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Border Control: Gardening by David Wheeler

Blog | By ​David Wheeler | Aug 25, 2023


Call it May Madness if you like. A hare seen spiralling around an adjacent

field seemed similarly afflicted, as giant machines made silage, disturbing its equilibrium and, possibly, nearby nest.

My madness was of a different cast – the making of long herbaceous borders which I know full well someone else will have to maintain. Despite chronic back pain since major spinal surgery in 2018 and a life-changing cancer op just before Christmas last year (and trying to forget I’m approaching my ninth decade), I remain an incurable garden-maker – a creator, not a curator.

Hence the new borders – 56ft of them, seven feet deep.

May Day proved a timely moment to lift the turf. The overall length is broken in the middle to form a grass path into the newly planted apple orchard. And each half has a central break to accommodate a south-facing bench – sitting awhile now being increasingly important.

The design makes four rectangular beds – a less daunting prospect than one unforgiving, lengthy monster. I have had two of them roughly dug, ahead of being turned to a fine tilth after an initial weeding. The other two are subject to a no-dig regime, in an unscientific attempt to gauge the pros and cons of both methods. For height (unpruned, they’ll tower above my now round-shouldered six feet), I have planted two strong-growing, upright roses – Rosa moyseii ‘Geranium’ and its equally delightful kin ‘Highdownensis’. As the borders overlook a nascent collection of Japanese maples, chosen for their spectacular autumn foliage, the roses were selected more for their conspicuous late-season hips than for their early-summer flowers.

But the main reason for the borders is to billet my Siberian irises, hardy, easy- going, reliable, floriferous, variously- blue-shaded (other colours are available), clump-forming herbaceous plants which give of their best in late May and June. They like damp ground, which south- west Wales bestows freely. Usefully, their flower stems (upwards of three foot in some varieties) are taller than their leaves.

creamy ‘Chartreuse Bounty’, chalky- white ‘Gull’s Wing’ and the 1970s-bred, bicoloured ‘Butter and Sugar’.

To avoid the dangers of monocropping, I must introduce other plants to interweave among the irises and to provide colour and interest, once these beauties have retired.

Sidalceas are a new pursuit and we reckon we have just the right (moisture- retentive) soil for the larger types of lobelia – scarlet L cardinalis and guardsman-red L tupa, alongside the butterfly favourite, ‘Starship Blue’.

These summer bloomers will fill the gap nicely until the fabulous array of symphyotrichums (asters to you and me) take over. Stay tuned.

David’s Instagram account is @hortusjournal