Right plant, right place

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In February of last year I gave in to several years of gentle persuading (nagging) and we brought home a rescue dog from a nearby Dog’s Trust kennels. One of my main arguments had been that it would be me that had to get up at the crack of dawn and walk the dog and being a mum of 3 boys (i.e taxi driver) and working full-time, it was going to be  another thing to squeeze on to my daily ‘to do’ list.

However, I will confess (to you, but not the boys) that I actually love my early morning walks with Frank (yes, I know but he had already been named and it actually suits him). Admittedly, I hadn't envisioned quite how early, 6 am, but as he can take an instant dislike to another dog at 100 yards we go early to avoid everybody else, but I actually now relish the peace, quiet and solitude and don’t mind starting my day that way, even when it is freezing cold and dark.

Frank, the dog

We have a regular walk that we do most days, along a footpath made on the route of a now defunct railway track. Either side of me are deep verges in front of hedges and bordering fields which in turn lead across to the gentle hills of the surrounding downs. Yes, I am very, very lucky to be surrounded by such scenery and I am very aware that many people would love to find themselves in such a situation.

What I have enjoyed the most is seeing the changes in the verges as I walk along, from the cowslips and bluebells in the spring to the cow parsley, cranesbill, Malva, Greater Knapweed , foxgloves and Field Scabious of June and July , and in to the autumn the Achillea and berries plus all the seed heads. Even now as the mornings are lightening again the frost on the remains of seedheads and new buds is lovely. It has reminded me of that basic gardening rule – ‘right plant, right place’.

We are all guilty of going to a nursery or garden centre and falling in love, ignoring the label and then wondering why the plant hasn't been happy. I will make a confession here, when I had my first garden (of my own rather than a patch in my parents garden ) I would sometimes buy a totally unsuitable plant and think ‘acid loving’, hmm I’ll just sprinkle some ericaceous compost around it, or ‘likes damp conditions’, well, I’ll just water it a lot’. Yes, I know you are all tittering, but we've all thought we could beat nature sometimes haven’t we? A few years ago I taught a beginners gardening course at a local Adult Education college and I told my ‘students’ that when they were starting out they should look at the plants growing around them, in other gardens and the surrounding countryside and verges.

Then they should establish the type of soil that they had, clay, sand, chalk, etc and work with it and not waste time and money on plants that would not be happy. Plants will not necessarily die in the wrong conditions, but they certainly won’t thrive and grow happily and at the end of the day we all want our gardens filled with happy, healthy plants much as we do our homes filled with a happy, healthy family. So, back to my walk, I have gradually realised (it took a while for the penny to drop, all these early mornings are not good for the brain cells) that the staple, background plants in my garden, the ones that I take for granted to come up every year and do their stuff for months (supporting the more fleeting show off types) are all related to the plants I’ve seen on my walks.

Centaurea Montana (related to Greater Knapweed), starts in April and if I keep cutting back will return with a new flush several times,, the deep blue with pink centre goes perfectly with so many things, at different stages I have it with Alliums, peonies, monarda and at the moment phlox and grasses, I can’t wait to introduce the darker ‘Jordy’variety this spring.

Beautiful flowers

Similarly hardy geraniums, related to the Cranesbill, just keep on doing their stuff, I love the deep magenta of Geranium  ‘Ann Folkard’ and ‘psilostemon ‘, it probably is the most common colour in my garden. I also have a Malva moschata 'Alba' which flowers for months and it always commented on, plus Achillea and Scabious and my favourite Foxglove ‘Suttons Apricot’.

Geranium 'Ann Folkard'

So, if you too have a walk, with or without a dog with an attitude problem, then take the time to become aware of your surroundings and then go home, put the kettle on and find your catalogue or computer and get planning!

Thanks for reading,