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April 2013

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Cats, fritillarias, bergenia and epimediums

 

Our cat, who was 18 years old died before Christmas. She was a classic marmalade cat and was a great hunter. What has this to do with gardening? Except for the last few years, because of old age, she controlled the number of rabbits, mice and pigeons in the garden. Now we have real problems. We have replanted some Fritillaria meleagris, they were all but wiped out by the mice and rabbits last year, but how do we protect them now and ensure a return of the yearly sheet of purple and white. There is nothing for it only the procuring of two new cats.

How Charlie, our dog, will take to that, considering he was terrorised by our old cat, remains to be seen. Mind you the old cat was here before Charlie arrived. The remaining fritillarias are making a slow recovery but I am impatient and want to have a really good display next year. Therefore I will have to buy more bulbs to speed up the process. The hundreds of crocus we planted last year were also damaged by the pests. The ones we planted in grass seemed to escape the worst of the damage but the ones in beds under the trees fared the worst.


We did a lot of clearing last year and that led to an amount of bare ground under trees and shrubs. We have been taking a new look at ground cover plants. When we started gardening here some 30 years ago the phrase ‘ground cover' brought to mind, my mind anyway, dusty bergenia , banks of dull juniper and rusty hypericum. But things have changed. Bergenia varieties have improved. They have better flowers, if planted in sun and some have the most wonderfully coloured winter foliage. Bergenia ‘Sunningdale' has glossy red-purple winter foliage and clean pink flowers. I will also find better places for ‘Ballawley'with its huge glossy leaves and great flowers. The good news about bergenias is the rabbits do not touch them. I am also taking a new look at epimediums.

An epimedium I planted, many years ago, covered the ground with weed suppressing foliage but if was a dull thing. Then I discovered Epimedium rubrum. It has gorgeous new foliage in spring and delicate pink flowers. Epimedium grandiflorum grows about a foot high and has great white flowers; it flowers well here under a mountain ash. But the one I have my eye on is ‘Lilafee', said to tolerate dry shade and the flowers are long spurred in a stunning shade of lavender. The big plus, again, rabbits don't like epimediums, which is a good job, as they are said to have aphrodisiac qualities, and rabbits are frisky enough already.

I am also going to move the many hostas around, after many years in the same place they are dwindling. I will put some back in the same place but I will enrich the soil before re-planting. The stars of the ground-cover brigade will be geraniums. These have to be chosen with care as some are not dense enough to do the job and some are too free with their seeding. Geranium macrorrhizum, Geranium endressii, Geranium x magnificum are all here already and have proved reliable. Astilbes will be used in the wetter areas. This is just the start, if the back holds up.

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