16. February 2020 by Isabelle Van Groeningen

New perspectives after the storms

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Flagge Deutschland für deutsche Übersetzung – Zum deutschen Text – We have all seen images of devastation caused by the storms that ravaged across Europe these past few days. Trees toppled over, flooded towns and swollen rivers, houses damaged. Every storm that blows our way, we worry about our Garden Academy buildings, our plants and in particular the beautiful Weymouth pine tree that dominates the lawn by the café. Fortunately, tree specialists reduced its crown a few years ago, and wired some of the branches in order to ensure no major limbs can break off. Ever since we had this work carried out, the tree has withstood every storm without any damage. The same could be said for the rest of the garden Academy. We were lucky. Some of the neighbouring gardens were less lucky, but quite a few of the trees that were damaged were not in a fit state.

Hedera helix with berries © Isabelle van Groeningen

Hedera helix with berries

Diseased trees

The stress caused by the drought and heat of these past few summers have not helped weakened trees. They normally have a good way of dealing with damage, by producing new callous growth to cover over wounds. However, sometimes the wound is so large that it takes years to cover, and rot sets to work in the inner wood. With time the outer bark closes again, but within the tree invisible problems slowly develop. It is worth checking older trees occasionally, especially when fungus appear like the bracket fungus.

Storm damage in our garden

Although the chestnut and the oak tree that adjoin our little garden survived well, we were less fortunate in our own garden. I am saddened to see a big part of the ivy that covered an ugly wall and provided a welcome green backdrop to the garden, collapsed in a sorry heap. It is not so much the sight of the dreary bare wall that upsets me, but the dozens of homeless sparrows that live in it. They have become an integral part of our life. Twice a day we are entertained by their cheerful chatter as they wake up and when come home for the evening and bicker as to whom gets which branch to sleep on that night. Today the gossiping started at 7.09. A very civilized time. As spring progresses, this will get louder and earlier… And still I love it.

Collapsed Ivy © Isabelle van Groeningen

Collapsed Ivy © Isabelle van Groeningen


Das neue Bambus Zuhause © Isabelle van Groeningen


Luckily, our feathered friends have not disappeared. The have relocated into the bamboos. Their dense foliage is no doubt fine for hiding for the night, but I cannot imagine how they can build a nest in there. Sleeping in this very mobile environment must be a serious balancing act. We shall see what happens – maybe they will relocate into the hedges of the front gardens in the surrounding streets. I will be sad to miss the cheerful chatter, but hope they will keep coming for their morning bathing rituals.

How to move on?

Wurzeln der Efeu © Isabelle van Groeningen

Ivy Aerial roots

There is little we can do about our naked wall, other than be patient. About one third of the ivy remains and it will grow back, in time. The positive side to this small drama is that the magnolias growing at the foot of the wall will benefit from the increased light levels, and we may find they flower better. From past storm damage I have learnt to see the positive side of any unexpected devastation. At first, I am appalled at the loss and disturbance in my familiar landscape. Once one gets used to the change, and the chaos has been cleaned up, it can be very refreshing to have a new perspective, which opens up new possibilities. The great storm of October 1987 that felled 15 million trees in Southern England, virtually destroyed several famous historic gardens and entire sections of landscape. Today one has to guess where a tree went missing, and people have learned how important it is to plant new ones that will replace older ones as they disappear.

Maybe you too are forced to think afresh?




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02. February 2020 by Isabelle Van Groeningen

I am having a break …

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and having a two week holiday.

I wish you nice winter days and I hope this Hamamelis will delight you as much as me!

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25. January 2020 by Isabelle Van Groeningen

Rejuvenating old gardens

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Private garden © Isabelle van Groeningen

Private garden with encroaching shrubbery

Flagge Deutschland für deutsche ÜbersetzungZum deutschen Text – Sitting in my Doctor’s waiting room this week I had plenty of time to look out into the garden. Situated in one of Berlin’s leafy suburbs, it is a typical villa-garden, with a small grassy front garden, overshadowed by a large larch tree. The back garden is a rectangular plot, consisting of a central grass space, surrounded by a slowly encroaching mass of shrubs. Once upon a time, somebody invested a lot of thought, time and energy in this green lung.

Overwhelming greenery

Nothing special, nothing unusual. There are thousands such gardens. Plots where the owner (or the tenant) feels crus-hed by it all. The work is limited to damage-limitation measures, by airing the lawn-mower occasionally to keep the grass short, maybe rake some leaves in autumn and colour is provided by planting a few bedding plants in a few pots or balcony boxes on the terrace. Some call it ecologically friendly, I just find them sad places that are missed opportu-nities.

Where to start?

If you are confronted with such gardens and are not sure where to start, the first reaction is often to remove everything and start again from scratch. Although this approach can induce the feeling of liberation (at least for a brief moment) it is ecologically a disaster as so many homes of birds, insects and other valuable garden inhabitants are disturbed. It can also mean the loss of valuable garden treasures as valuable garden plants can hide in the wilderness. Beautiful old Lilacs, deliciously scented Philadelphus and characterful old roses hide as they have often stopped flowering in their struggle for survival.

