Can you see where I’ve been?

So much for getting back to posting regularly – and to never getting more than a week behind on my blog reading. Ho hum. On the bright side, I have been managing to get more gardening done than last year. Lots of weeding. Quite a lot of seed sowing. A lot of the weeding has been in the front garden, and it is by no means over! The “pointy end” – or “bow end” as TNG calls it – still resembles an abandoned building site more than a cared-for garden. I am gradually working my way forwards, towards the sea, removing weeds and attempting to replace them with plants.

I’ll post about progress in the fence border another time, today I am celebrating what I hope is progress in the wall border. I say “hope” because I’ve not had much luck with this border. A lot of plants have died. The soil is free-draining, almost sandy in places, and apart from one small area near the driveway, basks in full sun. It also basks – if that is the word – in the northerly gales during the winter, and the soil takes longer to warm up, but it should be perfect for plants like salvias, agastache, Phlomis ‘Amazone’. All of which have turned up their toes. I am staring at the stump of last year’s wonderful Agastache ‘Blackadder’ willing it to burst into life, hoping it is just a little tardy.

The ‘vision’ for the length of the border that runs alongside the wall was for a drift of Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ with accents of swordlike leaves from Eryngium yuccifolium, shots of blue from Echinops ritro, edged with lamb’s ears  and lifted by – well, take your pick from the list of now dead plants earlier. I do love the combination of perovskia and Eryngium yuccifolium.

Eryngium yuccifolium and Perovskia 'Blue Spire'

Both plants thrive here, for the most part, though I have had problems with establishing smaller perovskia plants. I’ve also found that the eryngium is less reliably evergreen than I had hoped, so that it doesn’t provide me with the winter structure I had planned for. I’ve also found that  Helictotrichon sempervirens, a wonderful evergreen – everblue? – grass loves the conditions, but I planted it too far back in the border for it to have much impact. I had been intending to use annuals and the ever-present lychnis to fill the border while I carefully experimented with accent plants, but this is quite labour intensive, and I have a weed problem. Amongst the usual suspects – hairy bittercress, rosebay willow herb, that thing with bright red stems and rosettes of quite pretty leaves that spreads like crazy – I have this:

red sorrel

It spreads by underground runners and quickly chokes itself around and through other plants. The networks of plantlets can be vast:

weedy network of red sorrelred sorrel

For ages I didn’t know what it was, but the lovely people over at the All Horts group on Facebook identified it for me as red sorrel. And paradoxically it might have given me the answer as to why some plants are hating that border. Red Sorrel apparently thrives on soil with poor drainage and low nitrogen. I’m not sure I believe the poor drainage, but poor nitrogen might explain a few things. The bizarre thing is that sorrel prefers acidic soil, and mine tests – and behaves – as neutral to alkaline. Time to get that testing kit out again, and work out the best way of improving the nitrogen levels.

In the meant time, I have been pondering how to plant the border more densely (to help suppress weeds), including some plants to add evergreen structure over winter, and to do this as cost-effectively as possible given I don’t have time to wait for home sown perennials to be large enough this year. So, I have moved the blue grasses closer to the front, divided and consolidated the lamb’s ears to make a run of edging, added lavendar ‘Hidcote’ behind the lamb’s ears punctuated by the blue grasses, and chanced my arm with a trio of Salvia ‘Caradonna’. I’ve also planted three Japanese anenomes (‘Honorine Jobert’) towards the back in amongst the Verbena bonariensis, and inspired by several photographs of pale yellow flowers growing with perovskia, planted three Sisyrinchium striatum. This is doing really well further up the garden, but once I have finished all the planting I will be mulching thickly with compost. Hopefully this will start to improve the soil. The only problem is that most of the plants are still barely out of winter dormancy, so you can see where I have been, but mainly because you tell where I have watered. I had been going to sow some poppies in amongst the other plants, but I think mulching is more important.

Sea end of wall border

This is the sea end of the wall border. You can see the sisyrinchium, some of the lam’s ears and a blue grass, but the salvias, existing echinops and new lavendar plants are less easy to spot. You might notice I had a little friend while I was gardening, a blackbird.

