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Notes from a Head Gardener ~ My front garden working for me

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Now seems like an opportune time to try to explain my front garden. Firstly, because I am spending a lot more time in it than I thought I would during this lockdown spring. Secondly, because it requires a certain amount of explanation. Thirdly, because my good friend Andrew, a former Highgrove colleague, told me that I ought to write about it a long time ago.

Erysimum ‘Sunset Apricot’ in front of my midnight blue home

The Wallflower ‘Sunset Apricot’ is so utterly crumpled and scrumptious and it is out in my front garden as I write this. I am so entranced by it that I am wondering whether I painted the whole of the facade of my house midnight blue purely to show it off. I didn’t, of course. I painted it blue because my house is a solid but unremarkable 1951 ex-council house on a street full of equally solid but unremarkable houses.

How could I make my unremarkable home different?

I didn’t set about painting the house straight away but I did start to make my mark. The rampant Lonicera nitida hedge was (in my itchy scissor fingers opinion) crying out to be fashioned into something rather smarter. So, over time, it has developed a series of bumps along its top. This is easier said than done. Lonicera nitida is rampant and requires almost constant trimming from April until November. It’s exhausting and I would swap it for Taxus in an instant but it does a fabulous job of protecting us, the house and my plants from the evil north easterly wind that whistles through town whenever the weather gods decide to make us shiver.

My darling Acer (no longer with us) doing what he did best (moody gaze into the distance) in front of the Lonicera hedge

One enters my front garden through an archway of Lonicera and approaches the house through a tunnel that consists of purple hazel on the right and an ever changing tangle of clematis on the left. The intention is that you feel like you are leaving the real world behind and entering into a magical realm. This may not work for everybody but it works for me and, when it comes down to it, that is what everybody’s garden should do for them. It should create the atmosphere that you want, for it is yours.

Rampant rambling Rose ‘Albéric Barbier’

Rose ‘Albéric Barbier’ threatens to engulf the house. It is a lot loftier now than in the photograph above. It now circumnavigates the porch and is languidly resting on the Wisteria on the other side. What a glorious meeting of beauties. The Wisteria was an inherited stick when I moved in just over seven years ago. Plenty of pony poo and the odd can of water and it is finally doing something. Not a lot, but definitely something. It even flowered once, about three years ago, which sent me into a flat spin of delight because it is pink and divine beyond description! I ask it to flower again every year. Maybe this will be the year? I may have to purchase another pink flowered Wisteria if it refuses again because even the most patient of gardeners cannot wait forever for those flowers.

Dearly departed Acer showing off the Iris sibirica

At the moment we have tulips and wallflowers. These will be followed by velvety purple Iris sibirica. These do so well that I have been able to divide them and incorporate them all the way along the left hand side of the path. The tulips are red and yellow. Big, fat, red Tulip ‘Apeldoorn’ and sweet little yellow Tulip ‘Cape Town’ with a tiny but distinct red edging to the petals. This edge gradually melts into the yellow making for a lovely peachy senescence.

My front garden this very morning

Later on in the summer the archway over the path will be smothered in Clematis tangutica. September is a month of yellow in my front garden. As the flowerheads become seedheads the garden becomes a shimmer of silvery gold. The C. tangutica seedheads remind me of little 1980’s hair-metal rock icons. My garden is a haven of tiny Jon Bon Jovi’s.

Clematis tangutica flowers turn into thousands of tiny rockstars

In the autumn, the blueberry (in an old tired-child festival trolley) takes on a delicious red hue and I start to use the blue walls as a backdrop to photograph the posies that I gather to give to celebrate birthdays and kind dinner party hosts. This is when my front garden must start working for me.

Dahlias from the back garden photographed at the front

My purple hazel, Corylus maxima ‘Purpurea’ has grown from sapling to stately in this front garden and it has started to produce strong upright stems. Earlier this year I coppiced half of the hazel to use as supports for sweet peas, runner beans and other climbing plants that will grow out in the back garden. It is already showing signs of regeneration. It is one of my favourite plants in the whole garden.

Corylus maxima ‘Purpurea’ forming one side of an archway over the front garden path

I have recently added two white flowered spring flowering shrubs to the front garden. One, a long flowering Ribes sanguineum ‘Elkington’s White’ and the other, the heavenly Oemleria cerasiformis. The latter was a gift from Andrew. I hope he is pleased that I’ve finally got around to explaining my front garden. The place where suburban street turns into magical cottage.

My mother enjoying a quiet moment in my front garden