We moved into our Durham garden in 2005. We live in the Sands, looking north, with a fine view of the East Coast mainline. It’s north-facing, sloping, with 4 mature Silver Birch, a Leylandii, and a quarter of a huge Scots Pine. It was already a mature garden when we moved in and I inherited a lot shrubs.
I also started a course in arboriculture at Houghall College around the same time. This informed my views and direction a fair bit.
I removed the rhododendron, spotted laurel, and a few other functional but unexciting low-maintenance shrubs. I’ve planted a lot of chaos in its place. I encourage things to naturalise, self-seed. As always, some things work, and some things don’t. It doesn’t always make a lot of sense.
It’s about time I made a list.
Viburnum opulus (Guelder Rose)
Cotinus coggygria (Smoke Bush)
Always been here.
Ilex aquifolium (Holly)
Arum maculatum (Lords and Ladies, cuckoopint …)
This is a surprise. It has appeared underneath a blackthorn. Not sure how it propagates, but I didn’t plant it. Lovely to see it anyhow.
Berberis darwinii (Darwin’s Barberry)
I only got round to identifying this recently when what I thought was a smallish tree came down in a storm. The tree was more of a shrub and I tried to take some cuttings from the wreckage. They didn’t take, but there’s no shortage of it around here. It seems to like it. Like a lot of plants, once you recognise it you start seeing it everywhere.
The root of the tree lifted and didn’t settle even though I took as much weight of what was left as possible. I don’t know if it suckers but there are bits and pieces all over the place so I’m expecting it to re-appear in the pool of light that has appeared. And in July 2022 I see buds on the original stem. Perhaps it’ll coppice. That’d be nice.
Carpinus betulus (Hornbeam)
I’m not sure why I’ve not planted this before as I’ve got a lot of beech and it’s easily prunable to a reasonable hedgerow size, and I like hornbeam a lot. I picked up three from Dobbies and kept them in their pots for a few weeks in the hot weather, which they didn’t like much and I thought I’d lost them. Planted them out summer 2022 where there’s a gap from the Berberis darwinii lost in the storm. I thought I’d lost them all but there’s green shoots. It’s a great thing to see. Flashes of green amongst dead brown leaves on a plant you’re convinced is dead. Fingers crossed.
Leycesteria formosa (Flowering nutmeg, Himalayan honeysuckle)
Always been here but didn’t noticed it until 2020s.
Fagus sylvatica (Beech)
Hamamelis intermedia ‘Orange Beauty’ (Witch Hazel)
Another mystifyingly recent addition to my plants (2023). Not sure why I haven’t planted one before.
Iris feotidissima (Stinking Iris)
I discovered this recently (Dec 2022). I don’t recall planting it and suspect it’s a garden escapee. A houseplant perhaps, or bunch of flowers, pot plant gift. No idea. I’m assuming it’s Iris foetidissima. I’m not sure what else it could be.
They’ve always ignored the nestboxes. But they must nest somewhere.
Jasminum nudiflorum (Winter flowering jasmine)
I’ve always fancied a meadow and the semi-parasitic ‘Meadow Maker’ Rhinthus minor is an obvious choice. Monty Don sowed some around 2020 on an edition of Gardeners’ World and I decided to give it a try.
No luck until this year. Summer 2022 is looking good. Key things to success in my garden were:
- Late-as-you-dare mowings in Spring to help the Yellow Rattle outcompete the competition and get established.
- Cut back anything that crops up that could out-compete. In my garden this was mostly Cow Parsley, which I like and usually leave.
Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ (winter-flowering cherry)
I’ve seen this botanical name written with a few variations but I think they’re all pretty much the same beast. I don’t know why it’s taken me 18 years to think about planting one (or two). They’re well-suited to gardens, don’t get too big, and are a breath of colour in winter.