A new garden from old

Untitled Document

November 2013

Sometimes you have to take a hard look at the older plants in your gardeng. 

I got a bit carried away in the garden recently... The lawn needed mowing but first the hedge needing trimming (as they tend to at this time of year) so I could collect the trimmings with the lawn mower. I took a good look at this hedge – it’s a moth-eaten collection of old natives, planted in front of a 1.8m wooden fence. It grows to 3 or 4 metres and provides excellent shelter from the Nor’wester, but also shades the lawn and my small vege garden if it gets too tall. Planted by previous owners it has obviously been there awhile. And here’s the crux of the matter… it has grown more than half a metre further than the concrete edging underneath it and a metre and half from the fence. So I made the decision to cut it back – hard!

With my teenage son on the pruning saw and loppers, and me dragging away the debris, we pruned the trees back and up to reveal their trunks, but left the tops on to provide the wind break. After a few short hours a whole new planting space was revealed – a very exciting development for a garden lover with a small garden!

The following weekend the concrete edging was lifted away and a line of rocks (in keeping with the rest of the garden) added to define the space. Further the fence got a facelift, with the water blaster washing off at least two decades of green algae.  At this rate my son might get a summer job painting the fence in Resene “Ironsand”, a lovely dark grey colour that really compliments plants.

My thoughts then turned to the soil which badly needed attention. It has been feeding the hedge for some years and I know that I have a hard clay pan overlaid with a weak imported topsoil. My solution was to layer in all the leaf mulch I’d gathered along with pine needles and mulch that I collected under a pine forest.

I like pine needle mulch because one, my source is free and two, it provides the acidity for my choice of plants.  Anything else will get a handful of lime once a year. Extra layers of compost and handfuls of fertiliser will keep new plants well fed until they’ve got themselves established.

Now I’m in the exciting phase of choosing and planting. This is still a shade garden, so I want plants that will stand out beneath the trees and against the dark fence after its paint job. I’m thinking white evergreen azaleas, maybe Aline or Pax, with a rhododendron or two. Nothing too big, and some white hydrangeas to fill in the back. My Camellia Nicky Crisp is too small for its pot, so it will find a home here too. Then I’ll fill in the front with hostas, heucheras and fuchsias for a splash of colour.

The shade, and attention to watering should see this garden establish itself over summer, hopefully in time to see the azaleas flower next winter.

Now that is planned, a quick job to attend to this month is deadheading the rhododendrons which have all but finished flowering.  Their sticky seed pods are forming so if you can reach and are inclined, spend a little time removing these by simply pinching out the old flowers above the new buds. The plants look so much nicer after and it gives the new shoots forming underneath a better chance to grow. 



… after pruning
… after pruning

Azalea Pax
Azalea Pax

Rhodo  seed head
Rhodo seed head