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June 2011

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Not so simple!

Rachel Darlington gets around a problem

Structure in a garden is often achieved by the use of evergreens. Perhaps it underlines a yearning in me for the romantic, but I particularly love box hedging. So a few years ago I invested in a set of large box balls. Although I had a pretty permanent spot in mind for the six spheres, flanking the three arched entrances to the east of the garden, I was unable to plant them there. The ground was too full of concrete, being beside the drive. Such a minor technicality proved a complete show-stopper. They never encounter such trivial matters in gardening programmes.

I compromised by planting my buxus in matching pots and stood them by the arches. Overall I was pleased with the added height and textual interest that the ceramic provided. It was probably a better solution than planting the bushes in the ground.

But the kind of trivia that first presented when I wanted to plant my shaped evergreens seemed to plague the whole project. The first hurdle was the matching pots. Large glazed containers can be very expensive, especially if you are fussy about getting six identical ones. They would have worked out more costly than the plants to go in them. I decided to buy unglazed terracotta.

Unglazed vessels have two disadvantages. They are poor at retaining water in summer, tending to loose it through their porous surfaces, and they tend to crack in a cold winter. But forewarned is forearmed. I lined the inside of each pot with a bin bag, leaving it open at the base for drainage. It was fiddly but cheap. And in winter my hubby heaved the earthenware to the back of the house, raising them on pebbles. Kids' skateboards are invaluable for such back-breaking operations but don't let the kids know. Both solutions worked surprisingly well and my evergreens and containers survived two of the coldest winters in living memory.

But after two years in pots my buxus balls began to look distinctly yellow. It was a sign of starvation and that all nutrients from the surrounding soil had been exhausted. It was time to re-pot but as I did not want replace my terracotta, I decided on the simpler option of tipping out the box, knocking off a little excess soil and re-potting with a few handfuls of fresh mix and a scattering of chicken manure pellets.

The job had been easier the first time around, using a whole plastic bag and just cutting off the excess around the rim of the vessels. But I got there in the end and my box has greened up nicely as a result of a little tlc. They look great this summer, flanking the three entrances to the east of my garden.

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