Dark, purple foliage draws me in to a garden, especially when it creates moments of stillness to punctuate an otherwise green border, so Sambucus nigra is one of my favourite shrubs, with its filigree lace leaves and deep luscious colour. The name Sambucus is derived from the Latin ‘sambuca’ which was the name of an ancient instrument made out of elder – often described as a small triangular harp of shrill tone, although it was also used to make pipes or flutes. Elder tubes (the wood with the pith removed) were also used as bellows to blow air into the centre of fires and this gave the elder its common name with ‘aeld’ deriving from the Saxon for ‘fire’.
So the genus makes reference to the plant’s heritage providing wood for music and fire-lighting, whilst the species ‘nigra’ makes reference to the black colour of the foliage and berries. However, the form (a subdivision in plants that suggests a plant having a minor variation to the species, such as leaf colour, flower colour or fruit) is ‘porphyrophylla’ from the Greek ‘porphyra’ meaning ‘purple’ and ‘phylla’ meaning ‘leaf’. So the plant is defined by having both purple and black characteristics in the species name and form.
Finally ‘Eva’ is the cultivar name (the plant is also often referred to as ‘Black Lace’). Both ‘Eva’ and the closely related ‘Gerda’ or ‘Black Beauty’ which has pinker, more highly scented flowers, arose from experiments carried out into gene flow by an East Malling researcher, Ken Tobutt, in the mid 1990s. The two cultivars were introduced in 2000 and were awarded AGM (Award of Garden Merit – the RHS seal of approval indicating that they perform reliably in gardens). Both ‘Eva’ and ‘Gerda’ offer the darkest Sambucus foliage which doesn’t fade, unlike other previously popular cultivars. I can’t find any information about the choice of names – maybe these Nordic names have a significance related to the origin of the plant, or maybe they were simply named after Ken Tobutt’s cats. If you know more than I do about the relevance of the cultivar names, I’d be fascinated to hear from you…
Sambucus nigra f. porphylophylla ‘Eva’ has one final gift to offer in addition to its attractive foliage and airy flowerheads (which can be used to make delicious pink elderflower champagne, wine or cordial), namely, its berries. They are loved by birds – so if you are creating a wildlife-friendly garden or border and want a shrub which will perform well, create impact and bring in pollinators and birds throughout the summer and autumn, then ‘Eva’ is a good choice. It grows rapidly, but can be cut back hard to restrict its growth and it will reward you with years of beautiful foliage at the back of the border.
My garden, like many, is a busy place at the moment. I’m planting out bedding and tender crops, sowing seeds, keeping the pollinators happy and raising many plants for the school fete and local community garden open day. Today the kids have been sowing radish, carrot, beetroot and planting out marigolds and nasturtiums in their vegetable beds. They’ve also been finding wild flowers and painting our dried pumpkin seeds from last hallowe’en ready to make necklaces in celebration of 30 Days Wild challenge.
So here’s a selection of photos to give a glimpse of #mygardenrightnow – the beautiful bits and the working areas. I’ve been enjoying seeing everyone’s photos this weekend – it’s such a lovely time of year…
Thriving Quince tree (Meeches Prolific) and Potentilla x tonguei groundcover
Binstore Green Roof
Dianthus deltoides, thrift, sedum and thymes – intricate flowers at eye level
Rosa ‘Jacqueline du Pre’ posing for her close-up
Fruit, Vegetables and Herbs
Perennial vegetable corner – with perennial onion, spring onion, earth chestnut and hardy ginger
Some flowerbed stars
Lots of pots
Argyranthemum ‘Grandaisy Pink Halo’ and Artemisia schmedtiana ‘Nana’ just starting to come together
So that’s My Garden Right Now – a place of laughter and play, with some plants rioting whilst others behave themselves – at least for the moment. We attract pollinators and far too many slugs and snails, we work hard and then drink tea, wine, cordial, eat cupcakes in the sunshine. We come together as a family and celebrate the magic of nature, as seeds germinate, plants grow, then flower, produce fruit or attempt to colonise their neighbours’ space. What a blessing is a garden! 🙂
If you’d like to get involved in #mygardenrightnow, you can use the hashtag for your pictures, videos and stories.
