By Helene Pizzi
'Hortulus Aptus - A Garden Suited to its Purpose', is written on a rough chunk of Carrara marble, taken from the same quarries that Michelangelo went to for the marble to make La Pietà. I have it in a spot that anyone coming into my garden can see, as it justifies EVERYTHING!!!!!
My garden is 'in evolution', and with a need to become, more relaxed and requiring less work. However I have many complications, called 'weeds'. that seem to compete so successfully for garden space, plus Maple, a big joyful borrowed dog who thinks this garden is exclusively and only for her pleasures. She pounces in the flowerbeds, chasing harmless little lizards, and flattens whatever is in her path.
All the special plants get damaged but it seems that nothing ever happens to the weeds.
For about 20 years there was not a dandelion to be seen?not any more.
Once we made the grave error of planting a clump of bamboo. We were thrilled with it until we discovered that bamboo is as roving as couch grass and for the last 20 years all we have done is a continual losing battle. Three days ago I had cut every new spike to be seen. Today there were some new ones already a foot tall, naturally growing everywhere, popping up like little asparagus spears, growing so fast it is unbelievable. Picture a charming pillar of 'Félicité et Perpétue' with vigorous bamboo spikes all around, stealing the rose's nourishment and show.
Bindweed appears overnight, growing as fast as the bamboo. If neglected, in one week the garden can be overrun with those persistent twisting strangling vines. I ripped a wheelbarrow full this afternoon and saved roses, rosemary, and so many other delicate treasures from strangulation.
Couch grass came with a load of good topsoil used to make a raised bed (always drainage problems in this clay soil). It is, I am afraid, here to stay. It is amazing how difficult it is to pull it out and never ever do all the roots come out, ensuring this determined survivor perpetual triumph over my war.
When I see Aurum italicum advertised in nursery catalogues, my blood curls. If anyone wants all they can carry away, please come to my garden and help yourself. Rarely does the entire plant uproot when pulled, and what is left hidden underground will send a flower spike up almost as we watch. The cheerful birds spread this plant everywhere, from garden to garden, so we will never be free of it. Birds bring so many other 'introductions' too, and most, like blackberry brambles, grow readily from seed. How the blackberries love this garden and grow so fast and well, and how they are nasty and dangerous to remove?.
There is a ground cover sort of plant, never seen before, that came with a plant I ordered from a reputable nursery in Cornwall. I was amused to think I had 2 plants for the price of 1 and planted it. Woe: this scourge grows over night too and spreads like a wave. A tiny piece of its roots will make a new plant so even hoeing is dangerous, and there is no way of eliminating it I fear. I have given up and it now acts as a groundcover for 'Marjorie Fair', 'Ballerina', 'Sombreuil', 'Sally Holmes', 'Gruss an Aachen', and many others.
Honeysuckle pops up everywhere, strangling so many roses and my fantastic R. roxburghii plena. It climbs right into the lemon tree and not only does this Lonicera sempervirins refuse to be uprooted, but it layers itself wherever it touches ground. It is as bad a pest as ivy.
Oh, can one ever fight ivy? It is a winner, a survivor, and is so aggressive and happy with its triumphs of spreading. I feel defeated even with wheelbarrows full of what can be cut and yanked away. My neighbours planted it on our communal cyclone fence years ago?woe.
And again, ignorance can bring on unexpected problems. What a fool I was to covet a Bignonia capreolata, the trumpet flowered climber my neighbour had flopping over his high hedge, spilling lovely pale green leaves and clusters of bloom onto the street side. I begged a cutting. Now I can not eliminate it and it has spread into my bay hedge and is aggressively competing for nourishment, light and space, desperately trying to win.
I love the exuberant gushing bloom of the roses in May, and oh, the beauty of the roses makes every angle of the garden delightful. 'Alberic Barbier' has reached the top of the magnolia grandiflora and has completely hidden the ugly roof over the car park. I love the mixed beds, the contrasting textures, and colours, greens, silvers, burgundies, and greys of the foliage, setting off the blooms. I love the odd mixtures of herbs, vegetables and fancy flowers and, well, never mind if there are some weeds. After all, I justify their presence to myself, they are green?
When the Caroline Davies garden tour from Australia returned to visit my garden this year I made sure that everyone noticed my sign on the marble and was relieved and amused that they - being gardeners themselves - empathized with me and it seemed they hardly noticed that 'extra' green that was still showing here and there.
And now, I wish you could all join me on the terrace to sip a hot cup of espresso and tell me your stories!
Helene Pizzi, Subrosa Rome Reporter and International Garden Author and Lecturer