Tidying up herbaceous plants and some travelling plants

After what seems like months of rain and cold weather, today was at last a sunny day with no wind. Everything needs doing at once, but having finished pruning the roses and hydrangeas, I decided to spend some time tidying up  the beds and pots around the terrace behind the house. There is a herb bed at the side, I cut back some dead pieces of sage, took out a dead tarragon plant and cut back the lemon verbena – it always grows back strongly and makes a lovely airy plant giving height to the bed. Also it’s good for tea and flavouring desserts.

Next I removed dead annual plants and weeds from the terracotta pots.

There is a long bed running along the outside edge of the terrace, the terrace is elevated giving great views of the Dordogne valley.  At the other side of the terrace from the herb bed is a short bed with one hydrangea and some lavender plants. This hydrangea has really suffered in the recent hot summers and I think there may be pipes below it, meaning there is not much room for roots.  The lavenders are also past their best and I may renew this bed completely.  However, it is lovely to see the bees, butterflies and elephant hawkmoths in the lavender when you’re sitting at the table.

Gaura lindheimeri 'Whirling Butterflies'

Gaura lindheimeri ‘Whirling Butterflies’

The long bed below the terrace has 6 pink hydrangeas, and originally when I moved in 4 years ago, 2 salvias, one being Hot Lips, the other a red one, and some white and pink Gaura lindheimeri. The Gaura is a great plant which tolerates hot dry weather and winter wet.

Penstemon 'Sour Grapes'

Penstemon ‘Sour Grapes’

Anyone who thinks plants can’t travel should see this bed.  The Gaura plants have travelled down to the side of the swimming pool, the red Salvia has died, and ‘Hot Lips’ is struggling, I think due to the droughts in the last 2 summers, despite watering.  However, mysteriously, a red hot poker (Kniphofia) and a very healthy Penstemon, possibly ‘Sour Grapes’, have appeared.  Clearly quite a lot of plants have been planted here and some of them have been dormant until the Gaura and Salvias gave them more space.

Salvia 'Hotlips'

Salvia ‘Hotlips’

I cut back the Salvia and will fertilise it, hooping it will make new growth, and then cut back the dead herbaceous growth on the Gauras down to ground level.

I have had a similar surprise at the side of the house, where the big mixed country hedge to the adjacent vinefield was cut back last year, as was a low spreading conifer at the side of the front garden, to reveal a clump of Irises, which must have been hidden there for years.  Unfortunately I didn’t see them flower, so don’t know what colour they are.  The ground went from being much too hard and dry to move them, to much too wet and boggy, so I am going to have to  split them up and move them to other locations jin the garden now, before it gets too hard again! The correct time to do this would have been after flowering in the summer. However I think somebody said that the right time to do something in the garden is when you have time to do it!


Winter in the garden

IMG0189AThe weather can be frustrating at this time of year, especially during the wet winter we are experiencing in south west France.  My garden, which is largely heavy clay, and exposed to the wind at the top of the coteaux near the river Dordogne, is completely sodden at the moment after some 2 months of rain.

If we have a rare sunny day,or a clear period between showers, it is tempting to rush out and start doing something -anything- in the garden.  However it’s important not to walk on or try and work the soil while it is really wet, as this damages the soil structure, and especially if it is clay soil, it will become really compacted.

Now that the worst of the frosts and snow are probably past, it is a good time to prune roses and hydrangeas and tidy up herbaceous plants.

Pruning roses


In my garden, I have several large shrub roses growing against the post and wire fence adjoining the small wood behind my garden. They were already here when I bought the house, and are quite large and spreading.  I keep them fairly large to contend with all the vegetation coming through the fence and concentrate on pruning out dead or diseased wood and tying them in.


In my front garden,which is more formal than the rest of the garden, I have planted a mixture of David Austin English roses, and old varieties of single and repeat flowering shrub roses, in shades of deep red, purple, pink and white, separated by lavender bushes.


The single flowering roses require minimal pruning, by up to a third of their size, as well as cutting out dead and diseased and very spindly growth. Prune with a diagonal cut just above a bud.

The English roses and repeat-flowering shrub roses can be pruned by one third to two thirds, again also cutting out dead, diseased and spindly growth.


With all these roses, I am aiming for a good shape with a fairly even height over the bush. After pruning, I apply rose fertiliser, watered in if it doesn’t rain, and mulch around the plants, not touching the stem. This year I am mulching with bonfire ash as I have a lot of it and it is high on  potash and good for flowering and fruiting plants. You can also use garden compost or manure.

Hydrangeas and herbaceous plants

I have several hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) in my garden, 7 pink hydrangeas in the bed around the terrace at the back, and one white hydrangea in a half wine barrel.  As hydrangeas need a moist soil, I was surprised to find that they do very well, but I do have to water them in periods of drought, and I also mulch them with ashes from my woodburner.

They are easy to prune, having left the old flowerheads on over the winter to protect the buds from frost.  Just prune down to the new fat flower bud at the top of each stem, and prune out any very thin or dead stems at ground level.

You canalso clear the dead growth above herbaceous plants and put on the compost heap.