A Garden Tour: The Priory In July

Summer has almost passed me by and, oddly, I haven’t posted any photos of The Priory since the spring.   So as a belated companion piece to my recent tour of The Old Forge, here’s a look at The Priory during July – if only two months late.

Beech Arch

We’ll start off in the car-park, again, and enter the gardens under the youngest beech arch.  I’ve trained this for about five years but the new length of hedge to the right still isn’t quite high enough to meet the arch (trained from the established hedge on the left).

Beech Arch (2)

This photo from June shows it better.   I’d hoped that the arch would be complete this year but we’re not quite there.   Perhaps next year.  Directly ahead, on the-path-to-nowhere, are the two Verbena bonariensis beds.

Verbena bonariensis (2)

I’ve mentioned these often enough and will only say, once more, how simple they are to grow and maintain.  I also bang on about them being a brilliant draw to butterflies … but not in 2016.   Has anyone else noticed far fewer butterflies this summer?

Verbena bonariensis (1)

Changes in the garden are afoot and the Verbena bonariensis block planting might be done away with – or at least moved elsewhere.  Update in due course.

Rock Border

To our right is the Rock Border which is primarily a spring border and mostly at rest in summer.

Rock border (3)

May 2016

In May, Forget-me-not, aquilegia, alliums, ferns, Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’ and others give it sparkle;

Rock border (2)

and here’s a sneaky peek at its June backside (from the path leading to the greenhouses).  The ‘Roseum’ is still in flower; as is a pink weigela with gorgeous Silene fimbriata below.

Tropical Border

To our left from the beech arch is the Tropical Border just getting under way in July.  I’ll do a post about that soon.

Lavender

Beyond the Tropical Border and to our left is the back of the house where I’ve lined one wall with lavender;

Cacti and succulents

and beyond that, I hide an old drain cover with pots of succulents and cacti wheeled out from the greenhouse.

Cacti and succulents (2)

May 2016

I bring these out in April or May to bask in this hot, south-facing corner until September/October when they return under glass.  By then each pot will be home to a host of forget-me-not seedlings too … but weeding those out is a pleasant enough task on a rainy morning, in the greenhouse with the radio and a mug of tea.

Kidney beds (2)

Turning our back on the house, we’ll cross the east lawn to where, against one of Margaret’s fields, sit the Kidney Beds.

Kidney beds (3)

I’ve struggled with these borders over the years … if always with the best of intentions to “sort them out”.  They are the least visited borders in the gardens and readily slide down the pecking order in my weeding and general care schedule when pressed for time.  I did have big plans to tackle them last autumn but heavy rain and sloppy soil put paid to that.  Perhaps this year.

Kidney beds (1)

But despite their casual neglect they produce a lot of flower and colour – if the structure lets them down somewhat.  They’re definitely best viewed at a distance – let’s move on (before you notice the bindweed, dead-nettle, carex and bramble seedlings).

Duck nest box (2)

Turning away from the Kidney Beds, we’ll march smartly over to the east pond.  I planted a tiny corkscrew willow (Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’ ) on the island a couple of years ago (not so tiny now), built a duck nest-box and had big hopes for mallard ducklings.

Duck nest box

February 2016

But despite some initial interest, we had no ducklings (unless they were eaten before I saw them).  Perhaps next year.

Duck nest box (1)

Across the pond is the rose tunnel and long borders which I’ll show you in a moment; but first we’ll cross over to the meadow.

Phyllostachys aureosulcata 'Spectabilis'

In a shady corner of this one acre-site are four bamboos including this Phyllostachys aureosulcata ‘Spectabilis’.  It has thrived here, shot up to about fifteen feet and, with its companions,  doing what I hoped: obscuring a power-line utility pole.  Spectabilis has lovely gold and green striped culms with a curious kinked habit, which I reveal by stripping away their lower growth.  In autumn, I give all the bamboos a thick mulch of leaf mould or garden compost; and do so again in spring with a liberal dose of pelleted chicken manure.  Now that they’re established, I only water them during very dry spells (much to the disgust of a family of field mice who hurriedly flee as their holes fill with water.  Sorry mice).

Flower meadow (1)

Across the meadow now, along mown paths through long grass

Flower meadow (2)

with knapweed, vetches and meadowsweet in flower.  I must do a post about the meadow.  I’ve not mentioned it in a while and there have been some interesting, if slow, developments.

Gunnera manicata

Also on the meadow is a big disappointment.  I transplanted a Gunnera manicata in 2012 and hoped it would thrive here by a ditch.  It is healthy enough but of no great size despite my eternal hope that it’ll unfurl huge, silly sized leaves.  Perhaps next year. I’ve taken to feeding this too and forlornly water it too, if only occasionally.  I should do a post about it.

