Against The Odds



Agapanthus ‘Zachary’


If you’ve been following the blog for any length of time (two seconds ought to do it) you’ll know that chez rusty duck presents something of a challenging environment for even the hardiest of plant. The wet Devon winters severely restrict the range I can successfully grow. And then there are the critters: those wot munch. This year it’s been particularly bad with a rabbit population explosion and frequent visits from the deer. The slimy ones, the molluscs, well they’ve had a heyday. The garlic drench worked reasonably well but it does need repeated applications. Especially after rain. And therein lies the rub. There are only so many hours in the day.

Even worse than the slugs, voles and mice remain public enemy number one. Within a couple of days of any new planting their calling cards appear. Ridges in the surface of the soil, the tell tale signs of underground tunnels, straight as a die and locked onto target: my latest precious acquisition a sitting duck at the end. The other night whilst tossing and turning a theory began to evolve. I wonder if my habitual practice of throwing a handful of chicken manure pellets into the planting hole is actually contributing to my downfall? Is it these that are attracting the mice? It’s easy enough to test out.

There are so many plant failures here that lessons have been learned. Trees and shrubs tend to be less susceptible to nibbling and it’s likely there will be more of these as the garden continues to develop. Lower maintenance too. At the other end of the work spectrum, annuals. Sadly there just isn’t the time at the moment. Sowing direct generally has a poor outcome on my heavy clay soil. Which brings us to the mainstay of the borders, the perennials. I’m a collector, I love plants. It’s always been hard to buy three of the same variety when instead I could acquire three very different and much sought after gems. Reluctantly I’ve come to appreciate that creating impact means planting in drifts. Yet still I had to force myself to do it. Now, however, it’s going back the other way. At least temporarily. One, maybe two, of each new-to-me variety until they’ve proved their tenacity. Then propagate from these or purchase more to fill in the gaps.

So what has made the grade? As summer draws to a close I thought it might be interesting to wander round the garden and note down the species that have proven, for me, against all the odds, the most reliable. Allow me to present rusty duck’s top ten survivors:



Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Orange Field’
Every variety of Persicaria I’ve ever tried, and there have been many, have thrived. What a good job I love them!



Sanguisorba ‘Tanna’

All sanguisorbas



macrorrhizum ‘Album’

seems to eat geraniums



Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’

I’m dividing the shorter geums every year now and already have substantial drifts.



Verbena bonariensis

Verbena bonariensis survives as a perennial here. It also self seeds. Verbena rigida is, if anything, even more robust.



Panicum virgatum ‘Squaw’

Grasses of all varieties do really well. Baby rabbits did nibble many of them down to the ground this Spring, it’s true. But then buzzards moved into the wood to nest, the bunnies became food themselves and the grasses all grew back.



Peony ‘Bowl of Beauty’

It just gets better and better.. Flushed with success, this year I even splashed out on an Itoh. Holding my breath..



Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’

Japanese anemones demonstrate the classic ‘sleep, creep, leap’. Honorine has just started to leap. Wood anemones, being closer to the ground, do fall prey to nibbling. Pheasants and squirrels are the culprits here.



Phlomis russeliana

Purchased late last year it endured a particularly wet winter, bloomed, got shifted, wilted heavily, but picked back up and has survived to tell the tale. There will be more of these.



Euphorbia ‘Black Pearl’

And surely nothing would take on a euphorbia!


OK, so there were more than ten. The best of the rest:


Alchemilla mollis




Ceratostigma plumbaginoides

Chelone obliqua






Erigeron karvinskianus

Ferns, all native varieties

Heathers, all types (acid soil)











There have been surprises too. The last few winters, though wet, have also been exceptionally mild. Some of the following may be tested in years to come:



Eschscholzia californica (Californian poppy)

Hedychium gardnerianum (ginger lily)




Cistus argenteus ‘Silver Pink’


So not a bad list to start me off. Next season, through trial and error, maybe I can add some more.

Any suggestions?


Linking to Beth at Plant Postings for September Lessons Learned.