The Stopwatch Gardener

A gardening blog from Sheila M. Averbuch

It’s my garden and I’ll purge if I want to


Click for larger imageBe honest: are you taking care of plants in your garden that you don’t actually like? Maybe it’s something your aunt gave to you, or your mother-in-law really likes it, or it was there when you moved in? If you are as obsessed with plants as I am, and study all corners of your garden to figure out where you can shoehorn in more, you need to decide whether these are good enough reasons to look after something that smells bad, bullies its neighbours, or simply leaves you cold.

Here’s a quick list of plants that have felt the hard edge of my spade this year:

French lavender: the showy purple wings aren’t enough to make me hold onto a plant which doesn’t have that pure lavender scent. By contrast, the English Lavender Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’ has a heart-stoppingly beautiful fragrance, even before the flowers come out.

Hardy geraniums: I love the geranium “Johnson’s blue”, but earlier this year I pulled out a huge clump of a different hardy geranium I’d been given which had the most awful resinous scent. What a great feeling — and I immediately recognised how I could better use the space it had been sprawling across.

Rosa Tess of the Urbervilles: the first time I saw the David Austin roses in their free catalogue I couldn’t believe that something could be so beautiful. So many of his varieties have layer upon layer of petals, and Tess is one of the most ravishing to look at. But it has that myrrh scent which to me recalls medicinal ointment. No thanks.

Neglected fern: I actually really like this little fern but it had been lost beneath an overgrown Garrya elliptica, which I’ve steadily been pruning back to the wall over the last few years. Both plants were in situ when I moved in, and I think that stopped me interfering with them too much. But the Garrya had to be pulled right back this year, as I look for more sunny places to grow vegetables (near the Garrya I’ll be growing the dwarf French bean, Masterpiece). I yanked out the fern with a bit of root ball and potted it up, and I’m happy and a bit surprised to see it hasn’t died. I’ll find it a nice home elsewhere in the garden.

Eucalyptus gunnii: my sister sent me a tree in a box when we first moved into this house, but even with yearly coppicing this plant just didn’t fit into our garden. I have composted it (with my sister’s blessing).

If your garden is a blank canvas, you may be thinking harder about how to fill it up than what to purge, but promise yourself now that you will only grow what you like. It’s a great time of year to visit gardens, garden centres or public parks to see what appeals to you. Choose wisely, and plant your kind of plants. You won’t regret it.

Is there anything you feel you can’t get rid of in your garden? I’d like to hear about it.

posted under Garden design, Gardening
11 Comments to

“It’s my garden and I’ll purge if I want to”

  1. On May 6th, 2011 at 12:08 pm KB Says:

    I’m lucky, I have friends over the road with an empty garden, so I just give them my cast-offs and fill the gaps with plants I like better. Am starting to accept that two hours of sun isn’t nearly enough for some of my favourite plants though, so there will be some more heart-breaking purges to come. They’ll be happier at my friends’ garden and I’ll still be able to see them.

  2. On May 6th, 2011 at 3:45 pm The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Kate — I was just wondering, do you have any scope at all to raise some of the levels in your garden, or do anything on the wall? It might give you 30 or 60 minutes additional sunlight! I was thinking of you yesterday because I was trying to help out a disoriented bumble with a red tail — truly the largest bee I have ever seen. She didn’t seem able to fly. I gave her a few licks of honey and then put her up into a better part of the garden where she immediately crawled into violets and started feeding, and I left a bit of water for her; she’d been stranded in that gravelly bit I have which is pretty much cut off from many plants. It was so amazing to see her stick out her little nose thing and then this tiny hairlike tongue came out of the end of it, lap-lapping honey. Today she nearly banged me in the head — I’m sure it was she I saw — flying like crazy around the garden, so obviously her strength is back.

  3. On May 8th, 2011 at 8:11 pm Christine Says:

    That’s an interesting question – gardening out of guilt! I’ll have to give it some thought over the next wee while. Certainly there are some plants that my garden-loving predecessor loved, and that I’ve kept out of respect and affection for him. For example, there are still 2 very deep purple tulips that he told me he planted for his wife (left from an original dozen). I’ve also learned a great deal from his planting choices and techniques over the years (moved here 9 years ago). So I’m glad, overall, that I’ve not ripped too much out. I’ve also discovered that he copied a number of planting features of the garden at Crathes castle, albeit on a much smaller scale, which pleases me.

