It is an essential activity for a gardener, especially at this time of the year, when the pressure to weed, deadhead, mow and stake is over. You can think about what you want the garden to do next year that it didn't do this. While you wander, you see things that have got out of balance and need adjusting. Perhaps you need to create air space for a shrub that is being overtaken by a bossy neighbour. Or curb ivy.
That is what I have been doing this week. Ivy is a brilliant ally in dark, dry places under trees where little else will grow. It fills a narrow strip under the yew trees that march along the eastern boundary of our garden, a stone wall behind. While I wasn't looking, the ivy crept up the trunks of the trees and took over most of the stone wall. Instead of three elements, three colours, three textures, the strip was reduced to the same dark green, tidy but lacking in contrast.
Cleared of ivy, the stone and the yew trunks now sing out quietly as you go by. The celebrated gardener E A Bowles used to scrub the trunks of the yew trees in his garden at Myddelton House, Enfield, to bring out the oxblood colour of the bark. Actually, he got one of his minions to do it, but minions are in short supply here. While I was working in this patch, usually left pretty much to its own devices, I noticed that two promising thick young wands of a Rubus Tridel 'Benenden' had died off and blackened at the tops. This is a sprawling shrub, but I love the great sprays of papery white flowers in May and it can cope with its unpromising billet beneath the yews.
A branch of cotoneaster which I had planted as a quick filler in the early days had dropped down close to the rubus and had evidently discouraged it from pushing out any farther in this direction. I wonder how they decide who is top dog? Both these are vigorous growers, but the rubus had made no attempt to stand its ground. Now I have cut off the cotoneaster branch, in fact lifted the canopy of branches all over this section. I should have done this sooner.
In a battle for space, you usually have sympathy with one combatant rather than another. Or perhaps will be more amenable to chopping than another. The cotoneaster, cut hard back, will sprout again with cocky ease.
The cherry 'Tai Haku', although much bigger than the cotoneaster, also seems to give way to it. It grows branches on three sides, but not the fourth. This tendency needs to be checked. A badly balanced tree is not as good to look at as one with poise. It is also more likely to fall over in a gale. I thought about taking the domineering cotoneaster out altogether, but the east is a chilly boundary. I don't want any gaps.
This kind of trouble builds up imperceptibly. A similar thing occurred on the southern boundary, where a rough hedge grows on top of a stone retaining wall. In front if this I planted a few flowering trees, the double white gean Prunus avium 'Plena', a pale-berried sorbus and the crab apple 'Hornet', which is now leaning out from the hedge at a very awkward angle.
The culprit was an elder, which was growing up straight when I put in the crab but had subsequently curved over in a canopy, taking away the crab tree's light. I leant experimentally on 'Hornet'. It is still just possible to strain it upright again if I can find a Hercules with a hammer to put in a heavy stake. But first the elder needs to be hacked back. That is another bully that should have been stopped sooner.
'Taking stock' of trees is important, for, having planted them, we tend to leave them to fend for themselves. But a tree that has forked and is growing with two leaders, or has big branches very low to the ground, or is leaning or lopsided, will never make a good long-term specimen. A tree should be a gift to the future, not a nightmare for your successor. There are nightmares enough already in the numbers of Leyland cypress that have been planted these past 20 years.
'Die, you brutes, die,' I muttered as I rounded the corner of a narrow lane on the other side of the county recently and saw that the new owners of a small stone cottage had ripped out the old hedge of field maple, ash, elder, thorn and bramble and replaced it with a row of shining golden Leylands.
They have been keeling over obligingly all this season, I have been glad to see, though that must be because of the wind rather than any psychic powers of mine. Unfortunately, the wretched owners keep replacing them. When will their money run out? Not soon enough, by the look of the extension they are building. The most radical decision I have reached on my mooching is to chop down the silver-leaved pear. Yes, I know there is one at Sissinghurst and what is right at Sissinghurst is right for the world, but never once in the 14 years since I planted it has it filled me with delight. Never once have I felt like patting its trunk and telling it it is beautiful. It is an also-ran, neither as ravishing in flower nor as useful in fruit as an ordinary pear. The foliage is grey. So what? The leaves have no particular beauty of form or texture. On that score, my leeks beat them hands down.
One thing came right this autumn: the tall monkshoods in front of the callicarpa, now both at their peak. The callicarpa is covered in its usual clusters of tiny beadlike berries, very shiny, very bright silvery purple. The monkshoods, Aconitum carmichaelii, are a saturated dark blue, later into flower than others of their kind. Behind is a silvery bramble, Rubus thibetanus. Does the callicarpa need some colchicums at its feet? Taking stock of that outside this evening will give me a good excuse to delay peeling the potatoes.Reuse content