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January/February 2009

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Old swimming pool, paper bush and self-sown corydalis

The wet summer last year produced superb hydrangeas with flowers larger than ever, but the annuals were in mush and old-fashioned roses, grown by a friend, were in tatters. The kitchen garden had mixed results - French beans rotted; courgettes grew to become marrows; gooseberries were good, while raspberry ‘Autumn Bliss' had a poor crop. So are we in for more wet seasons? I intend growing my vegetables on raised beds and planting more single-flowered varieties of herbaceous plants that will cope better with wet seasons - if you grow old-fashioned double roses, you will know what I mean.

One of my main changes for 2009 is the filling-in of the old swimming pool - the area is surrounded by mature rhododendrons, agapanthus, fuchsias, and an established Pinus montezumae. I fancy a tropical bed there but feel it's overdone. I have stockpiled some wonderful sculptured stones - these will soften the original shape as will many trailing plants, including nepeta, osteospermums, Lithodora ‘Heavenly Blue' and prostrate salix. I have allowed for 60cm of extra soil bearing in mind settlement. The second alteration is to the entrance area, creating extra car-parking. Many of the original shrubs were removed with a digger, some replanted and I fed them with a good diet of manure and peat in their planting holes.

I was thrilled to find the paper bush, Edgworthia chrysantha, in a local garden centre. This treasure should enhance the area during late winter with furry cream buds opening with yellow flowers. I under-planted it with Anemone nemerosa and Hosta ‘Chartreuse', which came through last year slug-free. Old tar-and-chip surfacing at the entrance was replaced with granite cobbles which set off the tall black iron gates.

A large limestone trough is planted with dwarf bearded irises that have not flowered for a few years, so out they come. I am replanting with masses of dwarf spring bulbs - daffodils and scillas which were grown on in pots and I have the 10cm high, crimson leaf spotted Eucomis vandermerwei to add late-season interest.

Spring is around the corner with early flowering camellias trained against a sheltered wall. I planted lots of snowdrops through oriental hellebores. My yellow-flowered winter jasmine has become shy to flower, so I will dig it out, add topsoil and replant young rooted shoots. Yesterday, on a walk I noticed emerging from winter, self-sown Corydalis chelanthifolia, aubrieta and yellow alyssum on a rock wall, while Rhododendron arboreum and Rose x moyesii have produced a number of plants ready to be potted up - nature at its best!

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