Virginia Barton

19 August 2013: Border talk

19 August 2013: Border talk

19 August 2013

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No apologies for being repetitive. It was Christmas cards last time, but now the garden catalogues have come!

I do love a good garden catalogue, even if the need has dwindled to a handful of bulbs to tuck into a flower-pot already overfull with other things. The promise of a cheery spring is irresistible and the brightly coloured images (why are my iris never as blue as these?) tempt from every page.

Restraint is called for this year: space is limited, muscle-power halved and the budget is tight. (Quite a change from my days as an Honorary Gardener: click here). Let us select just enough to mix in with the ornamental grasses, pachysandra, and dear little cushions of perpetually flowering white flowerets whose name I have, alas, forgotten. Sturdy daffs to naturalise should do the trick.


narcissus_actaea_(pheasant_eye)Ah, here’s what is listed as a “Pot Luck Collection”: “A broad mixture of 50 our narcissus varying in height and flowering through March to late April.” I bet that won’t include Actaea, my all time favorite Pheasant Eye, late flowering, the poet’s narcissus (right). Must have ten of those. That’s £20.50 not including a few essential Scylla sibirica, to set off the whites and yellows.

Can we stretch to a few tiger lilies to replace the ones lost last year? No, absolutely not. That’s almost thirty pounds you’ve spent including post and packing. But for 70 bulbs and a recurring springtime bed of colour and joy, that’s a pittance!

So the argument goes on in my head until I put the catalogue aside, order the bulbs, and forget about them till they come in the post. Let’s hope neither squirrel nor mouse get at them for dinner.


I love the intimacy between gardeners. Each knows instinctively that the other would love a little slip of this, a few precious seeds, or a cutting of that. Even the authors of the catalogues share in the conspiracy: “This is a dandy little border favorite, always a winner.” That’s exactly what I need to hear! Let’s have a couple!

Each to his own private passion. Possibly you like to lay down another case of best Bordeaux every year, or invest in a stack of new books from the winter list? Maybe fashion or antiques, miniatures, or another gizmo are your bag?

There is no difference between us bar a matter of taste; me and my bulbs, you and, perhaps, your baking accessories. Bring your cake round and we’ll admire the garden while eating it!


(Incidentally, the plant, tree, shrub and rose catalogues have not yet come, so there may be more of this…)






  • Robert M says on: August 19, 2013 at 10:25 am


    I have recently become master and happy owner of a wonderful home out in the country whose flower beds had been abandoned and ignored for years. To my great surprise, I have found that the gardens now seem to be my masters…

    • ginny says on: August 19, 2013 at 2:09 pm


      Don’t you just LOVE it?? Very early in the morning, like 5 a.m., used to be my fave time! I would spend hours planning, poring over garden books, taking photographs etc. And it all started when my Dad said he’d give 6d for a bag of stones/pebbles picked out of the flower-beds.

      The passion was nurtured when we were on leave from Hong Kong & lived in a rented flat with a nasty little patch of grass & neglected borders crying for tlc!

      Beyond me now, but I shall like to think of you with yours Robert. Send more news of it – if you have time between chores. (Don’t forget a few actaea.) Ginny

      • Robert M says on: August 23, 2013 at 9:06 pm


        5 a.m. is a bit early for me but 5:45 a.m. seems to be about right.

        Sunlight is working its way over the hills to the east amidst the daily ground mists that I have here – I am in a long, fairly narrow depression between the hills which was a glacial stream several hundred eons ago. The ground is apparently mostly gravel once you dig down 100 feet or so, thus the water drainage here is very good. The sound of the river behind the house assures me that I won’t soon have a water shortage.

        I’ve put a significant dent in the finances with the purchase of many beautiful perrenials. My hope for next year is that my only concern will be pruning “the bounty”.

        Time to sign off – there is, no doubt, something out there that I must water…

        • ginny says on: August 25, 2013 at 8:13 am


          It sounds to me as if you will soon be giving cuttings and splits to friends and neighbours, and seeds to the local bazaar. Great!

          Shame you don’t live next door to Ginny, the arch-scrounger!

  • Coal-Filled Wellies says on: August 21, 2013 at 7:35 am


    I am connected, in a lowly administrative capacity, with a historic garden. We have a symbiotic but tense relationship with the steely-eyed ladies, with their steely scissors, who shamelessly strip our priceless plants for cuttings, but without whom we would have no reputation or profile. Ginny, we shall be watching out for you!

