Sunday, 28 June 2009

Form and Texture - Two more from Tom Stuart-Smith at Wisley

This great green block of planting inspires me to really go for leaf texture. It also reminds me to have the courage to show restraint in the number of plants in a scheme. There are the designer's signature columns providing structure (here, not quite evergreen, as they are beech, but the brown leaves will remain through winter), and allowed to go straggly. The Allium seedheads almost look better, I bet, than when they were a haze of purple balls floating above the swishy waves of grass. I am not sure what grass this is or what its flowers will look like. I'll just have to go back. This apparently simple planting creates a powerful genius loci, or spirit of the place, outside the new glass house.

This small composition is also thrilling: spikes of Eremurus, floating plates of Achillea, a fan of Iris, and a haze of Stipa tenuissima.

Update: the grass is Hakonechloa macra, Japanese Forest Grass, which is often grown in its variegated form, 'Aureola'. T S-S apparently won't use variegated forms, though I have been told that some imp did sneak in one of the vulgar yellow-striped miscreants.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Sweet peas

The scent of sweet peas is spicy and exotic - really heady, especially in the evening. The colour and texture of the petals is like oriental silk. Sweet peas hide under a reputation of belonging to Victorian ladies, but they're a full-on sensual treat.These are from a mixed packet by Thompson and Morgan called 'Elegant Ladies - highly fragrant heirlooms'. Half the plants look to be 'Matucana': bi-coloured flowers with blueish-purple wing petals and reddish-purple flags or standards (the two petals that stand up at the back of the flower).This variety is
particularly fragrant and free-flowering. It's thought to be an old one, close to the species, that was somehow naturalised in Peru (Matucana is a town there) and brought back by a Jesuit monk to Europe. Lathyrus odoratus originates in Italy, including Sicily.
There are many sweet pea cultivars with frilly edges, for instance, in a range of gorgeous colours (whites, pinks, blues, purples). My white ones are in a separate vase - they have a simple elegance that is entrancing.

Growing. Without a green house or a decent coldframe I can't sow sweet peas in October to get early blooms. I sow mine in April indoors and plant out mid-May. If you soak the seeds overnight, they don't take long to germinate. The seedlings get tall and floppy so I put them out, even though it seems to check their growth for a couple of weeks. This year I had some pea-sticks from a Surrey coppicer and placed these against a wigwam of canes. I also put in some climbing French beans which will have lilac flowers. Anyway, they were flowering by mid-summer's eve, which is good enough. They are half way up the wigwam and I am cutting regularly to keep more flowers coming. Once the flowers set seed the plant stops making new flowers. I hope to show you the wigwam in full glory next month.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Psychedelic Prairie Planting at RHS Bicentenary Glasshouse, Wisley, Surrey, UK

I urge you to get to Wisley within the month to see the most mouth-watering sweet shop planting. My little camera cannot do the colours and the space justice.

Do not look left or right once you enter the garden but head straight for the Bicentenary glasshouse. Walk straight through and out the back to James Hitchmough's seeded prarie planting, and to Tom Stuart-Smith's herbaceous perennial planting.
Yellow fox-tail lily (Eremurus), and acid orange red hot poker (Kniphhofia); hot pink carthusian pink (Dianthus carthusianorum) - wowee!

Update January 2010: here is the prairie planting in January.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Garden Barge Square - garden on the Thames

This is a house boat community on the Thames, not half a mile from Tower Bridge. The Dutch barges have been planted for the exposed conditions using deep containers. There is a unified planting scheme including light trees (Robinia pseudacacia, Birch and apple varieties) grasses, shrubs and annuals.

This is a really exciting garden. You enter the wharf through a tiny portal in a wall, and then there is this whole other world below you, down a gangplank shifting in the river swell. What's a garden doing here, fruit and roses, so close to the City?! This is the area where spices, tea and other goods from the east were docked. There's a sense of dark history and transgression, even on a gloriously sunny mid-summer day.

Please follow the link and click on the slideshow icon top left in the toolbar. You can regulate the pace of the slideshow yourself and turn on or off the comments.

