Inspiration from 2007…

Three years ago, I tried an experiment.  Could I grow a whole area essentially from seed, or self-seeded perennials, with one or two shrubs added in? The last two years have been a waiting game, but now, I can say that I am on the way.  It was only the other day when reading about the founding of the recently established Königliche Gartenakadamie opposite the stunning Botanical Garden in Dahlem, Berlin that I remembered what had been at the back of my mind as images of how I wanted the ‘mix’ bit to be.  Isabelle van Groeningen works in partnership with Gabrielle Pape, the main force behind the new Königliche Gartenakadamie in Berlin- but it was Chelsea that first introduced them to me.

Isabelle van Groeningen and Gabrielle Pape made a Main Avenue garden at Chelsea 2007- inspired by and strongly evoking the matrix- planting style of the reknowned German plant-breeder and nurseryman, Karl Foerster.  I remember that garden, not in detail, but in terms of the unusual effects it created.  Using plants as singletons or pairings, the garden seemed swarming with plants, but not arranged in clumps, but as a tapestry of individuals who all seemed to get on very well one with another, almost a ‘pointilist’ garden.  Back then, I was only at the beginning of my formal garden design study and it was all completely new to me.  I remember being disappointed that the garden only got a silver medal.

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Isabelle van Groeningen and Gabrielle Pape for ‘The Telegraph’, Chelsea 2007 photo credit: http://www.telegraph.com

This photograph doesn’t quite capture what I remember, the dotted planting of ones and twos of plants in a tapestry effect, but what you can see is the depth of planting and that crammed impression which I loved.  My version is much more clump-formed than matrix planting in the strict sense, but I have encouraged Stipa capillata to self-seed and this has created a wafty movement at about 0.75m high, which I really like.

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The ‘mix’ in early April, dew on Stipa capillata veiling Cistus ‘Gold Prize’ and Libertia peregrinans in winter orange, Tostat, April 2018

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The ‘mix’ featuring Anchusa azurea ‘Dropmore’, spikes up in blue, red spots of luminous Dianthus cruentus, Phlomis longifolia bailanica, Geranium albanum, Tostat, May 2018

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The edges of the ‘mix’, tall flowerheads of Eryngium eburneum, Anchusa azurea ‘Dropmore’, Monarda fistulosa, Cornus kousa, Tostat, May 2018

A key plant, which has take all of these three years to really get going, is Anchusa azurea ‘Dropmore’.  It is a much more intense blue than the photographs suggest and sits a good half metre above the other planting- so it really reaches for the sky.

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Anchusa azurea ‘Dropmore’, Tostat, end April 2018

It is very wafty so I am hoping it isn’t decked by strong winds- always a possibility.  For the past two months, the two self-seeders. Eschscholzia californica and Cerinthe purpurescens have behaved magnificently.  Purple and orange- so good together. Noel Kingsbury has some interesting and de-bunking comments to make about getting holier-than-thou about any one way of gardening,  but whatever else, closer planting helps but will not remove the need to occasionally sort out thugs and reduce competition.  With the ‘mix’ I am stuffing in and also actively managing, not just the plants but also the invaders.  Good news is that a spot of wild carrot is easily removed.

Lastly, I would like to remember Beth Chatto,  who died last week, and a fantastic visit made to her Essex nursery eight years ago on a wet and grey day- she was a one-off.   What a woman.

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Beth Chatto’s inspirational Gravel Garden, Essex, 2012

Come rain, come shine…

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End of the evening with Stipa tenuissima, Oenethora speciosa shutting up shop, and the last of Cerinthe major ‘Kiwi Blue’ in the distance, Tostat, May 2017

This May has been a bit of a rollercoaster, and in these moments, it is hard not to become totally obsessed with the weather forecast, and then what actually happens- usually not at all as predicted.  In summary, the dry soil sun-lovers have really enjoyed themselves and other things have not, some of which have hung on in there and one or two may have bitten the dust.  This is because I don’t water.  To be precise, I do spot-water things in extremis in their first year, but after that, I don’t.  Stubborn or what, you might well say.  But I am trying to finetune the selection and growing of plants that can live here unaided, and now that there is so much variability in the weather at any time of the year, it makes you feel a bit like William Tell trying to skewer that apple with both legs bound, and from a moving platform.

One of the plants that may have crashed and burnt is one of two Rhamnus frangula ‘Fine Line’.  Interestingly, the one that is in the ER wagon is the one in the slightly less hot spot. I so wanted to grow this plant, having chosen it years ago as part of a planting design for my diploma course- and it was the devil of a job to find it here in France.  So I was mightily pleased when I found not one but two plants last year, and planted them in the early Spring.  It is a delicate, airy columnar shrub, which is pretty undemanding and is reputed to cope with almost any conditions, especially frost.  So, I will have to see if it will perk up from the bottom or find a way of making a comeback.   Meantime, some gentle watering on occasion as it is in the ER wagon.

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Verbascum bombyciferum, where it put itself, Tostat May 2017

Some delights have also turned up. That is not to say that Verbascum bombyciferum is entirely a delight as it can plonk itself slapbang where you don’t want it, and then you have to keep beheading it as it is impossible to get out, with a giant root system that practically goes to Australia.  But it is a mighty and impressive beast when it lands where you might not know that you want it, but you discover that you always did!  With us, the first year is quite a small affair, and then, aged 1-2, the giant seems to leap fully formed out of the ground in front of your eyes.  Felted, hairy and covered in custard-yellow small flowers, it is a one-stop insect feeding station.  It keeps the form and stature right through winter until, totally dried out, it keels over and you are tempted to shout ‘Timber’.

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Assorted foxgloves in dampish soil and sun, Tostat, May 2017

Curiously, it has also been a great year for foxgloves- all self-sown and obviously selecting the parts of the garden where they stand a chance.  That is one of the lovely things about not being too rigid about what goes on where, I love being surprised by what pops up and, also, flip side of the coin, by what doesn’t pop up.  Some years, the foxgloves don’t make much of an appearance- but they always return in the end.

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Euphorbia sikkimensis, Tostat, May 2017

Now here is a survivor.  Grown from seed and fairly weedy for a couple of years, this is the year where it has broken through youth to become a real plant of substance.  I think it’s Euphorbia sikkimensis anyway.  It’s at least 5 years ago that I grew it from seed and it wasn’t a happy sowing, as not much came up, and I lost the tag.  This plant is the only survivor of three.  But it really is worth it.  It is going to make a handsome 1m tall and wide plant, with these electric yellow flower bracts that form on the top of each stem.  Unlike some, it is not a thug, in fact, I would put it in the ‘shy and retiring’ category.  It flowers much later than the rest- sometimes as late as the end of June, and it is willing to cope with the driest, sunniest spot in the garden without any visible complaint.

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Evening sun and handling no rain pretty well, Tostat, May 2017

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Clematis viticella, Aruncus dioicus and the foliage of Paeonia lutea var.ludlowii, Tostat, May 2017