Vandalism in the Garden

By Dr. Pat Nair

Chop, chop.. dig, dig and plant plant…, the gardening calendar begins in autumn.  As you try to salvage the apples and pears your friends did not take or the birds did not want, you begin to entertain the idea of vandalism, hold that thought, this is the time to take your secateurs or even a saw to the withering and sad looking branches past their prime.  Be merciless, think of the receptionist at the local GP surgery you couldn’t get past to get an appointment, the job gets easier.

It may hurt you to chop down the rose bush which gave you immense pleasure all summer. Be sure to wear gloves.  If you had forgotten to feed and water the poor plant and pour permethrin over it during summer you may consider cutting of the roots and letting it out of its miserable existence.  But do not do this; it is surprising how forgiving the plants are. Come spring they would have produced pretty new shoots and it is a new plant all over again.  If you are not aggravated at the time, of course you can delay the chopping till spring for roses, but you would have wasted valuable nutrients which would have otherwise been conserved by the plant during the dormant winter period.  Do the same to your beautiful Lavatera with hibiscus like flowers. If you do not have a saw break the branch with your bear hands- always very satisfying.  You can always repeat the session in spring, but be careful not to chop down plants which flower on previous year’s growth, such as jasmine or forsythia.  End result is a lushful leafy growth with no flowers.

This is also the time to pull out the plants you do not like and redesign your garden.  As for me there not many plants that I would throw out, all have a place in my garden, except perhaps pampas grass.  Even a so called miniature variety soon overtakes a small garden.  Pulling it out takes at least two people.  Enlist the help of your summer guests, tell them how rewarding the exercise is especially for you.  They will stay away for the next few years!

Be friends with designer gardeners.  They always redesign their gardens, throwing out what they do not like.  One of my friends is good at this.  I have collected many a specimen from his waste bin, which his wife always saves for me.  They thrive in my garden ever grateful for saving them from the compost heap.  Cheap and efficient way of increasing your stock!  Then there are serious gardeners, they grow plants from seeds and enjoy sharing them with the less inclined.  You do not need to seek them out, they will find you.

Creating a garden from a barren landscape is one of the most satisfying experiences.  When we moved to a new house a few years ago the back garden had plenty of plants, dandelions, nettles tumbleweed and many of their relatives.  We sighed as the builders rotavated the weeds and the bare red soil glared at us.  Those who drop in on you are suddenly experts, eager to advice you like those who come to admire a new-born baby.  George who came to help us with digging a hole in the ground to prepare a pond said ‘plant Leylandi along the fence, it sucks the life out of lesser plants and are worse than a factor 98 sun screen. ‘Dig a trench and fill it with ericaceous compost’ advised another friend seeing my plants wilt under the shadow of our neighbour’s monstrous Leylandi.  Neither did the alkaline dry soil in the garden nourish the standard popular plants stocked by garden centres.  (weeds thrived better).  Do not heed this well meant advice either, unless your partner or best friend is an Osteopath.  Besides plants follow laws of nature, they grow where the environment suits them.  If you have alkaline soil choose lime loving plants, do not waste money on Rhododendrons, camellias, acers (beautiful though they are in acid soil) or alstromera species.  There are several varieties of Clematis you will enjoy, hebes are not fussy and poppy’s and meconopsis will run riot in an alkaline garden.  Plants in its natural habitat thrive like Jeremy Clarkson trying out a new model of Mercedes.  Unnatural environment, and the plant is like the same man on a two wheeler.

Autumn is also the time to plant bulbs for spring and for planting shrubs.  Daffodils and Tulips, lilies if you can get them, (remember there are lime loving and lime hating varieties).  Dig deep before planting. I am usually very grateful to my colleagues when it comes to planting. I think of the most obnoxious NHS manager or consultant, and the effect in spring is fantastic.

Shrubs have the whole autumn to get used to your garden, by spring they would have established their roots.  Remember to water a newly planted shrub every day, if you want a thriving specimen for summer.  The first year of its tiny life in your garden determines its stature just like the feeding in first year determines the size of a baby’s fat cells and its future obesity.

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