Veg beds

Leaving the meadow, we’ll cross a small foot-bridge and approach the vegetable beds, tucked behind the Long Borders.  2016 hasn’t been my best year for vegetables: the new potatoes were good; French climbing beans excellent; onions tick, gold star; garlic a thudding failure; sweetcorn pretty damn fine; courgettes fairly rubbish; radish and salad leaves so-so.

sweetcorn-deer-attack
(When I say that my sweetcorn was “pretty damn fine”, I should add “right up to the moment when they weren’t”.  Deer discovered my plants and boy, do they love the sweetcorn.  They ate the lot, leaving me only two cobs – one of which they’d partially nibbled.   As delicious as this one and a half bounty was, it wasn’t a bumper crop).

Rose tunnel (2)

Beyond the vegetable garden is the rose tunnel.

Rose tunnel (1)

By July, its first glorious flush was waning.  The predominate rose is Rosa ‘Sander’s White’ but with a few other varieties too;

rosa-moyesii-geranium

including the splendid Rosa moyesii ‘Geranium’.  Its flower season is a short-lived pleasure but, I think, big moyesii warrants the space – if you have it.

Rose tunnel (6)

I really should do a post about the rose tunnel.  I’ve found photos of when some of these Sander’s Whites were strimmed and mowed to ground level (by the previous gardeners) and it’s nice to see them back with a vengeance.

Rose tunnel (5)

Deer are a major annoyance here too and their repeated grazing on fresh stems has delayed the roses’ spread along the rails.  Perhaps next year?

Rose tunnel (4)

In a hot July, working in the tunnel is a welcome escape from sun-block and sun-hat. (Alchemilla mollis fills the planting holes).

Clematis Wisley

I grow about a dozen different clematis along the tunnel and in amongst the roses, including C. Wisley – always puts on a good show –

Clematis 'Empress Amy'

and I particularly like this new addition, Clematis ‘Empress Amy’.

Long borders (5)

Finally, we’ll spin about and face the Long Borders.

long-borders-2009

October 2009

I re-cut these beds in 2009 and dug out a thick mat of weeds.  I’ve gradually planted them up over the years whilst experimenting with what was salvageable from years of neglect.  (I really, really, really wanted to remove the yucca but was over-ruled).

Long borders (4)

I’m pleased I kept the persicaria:  long flowering and tough as my old boots.

Long borders (1)

Over the past two or three years I’ve added several tall grasses and a pair of acers, at either end, which had outgrown their pots.

Long borders (2)

I’m introducing height both at the front and rear of these narrow beds.  Not sure why but it seemed like a good idea.

long-borders

I’ll sign off with this up to date shot of the Long Borders in September showing a reliable stalwart, Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm‘ (or if we’re being pedantic – Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii ‘Goldsturm’) assuming late-summer flowering duty.

rudbeckia-goldsturm

A job it carries out rather well.

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The Tropical Border – 4th Year

Tropical Border (1)

When I started the tropical border in 2012, it was hardly deserving of the name

Tropical Border (2)

but a year later it looked more the part.

Tropical Border (4)

And by 2014 many of the plants were enormous and the bed did have a whiff of tropicality about it.

Tropical Border (17)

This year it has continued to mature and, on the whole, I’m pleased.  I’d hoped for more height in places (if only to hide the satellite dishes) and less shirking from some of the team.

Tropical Border (24)

The weather didn’t help.  The 2015 Sussex spring was cold and stormy; summer got off to a goodish start but then turned wet, blustery and cool.  I’ve recently added an automatic watering system (see ‘The Tropical Border and How I Learnt to Hate Soaker Hose’) but this was the year I needed it least.

Melianthus major

Certain plants have flourished however.  For example, I moved two Melianthus major from lost-at-the-back to front-of-stage.

Melianthus major (2)

These handsome, elegant plants have responded to the increased light and grown tall.  They will die back in winter but the roots are relatively hardy.  And best of all?  The leaves smell of peanut butter.

Ensete maurelii

One of my red Abyssinian bananas has been less successful.  I planted out two Ensete maurelii too early this year.  The ‘small’ one shrugged off its cold, rude awakening and now towers far above my head.

Melianthus major (1)

Whereas the ‘big’ one withered and, confusingly, is now the ‘small’ ensete.  It sits pathetic and hardly visible, skulking at the back.

Tropical Border (18)

And that’s a shame – its huge, sail-like leaves would have filled the central space nicely (it peeks up in the middle of the above photo).   But I am tiring of the hardy banana, Musa basjoo (above left).  The slightest breeze shreds the leaves, which also discolour and are prone to brown spots.

