PUBLISHED: 09:03 21 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:29 20 February 2013
A newly-planted garden can be likened to a freshly finished painting, but don't forget that the paint continues to move relentlessly.
I heard my first gardening joke from Percy Thrower, the first great TV gardener and guru of my youth, when I started as a gardening journalist in 1981, at the Shrewsbury Flower Show that same year. He pointed to a large plant in the distance and said "That plant has a great future". It was a fuchsia of course. I laughed so much I cried. I hasten to add that I love bad jokes.
'Perce' (as he was fondly known) loved his fuchsias. I remember him telling me how he grew his magnificent, huge specimens smothered in flowers in August, from a single cutting taken in January every year. To begin with, of course, artificial heat and lighting within a greenhouse is vital during that cold time of year as the cuttings put down their roots. As the days lengthened he used to gradually increase the feeding programme using a home-made liquid feed, the result of submersing a hessian sack full of sheep droppings in an outdoor water tank for a few months in the summer. The resulting black, thin soup is strong stuff and it needs to be diluted with water if it is not to burn plants' roots. In the absence of neighbouring sheep or a friendly farmer, an efficacious alternative is shop-bought, potash-rich, liquid tomato food.
One of the fascinating things about the plant kingdom is that different species of most genera, just like human beings, can vary so much physically. Fuchsias, and there are no less than 2,500 listed in the 'Plant Finder', an invaluable book for plant collectors, are no exception. The sort of show fuchsias that Percy so loved, popular ingredients of hanging baskets, may prove too blousy for some, and if that is the case you may prefer the more subtle flowers of some of the hardier fuchsias. No doubt you have seen hedges of Fuchsia magellanica growing in Devon and Cornwall and the Gulf Stream fringes on the west coast. The smaller, daintier flowers of this species can be enjoyed in inland gardens as well although they do demand a protected spot if they are not to be damaged by cold winter winds. There is a variety called 'Hawkshead' with pure white flowers. It is a joy to behold.
Many of the basic principles of interior decoration apply to exterior decoration. The lawn is the carpet, climbers the curtains, hedges the walls, trees the pillars and plants the colourful ornaments, cushions and rugs. Colour coordination is a prime consideration when it comes to interior decoration, but I feel far too many gardeners worry about colours too much. There is something much purer, cleaner and almost two-dimensional when it comes to flower colours that, for the most part, they can all be throw together to great effect. Orange indoors is, I admit, garish, whereas outside, and I am thinking of the Orange Border at Chatsworth in Derbyshire, can work a dream. Yellow, however, is a famously difficult colour in the border although when mixed with silver or white, it can work a treat. If you need inspiration for colour and leaf contrast you need look no further than the magnificent herbaceous border at Arley Hall in Cheshire.
Gardening is all about collecting plants, the most difficult part being the decision-making of where to put them within the layout you have chosen. You can read about gardening as much as you like but it is the actual growing of plants that will give you the knowledge to succeed. A newly-planted garden can be likened to a freshly finished painting, BUT the paint continues to move relentlessly. One of the best bits of advice I can give any gardener is to find out where plants come from and the sort of conditions they like. The RHS Encyclopedia of Garden Plants is extremely useful in this respect. This is particularly relevant to UK gardeners who, because we live in a sheltered island fanned by the warmth of the Gulf Stream, are able to grow a wider range of plants from all over the world than practically anywhere else on the globe. Because the UK has a paucity of truly indigenous plants, excluding Roman introductions (which include the horse chestnut and ground elder), I reckon the average garden here to contain about 90 per cent of plants from other parts of the world. Oh yes, and resist compulsive buying. Plants in flower may look pretty in the garden centre, but where are you going to plant them when you get home?