Inspiration from 2007…

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The ‘mix’ bit, featuring Libertia grandiflora, self-seeded Eschscholzia, Monarda fistulosa, Gaura lindheimeri ‘Gaudi Red’, Cerinthe major ‘Kiwi Blue’, Berberis thunbergii ‘Maria’, Tostat, May 2018

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.

Isabelle van Groeningen and Gabrielle Pape for ‘The Telegraph’, Chelsea 2007 photo credit:

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

Verging on too much Libertia grandiflora…

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Libertia grandilfora, Tostat, May 2017

The weather being on the clement side for the first time in ages, I have just come in, four hours later, from what was, to my mind, a quick job.  In my head, that clump of Libertia grandiflora was not that big, and anyway, all I needed to do was wield a quick saw, and Bob’s your uncle.  But, as we Piaseckis say, ‘No, Dave’.

For a start, the clump was huge and took several circuits of digging to even slightly budge, and then, when finally lifted out, I realised that the wet winter and the recent cold snap had rotted off some of the original plants, and all that stuff had to be picked out.  Then, I realised that, even with quite big bits ready for planting, I now had 20 good sized plants to re-locate, not to mention 14 x 1 litre pots of 3-4 babies to be looked after until our Tostatenfleur Troc’Plantes at the end of April.

By the way, if you are ever in France with a car and pass a sign for a Troc’Plantes, stop and see!  Technically, it is a plant-swap system, but most Troc’Plantes also sell rooted cuttings and baby plants for pennies.

So, having done all of that, and found new homes for my 20 good sized plants, I found that four hours had passed. Good heavens.

But the thing is, Libertia grandiflora is a jolly good plant. Looking a  bit like an iris on a diet, slimmer, more arching leaves, in May, it goes Japanese, and produces these simply gorgeous sprays of creamy-white flowers.  The rest of the year you are back to the ‘iris on a diet’ look, but it takes all weathers and stays green- making a good, 0.75cm high clump, that looks quite architectural in winter.  It was also one of my first successes from seed, and so I am very sentimentally attached to it.  It took several years for the tiny plants to mature their rhizomes enough to flower, so flowers will take a hit this year with my saw-style division- but the plants will be healthier without all the decaying stuff in the middle, and so I will wait.

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Libertia grandiflora close-up, Tostat, May 2017

Many books say, as this is a New Zealand native, that it needs moist soil.  I think it is much more adaptable than that, as I have now got it planted in varying degrees of moisture from bone-dry (where it copes by being smaller and producing fewer flowers) to semi-shade and moist- it has not given up anywhere in my garden. It has handled cold down to -10C with ease, so is not as tender as some say, but I agree winter wet is not good, though probably won’t kill it.  From seed it grows easily, though the seedlings are very tiny, they are tough.  I got my seed from Special Plants, a fabulous nursery with seed by post, run by the brilliant Derry Watkins.

There is a second clump, possibly even bigger than this one, so it may be on the cards for tomorrow…