Word has it that the wonderful magnolias at Borde Hill Garden, near Haywards Heath are at their magnificent best right now. Their glades of these mature trees hint at how they must have looked in their native habitat when the famous plant hunters of the late 19th and early 20th century collected magnolia seed for the garden’s then owner, Colonel Robert Stephenson Clarke. The family still lives at Borde Hill and has continued to care for the original trees, many of which are now classed as ‘champion trees’ i.e. the largest of their kind in the British Isles. They are well worth a visit.
These few weeks before the weeds really get going and the slugs and snails start to munch everything in sight is such an optimistic time. Each year I find myself thinking that I’ve really got it all sorted this year and the garden is going to be particularly flower-filled and productive. Then, just when the weather is at its most balmy, I will walk out one morning to find that the weeds have staged an overnight invasion and that the slugs and snails have discovered a salad bar of deliciousness in my cold frames, leaving me with bare stems and shredded leaves. I’m trying to deal with the weeds whilst they are tiny, but I know they will get the upper hand before long and as for the slugs and snails, I’ve just invested in a roll of Slug Shocka, the matting that is coated with copper to protect my strawberries and most vulnerable vegetables. Sheep wool pellets will also be part of my armoury and soon it will be time to recommence the nightly patrols armed with a torch and a bucket. In the meantime I’m enjoying the lull before the storm!
This Friday (20th March) I will be joining herb expert Jekka McVicar and garden designer Lucy Summers at the Country Living Fair in Islington for two Q&A sessions on ‘Growing the Good Life’ and ‘Gardening for Well-Being’. It should be fun and there’s more horticultural interest too, with Lucy’s ‘Country Living’ garden at the heart of the show and the launch of a new cut-flower clematis called ‘Amazing London’. I’m not sure about the name, but name aside, clematis are becoming increasingly popular as cut flowers with C. durandii the variety most often used. They do last wonderfully well in water. The Country Living Fair runs from the 18th-22nd of March, so even if you can’t make it to our Q&As there will be lots to see (and many temptations) on the other days.
If ever there is a sight to lift my heart, it is seeing the mimosa tree in full bloom against a cloudless blue sky – and as the air warms its unmistakeable fragrance drifts in the breeze. It is a particularly welcome sight this year because last year’s relentless winter winds withered the buds before they could open and left the tree looking very sorry for itself. A late spring prune removed all the damaged wood as well as giving the tree its annual haircut to keep it looking dense and bushy.
Now that it is feeling more and more like spring, I decided the moment had arrived to cut the old flowerheads off the hydrangeas. Getting the timing right can be a bit tricky – too soon and a frost can damage the new emerging buds, too late and there’s a risk the old flowerheads will get entangled with the new leaves and damage them as they are removed. I cut the stems back to a strong pair of buds, remove any weak and spindly growth, and remove the oldest stems close to the ground so that they are replaced by strong new growth – these new stems won’t flower in their first year, but it does mean that the plant is constantly regenerating. Hydrangeas love our garden and grow very tall, so most years (not this year because I’m opening the garden for our local hospice in June) I will choose one to cut right back to close to the ground and sacrifice a year’s worth of flowers to open views through the hydrangea forest!