Outside the Backdoor

Observing what can happen in your own garden even in suburbia!

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New border, new blooms

I have a new flower border!  It had existed in my head for ages but finally, in April, we took spade to turf and dug away,  It was quite a plunge to take but I’m glad we decided to dive in as I’m now beginning to see the effect I was hoping for.

I know many garden designers would criticise us for ‘gardening around the edges’ and not dividing the garden into ‘rooms’ or creating weaving pathways, but we are in a densely packed part of south west London so we have always appreciated the sense of openness that we get in our garden.  What we have done on this occasion is to deepen the border on the left-hand side in front of a bank of shrubs, some of which are evergreen (Choisya) but most of which is deciduous Lilac.  Both the Lilac and Choisya are wonderful in Spring when in flower but the rest of the year they can be a bit dull.  So, by removing a swathe of grass from in front of these to shape a new planting area, and by a careful selection of plants, we have attempted to create an area which will be colourful from early to late Summer.  The border is also directly in line of view from the house so having some bright colour to look out onto was also part of our intention.

Having removed the turf (and re-used some of this to patch dead areas of lawn) and then edged it, we set about digging over the rather dry soil and enriching it with our own leaf mould, before deciding exactly what was to be planted there.

In preparation – is it deep enough?

Shopping for high / later summer perennials in early spring is, as we discovered, surprisingly cost effective as smaller versions of the plants are just coming into garden centres and often on deals such as 3 or 4 for £10.00.  Having agreed that this was going to be a hot colour scheme, on one such trip we acquired some golden Heleniums, scarlet Monardas and orange Penstemon.  Before planting out, the plants spent a few days on the patio in the shelter of the house during which time the Heleniums grew and grew!  However, this was nothing compared to the Monardas once planted!  It was like a scene from Jack and the Beanstalk as these plants appeared to put on an inch a day!  I have never grown Monardas before and you may not be that familiar with them but they are the cultivated form of Bergamot which is used to flavour Earl Grey tea.  Their leaves are incredibly aromatic if you rub them between your fingers.  Another common name for Monardas is ‘bee balm’ as they are a very nectar rich, bee friendly plant, so we are looking forward to them contributing to our efforts to ensure that our garden is as bee-friendly as possible.  The Penstemons have proved interesting.  These are Penstemon ‘pinus’ and, as the name suggests, they look just like little pine trees!  They are so unlike the other penstemons we have around the garden.  It felt like their tiny flowers appeared from nowhere but they are providing a glowing orange edge to the border.
A trip to a previously unexplored garden centre with a gardening enthusiast friend led to the acquisition of a deep yellow, repeat flowering rose to provide some central structure to the border.  To our surprise, the Togmeister has already produced a clutch of blooms and more are appearing.  It is a relatively low growing rose which has meant getting down on our knees to check out the scent.

Togmeister by Peter Beatles

To provide some cooler contrast, I have also planted two Eryngiums.  I do love these spiky plants even if they can be quite prickly to plant!  One of them is the smooth leaved variety whilst the other of the more vicious spikey leaved type.  This latter plant has also shot up to about a metre high in a matter of weeks and is covered in pale flower stars that have deepened and deepened through mid-blue to an intense purple.

Eryngium – early flowers

And then it was purple!

Eryngium – by mid June

It’s not all been about adding to the coffers of the garden centres!  The new border has provided a home for some bright and dark dahlias which spent previous summers in pots to protect them from slug attack.  We have decided to brave planting them out for a better show of flower.  The dry spring combined with a very small, judicious use of so-called ‘environmentally friendly’ slug pellets has helped to protect them so far.  A couple of these dahlias were grown from cuttings that I managed to propagate last autumn and to keep alive!  Cuttings are never my strong point and I’m always amazed when occasionally they work.  We have also dotted about a few of our self-seeded Stipa Tenuissima grasses which grow like weeds in our garden.  This particular grass provides a wonderful sense of movement.

Inevitably I am now wondering whether we should have dug the border wider and deeper.  This is partly due to a rather sad occurrence which is going to change the shape of that side of the garden.  It seems that our ornamental flowering Cherry tree is no more.  It produced a few buds in Spring but no real blossom to speak of and is entirely bereft of leaves.  I will probably write more about this at a future date but, the impact of this in relation to our new border, is that we avoided continuing the border under this tree as it would have been too shady.  People often talk about gardening as ‘shaping nature’ but just occasionally nature takes its own course and forces you to have a bit of a rethink.

