Less is more

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Anemone x hybrida, the Japanese windflower starts to bloom in March

As I have written in a previous blog, March is my favourite month of the gardening year. It is the time when summer flowerers seem to get a second wind just as the early autumn blooms begin to open - so the garden seems fuller and more floriferous than at any other time of the year.

Highlights include numerous Salvia, Dahlia, Canna, Fuchsia, Begonia and many Acanthaceae family members that are carrying on from summer - plus Plectranthus species, Camellia sasanqua, perennial Aster cultivars, Japanese windflowers and Lycoris bulbs that are emerging for their annual autumn display.

This year I am reaping the benefits of a concerted effort last spring to move plants around where there were too many of them growing in various borders. I was finding that many plants were not performing at their best because they basically had no room to develop their full potential. It is such a temptation for plant-lovers to overplant, because they want to cram in as many plants as they can. Unfortunately, this can be counterproductive because the result is a plethora of specimens all competing for space, light, water and nutrients - with none of them looking that great. In some cases, plants can actually be smothered to death when stronger plants grow over them. During my border renovations, I actually had to compost plants that I had no space anywhere else for, which was quite a painful thing to do at the time. Luckily, with advancing age, one tends to forget all about them after a while once they are gone, so it is all good in the end! The results of the cull are now revealing themselves, and I like what I see.

Salvia Meigans Magic, left, beginning to bloom

One particular plant group that benefits from being given more space, is the Salvia. As I mentioned in my talk at the Cottage Garden Club recently, many Salvia require quite a large amount of space to grow to their proper size - and this means width as well as height. In some cases, I have had to turf out some of my specimens completely because I just don't have enough room for them. I am tending to favour more compact varieties that can be shoehorned into smaller spaces. Often, it takes a while to realise how much space they require! My Salvia 'Meigan's Magic', for example, was originally squashed into a border where it was allotted about a metre of space between a Pentas and another couple of Salvia plants. I fondly assumed it was a fairly small-growing cultivar. However, Meigan had other ideas and cheerfully took over about two metres of the bed, leaving the other plants cowering and half-dead, but her own shape was still constrained. I have since moved her to a corner bed of her own, where she developed a lovely rounded shape over summer, and is about to come into full bloom. A similar-looking plant that needs space around it is the cultivar 'Phyllis' Fancy', which I have given a better position in a bed elsewhere.

Aster nova-angliae Violetta

Another success has been a lovely perennial Aster nova-angliae I was given many years ago called 'Violetta'. This had been swamped by a lusty Iresine herbstii 'Brillantissima' and last year only had about one meagre flowering spike. With the Iresine summarily despatched to the compost heap last spring, the Aster has developed into a gorgeous mass of deep purple daisies, delighting me every time I walk past it at the moment.

Dahlia Moonfire

Another victory has been with the pretty single-flowered Dahlia cultivar ' 'Moonfire', which has lovely tawny-yellow flowers with deep orange markings. It had been swamped by the embrace of a vigorous Manettia luteorubra vine, which I grow (probably foolishly) as a sort of rambling groundcover in my hot-coloured border, and was also overshadowed by a number of self-sown red Salvia coccinea plants - and flowered poorly last year. Freed from these neighbours, it has developed into a sturdy clump this year, with many flowers.

Gaura lindheimeri

Some plants need to be placed completely on their own without any other large plants nearby, in order to be seen at their best. These are usually willowy, wispy sorts of plants that lose their shape unless they have plenty of space around them. Gaura lindheimeri in my garden grows from cracks in the paving with only low-growing groundcovers nearby, and is able to develop its diaphanous wands studded with dainty pink or white flowers to great effect. Nicotiana langsdorffii is another plant that needs to be on its own to look any good. Ornamental grasses such as Miscanthus sinensis cultivars - which are all coming into bloom now and looking sensational - also need lots of space left around them so they can develop their natural arching shape and form a good-sized clump.

It's very difficult to be hard-hearted when it comes to plants, but in gardening as in many other areas of life, sometimes less is more. And autumn is a great time of year to remodel your borders!