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The melt exposes the flaws

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Alys Fowler Alys Fowler | 08:15 UK time, Sunday, 9 January 2011

That blanket of white snow was a respite in some ways from the mess my garden had become. It allowed, for a week or so, the promise of a something new, a blank canvas to erase my mistakes. Then it melted and all my flaws were on show again.

I need a radical reordering. All the good bits of my garden are shoved into the first half and then it sort of peters out. In some ways this was inevitable. The garden was started on cuttings and discounts, all very small plants and now they have out grown their space, but this is exciting. It's almost as if the design process is actually beginning.

Sedum spectabile septemberglut

I have three very large clumps of Sedum spectabile 'Septemberglut' (actually truth be known I'm not sure what cultivar it is, but that's a good enough match). I love these plants. The flowers bring in hordes of bees and stands as a swansong to the end of summer. The slugs may have considered them a good hotel but do very little damage and by the end of the month the young leaves will become a mainstay of our salads.

The young leaves are soft, yet crisp with a hint of cabbage, but wonderfully bland and perfect companion to the hot flavour of perennial or salad rocket and the other mustards leaves that have limped through this winter. The act of eating the sedum also keeps its rampant nature in check. I found that last year I had to do very little pinching out or staking. By late spring the leaves will start to fatten and taste horrible. It is possibly the lowest maintenance salad plant I've come across. However these plants are too large, so I shall split them soon and replant the divisions further down the path to keep the eye moving. Splitting Sedum is ridiculously easy. I do this with a small border fork. You can tease the plant upwards and then gently remove a section, the young leaves cluster together and if you are careful you can pull a section off like a jigsaw puzzle and no-one will even know you've been at work.

Any perennial that flowers late summer to early autumn, so Asters, Heleniums, Eupatoriums, Rudbeckias and the like, can all be divided in early spring once the soil is workable. The general rule is to make sure the new divisions go into something nice. Add a little compost to the planting hole, give them a good watering and make sure they are firmly into their home. Rocking about in the wind or the upheaval of frozen soil is not considered fun.

In very mature plants the centre is often woody and less vigorous (that notorious bare middle of large clumps). This bit should go onto the compost and the newer growth around the edge divided into clumps to be replanted.

In theory you can divide into individual shoots as long as each bit has a root and a shoot, but if you are going to divide into such tiny clumps then it's best to pot them on so they can bulk up in good potting compost. A 10-15cm diameter clump is about as small as I go. This is still big enough to make an impact when replanted.

bronze fennel seed head

Ever since Arabella Sock introduced me to slow roasted pork with fennel seeds I've found a much-needed excuse to increase my fennel collection. This year my 50p bargain basement bronze fennel, Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum' finally came into its own. Even now the skeleton flower stalks still look marvelous. I need more. These are best divided in autumn once they are about three years old; mine most definitely needs another year's growth so I shall have to be patient and dream about that part of the scheme instead.

Alys Fowler is a writer and broadcaster


  • Comment number 1.

    always read your blog,love your suggestions, will give young sedum leaves a try.I like the idea of fennel seeds with roast pork,I'll have to wait for the autumn,didn't save any seeds!!

  • Comment number 2.

    Keep going Alys - I hope we will continue to see you on TV

  • Comment number 3.

    Sorry to read about you not being on gardeners world anymore, a real shame, I enjoyed watching you. Hope you'll be back on the TV sometime soon. The blogs are great, informative and very easy to read, looking forward to the next one.

  • Comment number 4.

    I love fennel The slow roasted pork w/ fennel DOES sound delicious!

  • Comment number 5.

    thanks for the nice words! I'm just about to go into the garden for a big clear up (and to remove the hellebore leaves before it's too late!). Plus I need to dig up Jerusalem artichokes for supper, think I might make game chips out of them.

  • Comment number 6.

    Hi Alys, your wonderful show 'The Edible Garden' has just commenced being broadcast here in New Zealand and the timing couldn't be better! My husband and I have just finished a five month task of pulling out an unsightly fish pond to make way for our gorgeous vege patch. Our plan is to not buy any veggies whatsoever. I am also a Girl Guide Leader and my Girl Guides decided to do a gardening badge and I suddenly had to learn as much as I could about gardening (As someone who used to almost cry when my husband suggested weeding and tidying up the garden...I did not know a thing until I started watching 'Gardener's World' last year and reading lots and lots of books! As a result, we now grow veges for the Wellington City Mission and I have now developed a real passion for gardening. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all your wonderful tips on your show. You have really inspired much so that I am now trying to 'sell' the concept of some chickens in our backyard to my dubious husband. We have just had the episode about Elderflower Champagne and Lavender Biscuits view here...and I'm enjoying making my own sundried tomatoes and tomato sauce from my garden.

  • Comment number 7.

    I've just read your comment,thank you so much for alerting me to The Edible Garden being shown in NZ. I can't wait to phone my cousin to tell her the news! good luck with your new vege patch.


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