Tuesday 12 December 2017

Gardening - Diarmuid Gavin... in the night garden

Enjoy your garden under the cover of darkness by planting whites and silvers to catch the moonbeams

Diarmuid Gavin. Photo: Mark Nixon
Diarmuid Gavin. Photo: Mark Nixon
Lamb's ear
Night scented stock
silver sage
star jasmine

Do you ever venture into the garden after dark looking for slugs and snails who are chomping on lush foliage? I do, and I pluck them off, put them in a plastic pot and release them into a neighbouring field where they can chomp away.

The predator slugs have been lucky recently as my attention has been diverted on these warm, dark evenings; I've begun to relax and enjoy the senses which are highlighted after dark, colours that shine by the stars and the wafting scents of perfumed plants.

Some colours which look great during the day really add an extra dimension to evening and night-time gardening. White, cream and silver-coloured flowers, and foliage look luminous in a summer moonlight garden. Their petals and often velvety leaves reflect whatever light is available from the moon, stars or other gentle ambient light sources.

It's another layer of enjoyment, which can add a slightly surreal but definitely magical air to garden spaces. Add to that wonderful scents and some sound effect (the occasional dog bark in the distance or nocturnal wildlife wandering in search of their grub) and the result is a restful experience helped in no small way by the fact you can't see weeds, unmown lawns or any of your other never-ending gardening tasks.

The evening is so often the time when we can to sit, relax and enjoy ourselves, so take some time to consider how you can develop a nocturnal wonderland to enjoy after a long day. Iconic gardener Vita Sackville-West dreamt up a famous garden at Sissinghurst Castle, Kent, the home she shared with her husband, Harold Nicolson. Nicolson planned the garden as a series of outdoor rooms, one leading to the next by means of tempting framed views and openings.

Vita's genius was to plant them beautifully and the most renowned 'garden room' is the one designed to be appreciated by moonlight with owls swooping by: the White Garden.

Vita wrote beautifully about the creation of this garden, observing that the many herbaceous perennials were planted in midwinter as the first snowflakes settled on the ground around her. So what do we have to do to capture moonbeams in our own plots? Firstly, consider if it's a suitable planting scheme. Maybe don't develop the whole garden as an evening time reflective area, just a spot, or if you have a courtyard area.

Most of the plants will like lots of sun, so an open sunny aspect is best, with well-drained soil which has benefited from some good conditioning (addition of well-rotted humus material such as manure). It's very easy to echo the picture that Vita painted, but plan to have a succession of whites through the seasons.

Snowdrops (1) will kick off the gardening season, you can follow your bulb planting with white tulips (2) and alliums (3). There will be some lovely white crocus bulbs (4) in the garden centres shortly and even drifts of small bulbous anemones (5) will create a remarkable carpet under trees or in pots. Midsummer will see trumpet lilies (6) standing to attention in borders or grouped in pots on the terrace.

If you're an avid gardener you won't shy away from the challenge of persuading a cardiocrinum (7) into bloom (if you manage that, send me a picture - I love them!). The final large white bulbs to create a dramatic show will be agapanthus (8), again in the border or in pots.

White wisteria will scramble up a wall once given a helping hand with supporting wire as will the slightly thuggish evergreen clematis (armandii) (9).

Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternata) (10), philadelphus (11) and magnolias (12) are all wonderful luminous flowering. For lower growing species, try the silver foliage artemisia (13). White osteospermums (14) will thrive as a sunny ground-cover. Try acanthus (15) for drama. Lambs ear (stachys) (16) and silver sage (17) deserve to grow in every garden.

The heady smell of bright trumpet lilies can fill the hot June evening air. And add creamy white heliotropes (18), which produce a vanilla scent.

Star jasmine (19) is super for training around door and window frames, and will fill the house with a super scent from May through to July. Night-scented stock (20) is a must for the night-time garden and don't neglect the out-of-favour alyssum (21), which has a tiny white flowers and a sweet scent.

This week in the garden:

If you like a pristine green lawn and have been encouraged by Centre Court in Wimbledon, it’s time now to give it a second feed.

If you are using a granular feed, take care to water it in a couple of days after spreading if you do not get any rain.

Feed hanging baskets. Continue to deadhead, especially sweetpeas. Even if the idea of a total weed cull is too much, remove the flower heads of dandelions and  any other weeds to stop  them propagating

Pin down the strawberry runners which are beginning to ‘run’.

This will ensure new plants for  next year.

If you don’t capture and release slugs or snails in your plot, leave out attractive saucers of beer which they can’t resist. They will drown happily!

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