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Oscar’s garden

28 March 2013


THE first hint of spring brought a chance conversation with a woman who breeds Tibetan Terriers. One of a litter born last October had been returned - her owner had been unable to cope. Was she particularly problematic, I asked.

"Why don't you come and meet her?"

And that's how Marnie entered our lives. I had forgotten the mixture of excitement and exhaustion that goes with having a young dog in the house. When Marnie's schedule of dashing, chewing, and relieving herself in inappropriate places had ceased, and she lay amid the jumble, I found myself visiting the spot where our previous dog, Oscar, was buried in the garden.

Perhaps I had some residual guilt over this impostor on his territory, or perhaps I was just reminded of his younger frays. Rather than ponder too much on this, I turned my thoughts to the plants I had used to create Oscar's garden.

Planted in October 2011, two shrubs had put on an impressive amount of new growth. Ludlow's tree peony, Paeonia ludlowii, is the exception in a slow-growing tribe. It was already a sizeable specimen, well on its way to the expected height and spread of 6ft × 7ft after five years. I look forward to the buds atop the chunky, gaunt stems bursting open in April, revealing showy golden yellow flowers.

Physocarpus opulifolius "Diabolo" next door is also promising to burst into growth soon. Its bronzy purple foliage will provide a fine backdrop for the peony blooms.

I tour the garden to see what other plants have established themselves. There is another Physocarpus - "Dart's Gold", which proved to be a winner last summer with bright yellow foliage that didn't scorch in full sun.

That great coloniser of our railways, the butterfly bush, is up there, too. I have Buddleja "Lochinch", with lavender flowers and soft grey leaves.

The evergreen Ceanothus "Puget Blue" has particularly clear blue flowers, loved by bees, in May. Since it is not completely hardy, soon it should be the best time to plant, giving it maximum time to establish before winter frosts: against a sheltered sunny wall is best.

The herbaceous member of the sunflower family Helianthus "Lemon Queen" bears an abundance of pale yellow daisies from August to September, when colour can be lacking in the garden. My, how it spreads, though! It is a plant to dig up, divide, and replant at least every other year in winter or spring. This will yield great chunks of plant material to give away to others in need of easy summer-holiday interest, and has the added benefit of reducing the final growing height, which can otherwise reach a rather floppy 6ft-plus.

The sunflower leaves only a delicate fawn skeleton of stems in winter, but with the gorgeous Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii the coldest months are when we appreciate it most. I admire the unfurling croziers of luminous bracts. Hang on. What is that gaping hole at the base? M-a-a-rnie . . . !

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