Of all the areas in the garden, Fruit avenue is the one I’m least pleased with. It’s always weed-choked, has miles of edging to maintain, has out-of-control-and-never-fruiting fruit trees, currant bushes that serve the birds first and gooseberries that need eternal vigilance from sawfly. Oh – and raspberries that make such a feeble attempt at growing and fruiting, I don’t know why they bother.
The original idea for this 16-metre long border was for it to be filled with all manner of soft fruit trees, bushes and vines that would lip-smack and delight. It would have plants so dense and fruits so abundant, I would have to shovel the windfall off the ground just to mow the grass.
Unfortunately, the reality has been very different. There have been a whole litany of problems with this border that I won’t bore you with, but suffice to say that the more disillusioned I got with the performance of this border, the more I ignored it – hoping that somehow it would just magically sort itself out.
Magic didn’t sort the border out, but the full glare of my attention did.
The weeds were so bad that I “scalped” the border, using a hoe to remove the top centimetre of moss, weeds and mould that had formed a sickly green crust on top.
At the far end of the border, I planted astilbe alongside the hostas to grow, spread and cover the ground, preventing weeds from getting a foot-hold and binding the soil together.
I will probably regret it, but two elderberry bushes were also planted, closely together. One is a black elder, the other is golden and I’m hoping the two will play nice and their foliage contrast well against each other.
The main problem with the border is the lack of ground cover. All along the length of the border are raspberries but they’re hardly known for their ability to smother weeds.
In order to flesh out the border more, I planted bergenias, Japanese anemones and vinca minor (is there a vinca major?). They’re only small, isolated pockets of plants now, but I am hoping that within a few years, they will have spread and covered the ground, stopping weeds from getting a foothold.
The “understorey” of ground-cover plants should be low enough to let the raspberries grow un-impeded above them. Where I have shrubs like the gooseberries, which don’t grow as tall, I’ve used Pachysandra Terminalis to start covering the ground underneath.
It is evergreen and looks distinctly uninspiring, but I think a large swathe of these (when they grow, spread and eventually knit together) will create a backdrop, punctuated here and there by the shrubs above them.
The wooden supports for the blackcurrant rotted last year and so I replaced them with thicker wooden tree stakes. The vine grows phenomenally fast with metres of growth in the horticultural blink of an eye. It’s been difficult to keep it under control but I have given it some TLC and it has rewarded me with masses of fruit that are gradually ripening, ready for the birds.
Maintaining the border edging remains a tedious chore, but there’s nothing much I can do to shorten the amount there is without something drastic (such as installing tremendously expensive metal edging). This is just going to be one of those jobs that need doing once or twice a year. This year was catch-up with the edging as I can’t remember having done it last year. The results are very satisfying to my OCD.
Towards the bulbous end of Fruit Avenue was a stand of Russell lupins. These became so infested with aphids and looked so hideous and disfigured that the whole lot was taken out, leaving large gap and for the first time, a way to get across the border over the soil. At the moment the plan is to fill the gap with Gallery Lupins (a favourite from the previous garden), as I miss those technicolour spires abuzz with bees.
There’s a large stand of Iris Sibirica that smothered and killed one blueberry bush and is threatening to do the same with the other two. It has to come out and the gap it opens up will have more gooseberries that will come from the self-layered offsets from the original.
The first piece of work in “reclaiming” Fruit Avenue was the summer pruning of the fruit trees to try and get them down to size. The prune was severe, reducing the height to almost half. This let in much more light to the plants underneath (mainly weeds).
While this pruning, and the rest of the work above, is essentially border maintenance, the extensive renovation on this border almost feels like the whole thing is being planted again. Many ferns have also been added, along with many cheap-buys from the supermarket.
In some ways there were never enough plants in Fruit Avenue to create a self-weeding border, and I was too chicken to prune the fruit trees. I created the problems by racing to start a new area in the garden before sanity-checking Fruit Avenue to see if there was enough cover and to have a maintenance plan for the fruit (namely pruning).
This is changing and recently, the number of plants in the border have more than doubled. I’m hoping that – particularly with the ground cover – the border becomes just as quick and easy to weed as the others.
I’m also hoping that the birds will finally let us have some of the fruit as a reward for maintaining the border – perhaps that will come with Fruit Avenue – Version 3.