The melt exposes the flaws
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.
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.
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