Not the secret garden

Taming rambling roses

I’ve been pondering for a while what to do with this area as its been mostly ignored since we moved here six years ago. It’s the boundary hedge adjoining the neighbour’s garden – I use term hedge loosely as it’s a rather scrappy collection of shrubs held together by rambling roses. The bed in front is generously wide and has a few nice shrubs, but the soil is terrible– the least improved clay in the garden with persistent bindweed and horsetail. Last year I pulled out a forsythia that had gone woody and full of canker so there’s also a gap in the hedge, and the soil is mostly covered in creeping ivy and moss. The photos aren’t terribly clear as they were taken on one of those grey February days when you realise how much your mood is affected by the light levels.

What I have got though is rather a nice holly tree, which is buried beneath the rambling rose.  Todays plan was to clip it into shape and take the first steps to creating one of those lovely topiary structures á la Levens Hall that’s neither a lollipop nor a chess piece but something individual and organic.

But to do this I had to remove yards and yards of rambling rose and I had big misgivings about this, as it’s rather beautiful. I’m unsure of the variety but my closest guess is Félicité Perpetué, and in summer its smothered in creamy white double blooms. The rose had grown up through the holly and it took a couple of painful hours balanced on the stepladder with my loppers before I could separate the two.  I felt like Mary Lennox’s evil counterpart, tidying away all the mysterious beauty of the secret garden with its overgrown tangle of roses. Although I’ve removed a huge amount, I have left seven or eight long rose stems in place, and woven them through the remaining shrubs at a lower level.  I hope the drastic cut will be rejuvenating and may encourage flowers nearer head height instead of way up in the branches.

I also planted some bare root natives to thicken out the gaps – guelder rose and spindle. Excitingly, I got to dig in some of my newly acquired manure (see Investing in the Soil) before I put my shrubs in. They also got a dusting of mycorrhizal fungi powder over their roots before planting, and a bucket of water after which should help them settle in. If you look very carefully at the picture you can see the robin on the pile of earth; it appeared as soon as the soil was turned over and stayed until it was too dark to work.


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