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

The final fling

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The gorgeous Rosa ‘Lady Hillingdon’, Sombrun, end May 2017

I make no excuses for raving about the roses this year, it has been an exceptional year I think. But maybe a little short with everything all bursting out at once, Rosa banksiae did not have the stage to itself as normal.  So, when invited back to Sombrun to see the roses in their final burst for the once-flowerers, we dashed round.

‘Lady Hillingdon’ with the smokey apricot centres was very seductive, but then so was this modern floribunda one, doing very nicely thank you in a pot.

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Rosa ‘Cinco de Mayo’, Sombrun, end May 2017

Just along from this exotic colour mix, was Rosa ‘The Generous Gardener’, with very baroque swags of flowers hanging low.

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Rosa ‘The Generous Gardener’, Sombrun, end May 2017

A rose I have often read about, but not seen before, was ‘Phyllis Bide’, growing at the edge of the meadow and decorating a chain link fence rather well.

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Rosa ‘Phyllis Bide’, Sombrun, end May 2017

‘Charles de Mills’ is like watching an Origami exercise unfold.  It must have one of the most densely pleated flowers in the rose world.  Rubbish for pollinating insects, but glorious as a natural marvel.

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Rosa ‘Charles de Mills’, Sombrun, end May 2017

At the minimalist end of the spectrum is another rose I had read about but not seen, the strangely named ‘Cooper’s Burmese’.  It is the epitome of Scandi-chic in comparison with ‘Charles de Mills’, five long, delicate petals and a light golden centre, fragile but tough.

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Rosa ‘Cooper’s Burmese’, Sombrun, end May 2017

I loved the modern rose, ‘Opalia’ as well, for it’s simplicity and delicacy.

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Rosa ‘Opalia’, Sombrun, end May 2017

‘Sally Holmes’ has just enough pink in the buds for the girl-next-door look, but then opens out into cream, many-stamened sophistication.

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Rosa ‘Sally Holmes’, Sombrun, end May 2017

‘The Alexandra Rose’ has the look of a chinensis rose about it, single flowers with generous stamens and slightly flared petals, as if it has just had a small shock.

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Rosa ‘The Alexandra Rose’, Sombrun, end May 2017

Then comes the clinical elegance of ‘Paul’s Perpetual White’.

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Rosa ‘Paul’s Perpetual White’, Sombrun, end May 2017

Bustling in a jolly way over the gate with a crushed raspberry pink was a busy big rose, ‘Maria Lisa’, very pretty.

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Rosa ‘Marie Lisa’ over the gate, Sombrun, end May 2017

And meanwhile in the woodland area, not a rose but Cornus kousa flowering with just as much exoticism as all the companion roses- not to be outdone.   And it will all happen again next year, what a joy.

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Cornus kousa flowering, Sombrun, end May 2017

 

Winners and losers…

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Cornus kousa, Tostat, June 2016

This year is proving to be very confused.  This week, we have gone from 15 degrees to nearly 30 in three days, and the wind has been a bad friend as I moaned about in my last blog.  But, some plants in the garden have really enjoyed the oddities of the season, and really did their best.

I planted this Cornus kousa more than eight years ago, when I was a very serious novice in our garden.  It is definitely a bit too dry for it where it is, but as it is now more than 2.5 m high, it is probably staying.  This May, though, with our cool, wet weather, really pleased it, and I have never seen the flowers so bright and long-lasting.  They are bracts rather than flowers, but present themselves in this charming way, like a waiter bringing several plates at once.  We never quite get to the fruits as, by then, it really is too hot for it and autumn colouring passes over very swiftly, but, it is a pretty vase-shaped tree, and if our springs are going to be more volatile, it may be that my planting error will not such a miss, more of a hit.

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Cenolophium denudatum, Tostat, June 2016

I grew several plants of Cenolophium denudatum from seed about 4 years ago.  It is a beautiful umbel, offering up wide, lacey plates of flowers and pretty, dissected foliage in mid-summer. Entirely undemanding, other than moderate levels of moisture, and full sun, it makes a lovely clump about 1.2m high by 1m across in a couple of years.

I grow it over my Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’ as it starts to appear just as ‘Brazen Hussy’ fades and so they are good companions.  But, my best clump was very pathetic this year, and on closer inspection this week, I think it is one of those plants that needs splitting and refreshing every 3-4 years.  It had clearly died out in the centre and was doing its best to splinter off at the sides with new, youthful growth.  Of course, I had slightly missed the boat for this year, so I dug it up anyway, split  and re-potted it, and have put the new ones in the observation ward for the next few weeks.  In fact, I’ll probably wait till next Spring and stick it back then which will give it the best chance to regroup.

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Neglected Cenolophium denudatum getting intensive care, Tostat, June 2016

The jury is out a bit on my annuals this year.  This sounds as if I am an experienced annual grower, the truth would really be the reverse.  But, with some new areas opened up in the garden, I decided that I should brave my fear of annuals and give it a go.  I loved the seedling look of Nasturtium ‘Milkmaid’.  One or two pretty cream flowers appeared, but, on the whole, the plants were not happy with our weather conditions and looked so scrofulous that I ripped them out last week.   But so far, Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Xanthos’ is hanging on, maybe not in the best form, but not yet scrofulous, so in it stays.  The early flowering colour is a bit more yellow than I had hoped, but goes creamy as the flower matures, which I prefer.

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Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Xanthos’, Tostat, June 2016

This Eupatorium capillifolium ‘Elegant Feather’ has loved our wet, windy and cool weather.  I am amazed. It has always been a bit on the mewly side, not quite doing ok, not quite fizzling, but to look at it now, you would never know.  And it has really shot up, and it is easily holding its own with the Phlomis russeliana behind it.  The brother plant has not liked his second re-location, and so he is back in a pot in intensive care for a second year, having come very close to fizzling.  I think I am just going to plant them together next year and be done with it.

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Eupatorium capillifoilium ‘Elegant Plume’, Tostat, June 2016

I am so pleased with this!  I struggle with pinks sometimes, they can be too Barbie-doll, and so-called salmony shades often look too like, let’s be plain, the after-effects of a bad night out.

But this Lychnis chalcedonica ‘Salmonea’ is really delightful.  I grew it from seed last year sent to me by the Hardy Plant Society and it survived murder at the hands of our non-watering housesitter last autumn.   This year, it has come back as single 0.30 m high spikes of bright green foliage topped with this unusual combination of pinks in the flowering head.  Photographs show the flowering heads shaped as domed balls, but mine are definitely flat!

Not sure about drought tolerance, I am growing it in a dappled shade part of a new area, under a cherry tree, and so far, it is handling everything well.  I probably should have nipped off the top growth to make it more bushy, but well, never mind, bushiness will come in the future if it continues to make it.  Some people unkindly call this plant ‘Salmonella’!  I don’t agree.

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Lychnis chalcedonica ‘Salmonea’, Tostat, June 2016

And, to close, one of only two Lilium regale out of ten that do not resemble the Hunchback of Notre Dame…so it has been worth it!

This weekend, we are in Paris to catch the ‘Jardins d’Orient’ exhibition at the Institute du Monde Arabe.  Andy did some of the translation work for it, but I am keen to see the exhibition which will be a rare opportunity to learn about the history of Islamic gardens, and also to see the contemporary Islamic garden that has been designed specially for the exhibition by Michel Pena.  More of this to follow.

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Lilium regale, Tostat, June 2016