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Wild, evocative show gardens like James Basson’s M&G Garden, inspired by the landscape of Malta, new plants to discover (my favourite this year is Raymond Evison’s Clematis ‘Pistachio’) and new technologies like the use of microalgae to capture energy at Capel Manor’s ‘Compost, Energy, Light’ Garden: these are all part of what makes RHS Chelsea such a captivating and vibrant show. But after six hours exploring the showground, learning about new plants and discovering new ways to combine old favourites, I had still to find a garden that evoked feelings strong enough to draw me into its story and planting, creating what Coleridge described as the ‘suspension of disbelief’ – in which the show garden recedes and you find yourself immersed in a landscape where nothing external exists. Then I found myself in Nigel Dunnett’s RHS Greening Grey Britain Garden and the showground faded away. Wandering through the garden, past the black elder (Sambucus nigra ‘Gerda’), surrounded by the loose planting of Camassia quamash, Euphorbia palustris, Dianthus carthusianorum, Libertia chilensis Formosa Group and Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ in deep purples and vibrant lime greens, with soft water over pebbles and looking up to green walls and roofs, I was in a garden that created a sense of peace: an instinctive oneness with both the planting and the environment.
Up on the balcony overlooking the lower garden, Nigel explained that the main garden is designed as a community space where residents of high-rise and apartment developments could come together to relax, socialise and enjoy the planting based on drought tolerant, low maintenance species like Euphorbia cyparissias ‘Fen’s Ruby’ and Stachys byzantina that will thrive in our warming climate. The water channels running beside the walkways and benches create a sense of tranquility for residents and also provide hollows and wetland areas to deal with runoff from flash floods, whilst the pebbles enable water levels to remain higher even in dry periods. Like Nigel’s 2015 Greening Grey Britain Garden at RHS Hampton Court, this garden includes recycled materials, green walls and green roofs. I was pleased to see the binstore green roof, having designed a similar roof on my binstore after being inspired by the idea at Hampton Court in 2015. Next to the binstore, tall, multi-tiered ‘Creature Towers’ designed with recycled materials mirror the high-rise apartments, offering urban homes for the insects which form such an important part of the natural ecosystem.
On the balcony, intended as a private garden, Nigel demonstrates how even tiny outdoor spaces can provide colour and edible crops. The small wooden planters are full of tomatoes, artichokes, herbs and a wisteria which trails along the balcony, whilst the walls provide a vertical growing space with a simple pocket design attached to a mesh on the wall. These pockets can be used for planting or simply to place plants still in their pots and the wall is small enough to be watered by hand, making this a practical and sustainable way to maximise space, especially as many of the plants (like the Mediterranean herbs thyme and oregano) require little water. Looking down from the balcony the private garden is set in context – a small space to provide privacy, flowers and food: a personalised area within a larger landscape of community planting.
As a community garden volunteer, I believe that working with plants is a healing and nurturing activity. Gardening also helps us to appreciate the fundamental role that plants play in our lives: a role that will become even more important in the future. As climatic challenges arise we will need to develop our understanding of horticulture, crop production and environmental protection to keep up with the changing climate, so engaging young minds with the beauty and importance of nature is a priority. With this in mind, the fact that the plants and other elements will be relocated to a school garden via the BBC One Show’s competition after Chelsea ends exemplifies the ethos of the garden and adds to its environmental credentials. The only addition I would like to have seen was more detail on the information leaflet about the plants chosen for their drought-resistant or pollution-soaking qualities, for example links to the informative RHS website pages, such as the section covering plants which tolerate dry conditions.
During my recent sessions running a growing club at my local primary school, I have seen firsthand the impact that becoming involved in gardening has on children. They are so open and keen to learn about the magic of nature, so receptive to the ‘wow’ moments when a seed germinates or when they learn to identify a plant. After half term I’m planning a session about careers in horticulture and botany – looking at what it takes to become a greenkeeper, a NASA plant scientist, a horticultural therapist or a park ranger. Maybe one of my pupils or a student from the school which receives the RHS Garden will become a future soil scientist or a biodiversity officer. Let’s hope so because we need experts in these fields like never before. The RHS Greening Grey Britain Garden has engaged the horticultural community in discussions about sustainable gardening, offered environmentally-friendly options for both domestic gardeners and landscape architects and I’m sure it will go on to inspire the next generation when it becomes part of a school garden. The creation of a show garden with this level of aesthetic and environmental integrity is an impressive achievement, especially when it provides such a practical model for the development of urban spaces in the future.
