Last year I wrote about keeping things in my garden ‘in balance’ by cutting back the lush foliage of my border plants at this time. With hindsight – looking at pictures I took – it is clear that many of my plants were hugely over-enthusiastic – they looked as though they had been fed on steroids.
I put this down to the fact that it was their first proper season in new homes and they were luxuriating in the newly muck-and-compost-enriched soil (that was originally exhausted and clay-ey).
They now look better – sturdy, nicely filled-out and flowering well, aided, (in currently tumbling rain ) by all the invisible corsetry that I put in place to hold them up. A year later and all that original effort and soil improvement is showing with a profusion of flowers and growth in the newer shrubs, and even the old duchesses that were here – the tree paeonies and viburnums and so on as well as the the large established trees – seem to have put on extra weight.
The good thing about this is that now all my additions to this garden, packed the way I like things, look as though they have been here for ever, and I am already eyeing up the pruning jobs I am going to have to do on a regular basis – of shrubs that are now flowering and particularly of the fast-growing cistuses that will largely finished their blowsy floral performance by early July.
Many gardeners think that you can’t cut cistuses back, and that they inevitably get gaunt and ugly and need to be replaced after three or so years. Although this may be true of some of the biggest, sticky and aromatic leafed ones such as Cistus ladinifer, I have found this to be absolutely not the case, thank goodness, with the varieties I grow.
In previous gardens all of mine have gone under the knife, as it were, each July and have continued to come up smiling for years. Cistus purpureus and Cistus ‘Alan Fradd’ are both cut back by a couple of feet or more all over (each branch cut to just above a pair of young shoots) and are scoured for dead or superfluous skinny branches low down which are a cut right out, just to tidy them up.
Smaller Cistus corbariensis gets stern treatment along the same lines, as do Cistus x scanbergii (the first to finish flowering) and Cistus creticus (my favourite, a dusk-luminous soft magenta with a deep yellow ‘eye’, lovely when grown grown near a purple-leafed sage and lavender, and even that new Erysimum ‘Apricot Twist…)
Who would have thought a small garden like mine could have so many cistuses in it? Well it wouldn’t if I didn’t keep them all well-groomed, yet still able to flower their socks off, and of course the timing of the Big Prune (immediately after they have flowered) is crucial. The smaller the garden the more vital it is to understand when and how to prune shrubs.
Lah di dah. Over and out.