Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Refresh, renewal underway with helping hand

Look up, way up, into the trees. Welcome to the forest home of the Floral Giant. I almost missed the patches of pink flowers dotting the neighbours’ towering cedar and fir forest. The climbing variant of Cecile Brunner, known as the Sweetheart Rose, had flown its coop and become airborne.

It won’t be for long. After its June flowering period has finished, Climbing Cecile Brunner will join other overgrown plants in the garden in being renewed and refreshed with rigorous thinning and cutting back. New life for this “mature” garden has begun.

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A plan for getting more of a handle on this large, wild garden began forming when I ventured into the back garden in March, after weeks of harsh winter weather and masses of snow. Last year’s knee injury and the resulting limitations on my gardening activities had further affected a landscape that already had needed some remodelling.

Paths had closed over with vegetation. Fallen forest debris lay thick along the side edges of the property. Views through the garden were blocked by congested shrub growth. On that early spring day, I realized I needed to find help.

I required someone physically strong enough for major cleaning-up projects and knowledgeable enough to prune without brutalizing plants. No name surfaced from many inquiries directed at friends and neighbours, but I encountered a very helpful woman at my nearest garden centre. She listened to my request, went to speak with the nursery owner and came back with a name and number along with assurances that the person would meet my needs perfectly.

Enter cheerful, accommodating, capable, hard-working Ken, a retired owner of a landscaping firm. Now, he takes on varied projects on a part-time basis. He likes the garden and seems to enjoy working in it. He and a partner have already worked a noticeable transformation, over several visits.

He knows how to prune selectively rather than with shearing-type cutting, and has helped me to thin out old hydrangea bushes. He has opened up closed-in pathways while leaving the trees and shrubs he cut back looking shapely. He and his partner have raked the edges of the property clean and cut back ivy growing on a few tree stumps.

A new look. A curved path leading past the little greenhouse into the back garden is edged with blueberry bushes. Behind the blueberries is an area that had become wildly overgrown. Ken has cleared it and trimmed back the native red huckleberry bushes growing there. I followed up by laying cardboard down to suppress weed growth. Thick wads of newspaper and then wood shavings will go on top to finish the project.

The renewed area I’m most delighted with is at the centre of the back garden, next to the garden shed. Several hydrangeas grow there — climbing, oakleaf and bigleaf hydrangeas in both lacecap and mophead types. There’s also a very old Viburnum tinus and a sweet bay tree.

The thinning of almost all these shrubs is complete, thanks to Ken’s help. There are bits of light trimming yet to be done, and the cutting back of some long limbs as fresh growth appears lower down on the limbs. That’s already happening with the oakleaf hydrangea.

All the weedy undergrowth is gone, to leave bigroot geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum), dwarf astilbe and variegated London Pride saxifrage to cover the ground. Best of all, I have created a wide pathway across the area for quick and easy passage from the back garden centre to side beds.

All this work, and hours of good-natured, talented help, have given the back garden a new, airy look. It’s possible now to see through to all the different areas of the space. Much yet to do, but it’s a fine start.

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