Category Archives: Garden problems

AGH! (Or why did I agree to this?)

All right, I know it’s been ages and ages since my last post. A) I’ve been working like a nutcase, and B) every other moment – almost – has been spent gardening. That’s because I have rather rashly agreed to open my garden. To the extremely professional garden club here, so to people who know what they’re doing. In a fortnight or so.

This gem is the one of the veg beds:


Garlic harvested, broad beans eaten. Need to weed, dig over and place squashes – in huge pots – on top. Rain keeps stopping ‘play’. Play! Ha!

How about this, then?


Whaddya mean, what is it? It’s the bonfire heap, of course, up at the top of the meadow. Oh shiiiiiiiiiittttt. But P reckons a quick strim and this will look acceptable, if not enormously better. though we might need to dispose of an entire Matto Grosso’s worth of cleavers.

Then there are other terrible areas such as behind the greenhouse, notably, and under the camellias. But my main focus, when it isn’t raining and sometimes when it is, is this:


It’s a flower bed. Oh yes it is.


(PS: When P asked ‘are you opening the garden this year?’ and added ‘it’s quite good because it means everything gets done’ I should have hit him with the spade.)
(PPS: and yes, the letters on the image titles are indeed significant.)
(PPPS: Back in a fortnight. Assuming I live that long.)



Couch grass wars

Yesterday – Monday – the forecast was vile, but it also proved to be completely wrong.

primrose and ginkgo

So though both P and I started off gardening in 85 layers of clothing, they were gradually removed – until something more sensible was reached, cough, not until we were gardening naked. That would not have gone down well with anyone, even the Hell Hound of Harlech (who was being particularly hellish and had to be muzzled to stop her barking at the builders next door). But, boy, did we achieve lots!

Just as well, because the garden is open for the Garden Club in July. Not sure why I agreed to that, but hey. It’s good to focus the mind. There’s lots to do.

We got the windbreak up around the veg patch – a much more reliable sign of spring than the first fritillaries,


and then we launched ourselves at something that’s been an issue for several years and consciously avoided for the last three.

Couch grass.

I know, I know, everyone has couchbloodygrass. But I have one bed that it particularly infests, and it’s slap in front of the house. I’ve been trying to find some ‘before’ pics in the archive, but there aren’t any because the bed was such a disgrace. Time for radical action. And for the remaining gravel… (and for temporarily abandoning organic principles, but cough, cough).

I dug out the plants I wanted to keep and potted them up in autumn. Then I threw them away because cough grass came up in the pots. I took cuttings, most of which died because by then it was a bit too late. Then I lost my temper, and bought chemicals. So yesterday we treated what remained, carefully trimming back the wall-growing potentilla and pulling the clematis montana out of the way beforehand, covered the whole bed in ten metres of black plastic, and spread tons – well, half a ton – of gravel on top. The clematis, which is just about to flower,  was carefully brought back up and tethered down with tent pegs; that should keep it in position. Come autumn we’ll remove everything and treat the f%2!!88er again, then put everything back for another year. So, for the next couple of years or so, there’ll be pots on here.

Now all I need to do is try and recover the ability I once had to plant up and maintain a stunning container. Er, in the teeth of the winds off the Irish Sea. That should be interesting, as should the fact that the couch grass is in the wall. Oh well, hopefully successive doses of Roundup should help. Hopefully…


There are winter jobs…

… and then there are winter JOBS. Jobs which deserve their capital letters. Jobs which you’ve probably been avoiding for several years, if you’re anything like me*.

And then one sunny day, when you don’t have a deadline for the first time in months, you suddenly find yourself down the builders’ merchants ordering three tons of gravel. Like you do.


You then get back, have an argument about the size of the order which you win by pointing out that gravel magically disappears when you start putting it down and that you have got two old paths, one new path and an area by the pigsty plus the log store / ty lawnmower to do, and then the guys delivering the gravel can’t get up the hill because someone has parked on it, and then they have to do a strange reversing manoeuvre to go the wrong way down a one-way street so they can at least see the main road they’re emerging on to, during which time the man moves the parked car, and then they get to the right spot by going round in an alternative circular route because they didn’t see the man move his car, then they have to crane three giant bags of gravel over an old stone wall, avoiding the pear tree, the greenhouse and the Hell Hound of Harlech – and then a friend calls round in the middle of all this…. that sort of day.

I’m never complaining about a deadline again.

Anyway, this is what is happening:


This is the pigsty area, complete with old feeding trough which isn’t going anywhere, coal bunker which is where I store compost, and the side, hardly ever exposed, of the extension to the pigsty itself. That’s where chopped logs live in the winter, and the lawnmower lives the rest of the year. It is, essentially, mud. As you can see, there’s baler plastic under some of the old gravel, but it’s more and more baler plastic and less and less gravel.

