A fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.
Ours is a garden that is very light on ornamentation and we prefer it that way. The last thing I want for Christmas is a garden ornament or colourful display pot. The three stone antique millwheels are fine, but generally we like to feature glimpsed views or plants as focal points rather than statuary or any type of installation. We are lucky that we garden on a sufficiently large scale to be able to use the glimpsed view, even the odd borrowed vista. It is a bit more problematic in a tiny, town garden with a view of next door’s washing line. But using plants as a feature point is possible no matter what size the garden.
One of the delights of having a mature garden with old plants is that there is plenty of raw material for clipping and shaping. We don’t want to follow the Italian example and clip and shape everything, but the occasional large, cloud pruned specimen can be as strong as any man-made focal point. Camellias are wonderful for clipping and shaping because they will sprout again if you make a mistake and they grow densely if you clip every year. Some of the michelias also clip well when they are well established, as does loropetalum and the classic yews. The skill is in making
sure that not everything is turned into a lollipop (the easiest shape to clip), or a cake stand (which is just a vertical stack of lollipops). Mark favours the flatter topped mushroom shape or layers of clouds. We had four standard lollipops flanking our sunken garden but they had become too dense and rounded. Some radical cutting has seen them become much lighter mushrooms instead, giving a visual accent rather than completely dominating the area. He doesn’t rely on doing it all by eye, instead using lengths of bamboo to measure height and width. We don’t mind a bit of variation – these are living plants not artificial structures that can be like identical soldiers – but we want a sense of overall unity.
1) Summer prune the wisterias. Turn your back for a moment and they can make a bid for world domination, or so it seems. I just tidy up the long, wayward tendrils at this time of the year and do a structural and shaping prune in winter.
2) Continue deadheading and light summer pruning of the roses. Because we never spray our roses here, I prune frequently to encourage fresh growth. They get a traditional winter prune so the summer effort is more like a nip and tuck. I rely on keeping the roses growing strongly and pushing out fresh leaf buds to keep enough foliage coming to replace what succumbs to black spot. I try and remove all spent blooms and damaged foliage to the wheelie bin, to avoid them harbouring pests and diseases on the ground at the base of the roses.