Sunday, 16 August 2020

"How does your garden (not) grow?" Call for scented plant suggestions for next year...

Sorry, that was a rather 'contrary' use of the nursery rhyme lyrics, but I am currently in a phase of reverse gardening. By that I mean that the whole thing is undergoing a radical overhaul that is very much still at the 'rip it up, and start again' stage. Well, still ripping it up in fact. In the eight years since I bought the house, the well-stocked and fleetingly orderly flower beds have run absolutely rampant. In the end, the long and wide one on the left was populated almost entirely by a militant mob of aquilegia occupying the top half, with the rest completely colonised by pampas grass. I am dimly aware of the term 'self-seeding', and it looks like such surreptitious propagation had been going on at an explosive rate lately.

So back in March I engaged the services of an old school gardener - a chap who has worked all his life in nurseries, and instinctively refers to plants by their Latin names, as opposed to the usual kind of 'gardener' you meet nowadays, who basically cuts hedges and lawns and knows zilch about anything else - to clear out whatever plants he thought were spreading like wildfire, or growing too tall, or suffering from rot, or just plain ugly. He went at this job like a whirling dervish one day while I was in France, about to be locked down(!), and on my return my neighbour commented on how much he had achieved in a single day. His horticultural MO was tantamount to a scorched earth policy, without the military context or the scorching. But certainly my beds were nearly bare by the end of it, with a few plants spared on account of their fitting my stringent selection criteria for next time, of which more anon. 

Charlie Bonkers, the previous incumbent

In addition to dealing with the jungle of the flower beds themselves, I did finally screw my courage to the sticking place - suppressing my not inconsiderable repulsion in the process - and tackled the far end of the patio, into which I had never felt brave enough to venture all this while. Like the recent 'big garage clearout', which took two days and a lot of sheer physical graft, this was another job that was in the 'too hard' and 'too horrible' category to be done till now, but once I overcame my mental block and got on with it, there was a huge feeling of release and satisfaction in the finished result. 

For on that side of the patio were all sorts of receptacles with stagnant water and soil and stones in them; broken bits of pottery; old watering cans lying on their sides, home to rotting leaves and snails galore; watering cans with puddles of suspected weedkiller inside, plus a thicket of tangled vegetation and an old jerry can with a hole in it. I simply avoided going there, not least because there was also a clematis and honeysuckle madly climbing up the back of the garage, adding to the knotty mess of foliage. I could put a small bench in the space I have created. And have been using the water butt! It's a whole new outdoor space to just be in.

"Yes, it probably could do with thinning out!"

Until the gardener can replant next year, he will be doing another round of weedkilling, while I am in charge of lawncare. Which brings me to an embarrassing tale on that subject...

For the last time I mowed the lawn, on one of those boiling hot days we have had lately, I was nearly stopped in my tracks as soon as I started by the discovery of a dead frog. I had seen a live frog in a flower bed a couple of days previously, and presumed it had fallen prey to the cat - even though I had also observed them companionably sitting back to back to each other, like two amusingly mis-sized book ends. So I dashed out into the street, aimlessly looking for someone's husband to borrow to dispose of it, as I can only handle dead birds and mice - frogs seem a more alien and offputting category of corpse to me, especially as I couldn't detect any legs on this one. In the road I ran into the man who runs the local hardware store and solicited his help. "You just pick it up with a shovel and put it in a bag", was his opening salvo, until I apprised him of my psychological issues with amphibians. "Ah, but I can't leave my car unattended, as I have a lawn mower sticking out of the boot", he countered, "but if you prepare the tools first, then come back here and mind my mower, I'll deal with it." After thanking him profusely, I laid a spade, a pan and brush, and a sturdy rubble bag on the lawn, and stood guard by his car while he did the biz. The chap was back in no time, my equipment clearly untouched. He had evidently removed the snail (as it turned out to be) between his finger and thumb.

Bare or what?! (interrobang) taking stock I wonder if I might get the gardening bug, as I briefly did after my mother died? I do feel a lot better psychologically for doing even the most menial physical work outside, and by clearing the patio after so much time I feel I have bulldozed a huge mental and physical obstacle out of the way. 