Pair of blackbrids

He was accompanied by his better half. They were so eager to get at the worms and other bugs I was turning over for them while I worked that they got very brave, risking being hit by low flying plant pots to get at them. They must be nesting nearby, could they have young already? They were certainly cramming their beaks with lots of wriggly things rather than eating as they foraged.

emerging anenome coronaria

Further up the border towards the house I was really happy to see the emerging Anenome coronaria, they were planted very late on the year before last, and did virtually nothing last year, so I presumed they hated the soil too. Apparently not true. They do create a dilemma though, what to plant in amongst them that won’t stop them flowering but won’t leave the soil bare. I have some Geranium ‘Roxanne’ that I could relocate that might do the trick.

erysium bowles mauve with tulips

The tulips aren’t as good this year, I need to add more in the Autumn, but I have planted new Erysium Bowle’s Mauve in front of them and one behind, next to the hebe. I have learnt the hard way that I need to trim the erysium back each year, just like the lavendars, to keep them from becoming too woody too soon, so hopefully this will mean they don’t swamp the tulips…

One thing I am a little concerned about is whether the flower colour of the Persicaria affinis ‘Donald Lowndes’ will clash with the ‘Bowle’s Mauve’ – the flowers start off pale pink, which will be perfect, but they go a reddish-pink as they age. I am using the persicaria as ground cover around the hebe up to one side of the mini birch grove, so I guess time will tell. I may have to move one of them to the other side of the hebe. I hadn’t originally planned on them being so close to one another, but as always, when I came to the actual planting, I changed my mind.

There are still some quite large areas of bare soil where I have removed plants – and weeds – but I have cerinthe and various annuals for this area until I can firm up my plans.

So, progress. But I am now having my usual crisis of confidence. Will the plants all grow, given that apparently I have such terrible soil. How could I not notice that the soil was so terrible. Why did I ever think that X and Y would look good together. Ask me in a couple of months, once everything has been mulched and has bedded in a little. On the plus side, lifting, dividing and moving so many plants means I have pulled out an awful lot of red sorrel… And at least I now have a name for my latest nemesis.

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37 Comments


  1. Hi Janet, I do share your love of the combination of perovskia and Eryngium yuccifolium, just beautiful!
    Gosh, that red sorrel is really a stinker of a weed! Your photo of the mother plant with the underground runners and the plantlets is quite informative. I am glad I don’t have to deal with that in my garden. Battling dandelions and oxalis, my most obnoxious weeds, is enough for me ;-).
    It is really interesting and refreshing to read how much thought you put into your plant combinations. I hope they come out as good as you envision them.
    Regarding the low nitrogen levels in your soil, I think that mulching is really the best thing that you can do to improve any poor soil. It has done absolutely wonders to mine and believe me I have bad dirt. The only challenge for me is that ideally I would have to mulch the whole garden four to five inches high each year to get optimal results. That I can’t do financially and although energy-wise, but doing it as much as I am able to has also helped a great deal.
    Warm regards,
    Christina
    Christina recently posted End of Month View March – Front Yard Side Bed


    1. Hi Christina, I know you are right about the mulching, it is just a shame about what it means for the poppies and various self-seeders that I like to let have their way. But ultimately a price worth paying. As to the planting combinations, I am, as usual, swinging between optimism and despair!


  2. Good to know about the Red Sorrel–it’s always helpful to solve some of those mysteries. Regarding the mulch–in addition to improving the soil, it will help to keep the weeds and Red Sorrel out. Also, do you know of a source of marsh hay in your area? I have found that to be the best mulch I’ve ever found. It has to be marsh hay and not field hay, because marsh hay won’t have weed seeds in it. Marsh hay slowly decomposes to improve the soil, too. Your tulips are such a lovely color!
    Beth @ PlantPostings recently posted Tree Following: The Mystery Buckeye in April


    1. Hi Beth, I do like to have a name for my enemies! The red sorrel is a nasty little beast, though rather impressive, the runners seem too fine to be up to much but are surprisingly strong. I’ve never heard of marsh hay, I will have to look it up, but I will definitely be mulching. I think I have let my desire to enjoy the “good” self-seeders outweigh good gardening practive, high time I made up for it.


  3. I look forward to seeing it in all it’s glory later. If your soil is veering towards alkaline just think how well that sorrel would grow if you had acid soil. A neighbour once asked me to identifya plant that she had recently ‘bought’. She had planted it in a hole containing good compost and it was flourishing. The problem was it was your sorrel that had been growing in the plant pot – the original planty must have died and the gardeb centre had sold her a weed.

    Blackbirds do become very tame – they are still at the building stage here.
    Sue Garrett recently posted A weekend on the plot


    1. Eek! I think it would be heading for total domination if my soil was acidic Sue! How awful to be charge actual money for a weed.


