Gifts from a hot, dry summer…

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Bright, fresh Eryngium eburneum babies, Tostat, September 2017

This week, as we have the sun back but not the warmth, the snow is clearly visible not just on the peaks of the Pyrenees but gliding down the slopes too.  It may well melt as the cold spell passes, we hope, but it is still a signal of an early cool-down that has taken many plants by surprise- with signs of semi-frost activity on tender plants in exposed places.  Today is glorious, warming slowly to maybe 22C with a bright, blue clear sky. Quite different from how it has been.

And as if by magic, literally visible only in the last 10 days, the Eryngium eburneum has not only scattered seed, but that seed has germinated into a fine clutch of baby eryngiums that all look as fit as a fiddle.  They were a little hidden as the cherry tree is shedding leaves already, and so I had missed them until yesterday.  This has only happened maybe once before during and after a hot August in the 13 years we have been living here, so I look on them as a gift from a harsh summer.

Eryngium eburneum is a fabulous plant.  It likes hot, dry, poor soil, free-draining and stony is ideal.  It grows to a very stately clump of fine, saw-toothed leaves, creating a grand presence. And then, in May or June, up shoot the flower spikes, on thin, slender, but tough stems, each carrying a bunch of pale-green fuzzily dimpled acorn-shaped flowerbuds.  These last for a very long time, usually right through to the autumn, but this year, as you can see below, they have been brown and shrivelled- though still standing- for weeks.

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Eryngium eburneum flowering in June, Tostat, June 2017

For sure, it is not the most colourful plant in the garden, but I really prize it for the statuesque elegance it brings, and the fact that, with me, it does remain mostly green throughout the winter, if looking a little faded by Spring.  So it is an incredibly tough, undemanding plant with it’s own pale charm- and lots of presence.  It was also one of my first plants that I grew from seed back in the day- and knowing what I know now about how rarely the seed germinates, I was one lucky novice gardener back then.   Beth Chatto adores this plant, and she is a great hero, so that is another tick in the box for me.  Last week, her nursery was named as one of the top 10 online nurseries in the UK.  Follow the link to see why.

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Aunt not parent, as seen today, Eryngium eburneum, Tostat, September 2017

Approaching Sissinghurst

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Sissinghurst, June 2017

In June, alongside all the other wonderful gardens we visited, we also went back to Great Dixter and visited Sissinghurst for the first time.  Sissinghurst is a name to conjure with. I realise that I have been sitting here wondering what I could say about Sissinghurst that has not already been said by much more august bloggers and proper writers than I.  And so, a sort of blogger’s cramp set in for most of this summer.

In the end, I decided that I would start with the plants that caught my eye, and then work outwards to some more general comments about the whole garden.  It is, of course, stuffed with visitors every day, and so, long range photographs would have meant setting up camp for the odd second when no-one was passing- not my style.  So, I really did focus on on the detail of the plants and the planting at first, to overcome the sense of intimidation being in such an iconic place.  And I began with the roses that we managed to catch…

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Rosa ‘Allen Chandler’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Planted by Vita Sackville-West to cover the inner walls of the front courtyard,  this repeat-flowering climber, Rosa ‘Allen Chandler’ has deep cherry-red flowers with long golden stamens, and is a very good do-er according to many.  It would have been a very modern rose to her, an introduction from 1923 by Alfred Chandler and George Prince, the latter being a well-known Oxfordshire rose grower.  It does marry really well with the warm brick of the walls behind it, and although it had been scorched and then drowned by rain on the day we saw it, it was looking pretty good.  On roses, Vita herself says, writing in her 1954 garden notebook

“…There is nothing scrimpy or stingy about them. They have a generosity which is as desirable in plants as in people…”.’

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Rosa ‘Blossomtime’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Probably not planted by Vita, Rosa ‘Blossomtime’ was nevertheless a big bouncing beauty, with huge generous flowers, it is true in pink and not always  my favourite shade either, but a healthy and well-growing rose.  I am a big fan of Rosa ‘New Dawn’ and this rose started out as a chance ‘New Dawn’ seedling.  It is a modern rose, dating from 1951 when it was introduced by Conrad O’Neal, a well-known US rose grower.  It can be grown as a shrub or a climber.

