Part 3: Keeping Maintenance Down

Part 3: Keeping Maintenance Down

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The commitment to restoring the garden as closely as possible to the original plans was tempered by the need to keep it reasonably low maintenance.

Whereas the Portmans had had 17 gardeners, there were now just two full-time members of staff. The use of annuals was limited, with perennials substituted in some instances.

New cultivars were used where they would help to reduce maintenance. Many of Miss Jekyll's asters were no longer obtainable anyway, and they were replaced with varieties of Aster novi-belgii and A. ericoides, which were less susceptible to disease.

Stachys lanata ‘Silver Carpet' was another modern cultivar that was used for its contribution to the low maintenance scheme. Gertrude Jekyll often included stachys in her planting schemes for its foliage, instructing gardeners to remove its flowers when they appeared - a labour-intensive task. By 1970, Stachys lanata ‘Silver Carpet' had become available; this did not produce flower stems, thus saving Wilf and Jim hours of work.

Stachys lanata
‘Silver Carpet’, 1979.

All the restored borders were deliberately overplanted to ensure quick cover, both to achieve a full effect more immediately and cut down on weeding.

‘We decided to over-plant from the beginning. It was typical of the period - dense groundcover planting was the new thing,' comments Madeleine. ‘In the Grey Walk, we put in these tiny plants and I thought it would take them years to do anything, but by the end of one growing season the border was full!'

Gertrude Jekyll herself was very much against over-planting, and left a lot of bare soil in her plans, which she knew would be covered over time and would allow for the natural growth of shrubs.

However, the team needed to show results quickly in order to be able to continue.

With key specimens, they kept to Jekyll's numbers, but increased the quantities of perennials and smaller shrubs. The numbers of plants in the walls remained the same, as they corresponded directly to the available planting holes.

Dense planting in the
Grey Walk, 1976.

The dense planting meant that the natural form of some shrubs was compromised - the hebes, for instance, were left with defoliated sides once some of their number were removed. Madeleine, however, remains unrepentant: ‘It got the planting going, even though Miss Jekyll was right, and we should have stuck to her numbers,' she smiles.

Recognition grows