    I did, however, give my neighbour (we have a shared garden) the curly tree that my predecessor had planted, once I read how huge it can become!

  4. On May 8th, 2011 at 11:09 pm Janet Says:

    I’ve come to realise that I’m a bit of a plant snob. There’s certain things I don’t want in our garden. Top of the list is Laurel, spotted or otherwise. I have a friend who loves it……I’m just worried she may give us one as a present………

  5. On May 9th, 2011 at 10:37 pm The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Christine — I know what you’re saying; you don’t want to give the impression that you’re dancing on anybody’s grave, but at the same time it sounds like you’re already appreciating the what and the why of some of the plant associations your predecessor did, so if a few tulips disappear, does it really matter? It would be a shame if everybody taking on a new garden did a huge purge; but if we’ve been living with something for years and we don’t love it, then the garden isn’t serving its purpose for us as a peaceful place. I’d love to find out what you decide to do!

  6. On May 9th, 2011 at 10:40 pm The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Janet — you are reminding me of something that Christopher Lloyd once advised: to give people cut flowers from your garden rather than whole plants, in case you end up being offended when they don’t plant it. I’ve just given a neighbour a lot of ambitious self seeders — aquilegias and lychnis coronaria — but she really likes them and her garden is pretty bare, so I don’t feel guilty. Her mother is a gardener and I warned her that her mother is going to tell her that what I have given her is common as muck, so she has been warned!

  7. On May 30th, 2011 at 1:35 pm Kevin Says:

    This post made me chuckle! I was reminded of a former boss who learned of my love for gardening. We began to exchange plants. I would grow a flat of things from seed, or root a hydrangea for her. She would give me plants (she never knew the name) from her garden. No matter what she gave me, they spread like wildfire. I was convinced she was giving me weeds, or better yet, sabotaging my garden! Finally, I purged. It took a year, but it felt great.

    Thanks for the laugh — and the beautiful blog.


  8. On May 31st, 2011 at 10:02 am The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Kevin — I think what you’re describing is very common! People always tend to give away chunks of stuff that they have more than enough of, which usually is some kind of invasive plant! Christopher Lloyd was right about not giving plants to friends, I think, unless they’ve admired it and asked for it.

  9. On June 7th, 2011 at 5:26 am Lola Says:

    3 years ago i decided i was going to do tulips big! I had displays foing off like fireworks at the fair. Each year i tried to improve each “show” learning as i went. Pairing them better for height, color and timing.
    Alas, i never could anticipate what bulbs would cease blooming when and i found it so disappointing to have lopsided scattershot drifts.
    But it seemed too decadent to discard them after a year and i soldiered on stuffing more and more bulbs in the beds.
    I finally decided to strike a balance. Smaller discrete displays using all new bulbs (costco is so cheap!). I no longer have to stare at their decapitated yellowing foliage either till July and i yank them up when they are done and chuck em. ( i suspect my favorite gardens around here do this too to keep their displays tight)
    It’s more work, but i prefer this arrangement.

  10. On January 23rd, 2012 at 8:46 pm SussexSarah Says:

    Hmm, interesting blog. I thought I was going to say that I never purged, but it’s just not true is it… first of all to go was the Kerria which thinks it is starring from escape from Colditz and is forever tunnelling under from next door. Next was the Variegated Lamium which I am pleased to see is recognised as an invasive pest in the UK – it certainly is in my garden. And then I got to work on the thousands of tiny scentless violets that get their roots under the concrete edging and the smudge coloured Aquilegias.

    It’s rare though that I get rid of something I actually bought; normally I can’t admit that I wasted my money. Instead I experiment on it, pushing it further and further into the gloom at the bottom of the garden till I either find somewhere I can cope with it or it gives up the ghost.

  11. On January 23rd, 2012 at 9:47 pm The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    You’re making me nervous about my lamium, which my mother-in-law has told me I absolutely must purge, but I do love its silvery loveliness! I’m telling it that it must not pass the line of the Apple tree, so I’ll see if I can contain it there. I love your phrasing about pushing something further into the gloom at the bottom of the garden…paints a real picture.

    And Sarah here’s to your zero tolerance on the scentless violets, which in my garden too taken with their fingernails and won’t let go, holding on with surprising strength even if they are tiny little plants!

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