WARNING: Contains images of plants suffering, in distress or generally dying.
I chose a bad year to re-do significant sections of the garden. The original plan was to just fill in the gaps in the main border. Around half that border area was already planted by the end of last year, I just needed to get the seeds sown this Spring and grown on for planting out around now.
That original plan then expanded to comprise re-doing the planting for half of Fruit Avenue, which predictably expanded again to re-doing all of it when I took out most of the non-performing soft fruit shrubs and was left with a long expanse of bare soil.
Lately, I also re-did a small area around the washing line that used to have some lilies and a lot of non-flowering narcissi. I took these out and in its place continued a delightful run of lavender. It’s a lot easier to cope with lavender on drying washing than lily pollen.
Most recently – just a day or two ago, in fact – I overhauled the non-shrubby part of the Corner border, which was filled with suffering plants that would protest and disappear for the summer, leaving the area embarrassingly bare until the next season.
We’ve had a pitiful amount of rain since early Spring and endured two heatwaves, one of which was record-breaking for all the wrong reasons. It has been an endless expanse of “dry”. I feel like slogans such as, “The Long Dry”, “The Great Drying”, “The Relentless Desiccation”, and so on could be featured in cautionary adverts for summarising this year’s weather.
In all, it’s been a bad time to do what I’ve done, which is to re-do borders and sections and hence have to try to look after and establish young vulnerable plants in hostile weather.
Established trees and shrubs are fine, so is much of the herbaceous planting, however, even plants that have been in for a few years such as the Azaleas in the Willow border, Cornus, Hydrangeas and ferns planted in the more extreme parts of the garden (where nothing else grows) have had to be supported and often watered, otherwise I’d be looking at transplanting them to the compost heap.
While the grass has remained predominantly green, we’ve seen brown patches appearing in places it never has before. The lack of flowers (from all the “weeds” growing in the grass) has also been noticeable. We’ve missed the carpet of flowering daisies, buttercups, self-heal and clover, the groundwater that keeps it all hydrated greatly diminished.
What’s been very evident is that the best way to stop the soil from drying out is to cover it, with dense planting in my case. Hence it’s this that has had me conflicted and anxious about trying to get as much stuff planted out and growing to get rid of the gaps in the borders and cover over vulnerable exposed soil.
The searing heat, drying winds and lack of water has given young and just-planted-out plants a really hard time and they’ve struggled to get established. Just like our patio, bare soil rapidly heats up in hot sunshine and can quickly cook plant roots that are near the surface (a killer for young plants that haven’t developed a deep and expansive root system). Dry soil makes this worse as there’s no water to moderate the soil from overheating.
I’m looking for the silver lining in all this, but it’s difficult when there are no rain clouds in the first place.
What I do have to go on is the knowledge that generally, the garden has thankfully had minimal losses – those being confined to plants “on the edge” and plants that I divided at the wrong time of year and then didn’t pay enough attention to, to get them re-established in such an exceptional season.
It has been time-consuming trying to keep the newly planted things watered enough to keep them alive and perhaps even growing as a bonus but they’re needed in the ground now to get them established and growing well for NGS opening season next year.
The garden has had a tough trial this year and the well-established planting – particularly where it’s dense and there’s thick canopy cover over soil – has done well. The more vulnerable areas where planting is new, sparse and exposed, has had to have a lot of attention, but that’s expected until it also becomes established and grows sufficiently to protect the soil from direct sun. There’s a middle-ground where the Azaleas – for example – have needed help, but they’ve only been in a year or two and are in difficult conditions, so it’s again a matter of waiting for them to grow and develop and become established and resilient to this kind of weather pattern.
After the Corner Border and Fruit Avenue, there are no other areas in the garden that I feel I need to urgently overhaul due to inappropriate planting (such as marginal plants in dry sand). The emphasis on “right plant, right place” has really helped minimise losses by ensuring plants are put in conditions they’re natively evolved for and can survive. I think this is going to be increasingly important as these hotter, drier summers move from, “news-worthy” to the new-normal.