THE SUNNY GARDEN

Every region of the temperate world has contributed to the wide range ol plants -shrubs, roses, herbaceous perennials, bulbs, annuals and biennials — that thrive in the sunny garden.

In choosing plants for the sunny parts of your garden, it is sensible to consider in what area of the world each plant grows wild, or, if you are growing a garden variety (or cultivar), to find out where the species comes from. I believe strongly in giving each plant a habitat as near as possible to its natural home. Sun-loving plants grow in many different terrains -open meadows, peaty bogs, limestone mountains, sandy heaths, gritty screes, even deserts – but they share one characteristic, that they will not flower well without plenty of light. In areas where the heat is torrid, sun-loving plants develop their own systems of management, such as storing water in succulent leaves, but we are dealing here with plants from temperate climates, which may not get as much sun in Britain as they enjoy at home, but can adapt if we put them in appropriate quarters.

Of these, roses, native to the whole northern hemisphere, including the Arctic, are amazingly versatile, and will grow almost anywhere given sun and good treatment. The maquis of the Mediterranean provides us with a wonderful range of aromatic, evergreen shrubs and sub-shrubs, such as lavenders, rosemaries, myrtles, cistuses, sages, which will prosper with us if given their natural conditions of good drainage and preferably some lime. North America, with its wonderful flora, is particularly rich in composite daisy-plants which cross the Atlantic well. South Africa sends us sensational bulbs, like agapanthus, from which our nurserymen have bred varieties hardier than the species. From the acid bogs of the Himalayas come primulas for growing beside sunny streams and pools. From China we have hundreds of flowering shrubs, and from the Alps and other mountains of the world come certain alpines which will take to life in raised, gritty beds in the English garden. Eucalyptus and hebes from Australia and New Zealand make themselves at home here if we give them some shelter. The sun-lovers of South America are mostly too tender for the outdoor garden in Britain, but even these we grow in quantity as bedding plants.

Having chosen the sun-loving plants which will suit your garden best, and peonies) will flower in light shade, though not so freely as in sun. Some plants from countries with acid soil (like Japanese hostas) will acccept lime without com-plaint. Lime-lovers (like cistus) will grow in acid soil if it is not too heavy. Some of the easier alpines, ccustomed to the gritty soil of a scree, will fit into ordinary soil in a mixed border. Many plants from hot countries, like Greece, prove perfectly hardy because they go underground in winter. Even an abutilon from Brazil may flourish on a sunny wall. In the long run, your greatest asset is your own feeling for plants and your own experience, which often belies the accepted wisdom.

Decided on the most suitable site, well-drained or boggy, acid or alkaline, you must think about their cultivation. The important thing is to start them off well, planting shrubs and perennials with grit/ manure/sand/peat/leafmould/bonemeal, according to their needs, and to cosset them for the first two years, especially in the matter of water, for they may dry out before they are well established. Plants which need constant watering after that are not practicable, in my view, unless the gardener has nothing better to do than walk around with a hose. The best way to keep perennial plants supplied with moisture is to mulch them, applying blankets of decayed compost, peat or pulverized bark when the soil is wet to keep the moisture in when sun and wind are doing their best to take the moisture oul. Water only if plants are clearly flagging. Annuals, of course, having shallow roots. Must be watered with particular care.

Having said this – that plants should be well sited and well looked after when young – it is uplifting to find how many plants manage perfectly well in conditions which are not ideal. Much of the pleasure of plants grown for autumn colour lies in watching the gradual suffusion of the leaves, so if you are choosing a Japanese maple I suggest one which is green in summer rather than the ever-purple varieties which can be monotonous to the eye. There are many acers with fresh green leaves in summer, deeply dissected and exquisite in shape, which turn slowly to an autumn blaze of orange and scarlet, and ‘Osakazuki’ is one of the most spectacular. A slow-growing, rounded, deciduous shrub or small tree, not usually taller than 6 feet (1.8 m), it can be massed in a large garden, as at the Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire, or Sheffield Park in Sussex, or grown as a single specimen in a small garden, perhaps in a lawn near the house. Another widely grown, taller Japanese maple, of more delicate colouring, is ‘Senkaki’. The coral-bark maple, with pink stems and light green leaves which turn pinkish gold in autumn. It needs a dark background, perhaps a conifer, to set off the pastel pink, green and gold.

These maples need a rich, moist, preferably peaty soil, and protection from cold winds. They do well in town gardens provided they are not planted against an east wall, where morning sun on night frost could scorch the leaves. Though they are often listed as lime-tolerant, I would not myself chance these maples in alkaline soil.

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