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Box alternatives

Everyone loves a box parterre (don’t they?). Back in June 2012, fellow blogger Veronica, from Through the garden gate, and I went to see the open gardens in Amsterdam. We had a super (if a tad exhausting) weekend looking at many hidden gems in the city.

A recurrent theme was definitely box parterres.

Not present in every garden we visited, but quite a few.

There was also the gorgeously curvaceous box sculptures at Kerkstraat 67,

and the box dividers at the ever-so-delicious De Kas restaurant (just outside the city centre).

However, there’s a problem. I’m not sure if they exist in Amsterdam, but here in London, box-tree caterpillars have arrived in force over the last few years. Not only does box hedging have to contend with box blight, but these blighters can wreck a lovely bit of hedging in no time and many gardeners are looking out for alternatives.

By the way, the moth that lays its eggs measures about an inch (2.5cm) and is white with dark brown edges, and pheromone traps will be able to let you know if they are in your area. As it’s so mild of late, much to my dismay, new moths are still arriving in the traps I have.

If spotted in time, you can spray your box with chemicals, but this is a lengthy process if you have a lot of hedging  and impossible if you’re an organic gardener or if the hedging is surrounding edibles.

Another gardener I know says he sprays the box with strong jets of water, but the box doesn’t like this much either.

So what could you use instead? Ilex crenata (Japanese Holly) and Lonicera nitida  are now being promoted by hedging companies and on a recent trip to Haddon Hall in Derbyshire I was really inspired by their parterres.

The outer edging is grown from Teucrium x lucidrys (hedge Germander, with pink flower spikes in late summer)

and the inner divides are grown from rosemary and lavender.

The look isn’t as tight and clipped as box, but I like this softer look (especially with the backdrop of an amazing Tudor manor house) and the fact that the whole parterre is grown from herbs. I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to fend off the caterpillars, so its good to know that there are other plants out there that will be able to do the trick.

And following Diana’s comments (below) also quite fancy using Chilean guava (Ugni molinae) (above) as hedging. Would be evergreen, but edible.

Also, here’s a link to Wisley’s Facebook page showing their trial garden for box alternatives and Michelle’s great post about this trial and listing most of the plants they are testing. Thanks Veg plotting!

Clematis

Clematis-you can never have enough of them! This one is Clematis viticella ‘Alba Luxurians’. One of the first I planted in my garden and I love it for its random green markings on the petals.

Originally growing right next to a tree, this plant barely used to flower, but as soon as the tree was removed, it sped away. It especially likes my neighbours’ lovely new trellis to cling onto.

Viticella indicates a late flowering (group 3) Clematis, so every spring, I just lop the whole thing down to about 18 inches, give it a good mulch with manure and it flowers profusely from July until September/October.

I think this one (above) is C. viticella ‘Venosa Violacea’ (huge thanks Nick and Jo -in comments below. Definitely not ‘The President’).  Again, flowering from July to September.

I may have mentioned (just a few times) that I’ve only got a small London garden, and having run out of wall space, I was looking for other means of getting more of these gorgeous blooms into my plot. A lovely old stick, wrapped in chicken wire seems to work well and sveltely adds a bit of height and drama into the border. Half of this Clematis did die back earlier in the year and presuming this was ‘clematis wilt’, I chopped the whole plant back to about a foot. Since then it’s recovered well,  put on lots of healthy new growth, and is still pumping out loads of colour in October. Hoorah!

By no means am I a Clematis expert, but many growers have advised me over the years to plant these climbers about 15cm deeper than they were originally grown in the pot, and this will hep them survive clematis wilt.

I’ve still got a fair amount of colour in the garden at the moment, but mostly pinks and purples, so I’ve decided to plant another Clematis, Bill Mackenzie this time, which will give me wonderful yellow nodding lanterns from August until November.

Now is a great time to plant perennials and climbers, as the ground is still warm and we should have plenty of rain for keeping plants well watered.

Following my own advice to plant good and deep, seventeen years later I’m still being surprised with concrete (reinforced this time-GRrr) in my borders.

However, I did manage to dig a big deep hole and plant my new purchase about 15cms lower than it was growing in its pot.

I’ve also given it a lovely stick to climb up, with lots of chicken wire to grab onto,

and mixed loads of rich compost into the planting hole. Again, I’ll cut this back in spring to about a foot, 18 inches. This is quite a vigorous Clematis though, so I think I may have to add another stick to make an arch as the climber really gets into its stride.

I’ve found Clematis do take at least a couple of years to really get going, but once you start looking at all the exciting varieties our there (try Thorncroft, a great Clematis specialist for ordering online, or Great Dixter have a great selection too if you’re passing near Rye), you can find varieties that will give you flowers for most of the year, and you’ll want to squeeze in more and more.

I bought this lovely metal frame from Plant Belles in spring to weave a Clematis Columbine (early flowering group 1) around. But many objects will give a clematis the support it needs to romp away.

Last summer I visited Bryan’s Ground, a superlative garden near Hay-on-Wye, and marvelled at this clematis growing up old bed springs, supplying a stunning backdrop to these triumphant Veronicastrum.

And this Clematis montana ‘Tetrarose’ (group 1) flowering in May in Lucy Mackenzie’s ‘Lip na Cloiche’ garden on Mull had a lovely gentle scent as well as entwining itself around a length of hefty old rope.

 Clematis armandii also delicately perfumes the air in March and April.  It doesn’t necessarily need pruning, but this evergreen is so vigorous, that you may need to hack this right back to a foot or two if it gets overgrown. Do it just after it’s flowered and you should still have some blooms the following year.

And I have very fond memories of these whopping ‘Nelly Moser’ blooms scrambling up my in-laws’ shed in Belfast. Perfect for a less-than-sunny spot by the way.

There’s still one more clematis , H.F. Young, to find a space for in my garden. It’s looks like a rather charming variety, with large ‘Wedgwood Blue’ flowers in May and June and again in August and September. Just need to come up with the right support. Thinking it may be a teepee this time.

 

 

 

 

I love an edible window box. Gorgeous to look at, with tasty bites.

These delicate violas are from viola specialist Wildegoose Nursery  (Viola cornuta ‘Winona Cawthorne’ I think) and as well as being edible, they have a delicious honey scent. And planted alongside are some wonderfully textured mustard leaves. Red Frills, Golden Streaks, Green in Snow and Giant Red are all in the mix. Dead-heading keeps the violas constantly flowering, although I might have to replace some of the mustard leaves soonish, which are just about going to seed.

And talking about edibles,  I went to see the new Tord Boontje’s ‘Dawn to Dusk’ swivelling chairs on the Thames at the weekend as part of the Chelsea Fringe. They’re right next to Vauxhall Bridge, so easy to get to (Vauxhall tube is the nearest).

They’re handsome benches (modelled here by the gorgeous Gianna),

beautifully planted up with drought tolerant plants which look great against the rusted steel.

I particularly liked the Tulbaghia violcea (aka Society Garlic), a stunner of a plant of which both stems and flowers are edible, with quite a garlicy kick. Which almost makes this an edible chair?

Now here’s the turning bit. Below, there’s me giving you a twirl with the London Eye behind.

And here’s the very accommodating Andrew and his parents who let me film them while they were out Chelsea Fringing too. All great fun!

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