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Gardening: Path or plant

22 May 2020

iStock

PEOPLE in quarantine have found themselves getting around to long-put-off jobs. Those blessed with a garden space have had more time to scrutinise every corner. This year, I have re­­­ceived a run of the “Help! What can I plant here?”-type emails with pho­tos of some beleaguered plants at­­tached. A surprising number fall into the category that I call “short cut”.

In the world of grounds main­ten­ance there are “desire lines”: routes that people tend to take through the landscape to get from A to B. When designers of public spaces ignore them, the result is com­­pacted “paths” through planted areas. Gardens with low footfall will suffer less, but my first response would be to go with the flow, remove plants that keep getting trampled, and replace them with some stepping stones or stone chip­pings.

Soften the effect of hard land­scaping with low-growing de­­­pend­able plants such as snow-in-summer or golden marjoram in sun or in shade. Most ground-cover plants will withstand the occasional foot­step. You can’t beat creeping thymes in a sunny spot to create evergreen hardy mats of aromatic foliage with the bonus of bee-friendly pink or white flowers in sum­­­­mer. Thymus “Hartington Silver” has cream and green varie­gated leaves, and T. citriodorus “Archer’s Gold” is lime green and has a lemony scent. Mix up varieties to create a tapestry of leaf and flower colour. In moist shade, a similar effect can be achieved with the plain green, silver-variegated and golden forms of Soleirolia soleirolii along­side the intensely fragrant Corsican mint.

If, on the other hand, you want to deter cutting through there are some lovely looking shrubs that dis­cour­age even a brush past with their thorns or prickles. Berberis has a humdrum reputation: I suspect this is because it is so easy and overused in amenity situations, but it can be a lovely addition to a bed or boundary.

Berberis darwinii has small glossy evergreen leaves and bright orange flowers in spring. In autumn, its blue-black berries are a lovely fea­ture. Berberis julianae, another ever­green with particularly long sturdy thorns, is attractive with glossy leaves, fragrant pale-yellow flowers in spring, and blue-black berries in autumn.

Berberis thunbergii is deciduous with light green leaves that turn a striking red in autumn before the even brighter red berries. There is a purple-leaved form, B. thunbergii f. atropurpurea, and both are worthy garden or hedging plants with pale yellow blooms. They have given rise to many cultivars that sport leaves in a range of interesting tints: some mottled and some with contrasting margins. “Golden Ring” has purple leaves finely edged with yellow. “Maria” is one of the best golden-leaved cultivars.

Other tough candidates to block the way include hollies, pyracanthas, sea buckthorn, and Rosa rugosa.

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