By a curious set of coincidences, I am now designing and working on my first…roundabout! Our roundabout in Tostat is a strange, haricot bean shape on the main road through the village, close to the school and the boulangerie, and actually if you are standing on it, you meet more people than you do in any other location. We used to have a very noble pin parasol, which was huge and very stately, but in the July gales last year, it came to the ground, and for a while, was lying there like a wrecked ship. Once taken away, the pine-less roundabout seemed very sad and abandoned, and so, all sorts of discussions took place about ‘What was to be done?’.
Cutting to the chase, in the end, I was asked if I had any ideas. I was very honoured and delighted to be asked. And I did have some ideas. I have to confess to a horror of much municipal planting, consisting of a riot of colours and shapes, usually mostly annuals. And so I checked that that wasn’t what was wanted, and then went ahead. I had in mind turning the haricot shape into a space with trees, grasses offering shape and all year round interest, and shrubs, with some perennials that would evoke a semi-natural landscape. A calming place, with informal elegance and a simple colour palette of green, blue, yellow and white. And the remaining grass being allowed not to be Wimbledon. The practical considerations were that there is no money to spend really, and the three part-time gardeners have lots to do, so minutely tending annuals is not on.
The roundabout is north-south facing, with no cover and full sun all the time. So whatever went in had to be chosen for being seriously tough and self-managing. So, multi-stemmed white birches were my starting point, three of them, Betula verracosa, straddling the shape to provide interest from any angle of approach. Trios of Genista ‘Porlock’ which I love for its vibrant green foliage and sharp yellow flowers in spring, followed by Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’ for lime-yellow foliage and blue flowers later in summer, and Ceanothus griseus ‘Yankee Point‘ to ramble in the middle and cover the pin parasol ground-down stump. For all sorts of reasons, we were in a hurry to get the job done, and so ‘Yankee Point’ was subbed by Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var.repens which we could get locally. The caryopteris is coming from Belgium, as are the grasses, Panicum virgatum ‘Warrior’, which will form semi-circular bracelets around the birches. And for a bit of flambuoyance, there will be two large Hydrangea paniculata ‘Phantom’ and some groupings of Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Banana Cream’. And maybe some scattered bulb plantings of hyacinths, though the jury is out on that one right now.
And we have started. I say, ‘we’, but all the hard work is being done by Marc, Damien and Sebastien, and today was suddenly warm again, so hacking through the remnants of the old planting and preparing the space for the new, was hot work. I mainly stand around, trying to be encouraging with offers of coffee and bottled water, which seems to slightly mystify but also amuse them. And we are constantly being asked about what’s going on, and it’s turning into a very social space!
Of course, we are ‘not hiding’ 3 large lamp-posts, 3 road signs and a water hydrant thing for the firemen, so that is partly why there is a lot of ‘weaving’ in the planting, and the area in front of the hydrant can’t be blocked either. Nor, ideally, would we be planting now just as summer approaches, but the hydrant will come in handy and help the team keep the trees especially well-watered for the summer months.
And so many people have helped and encouraged…here are two of them narrowly missing Sebastien rushing to the truck.
And so it’s hard at it, with the rest of the planting happening tomorrow and next week, and some extra plants are to be weaved in, as we have them at the workshop, and they need to be used. So, a bit more imaginative wiggling to be done, without losing the simplicity of the colour and plant range.
I love it.