Have a close look

Parkplatz der Gartenakademie in 2005, bevor Bau-anfang: eine grüne Wand © Isabelle van Groeningen

Car park at the Garden Academy in 2005 before works started: A green wall

It is worth taking stock of what is really there, what are unwanted seedlings, what is part of the original planting. If two plants are too close together, which is the most important one. It is not necessarily the most beautiful one, it can be the one that fulfils a particular function like hiding an eyesore or providing a windbreak. Look at it from every angle, including the views from the main rooms in the house.

Park Platz der Gartenakademie nach eröffnung: wertvolle Bäume und Sträucher erhalten © Isabelle van Groeningen

KGA carpark-after opening: valuable trees and shrubs retained

Take your time

Crawl through the shrubbery to try and find the original layout and structure of the garden and consider how its use has changed. Think before you take action. What to remove, what to leave. What to prune back hard, or possibly raise and thin out the crown. Most importantly: Use this quiet time of year to take your time. Sleep another night over your decisions as some actions are irreversible or will take many years to recover.

Don’t live with plants you don’t like

Which plants do you love, which ones not. Life is too short to spend time with people you dislike, why spend time with plants that don’t like? Unless a plant fulfils an important function which others cannot do (like grow in a particu-larly difficult situation) there is no reason to continue the relationship. If small enough, dig it out, put it in a bag and place it outside your garden gate. A neighbour will be delighted with his or her unexpected new acquisition!

Gentle approach

Blick entlang der Gewächshäuser der Gartenakademie 2005: zugewachsene Koniferen © Isabelle van Groeningen

View along the greenhouses at the Garden Academy in 2005: overgrown conifers

Working with the existing vegetation, pruning, cutting, thinning is not only gentle on the ecological balance of your garden, it is also gentle on the purse. Preserving large plants, means you do not have to replace everything and start again from scratch. It will provide you with a mature framework which can be the background to exciting new planting.

Gleiche Ansicht nach der Eröffnung: Krone aufgeastet © Isabelle van Groeningen

Same view after opening: crown lifted – Gleiche Ansicht nach der Eröffnung: Krone aufgeastet

Look at old Photos

Old photographs are valuable reminders of what the garden used to look like. It may be worth visiting your local archive to see if any old images, including aerial photographs, reveal more about the original layout and planting of the place.

Stephen Anderton: Rejuvenating a Garden

If you want to learn more about this, we have the expert in this matter coming to the Garden Academy on the 19th February to give a course on how to rejuvenate an old garden. As a professional gardener with many years hands-on experience working in- and managing historic gardens, Stephen Anderton will share his great knowledge in a very down-to-earth manner. His first book was on this subject (the only one ever published), now sadly out of print and only available through antiquarian booksellers. I’m looking forward to hearing him. Learn more about this event at KGA…

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19. January 2020 by Isabelle Van Groeningen

Winterflowering Iris

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Iris unguicularis Frost © Isabelle van Groeningen

Iris unguicularis Frost

Flagge Deutschland für deutsche Übersetzung Zur deutschen Version – May I firstly wish you a happy New gardening Year. I hope 2020 will be a floriferous one! It seems odd to think it is the start of a new year, and yet the temperatures outside are so mild, it feels like spring. Last night as I left the Garden Academy it was almost dark, yet I could hear the blackbirds still sing their cheerful song, full of the promise of spring. Continue Reading →

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21. December 2019 by Isabelle Van Groeningen

Evergreens which flower during the dark, cold season

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Helleborus 'Ice'n Roses' - Immergrüne© Isabelle van Groeningen

Helleborus ‘Ice’n Roses’ – evergreens

 Zur deutschen Version

My last article in this series (and for this year) is about the courageous evergreen plants that flower despite the short, dark days and low temperatures. The winterflowering Heathers I already mentioned in my article last week. There are several which I won’t include as they are not reliably hardy even in the more temperate areas of Germany (like Camellias for example or Clematis cirrhosa), but do look at these few winter beauties. Continue Reading →

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15. December 2019 by Isabelle Van Groeningen

Ericaceous plants for Winter effect

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Rhododendron in Glendurgan, Cornwall © Isabelle van Groeningen

Rhododendron in Glendurgan, Cornwall

Zur deutschen Version

For the past two weeks I have been writing about plants that provide valuable green colour in our monochrome wintery gardens and mentioned the Japanese art of using azaleas as clipped evergreen structure. Azaleas are part of the ericaceous family which contains many plants that can be used to great effect, which is why they deserve an article just dedicated to them. Continue Reading →

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08. December 2019 by Isabelle Van Groeningen

More Evergreens for the wintergarden

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Immergrüner Garten - Gartenakademie © Isabelle van Groeningen

Immergrüner Garten – Gartenakademie

( German version)

For the first Advents weekend I wrote about the evergreen shrubs in my small courtyard garden. However large or small a garden is, plants that retain their foliage during the wintermonths are invaluable, which is why I continue this advents series on evergreens with those that provide great structure. Continue Reading →

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