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Rosa ‘Cramoisi Superieur’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Rosa ‘Cramoisi Superieur’ is a China rose, with twiggy growth, repeat flowering but smallish flowers, and good resistance to disease.  It is a very old rose, certainly grown before the 1830s when various French growers lay claim to originating it.  This may well have been one of Vita’s roses, the cherry-red colouring being a favourite of hers- and very garden-worthy, as it takes all-comers, including heat, with ease.

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Rosa ‘Paul Transon’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Almost the last flowers on this beautiful rose, Rosa ‘Paul Transon’, when we visited at the end of June.  But it is one of those roses that only gets more glorious as the flowers age- the soft mauve is so much more romantic and interesting than the youthful pink.  A 1900 introduction from Barbier Frères,  it grows against a warm brick wall in the Rose Garden, and it may well be one of Vita’s own selections from the 1930s.

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Rosa ‘Ispahan’, Sissinghurst. June 2017

In the Rose Garden, another fabulous name from the past, Rosa ‘Ispahan’ was almost at the end of the flush of flowers for June.  Again a pink- but what a grand presence it has.  A Vita selection, this rose is a very old Damask rose, dating probably from the Middle Ages.  A once-flowerer, nevertheless it has huge big flowers, great disease resistance and a strong fragrance, though I couldn’t get near enough to verify.

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Rosa ‘Golden Wings’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Not a Vita selection, but Rosa ‘Golden Wings’ has all of the simplicity of the wilder roses, and the colouring and presence of the breeder’s rose.  Another US introduction from Bosley Nurseries in 1956, it is an easy shrub rose, blooming once and thereafter sporadically, it is heat-resistant, disease-resistant and needs very little attention.

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Rosa damascena var ‘Trigintipetala’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Rosa damascena var Trigintipetala may be one of the oldest roses in the collection. Dating from before 1612, it appeared in Europe shown by Dr. Georg Dieck in 1889, having originated in Bulgaria or Turkey.  It may also be found under the name ‘Kazanlik’. On a quick search, I could only find a couple of French stockists.

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Rosa ‘Wolley Dodd’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

This Vita selection, now bizarrely named as Rosa rubiginosa ‘Duplex’, is a bit of a mystery.  Unusual as it is happy growing in deep shade in Sissinghurst,  I almost passed it without realising it was there, as the last flower was hidden deep in the foliage. Described as ‘armed with thorns’, it should be better known all the same- how many other roses tolerate, let alone enjoy, living in shade?

Enough for now, but I feel I have worked my way in to the Sissinghurst hang-up…



Catching the eye…

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Rosa Woollerton Old Hall, Ludlow, June 2017

There is a lot of recovery going on in the garden after our harsh summer- but we also have had Scottish weather the past two weeks, strong winds, heavy rain and fresh temperatures- so everything has slightly stopped in its tracks, not quite knowing what is going on.  Me included.  So, thinking back over the spring and summer, here is a mixture of plants that caught my eye and survivors in the garden.  Rosa ‘Woollerton Old Hall’ is a creamy-yellowy-apricot rose that just seems to keep on giving.  I bought one as a gift for a friend and she has been delighted with it all summer- and apparently, it has an strong and unusual scent, which makes it a good ‘un all round.

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Jane’s pretty white geranium, Ludlow, June 2017

In my friend Jane’s garden, a lovely blue-veined white geranium, not sure which, looked glorious in late June.

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Potentilla ‘Arc en Ciel’, Ludlow, June 2017

I loved the burnished look of this Potentilla ‘Arc en ciel’ which I saw in the Ludlow Food Centre garden section.  Golden tips to the petals and a darker, ruffled centre- very pretty.

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Rosa ‘Wild Eve’, Ludlow, June 2017

Again in Jane’s garden, this sumptuous rose ‘Wild Eve’ is almost Titian-esque in habit, hanging in swags over the foliage.

