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Every Girl's Guide to Gardening

Helenium crowns can be split into single buds in Autumn or Spring (if you want 45,000 of them)

It’s been said before and I’ll say it again. If you want to be good at gardening (or writing about gardening) there is no substitute for getting your hands dirty by doing as much of it as possible.

For example. Today I have learned that a Japanese wineberry tip-roots like blackberries do. Not sure why I should be surprised, it is clearly just a fancy bramble. And I also learned that it is b***d spiky if you try and pull the rooted bits out by hand.
Through practical experience it has been impressed upon me that tumbling backwards out of the herbaceous border onto the path in an enthusiasm of weeding is distinctly inelegant. Even if one does end up sweetly scented with rosemary and lavender.

I have reminded myself (again) that nettles and gardening gloves are made for each other.  And concluded that Margery Fish’s maxim ‘when in doubt plant a geranium’ should come with the corollary that one should choose one’s geranium variety carefully, or they will be planting themselves all over the place without so much as a ‘by your leave’, before you know it.

Distracted while dividing a mega-Helenium, I discovered that even quite a small clump of Ophiopogon planiscapus nigrescens will split easily into myriad neat tufts, to great dramatic effect (next year, assuming it does not die horribly. The RHS actually advises dividing in spring. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.) This was shortly followed by the realisation that six bags of mulch does not look nearly so much when spread out an inch or so thick on the ground.
Interesting one mulch. Or, rather, the process of mulching. Many of the better NGS gardens of my acquaintance mulch very heavily. Tonnes of the stuff. The only time I have mulched really effectively was in my London front garden. Heavy, reluctant clay turned sweet and workable in a year flat thanks to the application of three inches of well-rotted, chipped wood. Magic.  (It was only about 3 metres square though).

Back to the point, my practical gain is the garden centres’ loss. I’m only going to be buying one of everything in future. The last geranium I bought could be turned into four plants without even growing it on. I’m the perennial-dividing, cutting-taking queen. Oh yes.
So get off the sofa. Stop watching Carol Klein dividing her perennials and mulching the her borders - her garden is already lovely. Put down the glass of wine (That bit is important). Get outside and find out first hand whether whacking a spade through the middle of a clump of Hemerocallis has the same effect as Ms Klein’s, elegantly demonstrated, back-to-back-garden-fork division routine. Take an improving book with you if you must. Accept that there may be failures. But if you don’t give it a try, you aint ever really going to know.


  1. Good post - I am always saying to people who ask my advice about gardening things particularly hopeless brother in law - give it a go and see what happens, the worse thing that will happen is the plant will die but then you can buy another. I have learnt more making it up rather than reading books etc. I think it was Christopher Lloyd who said that if it occurs to you a job needs to be done then its probably the right time to do it!!

  2. Glad to read that others whack plants with spades - no delicate fork division here! Lovely post.

  3. I have to admit, never been any good splitting plants with forks. Spade all the way... and the odd crumb of plant...!

  4. Put the wine down? Are you absolutely sure that's necessary?

  5. Just think it is easier to grapple with spades and soil if not carrying a wineglass. Maybe one could devise some sort of systems using straws or feeder cups if wine and gardening go hand in hand...


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