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GARDENING Wild ones, divas and crammed commuters

Outdoor Living

Gardening
Venetia McEllin

It’s amazing how the garden landscape changes through the year. Returning from a week’s holiday in Portugal at the end of May, I was met by a forest of vegetation romping away in the flower beds.  Of course, when I examined it, the majority of this growth turned out to be grass and weeds.
However, the beauty of a packed flowerbed, when you don’t look too closely, is that you can really ignore these rogues for quite a long time (except things like bindweed and creeping buttercup which really have to be kept in check.) In fact some ‘weeds’ positively spice up the flowerbed when nothing else is flowering. Herb robert, rose bay willow herb, corn poppy and opium poppy can all appear without any help from us.
If you like the wildflower look, some of these can be left to flower, but do whip them out before they set seed. You’ll have enjoyed their colour and made the bees happy! When everything is past its best and you start cutting back your perennials, shrubs and roses, you can pull the grass and other weeds out then.  
When I started gardening, I liked nothing more than the look of healthy plants neatly surrounded by rich brown soil. I didn’t realise then that the rich brown soil was a magnet for weeds. So, I have gradually become a more-relaxed gardener and don’t head for the hoe the minute I see a stranger in the flower bed.
This year I grew cornflowers, coreopsis, larkspur and ladybird poppies from seed and as always, couldn’t bear to throw out any surplus seedlings. So I had the bright idea of using a raised bed for all surplus plants and then transplanting them to other flower beds as the need arose.  
The result? I am now drowning in a sea of tall cornflowers and larkspur, which I regularly have to stake up against the elements. I will of course end up chopping them down when they get too much and too floppy. Mental note to self for next year – only plant as much as you need!
My perennial rudbeckia, echinacea and heleniums are very slow to flower this year. The leaves are very healthy, the plants are tall and strong but the flowers continue to have their eyes closed! I should really have divided some of them last year to make more space but as it is, they are all squashed together like commuters during rush hour in the London Underground. This does help out in windy conditions as they prop each other up – another good reason for massed planting.
There are exceptions though. My pale pink Peony Contessa de Nemours (the diva), does not look happy in this company of thugs, and I have been told that this is why my beautiful blue stemmed Eryngium isn’t growing. I will have to move them to a better spot next year.
On a brighter note, my roses were superb this year; masses of flowers and healthier foliage, although they would have lasted longer without the wind and rain. I don’t know whether to put it down to Jimmy Morley (check out his Facebook page) giving us a tutorial in rose pruning, more feeding (when I thought of it) or, as friend Helen said, the really good summer last year. Enough said!

Venetia McEllin is a member of Ballinrobe Garden Club, which meets on the first Tuesday of the month at 7.30pm in Tacú Resource Centre, Ballinrobe.