The thing I love about my gardens in May is the almost overwhelming green-ness and lushness of everything. In stuffed gardens like mine, though, it can become almost too much.
So while I do go around and mete out the rather daftly named ‘Chelsea chop’ on one or two herbaceous victims, thereby stalling their growth in mid-surge, delaying their flowering and/or make them stockier and more floriferous later by virtue of having some or all of their stems cut back by as much as half around now – I do a lot of simple foliage removal during the coming weeks to keep everything in balance.
Amongst other large-leafed plants, the lower leaves of hollyhocks (that often become hideous anyway by high summer) are neatly snipped off as they threaten to smother neighbouring plants. I find that this simple procedure, incidentally, goes a long way towards warding off notoriously uncontrollable hollyhock rust, since the spores seem to attack congested lower leaves first and spread upwards.
It was not much fun yesterday, ducking in and out between showers, delving around in sopping foliage, wet up to the knees and elbows and ending up with chronic Hat Hair. The rain had made everything extremely heavy – lilies and delphiniums had their supports checked an reinforced as they seem to be powering upwards daily. Oh sun where art thou?
I wonder, is the Chelsea Chop so named because it should roughly coincide with the Chelsea Flower Show? Is it a euphemism for all the intricate shenanigans that goes on to ensure plants are ‘just so’ for the ‘Greatest Show on Earth? Or did the smart residents of that borough invent the technique because their gardens are so tiny and overplanted?
On the subject of Chelsea: I had the strange, slightly alarming, experience of helping to ‘plant’ (note the inverted commas) one of the small show gardens one day last week. It was Chris O’Donoghue’s Moroccan Courtyard Garden (sponsored by the veterinary charity SPANA) with which I have become vaguely involved and about which I have written for the Telegraph Chelsea Supplement that comes out on Tuesday. I shall return to the subject, either here or in my column, when all the dust has settled. I don’t know about dust, actually – it looks as though it might be rivers of mud.