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March 2013

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Hard pruning, kiwi fruit, crocosmia and ash seedlings



Notebook West

Lorna MacMahon

Growth never stops in a garden and this means
that constant attention is needed to keep everything under control. Neatly
clipped shrubs and hedges are an intrinsic part of formal design, whereas in an
informal garden, such as mine, the curtailing of natural growth should not be
apparent. In Japan, many of their most famous gardens appear almost frozen in
time . This is achieved by very time-consuming and elaborate pruning.





A book I recently borrowed on Japanese
gardening suggests pruning azaleas eight times annually. Mine are only ever
trimmed if they are encroaching on a path. For later flowering shrubs, this is
a good time to cut back, before most of the new growth begins. I have started
to remove altogether some of the plants that need constant pruning. I am also
much more careful when I buy new plants to select compact varieties and allow
sufficient growing space.



This time last year the patio attached to the
house needed drastic attention. The vigorous evergreen Clematis armandii had been badly damaged by frost the previous
winter and looked a mess. While cutting it down to ground level I realised that
it had been growing under roof tiles and damaging gutters in partnership with
two kiwifruit vines, male and female. Last spring the Clematis armandii rose like a phoenix from the ashes, so now I am
tackling the kiwi plants.

I am not sure whether I am hoping that they
will regenerate like the clematis or whether I will just be relieved if they
have decided to call it a day. Without doubt the kiwis need more pruning than
any other plant in the garden, as they need to be cut back two or three times a
year and still have managed to damage gutters and break down the wire fencing
on one side of the herb garden. However, the apricot-coloured flowers are very
beautiful and the female plant is laden with kiwifruits every year. I have cut
them back to three feet from the base, but still have a massive amount of
growth to remove from the fencing before it can be mended. The patio now looks
very bare but the fascia boards and gutters have been repaired and there is
more space.



There are invaders on a smaller scale that
need to be checked and now is a good time to tackle them. Some of the crocosmia
family are too vigorous, like the common montbretia, and do not justify their
inclusion. These I shall try to eradicate altogether. Species and varieties,
such as Crocosmia masoniorum,‘Lucifer', ‘Jackanapes, ‘Emily McKenzie', ‘Solfatare' and ‘Star of the East',
are all really valuable and, if they increase too much, I just pot them up for
sale on the Open Days. Dwarf ground cover comfrey or symphytum, Geranium endressii and Phlomis russelliana always need to be trimmed from the edges of pathways and these trimmings can also make good new
plants.



Thanks to the very mild start to the winter, a record number of self-sown seedlings germinated from my Chatham Island forget-me-not or myosotidium, hellebores and the early-flowering pampas grass, Cortaderia richardii. Even nasturtium seedlings had started to appear by 5 January. Unfortunately many unwanted
seedlings came early this year also. One of the worst offenders is the ash tree.
I remove hundreds of unwanted seedlings every year. This makes me wonder why
there should be any necessity for us to import ash trees from abroad and risk
the spread of the new ash disease, when they germinate so freely here!


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