In this monthly series I try to review the borders as a whole. Do they work, are there gaps, do I like the overall effect, do plants need moving or removing? Shall we take a spin?
Rear Garden

Border 1 – the patio border. Nearly everything presently in this border is untidy looking. I am not happy with it. I’ve decided that this border will get a serious re-vamp next year. When push comes to shove, there’s just not enough in it that I love. I’ve identified a bit of lawn that can be sacrificed to extend the length of this border and change its shape somewhat. That will be a project for late autumn or possibly winter. The loosestrife is straggly looking, it didn’t appreciate the dry summer, despite frequent soaking. In fact it’s all a bit straggly looking. It’s on borrowed time.
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Border 2 – the sunny border. This looked great a couple of months back, and still looks OK in places, but there are things I want to change for next year. My eyes have been opened to the joys of annuals this year. I haven’t bothered much previously, preferring to stick to perennials which pay back the seed sowing/growing with longevity and encore performances. Tagetes ‘cinnabar’ has been a hit, I have saved seeds and will grow again. The tithonia is another winner, along with cosmos sulphureous. Seeds have been saved. I think I would plant more tithonia towards the middle of the border. I’d like some ricinus too, for added height and foliage interest. I hope the roses and clematis on the fence line, mostly absent without leave in these photos, stop sulking and establish good roots over the winter. I am expecting better things. One of the roses has been stripped bare of foliage, sawfly I assume. Not sure if that will come out to play next year or not. I have an abutilon ‘suntense’ I could fit in this border, so could swap that out. I had visions of hiding that fence this year, but have only been partially successful, clematis ‘mme Julia correvon’ making most of the running. There are two, bookending the border, I am looking forward to those next year, along with their slower-out-of-the-blocks cousins. I have several geraniums that should be ready to plant next spring, they should do good service towards the front of the border. I also have in mind a forest of verbena bonariensis for the front, an effect I have tried and failed to create the last couple of years. I was expecting the one or two plants I had to self seed and colonise, but nothing doing. I have resorted to buying a packet of seed! Anyhow, two borders in and lots of plans.

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Border 3 – the wisteria border. The new border surrounding the seating area, collectively known as the Eye of Sauron, has settled in pretty well. I’m particularly pleased with the persicaria ‘fat domino’. I grew these from seed this year and they have grown on enthusiastically and thrown up many flower spikes. Next year should be fabulous. There are plenty of annuals in this border too, calendula ‘snow princess’, tagetes and cosmos again, plus zinnia, all of which I would happily grown again, assuming my eye isn’t taken by something else. The original border in front of the wisteria trellis has been somewhat upstaged by the new one surrounding the seating area. I have some remedial work to do on the original, it needs a bit of a clear out and a rethink. How exciting. The backdrop is taken care of, the wisteria, hops, clematis and roses take care of that between them, I’m pretty happy with that, although would like to see the roses and clematis combo establish more next year. But there are yawning gaps where I could have height, interest and colour. Must try harder. It’s not all bad though – a recent highlight has been a zingy purple aster. I will look to divide that in the spring, spread the love a bit. I don’t want to sound overly negative, as an overall effect, I’m pretty happy with the new shape. Some opportunities to improve is all.

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Border 4, the lilac border. One end of this border is in more or less full sun, the other is in partial shade. The phlox is done, the only flowering of any note is owing to the clump of Aster ‘Little Carlow’. It is a lot taller than last year for some reason. Back to the phlox, I’m less and less convinced by the white phlox, I think I want more colour. I also have to give some serious consideration to the dwarf lilac. It is getting less and less dwarf. It’s not excessively tall, by any means, but it is getting increasingly wide and dominating the border. It’s nice enough when it flowers, but that doesn’t last long and the rest of the time it’s rather dull and occupies more space than it deserves. Since I have a good backdrop with the spreading wisteria and a well established clematis or two, I need height less than I need variety. It might have to go. The fatsia at the end is a keeper – it is evergreen, the leaves are an interesting form, and the flowers are a bit bonkers.