  4. Every gardener has her own nemesis, it seems. I don’t have red sorrel, but I do have creeping charlie, which spreads in the same way and is threatening to take over parts of my garden if I don’t get out and pull it soon. You have been hard at work, Janet! I’m looking forward to seeing all these new plantings in bloom.
    Rose recently posted Spring Tease


    1. Hi Rose, your creeping Charlie sounds a right pain, despite the rather cute name. I am looking forward to watching everything grow, and hopefully flower. My back isn’t looking forward to all that mulching though…


  5. sorrel is a strong weed and if red sorrel is like the sorrel I get then any little bit of root left will still grow, sorry Janet to bare bad news but better to know thy enemy, it is very frustrating when you plant plants that should grow in an area to have them die, I hope your current plans work out alright, can you look in gardens in your area to see what other people are managing to grow in an exposed area, it might give you some ideas, as the plants grow and bulk up they will provide little protective micro climates for each other, nice you have been able to get into the garden, Frances
    Island Threads recently posted tree following ~ Betula pubescens ~ April


    1. Hi Frances, I do have a nose around other gardens, though few are as exposed as my front garden, and a lot of my neighbours have very different soil, it is amazing how the conditions change within quite a small area. And now that you come to mention it, I have not seen salvias or agastache, but perovskia thrives in a garden even more exposed than mine, which is one of the reasons I was keen to plant it. And yes, you are absolutely right about the sorrel, but the runners are so fine that it is impractical to get rid of them all, thankfully regular yanking out of the pieces that re-emerge weakens it greatly, just like bindweed.


  6. Most of my garden grows with joyful exuberance. And the exuberance gets pruned, chipped, and returned as mulch.
    I have one sad patch, where even the really tough self-seeders, fade away on me. Still battling that bit.
    Diana Studer recently posted Fishing for diamonds and dolosse


    1. I think home made compost is one of the gardener’s secret weapons, only problem is I could always use three times as much as I can make! Our long wet winter hasn’t helped much either, but even so, most of the garden is prodigiously healthy. Just need to work on the rest! As for inspiration from the wild surroundings, absolutely, but we don’t have quite the Abundance of native flora that you have. More forms. And colours. Those inspire me. Just need to get the soil in fine fettle!


  7. can see you’ve been battling the borders Janet – just wondered if the whole border is effected or whether you have pockets of poor nutrition. Might be worth doing sampling over smaller areas to check. Red sorrel sounds so lovely but I think I’m confusing it with a breed of horse – looks as bad as Mare’s Tails which claimed victory over me in allotment days!
    The sheer mention of salvias makes me salivate with envy – wishing them good growing! p.s. following your example, ordered some things for my neighbour’s garden from Peter Nyssens’ – so prompt had to rush out and buy compost for the bare rooters!


    1. Good luck with your Peter Nyssen haul! Mine is madly healthy I’m happy to say. It is more pockets than the whole area. Maybe partly due to over working. Lots of organic matter should solve it.


  8. Good to see that you’ve doing plenty of gardening. I’m thankful that I don’t have any red sorrel on the plot. I’m sure that you’ll eventually end up with a lovely front garden even if it takes longer than planned, and a bit more effort. xx
    Flighty recently posted April plotting


    1. Hi Flighty, it’s been good to spend more time outside, I could do with more of it! I think a lot more mulching and some patience should work wonders in that border. I hope… There’s a lot of work still to do, there and elsewhere out the front, but it is good to begin to see progress this year.


  9. Your planting combinations sound wonderful Janet, especially the perovskia and Sisyrinchium striatum. I wouldn’t worry too much about clashing colours, they might turn out to surprise you. I planted a load of bog standard hardy fuchsias (pink/purple), of which I seem to have inherited the national collection, in front of my Cornus kousa. And then after I’d done it I thought about the burnt orange autumn leaves of the Cornus.. actually it was fab!
    rusty duck recently posted I May Have Made An Enemy


    1. Hi Jessica, I hope I am pleasantly surprised by the persicaria, some of the best bits of the garden are happy accidents rather than the result of careful planning. I’m looking forward to the sisyrinchium and perovskia too, and to seeing the lavendar swarming with bees. Time to move on to the next bit…


  10. It’s interesting I have discovered that I have one small area where the soil is clay. It was part of the Perovskia beds so only planted once so I’d forgotten that it was different but the Perovskia never grew as well in that bed! I might be able to use it to my advantage now by putting in something that needs that little bit more moisture. Carry on the good work; you’re getting there and after all it’s all about the journey!
    Christina recently posted In a Vase on Monday – from the cuttings garden


    1. Hi Christina, I think this border is more diverse than any other area in the garden, and overall it is more sandy than anywhere else too, hence the planting choices. That said, the area I planted the birches in is lovely and rich. I do find myself wondering what is going on underneath, there are a couple of areas elsewhere where there is only a few inches of soil and then concrete covering drainage pipes. Maybe the same is happening in places here too. But it is coming together, I just need to mulch – a lot – and learn what will and won’t grow, rather than just assuming I can grow anything that in theory will enjoy the conditions! it is fun, mostly, its just that there is so much more to do out there that I want to feel confident this area is under control so that I can move on without letting the sorrel etc take over behind my back. Though I think the sorrel, like the bindweed I am battling elsewhere, will be a long running war rather than a single battle.


