Friday, 22 April 2011

Dreamy Garden Borders in April

When March turns to April I know the time has come when I can procrastinate no longer: my herbaceous borders need me. The seed heads and sheltering dead foliage have done their bit for the wildlife over winter.

Now is the time to get out there, chop it all down, dig out the odd weed and mulch like crazy. Leave it another week or two and the weeds will have taken hold and the plants grown too large for much to get in there.

But as I clip and snip, gather and discard the border looks more bare with every action. Where are all those perennial goodies? Have they died? Been eaten? There is still the odd clipped evergreen certainly, the occasional rose bush. And the lime trees to pleach on the nearby path.

These thoughts fester as the clearing goes on and the mulching with compost is done bit by bit. But by the time I'm finished the odd inch of rain and even odder days of sunshine have worked their magic. Suddenly the phlox and tradescantia, the aqualegia and bistort have burgeoned.

Geranium phaem and Bleeding heart is flowering prettily; Heuchera and Alchemilla mollis seem to have doubled in size overnight. What was I worried about. I had forgotten that every year – cradling some purchase bought in a weak willed moment at a plant stall – I walk around the garden searching for a spot in which to squeeze it in.

By now the purple beech tree has been through its wondrous leaf opening cabaret. First small leaf buds tentatively open, salmon pink, soft and ethereal. After a day or so of sun they stretch out their leaves and with more confidence start to turn that glorious shade of copper. Another few days of good weather and, overnight, every branch is covered in the richest of copper leaves.

In fact a few days of absolutely glorious weather has fast forwarded spring to such an extent that plants and flowers normally performing in May are out now. And blossom that usually lasts a week or two is over in a couple of days. The lilac is in flower but the blossom of the weeping pear has already faded.

If I work like crazy from now until June getting all the worst weeds out, then it should set me up for the summer. In the wall border the plants grow until they are cheek by jowl. The idea is that they will choke out the weeds and I won't have to do anything for the rest of the summer. But that remains a theory for now.

There is one border so overgrown with ground elder that we have had to take all the soil out, burn it, and start again. Cow parsley self seeded to such an extent under the beech and Judas tree last year that its going to take days to dig it out. And the nettles! How come they have colonized every corner? Another digging job, I'm afraid.

I am happy for pockets of nettles – similarly buttercups – to grow in the wild garden, I'm trying to do my bit for conservation by encouraging habitats. Why else was I down on my hands and knees trying to balance rotting logs into a tidy pile like nature never intended? But nettles, buttercups and dandelions in my herbaceous borders are a step too far.

So I better keep at it. There's a long way to go. But it's hot. Too hot to garden. I better sit down – it's tiring this gardening – have a rest in the dappled shade of the beech tree and dream of manicured lawns, meticulous flower beds and..........

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