The "hippery" happened by accident, rather than design. At the top of the bank there's a largeish area drifting back from a curving path to finish at the eastern edge of the garden. The boundary is a wild one – holly, elder, thorn, hazel – with a view to rough sloping pastures beyond. I never meant to take in as much garden as we have, but once started it was difficult to stop. Common sense finally prevailed and I realised it was sensible to leave this last bit as the handshake between cultivated and wild, a transition between garden and landscape, cared for but not too much.
The idea of making this area into an autumn place came from one magnificent old tree standing close to the back boundary, a cockspur thorn (Crataegus crus-galli). This is an American thorn, not a British native, but it fits into a wild setting as easily as our hawthorn. The leaves are bigger though. Glossier too, and rounded, colouring beautifully in autumn in blazing shades of red and orange. Between the splayed-out clusters of leaves are bunches of red haws, again, bigger than the hawthorn's, rounded and a brilliant orange-red.
The champion cockspur thorn, as recorded in Champion Trees of Britain and Ireland (Whittet Books, £25) is 7.5m tall and 45cm round the trunk. I can't estimate the height of ours, but it stretches about 17m along the boundary fence, with branches drooping to the ground. The trunk measures 117cm round. So it is a dominant and fortunately very beautiful gift to this part of the garden, carpeted in the tent made by its dropping branches with ivy, primroses and wild garlic.
The first addition to this area was another thorn, Crataegus persimilis 'Prunifolia', very similar to the cockspur and which I thought could take over from it if there should be a disaster. Like the cockspur thorn, it will eventually be wider than it is high, and blooms at the same time in June, with clusters of white flowers. The next addition was a group of three roses (Rosa moyesii 'Geranium'), chosen for their hips, lovely flagon-shaped things, bright red, and rather more important in this context than the single flowers, which are like deep-red dog roses.
Then the hippery idea began to take root. I would put things in this wild area, but I'd only use plants that had good fruit and which, themselves, also looked wild. Rosa moyesii passed this test. Rugosa roses didn't, even though some of them have spectacular fruit. So my next addition to the rose patch (definitely not a bed) was something I'd never heard of until I read about it in Charles Quest-Ritson's Encyclopaedia of Roses (Dorling Kindersley, £25).
It's 'Eddie's Jewel', bred in the US in 1962, with R. moyesii as one of its parents. With us, it has become a taller, rangier thing than 'Geranium' and this year, it fruited for the first time. The hips are not as profuse as the ones on 'Geranium' but they are much bigger – fat, globose things in a bright orange kind of red. They seem to be lasting very well.
Now, I'm hip mad. Well, fruit mad would be more truthful, because the next two things I put up there among the ivy and the primroses were both spindles. Another sub-theme seemed to be emerging: that I would plant things that had some native equivalent. Our wild spindle is a pretty tree, favouring chalk landscapes and producing, with its pink-coloured autumn leaves, outrageous fruit in a Seventies mix of orange and bright lipstick-pink.
Most spindles fruit well and the two I chose (Euonymus planipes and E. latifolius) are very similar with long, pointed buds breaking out into the greenish flowers (not conspicuous) that produce the astounding fruit. E. latifolius hasn't yet had a chance to produce any. The tree was barked shortly after I planted it, at the beginning of this year. Fortunately, the damage occurred about half way up the stem, not at the bottom. When the top died back, I cut it off, but the bottom half continues to grow.
E. planipes, planted the previous year, has bigger fruit than our native spindle, but made in the same extraordinary way. They hang on long stalks in little clusters, each one made up of four sections like the overstuffed segments of a pumpkin. When these bright pink-red cases split, they show the brilliant orange seed covering inside. This particular species comes from north-eastern China and the far east of Russia, but it's a widespread group, tough and easy.
Once the hippery theme was set, I kept my eyes peeled for anything that looked good at this autumnal time of the year, but nothing too gardenesque. A crab apple here. Another thorn there. No rowans, as we've four in other parts of the garden. As for underplanting, I've added very little. I'm hoping the ivy will gradually creep down from the top part of this plot and suppress the creeping buttercup that is still a nuisance. So is willowherb. I love it in Scotland and wouldn't mind it in this wild bit of our garden if only it didn't send its feathery seeds everywhere else as well.
So this area is by no means maintenance-free. This year, I've been tracking bindweed, which got in among the roses. The most effective method here, where the wretched stuff was reaching for the spreading branches of the roses, has been to train the bindweed up bamboo canes. In the second half of summer it makes a spectacular amount of growth.
Training it on canes keeps it out of the way of the things you don't want to blast with spray. When the bindweed stems start tumbling off the top of the canes, you bundle them into a polythene bag, spray them liberally with Roundup, then tie the bag to the top of the cane. Gradually, the poison works its way down the stems to the roots. And you have not touched anything precious with the herbicide.
There's no shortage of trees and shrubs with good fruit: the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), the snowdrop tree (Halesia carolina), holly (but there are plenty of those in the boundary hedge), sorbus such as beautiful 'Joseph Rock' with orange-yellow berries, more roses such as R. davidii from China with scarlet, flagon-shaped hips. No. The difficulty is not candidates, but space. I'm eyeing up the field.Reuse content