  11. I have enjoyed reading what will flower in your garden this year. You certainly show that gardening isn’t for the impatient, it does take a while to understand soil conditions and what will work. I do love ‘Blue Spire’ – mine is recently planted and I’m hoping it will look good this summer. The red sorrel looks a very invasive plant with those tough roots – it’s a great idea to learn about it so that you can defeat it!
    Wendy recently posted Spring Bees and the Cetti’s Warbler Challenge


    1. Hi Wendy, it all looks wonderful in my head, it will be interesting to see what works and what doesn’t. I am looking forward to seeing what the soil in the rest of the front garden is like. it will probably be mostly annuals this year, but if I can get the basic shapes marked out then I can plot and plan for planting next year. I’m sure your perovskia will look wonderful by summer, and the bees will adore it, butterflies too, it is one of the reasons I am so keen to have a great swathe of it.


  12. Blimey a horrid weed I don’t know – how pleasing! I don’t think I’ve come across red sorrel before and certainly don’t want it as yet another adversary. I transplanted several clumps of miscanthus last year and only much later realised I’d also transplanted couch grass in amongst them into a couch grass-less bed. Argh! Keeps us challenged though, eh? D
    David Marsden recently posted A High Wind In Sussex


    1. I wish I hadn’t met red sorrel too Dave! I feel your pain re the couch grass, it is another of my ongoing battles, next time I create more border from grass I will employ glysophate first, it is so dispiriting to have to keep digging things up to clear up the rootball. I also find “Mind you own business” likes to hitch a ride around the garden, but at least that is comparatively benign.


  13. Most interesting reading through this and hearing your thought processes – and I will be one of many who are very relieved we don’t have red sorrel in our gardens! When you plant up what is a nearly bare border it is often hard to imagine how quickly things bulk up as the season progresses. Have you considered annuals to fill any temporary gaps?


    1. I will be sowing lots of annuals for that very reason Cathy, but I am pushed for time, so would dearly like to get the ground smothered in plants elbowing each other out of the way that I can then split and move in a couple of years. But you are right, I remember planting little lavender plugs in the herb bed and being astounded at how large they were by the end of the year.


  14. No red sorrel here thankfully. You’ve got a battle on your hands Janet. I wonder have you tried digging (or getting your OH to do it sounds far better) down to see just what’s below.
    I think mulching is the best course of action. I hope you new additions thrive for you especially after the amount of thought that’s gone into them. I wish I had your focus when it comes to choosing plants.
    Angie recently posted Garden Bloggers Bloom Day April 2016


    1. Hi Angie, no, I am hoping to avoid trying to dig down, since there are plenty of plants really thriving (apart from the red sorrel!). I’m relying on mulching saving the day… Watch this space!


  15. Hope you defeat that red sorrel, sounds just as fun as our couch grass! Could you try some nitrogen fixing annuals from the pea family, to give you quick colour this year and help the soil along with your mulches? Perhaps some lupins or sweet peas…


    1. Hi Sara, I have couch grass too. And bindweed. Such fun!! Planting nitrogen fixers is a great idea, I can think of one patch where I might be able to squeeze a wigwam of sweet peas in, but otherwise I am relying on the Power of the Mulch!


  16. I too am trying to catch up….lots of work there and making progress. I haven’t even gotten to weeding. I love that many plants are showing up and blooming….and I look forward to seeing the progress your hard work will produce!


    1. Hi Donna, most of what I am doing at the moment is weeding! At least it is great exercise, plus it gives a good up close and personal view of the borders. Hope you are soon feeling caught up – and if so, you must tell me what that feels like!!


    1. Indeed! Mulching part one is complete, and I will mulch even more heavily in the Autumn. As for the possible clash, I will just have to wait and see! Some of my favourite garden combos are happy accidents that shouldn’t have worked but just did.


  17. Our soil is terrible to work with, yet going by the length of blooming time which many of the plants have, it must be pretty rich in nutrients. There are very few weeds which I could name, glad you brought the Red Sorrel to my attention. Erysium Bowle’s Mauve, is this the plant which we referred to as perennial wallflower, oh! Myra just told me it is, I must say the perform exceptionally well round our way, must get a few.


    1. Hi Alistair, I can certainly recommend Bowle’s Mauve, if you trim it back once or twice a year to stop it becoming woody it keeps a lovely neat dome shape and flowers almost non-stop all year. It is short lived because of this but grows easily from cuttings. I am working at adding more nutrients to most of my soil, though I am rather enjoying growing plants that thrive in harsher conditions too, so I think I will keep the different conditions going.

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