We are currently at our English home in Kent for a few weeks, where our garden is very small compared to Spain. So in an attempt to shoehorn this garden into a Spanish context I am going to explain how this garden works and how you could use the lessons from here to develop a Spanish courtyard garden in Spain.
June 1: Things I have been doing today.
🌳 Taking stock. The back garden here is a walled garden that backs directly on to the river Medway. It is roughly 18 metres wide by 6 long at its widest point. The garden is focused on the walls and climbers with some under planting that includes Hydrangeas. The main planting scheme is Clematis, Honeysuckle, Tree Peonia and some roses on the main wall and incidental flowering shrubs on the facing walls. You will note that whilst in Spain we have lawns and all sorts of stuff that needs tending. Here the garden is meant to be low maintenance with just one large cut back in the winter with a smaller one in early summer. The photo below shows the garden in its overgrown state when we arrived. The first picture appears to have been taken by Drone! The second appears to have a lamb peeking out of the undergrowth (ask my wife about this) and the third is reminiscent of a Tarzan film.
⚔️ The shaping cut back. This time of year is too soon for the big chop back which is normally done in November or January. So all I can really do is what is called the “Chelsea Chop”; a light trim back that takes place each year after the Chelsea Show. The basic idea is to shape the plants so that they do not overgrow the under planting and thereby kill it off. Using your shears or better still a hedge trimmer lightly take off the ends of all overhanging branches and fronds; the aim is to reshape the plant and give it symmetry. Don’t worry if you take off a few buds and flower heads this trim will reinvigorate the whole plant and it will come back stronger.
The garden can be seen after its “Chelsea Chop” in the photos below. The first photo shows a clearer pathway, but not fully cut back, the second appears to be another Drone photograph showing a lady buried in the corner of our garden and the third if you look carefully shows a duck with ducklings (ask my wife about that). Note that I have not taken too much away, just enough to reshape and ensure no underplanting will die back. The walled garden look of this garden can be replicated in Spain (or you could just buy this one and ship it out). All the plants in this gardens are climbers that only need sun on their faces and not on their feet. This means they are happy with their roots in shade. So if you have a small enclosed courtyard; which many houses in Spain have why not plant your very own secret garden.
🌺 Cutting back Hydrangeas. Part of the process of bringing the back garden into shape involved trimming back the old flowers on the Hydrangeas. Hydrangea flowers need to be left to die right back on the plant and then left to over winter before cutting back in the late Spring. This provides a certain amount of frost protection for the young buds beneath, I know this is not something we normally suffer from in Spain but you can just leave the mop head flowers on as it provides something interesting in the winter months even in Spain.
When you begin to dead head in the Spring you need to be careful that you don’t trim too far or you will lose this year’s flowers (they flower on old wood). Go behind the old flower and work your way down the stem until you come to the first pair of buds. Cut the old flower head off just above these two buds and your new flowers will come forward soon. If you have a Hydrangea that has grown too big and floppy then you can cut it right back almost to the ground in the winter. You will get no flowers that year, but the following year will be very floriferous. The photo below shows the dead head where I am about to cut and the new growth coming on strongly behind.