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June 2005

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An eclectic mix,Vestia foetida, Hydrangea ‘Annabel’ and metrosideros

Herbaceous and alpine plants have dominated my gardening interests for many years but when I came to this rather large garden six years ago, I decided to grow more shrubby material hoping that in the future less maintenance would be required. Apart from the main flower borders three large beds were designated as ‘mixed' and shrubs were introduced at an early stage.

Only in the back garden is there a ‘shrubbery', a bed with shrubs predominantly. This faces south and as I acquired shrubs they were planted and left to fight it out with their neighbours. I've done little maintenance on the area since the initial planting. The mix is eclectic, with common familiar Weigela florida competing with the more refined Grevillea rosmarinifolia with red spidery flowers. Blue-floweredTeucrium fruticans has long outgrown its notional space, while yellow-floweredVestia foetida - a bit like phygelius, though not related- has self sown to a surprising degree. All in all its somewhat of a mess and I'm resolved to put some manners on the bullies this month. I hope I can do this without losing too much of the natural wild look of the bed. In May when the very large and sprawling weigelas are in bloom they make a lovely picture and several white flowered Potentilla fruticosa brighten it all up right through the summer. The grey leaves of the teucrium can be quite stunning in dry sunny weather and its flowers are much beloved by bees.

In the mixed beds the herbaceous plants have continued to dominate as the shrubs have made comparatively slow progress. Nevertheless Hydrangea ‘Annabel' has proved its worth as a late summer plant and nearby the curious red and yellow tubular flowers, and holly-like foliage, of Desfontainea spinosa have continued to puzzle visitors. For the front garden I have been sporadically collecting mainly southern hemisphere shrubs. There is more shelter here from those cutting winds that are such a feature of this part of Wicklow. Although its not looking in the best of health Olearia ‘Henry Travers' has the most wonderful pale mauve, dark-centred daisies. Bottle brushes or callistemons, both red and yellow flowered, have proved to be reliable as has also the related Melaleuca gibbosa with its fluffy mauve-pink flowers.

The uncommon and doubtfully hardy Westringia fruticosa has also been a winner, part of the mint family like teucrium, it has produced its pink flowers for nine months of the year. Not so Acca sellowiana, formerly feijoa, also called pineapple guava, which has simply sulked. Unless it adapts to my conditions I may have to replace it although I have not totally lost hope. Nearby a ten year old metrosideros which I was on the point of dumping earned a reprieve by finally blooming late last summer. Sometimes gardening is all about being patient!

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