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Herbaceous border hang-up

Our herbaceous borders need attention. The good news is that the gardening assistant has at last finished cutting the hedge – a monumental task, given the rapid growth and woodiness of Ficus nitida (Indian laurel). The not so good news is that the borders have become overgrown and full of bugs.

Of course, you might expect to have thriving wildlife if you garden the natural way. I’m happy to meet praying mantis, beetles, woodlice and – above all – earthworms when I garden. But I’m not so sure about snails, and I can’t bear cockroaches of which we have the burrowing sort in the garden, small, dark and more rounded than the “domestic” species.

So far, the front section of the border has been cleaned and the canna, roses, plumbago and jasmine cut down (above right). Plants in the rear section of the border now have to be cut back, notably the white plumbago which has spread all over, and the roses.

It has been a poor year for roses: Ours started off strong, bloomed beautifully in the spring and then went downhill all the way. After the first flowering they produced what looked like suckers (although not from the base of the plants), with smaller flowers and straggling and tatty growth, then suffered major infestations of mealy bugs which spread elsewhere; or maybe hit the roses from elsewhere, I’m not sure.


Come November, we had some unexpected blooms, for example from the bottlebrush tree (Callistemon citrinus). Most faithful of all through the year are my beloved hibiscus. Pink, red, orange or yellow, single or double, they keep flowering – reminders of the beauty of nature through sunny days and dark times alike.

In truth, I think the main issue with our borders is that the planning and planting haven’t quite worked. We placed climbing bougainvillea, honeysuckle and jasmines along with hibiscus at the back. In front of them are bush jasmines, roses and plumbago. Forward in the beds are the smaller plants – osteospermum, dianthus, daisies, aeoniums, with space for some annuals, especially petunias, in the spring. There are two patches of cannas, with their glamorous spikes of bright red and orange flowers. Of these, one has spread like topsy, the flowers shrinking in size commensurate with the spread of the plants!

It seems I planted too densely. It’s a common error among gardeners, a failure to imagine quite how large plants may grow and how much they can spread. Plus the honeysuckle quickly gets out of control while the plumbago spreads all over, suffering the same pest attack as the roses. It’s a horror story in the section nearest the pergola.

The pergola is an ongoing case-study in overambitious planting: jasmine and honeysuckle, a climbing rose and to top it all off Ipomoea with its spectacular blue flowers. If anyone asked me what my plan was when I put them there, I wouldn’t be able to answer coherently. You will get the drift from the image below at right: how prolifically jasmine can expand!

Today, the gardener stripped much of the greenery from around the structure, lopped the Ficus trees, and – sadly – trimmed the Ipomoea so all the blue has disappeared for now (above, left).

Finally, I should end with our olive tree. Last winter, we planted a new one, to replace one that never bore fruit. We are looking after it, and it appears to be thriving. A small gesture, I know, but worth making.


Olive sapling, planted early in 2016