery, web design. I have spent the past few months learning better techniques than I had been using when I was doing it very part time, and thoroughly enjoying the process, plus have worked with some lovely people. Just trying to get our own website up and out before the next project kicks off and demands all my attention.

  8. Well Janet, you may not have had the time to do as much gardening as you normally would. Nevertheless you still have the bones of it to work with, and yes a lot of stuff still there to lift the spirits.

    1. Yes Alistair, and I keep reminding myself of all the amazing gardeners out there that manage to cram their gardening in to busy full time working lives, I just need to change some habits! In the mean time, the view beyond the garden is still always guaranteed to make me smile even if my eye snags on the gaps and failures more than is helpful.

  9. Well done achieving success with Digitalis ferruginea, I’ve tried on several occasions and not one has germinated, maybe the seed needs to be fresher than mine was. I’m glad you’re enjoying work but it is lovely to see you back in the blogosphere. I’m surprised the Perovskia didn’t grow more but I disagree about putting in bigger plants, I usually find that the smaller the better grows best here. Maybe there was something in the soil it didn’t like. Your images show that the garden is looking better than your description would have us believe.

    1. Thank you Christina, I think it must be something to do with the freshness of the seed, which is why I am hoping to collect some and sow it and leave the trays outside in the hopes that the stratification with mean come Spring I have more plants to pop in that bed, and spread around elsewhere too. I know exactly what you mean about the bigger plants, and elsewhere I have found smaller plants still do better. I am probably clutching at the wrong straws for explanation. As to the garden looking better than I had described, it is amazing what you can do with a a carefully aimed camera! But at least the exercise demonstrated that a lot of the ideas I had will work given time.

  10. That garden is like any real friend; when you connect again, it will be like you never parted. Don’t regret the moments when you’re apart, revel in the moments you have to share.

    1. What a lovely way of putting it Charlie, you are quite right, thank you!

  11. Nice to see you back Janet. The garden has somewhat carried on regardless of your care and attention and from that there are lessons you can learn and take forward from it.
    I love many of the combos you’ve got going on there Janet and my favourite just has to be the Verbena and Fennel. At first glance I thought it was an Achillea.
    Your September garden is a real treat and good luck with getting reacquainted with it.

    1. Thank you Angie – good to be back! The bronze fennel has been wonderful, I have another in a rather shady corner of the back garden, one that I moved from elsewhere, I was sure it wouldn’t flourish, but it has been providing me with that wonderful feathery foliage and the pretty flowers since late Spring. Just goes to show, always worth just trying something, just in case!

  12. How lovely to hear from you Janet! I was wondering where you had got to… Despite your worries you have got some gorgeous shots of your garden. And isn’t it the perfect therapy when you do have a moment to get out and work in it. I hope you have some more relaxing moments this month to enjoy it all before autumn gets a hold. :)

    1. Hi Cathy, thank you, I was getting very tired of being AWOL, and have been wondering about you all in odd moments as I gaze off in to space pondering a bug. A software bug, that is…. To be honest I am a little relieved to discover that I am still just as passionate about it all once I grab time to re-engage, though I have a collection of “cuttings” that might like to suggest I concentrate a little harder, I cooked the poor things thanks to the propagator being in the very sunny conservatory…

  13. Yay! It’s good to see a post from you, Janet. Gardening mojo seems to be a cyclical thing, too, and if it lies dormant for a while, that’s just because it needs the time to…I don’t know what. Compost or something. And then it will grow back with extra enthusiasm when the right time comes. Your carefully chosen camera angles must have done their work, because everything looks lovely from here! (Well. Except for maybe that one perovskia. It’s pretty cute but could use just a little more oomph!)

    1. Hi Stacy! I’ve been having trouble finding your blog online and was about to email you, so thank you for dropping by and commenting! I think composting is probably about right, and I’m not sure the mojo has quite reached the perfect pong-free friable state so desirable, there are still lumps of unidentifiable rotting matter around, but hey, there is progress!