Both of the existing paths have huge sections which are also mud, and which have – over time – gradually slumped so that all the gravel is either at one end or strewn around the garden. So they’ve been dug out

old path

(and, I am ashamed to say, weedkilled) and any plants moved, except for an old fern – I have billions – and a rotten stump which was previously interestingly shaped but which is now merely unpleasantly rotten. They are toast. Soggy, manky toast, but toast.

Then there’s the new path.


Well, it’s not exactly new as such. It was a path / death trap, because everyone knows that the way to create a path is to take some old roofing slates and miscellaneous rubble, stamp them into the soil, and shove some concrete in the gaps. (Removing the slates revealed one that was broken but carved, and I’m next door to a burial ground. Er…) So this now needs digging out, the edges tidying, and gravel laying.

And then you remember that your old wheelbarrow rotted through and went to the tip, and that you haven’t quite got round to replacing it because of the deadlines, and so you dash off to the farmers’ supply place, source of such delights, and they have two, both of which are broken, and so you zoom ten miles to Porthmadog and hooray, hooray, Wilkinsons have ONE left, and it’s the big one which you wanted. And then you get back and it’s dark anyway.

That sort of day.

I need some pretty flowers to remind me why I do this:


That’s better. That’s mad, mind, because these don’t usually get cracking until well into March, but I’m not quibbling. For once.

*Who knows, this year I might even paint the trellis…

Winter jobs (sigh)

All right, I admit it. It’s not that far away. The garden is covered in leaves, logs are chopped and stored in part of the greenhouse and I haven’t seen Next Door’s Cat for a bit (he’s gone to ground, possibly in a duvet, possibly at his actual owners, though not necessarily). We’ve had the semi-annual Bonfire of Irritation though this time, owing to a lack of planning on my part, without the equally traditional baked potatoes on which to burn our hands.

Time to do the rounds of the garden and work out what needs doing. Lots, is the answer. This is the point I feel a sudden urge to run away to sea.

There’s this:


which is allegedly a flower bed. It’s right in front of the house and contains hardy geraniums, a huge osteospermum, a parahebe and various other things. In actual fact it’s a couch grass bed, and I’m going to break with organic gardening to try and deal with it. I’ve been trying to be organic for the past ahem, ahem years – about ten? – and I’ve given up. I’ve tried mulch, I’ve tried black plastic, I’ve tried everything (though I did refuse to let P play with a flamethrower, citing health and safety and the desire to still have somewhere to live). It’s right in front of the house so it drives me bonkers every time I walk by. In the past I’ve wrestled with ground elder, I’ve had a terrible time with convolvulus, horsetail has seriously pissed me off – but none of them compare with fecking couch fecking grass. Fecking.

And there’s this:

the iris bed

This is the iris bed. Oh yes it is.

And this is also the reason why it will no longer be an iris bed. The problem, however, isn’t just that it looks good for about a month and then spends the rest of the year looking as though it’s had a rough Saturday night and just staggered downstairs for a Red Bull. The real problem is that when you confine one plant to a particular bed, disease and bugs can really get their teeth in to your precious darlings. And they predictably have.

So it’s time to sort out the good rhizomes, throw most of them out, and replant. They’ll probably go into pots first. I know you’re not supposed to do that, but I’ve always misbehaved with my irises and they’ve always been good – until I decided to clag them all in one bed, that is. They originally ended up here because it was the one place where they could really sunbathe, but since I’ve had a couple of trees down – one deliberately, one not – there’s much more light elsewhere in the garden.

Like on this bed, the bed at the gable end. South facing; huge climbing rose on the wall, plus a Parthenocissus henryii which has finally taken off.

gable end bed

Here the problem isn’t couch grass. Yet. It’s Japanese anemones. Oh, and Geranium macrorrhizum album which I’ve finally got under (nominal) control, but which constantly threatens to run amok. There are yellow flags in here and they seem to love it – strangely; it’s a bit dry – so this is one of the places where my saved irises are going. In fact they were here originally but failed to thrive because the bed was in deep shade. Not any more.

Oh yes, I also have a path to salvage:

path. honest

I do. It’s under those lavenders.

