We all have them, don’t we? In gardens large or small there are forgotten areas that we tend to leave to their own devices; patches of ground sometimes inaccessible, sometimes hiding in plain sight that we somehow just never quite get round to sorting out. But maybe we don’t need to, maybe leaving them alone is just the right approach.

Here Richard Orton describes the extraordinary array of wild flowers he has discovered growing along his drive and encourages us to allow parts of our garden to fend for themselves.

Please don’t think I’m advocating laziness when it comes to matters horticultural, heaven forbid, but a walk up the lane with the dogs this past week made me stop and rethink my approach to one of, if not THE most used part of the garden, the drive. 

Anyone who visits Lewis Cottage has to walk or drive down it. It’s nice enough, hedges on both sides, daffodils in the spring, and pretty floriferous the rest of the year but nothing overly spectacular and a part of the garden that we’ve long wanted to revisit and I thought, to replant. But is it as underwhelming as we once thought? It would appear not, as my gentle amble last week brought home. I’m not quite sure what caught my eye first, I think it was the very upright white comfrey (Symphytum officinale) which most definitely wasn’t there last year, a welcome interloper courtesy of the local birdlife I suspect. 

As my gaze shifted left, a patch of Lamium orvala  came into view, and then I couldn’t help but look further. Atop the hedge, Symphytum hidcote blue has begun to colonise a space once hidden but now open to the light and further along, a large patch of greater stitchwort.

 I was so amazed at what I was finding that I headed to my wildflower bible, Wild Flowers by Sarah Raven and began a list. Here’s what I found:  wood sage, yellow archangel, common vetch, greater celandine, honeysuckle, maidenhair spleenwort, primrose, bluebell, three cornered garlic, wood avens, winter aconite, lily of the valley, lords and ladies, male and lady ferns, hard fern (Blechnum spicant), hart’s tongue fern, foxglove, dog violet, enchanter’s nightshade, columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris) black leaved cow parsley  (Anthriscus sylvestris Ravenswing) and this is all without mentioning plants I know we’ve added in the last couple of years including various species roses, Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium caeruleum), a white form of Viola odorata and a pink form of toadflax called Linaria purpurea Canon’s Went. 

That’s around 30 different varieties of plants in as many yards/metres and apart from ‘sticking in’ the odd plant here and there everything has found its own way there and settled into its new spot, and very welcome they are too. 

Maybe I caught it on just the right day, maybe the light was good, maybe I was just in the mood to notice things. Whatever it was, it made me realise that sometimes leaving a space to define itself is the best choice to make. 

Top tips for the coming month:

Start planting out summer bedding plants towards the end of the month once the risk of frost has passed.

  • Remember to ventilate your greenhouse or polytunnel
  • In these days of hosepipe bans, make the most of your watering regime by watering early in the morning or late in the day and start collecting and recycling water wherever possible.
  • Harden off half hardy plants by leaving them outside during the day and bringing them in at night
  • Continue to divide border perennials and established hostas to improve the vigour of the parent plant and increase your stock.
  • Tidy up penstemons by pruning old stems back to new growth or to the first set of leaves.
  • Tie in sweet pea plants 
  • Top dress permanent container plants with new compost. 
  • Thin out direct sown veg such as carrots, spinach and lettuce.
  • Weed around your onions and garlic to stop competition for nutrients .
  • Protect your strawberry plants with straw (to confound weeds and lift fruits from the soil)
  • Check gooseberry bushes for evidence of sawfly caterpillars and remove. 
  • Continue to weed beds and borders.
  • Allow foliage from spring bulbs to die down naturally and resist the temptation to cut it all back for neatness!
  • Plant up summer containers ready for putting outside at the end of the month.
  • Don’t forget to take time out with a glass of wine (other tipples are available) & enjoy your hard work.

Further information on the garden at Lewis Cottage can be found here.

May 24, 2023

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