Then the gardener had previously asked me to make a list of flowers and shrubs that I like, which he can then vet for their behavioural characteristics - for as with people, beauty is only petal deep, and plants may run amok or succumb to weevils as soon as look at you, which would never do. I went away and did that, and also added a list of my own parameters the plants must meet - not all of them(!) - but I would like the garden to include some plants like this in the mix:

  • Hardy
  • Perennial
  • Architecturally interesting 
  • Not overly prone to pests or disease
  • Not overly prone to self-seeding / going bonkers
  • Slightly acid-loving
  • Easy care
  • Variegated foliage
  • Seasonally colour-changing foliage (two for the price of one)
  • Plants with silvery / frosted foliage in winter (bit niche, this)
  • Plants with shoots that droop down like exploding fireworks (arguably even more niche!)
  • Arrestingly blue flowers

And last but not least....SCENTED. Which is where you all come in. I would be most grateful if you could suggest flowers, shrubs or trees (dwarf varieties only!) that have a nice fragrance. Not honeysuckle, as I have just chopped one of those down, haha.

The clematis survived the cull....

So far I have come up with a peachy rose, 'Virginal' mock orange, lemon-scented geraniums, jasmine, and a daphne of some description, but I have lots of time to gather more ideas, which can then be fed into / run past the gardener's reality-checking algorithm.

Strangely, I love the smell of lavender as a shrub - and it ticks the architectural box as well, also 'bee-friendly', if I was sufficiently ecologically-minded to have that one too - but not in any other format, so that is on my list. And I have a selection of mints in pots already, which I love to smell, though I don't really care for mints as a flavour either, plus the different varieties are not all pleasant by any means(!). I think apple mint is the one that smells traditionally - and acceptably - minty to my nose.

In my research on possible contenders for the big planting next year, I chanced upon four plant terms or names that made me smile:

  • Ranunculus
  • Macrophylla (sounds like a kind of immune cell)
  • Bracts
  • Panicles

So in addition to scented suggestions, do add any quirky horticultural words to this list. ;)

Oh, I nearly forgot...there has been one new addition to the planting already - 'Larry the Locust tree', donated by my friend Kate. He comes in the biggest pot I have ever seen, so am mindful that the watering operation needs to be substantially scaled up, especially in the hot weather. He provides a nice focus at the newly cleared end of the patio, and hopefully will soon recover from his inevitable transplant shock. 


Old Herbaceous said...

Ooh! I have been gardening for longer than I have been studying perfume, which is why my blog name is Old Herbaceous, after a book about an English gardener. So here's what I suggest: following your identification of lavender as a smell you like, make a list of floral fragrance notes you like (such as rose). Remember to think about spring bulbs, like narcissus, if you like those. Rosemary Verey wrote a lovely book called The Scented Garden, and it's a great guide and inspiration. If your garden gets enough sun for several hours a day, you can grow herbs (like lavender) such as rosemary, which gets pretty blue flowers. Also, if you have enough sun for lavender, there are several different varieties with different shapes and colors. You're going to have so much fun with this, now that you have a real gardener. You'll want to list floral notes from plants that cover different seasons. So rosemary smells good all year round; roses bloom in the summer, with some repeating bloom; you can find bulbs that cover a period of months, from very early ones to summer-blooming lilies. Then you can share your fragrant plant list with your gardener, who can tell you which ones will work! Have fun!

Old Herbaceous said...

Oh, and for a shady spot, there is a lovely hydrangea called Shooting Stars, whose flowers droop a bit and they do look like fireworks, but white: Hydrangeas like slightly acid soil. Also, you should be able to find lavender with silver leaves. Another great silver perennial that is also aromatic is Artemisia Silver Mound. And a number of herbs have variegated leaves, like sage. I wouldn't plant mint in beds though, since it can become invasive as you may know, but you can grow it in pots. If you like the scent of gardenias, there's a great dwarf one called Gardenia jasminoides "Radicans"; it is evergreen so it makes a nice ground cover. You can save space by growing roses on a trellis against your sunniest wall; I think the most beautiful and fragrant ones are David Austin's English Roses,

Ines said...

I was going to say lavender but you already have it on your list.
One I like as well is immortelle, doesn't have a strong smell but is quite calming when near it.

Anonymous said...

I love Philadelphus (Mock Orange) - beautiful white rose-like blooms that smell heavenly; my favourite is Belle Etoile. Different varieties grow to different heights and spreads, so you can choose one to suit your space. My other love is Trachelospermum Jasminoides (Star Jasmine) with a perfume I would love bottled. I had two which I grew in big pots, with a fan shaped trellis buried in the pot for support, which limited them and kept them from entwining with other things. They were evergreen, which is a bonus, and both grew really well in totally opposite conditions! Finally, there is a flower called Nemesia and the one I love smells of vanilla; such delicate little blooms that keep coming; lovely in pots and hanging baskets as well as flower beds.

