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How to cover up a garden gap, tidy a walnut tree and be water-wise, by garden expert Helen Yemm

A well placed bench can hide a bare spot in shade
A well placed bench can cover a bare spot in shade Credit: Marianne Majerus

Every week, Telegraph gardening expert Helen Yemm gives tips and advice on all your gardening problems whether at home or on your allotment. If you have a question, see below for how to contact her.

 

CYCLAMEN GAP

In autumn we have a lovely display of cyclamen around the base of a tree at the edge of the lawn. Now the leaves have died away, there is bare soil for three months or so, until the flowers come again from August to September. Can you suggest anything to fill the gap? 
(not necessarily for this year.) It is obviously somewhat dry, and shady.

Roger Bark – via email

I have written about this problem before – probably several years ago – albeit in a slightly different context. Sophisticated horticultural advice this is not, but my observations seemed to hit the spot then and may do again.

  1. The cyclamen (presumably hardy C. coum) have naturalised because they are totally happy with the conditions you describe under your tree. By trying to introduce something else into this area that will “shine” at a different time of year you may well mess up the cyclamen dormancy cycle and spoil their display.
  2. Few of us give enough thought to creating places to sit in our gardens, and this spot may be a good one: looking outwards from under the shady canopy of a tree, it is possible to enjoy a different view of the more flowery parts of your summer garden.

My suggestion is to acquire a bench and plonk it on to the cool, dry, bare earth (put down composted bark or fine bark chippings first if you must) and sit on your cyclamen for their three/four months of dormancy.

If you would still prefer to have something to look at, buy a big, good-looking pot and fill it with variegated ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria ‘Variegatum’). This is an excellent and well-behaved container plant for deep shade, and may provide a talking 
point into the bargain.

DEAD WALNUT WOOD

I have a walnut tree, about 15 years old. Last winter I pruned it, which seems to have encouraged huge new growth and a lot of walnuts this year. However, there is a lot of dead wood on the tree where there is no growth or bud – should I cut this off?

Alexis Howard – via email

Of course it would be good to know why there is so much dead wood in your walnut tree – it is, in my view, unlikely to be simply the result of last summer’s drought, and may just be 15 years of dead-twiggery that has suddenly become more visible because of the pruning you did. But to answer your question: it is always a good idea to take out, cleanly and with secateurs or a pruning saw, any old and obviously dead wood from trees and shrubs as soon as it becomes evident.

Dead branch/shoot removal is partly about garden aesthetics but it is also true that, depending on the reason for the branch dieback and the type of woody plant, by tidying up you may prevent further die back and even fungal attack.

Most of us have seen, for example, the gradual ugly dieback of formerly healthy branches of roses, emanating from the short stubs left behind after indecisive pruning, or may have noticed the orange pustules of coral spot rot that can spread from dead wood to kill living branches of, amongst others, ornamental acers and Japanese quince.

‘FREAK’ SHOOTS

Last year, Mark Fennell’s hardy Fuchsia magellanica var. gracilis ‘Versicolor’ started to produce what he describes as “freak” green shoots. This year, there are more green shoots than ever. He asks if he can “stop the rot” and, if so, how.

Plants with variegated leaves such as this are bred from naturally occurring “sports” of green-leafed plants. As such, their growth may not be stable, and it is common for them to revert to green, a branch at a time as they age. This is most noticeable in variegated woody evergreens such as euonymus, where green shoots can quickly outnumber variegated ones.

The problem can be largely solved, or held at bay, by taking out green shoots from below the point of reversion as soon as they appear. This will be relatively easy with the hardy fuchsia, which can be cut to the bone in spring. Any green shoots produced from the resulting woody base can be quickly identified and pulled away at the point from which they stem.

Snipping them down later is less successful as they may branch and make the problem worse.

Jenni Parker asks if the pale-leafed strong shoots, so clearly different from the rest of her rugosa roses, are suckers. Yes, and they should be carefully wrenched from the wild rose root (below the graft). Snipping these can, as with reversion, make the problem worse.