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Monarda ‘Cambridge Scarlet’, Ludlow, June 2017

Monarda ‘Cambridge Scarlet’ is adorable and could be seen all over Shropshire in June. It doesn’t like Tostat- and the only Monarda that does is ‘Monarda fistulosa’ which can take some dryness without mildew.

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Jane’s garden, Ludlow, June 2017

A big investment pays off in Jane’s garden.  A great idea to create a rising range of arches creating a strong diagonal sweep over the garden.

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Rosa ‘Ginger Syllabub’, Ludlow, June 2017

Another ‘Jane’ rose, very pretty and just perfectly balanced on the acidic side of pink and peach.

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Jane’s garden, a longer view, Ludlow, June 2017

A longer view of Jane’s garden- showing the full effect of the well-positioned arches.

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Caryopteris clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’ with the orange Abutilon behind it, Tostat, September 2017

At last, a little colour and life returns to us in Tostat- I love the orange and the blue, the blue gets deeper as the flowers mature, which makes for a great contrast with the lime-green foliage.  Such a good plant.

And, the only flowers on Geranium ‘Havana Blues’ this summer can be counted on the fingers of one hand.  But, I am rethinking some of the planting to give this good geranium a bit more cover, and hopefully, there will be more flowering next summer. Geraniums are forgiving, although you have to wait until next year.

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Geranium ‘Havana Blues’, Tostat, September 2017


Oh my…

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Bessera elegans, Tostat, September 2017

Last month, my daughter was looking for the chives and was poised with a pair of scissors to cut a huge chunk of my Bessera elegans, placed in a pot near the back door to ensure it didn’t get too much rain or wind- not that we had much of either anyway.   Screams were issued and she was re-directed towards the almost extinct chives in the herb patch.  So, now you know what the leaves look like- too look-alike for their own good really.  And for quite a while, that was all we had.

Then, in what seemed like a matter of days, long, thin stems shot up from the chive-like leaves.  And a week or so ago, from those long, thin stems came these extraordinary candelabra- like arrangement of buds.

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Bessera elegans, beginning to flower, Tostat, September 2017

And then yesterday, out came this gorgeous flower with this extraordinary green/turquoise pollen and just behind, the purple pistil which is hiding behind the pollen bearing stamens.  So, then the acrobatics began, as I tried to get a better photograph of ‘inside the trumpet’.  Much wobbling about as I tried to get under the trumpet.  This is the best I could do…..

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The final flower, Tostat, September 2017

Beautiful cream stripes inside the flower, and a better view of the purple pistil- and what a fabulous colour.  So, must lift the bulbs and dry-store them over the winter.  Note to self.  Bulbs available from Sarah Raven in the UK.

Bryan’s Ground…go on, lose yourself

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Bryan’s Ground, looking towards the back of the house, nr Presteigne, Herefordshire, June 2017

Bryan’s Ground is one of the most extraordinary and atmosphere-creating gardens I have ever visited.   There are moments when it all feels like a rather lovely garden opened for the public, and there are moments when it feels wild, abandoned, feverish with growth, and mystical- and then there are also moments of comedy and surrealism. 10 out of 10 too for delicious tea and cakes, all home-made, and also for the second-hand books, including old ‘Hortus’ copies that you are cordially invited to help yourself to- and of course, some plants to buy.  The best I can do, without writing an essay, is to show you what I saw and was struck by, and you can bear in mind that there was much much more than this to see and enjoy.  So, in no particular order…

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Bryan’s Ground, the Dutch Garden and the dog-bone pool, Herefordshire, June 2017

I loved the classical dog statue, Georgie the Labrador, with the retrousée nose, and which was almost caught in the reflection of the pool- shaped like a dog bone, of course. A studied moment of pause and also a smile when you realise.

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The Bed, The Little Orchard, Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire, June 2017

The  most beautiful bedframe working as a delicate holder for unmown grass in the Little Orchard, near to the house.