Border 5 – the shady border. Nothing has been done to this border over the summer, other than a very occasional watering. It has fared much better than the sunnier borders which required frequent drenching to keep even passingly presentable. The abelia that I pruned back hard in the winter has grown on quite well and is flowering away. A bit too well actually, the new growth is sprawling over a lot of underplanting I put in after pruning. Those will struggle unless I do something about it. Perhaps I can try to raise the shrub a little by trimming the lower branches, or maybe by providing a little support. In general I am happy with the underplanting I’ve added over the last couple of years, the border looks pretty well stuffed now. I’ll tinker with it, of course. The pittosporum is still leaning drunkenly, my efforts at staking having failed – the stake is still there but the rubber tie keeps slipping. I have thought of using a bungee cord, but I notice that the shrub is throwing out new vertical growth from closer to the base of the trunk. I might take a more radical approach and lop off the entire canopy and upper trunk in the hope that it will re-establish in a more vertical fashion from the bottom up. What’s the worst that can happen? Further along, I’m still a little dissatisfied with the gap between the dogwood and the nandina. It is lacking height. I have planted some shade tolerant eurybia divaricate, or white wood aster, behind the hostas, but they will get to maybe 60cm so perhaps not enough. Maybe I need an interesting but non-invasive bamboo in there.

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Border 6 – the inadequate border. I’ll settle on a better name when I’ve taken steps to make it more adequate. Extending the border has been on my to-do list for months now, but I will make that happen before the winter is out. I first need to move the washing line, perhaps I’ll get that done this weekend. I plan to lift the turf inside the line of the path, so more or less all the grass seen in the photo will go. That should provide a planting area 3 or 4 times the size of the current inadequacy. The penstemon is still putting out sporadic flowers, the gaura is going strong, if a little sprawly, and the helenium are doing their thing. I planted three eryngium, grown from cuttings, at the right end of this border. They show no signs of flowering at all, to the point where I am even beginning to doubt they are actually eryngium. If they aren’t I am guilty of perpetrating a fraud on this here blog. The foliage certainly looks like eryngium planum, and I certainly had an eryngium in the general area of the plant from which I grew these cuttings – circumstantial evidence for the defence. I will hold on till next year in hope. Anyhow, better things to come for this border next year.

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Side passage – the planters on the sunny side are doing well, the various clematis, honeysuckle and roses are making themselves at home. The c. montanas in particular are living up to their mile-a-minute moniker. I am looking forward to those providing some good colour in early spring next year. I have plans and indeed plants, for another two or three planters on the sunny side. I just need to build them – shed jobs for dark winter evenings. The shady side is a different matter, a more mixed bag. The ferny shelf-thing, a living wall affair, is doing OK. I was concerned about keeping it moist but being in full shade it seems to tolerate a couple of weeks or more between waterings. The various ferns were all bought small so are establishing at various rates. Next year should be more fulsome. There are two other planters on this side. One contains a climbing rose and some hosta. I’ll give it 6 out of 10 for effort. The other, larger, planter is in full shade, tucked in the corner. It got pretty full but did nothing exciting. It was planted with a random selection of plant gubbins I had kicking about. I’ve removed the astilbe which were old and scrubby examples. That leaves some anonymous hosta and some leggy fuchsia. The clematis I had in here, theoretically tolerant of a bit of shade, did not thrive. I have ejected it so have a spot for a fully shade tolerant climber. Suggestions gratefully received. In general, I want this planter to earn its keep next year, I’ll start again. Some thought is required. Overall though, the side passage is a much more interesting place than it was a year ago, solid progress.

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Front Garden

Border 7, 8 and 9. The front garden lost the plot in the hot months of June through August, getting very dry and weedy as I focused on keeping the rear garden alive. Eventually I got around to hooking up the irrigation system which along with a good tidy up has contributed to a modest revival in fortunes. There are opportunities to improve. When I first did the work 15 months or so ago, the plants that went in were a slightly random selection of perennials I happened to have in my waiting area – a mix of seed grown and pity-bench purchases. Some of those have not done well, some are good, and some I just don’t like that much. Talking of plants I don’t like, the nicotania of which I thought I was rid, have made a self-sown return. They’ll have to come out, they are swamping some angelica gigas that I actually want. Bigger picture though, given the limited time I spend caring for the front garden, it is still a huge improvement over the weedy mess that was there a couple of years ago.

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That concludes the Border Patrol for this increasingly autumnal month. There is a definite theme emerging of change, planting ideas required, plants that will need sourcing, sowing or growing. A gardener’s work is never done.

I’ll be back next month for another spin round the borders.

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