They are now over ten years old, and last winter one of them took itself off during a storm (literally: I saw it further down the hill, about to blow over the main road, when I went down to the post office). They’re magnificent, but they are on their very last legs. Cuttings have been taken, cuttings have died; more cuttings have been taken, cuttings have damped off, but I’m having one last go. I don’t mind buying new plants if I have to, but they won’t go here. I’m going to seize the chance to rework this bit of the garden, which one expert gardening friend said now ‘looked as though it belonged to a different garden’. It does; since I planted the path huge areas of lawn have turned into beds. Curving beds. The path’s staying put – it was repaired with such dedication that if the house is washed away in a tsunami the path will remain – but I’ll soften its edges. Or rather P will.

But it’s not all dead leaves and planning. It’s dahlias suddenly deciding that they are going to flower after all:

pretty pretty

Thanks goodness for that. I had to have something fab!

Surprised by secateurs

I love my secateurs – oh, thanks, I had a lovely time in Shetland, but let’s get things in perspective. I really love my secateurs.

And I lost them.

secateurs with giant tom

I had them, oh, I had them. I was fiddling about with them, in the way that you do, and put them down to do something else. Then when I went back for them – no secateurs.

Admittedly I wasn’t sure where I’d popped them down, so I went round the entire garden about 85 times, fossicking through ivy in case they’d disappeared into the maw of the overgrown walls, ferreting through the long grass in case they’d fallen down. (I have a lot of long grass which now looks as though wildebeest have been migrating through it. That would be me and Next Door’s Cat, who was – let’s just say ‘Not Helpful’, and the ‘not helpful’ needs its caps; I emphatically did not need his contribution, and how a mangled mouse was supposed to help I do not know.)

I even cleaned out the shed – dried up shrew, gee, thanks, NDC – which (let’s face it, and quite obviously given the level of rodent mummification as evidence) has needed doing for some time. I might have left them in the house, but thoroughly checking that would have led to housework – ergh – so I looked everywhere obvious and left it at that. By this stage I was even looking in places I’d already checked thoroughly, just in case.

No secateurs.

I rang up P, as we have a long-running joke about Felco theft. No, he had his own, thank you very much – very, very clear on that point, his have the turny handle which I can’t use. So I went round and checked one more time – well, you do, don’t you?

I’ve had these secateurs for years. They’re Felco 8s, and were a deal. Well, an exchange. For several years I was involved with selling books at Chelsea Flower Show, and the last day was always the usual last day mayhem:

Chelsea old(old last-day-Chelsea photo from about 1990, maybe 1989 given the shoulder pads)

but it wasn’t just members of the public trying to fit eight-foot-tall delphiniums on the 19 bus. The madness spreads to exhibitors too.

Non-exhibitors were eventually shooshed out of the show ground, but we had to wait for the lorries to come over from Battersea Park in their meticulous convoy which carefully and inexplicably (all this was apparently organised by the Army) brought them to a position exactly outside the correct stand. This was the time for all the deals which had been arranged during the week to take place; for example, my colleague almost always sloped off to a particular show garden with a heavy carrier and came back with boxes and boxes of plants on a trolley. I used to go skip-surfing for plants myself, and often had the car so full that I could barely see out as I drove away – the irises I found one year still flourish. But one year I was less ambitious: I swapped a signed copy of something on roses for a pair of Felcos. Maybe I didn’t have the car park pass that year. But they’ve lasted longer than almost everything else. Or they had (sniff).

So they are at least 25 years old. And they’re wonderful. Were wonderful.

They’ve been used and abused. They’ve been left out; they’ve cut things thicker than they should have; they’ve cut things in gardens in rented property, in the tiny patch I had with the first studio I owned, in the garden of my last place in London and now here; they’ve been used to give scale to unlikely tomatoes and strange unidentified flowers. They were an extra hand. And they were gone.

I went out and spent money. Well, OK, I spent £2.50 in Wilkinsons. (I could have spent £1, but even Cheapskate Kate realised those weren’t worth the quid). They’re OK. They have a sharp flange to hold them closed and I kept hurting myself on it, but I soon got the hang of avoiding injury. Ish. They’re grey, they’re boring, they’re not brilliant. But they do cut.

My kitchen is partly into the hill, so I see legs going past on the path by the ground-level window when I’m washing up. This time it was legs in motorbike leathers. Strange men in leathers are not a usual feature of early evenings round here (though they probably should be). Open door: is it George Clooney, bored with married life, come to me at last? No.

It is P. Removing my secateurs from his jacket. MY secateurs. MINE!

secateurs recovered

(He was very shamefaced. Picked them up by accident. Didn’t realise until he used them and thought ‘funny, the handle’s not rotating’. Can use this for years, like the time he hedge- trimmed the hedge-trimmer’s lead. Oops, I’m not supposed to be mentioning that.)

