Summer 2009 E-Letter

By Marjorie Harris

At last summer is here. It’s been the coldest, wettest spring in my memory. The blooms have hung on longer, the bulb mess is just that, and I’ve had fungal diseases I’ve never seen before. Either over-wet in early spring, or under watering and this is what’s going to happen. I’ve moved affected plants so that they are in areas where they’ll get much better air circulation, then added masses of compost. Where I’ve taken them out will be left along this year with a big hit of compost to heal infected soil.


Combining plants is the best fun you can have in the garden. You can start either a pocket or a whole border by effectively putting a few plants together and starting something absolutely new and dishy. I remember the ping that went off my head when I started seeing things in combination that worked so much better than anything else around them. It was inspiring.
I have found they come about in several ways:

I have found they come about in several ways:

* Putting plants together in the shopping cart at the nursery

* Having a colour or texture theme in my head and searching for the plants to fulfill the promise.

* Sheer serendipity.

I get them all ways and I am constantly looking for more. You start with a combination of say three plants, then you add another two or three and before you know it you’ve got a whole new section with a bright fresh look.

Here’s one of my currently favourite combos:


Spring combo A:late spring: This was a moment that stopped me dead still in the my daily walk-through: the purple of an Allium ‘Purple Sensation’, picked up the same tone in a geranium (the damned G. phaeum ‘Samovar’ which does so move around and I rogue out constantly), the leaves of the Rosa glauca and a tulip whose name I don’t know. It was ravishing. You live for brief moments like this. No light can match what you see with your eyes when the fading sun shines through them as they were silk.


Spring combo B:Early summer is a combination of very strong colours: Hakonochloa macra ‘Aureola’ with a Hosta, and little euphorbia, and a wonderful evergreen Arum italicum (which stays evergreen), along with Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ in the background (and way beyond all of this there is an Actaea [Cimicifuga] ‘James Compton’). This grouping never fails to make me stop and admire it. It also makes me want to have more of my garden like this. So in the next few months the other side of the path will be redeveloped. At the moment it’s a moosh and needs to be ripped apart.


June combo: this is a strong-leaf combination I like: a small Japanese maple with Helleborus ‘Silver Lace’ and Berberis thunbergii ‘Concorde’ plus black mondo grass which is the one grass that grows slowly slowly.

Just don’t fling plants together because they catch your eye. Think about it before you plunk money down and consider the size of leaves, their textures and whether they are meaningful together (that is they work, they speak to you, they are aesthetic).


Amsonia tabernaemontana ‘Montana’ (Willow Blue Star) is a beauty in the shade in my garden seen here on June 14 and it will be looking this good as well in a few weeks.


Vernonia baldwinii, Ironweed. It looks a treat, is easy to grow and will work in hot summer/cold winter climates. Look at the catalogue for really good for native plants. And they ship.

Schizachyrium scoparium, little bluestem, is fast becoming a favourite of mine. Never gets huge with a height in bloom of about 4 feet; has a blue-green huge tone to the stems and is a soft copper in the autumn and will work just as well in a container as in the ground. Have a look at the great grasses and information at And they will ship.


Now there is a pesticide ban for all home gardeners, it means you can’t use any at all—not even that stuff you’ve got stashed away. You don’t want it anyway believe me. Try the following:

* Set your lawnmower a bit higher; when you mow, leave the tips in place to mulch down.

* Don’t water when it gets hot, grass naturally goes into dormancy and it will bounce back.

* If you feel the grass needs feeding add a layer of compost or sheep manure lightly over the whole area and water in deeply.

* Change: remove sections of grass or cover patches with thick layers of dampened newspapers. Cover with plastic for a few weeks and you’ll kill it off, and have a medium to grow in.

* Switch over to Eco-Lawn (not the Chinese imitator eco-turf) and you’ll be amazed at the results. A bit shaggier than usual but lush.

There are huge warnings from all the people who make money from pesticides, so be very careful what you take seriously. There is even a government web site which warns that you have to be careful using kerosene or gasoline in your homemade remedies. I don’t know where they got their research but I don’t know any serious alternatives that suggest using either.

* Remember when you make your own recipes: do it in small batches and don’t keep it around for more than a few weeks. Have a look at my book Ecological Gardening which has a ton of information on this. You can order it from me and I can get it there in a couple of days.

Q. I have 6 huge old bridal wreaths that I want to prune (not dig out
unfortunately). How far can I cut them down?

A.: After they finish blooming, coppice them: cut the whole shrub right to about 6 inches from the ground. When they start to grow, choose specific stems, allow them to grow and keep the rest cut back. This way you’ll create a really lovely fountain shape, it won’t die out in the middle.

f this scares you too much: Choose some from the outside to cut back, some from the inside for a slightly less drastic effect. Or, cut back every second stalk but don’t let all the stems grow.

People are terrified of this plant, or must be because it usually looks so lax and crappy. But it’ s a great drought tolerant screening plant so prune it and it will reward you with even better blooming times.

I AM SPEAKING AT THE CITY HALL IN STRATFORD AUGUST 16TH for Anything Grows the wonderful garden store in that town. They’ve organized a great time. I look forward to meeting some of you.

Go to for details.

If you want a copy of my e-flyer for the garden consulting business just click on this: flyer link