Back home from two months away in South America, and there is a lot to do the garden, although our one-day-a-week gardener, Diana had got a lot done. Cutting back primarily. Usually I cut back most of the messier herbaceous stuff in November, leaving grasses and a few of the stronger structural elements.
Last week I was in the Savill Garden near Windsor. Their big herbaceous border was enough to convince me that I don't really want a nice tidied-up border after all. Horrendous! A vast swathe of bare earth with occasional perennial clumps (about one a metre in places - so many gaps!). Apparently they cut the grasses down in November - what a crime! Everything I can't stand about traditional perennial gardening all on show in one go.
To summarise: crimes against perennial growing:
1) all composed of enormous groups of the same thing
2) all cut back at once, nothing left for Santa or anybody else visiting in winter to look at
3) huge areas of bare ground
4) so I am told.....all dug up and divided every four years, no matter what the natural lifespan of the plant is.
Right got that off my chest! But the S Garden is magnif for its witch-hazels and (later) rhodies and other spring-flowering shrubs. One of their problems I suspect is too much money - or maybe the Queen likes it so tidy (it is hers I suppose after all). A problem which can wreck gardens through over-maintenance, and there was plenty of that on display here.
One of the insights of cutting-back is to see perennial growth at ground level - the Rabbit's Eye View I am always on about. Phlox are interesting - some break up their clumps really quickly; traditionally they are the kind of perennial which benefited from dividing every four years; not this one though - see how tight its basal growth is after six years in the same spot. A very strong-grower, given us by a (posher than us) neighbour soon after we moved "have some phlox, frightfully vulgar pink". It is pink, it is vulgar, but oh so much better here than any other phlox we have tried. More research needed I think.
The garden here at Montpelier Cottage is more or less 'an evergreen free zone' - out of a desire to fit into the local landscape. Bamboos are the exception though, their wispy habit does not visually obtrude in the way that blocky shaped glossy-leaved evergreen shrubs do. This is Chusquea culeou 'Weeping Form'.
Phyllostachys aureo-sulcata 'Lama Temple' looks so fresh in the snow. It has proved much hardier than some too.
Time to flag up some dates for your diary:
I shall be in North Carolina in early March - dates see the column on the left.
I shall be doing this for RHS Wisley on Feb.26, just before I leave for the US.
In July I shall be running a planting design workshop with Piet Oudolf at Hummelo (July 3), followed by a tour of gardens and landscapes in the northern Netherlands for Gardens Illustrated magazine, based on Groningen. Get in touch with me if you are interested in either of these.