On a Chalk Hillside September 2023 – Developing our garden

Published: September 17, 2023

More summer jobs

Tying things up and cutting things back feature heavily in this post, as well as in summer jobs generally. In “posh” garden terminology – staking and summer pruning!

I call it tying things up as we mainly don't use stakes as plants are tied to climbing frames we have built against the fence or corralled by swaddling the entire bulk of the plant round its girth, like a belt round a sack of potatoes. I had smugly said in the last article that the drought and heat of May and June meant that there had been little sappy growth so the hardy geraniums had not needed tying up. Well, as we all know the drought was followed by rain, a lot of rain in early July, and the plants went wild. Every year we have at least one major session of clearing the path down the garden as all the shrubs / climbers/ perennials “suddenly” overwhelm it and you have to do more and more of a limbo dance to get down the garden. As the foliage closed over the path in July I thought I would try and show you our work on this, in before and after shots. (Not so much “doing” shots as it takes two people to do the work, one to wrangle and hold the plant, garnering many cuts/scratches/bruises (that's me) and one to tie the branches back as directed by the head gardener – ie me!) It also takes more than one day to do – the path in question is approx 42 metres long.

Let's start with the star plant at the top of the path near the greenhouse – the rambling rose Rosa Hereford. It had been tied to its new climbing frame in the winter, but several branches had not been long enough then to reach it, and by mid-July were drooping all over the (Greater Periwinkle), Thalictrum, and Dryopteris fern growing underneath it:-


As I performed delicate untangling manoeuvres of each branch to determine what should be tied where, I also discovered that the quite stiff-stemmed honeysuckle (Lonicerum peryclymenum ‘Sweet Sue') planted next to it was growing through it too, quite a challenge to untangle unbending stems of that! My aim with any tying back is NOT to make it look trussed up uncomfortably, and with such a huge plant, to try and get “natural” arches, whilst attempting to maintain enough airflow within the plant for its own health is quite a challenge. I work in layers.

Tying the stem nearest the fence to the climbing frame, and then tying the stem nearest the pergola leg to that. (Although it may not look it, the pergola is at least 30 cm in front of the climbing frame which is about 10cm from the fence.) I then tie individual stems of the rose that naturally fall between these two extremes to the stem behind it in a staggered manner, so that there is a fan of stems, rather than a big knot of stems all tied together at one point, stifling air flow and making it look lumpy. Here's an “after” shot, which I hope shows what I mean:-


Can you see where I've been? (Hopefully the answer is “not really, just not quite as droopy at the front”!) Before we got started on tying up the rose, here's a shot down the path:-


That path is 75cm wide, honest. Tying back the rose, and then pushing up and tying in the two different honeysuckles beside it to their climbing frames – leaving a bare “knee” temporarily on the Lonicera Peryclymenum ‘Graham Thomas' allows a better view of the brambles coming in from next door so they can be pruned out:-


Here is the pergola end of the path afterwards:-


Moving on down towards the end of the pergola, where, on the left of the photo, the Jasmine Officinale is escaping from the climbing frame we built it in the winter, himself is still chasing brambles:-


On the right, I have tied in the honeysuckle ( ‘Serotina' to the pergola upright, and am trying to tie in the weedy Jasmine Officinale plant growing on that side against the final upright of the pergola. I need the taller reach of himself to help me tie the jasmine on both sides to the “roof” members of the pergola as I am trying to get an arch effect of the climber at the bottom.


Attempting to cut out some of the dead wood on the jasmine, I got a bit trigger happy, and cut out a living stem – so I have turned it into cuttings, together with some dog rose cuttings from a stem that someone mistook for a bramble……:-


The Jasmine Officinale is a non-clinging climber. It doesn't make tendrils like say, sweet peas, and it doesn't twine as much as a honeysuckle does, so it does need more tying in than some other climbers we have on the pergola. Just to show you what a “self-clinging” climber looks like, here is a shot of one of my cucumber plants in the greenhouse:-


Hopefully you can see that whilst the stem is tied into the cane at the right of the photo, there is a tendril it has grown up at the left hand end of the shoot that it has twined round the cane to support the tip of its stem?

Further down the path, here are the before and after photos of the section running alongside the gravel garden:-


I am not sure if you can see much difference between the before and after shot from this angle – but I can assure you I had cut back a lot of the Lonicera Nitida. The variegated leaf you can see is a Cornus Alba ‘Variagata' that my Mum had bought me when we lived in London, and which I thought was struggling with all the shrubs overwhelming it – on starting to cut back the Lonicera Nitida I discovered the Cornus was growing through that much more than expected, which is why you can see so much of it here. Looking at the path from the other way after pruning, you can see that whilst it and the Cornus Stolonifera ‘Flaviramera' were almost touching to begin with, there is clear definition afterwards:-


Whilst I didn't take any more dogwood cuttings with the prunings from this, I did take many more Lonicera Nitida cuttings to help replace the box as I mentioned two months ago. I also took Harry Lauda Tree cuttings, (Corylus avellana Contorta), with curly branches that himself cut off whilst trying to get to the straight stems nearer the back that were growing strongly. Here you can see the straight “topknot” before he got to work:-


I have featured this plant before, but to remind us what the branches “should” look like – it is not called The Corkscrew Hazel (Corylus avellana Contorta) for nothing!:-


The Corkscrew Hazel (Corylus avellana Contorta) is growing beside/into the variegated cornus, and bending over the path. I often find that himself has taken some surreptitious snips at it, and the Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile' that is next to it. That shrub had had its best year yet in this position – spreading out to over 2m wide, and having lots of gorgeous scented flowers in June. Though as this shot from 9 June shows, the Jasmine Officinale was already spreading:-


You can't see the Philadelphus here, as one month later it has been overwhelmed by the Jasmine Officinale that has suddenly made a huge growth spurt this year – this one I think has suddenly grown because next door have removed an enormous shed behind our fence at the point it is rooted, and it probably is getting more moisture. (Though it is doing as I designed it to – replacing the scented white flowers of the Philadelphus with its own gorgeous white scented flowers. I always find it hard to cut back something in full flower!)


We tried very hard to push it back towards its climbing frame, lifting it off the Philadelphus as much as possible, to try and allow both plants to grow on ‘til the winter when we could get into the bed once all the herbaceous perennials had died down, and the leaves on the shrubs had dropped to sort out what needed to be cut away/tied back. I am not at all sure we have succeeded enough to stop the Philadelphus being overwhelmed, but I will keep my fingers crossed:-

Naturally, once we had accomplished this task, we had an extremely windy period with gusts over 45 mph, which required us to redo some of our work!

Next month, compost making experiments; vegetable growing progress; thoughts on pollination techniques.

Sheila May