Wilde side

Date
Published in
The Guardian (UK)
Written by
Kim Wilde

Kim Wilde answers your gardening questions.

I would like to create a mixed border of fairly high shrubs/perennials (I'm not keen on low-lying plants). How and when should I begin?
Make the best start by removing all weeds and digging in plenty of organic matter, to improve soil structure. If you do this in the autumn, you could leave it over winter to settle, ready for the fun part next spring. When planting, the first consideration are structural shrubs, which should take up no more than half the planting space - try choisya and elaeagnus, which are sweetly scented as well as evergreen. Deciduous shrubs, such as Euonymus alatus 'Compactus', are useful for autumn colour. And don't forget grasses, such as Deschampsia cespitosa and the superb Stipa gigantea, which add movement.

I have an Equisetum 'Bandit' that I would like to plant in a mixed border. Is this suitable or is it too invasive?
Equisetum can be as invasive as Japanese knotweed, and thrives in shallow water, wet meadows and marshy areas. I have mine safely tucked up in an old tub, where it contrasts perfectly with the foliage of hosta and ferns. Bewitched as you may be, I suggest you don't place it in a border and enjoy it contained. Try grasses (say, Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus') or bamboos, such as Phyllostachys nigra, instead.

What is the best way to store lily bulbs in winter? I usually keep them in pots where they have flowered.
Lily bulbs are hardy, but it's a good idea to give them winter cover in the shed or garage with a fresh mulch of leaf mould; this should prevent the bulbs from becoming waterlogged, which will quickly lead to rot. In frost-prone gardens, a few conifer branches can be placed over lilies in the border. Any problems you have are likely to stem from bad drainage, which is the most important factor when growing bulbs. Use John Innes No 3 soil-based compost, which should have grit added using two parts John Innes to one part grit. Lilies are usually trouble free, but if you see the bright-red lily beetle and their long orange grubs, you should pick them off the leaves immediately.