I’ve never used a hoe. I bought one originally, thinking it was sort of necessary, a gardener’s necessity. Since when it has just taken up space in the potting shed, like the equally useless riddle. It’s no good mulching and then trying to hoe in the mulch – and anyway, weeds pull sweetly out of mulched ground should you feel the need to pull.

On the whole I plant thickly with vigorous plants which energetically take their space right up to their neighbours and then sqeeeeze. Doesn’t leave much room once that has all happened (it does take them all a while to meet and squeeze) for weeds, apart from cleavers and bindweed. Still puzzling/pulling them out…

Late July Veddw copyright Anne Wareham 179 Campanula lactiflora and Inula (I think) s

Much squeezing..

The result is a generous mass of plants, playing colour, texture and foliage form against each other, and my work is to keep the flowering effect going over a long season, keep the plants making an effective and powerful story with pattern and repetition, all in search of the wow factor. With quiet passages in between, for peace.

August 2013 Veddw copyright Anne Wareham Hosta Krossa Regal

Quiet passage..

So I look with horror when I visit gardens and find not only bizarre, unrelated collections of disparate plants but gaps between them with soil showing  – and sometimes irrelevant and inaccurate labels stuck in said bare soil. Bare soil just looks like a plea for weeds to seed to me and for that reason in particular I hate the sight of it.

Dandelion masquerading as an Iris at Dyffryn Garden copyright Anne Wareham

Not Veddw. A weed masquerading as an Iris at Dyffryn Garden

But I have begun to realise it is also to do with a very ugly habit. The hoe.

Do people train professional gardeners to use these vile implements? Is it compulsory? The result of having the hoe habit it seems is that every plant becomes a little island, so the hoe can go around them. So you get plant-stop-plant-stop-plant..Dot dot dot,- not a wonderful tapestry. It is rather as if a tapestry had been made with many of the stitches simply left out in large areas, and labels identifying the colours of the silks stuck in these blank spaces.

Bare soil and random planting. Kiftsgate. Copyright Anne Wareham

Not Veddw. Bare soil and random planting: Kiftsgate in June 2013

It’s not as if this is designed to show off the form of the plant. That could work and look beautiful. Perhaps with a tulip – the last word in elegant form and flower. A long narrow border, or spaces within a paved terrace perhaps, where the full beauty of the whole plant could be displayed – that would be good. Or in a pot – they are wonderful for showing, and sometimes echoing, form.

Veddw House Garden, Monmouthshire, Wales. March 2011. Tulipa 'Princess Irene' with Crassula perfoliata var. falcata In metal pots on metal staging in the Conservatory.

Tulips showing their wonderful form. And a succulent trying to sneak in.

Or grasses, fountaining out of a pot – that works too: I have them in a row to show off the form.

 Stipa tenuissima at Veddw copyright Anne Wareham  August 2013

Stipa showing off.

But it’s never anything as clean and beautiful as that.

In the grasses parterre I allow their separate shapes to show when they are part of the point of the plant, as with Miscanthus, Cortaderia or Stipa Gigantea. I think low ground cover would work as well as a mulch here, as long as it was discrete and took a back seat. (I’m letting some Alchemilla in, to see..) Where the plants run into one another their form gets lost and with many – such as Phalaris, or Leymus, that’s fine.

Kiftsgate and Leymus arenarius at Veddw, copyright Charles Hawes

Leymus arenarius all mingled.

But discrete, separate plants, showing off their form is different and unusual. The hoe thing is totally another thing. It looks mean, mingy and messy. It’s as bad as the associated edge cutting along the lawn. Ugh. Cover the ground! Let things meet and mingle.

Front Garden, Veddw, July 2013 copyright Charles Hawes

Happy plants, fighting each other for their space.

I think some people may defend the hoe for its role in the veg plot. But veggies mulch well too, if I remember rightly.

Throw it away. Or rather – recycle it to some allotmenteer  who grows giant parsnips.

Campanula lactiflora in Crescent Border at Veddw copyright Charles Hawes

Not a hoe in sight…

I just discovered that the Americans isolate their plants too – but they use mulch to do it! Who knew? What is it with this bizarre garden style??? And where did it come from?

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