I drew back the curtains this morning and what did I find? Sheets of rain pouring off the unguttered thatched roof onto the containers below – as has happened so many times this glorious summer. Well, at least I shan’t have to worry about watering today, I thought. And – thank goodness I got on with some vital pruning work last week when we had a few days that felt like summer.
When I moved to this garden, more than thirty years ago, it was something of a horticultural culture shock, as it was so much smaller than the one I’d left. There are many plants I can’t do without – in a big plot, space is no problem; in a tiny one (or so it seems to me) there needs to be a lot of manipulation – pruning, pinching, thinning, splitting and the like – to accommodate all my favourites, together with the many ‘rescues’ from supermarkets I’ve saved from almost certain destruction over the years.
One of these rescues is a prunus ‘Pink Perfection’; always described in plant catalogues as ‘a small tree’, but in our garden, with its sheltered mini-climate and good soil, it has become far too large, taking up more valuable space than I can afford and casting dense shade, despite an annual short back and sides.
This year I decided I would have to be more drastic, so on a rare sunny day I set to with mini-chainsaw, secateurs, loppers and bow-saw to reduce the height and spread to less than half the original.
The sunshine has flooded back into that part of the garden once more, and, although it won’t flower next spring, the tree should be as good as new the year after, saving me some regular pruning work for some time. It is important that any pruning of members of the plum and cherry family, including ornamental varieties, is done while the weather is warm, between late spring and early autumn, otherwise there is a risk of infection through the cuts from silver leaf disease, a low-temperature fungal infection which can be devastating to a group of fruiting and ornamental trees that also includes peaches, nectarines and apricots. With luck there’ll be no such problem with this particular specimen, but if the worst should happen and it dies, it will at least give me an opportunity to try out something else that at the moment I have no room for. I am well known as a hard and ruthless gardener.
Flushed with the results of this exercise, I decided it was high time to tackle the mess that was the pergola leading from the back door into the main part of the garden. Amongst other roses and climbers on this (I believe in close planting!) is an ‘American Pillar’ rambler rose that has received far less pruning and training than it should have done this last couple of years or so.
Most roses are pruned in the dormant period between late autumn and early spring. Rambler roses, however, which flower once in the summer on new shoots produced from near the base during the previous summer, are – or should be – pruned immediately after flowering, to encourage strong, new shoots from low down. In general, ramblers are very strong growing, and without serious pruning, although they also produce flowering shoots from further up the bush, and will continue to bloom magnificently, they can rapidly get into a horrible tangle.
To make life easier, and because it needs a hard heart to remove the healthy growths near the top, I have been just dead-heading the rose after flowering and tying in the new wood as it appears. This is fine for a short period, but ramblers treated so kindly will eventually end up as a complete jungle that needs serious sorting out in order to keep the roses healthy. The only answer in my case was to take the bull by the horns and set about ‘American Pillar’ until all that remained was the new growth produced this year from the base and no more than a metre above. There was still ample to tie in to the supports, cross pieces and the chains linking the pergola to the house and next summer there should be just as good a display as there was this July. In the meantime, it is lovely to look out of the back door and see more of the garden than just an overgrown rose bush.
It occurred to me that I might be able to sit out in my regained sunshine for a few minutes a day. No such luck this week, if the weather forecast is to be believed, but the rain will encourage my devastated flowering cherry and mutilated rambler to put on new growth before the end of the season. You lose some, you win some, in the world of gardening.