      Ahem, yes, that little perovskia – and her two sisters – needs to buck her ideas up or she will become compost…

      Off to follow the link back to your blog…

  14. Welcome back, Janet. I sympathise with the lychnis – oh, that thick impenetrable carpet of seedlings. I know it well. And I’m pleased that the verbena finally self seeded for you – got to say I was surprised it didn’t! When you have dusted off your gardening mojo, pop some in the post to me would you? I need it too. Dave p.s. Are you going to say what your new business is? Or have you already and I’ve missed it? What’s SASS? Should I know?

    1. Thanks Dave, it is rather good to be back! I thought of you when I spotted the carpet of V. b. around the herb bed, and smiled wryly to myself. Which reminds me, I must get them potted up ready to plant out in better locations next year. As for sending you some mojo, from the looks of that tropical border of yours you should be sending me some!

      New business is web design, but I’ve been too busy building sites for other people and learning new stuff to get my act together on our own website, that is this week’s job. Which I must get back to… SASS is a language for describing what you want a web page to look like – the colours, fonts, spacing etc. Not anything any normal person should know anything about at all, but curiously addictive to geeks like me!

      PS Lychnis should come with some sort of warning…

  15. I see so much beauty in that garden! Sometimes the garden just has to take a back seat and survive on its own while we tend to other parts of our life. So good to have you back blogging. :)

    1. I think I am going to get more ruthless, and only plant things that are tough enough to survive neglect! There are plenty out there that are still beautiful, and that way I won’t get so upset when things get overwhelmed by weeds. Its a plan…

      Lovely to be back blogging! Thank you for the welcome back!

  16. Good to see you back, Janet! One thing that I have learned in my few years of gardening is that what works well in someone else’s garden doesn’t necessarily work in mine. A friend of mine in Kent cannot get Echinacea to grow, but it self-seeds all over the place in my Midwest garden. I’m sure as time goes by, you’ll learn more about your own garden and what does well where. I can certainly sympathize with the lack of time and neglect; I’ve had some family obligations this summer that kept me out of the garden much of the time. I’ve learned to overlook the weeds:) Love those photos of the Foxgloves and Anthemis!

    1. Thank you Rose! I agree, it is important to learn what does and doesn’t grow in your own patch and work with that rather than trying to fight it. I suppose one of my questions is whether plants like the achillea and echincea have failed because of something that I could easily rectify or if they just plain don’t like this garden for some reason. Still, there are so many wonderful plants out there to explore and experiment with!

  17. This post rather sums up my feelings towards my garden and the allotment this year. I sympathise with that feeling of frustration. Everything is too big now in my garden after 8 years and something has to give. It has too much of the feel of something with a mind of its own and no one there to control it which just frustrates me. I was stood there yesterday wondering what to do.

    I’m pleased you managed to be smiling though by the time you’d finished the post. You have a lots of fabulous planting combos going on. Love the agastache – it doesn’t survive a winter here, frustratingly. I didn’t realise lychnis was such a self-seeder. You should see my allotment though. I haven’t had time to deadhead so much this year so I’ve got a green carpet of self-sown annuals all over the place. I’ve got some serious weeding to do.

    1. Thank you Lou, you make me feel a lot better! I need to take cuttings of the agastache, as I am not sure it will survive the winter here either. Dahlias in the back garden come back with no problem at all, but if we do get a harsher winter I don’t want ‘Blackadder’ to be one of the casualties without having a backup plan…

      Good luck with the weeding, I have to wade in to the park border soon or it will be entirely colonised by Honesty. You can have too much of a good thing…

    1. It is rather lovely, isn’t it. It could be – wants to be – an enormous tree, but fortunately responds well to regular pruning to keep it within sensible bounds. Next Spring I hope to persuade it to be a neat column of foliage that won’t cast too much shade on the greenhouse behind it.

  18. See how much you have been missed! Thanks for your ‘no holds barred’ review of what is and what isn’t in your garden at the moment – I know you say that you consciously chose the camera angles but there are some gorgeous shots in there, like the one with the agastache. How soon do you think you might be able to balance the business and the garden more equally (and when will we know what ‘the business’ is?)?