Your gardener is a treasure! And getting to grips with a garden and transforming it is so rewarding - it's hard work, but so rewarding. You have done well.


Vanessa said...

Hi Old Herbaceous,

Wow, I lucked out having you drop in and read this post - there's a clue in your name, hehe, and that of your blog.

I do have some rosemary in one of the patio pots, and a couple of sage varieties. And the various mints in pots are staying put, because I did know they would grow unchecked otherwise. And you make such a good point about ensuring year round fragrance - I know the gardener is keen to ensure year round colour and foliage interest, but that makes perfect sense too. I have quite a few garden books with scented plant sections, and should go through them with a fine tooth comb picking out what catches my fancy and checking what time of year they bloom. The book you mention sounds good too! Ooh, I do love lilies, now you mention them, also as a note in perfume (a lot). And I did have a hydrangea, but it was misbehaving in some way. The gardener is happy to replant one so thanks for that 'firework leaning' tip off. Then I absolutely do like gardenias, so will make a note of your dwarf variety, and you will be pleased to learn that the gardener will *only* plant David Austin roses. Thanks for your sharing your thoughts - you clearly have Very Green Fingers!

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

Oh, that is interesting...I know immortelle as a note in perfume but don't think I have ever smelt it in life! And will definitely get some lavender in there as it ticks a lot of boxes.

Vanessa said...

Hi Jillie,

Thanks for confirming mock orange and jasmine as possible contenders - your big pots sound magnificent. 'Trachelospermum' also counts as an entrant in the wacky gardening name competition! Have googled some pictures of Nemesia, which looks versatile as you say and seems to come in lots of 'colourways', if that can also be said of plants. ;)

Tara said...

Hi V, I'm no help I'm afraid. I wish I was one of those people that find gardening, cooking or cleaning relaxing but sadly it's just lying in bed reading for me haha.

My dad had a corner of shame in my parents'garden but luckily during lockdown I got rid of it all when there was left over room in the skip they had for the old fence. Made my mum so happy she stills talks about it now.

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Now you have got me curious about what exactly was in your dad's corner of shame, hehe.

And I feel comforted to hear that there are other people who are not natural gardeners. I really am only qualified to mow a lawn and remove truly flagrant weeds, such as dandelions and chickweed. With all matters horticultural beyond that I am on seriously shaky ground, but hope to be trained up a bit by this gardener chap on the odd days I can get him!

Undina said...

I’m miserable at gardening: even when I try my best, I kill plants. Luckily, we have almost no backyard to be upset about (it’s more like a large balcony), AND we have several local plants that found their way into our backyard without our participation and survived despite everything :) The only plant I’m upset about killing is Daphne Odora. That was the second one I killed without intending to. I’ll try one more - as soon as I can get to somewhere it’s sold. It smells so wonderful for a month when it blooms! And it looks great the other 11 months of the year. Not sure if you can find it in your area. But if you do, I highly recommend it.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Another friend with less than green fingers. It is good to know I am not alone. Daphne is very much on my radar - and on the original list I gave the gardener - so will see if I can include it in the planting scheme. I have an idea I used to have a Daphne at my last house, though as ex-Mr Bonkers is even less into gardening than me, it surely won't be there now. ;)

Anonymous said...

Good luck with the garden. I can’t really offer much practical advice as we have lived right next to the North Sea for twenty years and I have come to realise that only certain things will survive the salt the wind blows in, I have learned to accept and love the plants that thrive...
Fortunately that includes (English) bluebells. They are beautifully fragrant and I planted a lot more, the haze of deep blue in ear
Y summer is spectacular and bees, especially native bumblebees, love them.

Vanessa said...

Hi Helen,

Gosh, that sounds a bracing part of the country - I have come across sections in garden books about the sort of plants that are hardy enough to thrive in exposed locations, just never known anyone living in such a spot!

I love the sound of your bluebell display, and I can well imagine the bees would too.

Anonymous said...

Lily of the valley? Night-scented stock sounds very romantic, but is an annual...AnnieA

Vanessa said...

Hi AnnieA,

LOTV is on the list...I am resisting annuals but they do have a lovely scent. I seem to recall a Floris perfume based around the note?