Why the work of a gardener is never done
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Why the work of a gardener is never done

THE more you garden, the more likely you are to lose your romantic notions. I lost mine years ago.

The most persistent expectation is the belief that after five to six years toil, gardeners can start to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labour.

Take it from me, it simply does not work like that.

Gardens share the same difficulties as children and do not become easier as the years (and your age) progress.

There are a few approaches I would suggest to a younger generation.


Firstly, when laying down the framework for your expensively purchased plot, think of magnolias.

You should also consider flowers for winter, plus one or two attractive evergreen shrubs that you will not grow absurdly impatient with as the years pass.

Patience I can assure you is the gardener’s greatest ally.

Winter flowering shrubs really are the best long-term bet. Up to recent years, milder winters appeared to be the norm, and they were excellent for anything from Winter- Sweet (which usually takes seven years to flower) to the many varieties of stunning Witch Hazel, Daphne, and Viburnum.

With some of these you must be patient, but for your persistence, expect them to eventually develop into the most magnificent of features for a lifetime’s successful gardening.

When I say ‘think magnolias’, I do not mean that you should think only of the lime-hating magnolia Campbellii, which takes 20 years to flower and grows to 80 feet.

My choices are far more charming-and decidedly more modest in vigor, not to mention good flower colour, longer periods in bloom, and above all, low maintenance.


All will need time to develop fully of course, but a garden without them is a decidedly impoverished affair.

Mentioned many articles ago, the magnolia sold as Susan will still be found quite exceptional.

How can I describe it for those who may invest in something so utterly lovely?

For starters, it is modest in height at 12 feet or so, it flowers from a young age, and takes kindly to moist but not waterlogged soil.

Its endearing charm lies in its long, thin, goblet-shaped blooms which appear in mid-spring from slender, deep reddish-purple buds.

The six-inch wide flowers are composed of petals that twist slightly as they grow and are a rich purple red on the outside and paler within.

It is important to note that if you invest in a modest-sized variety it won't object to a few choice companions beneath its branches so that when it has finished its term in the spotlight the ‘under-story’ ensemble can entertain for a further period.


These companions might include rhododendron ‘Praecox’ (which will bloom in advance of the magnolia) deciduous azaleas such as the virgin-white (and often mentioned) stunning ’Persil’, Kalmia latifolia (the Calico bush) and varieties of Osmanthus with its jasmine fragrance and plentiful, dark, evergreen leaves.

Most bulbs can safely be planted near to and beneath your choice of magnolia and these will add a further colourful dimension over months rather than weeks.

Good types include trilliums, erythroniums, all muscari, wood anemones, native bluebells and of course, snowdrops.

On their own, cyclamen would charm, and these would be my first and final choice.