For now, however, I am very pleased with my view down onto the mix of green and red foliage, illuminated here and there with bright spots of yellow, orange and purple and I am looking forward to a riot of hot colours as July and August approach.

Early June


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Another good year for the roses?

I am sitting out in the garden surrounded by roses, a somewhat calming experience after all the tension surrounding the EU Referendum, and rewarding given the stormy weather of the past week.  This year seems to be an exceptionally good year for them.  If I turn to Facebook, several of my friends have been posting photographs of stunning roses from their own gardens.  In fact one friend caused a great cross-purposes conversation by posting dozens of photos of ‘Graham’ and ‘Gertrude’ which caused J to remark that she was even posting photos of other people’s roses now until I gently pointed out that she was referring to her roses ‘Graham Thomas’, a lovely deep yellow/gold, and ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, a dense cabbage shaped pink!

Without doubt June is the month for roses and both of my gardening magazines arrived sporting photographs of beautiful blooms on the covers this month – in June roses sell!  The trouble with magazines arriving featuring roses is that you are always tempted to acquire some more!  I used to think that I wasn’t a rose person but I think I now need to put my hand up and admit that this is no longer the case.


This morning I started by taking photographs of two of my roses that are just starting to come into bloom.  My Shropshire Lad (above), a David Austin rose, had the most perfect pinky / peach bloom opening and adjacent to it the Rosa Mutabilis (below) had the perfect set – tight buds, slightly open buds plus a full bloom, all displaying closely together.  Of all our roses I think it’s fair to say that Rosa Mutabilis is the hard worker, the one that starts flowering in May and will still be performing its socks off come September.  The flowers are single, so attract bees, and are relatively small.  They start each day crisp and peachy and then gradually they darken into a deep cerise.

 On the opposite side of our garden we have had a huge surprise this spring.  The red climbing rose (Etoile de Hollande) that we despaired of, has sprung into action and produced the most blooms in its life!  We first planted it to grow up the pergola some 15 years’ ago but it was reluctant to either grow or flower.  Each year we had two or three flowers that were so dark in colour that they just disappeared into the green background.  No amount of careful pruning, feeding or training could seem to coax it to produce the sort of display we had in mind.  Whilst the blooms were stunningly scented as promised, we had to be quick to catch a whiff of them, being sure to cross the wet grass at just the right moment.  After seven or eight years of this we gave up!  We bought a white climber (Iceberg) that was known to be more prolific and which would show up better at a distance.  Out came Etoile and it was somewhat unceremoniously planted on the opposite side of the garden, near the greenhouse, and in an area that we don’t really know what to do with as it is very overshadowed by next door’s huge Magnolia.  However, last year our neighbour decided that said Magnolia really was getting far too big for its boots and so the tree surgeons were employed to do some radical but careful pruning.  Presumably as a result of having more light and air, the rose has leapt into action!  It has been flowering for a couple of weeks already and, as I look across now, I can see at least a dozen flowers open.  Being next to the greenhouse, it is much nearer the house and easier to take a sniff at its magnificent scent each time we pass.  I am hoping that, now it has finally found its feet, this is the start of something new and we’ll have many fragrant Springs to come.

Fortunately, after all that swapping around, I’m pleased to say that the Iceberg climber has grown well and is set to be a stunner this summer.  The first buds are just beginning to unfurl but the plant is covered in them.  In terms of shape, this rose is doing just what we hoped for and has grown up one column of the pergola and then along the top so that you can sit beneath an arch of rose.  The only snag is that the rose now appears to be pushing the pergola over and everything has a distinct lean!  In the autumn / winter we will be faced with the challenge of replacing the pergola but without disturbing the plants too much.

The other rose I wanted to comment on is both the biggest and the smallest.  It’s a tiny white flowered wild rose that forms a long bank beneath our cherry tree and was here when we arrived.  I have to credit J with giving this a great deal of TLC which means that it is now a shapely bank of green dotted with little white stars that really bring light to an otherwise dark area of the garden.  Rather strangely, just as it flowers it also throws out long branches of new growth which can sometimes hide the flowers.  Each year we remove these but we have wondered whether these would flower in the autumn?  I guess that there’s only one way to find out!

Roses consistently top the polls in voting for the nation’s favourite flower which led me to wonder whether any of you have a favourite flower that you would like to share here?  Or perhaps even a favourite rose?