Every garden has its problem areas and mine is no exception. In the north-west corner of the Back Yard our predecessors had made an attempt at ornamental gardening. A square raised bed had been built, and bulbs had been planted. We inherited a forest of Narcissus ‘Telamonious Plenus’, a 16th Century double yellow daffodil, blue bells and Ornitholagum umbellatum, star of Bethlehem.
This trio has long since broken the boundaries of its raised bed and after the bulb’s foliage has died down in June, I’m left with a large expanse of bare soil, in an area that is now classed as ‘dry shade’, due to the rapidly drying peaty soil and the trees we planted.
This inherited garden used to be a stronghold for hairy bittercress and the bane of my daughter’s life, who earned her pocket money hand-weeding ‘white flowers’.
Once the bittercress was more or less under control the area struck me as an ideal location for Lamium galeobdolon, yellow archangel, known as galloping deadnettle at Lea Gardens. It is a handsome evergreen plant with silver-patterned leaves and heads of soft-yellow lipped flower in early summer. It swallows all other vegetation in its wake – a weed-suppressing groundcover dream come true.
It roots as it goes and my annual attempts at confining it to its allotted slot grew more strenuous while proving less successful from year to year – the nettle had to go. Digging it up wasn’t difficult due to its shallow roots, and once again, I was left with a large expanse of bare soil in a difficult location.
Viola cornuta, the horned violet, will grow just about anywhere and the idea of a simple, restrained and elegant planting came to me: a carpet of scented violets, a sea of blue underneath the trees – and nothing else.
I managed to plant about twenty last autumn, and a good few more followed early this spring. The plants have settled in well, with the first ones elongating flower stems. The bittercress’ attempt to stage a comeback, was prevented in the nick of time by the edge of a sharp trowel and a long spell of hot, dry weather.
The violas don’t really get into their stride until mid-summer and it struck me as a good idea to add some Claytonia sibirica for early colour – the mauve, rather than the white flowered form. While fetching them from the nursery I found myself toying with the idea of adding some Anemone blanda ‘White Splendour’ for earlier colour yet, and said to myself that a few colchicums to prolong the season into autumn wouldn’t go amiss either.
As I set about planting in the deep, dry shade of the whitebeams, I found huddles of young foxgloves, mingling charmingly with polemonium and aquilegia seedlings. If they manage to scrape a living in such an inhospitable place, surely they deserve a chance, I told myself. There were ferns also, tiny ferns, unfurling tiny fronds.
The planting is now less simple, less restrained, and in all likelihood, a good deal less elegant than planned. In order to save a vestige of my original plans, I’m expecting all the foxgloves to be white. If they’re not, I shall have to give nature a helping hand and get rid of the non-whites.
Pink, I am told, is one of the British gardener’s favourite colours, but one can have too much of a good thing. Rhododendron yakushimanumcultivars are pink – mostly. Some have the decency to bleach to white after a while, but most remain stubbornly pink – cherry pink, sugar-mouse pink, toothpaste pink, campion pink, strawberry pink, peachy pink, blossom pink, mallow pink, carnation pink.
Green is a good antidote to pink and as we sail into June there is plenty of green – the warm greens of young oak and the vibrancy of new birch foliage, the yellow green of the balsam poplars and the tender, soft green of the Japanese larches.
Then there are all those delectable green and white combinations: Ranunculus aconitifolius and its double form, the green and white tiers of ourisias, and the incomparable purity of Ranunculus amplexicaulis. Starry wild garlic, blue-leaved hostas and the embroidered carpets of sweet wood ruff make a perfect foil for the lily-of-the-valley scented Smilacina racemosa.
Green and cream or pale yellow are equally fresh and spring-like. I never tire of Trollius ‘Alabaster’, great for the front row of a damp border, but perhaps best of all, are the newly emerging leaves of Hosta fortunei ‘Albo Picta’.
The garden and nursery are open daily from 2 – 5pm or by appointment – look for Lea Gardens in the Shetland telephone directory. We propagate and grow a wide range of plants – alpines, border perennials, shrubs and trees. All are grown without the protection of glass or polythene and are fully adapted to the Shetland climate
Alpines from £2.20
Border plants from £3.50
Trees from £1.60
Shrubs from £4.50