And on the plus side, I not only have my secateurs back; I also have a clean shed, sans rodents. Though I still have Next Door’s Cat, currently frozen into immobility on top of the rowan stump, staring into the grass. Mouse number two, no doubt.


I love this time of year – the garden is filling out, there are huge changes from day to day and Next Door’s Cat appears to have found an alternative feline toilet (or has maybe just moved elsewhere in my garden, somewhere with less foliage to get in the way). Some of my favourite plants for right now are my selection of ferns, some inherited, some deliberate.

It’s fiddlehead time!

fiddlehead 1

All the labels have been tossed about the garden by several generations of blackbirds, so identification is not easy. I know what I planted, and roughly where, but some things die and others have been moved over the years and some were just here anyway, so if anyone is a fern expert, pleas help!

This beast, I am almost 100% certain, is my Dryopteris cycadina:

Dryopteris cycadina

Very strange. Very prehistoric, even for a fern.

An inherited one now, or is it?

Dim suniad

This is ridiculous. The idea of four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie seems more appealing by the minute. Plus they make a noise like a herd of elephants charging through a forest while they’re doing it – quite startling if you’re not expecting it. I’ve been out there with the list of what I’ve bought over the years, the rough plans I’ve made, the notes and the assortment of discarded plant labels. and I’m still not much the wiser. This year I’ll have another go once they’re in full leaf. Frond. Full frond.


Some were never labelled, of course, because they were just here. Doing their thing in the wet west, growing like mad and looking wonderful. I have a huge collection of Dryopteris felix-mas, but what’s this one, with its distinctive ruby stems? Roger Phillips is no use; the RHS guide doesn’t help.

I suppose I shouldn’t really care; they’re beautiful. Why do I need to put names to them? Because, I think, that’s what humans do: going right back to the Garden of Eden (allegedly). We organise. We label. And, boy, would I like to label some of my ferns. So if anyone knows a good reference book, a really useful website or anything else helpful, please let me know.

and again


On shrubs and going a bit mad

Sometimes you suddenly get a bit between your teeth and do something radical. I think whatever it is has actually been brewing away subconsciously, and then something happens to pull it into the foreground and there you are – with an inspiration which seems to have come out of nowhere. You could apply this theory to great works of art and literature. I’m applying it to the big bed in the bottom garden.


This is the bottom garden, this time last year (I’m about three weeks’ behind). To the left of the red Acer is a green shrub – that’s a clethra (or, according to my spellchecker, a ‘plethora’ – sort-of right there). It’s actually in the bed behind. Just below and to the right of the plethora is a green boringness. This is a Lonicera fragrantissima. Allegedly. Boring as all out – but should be good in spring.

Nah. Lonicera fragrant-isn’t-ima. Out with it!

I’ve always fancied getting a Cotinus coggygria, a red one this time – I had a green one in my last garden. So I set off for the garden centre, necessitating a 16-mile detour due to long-lasting %@1±CCZ&*! roadworks, and there one was. Looked good, decent price. But there was something that gave me second thoughts – would it really show up against the hedge? Would it work with the glorious colour of the big Acer?

I’d already done the detour so I decided to press on – and ended up at Fron Goch, my favourite garden centre and one where you can always get really good, knowledgeable advice. I was briefly distracted by ferns (no surprises there):

Fron Goch ferns

but remembered what I was supposed to be doing (and the fact that I’d recently bought a couple of ferns). So I sought out one of the most knowledgeable staff – I’d suddenly had an idea, and I wanted to run it past someone.

Another Acer. But a different one. Plenty to choose from…

Fron Goch 3

The bed I’m considering is probably the least exposed place in the whole garden, protected by the Great Hedge of the Annual Scaffolding Winge, and the red Acer is a beauty – though it’s approaching the top of the GHASW and heaven only knows what will happen when it reaches the top. Nothing too fatal, I trust. The presence of the hedge is one of the problems – whatever I plant needs to stand out, it needs presence.

Tah dah!

acer leaves

I think this qualifies. It’s Acer shirasawanum ‘Jordan’, and it’s only fair to say that it was not cheap. But, I feel, worth it. It’s already lighting up that corner,

bottom garden

even though it’s only a baby – there it is, between the standing stones – and contrasts nicely with the darkness of its background  while also working with the red Acer (about eight or nine feet tall, to give an idea of scale – and of the need for scaffolding during the annual hedge-cutting exercise).

The leaves flush pink when younger and in sun:

baby leaves

and it is, interestingly, fruiting:


A lovely healthy plant. And now I have to go and rob a bank or something, but I’m happy. Bit like the Acer, hopefully!