Sylvia Clare’s Column – The Lavender Bed, August 2014

Published: July 31, 2022
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The Lavender Bed -August 2014

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The front of the house with the lavender bed in full flower a couple of years before destruction set in.

Well we had the deluge all winter, then a prolonged drought in summer, but now it has started to rain again, I am looking around to see what the damage has been throughout the year. However, I do take the attitude that a disaster is just another opportunity waiting to develop, a philosophy that has helped me get through life very well in spite of all it has thrown at me.

One of the main disaster areas is my twelve-year-old lavender bed. This was one of my earlier attempts to give character to different parts of the garden, which was completely derelict when we came here in 2000. About 4 years ago it was damaged by a badger ravaging through it to get to a bumblebee nest that had taken up home in an old vole hole. Consequently several lavenders were broken down to their bases and the shapes of neatly clipped balls lost. The winds this winter also ravaged through them breaking some more pieces off and generally ruffling them up. This surprised me since I thought they were more robust than that, but the older wood is very brittle and this clearly left them vulnerable.

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The soft green mounds that formed the colour

and texture for the rest of the year.

 

I originally chose different colours of both foliage and flower to create colour with variety all through the year. I also originally tried to interplant with various kinds of corms or bulbs, Crocus and Species Tulip mainly, but lost all of them to vole munching. However several years later I have found that although most Alliums are tasty snacking food for the resident rodents, the Allium christophii seems to either out seed their voracious appetites or not appeal to their taste buds; whichever, but they seem to survive where almost all others have failed. The other problem I had was a prolonged illness a few years back which left me lacking in enough energy to keep on top of everything, so the lavenders got a bit left. Then I took the advice to use a hedge trimmer to cut them back rather than doing it by hand. The combined outcome of these two left many of them too leggy and woody to really do their stuff, which was to create a complete tapestry of lavender colour. I had also planted small red Berberis as a contrasting hedge around three edges, and these had also not worked out. So out they all came, together with the Helmond pillars, which were supposed to be corner pillars and turned out to be rather unruly in habit. They now reside happily in another border to contrast against the winter bark of my Tibetan Cherries and can be flopping around and cut back accordingly without spoiling any more formal designs I had planned. So I was not that happy with some sections and decided to re plan the area. I also wanted more spring colour just outside our dining room doors. I decided two small early flowering cherries would be a starting point together with a whole batch of Box cuttings that I had brought on in pots. Lavender is still to be the principle planting and though many of the plants are rather overgrown and woody, I didn’t want to scrap them all. Over the years I have taken a lot of cuttings of them all and plonked them around the garden in various spots, but I still want that month of glorious scent and colour and intense bee activity of course. Then I noticed that many of the lavenders that had been broken down by the badgers had started to send out shoots through their woody base stems, against everything I had been taught that was possible. I started to cut back half of each plant and watch carefully, having taken a lot of cuttings as back-ups of course, and also knowing that I have Isle of Wight Lavender just down the road so could always top up on my collection. However, this August I have started to make real inroads into the renovation of this border, looking for signs of basal re-growth and cutting right back if there is enough, or cutting half back and leaving a few straggly woody stems with their flowering ends just trimmed as usual, to encourage them to sprout forth also. I won’t really know properly what has worked and what has failed until next spring but early signs are promising and I am now re thinking what might go in between the lavender rows, or hummocks as they will become once more I hope. I have taken many drying heads of Allium christophii and dotted them around the bared earth. I may also dig up a few more mature bulbs from elsewhere in the garden where they became congested. I have also ordered many bulbs wholesale (as I do most years for cutting to fill vases for our guests) and will probably try once more to plant out some earlier floral colour. Daffodils seem to survive quite well in spite of things that go munch in the night so I shall make a bright gold splash here too. I don’t know how it will all turn out as a redesign without doing a complete clearance and replant job, but I think renovation is an interesting and less wasteful approach to rescuing a small disaster area. Time will tell. Other than that the usual list of deaths births and marriages goes on in other areas of the garden and we are now nearly completing the construction of a proper potting and bee shed. It is so lovely I am thinking of taking up residence. There will certainly be a lot more propagating and seed sowing in the future though with a lot less backache I hope.

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As it is now with the cherries planted and the early forms of the new design in place.
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The outline design in closer details for the upper section of this area, with newly planted and renovated lavender, plus Cherry Kojo-no-mai and small box plants taken from cuttings.
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The broken leftovers after the badger had been, but already beginning to show shoots from the base.
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The few plants not damaged but will still be pruned back in stages in the coming weeks.
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The front face of above area almost completely pruned back now allowing inter-planting to once again be attempted.
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Shoots beginning to grow from the base after previous partial prunings, allowing all the old wood to be removed.
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A late flower with resident bumblebee in attendance, my whole reason for this bed, apart from our own enjoyment.

Sylvia Clare

Text and photographs by Sylvia Clare, who has been an HPS member for more than 10 years.