Wilde side

Kim Wilde answers your gardening questions.

I want to plant some lavender and would like to know which plants would compliment it.
Lavender is one of my favourite plants, and there are many varieties to choose from. Lavandula intermedia is often seen in cottage gardens – large, woody and somewhat out of control. We grow a hedge of it that plays host to aubretia, which climbs into the lavender frame, providing spring colour before the lavender gets going in June. L. angustifolia is much more compact; all the dwarf lavenders, such as ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’, are cultivars of it. These are the best for growing as small hedges around flowerbeds. I recently planted Salvia sylvestris ‘Viola Klose’, Heuchera ‘Strawberry Candy’ and Nepeta ‘Porzellan’ edged with L. ‘Hidcote’, which looked very romantic. French lavender (L. stoechas) has flower heads topped with infertile bracts, usually flowers just before other lavenders in May and, if deadheaded regularly, lasts till October. It associates well with other Mediterranean herb plants such as salvia, santolina, rosemary and fennel. To grow lavender, you need well-drained, alkaline soil and sunshine; dig in plenty of grit if the soil is heavy. Do not prune in spring; instead, cut back to leaf level after flowering to maintain a compact, tidy bush.

I have a silver birch tree that grows over my neighbours’ garden. They are concerned about the leaves that come down on their side, and want it lopped. While I am reluctant to do this, I want to help. Any suggestions?
As a rule, it’s better to prune a plant when it is dormant (October is a good time). This is less of a shock to the plant and, with deciduous species, makes it easier to see the branch structure. Use sharp tools and, when pruning a large branch, cut back in sections to reduce the chance of a split. This is harder than it sounds, so I’d engage a tree surgeon. After this procedure, your tree is likely to look sorry for itself, so how about planting another two silver birch near the pruned one (well within your garden and at least 3m apart), to form a small woodland area.