The Bitter End – The Frustrated Gardener

The Bitter End


I’m always surprised by how good the garden looks at the beginning of November. The Gin & Tonic Garden, though lacking the abundance of flowers enjoyed in late summer, is as good as it has ever been, only richer and lusher. Looking down on my tiny courtyard from above, I spy a perfect tapestry of green, silver and gold. The greenhouse has almost vanished beneath a rising tide of foliage. I want it to go on like this forever.

Challenging myself to do better next year, the main improvement I’d make is to establish more height. This will need to be done carefully so as not to block out the light which makes this garden so different from the Jungle Garden. The Beau is keen to grow more mountain papayas. Perhaps these could be the answer since they have a parasol-like habit. I’d also like to add a couple more columnar trees, although planted in the ground rather than in pots.

The Gin & Tonic Garden in early November

The Jungle Garden, generally more exposed to the elements and heavily reliant on tender plants for its glory, fades first. By the end of October everything has become tall, leggy and overcrowded, so it’s a relief to start the process of restoring order and creating space to move again. Fallen bay leaves lie thick across the surface of the raised bed, a crisp carpet of light-brown pierced by hundreds of dark-leaved ivy seedlings. I’m unsure whether to blame the sparrows or the doves for these little green gifts. Thankfully they pull out easily enough. After rain, any Eucomis leaves overlapping the path become as slippery as a banana skin. It’s time for them to go, before I take a pre-dawn tumble.

The Jungle Garden, post storm, clinging on to its former glory

We need to have a major rethink about the raised bed over winter. The trees I planted 11 years ago are now mature, creating shade and consuming the lion’s share of available moisture. They are wonderful to behold, absorbing noise and providing shelter, but they have altered the nature of the garden and I must adapt to the conditions they’ve created. For a few years now I have toyed with re-planting the ground beneath them. Now that I have The Beau to help me, I might just do that. I have far too many plants in pots and embarrassingly little going on in the raised bed behind them. By lifting the crown of each tree I hope to be able to admit more light and rain, opening up new planting possibilities. Irrigation will almost certainly be required to supplement what moisture the evergreen canopy blocks out. I have found that a soaker hose works very efficiently if it’s tucked neatly out of sight. I need a few months to browse my library in search of the right plants to grow, and thank my lucky stars that there’s not too much space to be filled.

Hedychium yunnanense

Since returning from China last week, anything particularly tender or good-looking has been moved into the garden room for winter protection. Now that it’s crowded with begonias, impatiens, coleus and ferns I’ve given up any hope of being able to work in this space until spring. We moved the airplants and bromeliads indoors at the end of September and these have settled in nicely. My main concern now is controlling pests. In such warm, crowded conditions it does not take long for greenfly, whitefly or red spider mites to make an nuisance of themselves. Vigilance is vital. Woolly aphids and scale insects are already giving me a headache indoors, defying all efforts to eradicate them. I guess some afflictions one just has to live with. We’ve taken cuttings of almost everything as an insurance policy. If they survive, we’re going to have a lot of spare plants come spring!

Standing room only in the Garden Room

Meanwhile I am loath to interfere with anything in the Gin & Tonic Garden. A hint of autumn is provided by Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Slender Sihouette’, Ginkgo biloba ‘Menhir’, Calycanthus raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’ and Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’, but everything else looks bigger and greener than ever before.

It seems to have rained the entire time I’ve been away, and this shows in the prodigious growth of plants such as Geranium maderese which burgeon during a cooler spell. A couple of species dahlias, D. tampaulipana and D. campanulata are tantalisingly close to flowering, but The Beau is pessimistic about their prospects. D. tampaulipana is so precious that it has been given shelter in the greenhouse. Neither of us has seen this new discovery from Mexico (via Pan Global Plants) bloom, and we are determined that we shall. (It will doubtless turn out to be murky pink and a huge disappointment.) The dahlia sits alongside Salvia dombeyii with its scarlet, pendulous flowers resembling Fuchsia boliviana. If one can’t get to South America, it’s not too difficult to create the look with a few well chosen plants.

Ginkgo biloba ‘Menhir’

Tentative as my efforts to prepare the garden for winter are, this growing season has reached its conclusion. There may still be buds and shoots, but their progress will be thwarted sooner rather than later. There will be no more warm spells and the days will be too short to fuel growth. It’s all down hill from here.

The gales that hit the south on Saturday had largely blown out by the time they reached Broadstairs, but nevertheless the garden took a battering. As we approach bonfire night, the Jungle Garden looks soggy, frayed and no longer presentable. It’s now a case of moving each pot into its winter quarters – whether that be the workshop, the greenhouse or somewhere sheltered outdoors – before retreating inside for a brief rest. In the greenhouse, pots of Iris reticulata are already studded with pale green shoots. It may be a bitter ending, but new beginnings are already in sight. TFG.

Cobaea scandens on the workshop wall





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