    • ginny says on: August 21, 2013 at 4:08 pm


      Oh! C-F W, I am shocked. I have NEVER snitched or thieved, filched, swiped or pilfered from any garden without permission. Nor would I; it’s on par with taking eggs from a rare bird’s nest.

      In the sort of historic garden you mention, one can often buy the plant you want in The Shop, or get the name from a handy gardener (often the owner, on patrol for just such wrongdoing), and find it to buy elsewhere.

      They can’t ALL be ladies with the stealing scissors surely? Perhaps the chaps use penknives… gin

  • Harold says on: August 21, 2013 at 3:19 pm


    I wonder if you ever had a pond in your garden? I just restored one in mine, with a waterfall, and the sound of the water is so soothing. Can you share any advice about pond plants like water lilies?

    • ginny says on: August 21, 2013 at 4:28 pm


      I am green with envy Harold – a pond, how delightful! Plus waterfall, an added bonus for keeping the water fresh. Is it recycled round and round or coming from a spring? The former presumably.

      I shall come back to you on this as I have never looked after a pond myself, but my brother-in-law has one which I watched growing into a very pretty feature from its beginning. I will consult him shortly.

      There is a pond with fountain in the block of flats where BH and I now live. (The water is turned off automatically at 7 p.m. for the sake of the sleeping residents and goes on again at 7 a.m. Since most of the residents are pretty ancient, like us, and awake half the night anyway, I regret this and would LIKE to listen to the fountain at night. As you say, it’s soothing.)

      Where was I? Oh yes. There is a delicate slender yellow iris growing in this pond (I would add some blue ones and brown I think…) and far too many water lilies with fewer and fewer flowers thanks to the crowding out by leaves I suspect. There are 2 fish left out 10, probably asphyxiated from lack of oxygen.

      More soon. Gin

      • Harold says on: August 21, 2013 at 4:48 pm


        It is recycled around. Years ago it was a simple loop; now there’s a super-duper hidden filter which helps keep the water from getting too murky and catches leaves (it also has caught two large frogs so far, which I rescued).

        Years ago I had fish in it but I’m not inclined this time, as it means putting in a bubbling system for when the pond freezes over in winter. Sadly, there was always a power outage one time or another and the hole would close up and the goldfish die.

        I like water lilies but they do tend to take over. Maybe something taller and less inclined to spread?

        • Ginny says on: August 22, 2013 at 5:39 pm


          My nurseryman chum Robert, from whom I get my few plants these days, says:

          “There is a very small Pigmy white flowering water lily which is not invasive.” (I googled up Helvola, a dwarf hardy, which looks charming, and is that a silver dollar held up beside it as a comparison of size? See: Waterside Nursery)

          Robert goes on: “Pontederia is another good water plant and very hardy and does not take up too much space. Both plants should be readily available.” This looks like a pale blue grape hyacinth.

          For a stunning blue contrast, what about the sapphire Siberian Iris? Or the floating oxygenating Water Soldiers? The ultimate drama queen must be the aquatic Arum Lily, with huge flowers! A group of those would be breathtaking!

          My brother-in-law is making sileage. This means he won’t have caught up with his phone messages. When he does, I will let you know what he suggests. Ginny

  • ginny says on: August 24, 2013 at 4:07 pm


    Caught my brother-in-law between heavy downpours while bailing the silage. His pond is spring-fed, and he is quite envious of your waterfall.

    Here are a few of his tips. Like you Harold, water lilies are his favorite pond plants and the dwarf varieties are no problem. He puts all his plants in pots filled with earth, with a good layer of gravel on the top, before sinking them in the water. Splitting them up every year prevents them becoming too large and taking over. He reckons the floating plants as distinct from the potted, grow really big and spready.

    He has a most attractive weeping Siberian pea tree, Caragana arborescens, growing just near the pond, with small yellow pea-blossoms in early summer. When I asked if the falling leaves did not present a problem he said no, because every year he carefully cleans the bottom of the pond with a wire rake – sounds quite high-maintenance to me, but if you Love Your Pond that’s what you do!

    He also said that water snails are brilliant for keeping the water clean; fish too, but snails even better. Every year there are heaps of tadpoles, then little frogs – then suddenly they’ve all gone! Who knows where? And not a Frenchman in sight…

    Do hope some of this is a help, I am beginning to wish I had a little pond myself. Ginny

    • Harold says on: August 25, 2013 at 9:09 pm


      I am indebted to you and your brother for such interesting and useful advice! As summer’s ending and the nights are getting cold, I will plan on following your leads come spring. Thank you so much.

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