greentapestry : 'Not Waving But Drowning'

Monday 23 April 2012

'Not Waving But Drowning'

Himself has suggested to me that the title of this blog should be 'The Theoretical Gardener' before quickly ducking for cover. There may well be something in this. I will read avidly about gardens and gardening, visit gardens and nurseries until my feet give up and take great satisfaction in growing fruit and vegetables and propagating new plants. However when it comes to putting it all together, the design side and maintenance I think that I will never progress beyond wearing 'L- plates'.

The above glimpse is a case in point where I have crammed in too much for the space to cope with. Just how do you strike the balance between unsightly patches of bare earth and being cramped in too close together for comfort and optimum growth? I am unable to gauge how much plants will grow, how long this will take and to adjust accordingly. This back to front spring can take some of the blame this year  - growth got off the starting block at phenomenal pace in March, with the perennials sprinting away faster than Usain Bolt. I was away for a short time during that warm spell, when it would have been a great time to get in there to move and divide. Since then it seems to have done little else but rain, so time to spend outdoors has been at a premium - in fact taking up permanent residence in the greenhouse seems a more attractive option. Somewhere in the space between the dicentra specatablis (yes I know it has a new name) and the lamium orvala is a most attractive 'Pacific Coast' iris - you can see the strappy grey leaves as well as plant with a real tongue twister of a name - Mathiasella bupleuroides 'Green Dream'.

I bought the iris many years ago on a visit to a NGS garden on the outskirts of Liverpool. It was in flower at the time which is the very reason why I bought it. It flowers in May sadly but briefly and is a most bewitching colour. I will try and post a photo when and if it flowers this year, providing that flowers are visible underneath the canopy. The mathiasiella is a more recent purchase - 2010 vintage I think. It did nothing last year - in fact it looked very poorly after the cold winter and I was resigned to its loss. However it slowly and miraculously perked up so I was looking forward to seeing its subtle flowers this spring. Now I'm not sure how well it will do - it certainly could have done with moving away from the dicentra and allowed some breathing space. I'm sure that plants like us quiver if somebody invades their personal space.

Hopefully somebody will sooner will invent an app which will solve my dilemma. In the meantime perhaps I should be ruthless and divide/move even if it is not the ideal time. Is it just me or do other people find this aspect of gardening the most challenging? Answers on a postcard please!

The title of the post is borrowed from the poem 'Not Waving But Drowning' - by Stevie Smith - not the most cheerful of poems but I thought it an appropriate description for how my plants must feel.


  1. Anna, your post has made me chuckle - I think I am the other end of the scale from you - I always assume my plants are going to leap into growth and cover vast tracts of land, so my garden is the yards of "unsightly bare earth" variety! (Apart from in September)

    So your picture looks lush, burgeoning and rather lovely to me

    I have just bought a Mathiasella bupleuroides 'Green Dream' after trying to grow it (unsuccessfully) from seed for several years ... fingers crossed it likes it here.

  2. You could be writing about me, Anna. My border needs a complete overhaul this year for this very reason, no earth to be seen and every plant merging in to the next. They don't seem to mind, but I do.

  3. It is so definitely not just you. I also love self seeders and let them invade as well so it is a perpetual challenge to make sure things don't do under in a tide of green!

  4. Hi Anna,

    I wouldn't say they're packed too much at all, but rather that they're all growing nicely and knitting together to form a wonderful carpet.
    Far better in my mind than seeing soil around each plant. I guess if they all begin to suffer from mildew or fungus then you can tell they're stressed and not getting enough air around the plants; then you know they're packed in too closely!

    However, I think I'm similar to you with regards to design of the garden. For me there is no design to my garden. I try to place things but it's in no way professional - rules are there to be broken imo :)

    As long as you're happy with your results then that's all that matters.

  5. I find the photo rather attractive but I understand where you're coming from about each plant having sufficient space for optimum growth, otherwise something has to give. It's ok to cut oneself some slack that it's fine to see bare earth at this time of the year and reserve full borders in the summer and early autumn. If it bothers you I reckon you just go ahead and lift and divide them, still early in the season and they should recover. They may even thank you too in their own little planty way :)

  6. Well, I'm sending some of this RARE Pacific Northwest sunshine right your way! Enough of the miserable rain. I do the exact thing you're describing. I call it being spatially challenged. Fortunately plants really don't seem to mind being moved too much. Shallow-rooted perennials anyway. I love your Lamium. I had it last year but let it die over the winter. What a dummy. I have to say though, this photo looks wonderful--very natural. I think this is the way they'd look in nature, kind of all tousled together.

