A trip to Jacky Barber’s
|Have I forgotten anything?
When I took early retirement, Jacky was my first client. She owned a small aquatic plant nursery and a three acre garden. With no other help she required some ‘intelligent horticultural muscle’ (why me?). She employed me one day a month to control her weeds, prune, (I hated the massive prickly ‘Kiftsgate’ rose that climbed high in a tree) and help her with projects. One of my first tasks was to spray weeds in a giant herbaceous border. I carefully sprayed the extensive rosebay willow-herb. She later gently informed me it was the refined white cultivated variety!
An early project was to create an arc of five huge mixed shrub/herbaceous borders in an existing grassed one-acre paddock. I have to tell you she had the heaviest clay you can find. At the end of the road a potter called Rollie, makes the finest of pots from the same clay! We marked out large simple elegant shapes with bamboo canes, then vertically slit the agreed edges and sprayed with glyphosate. There was no cultivation. A few weeks later, plants were inserted directly into the dead turf. Jackie’s secret weapon was that she had a special supply of five-ton loads of mushroom compost from a local farm. What a fantastic mulch to lay on the surface. Mushroom compost is a mixture of well rotted manure, peat and lime. Two years later she had the most fantastic mixed borders you can imagine. Not to mention wonderfully fertile, slightly elevated soil.
Jackie came to horticulture via flower arranging. She holds a Chelsea gold medal and with help, creates fine floral displays in Ripon cathedral. Ten years ago Jackie downsized to a tiny garden in a small village near Ripon. She moved just down the road! Before moving in, she had in her head, already planned every detail of her new garden. Even before, the concreted front garden was restored.
She once paid me the compliment of telling me that I had a floral arranger’s eye when I pruned. That is the real secret of pruning. I love to be presented with a group of overgrown shrubs, they become my canvas to create a picture. We go up to Jacky’s to prune every two years, not as a client but now as a dear friend. It is always a wonderful day. Brenda and myself return home with lots of plant ‘goodies’ after a very fine meal. From my point of view its the best kind of pruning when all my debris is immediately cleared-away by two hard working ladies.
|I always admire Jacky’s indoor decoration. Only a flower arranger would put a plant in the shower!
We arrived at 10.30, had a quick coffee and planned the campaign as we moved to inspect the garden. Jacky had listed nine tasks and I added six more. The first question was should the cercis with dieback stay or go? We elected for it to stay and with just two cuts with the saw it was reprieved.
|New life for the cercis
A clematis and a climbing rose had clearly been having a battle on an obelisk and the clematis was winning. Fairly dramatic cutting back of the clematis and a little thinning of the structure of the rose will restore the balance. A few further climbing roses and a shrub rose were starting to become densely crowded. About 25% of old growth was thinned away. A very nice strong growing hydrangea in a tub was getting somewhat crowded at the base and was interspersed with a few straggly shoots. About 20% of the shoots were cut away with felco secateurs at the base of the plant. I was starting to get in my stride.
|A few nick-nacks and a very fine shed
At the front Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Fire‘ required a decision. Should it be thinned out, or cut back which is normal practice at the end of March. We elected to cut back. Unlike most other coloured stem cornus it was not necessary just to cut back hard. This variety tends to have suffficient new shoots already emerging from the ground that the best option was to cut the main plant completely away.
|Before and after. Will a repeat operation be needed next year?
|Who but a skilled flower arranger would have the imagination to stand her pot plants on a Singer sowing-machine stand.
Three wall shrubs in front of the window were getting out of hand and threatened to shade the room. Unfortunately the ceanothus had made such a thick stem it was past training back and had to be cut away. Fortunately there was enough whippy growth left to tie-in and start to retrain. An adjacent, yellow shrub jasmine had become far too big for the garden.This was cut back hard so it will rejuvenate from the ground.
|Getting too big around the window
|Job done. Distinct spaces have been created for the wall shrubs. Often, you cannot prune a plant in isolation without consideration of its neighbours. The agapanthus has breathed a sigh of relief!
|Jackie lectures and demonstrates on willow weaving. Fortunately she needed no help here.
There were just a few jobs left. A couple of small trees needed a little formative pruning. We agreed together which branches to remove. A quick burst of my petrol driven hedge trimmer- thankfully it started on the first pull - was need to cut-back a few clumps of epimedium tight to the ground. It will make soft new foliage and quickly make a fine display of compact delicate flowers. Many gardeners do not realise that the fine ground cover Hypericum calycinum responds to this same Spring treatment. Rather than being a scruffy embarrassment to a garden it becomes an absolute star.
|Jacky’s garage wall
It’s such a beautiful place to work. Jacky’s garden is open under the NGS Open Garden Scheme in July