Plant of The Month – August

It’s strange how a group of plants suddenly grabs you. August is the month of BYD’s. . . .eh?. . . Big Yellow Daisies to the uninitiated. All the heleniums, helianthus, helichrysums, helianthemums (well done, a cistus family relative not a daisy). We’d got Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ but that was about it. We weren’t worried but we were missing a trick.

Pettifers had been ticking along nicely, doing August rather well, with our grasses and asters, a sudden need for punchy colour would be filled by shoehorning in some crocosmias. Then, in a magazine, Gina saw Coreopsis tripteris. We did a mutual raising of eyebrows, a sly smile passed between us and we raced off to the Autumn Border – Gina won, she sent me back to get bamboo canes as markers just as I rounded the last corner a nose in front.

That was 2 years ago. The plants we bought sailed through their first summer and then through a very wet winter increasing in girth very well. This spring we decided we wanted more and so split the biggest 2 plants and moved the other 2 around to create more of a swathe rather than the 4 clumps we had before. As a result, this summer they have surpassed themselves with a good 3-4 months of golden yellow daisies on 6′ stems, waving gently in the wind – sturdy but still ‘see-throughable’. The Autumn Border is huge, very deep and all the plants are nearing 6′ (our groundcover is Aster ‘Sonora’ at 3′) so Coreopsis tripteris fits in as a touch of yellow, not as a bold statement plant as it would in a smaller border. But it would work in a smaller border, yes it’s 6′, but it’s vase shaped, delicately leaved with a sprinkling of flowers and the stems are well-spaced – it’s like Verbena bonariensis in form, only on steroids! In drier soil or a drier/hotter summer it would be shorter. Frequent division seems likely to benefit it, it certainly didn’t like being crammed in the pot from the nursery, but then that’s typical of members of the daisy family.

Introducing a new plant can do more than give you the thrill of a new discovery. With us, it actually highlighted a deficiency in the border which we hadn’t noticed previously. The border had been too blue, too mauve, too sombre. If it hadn’t been for Helenium ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’ (a BYD!) the border would have looked like a thunder storm was brewing. The yellow of the coreopsis blended in with the yellow and orange of the helenium and contrasted with all the blue and purple shades in the eupatoriums and aconitums

So for us, Coreopsis tripteris has ticked all the right boxes.

(Coreopsis is colloquially know as tickseed. So Sorry. Really bad horticultural pun. So, so sorry)

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End of Winter

23 February, 2013

Spring was on its way until about 3 days ago. All the hellebores are up and flowering, and continue to flower for about three months.. We cut all the leaves off round about Christmas time, and do not put them on the compost heap. We have a mixture of yellow, blue, white, various shades of pink, and green. They will not pick to put in a vase, but you can float the heads in a shallow bowl of water which looks very pretty on a dining room table. Digging them up and you need a huge amount of strength. When it is really cold the hellebores lie down flat which I can hardly bear to look at, but they then stand up again as if nothing has happened. The ones near the house we have surrounded with named snowdrops, which have nearly all done well. Polly has worked very hard to improve this bit, and really for the end of February this looks very pretty with a lot going on. It is important to try and achieve this as otherwise winter seems so long. We have a lot of aconites which have seeded around, and the crocus tommasinianus are showing on the crocus lawn at the bottom of the steps. When you are near the parterre you get a strong scent of the sarcoccoca of which we have two huge bushes.

Last weekend James and I went to Colesbourne Park, near Cirencester,which was inspirational. Acres of snowdrops under deciduous trees, it has taken over a hundred years to achieve this marvellous garden. It made me long to rush home and start dividing all my snowdrops. We bumped into John Grimshaw there who has written the definitive book on snowdrops and used to be in charge of Colesbourne.. I bought 4 called James Backhouse, which he said was a very good doer.

It has taken about 10 days to cut down the autumn border, it must be much bigger than I realised. We have lost all the poppies in it, and it shows how plants hate to be covered up by other things. In the Burgundy border allium Globemaster has taken over, and one has turned into about 30. The leaf is very attractive, and this is my favourite allium. There is an article on alliums coming out in The English Garden in May, and quite a lot of them are in my garden. The eremurus out the front are coming up, and some have increased from one to seven. There we have put all the Rosa mutabilis together, and just hope that they will do better than last year and that there will be some sun. The exciting thing about gardening is you always look forward to next year being better, and if not better it is usually different.

My little dog Tensing has been very ill for about 2 weeks, but finally with antibiotics and a change of diet he is much better. It is such a relief. All the grasses are cut down now except the cortaderia. We are longing for the cortaderia richardii to flower on the right hand side as the two plants look very healthy, but did not produce a flower plume last year.

