Tuesday 23 January 2018

No ordinary weed

Uninvited garden guests can be a good thing, says Marie Staunton

Marie with showstopping ceanothus
Marie with showstopping ceanothus

Marie Staunton

I'm thinking of embracing the weed, because at this stage it looks like the only way forward – and no, I'm not a child of the 1960s. Buttercups are looking rather appealing, and the odd thistle doesn't offend me like it used to.

At some stage, you have to relax and accept that weeds are a natural part of a garden's life cycle. And once the flower borders start to fill out, the buttercups will blend in beautifully.

Ceanothus season is in full swing, with the plants in maturity and full flower. It is one of those glorious plants that I can't help coveting. I wonder sometimes if I'm too greedy, despite having swapped a life of glad rags for a simple one embracing the great outdoors; I still find myself wanting even more beautiful things, such as a mature ceanothus, or that very fine Acacia dealbata from down the road.

The obsession with other people's plants will have to stop, as it's costing me a fortune.

Ceanothus is a showstopper when it's in full flower, with a long enough flowering season, making it a very worthwhile investment.

The beauty of this plant is its versatility and the fact that it can be used either as a specimen plant, wall climber or just a small shrub. It requires a good bit of sun, so being positioned facing west or south will suit it perfectly. Some varieties will even do well in a coastal garden that has a bit of a wind break to protect them. For a coastal or a more exposed garden, choose 'Gloire de Versailles'.

Iris and euphorbia make a good couple.
Iris and euphorbia make a good couple.

The best time to prune ceanothus depends on when they flower. After flowering, you can take any of the leggy stems back by about half. After a winter and spring of heavy frost, there will inevitably be casualties, so any damaged stems will need to be taken out.

In my humble opinion, Ceanothus 'Trewithen blue' is just that perfect shade of blue – not too dark, with a hint of lilac to really get it noticed. It will eventually become a decent-enough sized small tree with a canopy clothed in beautiful powder-blue flowers.

In California, they describe this plant as a weed because it grows so prolifically. The common name is Californian lilac and they have no fewer than 720 varieties to choose from. Lucky old them – imagine having a weed like that for free. If there is a drawback to growing this plant, then it would be the fact that it is short lived, but 15 to 20 years of beautiful flowering is not to be sneezed at.

Ceanothus wouldn't be too fond of a lot of water, so avoid planting them in areas that are prone to holding too much water. Frost is also a big problem for these plants – understandable really, as there wouldn't be too much of it about in their native California.

Plant combinations are very important in a garden but timing is everything, and if you are new to gardening it can prove a bit tricky. Thankfully, most herbaceous plants can be moved around so that they end up in the right place at the right time.

I spend a good bit of time in our garden hoofing things out and shifting them around until they look right and complement their neighbours. I was looking for a plant to put alongside iris – the colour needed to be soft enough not to overpower this particular iris, and Euphorbia wulfenii fitted the bill perfectly.

I split up a very big clump of iris in autumn last year. They tend to flower badly when they become overcrowded, but once split into a few new clumps they should start to flower well again.

Plants can be expensive, but a lot of herbaceous perennials are fantastic candidates for division. Most are better divided in the autumn, while the ground is still nice and warm. In particular, peony roses are best moved at this time to give them a chance to settle themselves before winter starts.

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