I wasn’t going to tell you this, but I’ve just been re-reading parts of Samuel Pepys’s diary and have realised that the only point of any sort of diary or blog is to tell it warts and all, so here goes … the mini-herbaceous border in my rental garden in Edinburgh, stocked in May with free plants generously donated by my next-door neighbour, was a pretty comprehensive failure.
What went wrong? Well, just about everything. I was spot on when I wondered whether competition from the tree roots would be a problem. Even in a wet summer, all the plants struggled. The Astilbes went brown and crispy at the edges, the Michaelmas daisies succumbed to mildew, and the heucheras failed to put on any growth at all. The bergenias hung in there – bless their little elephant ears – so maybe, just maybe, I will see some flowers on them next spring.
So it was a failure from a plant welfare point of view (just as well there is no plant version of the RSPCA, or they’d be onto me for cruelty). But it was also a planting scheme failure. I had no idea what most of the plants were when I put them in. My neighbour is a man of very few words, and none of them included the names of any of his kind donations. When they eventually flowered (which it took them at least three months to get round to) it turned out that, apart from the Astilbe (which I did recognise), and the heucheras and bergenias, which were my own plants, virtually all of them were members of the daisy family Compositae.
This, I realised, explained why I didn’t recognise most of them: I don’t like daisies and never plant them (though I did make an exception for Anthemis tinctoria ’Sauce Hollandaise’ in my Cambridge garden). It’s not daisy flowers I object to, but the plants they grow on, which mostly seem straggly and shapeless to me.
The one thing I did get right was my guesswork about which plants would be the tallest but it didn’t really save me because I didn’t stake them so they shot up and then flopped onto their shorter neighbours. They also developed unsightly fringes of yellowed leaves around their nether regions that were not effectively hidden by the plants in front.
I can’t really bring myself to show you more than one photo of my failed experiment – even Pepys didn’t have to illustrate his disasters. So I will fill in the space with cheating close-ups of some of the rather pretty flowers, angling the shots to conceal their browny-yellow, sprawling under-carriage (though even that tactic can’t hide the mildew on the purple Michaelmas daisy).
Oh well, it doesn’t matter really. All the plants were free so they didn’t owe me anything. And the strips of turf I removed to create the garden bed are doing very nicely thank you in their new home at Sherbrooke, our house and garden in the west of Scotland.