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Winter Update 10 December

I felt very happy today as not only was it very mild and the sun shone, but my eldest son Dominic has got engaged to a girl called Hettie Harvey.
I have only met her once and she is deputy editor of the Evening Standard Magazine. She is pretty and clever and Dominic is in a state of euphoria.

I am at the bottom of the garden cutting down herbaceous plants in the autumn border. Polly likes them cut into small pieces, as because this takes a long time they rot down quicker on the compost heap. This is really a huge border as I have already been two days on it accompanied by Tensing and Classic FM. I think next year I am going to add coreopsis tripteris to this bed which is soft yellow and up to 8ft tall, as I have not made any changes here for sometime. It is not a dense plant and would look good at the back, once if not twice.

Polly says she has found a wriggling nest of baby grass snakes in the compost heap. I am glad it was not me as I am terrified by snakes, even grass ones. I always think that December and January are the two bleakest months in the garden. There are several shades of green, yellow and beige, and it is then that the structure you have got is important. The winter light can be beautiful, and it is now that you start to cut off the hellebore leaves as you do not want mice nesting in them eating the emerging flowers.

After Christmas the days slowly start to get longer, and since it has been mild several of my snowdrops have started to emerge. There is a large clump of Reginae- Olgae subsp. vernalis in the circle in the paddock. I must remember to divide them in the New Year. I picked a few and put them in Dominic’s and Hetty’s room.

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Summer At Pettifers

The most important event of this gardening season was when the head gardener of Broughton Grange Garden, who is called Andrew Woodhall, came to have tea with Polly half way through May to see our garden.
He loved it so much that he suggested having a link with us on his web site. Andrew is softly spoken and charming and had worked for Sting before going to Stephen Hester at Broughton Grange. Anyway Polly and I both agreed that it was a huge compliment, and we are now up on his web site.
It has been a terrible gardening year, and has rained every day which is bad for morale but it has suited the garden, which has never looked better. All the changes we made 2 years ago have settled in properly and grown well. The roses were a disaster, particularly the Portland ones, Jacques Cartier and the Conte de Chambord. just balling and not opening. We took The Alchemist out as it had such bad black spot, and is only a once flowerer. The star was New English Rose Port Sunlight, the flowers were not spoilt and the foliage is healthy. It was hardly sprayed as it was too wet all the time. Sally Holmes and Phyllis Bide were good.

A lot of people who came round wrote and said the garden was inspirational. A new feature at the front of the house is the sundial by Harriet James. It has gold lettering and is in two shades of blue. This summer has not been perfect for it as we have hardly seen the sun.
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We are still struggling with the Burgundy Border, but think we know what to do in the autumn. Sue Dickinson, head gardener to Lord Rothschild at Eythrope, said that it had too many strappy leaves, which as I am always telling people to change foliage I should have picked up on.
It was exactly what Polly and I had already agreed. There were 3 or 4 things all with a similar leaf, and it is not a big border. She wants 6 of our scilla peruviana and some rose cuttings of Blushing Lucy. It is very difficult to find things that Sue actually wants. We are probably getting rid of all our scilla peruvianan, as the evergreen leaves get badly damaged and the flower is not big enough. It is possible that it is getting too shaded by the beech hedge which has now got pretty large. This year we have had 6 groups of Dutch to see the garden, who are always very enthusiastic and take lots of photographs of the huge teapot that we have, and the aga to our amusement.

We have made a new border which goes under the unromantic name of “the oil tank border” which is where the huge topped beech and the holly tree came out. It is coming on and not bad for the first year, we have in it a slightly strange clematis which I am not sure whether it is going to stay. This particular border is looking pretty at the moment. It has two very pretty grasses called stipa pseudoichu, they are white wands dancing in the breeze, intermingling with polemonium foliosissimum ‘Cottage Cream” which has been flowering for months. The strange clematis is ‘Dancing Smile’ and is a huge ball of soft pink and green. My Pileostegia Viburnoides is looking beautiful for almost the first time, as normally I dont like it very much.

About a week ago I got back from a month in Corfu, and was greeted by the garden looking marvellous. It is one of the best times for it in the autumn and the autumn border was a sea of colour, with asters, grasses, kniphofias, sedums, roses, dahlias. Polly has done all the clipping beautifully, and since she has been with me the garden is really transformed. Her hard work shows, and the only moment of desperation this year was when huge black slugs, but vast, were eating all the dahlias.