Since moving in September 20 I have been plagued with thoughts over what to do with the seven by one metre rectangular border on the northern side of our house. When we first moved in, it was a sea of weeds, notably Hydrangeas and Creeping Buttercups as well as some not so lovely Rock Roses and all sorts of Hebe cuttings (seedlings) which had just not taken well. There had been mulch applied, but apparently not very thickly as this had broken down quite rapidly and fertilised the weeds! Not an ideal situation, it sucked!
For some time I only had vague ideas of what to plant in place of this washed out vision of pastels. Being on a northern wall was never going to lend itself to beautiful packed borders of hardy perennials and luscious annuals, what would suffice would be plants for a shady border. Right from the off I ran into problems owing to phrasing. See, to me a border that gets no sunlight at all would be what I would term as “shady” as it’s y’know, in the freakin’ shade. However, the gardening fraternity likes to mislead, notably Katherine Crouch’s otherwise entertaining You tube video on planting up a shady border at which point she does report “the plot is now in full sun!” – WHAT? Is this the gardening equivalent of click bait? In addition there are terms such as “semi shady” for when a site gets sun for only five hours per day! The mind boggles at what people seem to think shade is.
I decided to go my own way and do a lot of googling around, taking into account the conditions of where such and such a plant likes to grow when it’s in its natural habitat, which would lead me to …trees. See, it turns out that the entire Acer genus (Maples etc) tend to grow on the outskirts of forests. In such situations they can be said to be semi shady in that for a few hours per day they would get some sunlight but then as the sun moves west and is blocked out by larger neighbouring trees – like as in a forest, they don’t get diddly squat until tomorrow. As I already had a budding (fnar, fnar) collection of Acers coming on, I decided to use these. I did already have my “Firecracker” in place. However, Chris had her reservations given that trees, even little trees, sometimes get bigger than your average domestic border. I immediately latched on to the idea deployed by Dave in Bolton who simply keeps his Acers in pots, bit of a no-brainer really! In addition this would give us the chance to take a massive leap forward in the battle with the weeds, we could put anything we wanted on the ground as the Acers would be in pots! We got some weed-proof membrane for not much at all really. One dose of serendipity later: Asda were knocking out “Cotswold Cream” stone chippings at three bags for £9.00, in total we ended up with 36 bags, costing us £108 but I think to have had this done by a gardening company would have cost at least quadruple that, so a big win to Chris’s eye for remembering bargains. That Wednesday night we picked up 18 bags, handballed them from the boot of the car and Chris duly raked them into shape. We ran out of stones and had a minor distraction going to see the lovely back garden of our neighbours from a cross the road (Rob and James). Then it was back down to Asda for another 18 bags. By 21:15 that night, all of the stones were in place and looking great.
So by now the shady border of old is looking decidedly less shady owing to the lightness of the Cotswold Creams, and they really do make my Acer Palmatum ‘Firecracker’ pop (this was planted directly in the ground with a little bit of ordinary as “Westland” compost, as soon as I bought it two weeks ago). We’d managed to go around the three Pyracantha which I had relocated. Prior to this we had bought two wooden planters from the Leyland Garden Centre (the one which changes owner every two years) which were smaller than the ones in our back garden but I thought would suffice for my purposes. Saturday morning saw we lugging (in the rain) these two planters around to the shady border and fill them with the sandiest Ericaceous compost that I’d ever seen (actually this was the first time I’d ever encountered the stuff before). I planted the Katsura first (purely in alphabetical order) and added some annuals including two self-sown Cosmos and then the Phoenix in the next planter with the same annuals. I must admit that both of the Acers were looking a little bit poorly – in need of a bit of a feed perhaps and their new location will greatly assist with this as I won’t be able to walk past without a quick inspection. At the moment they are the headline grabbers as the accompanying plants are essentially just fillers but as these are Petunias and a couple of White Geraniums then some attention (hopefully) should come their way
once they come into flower and again, owing to the position, I should be more attentive with the dead-heading…and feeding. Sunday came along and I popped up (with Southport’s current road situation there is no ‘popping’ anywhere to be honest) to Briarlee Garden Centre at Banks to see if they had any cheaper Ericaceous compost. I was in luck, they did and it was £4.50 for 56 litres as opposed to the £6.99 per 35 litres that Dobbies had fleeced out of me! I also grabbed a bargain ’10 basket plants for £10 and these will be referred to later. It was hard deciding which Acers from my now seven-strong collection (three already now being in use) to put into their terracotta pots I had picked up the week before from Leyland but the first one was always going to be the little ‘Atro’ who’s leaves were beginning to look a little burned but still needs some sunlight. The obvious place for this, next to the ‘Welcome Border’ as this does get afternoon sun, which all red/purple Acers require.
Also on Saturday, in the seemingly never ending rain, Chris transformed the Winter Border from a weed state into a handsome little border once more. I had unwittingly (?) imported a whole colony of “Sticky Willie” which was running amok amongst the Nano-jungle of Narcissus leaves and flopped over foliage from my three Hellebores and Primulas. It just looks so much better now, hats of to you Chris.
Since I started this post, as it’s taken such a long time to edit, the three remaining Acers: Seiryu, Emerald Lace and another Katsura have evicted a Cornus Siberica from its winter – spring pot and now stand at the north-east-facing corner of the house – they should get some morning light but I would bet that it won’t be enough to burn their delicate foliage.
The “Welcome Border” has received yet another severe weeding (this is what happens when the developers throw bark mulch around in a willy-nilly manner!) and now has received a trellis with two Clematis set to grow up it – once I have learned to tie them to the thing without beheading the poor plants.
The next update will be shorter and subsequent ones more regular! That’s all for now.