Musa sikkimensis

On the other hand, I’m impressed with this new addition – Musa sikkimensis.   Reputedly only second in hardiness to the basjoo, the leaves don’t tear as easily and they have attractive dark red bands.  It is growing fast and has produced several stems: stems which I’ll shear off and use to gradually replace the basjoo.

Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’ (2)

Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’ is another large foliage plant which gets bigger and better each year.  Initially, I made a schoolboy error and cut it down to ground level in autumn.

Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’ (1)

I’ve since learnt to leave the naked, winter stems alone: they survive low temperatures and new growth now starts with a foot or two head-start.

Colocasia esculenta (2)

I’m a sucker for Colocasia esculenta – also known aptly as elephant ear.

Colocasia esculenta (1)

It is one of my favourite plants; wagging gently in the wind or holding a perfect tracery of dew.  There are three in the bed (including a young, even larger form – Colocasia gigantea) and eventually they will all unfurl well above the under-storey?

Salvia uliginosa (2)

Because Salvia uliginosa isn’t reliably hardy for me, I normally lift and trundle it off to the cold frame.  But I left them in situ last year – under thick leaf mould – and they sailed through our mild winter to become vastly bigger plants.  So vastly big that I carted off loads to the bonfire.  Which was a crime.

Salvia uliginosa

Uliginosa is another favourite of mine but conditions here are too generous for it.  With plenty of chicken manure and regular watering it quickly shoots up to six-foot plus and then sags.  In other parts of the garden, where I treat it mean, it grows less tall but self-supports.  A fabulous plant – make a note.

dahlia-twynings-smartie

I use three dahlias:  D. ‘Twyning’s Smartie’ is a non-stop flowering marvel.

As is Dahlia ‘Twyning’s After Eight’ which I added last year.  Dark foliage accentuates pretty white flowers with a golden centre.  Another note maybe?

And my third dahlia is the doughty D. ‘Bishop of Llandaff’.  All of my dahlias are singles (for easy bee and butterfly access) and stay put year round.  I don’t lift, dry and store the tubers.  But they do need support.

Plant Supports

For which I use two dozen of these: 10mm diameter, 3 metre long steel bars bent into shape.  They work well: either singly or as pairs forming a circle.

Lobelia cardinalis 'Queen Victoria'

I’ve removed some plants altogether: spider daylilies because they took up too much space; Gaura lindheimeri removed itself by dying; Salvia patens I needed elsewhere; Fallopia japonica ‘Milkboy’ didn’t suit; and Lilium pardalinum fell victim to despicable lily beetle and their odious offspring.  But above is a new addition to the front of the border – Lobelia cardinalis ‘Queen Victoria’.  Hardly ‘tropical’ but it looks as if it should be.

Persicaria filiformis

Also at the front are several Persicaria filiformis.  I started off with one small plant (a rich gift from the boys at Alternative Eden) since when, as it gently self seeds, I’ve built up my stock.  They now hide the ankles of taller bed-fellows.  It does flower very late – just before the first frost.

Persicaria filiformis (2)

October 2014

The flower spikes are subtle but more noticeable than this photo suggests.  Apart from the late-flowering caveat it is useful, attractive, hardy and trouble-free.  Note number 3?

Fuchsia 'Gartenmeister Bonstedt'

Knee-high at the fore is a sterling fuchsia, F. ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’ … but not frost hardy.  I dig up mine and protect over winter.

Canna ‘Red King Humbert’

Canna ‘Red King Humbert’ has been resident from the beginning

Canna ‘Red King Humbert’ (2)

but actually I like the dark foliage more than the distinctly non-red flowers.  I don’t lift these either.

Canna coccinea (2)

I prefer C. coccinea.

Canna coccinea (1)

Dead-heading prolongs the show, it stays in the ground year round and it doesn’t need support.  Win, win, win.  I split my fast growing clump last year and now have two.   Eventually I’ll have three.

Arundo donax

I will also split the Spanish reed (Arundo donax).  It didn’t produce as many stems as I’d asked for but hey ho.

Tropical Border (30)

I haven’t been sparing enough with Verbena bonariensis.  I added it as a filler when the border still had gaps but there is way too much.  I’ll be ruthless next year – an almost imperceptible lattice would look far better, I think.

Tropical Border (25)

So whilst year 4 has seen some setbacks, overall I’m quietly relieved.  When I plan and plant up in the spring, it is difficult to know how a particular plant will perform: whether it’ll under-achieve and leave a gap; or burgeon and swamp the neighbours.

Tropical Border (3)

But I enjoy that uncertainty of the exotic border; its change from year to year; its continuing evolution and my ongoing experimentation; learning the foibles of the plants that call it home and meeting their various demands.  I fiddle, tweak and interfere; add new plants; divide, move and take out others … and wish for double the space.  One day I hope to match the image in my head with the Priory reality.  I’m almost there … but not quite.

Maybe in year 5.

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