Using the powers granted to me (by virtue of being the only one in the house that really cares), I have commandeered more of the front lawn. I’ve widened the borders to about 6 feet deep so there is now plenty of scope for new planting. I’ve designated these Borders 8 & 9, Border 7 was finished the other week, and Borders 1 to 6 are in the back garden.
I first had to wrestle with the thicket that sits on the boundary with next door. It involves a monster forsythia, an unruly laurel, and what I think is a large laburnum tree. For good measure, this mess also had a good deal of creeping ivy and worst of all, bindweed. I set to with my new pruning saw, which made short work of the branches, but left me with a large pile to clear away.
Once cleared and dug over a little, I mulched the ground, using whatever I had left, a motley collection including spent mushroom compost, manure compost, manure, enriched topsoil and more manure. The front garden is certainly smelling more, well, fertile than it was before. Not sure if that’s quite the welcome to the house my wife had in mind, but it’s a temporary olfactory effect. The soil was pretty poor before, very dry and sandy with no real structure, not conducive to good growth or healthy plants. The thick mulch should improve matters over the next few months and I’ll add some compost from the heap later in the year, for good measure.
As with the other border planting I’ve been able to do this year, the vast majority of the plants were grown from seed, cuttings or by divisions. There is a smattering of bought plants, usually from the clearance shelves of my local garden centres, but these are very much in the minority.
As with Border 7, I have not drawn up a planting plan. I figure that the baseline appearance of the front garden was so poor, almost anything will be a great improvement. That said, I did put a bit of thought into what should go where, laying out all the pots in their intended positions prior to planting out.
On a whim, I also bought a few packets of seeds, so I needed to remember to leave enough room in the planting for them. I have tried to sow in Jekyll-style, longish raking runs, rather than in patches which will look bare for a while. It’s a bit late to be sowing now, but we’ll see. I’ve got some hollyhocks, lupins and cosmos. I’m not too worried about the first two, they are perennials so even if I don’t get any flowers this year they should establish enough to make it through the winter for next year. The cosmos though are a bit of a punt. I’ve had very little luck with cosmos this year, but they were all sown in trays or modules, so I’m keen to see if sowing direct fares any better.
Anyhow, here is how the planting finished up. I’ll work my way around from the right side of Border 8 which is directly in front of the hedge (a grand term for it) between our property and next door. In each group I’ll start from the back and work forwards.
First up is a large group of helenium autumnale. Some of these are from divisions I took earlier in the year, some grown from seed taken from last years flowers. The divisions were a surprise, I thought slugs had basically destroyed them, eating all the foliage from the stems. A while back, I cut off the affected top half or so of the stem, and since then those plants have all branched off and now have two, sometimes three stems, each of which should produce plenty of flowers. I think I’ll apply that general principle to next year’s growth. Anyhow, in front of the helenium are some oriental poppies and an osteospermum I rescued from B&Q, then some berkheya to continue the run round the corner from Border 7, and finally some more dianthus ‘brilliancy’, of which I seem to have a more-or-less inexhaustible supply.
Moving further along, at the back are my last three honesty plants. They’re annuals, I think, so I’ll replace with something else next year. In front of those are all my remaining penstemon ‘husker red’, grown from seed. In between the helenium and the penstemon is where I’ve sown the cosmos seeds. Next is a little group of lychnis coronaria, grown from seed taken from the white form last year. They will probably come up white, but I may be lucky and get the mixed pink/white form. In front of those, but not very visible, are two clumps of poppies I rescued from our local garden centre. They are past it for this year, so I’ve cut them back to the ground. They are semi-evergreen, so they should put up some more foliage this year, and I hope, a good display next spring.
Next to the honesty is a lilac ‘palibin’, a rescue job, which just needed a tidy up and a light prune. It looks fine now, and should grow to about 5 feet. Next to that are my last three geum ‘mrs j bradshaw’. In front of those are a group of dahlias. All are grown from cuttings taken this year from tubers as they were coming into growth. They are mostly ‘bishops children’, with a ‘black jack’ and a ‘caribbean fantasy’ thrown in for good measure. At the front is a very ropy looking group of veronica, which I’m afraid I have largely ignored since potting them on a month or two. They are a bit leggy, floppy and dry. I’m hoping they’ll perk up now they’ve got a bit of room and a regular watering. They may not do much this year, but should be OK next year.
Moving across again, the far back corner is where I’ve sown the hollyhock. In front of those are 3 red phormiums (or are they cordylines?) that I divided earlier in the year. Next to the hollyhocks, along the wall, are another group of heleniums, all from seed this time. Moving along the wall again, next is a small shrub, rescued from the local garden centre. It’s an exochorda macrantha ‘the bride’, the pearl bush. I failed to get one of these going from a hardwood cutting, so I was pleased to be able to buy one very cheaply. It will need a bit of support and shaping next spring, but should be fine I think. Between the helenium and this shrub is where I’ve sown the lupins, so fingers crossed it’s not too late for them.
The red flowers are on some lychnis arkwrightii, which have not impressed so far as plants, grown from seed this year. I am only half hopeful that they’ll fill out and do something worthwhile this year, maybe they’ll be OK next year but if not they’ll come out. Further along the wall is a weeny cornus sanguinea ‘midwinter fire’. This was a sucker given to me by a neighbour. It’s still small but should grow on quite happily. In front of that are some alchemilla mollis, divisions from the back garden. In front of those are some ivy-leaved pelargoniums, bought for pennies in B&Q, and I think some more lychnis coronaria at the front.
Next to those is a small weigela ‘monet’ shrub which was looking a bit poorly. I’ve given it a trim and pruned some damaged stems and it looks OK now. It does not grow very large, 60x60cm, so should be fine at the front. The final stretch, in front of the yellow flowering spirea shrub, are all either aquilegia ‘greenapples’ or digitalis parviflora, plus one small division of pheasants tail grass.
Over 100 plants went in to these two borders, plus whatever I get from the seeds. Adding in Border 7, well over 200 plants have gone into the front garden. This would obviously be very expensive if I just bought them all for £5 plus a plant, but in fact I have done this pretty cheaply, with the main investment being my time over the last few months, which I begrudge not one bit.
It all looks a little bare and low right now, but it will all fill out over the summer, and will look great next year I hope. Whatever happens, it will be a vast improvement anyway on what was there before, mainly weeds. I just need to sort out what remains of the lawn which is very dry and weedy.
I’ll be back in a few weeks with an update on developments in the front garden..