    1. Hi Cathy, thank you, I have been rather overwhelmed by the warm welcome back, I must admit, I think I wondered if anybody would notice me creeping back into the blogosphere after so long away… Sanity required that I find a better balance sooner rather than later, I am hoping that I can do some “proper” gardening this Autumn, but really be ready to balance the two next Spring. The test will be whether I manage to grow tomatos from seed or not! No mystery with the business, I am doing web design, currently trying to get our own website up after having worked on other people’s projects for most of this year. The next phase is the challenging one as there are no new projects lined up as yet, just some vague enquiries to turn into actual work.

  19. you have a lot to be pleased about Janet, I love that feeling when something in the garden just makes you stop and stare, it makes up for the down times, I have had lots of failures especially since we have been having rain so constantly, I’ve lost count of failed plants, I have also learnt the hard way not to rush and put small plants in the garden but to put them into pots to grow larger, even if the pot is in a sheltered position out side, they seem to do better than straight in the ground, nice to see you posting again and thanks for visiting my blog, Frances

    1. Hi Frances, it is really interesting to hear you say that you too have found that planting larger plants seems to work better. Perhaps it is something to do with the level of exposure to salty cold winds we both get in our gardens? I don’t suffer as much from the seemingly perpetual rain that forever gets in the way of your gardening, for which I am profoundly grateful. Thanks for dropping by!

  20. A very big welcome back Janet. It’s good to see your successes and enjoy the photos as well as commiserating about the failures. I sowed umpteen echinacea but, as of today, only 3 buds that may or may not open before the weather turns cold! And as for fennel seedlings- mine match your lychnis for sheer quantity. Thus year I will cut them down before they seed!

    1. Thank you Judith! I have been looking up echinacea that people seem to claim are hard working in the garden. I spotted that Sue Beesley (Bluebell Cottage) recommends Echinacea purpurea ‘Fragrant Angel’ and Echinacea purpurea ‘Rubinstern’ as being hard workers and five year survivors, and I am pretty sure I need to concentrate on the robust thugs of the echinacea world thanks to the northerly salt-laden winds my front garden gets on occasion, even in the summer.

      I shall look out for fennel seedlings, you can definitely have too much of a good thing, particularly when that good thing is so very tall!

  21. I do understand your frustration Janet. I was going full guns and then injury set me back again this summer and so no gardening again. I am finding I have to be patient, bide my time, make my plans and then go slow and do what I can…here’s to next year in the garden! We will both be there.

    1. I’m so sorry you’ve had injury to cope with Donna, how profoundly annoying for you after all that time recovering after surgery. Having just had to break off from my planned gardening afternoon thanks to tweaking my back – again – I sympathise, hugely! Still, I am sure that the planning and pondering will pay off once you are able to get out there again. I hope you are fully recovered soon.

  22. Plenty to make you smile, still, indeed. And interesting to see what flourishes in your sandy soil that would turn up its toes on clay. A trio of Black adder did not return for me here, sadly. The foxglove is very lovely.

    1. Hi Sara, it is proving a steep learning curve, getting to grips with what will and won’t thrive here! I will be taking cuttings of Blackadder as an insurance policy. The plant that is really bugging me at the moment is achillea. They should love this soil, and yet I keep losing them. I have enough explanations for this that I am teetering on the brink of trying again, with more TLC, as they really are the perfect plant for my front garden.

  23. Lovely to have you back Janet. You have a lot to enjoy in the garden. I love the agastache and you have some great combinations. It’ s all there waiting for you when you have a bit more time.

    1. Thank you Chloris, I am really enjoying getting to know my garden again, and have ordered loads of seeds to grow new things to try…

  24. I know what you mean about getting back into the garden after months of neglect. I am in the same boat here. However, today I got the garden cleaned up, and it actually looks like people live here now.

    1. Hi Les, glad you managed some garden time for yourself! I stole yesterday afternoon and actually (shhhh) made some progress!

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