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Gardening: Problem solving in the borders unearths a new arrival… bluebells

© Shutterstock / Richard ChaffMany dogs and cats have found themselves spoiled throughout the pandemic.
Many dogs and cats have found themselves spoiled throughout the pandemic.

The simple act of levelling the soil provided a ­wonderful surprise, says Agnes Stevenson, that will soon provide a spectacular addition to the garden

A few days ago I found my first bluebells. They were growing in a sheltered spot among wild strawberries and lesser celandine. Soon the woods around here will be carpeted in them and those that have found their way into the garden will also be in bloom.

I’ve been coming across these while digging most of the plants out of one of the borders so I can sort out the problem of uneven soil levels. Before we arrived, a new retaining wall was added to the garden to hold up parts of the slope and the space between this and the old wall was filled in with soil. Over time this has settled and I’m now adding more earth to make up the difference.

Before I can do this I need to remove the plants and the topsoil they are growing in as this is the one part of the garden where it is rich and crumbly and filled with humus.

Keeping this friable layer is important because soon the run-off from the greenhouse will be channelled through this part of the garden so the soil must be in good condition otherwise it may turn into a swamp.

If it does, we may have to extend the drainage. But, as most of the plants here are moisture-lovers such as hostas and primulas, I’m going to wait and see how they cope.

Keeping plants happy is much easier if you choose the right ones for your conditions. I’ve finally given up trying to coax that stalwart of gravel gardens, Euphorbia characias “wulfenii” to grow in this woodland setting. Nothing gives me greater pleasure at this time of year than the sight of its great, acid-green croziers surrounded by tulips. But neither the plant itself, or the bulbs, are a practical option here.

What does flourish in our damp garden are azaleas, and in May these are a knock-out. There were several here when we arrived and I’ve been adding more, mostly varieties of Rhododendron luteum, the yellow azalea that is renowned for its astonishing scent.

Others that grow here are shades of orange, from burnt umber to “Tango” and, when the evergreen Japanese azaleas start adding their pinks and reds into the mix, the effect is a bit like an explosion in a paint shop.

I’ve resisted the temptation to tone down the effect and, instead, have chosen pink peonies, orange geums and red Persicarias to carry the colour theme on into early summer.

Before that, however, the lily of the valley will add a touch of perfumed elegance, echoed by the magnolia that hangs its shapely branches over the lawn. And at the moment the winter flowering cherry, Prunus “Autumnalis Rosea” is smothered in delicate pink blossom after sporadic shows of flowers throughout the winter months.

Now my plan is to add the evergreen climber, Clematis armandii to the wall behind it to give it the backdrop it deserves.