Back bed in June: evolution, imagination and irrigation

In part 1 I showed you the shady flowerbed at the back of the garden prior to any intervention, and then having planted a tiarella and an acanthus mollis:

Back bed - first two plants planted

I described how both the exotic and unusual (to me) foliage and the natural 'woodland floor' habitat of the tiarella combined to inspire me to try and create a lush forest floor by buying and planting all the tiarellas. I duly set about in this general direction, with the installation of one more tiarella, a 'Tiger stripe', and so not as to completely focus on just the one type of plant, I got a dicentra formosa 'Luxuriant' as well.

Back bed - third and fourth plants

Dicentra formosa is another Pacific Northwest native, and I felt the shape of the leaves really echoed those of the tiarella 'Pink skyrocket' (and indeed those of the 'weed' herb robert), as well the colour of flowers picking up on the pinks in the tiarella's foamflowers:

Dicentra formosa 'Luxuriant' Back bed catching its rare, summer-evening-only glimmer of sunshine

A few weeks later I had added a few more, including an epimedium of some sort scavenged almost for free at a local community open gardens weekend which I forgot to photograph upon installation, and a Japanese quince cutting from my parents, which should become quite a big shrub, but is almost invisible for the time being.

More visible were my further purchases - another tiarella, you might guess? No, but only on a technicality - a heucherella 'Alabama sunrise' and a sarcococca 'Winter gem'.

Back bed with sarcococca 'winter gem' and heucherella 'Alabama sunrise' added

The sarcococca, up at the back there, should eventually cover a decent chunk of fence, provide flowers and fragrance during winter, and add habitat for birds, etc, although it is fairly slow growing so a potentially stupid choice in a rental property as there is a strong likelihood I won't still be here to enjoy it, by the time it actually reaches anything remotely near full-size.

The heucherella is a real colour-changer, with leaves almost yellow in spring, through lime green, into pinky oranges and reds in autumn, thus contributing to my plan to have constantly interesting colours via foliage, rather than depending on the relatively short flowering seasons of things. At least, this is the colour cycle I'm promised. So far it's only really stayed green, but it's a nice green.

You can also see by this point I've finally started cutting back the ivy, tidying up the dead leaves, and so on. All of which means that when the summer evening light finally dapples itself on the bed for the 30-40 minutes a day it musters, it's starting to look quite nice:

Tiarella 'pink skyrocket' Back bed in evening sunshine dapples

It was around this time that I decided to move the acanthus. Although I'd picked it up from the garden centre's shade house, I'd come to fear I had naively misinterpreted "part shade". This plant was listed on most websites as either full shade or part shade, whereas what I was giving it was really much more like full shade. 40 minutes of dappling at midsummer only probably wasn't enough - at least that was my leading theory for why it looked rather limp and hadn't grown at all, only been progressively nibbled away by slugs and snails (presumably). So I stuck it in the side bed, hoping the extra sun that location gets would perk it up. In the end, it turned out to be a death sentence, but we'll come to that...

It was also around this time I amused myself by creating a crude mockup of what this bed might look like when "finished" - when the sarcococca and Japanese quince at the back had become proper shrubs, and multicolour carpet of tiarellas had been fleshed out, intermingled with ferns and so on.

Back bed mockup

I'm no graphic designer, so I don't know how to rebalance the colours and so on to make it not look like a garish mess, but I'm confident it would look better in reality, more cohesive and less pack-of-Skittles. I also envisage a substantial "layer" of dicentra and/or other similar(ish) plants between the tiarellas / heucherellas at the shrubs at the back, but they were too fiddly to add in.

Unfortunately, it was also around this time when I discovered tiarellas aren't quite the indestructibly unfussy warriors I had been taking them for. Turns out, even if you water really generously before you leave, you only need to leave town for three days during a British summer mini-heatwave and you'll come back to this:

Drought collapse

Fortunately, after being given a big drink this one bounced back to almost perfect shape within literally 2 hours. The others bounced back well enough in terms of general health, but never really regained their symmetrical half-dome form. They've been kind of raggedy ever since. Hopefully time will prevail.

I rounded off the month by picking up a few more dicentras on heavy discount since they're well past their best. Some additional 'Luxuriant', and also some white 'Aurora'.

Extra dicentra formosa added to back bed - also created a dead wood pile habitat

By this point I've also sawed up the dead tree taken out of the side bed and created a dead wood pile in the corner, to try and encourage wildlife. Specifically, anything which eats slugs and snails, please and thank you.

It's now the very end of June, and even though all the flowers I've planted are far past their prime, in that evening dapple of sunshine, I personally think they are looking really nice indeed.

Dicentra formosa 'Aurora' Tiarella 'pink skyrocket' flowers well past their best now, but still amazing Back bed with midsummer evening's sun-dapple