Gone but not forgotten

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When spring arrived this year, it did more than dump several feet of snow on the Pennines; it signed the death warrants of many beloved plants.

Just when most gardeners believed the worst was over, blizzards and days of sub-zero, biting easterlies, scoured the earth, leaving a trail of damaged and dead shrubs. For some it was a mercy; for others it was an untimely end.

But that’s Nature, and that’s life.

A lot of people cling on tenaciously to plants which have long since passed their best-by date. So, perhaps March 2013 was a reminder that all things do run their courses and it’s best to let the failing fail. Dig them up; start afresh.

Which is why my garden now boasts a gap like a missing molar in what was supposedly a sheltered, “sunny” spot where a Ceanothus held pride of place for more than a decade. It toughed it out during the bad winters of 2009 and 2010, but last month proved too much and it was weighed down by a couple of feet of snow and then frozen solid. Gone but not forgotten.

The big question now is do I replace like with like or plump for a shrub with more staying power; a plant which can survive whatever the weather?

Truth to tell, I liked my Ceanothus, but it never really liked where it lived. In a perfect world, a Californian Lilac needs shelter from strong, cold winds. That’s why the evergreen varieties are best planted against a south-facing wall. Deciduous species tend to be tougher – they can tolerate more exposed situations.

Both appreciate a hefty mulch of well-rotted manure in late winter or spring, and a general fertiliser after pruning – again, in spring – although cutting back evergreen Ceanothus isn’t essential.

With the late summer-flowering deciduous shrubs, however, which bloom on shoots that grew the previous summer, trim the previous season’s growth by one-third to a half in spring. Late-spring and early-summer flowering shrubs should be pruned after flowering.

And if you grow yours against a wall, you’re lucky, because that’s probably the best way to allow the plant to show off its lovely clusters of flowers, which, depending on the variety, can be white, greenish–white, blue, dark purple-blue, pale purple or pink.

I shall miss my Californian Lilac. Gone but not forgotten.