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Decorated arches link the paths through the Formal Gardens, Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire, June 2017

I am looking back at the intricate, drawn map given to me- and actually what I remember was wandering, feeling lost and dis-orientated, drawn by the planting climbing, spilling, tumbling everywhere- and rarely meeting other visitors , so that the garden seemed to belong to me for a short time.

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A pool lost in time, Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire, June 2017

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The pool in the Sunk Garden, framed by pots of marguerites, yew half-columns and huge box balls, Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire, June 2017

The Sunk Garden takes you back to the Arts and Crafts era when the house was built between 1911 and 1913.  The circular lily pond is shown on the original architect’s plan for the house. Simon Dorrell and David Wheeler, who bought the house and garden in 1993, have added the yew half-columns and whooped up the planting to fairy-tale heights of abundance- walking amongst it is the closest to feeling Liliputian I have ever felt.

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The Dovecot Garden, Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire, June 2017

A lovely view opening and twisting towards the River Lugg far away at the bottom of the Dovecot Garden.

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Teetering and abundant planting, near the Kitchen Garden, Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire, June 2017

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The fabulous Hares installation, in the Kitchen Garden, Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire, June 2017

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Another luscious exuberant planting, near the Sunk Garden, Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire, June 2017

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The Dovecot Terrace planting tumbling beautifully, Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire, June 2017

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The Poplar Avenue, Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire, June 2017

In the newer plantings of the Arboretum at the side of the main garden and leading down to the River Lugg, unusual and extraordinary combinations of plants, shrubs and trees fuel atmospheres of magic and mystery.  I loved the way the light struck the trunks of the white poplar trees above, with the mysterious opening almost glinting in the light.

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The Mezquita, Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire, June 2017

A grid planting of 36 Prunus avium, the native cherry, called the Mezquita, echoing the columns of the Moorish mezquita at Cordoba, almost felt like an army on the march.

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A brilliant halt. Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire, June 2017

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More tumbling planting, in places almost a thicket, but what an exploration…Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire, June 2017

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Objets d’art everywhere, she may be the Chained Lady on the right, Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire, June 2017

And lastly, the swirling sweeps of the Canal at the front of the house, you have to imagine the swathes of purple iris following the curves in the Spring.  This is such a sublime garden, and one of the main beauties is, that it is tended only to the point where you would not be able to get through the planting- which allows self-seeding and beneficial weeds to play their part too.  As you walk through, your perspective on how gardens ‘should be’ changes to what ‘they can be’, and the balance of precision is always there to contrast with the abundance.  Magnificent.

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The mesmerising Canal, Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire, June 2017

Two lovely poppies and a great plant, new to me- thank you Messrs Dorrell and Wheeler. I will be back.

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Gorgeous jewel coloured Poppies, The Greenhouse, Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire, June 2017

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Zenobia pulverulenta ‘Blue Sky’, Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire, June 2017





Pilgrim’s Progress…

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Unknown Helianthus, Tostat, September 2017

This year, with so much caramelised garden around me, I am very grateful for the bright and sunny feel that the late unknown Helianthus is offering to the garden.  I used to have massive colonies of it, but over the years, I have resisted it’s charms and turned my head away, ripping much of it out for ‘better’ plants.  But, eating quantities of humble pie, I realise that this tall, wiry tough plant has much to offer with late flowering, bright, jolly colouring and an absolutely bomb-proof manner.  So, though I wouldn’t return to the vast thickets of it that I used to have, I think it is quite fabulous as a spot-planted, intermingled plant, just dotted about and bringing general jollity.  I apologise unreservedly.

Meantime, cutting back the burnt bits and allowing for the beginnings of new growth for next year is the priority for the next few cooler days.  We have had two days of really heavy rain, which at last has penetrated more than a couple of centimetres beneath the baked crust.


Nepeta grandiflora ‘Zinser’s Giant’ photo credit:

And that early division of some Stachys ‘Hummelo’ that I tried out a couple of weeks back having been a great success, I similarly tackled some discounted Nepeta grandiflora ‘Zinser’s Giant’ and some Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’, and am about to do the same again for some Doronicum orientale ‘Little Leo’ that I also bought cheaply. Cross fingers for all of these.  I had one spectacular failure in the seed-growing department, and that was Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’, so when I saw the reduced plants at Promesse de fleurs, I jumped at them and hope that my brutal saw and chop tactics of early division pay off.  These are all new varieties to me, so no home-grown photographs yet.


Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ photo credit:


Doronicum orientale ‘Little Leo’ photo credit:

But the rain has enabled me to finally get going with the restoration of my lapsed Labyrinth project.  All of 3 years ago, I dug out and created the beginnings of the five-circuit labyrinth in the back garden.  It seems like aeons ago.  I used to joke that you would have to be ‘Donald Trump’ to buy plants to plant it up.  Joke has gone rather sour now.  But the essence is that I chose to plant it with Carex buchananii ‘Red Rooster’ which I thought would be way tough enough to cope with full sun and limited water.  The first year’s seed planting was great and produced about 75% of the plants that I needed, which was a good start.

But the second year’s seed-planting was a disaster, and in the meantime, hotter, drier summers seemed to be accelerating every year.  So, with weed invading and plants struggling, I decided to go for a change of plant, over to the tried and tested Panicum virgatum and keep the Carex that made it, but essentially continue with the Panicum.  A more mongrel look, you might say.  This year, with 130 healthy and good-looking Panicum virgatum plants at the ready, I am carrying on- after much trial and tribulation.

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The Baby Labyrinth part planted with Carex buchananii ‘Red Rooster’ , Tostat, July 2014

I am embarrassed to publish a photograph of how it looks right now, but I think I will be strong enough to brave the challenge in a couple of months once the Panicums have had a chance to settle in.  I think this could be a story of adversity and and not losing heart after all.




The truly wonderful Henryk Eilers

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Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henryk Eilers’, Tostat, July 2015

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Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henryk Eilers’, Tostat, August 2015

Apparently, according to the ‘English Garden’, this very agreeable plant, Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henryk Eilers’ is one of Nigel Dunnett‘s favourite plants of the last two decades- I would agree wholeheartedly.  It is not a ‘blingy’ plant- rather, it is a good, strong grower that has even come through our terrible drought this summer, though, admittedly, the flowers are the size of a fingernail, tiny in comparison with these photographs of 2 years ago.

It grows as well as ‘Goldsturm’, and like ‘Goldsturm’, will take pretty much whatever is thrown at it, in terms of weather and conditions.  But it should become a slender giant, up to 1.5m or taller, with supple, strong stems that bounce back, and these lovely, quilled flowers with the typical dark chocolate Rudbeckia centre.  The yellow is softer than ‘Goldsturm’, and the quilling gives the whole flower a delicate appearance.  But delicate, it ain’t.

It was discovered alongside a stream near railway tracks in open prairie in Illinois by a retired nurseryman, Henry Eilers.  It first appeared on the commercial market in 2003 and has won hearts across the world ever since.  I bought it in, maybe, 2007, when I found a small nursery, Groenstraat 13, in Belgium that specialised in Dan Hinckley introductions, and it arrived safe and sound in the post.  Rik from ‘Groenstraat 13’ called it ‘Henryk Eilers’ and because it reminds me of Sondheim’s ‘A Little Night Music’, I like to keep the Flemish version of the name.  For more about this great plant, see this article by North Creek Nurseries in Pennsylvania.

It has toiled this year, but, I have a mind to dig it up and divide it sooner rather than later.  My experiment, inspired by Monty Don’s visit to Jimi Blake and Hunting Brook Gardens in Ireland, in early division of two clumps of Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’ has been a real success- I am now a proud parent of 35 rapidly growing small plants in pots as opposed to two rather exhausted parent plants in a dried out garden.  Not bad, eh?!

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Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’, Tostat, June 2016

And, to remind myself about the great Nigel Dunnett, here are a couple of photographs from his RHS Chelsea gardens in 2011 and 2013.  I love his work.

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Nigel Dunnett’s Habitat Walls appearing through the planting, The New Wild Garden, RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2011.

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Nigel Dunnett’s Blue Water Garden, RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2013.