Monday 28 September 2015

Of minor reshuffles, and free plants

The last weekend of September; fresh, sunny days, cold nights, and misty mornings. Autumn arrived with the most perfect weekend weather for gardening I can recall, and the torrential downpours through which it’s been necessary to work over the past fortnight are already receding into a distant memory.

Along with an abrupt drawing in of the evenings, the cooler night time temperatures seem to have descended upon us all of a sudden – the greenhouse thermometer showing below four degrees a couple of days ago. The knowledge that this happens at more or less the same time every year does nothing to diminish the mild sense of surprise we feel at the change; in company with the bees in the ode, we’d come to believe the warm days would never cease.

Apple time. Part of our first harvest of Laxton’s Superb
In spite of this, there’s warmth enough still in the soil for roots to grow and plants to establish themselves before the ravishes of winter. As a consequence, I’m hatching plans to move things around. And so the acanthus is coming out, found for a rough spot by the bonfire, where I have every confidence it will flower its socks off. This gives me a space into which to move Annabelle, one of my favourite hydrangeas, from the deep shade in which she currently mopes to a much brighter spot. albeit one with a tall hedge on the south side. And into the shady spot I’ll decant Fuchsia magellanica 'Hawkshead', another white flowered shrub, but one that seems content to produce its blooms in profusion even in relatively gloomy conditions.

September, then, is a good time for a garden reshuffle. But it’s also a time for discovering you have a wealth of free plants, in the form of perennials crying out to be divided. It is, of course, a matter of accepted horticultural best practice to divide your perennials every few years in order to restore vigour to the individual sections. Apart from anything, it helps to avoid the potential of having ever-expanding clumps of a single plant, with very little growth in the centre. So far, so strokey-beard. But, aside from earning you brownie points with the RHS (which do actually exist and can be exchanged for baked goods in any of the restaurants at the society’s four main gardens)1, the joy of discovering that your stock of plant material has increased, with very little effort on your own part, is hard to describe to any non-gardener, but all too easy to understand for anyone who’s ever felt the pang of parting with six quid for a single two litre pot of some precious specimen.2

Earlier today it was necessary to cut back a small Persicaria affinis (‘Donald Lowndes’, if memory serves), which was in the process of escaping from the border and making its way across the drive. This attractive, creeping plant forms a semi evergreen mat with flower spikes ranging from white, through light to deep pink through summer and into autumn. It’s great for the front of a border, although once established it will need to be kept in check, as it produces roots from every node that comes into contact with the ground, a characteristic which gives you plenty of opportunity to successfully root cuttings with minimal effort. Once I’d trimmed the plant back to its allotted space, I removed the flowers from my cutting material – producing seed can be an exhausting process, and I’d rather the newly establishing plants concentrate their efforts on making healthy root systems.

Appropriately enough for a drive edge, this Persicaria is sufficiently robust to withstand being driven over. However, as it’s shallow rooted, and the planting holes little more than a scrape, today I used long steel pins to hold each section in place until the roots have taken hold.

Free plants, perfect weather, and rejigged garden. Somebody pinch me.

1Utter nonsense.

2That said, and providing it’s not coming out of the housekeeping budget3, noone should have any qualms about spending this kind of money on a plant from one of the many independent nurseries forming the backbone of the horticultural trade in the UK. This is what it costs to raise and nurture a plant to a saleable size in a retailable condition, while at the same time maintaining a viable business, run by experts in the field, with employees and bills to pay. Shelling out this kind of money – or more – at any of the larger chains, where you might expect economies of scale to be passed on to the customer, requires a different set of decision making criteria.

3On the occasions when buying plants can threaten to compromise the housekeeping budget, there are plenty of other options. Plant swaps, car boot sales, kindly neighbours, friendly gardening types on Twitter – gardeners are by nature a generous bunch, and keen to share.