The John Milton Border?

Some plants get their deserved appreciation only occasionally. For most of the time they are simply stalwart performers without that flamboyance which allows other plants to catch the eye and, because of this lack of seasonal flash, we give them little attention. There is a border directly in front of our house with a number of such plants which perform the important function of enclosing the front lawns – that design principle which suggests one does not reveal all immediately – and, I suppose, of screening the house from the garden and the passers-by on the road, not that there are very many but we are that way inclined, inclined to prefer to live behind the screen of some privacy.

The John Milton Border with, left to right: Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Variegatus’, Skimmia japonica, Daphne tangutica, Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Twisty Baby’ (bare branches, quite tall with bright emerging foliage) Cornus alternifolia ‘Argentea’ and Abies koreana, very dark at the very end of the line.

It was the fragrance of a daphne, Daphne tangutica, which caused me to pause here for a few minutes and lead to my taking the time to look longer at the shrubs along this stretch of the garden. Shrubs and trees are generally maintenance free, requiring only occasional attention – pruning when needed and little more – and because of this they don’t get our regular nor frequent attention as other more demanding, or more showy, plants do – the snowdrops when in season, the perennial plants when they come into flower or need dividing, or staking or moving. When one thinks of it, shrubs and trees give a great return to the gardener for an extraordinary small amount of work. They are great value plants and unjustifiably underappreciated.

The John Milton Border with Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Twisty Baby’ featuring in the centre and Cornus alternifolia ‘Argentea’ and Abies Koreana beyond.

Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postil’ is the poster girl of the daphne world. It has been a very popular shrub over past years, always praised and adored, yet it has the habit of turning up its toes after a number of years – rather a serious fault, blindly ignored for an appreciation of its fragrance. Daphne tangutica has an equally beautiful fragrance; is of a tidy growth habit; is a tough as old boots; can be hacked and ill-treated and yet continue to produce blossom in extraordinary abundance and with a beautiful fragrance yet we rarely give it the same reverence that ‘Jacqueline Postil’ receives. Perhaps the fact that the few plants of D. tangutica in the garden were raised from seed – no cost – lead to this lack of appreciation. That old retail saying of pricing items to be “reassuringly expensive” is not without justification, even in the garden.

Let’s look at a few of these under-appreciated plants!

And why did “The John Milton Border” name suggest itself to me?

It was that last line in his Sonnet 19: When I consider how my light is spent:

When I consider how my light is spent,
   Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
   And that one Talent which is death to hide
   Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
   My true account, lest he returning chide;
   “Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
   I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
   Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
   Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
   And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
   They also serve who only stand and wait.”


Finally, a few views around the garden in this past week:


I’m sharing this blog with a group of fellow bloggers who contribute to a “Six on Saturday” theme which is hosted by “The Propagator”. To read more contributions go to The Propagator’s entry for today, scroll down to the comments and you will find other bloggers have posted links to their Saturday entries there. Lots to read!

21 thoughts on “The John Milton Border?

  1. Terrific post, Paddy and I’m noting down the Robinia and the Cornus. Beautiful shapes, both. But I’m really interested in what appeared to be a small ‘meadow’ in the middle of the lawn. Am I right? It’s what I want to do on a strip I call the cricket pitch in our orchard. If it is a meadow, did you just sow flower seed over lawn, or did you peel back the lawn, till the soil and then cast the seed. Or maybe it’s just an area that you chose not to mow and it flowered. Any suggestions would be helpful. Many thanks.

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    1. This spot began as a “bulb lawn” – snowdrops, crocus, daffodils, fritillaries and a few other small bits and pieces added over the years. Then we added a few native orchids which delayed the cutting of the grass until early August. With the high grass came the native plants, never sown, without any preparation and it is referred to as “the high grass”. “Meadow” would be too grand an expression for this patch. Without any effort the wildflowers came along on their own.

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  2. It is always a pleasure to look through all your pictures, I don’t even miss the ‘hidden ones’. The cornus has been placed in a lovely spot and I like it against the darker conifer behind.

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  3. I share your tendency to avoid conifers in the garden, though I love the pines, firs, and redwoods that grow hereabouts in the wild. However, I have been contemplating an ornamental Asian pine in the back area. Something in the right scale. Your Abies koreana has encouraged me to revisit that idea.

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    1. It’s a very tidy size; 15 feet after 30 years and produces fresh cones each year. I have lifted the lower branches and have cyclamen hederifolium underneath.


  4. It is the shapes, the different incarnations of green that makes that ’unassuming’ border one of the most beautiful. The layers, the sculptural aspects. It is an art in itself to design something which at first glance looks natural, but which – if you’re having one of those days when your heart is peaceful enough for reflection, on closer inspection turns out to be a group of sculptures.

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    1. Let me have another glass of wine and then I’ll go to view this planting of shrubs and, even I, may see the sculptural effect of our planting!

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      1. Why settle for one glass? 😉. But truly – I find the green layers that are only present in spring in beds like this one fantastic. Every shrub and tree an individual. Later in summer they fade into each other- but now you can see them all somehow.

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  5. You are right that shrubs and trees are really the most important ‘bits’ in the garden but we are often diverted by showier things. I liked this focus on one part of the garden. The Robinia ‘Twisty Baby’ adds a welcme slightly wild and wacky element to the very neat and tidy border.

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  6. I think it helps that your run of shrubs is so varied, evergreen and deciduous, variegated, a conifer. They are relatively unchanging compared to herbaceous plants but a row just of evergreens would have been as interesting as a hedge without being as functional.

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