Gardening with Busy Lizzie

Busy Lizzie
Busy Lizzie

Spring is once again upon us and has, yet again, caught Yours Truly completely unawares.

I have been so busy concentrating on the re-generation project that other areas of the plot have been sorely neglected.

Anyway, now the fortnightly garden rubbish collections have resumed (I know that saving money is the object but do the Council really think that all garden work stops in the winter?) I have had no excuse not to have a good clear out.

Some three rolls of bags later and the overall look of the garden has improved significantly, not least because I can now see all the bulbs which are rapidly emerging instead of looking at piles of leaves and broken twigs.

Of course, I have merrily chopped down the Physocarpus again.

I planted this shrub and two more to go with it three years ago.

The variety is ‘Diabolo’ and it has lovely purple leaves which set off some of the brighter colours in that particular border to a treat.

What I didn’t do was label the wretched thing so every year it is mistaken for an herbaceous plant and cut back accordingly.

It has not seemed to mind too much but, never having had the chance to ripen wood, it has never flowered and probably won’t this year either.

The other thing which I have done is to rip out the stakes that I had carefully placed in the bed to hold up the floppier members of the community, under the misapprehension that these were also dead flower stems.

I must have left my brain indoors on that particular day as staking is a most necessary job but one which I loathe.

I say a most necessary job because my garden faces north west and many plants grow tall in their search of light.

Light levels are something that need to be taken in to consideration when planning a planting scheme.

Most plant labels will give advice as to where to plant, which enables the gardener to choose accordingly, but there is no substitute for getting out with a compass and watching as the sun passes over the garden throughout the day.

That spot which was always a bit dry and baked may only be so because it is east facing and will not have as much sun as you thought so may not be suitable for the sun-loving plants which you have intended to place there.

Similarly, a dingy north facing plot may support straggly growth and unhealthy flowers on most plants but will be an ideal spot for ferns and ivies.

It is possible to play about with direction by ‘turning’ a bed or border to face the direction you want.

You can do this by placing a screen behind the border, such as a small hedge, fence or collection of shrubs or small trees, which will provide shelter from the nastier elements but will also capture sunlight and hold it for the benefit of the plants in front – a little like a storage heater, and if you have ever put your hand on a brick wall at the end of a long hot day, you will know exactly what I mean.

Consideration should also be given to the shade cast by the taller elements in the garden (including your house) which may well completely alter the growing conditions for those plants caught within it.

This may be worked to our advantage; it can be difficult to turn a south facing garden in to a shade-lovers paradise but planting underneath shrubs and trees and the shadows which they cast should give them a little shelter, provided that the soil is fertile and that you mulch well.

Providing shelter is also necessary and this is often in the form of fences, walls and hedges.

Many of us also garden with a shared boundary, often defined by some such structure or planting.

Covering these or making them more attractive can be a problem, particularly if your neighbour is not green-fingered.

Many tales of woe have been heard of the snip-snip of secateurs destroying tender, flowering shoots of Clematis and Lonicera which have been carefully trained up hideous larch-lap fences in an attempt to cover them up.

Worse still are the thwarted attempts to inject some shape in to a hedge by creative clipping, only to see it destroyed in one sweep of an electric hedge trimmer.

However, if one is careful (and gets on with one’s neighbour) it is possible to clothe these structures with great effect.

Having a south facing fence to cover may cause many to leap with joy (see how starved I am of sunlight here!) and immediately plant some exotic climbers such as Freemontodenron (Californian Glory Vine) or Trachelospermum jasminoides, remembering to train them on wires set horizontally along the fence.

Hedges can be successfully under planted with a variety of dry shade lovers such as Athyrium and Blechnum ferns, Lamiums (dead nettle) and Geranium sanguineum.

Put some work in to the soil before planting by incorporating some organic matter.

If the soil is too compacted and rooty from the hedging plants, teasing this out with a small fork will not do too much harm.

Any incorporation of organic matter will not do the hedge any harm either, although you may find yourself having to clip it more often!

Walls can be stuffed with drought loving succulents such as Sedums and House Leeks, which require no soil at all.

There is generally a plant for every situation in the garden and, as long as you plant accordingly, there is no excuse for leaving a bare patch of ground because it is too dry/wet/dark etc.

Plant according to situation and you will not go far wrong, as long, that is, as you remember where you have planted it and do not chop it down every year before it has a chance to grow.

Time, I think, to invest in some labels and a pen with some indelible ink.


GOOD – Bamboo stakes to be pushed in and around plants, some straight, some hooped.

Requires string or wire to tie in with and caps to fit on top if you do not want to remove an eye when working in the border. From 10p each.

BETTER – Twiggy sticks from the garden and hedge, ideally Hazel but prunings of Dogwood, Birch etc will work just as well.

Push in and around each plant to be supported.

Look completely natural, provide excellent support and are absolutely free but need to be replaced yearly.

BEST – Proprietary plastic covered metal stakes in a variety of sizes and shapes designed to support individual plants or to link together within a border.

Easy to insert and will last for years if stored indoors over winter.

Come with a variety of attachments for every eventuality.

From £2.99 for starter kits, widely available.