Pot’s Growing On: Waking from hibernation

Our garden is into its fourth year now and I’m continuing to play around with things, add new plants and the colour palette is slowly evolving. I’m excited about ‘the big grow’ this year and new plants being started from seed across February and March.

The teenage years

The thing that strikes me about this winter is that some of our plants must be at that magical point of being “established”. Astrantia and Brunnera are seriously clumping, Alliums are multiplying and shrubs are chunking up. Most of my ferns are dividing like the clappers. The third spring since most plants were added to the garden and everything is taking on its own life in a new way. Even my cloud pruned topiary Buxus is finally looking like ‘something’ (no doubt to be struck down immediately by blight).

I’ve refreshed the framework on my cloud pruned Box topiary. Perhaps this year finally it will look like something…

Temperature watch

It’s been a good winter. In January our garden had a solid few weeks of minus figures and frost for the first time in the four years we’ve been collecting data in our weather station. The daffodils are definitely back on track for spring in London this year rather than the freaky flowering of December 2015.

That said, our garden’s microclimate has never been more apparent. My frost tender Echiums in the garden are unscathed, unlike my allotment grown ones that were frosted to a black mush. Other plants like the tender Rhodochiton atrosanguineus vine are still alive if not yet kicking and the original Canna ‘Assaut’ has been multiplying underground like rabbits.

Grasses progress

Yesterday I cut back all of the deciduous ornamental grasses because new shoots are coming through already, catching me by surprise. In fact, two of them, a Calamagrostis and Hakonechloa were shooting a couple of weeks ago. Surprisingly despite a colder winter, some Miscanthus and Pennisetum are still green from last year.

On Littlebury Road one of the Calamagrostis species was showing new shoots in January despite the temperatures hitting -5C. Some Pennisetum species are still green, a result of our microclimate rather than their sudden magical hardiness.
I’m more excited about the grasses than anything at the moment because they tend to look better with age. I’ve been obsessing about their role in design for a while now and last year grew a huge variety from seed. All of the trials have had good results but it’s clearly apparent that some, like Briza media, are delicate little things and difficult to keep looking good as a result. Compared to the more robust Pennisetum, for instance.

The big chop chop!

I love pruning and chopping – if you ever worry that pruning is hard, that’s a myth. Methodical yes, but above all, enjoyable. Almost everything that needs to be chopped back in our garden now has been (I’m impatient and tend to cut a month earlier than the books say). Including both the Clematis Group 2 and 3, either to the ground or about 60cm from it to grow taller into the trees. Sambucus and Buddleia too. It’s really only the Eucalyptus, Fuchsias and Salvias to go now, which I’ll save until March when the harshest weather has passed.

Changes to the garden’s look and feel

Our garden hasn’t changed that much since we revamped it but naturally, it is evolving. Naturally by means of the plants growing and by me tinkering and succumbing to the annual tsunami of catalogues through our letter box.

If my original plan had all of the colours selected like an artist’s palette in neat little blobs of pinks, reds and plum, the current plan has seen my hand smudge them all together into an undefined whirl.

Considering very few plants have ever been removed, it’s usually with a rebellious smirk that I find myself cramming even more plants in. This year, the only way is up and more climbers need to be added. What these will be I haven’t decided yet, but I have a few seeds in the propagator to trial.

New Polypodium cultivars and species waiting in the wings to be added to our fern wall in spring.
Other additions include more Dahlias, taking my collection up to about 50 cultivars now (across garden and allotment), swapping the Eryngium planum for Cirsium. Readying some new grasses raised from seed including Nassella tenuissima and more Deschampsia. I’ll also be introducing ten new Polypodiums from Fibrex nursery to my fern wall collection of fifty odd fern species.

Into spring

Next time I write, here on Littlebury Road our season will be well underway. Sowing starts early for us in February (earlier than you’re supposed to so don’t copy us!) with most being sown for home and allotment in March.

By March, I’ll also be able to report if our spring white garden has been a success. I suspect not as there still aren’t enough plants but at least we’ll have some interesting white flowers to see us through until the colour madness begins in April.

Into the growing season then…

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Jack Wallington

I'm an RHS qualified garden designer living in Clapham, London who loves growing plants and designing with them. Follow me on Twitter.

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