When it comes to new planting take a moment to reacquaint yourself with your garden and what it wants.
It’s planting time. Spring finally settles in and May bank holiday weekend is the biggest weekend for garden centres, as we all get a bit dizzy piling our trolleys high with exciting and glorious plants.
But before you emerge blinking with your bank balance a bit shocked from the battering you’ve just given it let’s take a pause. Remember last year? How many of those wonderful plants made it through? How many ended up in the compost, or simply disappeared?
Garden centres carry a dazzling array of plants these days, many of them really eye catching. But how many of these are really going to thrive in your garden? After all that’s kind of the bottom line isn’t it? No matter how fascinating or eye catching that plant is if your garden doesn’t offer the right conditions you’re going to have an unhappy plant that will limp along or give up the game entirely. It’s easy to forget or overlook this basic truth and land yourself with either a very disappointing result or a great deal of work you didn’t bargain for.
So how about doing a tour of your garden or patio taking a note of what’s going on? What aspects does it have, what type of soil is it – chalky, clay, well drained? Is it windy, is it steep, are there walls to provide warmth and shelter, does it get waterlogged? What is thriving there already? Do you have hedges that will take up all the moisture, trees that will cast shade?
Most gardens will not just have one situation. Even a small patio or balcony can have micro-climates – the front of the patio might get more wind, one corner be shadier, a wall gives off more heat. So it pays to be sensitive to these variations.
Be honest, nature doesn’t bend the truth! Also it’s best to note the worst conditions. My geraniums made it through three winters and built up a magnificent mass of trailing pink flowers thick and rich with flowers all summer. Until this winter. Now they are just brown sticks. That’s fine I had a wonderful run and knew that for Yorkshire these were very mild winters – normally I would never leave Geraniums to overwinter outside this far north. But it was so magnificent I just counted my blessing each spring when I saw new shoots.
The more you get to know your garden the more success you will have. It doesn’t help that the growing notes on garden centre plants are often extremely cursory now, but if in doubt it’s worth asking one of the staff. Or the RHS often have good notes on their website for pretty much any plant you’ll see at a centre.
You can get soil testing kits that will give you an idea of the acidity or alkalinity of your soil (its PH), some can also do a basic assessment of your soil nutrients. Hands up everyone who has Rhododendrons or Azaleas that limp along year after year looking pretty sorry for themselves? Somehow that feed you give them never quite seems to do the trick does it? Well it’s pretty much impossible to compensate for the wrong kind of soil without digging a pretty big pit and filling it with the correct PH soil, and even then it can slowly revert to its native PH.
Of course all this can be taken to extremes, and we’re not suggesting that you shouldn’t grow any plants that don’t perfectly meet your garden’s conditions. But everyone only has so much time and so it might be better to focus your energy (and money) on an informed choice. So if you really do plan to try and grow a Wisteria in the far north of the country at least make sure you plant it in a sunny position and that the soil has a reasonable amount of the right nutrients.
This way you will give yourself a trouble free garden with much more chance of success and allow you to focus your energies on coaxing on the exotics that you choose to buy in full knowledge you’re going to need to give them a lot of TLC.