Now that April's here ...

Two things struck me when I read my blog the other day. The first was how little I have blogged since last April. The second was the contrast between last April and this April.
Last year at this time I was talking about tulips, and and sitting outside drinking tea in the sunshine, and blossom. This year, there are no tulips yet, hardly any blossom and not a lot of sunshine. I think this winter has been the worst, in many ways, for quite a few years.
I haven't lost many plants, despite two dumpings of snow and endless cold. The main victims were two variegated hebes, which I didn't expect to survive in any case. In my experience, the only reliably hardy hebe here in the Cotswolds is Hebe rakaensis. I also have H. pinguifolia Sutherlandii, which seems to survive all right, but it's in a much more sheltered position. Even H. parviflora angustifolia, which I would normally regard as bomb-proof, has suffered a bit of frost damage.
The other casualties have been terracotta pots (now I know why the cheap ones are cheaper!), me (I fell on an icy patch and put my pelvis out) – and my bees. It's been a really tough winter for bees.
Life goes on, however, and the main project this winter has been the last bit of jungle clearance.
Regular readers (or visitors to the garden) will know that when I moved here five years ago, the garden was a "wildlife garden". I'm all in favour of gardening for wildlife, but I'm not so keen on impenetrable thickets of brambles and overgrown privet, with an underplanting of ground elder (aegopodium) and ivy.

This is how the area looked last summer, before the tree surgeons came in and lifted the crown of the yew. The twiggy things that look like saplings or baby trees are actually suckers from the cherry tree on the left of the picture.

That sea of green stuff beyond the lawn is ground elder, one of the most annoying perennial weeds known to gardeners. It will regenerate itself from a tiny bit of root left in the ground, and you can't pull it out like you can with annual weeds, because the leaves just come away in your hand. I used to tell visitors to the garden that this was the National Collection of Ground Elder, and that I was designing a show garden for Chelsea next year based around its importance to British horticulture.
The fern in the pot is another of my dreadful jokes. You've heard of a bird's nest fern? Well, this is a fern in a bird's nest. My kids roll their eyes when I do this sort of thing, but the visitors usually laugh. Politely.
Anyway, my neighbour Neil sprayed the ground elder with glyphosate in the autumn, and I have since mulched it with a deep layer of fine composted bark (I use Melcourt). The glyphosate makes a big impact, but it doesn't get rid of all the ground elder. The layer of mulch means that it's easy to see when it starts coming through again, and you can spot-treat it instead of spraying the whole area again. The mulch also helps improve the soil.

Ta-da! I now have another 40 square feet of garden! If you are very sharp-eyed, you will notice that the staddle stone (the stone mushroom) is now on the other side of the cherry tree at top left, which shows you how much space there now is.
I have started planting the area, and the idea is to have a winter garden, with snowdrops, hellebores, Cyclamen coum, and sarcococca (Christmas box). I'm using Thuja occidentalis 'Danica', which has a naturally rounded shape, instead of box (Buxus) balls, and Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd' instead of box cones, to give a bit of evergreen structure.
I love box, but with box blight such a widespread problem, I'm a bit nervous about having too much of it in the garden.
In summer, there will be ferns, Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae (wood spurge) and other shade-loving perennials.
You can try digging out ground elder (and I have done that, with limited success), but I found that I was digging out a lot of topsoil with it.  I don't have a deep layer of topsoil on my stony Cotswold garden, so I resorted to the spray and mulch technique. I don't like using herbicides, so this keeps applications to a minimum.
The only other way to control ground elder is to mow it constantly, so I have grassed over half the area, putting down sterilised topsoil (from Melcourt again) and seeding it.
Before I moved here, I hadn't had ground elder in any of my gardens. When friends complained about it, I would be sympathetic but not genuinely heartfelt in my response. "Oh, bad luck," I would say. Now I am much more whole-hearted. "OH NO, YOU POOR THING!!!! Let me fetch you an ice pack for your head, and a cup of tea, and some chocolate, and a cushion for your back!"


  1. Well, your winter has been much the same as mine - although not quite as cold ;) And it's lingering and was -2C today! It's no wonder even the bits of green are still hiding underground.

    I've not heard of ground elder - not sure if we have that around here. Now bindweed, that's quite another story - similar to you I had not dealt with it until we moved here. I practically cringe when I think back to that first year when it bloomed and I thought "my, what a pretty flower".

  2. You might know ground elder as Aegopodium podagraria, Margaret. But hopefully you will never encounter it!

  3. Sorry to hear about the ground elder. Like you I don't like using chemicals, but you have definitely doen the right thing. We use the melcourt compost. it's fantastic stuff. it's not cheap, but as with most things in life you get what you pay for!


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