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October / November 2012

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Tall perennial flowers, moist soil and tree shoot up

Browned-off roses; sun starved perennials reluctant to flower; battered irises and peonies; premature autumn leaf colouring in July; shrubs with more petals on the ground than on the plants themselves; a dramatic increase in the slug population; a noticeable decline in the numbers of foraging honeybees. All these were features of the rain-sodden summer of 2012.

filipendula

Admittedly, it wasn't entirely bad. Being tall myself, I like perennials that I can look in the eye, as it were, and many moisture-loving perennials thrive in the rain. I actually had to look up to the highest one this year which was Thalictrum rochebruneanum that rose to an impressive three metres. Thankfully it didn't need staking. This plant has quite fuzzy bicoloured flowers of lavender and yellow that sit lightly on top of the tall stems.

It was taller than Joe Pye weed, Eupatorium purpureum, a North American native that is supposed to grow three metres tall but didn't quite reach two. Perhaps it's because it prefers alkaline soil to the acid soil of our garden. Anyway I'd much rather have another North American plant called Filipendula rubra ‘Venusta'. The common name of the species is ‘queen of the prairies' and, music to my ears, it just loves moist, even wet, soil. Last July and August it reached two metres with ease and had clusters of fluffy flowers - just like pink candy floss on a two-metre stick.

Campanula lactiflora was happy because it likes moist soil and it bore its blue flowers on 1.5 metre tall stems from July until September. As yet, I do not grow fennel but I must acquire one because I saw it in another garden and greatly admired it. A very tall plant with fine, lacy green foliage, it was beautiful after a heavy shower when the sun came out, making the thousands of tiny raindrops clinging to it sparkle brilliantly. Aruncus loves a damp spot. The elegant, creamy-white flowers form myriad seedheads which, like fennel, attract raindrops that glisten in winter sunshine and are spectacular when the same drops are frosted.

I noticed how ornamental trees had increased in height this year because some of them are now nearly touching the telephone and electricity wires at the side of the garden. A eucryphia, a wedding cake tree, an embothrium and a stewartia have all grown by at least a metre. I can foresee problems with this in a year or two. In the white garden Hoheria glabrata, New Zealand ribbonwood, which has flowers not unlike those of a flowering cherry in July, grew so much that it has exceeded the height of an old two-storey farm building, and was blooming abundantly.

All the non-flowering trees in the garden had a growth spurt too. As well as that, their foliage was more dense than in previous years making the garden lush and green. The downside to all this is that there is now a massive fall of leaves and raking them up is one of my least favourite tasks. I get blisters on my palms and inside my thumbs but it's a job that has to be done otherwise the leaves would provide cosy winter dormitories for slugs. The leaves are also needed to make leafmould. Last year, I bought one of those leaf blowing/sucking machines to make life easier - it only works with leaves as dry as paper. Any that are wet and sticky, and that's most of them, stubbornly refuse to be either sucked or blown.

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