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December 2007

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Penstemon cuttings, self-sowers and spreaders, and strobilanthes

In mid to late summer this garden is greatly enhanced by the border penstemons, which come in an increasing, and confusing, number of varieties. No matter, they are bright and unfailingly cheerful and easily propagated from cuttings, which I take in September. I'm also taking cuttings this month of pelargoniums and fuchsias, both also very easy to propagate in this way. Late and severe frost this spring led to unexpectedly heavy losses in these semi-tender plants. Normally they come through the winter with but minor damage.

Last autumn that wonderful broom-like member of the pea family Psoralea pinnata and the nearby Paeonia veitchii ‘Woodwardii' both gave me bonus seedlings around their bases.

Like most gardeners I love plants which self-sow and my garden in May would be much the poorer without the aquilegias which spring up just about everywhere. I've noticed also that some plants that have never seeded around seem to suddenly decide to expand their presence and seedlings mysteriously appear just before the parent plant dies. Others after years of civility make an unwelcome bid for world domination.

In between are those that scatter a few seed in the right place and pleasantly surprise me during my perennial weeding. Last autumn that wonderful broom-like member of the pea family Psoralea pinnata and the nearby Paeonia veitchii ‘Woodwardii' both gave me bonus seedlings around their bases. I don't have to grub around for some other plants. Most digitalis here have made themselves very much at home, and in the last year the two-metre tall Cephalaria gigantea has learned to compete with the thugs that surround it and has colonised that border to an alarming degree. The compost heap will benefit this month!

In contrast to the self-sowers are those plants that send out runners. These can be equally desirable or dangerous depending on the degree. One such is the Chinese lantern, Physalis alkekengi, which wanders around at will. It has dull foliage and insignificant white flowers in summer but brightens up the autumn garden with its well-known orange lanterns.

More unusual autumn colour is provided by the shrubby blue-flowered Strobilanthes attenuata which I grow in deep shade and the smaller Strobilanthes dyeriana which grows at the front of the border. This latter has spread into a large clump and every year now I take off a few big lumps. Last year I also removed some side shoots from one of the rare plants in this garden which has never flowered although I have it for six years. This is Farfugium japonicum crispatum, a member of the daisy family, but the daisies I have never seen. It was badly damaged by a late spring frost this year and has only recently recovered fully.

 

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