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.
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.
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.
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.