It was all supposed to look so beautiful. A gleaming white picket fence, a formal half-moon, edged with naughtily ruffled thyme behind which were balls of lavender, then a mass of other planting that I hadn’t decided and boldly centered with a stately ornamental cherry blossom over-flowing with not one, but two magnificent clematis flanked on either side by the most exquisite and deliciously scented climbing roses. It was to be the perfect picture of a most arresting front border.
The reality turned out to be arresting alright, but for a very different reason. While we had the fence, the thyme, the clematis and lavender, the roses and tree have turned decidedly sour. The problem at heart is a lack of water. Bizarrely for a garden that stays underwater for so long, the front is actually sun-baked, exposed and very, very dry. I hadn’t appreciated how dry it could get until mid-summer last year, where the roses showed signed of severe stress and suffered from lacklustre growth, wilting flowers and disease. Teasing Georgia – a rampantly beautiful and voluptuous rose not only in flower but in growth, turned into a gnarly, twisted and diseased bush, a mere shadow of its former self. Gertrude Jekyll didn’t like being shaded by the ornamental cherry and complained by defoliating completely. The tree itself became covered in ant-farmed blackfly that stunted its growth and caused unsightly curling of leaves. Pigeons flew in to snack, decimating the blossom and shredding the fresh new leaves. In winter, this tree hangs on to its dead leaves even as they hang limp and rotting in some kind of macabre film-noir.
The overall effect was a disaster. Everyday for many months now, I’ve had to look at the failure that is the front border. It was all supposed to look oh-so beautiful but the dry conditions have turned it into a parched hell. It’s unacceptable and it’s not going to be put up with any longer. The front border has now caught the full, unyielding and unmerciful wrath of my attention, the “Eye” shines on this border and I’ve decided.
A Visual Representation of my Attention
It’s all going to go. The roses, the clematis, the herbaceous plants, and that truly horrible, stunted, infested tree. I could attempt to remedy what I have by trying to control the ants and trying to water more often in the summer, but I can’t make it rain in the front as much as it needs to and I can’t be doing with micro-managing small parts of a garden this size. It doesn’t work and so it’s time to rip it out and try something different.
Given a week of dry evenings and some grim determination, the job is almost done. The two climbing roses have been cut back hard and moved to the back to start afresh this year. The rose towers have gone. The Clematis has been dug up and moved elsewhere. The thyme and lavender will stay as they don’t mind the sun-baked conditions. The remaining plants in the border have also been moved, some to nursery beds and some in the borders. The fence is staying as it is also drought tolerant and finally, that hideous tree has gone, stump and all, leaving a clear, open (but still dry) space to start again.
There will be no more blackfly and ant infestation, no more worrying over the sickly roses, no more wondering what to do and how to make it better. Now that I’m left with the fence and the edging, I have a new border to fill and this time, I’m going for drought-tolerant plants that won’t mind being sun-baked. I’m thinking of phormiums, Cupressus Sempervirens (Italian Cypress) and lots of Madeiran Agapanthus (they are grown from the seed of the plants that were grown from seed from the seed heads of Agapanthus growing in the mountains of Madeira).
I might not get it right the first time and I might not even be right this time, but I will get it right, eventually.