  7. My Allotment is on a river bank so in weather like this the soil turns into a clay quagmire impossible to work. And every year I am told the whole site goes under water Not looking forward to that. one advantage is that the plants have lots of water even with this hose pipe ban on.

  8. Anna:
    I blame this same malady on being a self professed hoarder/collector! If its rare and unusual [just like Lamium orvala!] I have to have it, matters be damned if there is room for it or not! Mine [garden] I am sure makes yours look organized by comparison. Nary a patch of black earth appears before I have found some new and exciting treasure to cram in! Hell Anna, I am off to my favourite woodland nursery with a garden friend on Friday with a list that tops out at twelve plants, and this is just from perusing the catalogue. We both know what happens when we get there are are wooed by some seductive plant that we are unfamiliar with but are totally besotted nonetheless. I call it the eclectic hoarder's boarder myself. Do not bemoan the fact too much, as most comments have been favourable towards your delightful photo!

  9. Your plants look very happy at the moment, but could still be moved with all this rain to bed them in!! I think we all worry too much about our gardens, they get on quite well without us as I have found after a spell of being ill, I'm amazed at how good everything looks, don't look too closely or you will see the weeds!!

  10. It seems that we both garden along the same lines - but as I can't stand to see bare earth I am always loathe to take anything out. I personally like to see all the lush growth and revel in self-sown seedlings - it means the garden is changing all the time and surprises lurk in every corner.

  11. Anna I completely understand how you feel. I love plants and although I know that design rules say in a small space you should restrict your planting but that was never really going to happen. My problem is that I want my garden to look perfect like those gardens in glossy magazines and when it doesn't I get a bit downhearted thinking my garden will never be good enough but as Wellyman points out I will probably never be completely satisfied with how the garden looks. I think I need to learn to be less of a perfectionist!! I much prefer your way of gardening with lots of plants, much better than bare soil.

  12. I have to say I actually prefer the crowded effect, it is so pretty and natural looking x

  13. Personally I prefer overcrowding to bare earth! I think your border looks lovely, and the iris may prove its worth and flourish there. I often have this problem; I'm sure some of my plants don't just spread, but move a few inches to a warmer/drier/cosier spot!

  14. Anna, I think your photo looks very pretty and I certainly prefer the naturalised look than a garden that is too 'placed', but I know what you mean about striking the right balance. It seems from your comments that we all suffer from the same worries. Personally I encourage self-seeding and love the surprises that often pop up!

    As for this rain .... your post title is brilliant!


  15. I prefer a crowded look, my garden gets so full in the summer and actually now due to the rain I can't even find the stepping stones through my flower beds so have to tippy toe everywhere.

  16. Perhaps one of the reasons I like your blog so much Anna is that I recognise my own approach to gardening here. I call it the 'think on my feet' though some might say its the 'fly by the seat of my pants' approach. Garden plans never quite make it from paper to earth or head to paper.
    Close companions is what I would say your planting is - you can always ask them to budge up a little when necessary
    p.s. my alba bleeding heart has lots of room but has become bonsai this Spring

  17. It's hard to judge whether this corner is overcrowded when it can't be seen against the rest of the garden. It's looks very natural to me but then there could be a patch of bare earth right next to this lush growth. I think I'd take photos of it now to help remember where everything is, then make a note to divide and conquer in the autumn - if that's whats needed. Personally speaking, I quite like your little corner so I'd sit back and enjoy it for now!

  18. Nobody is able to predict how plants will develop, Anna, and I also tend to plant closer to avoid bare patches and weeds, so end up having to change things around a bit later. No harm there. I also think we should free ourselves of the desire to have the same gardens as we see in glossy magazines. That'll never make us happy.


All your comments are much appreciated and treasured. I wil try to reply to everyone who leaves a comment, but it may take me a few days, especially when I start spending more time in the garden and at the lottie. I know that you will understand :) I am sure that I will also visit your blog if I have not already done so. If you have any specific questions I will either reply to them here or you can email me at :


- Anna.