Our July monthly meeting was held on Tuesday 23rd July at St Mary’s Centre, Felpham and the guest speaker was Mark Saunders, Head Gardener at Fittleworth House talking about perennials.
Mark began his talk with a potted history of his gardening career inspired by his father, who was also a gardener. He has now been at Fittleworth House for 22 years and describes perennials as the Queens of the Borders which come in four categories for full sun, shade, tropical and bog conditions – in fact for all seasons and situations. To illustrate this Mark gave a colourful slideshow of those grown at Fittleworth and various other locations in England and Wales.
Mark advised that though it is hard to resist those nursery grown plants in full bloom his advice would be to wait to nearer the end of the season when buying perennials so that before planting you can cut off the flowers making it easier for the plant to establish itself and then it will give a much better floral show next season – it takes a real gardener to do this! At this point he also reminded us that gardeners need patience and perennials need room to grow so if you do not like to leave empty spaces it is better to infill with annuals at the start. Of course most perennials are at their best mid-summer but there are those that will perform in Spring and Autumn too.
There are always problems for gardeners and this past year Mark explained has been particularly difficult for Fittleworth House’s renowned perennial border. Normally this is a gloriously colourful border packed with beautiful flowers but a bad case of bindweed has forced the removal of all the plants to tackle it. This was, of course, a monumental task and we followed the story through Mark’s slides to a muddy and forlorn border which will not see the perennials back until he is sure the bindweed has been conquered. This is in stark contrast to his slides of earlier years but is in line with his chemical-free approach to problems, including pests for which he advocates other means of control in order to preserve our beneficial insects. However, the border will not stay forlorn as it is to be planted up with vegetables and annuals while the perennials rest in other places.
Mark’s colourful images and advice was inspiring and despite the fact that for most ordinary gardens it is not feasible to include a ‘Fittleworth’ border, it is clear that perennials are an essential element for that continuation of interest and colour. What would our gardens be without daisies, lupins, kniphofias, peonies, lavender, asters, phlox, sedums, anenomes to name only a very few covering all seasons.
Report by Christine Dunham