So I started gardening, part 1: the back bed

This blog post, dated as it is June 1st, should be titled "So I'm starting gardening!" and be filled with naive ignorance, not just ignorance of this completely-new-to-me hobby, but most particularly ignorance of factual things such as my future actions, as yet unplanned plans, the weather that hasn't happened yet, and so on. Since I'm a dreadful blogger, however, I didn't write this on the day, instead I write this 6 weeks later, and back-date it for posterity. So, it is filled with hindsight and the corresponding falsification of what I thought at the time. Never mind. Perhaps once I catch up to the present day on this blog, I will keep up in near real-time. Somehow I doubt it.

Anyway, this is my starting point, taken June 1st (hence the backdating):

Back bed - before

You couldn't even call it "overgrown with weeds". The ivy was thriving, but otherwise much of it was bare and barren, choked under 1-2 years of uncollected dead leaves. Most of the growth that was happening wasn't weedy ground-cover or wildflower but wannabe-trees from the neighbours' overhanging maple(?) and ash(?). I was actually a bit glad when this was pointed out to me, because part of my neglect had been driven by a naive eco-warrior notion that I shouldn't go pulling out healthy plants just because they are deemed 'weeds' -- but trees obviously have no business in this flowerbed so I had no guilt ripping them all out.

However, doing that properly to prepare for planting would have been far too sensible, instead my glaring impatience and inexperience shone through in that I went right down the garden centre to 'inspire' myself by spending money, and promptly set about planting things, before pulling out all the wannabe-trees, or tamed the strangling ivy, or blanket of dead leaves.

Here, later that day, I've put in my first two purchases:

Back bed - first two plants planted

Plant 1: Tiarella 'Pink skyrocket'

The one on the left is a Tiarella 'Pink skyrocket', and with the benefit of all that hindsight, is probably responsible for me latching onto gardening so heavily that I am still enthusiastically digging and planting and blogging six weeks later, and didn't just give up after a single afternoon of aimlessly poking around a barren flowerbed. There may be something to be said for the motivational value of going plant shopping as step one, after all.

Really, it's no exaggeration to say I was quite blown away by seeing this little thing on the shade house shelf - I'd literally never seen anything like it before. Since I never looked at a lot of ornamental plants before, that doubtless says more about me than it, but still, it's a beautiful little plant.

Tiarella 'Pink skyrocket'

The incredibly delicate spires of "foamflowers" catch the eye first, of course, with their twinkling bright white and pink, but if anything it was the leaves which I really fell in love with. The shape is so intricate, the texture and colour so lush and rich, it was like being able to install an instant little dose of Jurassic Park down the dingy end of my garden. Once planted, over the next few days I ended up just literally standing there, looking at it.

I suppose I'd been guilty of thinking of (flowerbed) gardening as a discipline whereby the combinations and arrangements and timing and scale of your chosen blocks of colour are impressive and creative, whereas the actual individual flowers/plants making up each block of colour are just, you know, there. Flowers. Marigolds, daffodils, petunias, whatever. Boring in themselves.

Now I was seeing things totally the other way. This individual specimen was captivating, and I'd grasped the idea of discovering plants which looked distinctive or interesting or somehow "me" and using that as inspiration of what to do with a space, rather than deciding what you want from a part of your garden then going off to find plants to tick those boxes.

The latter approach had led me into being very pessimistic about this bed. Directly overshadowed by mature trees, a tall fence and a shed, and indirectly overshadowed by 3-4 storey houses in multiple directions, it gets relatively little rain and very little sun indeed. In fact, it only really gets about one hour of dappled sunlight at the height of (solar) summer. The whole rest of the year, pretty much nothing. I'd been hoping just to find something to fill it. Even with a bed of essentially featureless ground cover, better than nothing, especially for wildlife, right? And then I can concentrate on the beds that get sun, they'll be the interesting ones.

This little plant upended that. It looks as amazing as this, has an endless array of equally interesting cultivar cousins in countless colours, and is seemingly happy in a spot like this, overshadowed by trees? And perennial, lives through a British winter with ease, evergreen even! This seems too good to be true, how can this be? Well, looking it up (I'm a devoted googler/wikipedia-i-er of all things, places and people I encounter) I discover it's native to the forest floors of the Pacific Northwest. (A region I have visited, as it happens...

Forest at Alice Lake

...but that's not important right now.) And this makes it all fall into place.

It's happy growing underneath trees because it's a woodland floor plant, duh. So plant a bunch of plants native to that habitat, and you'll have a thriving, no maintenance, expanse of lushness even in this supposedly "difficult" dry shade bed. "Basically I just need a couple of slightly taller things at the back then fully carpet the rest with a rainbow tiarellas and I'll have rich, healthy, colourful foliage to admire 365 days a year. This gardening lark is easy, basically cracked it already!"

Needless to say it has already proven a tad more complicated than that, but this zeal nevertheless was enough to focus my imagination and work on this 'difficult' bed in the past month or two.

Plant 2: Acanthus mollis 'Whitewater'

Were I writing this on June 1st, this section would consist of enthusiasm about how this plant picks up on that exotic "Jurassic Park" sensibility, with dramatic white and tiarella-echoing deep dark green leaves, and it'll be a dramatic 1.5m tall spire in the middle of this bed, and look, the label says bees like it too, encouraging bees is great too...

However, it is now mid-July, and this plant has become by far the biggest failure of this whole enterprise. It's almost dead, only a few little desperate slivers of leaf remain. I think slugs and snails are mostly responsible, and I haven't even defended it particularly hard because I rapidly became rather ambivalent about having it all. But that story can wait for its day.

Before we get to that, we need to introduce the side bed and the front bed.