Unfortunately this garden is open to the public only once a year, so bookmark this link and put it in your diary for next summer

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Leaf colour and texture - Melinda's garden

These textures and colours ZING!
Golden Hop (Humulus lupulus 'Aureus')
Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra 'Eva')I think...let me know, Melinda!
Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutifolia 'Overdam')
...and something interestingly glaucous front right.
Melinda's a garden designer and a design tutor. She knows what she's doing. She opened her garden under the National Garden Scheme, Below, you can see her husband taking entry money, the blue of his shirt setting off the yellow Choysia (shrub) behind him, and the frosted lime green of feather grass (Stipa tenuisssima) in the path. Stipa self-sows freely, as does the Nigella, little specks of blue flowers in the foreground. She 'edits' what pops up each year (that was the term of another garden visitor). Another tip to store away for the future is the paint colour for the fence. It sets off the palette Melinda has chosen really well.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Kate's garden

Kate opened her garden as a member of Lambeth Horticultural Society, It's a wildlife garden. This amazing insect city was built by her son using some pieces of his iron sculpture work, bricks and sticks. There's also a pond, a meadow cut in a paisley shape and raised veg beds with diagonal rows. Kate really has green fingers and a good sense of design. There are four or five places to sit and study her planting choices. So many to choose from but I particuluarly liked this unusual, delicate cut-leaved rheum (below) which echoes the acer behind, with insect-magnet valerian (Centranthus ruber).

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Trug shots

I was given this trug a long time ago (it had a ring in a box in it , ah). Anyway, I've only just started using it and it is perfect for going to and fro the allotment - seedlings on the way out and produce on the way back.

Setting out a shady border

You plan, you go to the nursery. At the nursery what you planned doesn't look so good and there's something else of irresistable quality in stock. They have that great plant you never thought of, or that one you've only ever seen a picture of. Wow! You juggle it all in your mind. Drive back, plotting and scheming and crossing your fingers. Your friend commented how tasteful the selection was. Did she mean boring? I wanted it to be full on blowsy!

Then you set it out. Move the pots around. I think it's going to work, it just has to knit together. I have primed the clients to know pot-thick show garden planting isn't practical or good for plants...yay! They like it.
I'll feed back when it's all grown up.

Rows and rows

It's always worth listening to more experienced gardeners, even if you don't 'hear' the pearls of wisdom straightaway. Kate, who does other people's gardens, observed how the quality of the soil makes such a difference.

I took over the land where this raised bed is two to three years ago. I've mulched as much as I can with my own meagre returns of compost -relatively small amounts but super-rich. I really feel the patch has turned a corner in terms of fertility this year. It seems to be full of life. It took Kate's comment for me to notice and 'click' with this patch.

From the top:
Spinach 'Matador' - Food Up Front
Carrot 'Primo' - I think, from a friend in a seed swap
Escarole 'Cornetto di Bordeaux' - Franchi sementi. Always interesting continental varieties; usually expensive but a really big packet, so good to share
French parsley - Tuckers Seeds
Beetroot 'Boltardy' - Suttons seeds and top-selling variety for a reason. Homegrown beetroot is so sweet and buttery of texture.
Baby leaves are great in salad.
Rainbow chard - seed swap. This is ready to eat, 10 - 15cm; too 'chardy' when bigger
Broad bean - March-sown 'Witkiem Manita', Tuckers. Charming picotee edge from some member of the munch bunch. Nowadays I not only pinch out black-fly prone apical (top) bud, but also later on de-budded top part of the stem if black fly come back. It concentrates the plant on the flowers and forming beans it has anyway.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Three sisters

Beans, sweet corn and squash - these are the three sisters. Corn provides support for beans, beans bring nitrogen to the soil, and sprawling squash shade out weeds. The association provides carbohydate and protein (beans with corn), plus veg. It's a traditional growing system from Mexico way. Runner beans are from Central America where apparently they grow wild, ramping up through the trees. In my patch I grew red and white flowered runners. I added some stout upward bean poles (not teepee'd or in rows) because in our temperate climate the corn won't be tall and strong enough til at least mid-summer. I also added Thithonia rotundifolia, an annual also of Mexican origin, for some mid-height colour (1.2m), and for bees and butterflies. I'll show you know how it works out!