The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

The round border

round border with Fatsia Japonica and Nicotiana AffinisIn the first part of the garden we have a round border, surrounded by a mature box hedge. As this is visible from the sitting room window and fairly near the house, I took my mum’s advice and planted the beautiful hybrid Hamamelis intermedia “Pallida”.

Bred from the regular Hamamelis Mollis (Chinese witch hazel), ours flowered in January. Small spider like, sulphur yellow flowers clustered close to the branches. The scent was delicate and sweet. We loved it. But in the summer the leaves looked rough and nondescript.

“What on earth is this shrub, taking pride of place in our garden?” Danny fingered the clumsy leaves in his second summer at the cottage. Being an indoor sort of person he hadn’t noticed the flowers. He definitely had a point. A focal point shrub should have summer and winter interest. The Pallida had grown quite big. It was there to stay. I planted Nicotiana Sylvestris and Cosmos around it the next summer. These liked the coarse foliage and used it as support.

“The scent from that border is glorious.” D was enthusiastic. The clumsy leaves were forgotten. So I repeated the fix every summer until last year. Like him, I was captivated by the flowers and their scent. One day I noticed that I wasn’t avoiding looking at the clumsy leaves as there were no leaves. H x intermedia ‘Pallida’ was dead.

Jalopy and I visited a decent Nursery Garden this spring to replaced the shrub. The £29.99 price tag was a bit of a shock. We returned home with nothing.

A bit later I had a scout around the garden and discovered a Fatsia Japonica that had had a hard life. Rejected from a garden that I was designing, it had ended up in a large pot on the shady side of the pond garden. It had survived although it clearly loathed being in the pot. The large leaves would be a perfect foil for the small leaves of the box hedge. And it was FREE!

I dug a large hole, filled it with water twice (my mum’s tip for starting a shrub off well) tossed in a handful of Vitax and popped Fatsia J into her new home. I’m sure that I heard a sigh of relief. I planted Nicotiana Affinis around Fatsia J. They have both thrived. This evening the Nicotiana Affinis smelt so wonderful that I prised D away from the kitchen and tugged him into the garden to sample the heady scent. Old varieties of Nicotiana smell wonderful in the evening. .

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Kate,

    I can send you some. Email me through the contact us page with your address and I will look out some. I’ll be harvesting the seed from the affinis in a few weeks time.

  2. I love Nicotiana … this year I planted some and am loving their fragrance in the evenings. I want to plant some of the taller forms next year … the problem is finding any seeds here. No one seems to grow them.

    I like the idea of the fatsis – hope it does well!

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Celia,

    I am a bit like you as regards annuals although I fill the barrels at the front of the cottage with them each summer. I do grow cosmos and nicotiana (only sylvestris and affinis) as they are quintessential summer flowers to me.

    Your friend’s garden sounds almost as magical as yours!

    Hi Sarah,

    We started growing clematis through shrubs about five years ago and these give me so much pleasure. My favourite is Jackmanii, which has scrambled up into an old apple tree.

    I have a similar collection of plants in waiting in the garden. John Coe calls it ‘The Garden Centre’!

    I’m not surprised that you are a garden designer. You have a lovely garden.

  4. Before I read through your entire post, I was going to recommend planting a clematis vine to grow up the witch hazel, I grow Clematis ˜Jackmanii™ in my lilac tree (another blah shrub in summer), and it adds color through the summer. Hamamelis ˜Pallida™ is my favorite witch hazel; I like how it™s spent flowers fall quickly, unlike other Witch Hazels that tend to hold onto their brown petals.

    I enjoy the lush tropical look of the Fatsia foliage. The contrasting foliage of the Boxwood and Fatsia will be interesting all year, and be a great backdrop for all of your annuals.

    I often curse having to water all of my plant œleftovers. My husband often asks me what are my plans for the 50 or so pots lined up along the fence¦I don™t really have an answer, just that they are œwaiting. Waiting for the right client, waiting to die a slow pot bound death, or waiting for the right spot in our garden. It is nice to know if a hole appears in the garden I have several, not necessarily free, but at least already paid for, plants to fill in with!

  5. I tend not to plant many annuals (usually rely on picking up a try of something at the village fete) but I’m so envious of the nicotiana in my friends garden this year, and your description of how they transform the garden on a summer evening is spot on.

    At least I’m able to enjoy the scent of my friend’s nicotiana as we’re on “maid-service” duty for her rabbit, g-pig, and cochin cockerel and his 7 wifelets. Sitting in the scented night air in her garden last night, with the bats and owls, waiting for the cochins to process to the hen-house was delightful.


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