We’re now entering the period which, last year, as a head gardener I found terrifying. The bulbs die back to a yellowish pond-weed green, the safety netting of once-forceful blue forget-me-nots dries to a scraggly grey, and seedlings of all forms blanket every inch of soil. Cow parsley and Alkanet tower over each other competing for sunlight in every shady spot and the lawn is quickly filling up with clumps of plantain and ranunculus. The pots must all be changed over too and I’m completely dependant on whatever has managed to successfully grow on enough in the greenhouse to take up the spaces. It’s a disastrous frenzy. Or at least, that’s how it seemed to me last year.
This year however, I’ve decided to calm down, breathe, and enjoy the beautiful elements I previously passed off as irritants. Replacing worry with statergy, I’m moving through the garden more sensibly in a slower and more appreciative manner. This began by getting to the pots early and removing the bulbs just at the point of going over, rather than after a month of steady decline. Even if this meant simply getting the lilies in, and getting to the under planting later, it’s most of the job taken care of. I’ve been applying the same principle to the cutting beds; removing bulbs before they look ill and sowing the replacement cut-flower annuals directly. Plants sown last Autumn in the greenhouse that have made it through the winter are only a few in species, but include; cornflowers, oriental poppies, euphorbias, sweet williams, brizas, nigellas, and scabiosas. I’ve lined these out already (ignoring talk of more frost) and slowly the gaps are filling up. The real lift will be when the dahlias are ready to come out. But this won’t be for some time.
For the rest of the borders it’s now a case of steadily going through and pulling up the forget-me-nots, removing spent tulip foliage, weeding out unwanted seedlings and re-homing self-sown plants into more desirable locations. I’ve found that the rogue scabious, Knautia macedonica, is a particularly prolific self-distributor, delivering many new clumps each Spring. The temptation last year was really to leave everything to flower right until the last possible moment which, at such a critical transitional period in the flowering year, was ultimately my mid-season undoing. Although, conversely, it is a good principle for the later Summer flowerers. Half the benefit of plants like the verbenas, sedums and echinops’ is in their formation of architectural and wildlife-encouraging seed heads.
As for the wilder fringes of the garden, my attitude this year has been just to leave it all be. Save for a few paths strimmed in through the mass in order to get in close to the wilderness, it’s much nicer to, for now, simply let nature get on with things and watch as the colours change.