Hot Lips still kissing goodbye to summer

Helenium hoopesii  ' grow to nine feet high in Brian's and Pam's garden.
Helenium hoopesii ' grow to nine feet high in Brian's and Pam's garden.
Freshly-picked swedes

GARDENING: How to grow great veg, with Brian Kidd

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One of the saddest jobs at this time of year is to cut down the perennial plants.

These are hardy and emerge from their winter sleep next spring.

Not all the perennials have finished blooming, for example salvia Hot Lips, kaffir lilies and physostegia, known as the obedient plant, are full of blooms.

These will not be cut down yet as they will last a few more weeks. In my mind this keeps winter away a bit longer!

Cutting down is another job which is best done when the weather is suitable and just lately it’s been too wet, but Pam and I have made a start.

Before cutting plants down, leaving only two inches of stem above soil level, we put in a new label because the old one is either missing or can’t be read. We have found a good pen for this – Write 4 All, made by Stabilo and the ink lasts on the labels for about a year.

In addition to the name we also print the height of the plants because some are going to be moved simply because they are in the wrong place.

A good example of this is Helenium Hoopesii which is supposed to be five feet tall but in our garden, possibly due to the wet soil is almost nine. We are going to take a clump of this to Ventnor Botanic Garden where one of the flower borders is more than 20 feet wide.

Once all the plants are cut down and supports stored away, the grass edge is cut and in a few places a new edge is formed using a stainless steel edging iron. A very handy Christmas present...

The border is now forked to a depth of four inches using a stainless steel border fork, not the standard digging fork because it’s too wide. This gives us the chance to dig out weeds and ivy creeping in from next door.

Next job is to cut the hedge. I used to do this in the summer but it is very difficult when border plants are at their best. But now I am over 30 it is done in November.

A top dressing of well-rotted farmyard manure is applied over the border. The manure is chopped up. They do this at Wisley and call it short manure. The border looks wonderful afterwards.

As I mentioned, some of the plants need moving or if they are rampant like golden rod, need thinning. This is best done by digging out the entire clump and using two garden forks back to back. Thrust them into the clump, push the handles together to split the clump and replant the pieces from the outside edge.

What a lot of work. This can be done over a period, but hopefully before Christmas.


If the borders look a bit dull, cut off some sprays of evergreen shrubs and poke them into the ground. This ground cover will look good for several weeks.