A garden full of practical ideas, yet suffused with beauty
Further information about the Greening Grey Britain campaign and to sign up to turn a grey area green, follow the link to the RHS website.
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It was a busy day at the 40 Sunbury Road Garden in the Great Pavilion as the Westland Rising Stars of the Garden Centre Industry brought their quirky container gardens to take pride of place on the stand. The garden has been created by the Horticultural Trade Association (HTA) and the Association of Professional Landscapers (APL) in conjunction with Peter Seabrook and The Sun to celebrate Peter’s forty years working at the newspaper as its gardening correspondent. A refreshing garden, 40 Sunbury Road depicts a fairly typical back garden (16m x 5m) complete with lawn, sandpit and rotary washing line – not unlike my own garden. The lawn is surrounded by interesting, varied planting such as a living WonderWall with strawberries (Marshalls Fragraria x ananassa ‘Marshmello’), begonias and a selection of different thymes.
As well as introducing five new plants entered for the RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year Award (won by Suttons for Mulberry Charlotte Russe ‘Matsunaga’ which I have been enjoying growing at home this year), the garden is playing host to the Westland Horticulture’s Rising Stars Containers, designed and planted by three of this year’s Rising Stars (a programme, now in its ninth year, which offers young garden centre stars of the future coaching sessions to help them get ahead in the world of horticultural retail.) All three Rising Stars based their designs around the theme ‘unusual containers’ drawing on personal experiences and offering ideas that can be adapted and used in ordinary gardens.
Sarah Stewart from Klondyke Garden Centre in Polmont, Scotland, used a kettle barbecue as her container, filling it with a selection of alpines, ferns and grasses, along with a miniature red telephone box, post box and Union Jack bunting. She told me that her container celebrates her family’s tradition of having barbecues whenever possible. Living in Scotland, they brave the weather and take every opportunity to get together outside, come rain or shine.
Emma Blackmore from Bents Garden Centre in Preston created a container garden in a pink toy car from the children’s ‘Boutique at Bents’ range. She planted it with cheerful pink and purple bedding and strawberries inspired by her two year old daughter’s love of the garden. Emma works in the bedding department at Bents and enjoys the creativity involved in designing container and hanging basket planting. Emma’s container won her the David Colgrave Foundation Award and she was presented with a certificate and £250 towards further training.
Kathryn Hunt from Stewarts Garden Centre in Christchurch, Dorset turned to woodland planting for her container which was created in homage to her five year old black Labrador Harley who died last year. She chose plants which grow in Black Park where Harvey used to enjoy going for walks. The container is a rustic barrel and the display is top-dressed with bark to add to the woodland look. This container would suit a shady area of the garden or patio and would fit well in a cottage or informal garden.
Keith Nicholson, Marketing Director for Westland Horticulture, sponsors of the Rising Stars Programme said “This is a fantastic opportunity for the Rising Stars and their garden centres to exhibit at the prestigious RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Not only will they have the opportunity to experience another element of the horticultural industry, but they will also be part of the most important horticultural event in the world!”
So much interest in such a small space
40 Sunbury Road reaches out to the public, offering ideas of ornamental and edible planting for real gardens, whilst also encouraging the next generation of horticultural experts to develop their skills. As I left the garden I overheard a couple discussing the garden and the barbecue container, remarking that they had an unused barbecue at home which they could repurpose using Sarah’s container garden as a guide. This conversation demonstrates that 40 Sunbury Road fulfils its purpose as both a beautiful artistic creation and an inspiration space with practical ideas which anyone can take home and try in their own back garden.
The three container gardens on view as a centrepiece of the garden
Centaurea montana is a useful plant for the late spring/early summer border. It has pollinator-friendly, delicate flowers with feather-like petals and was traditionally used to make a bitter tea to treat dyspepsia and as a diuretic. Originating in sub-alpine woods and meadows, the perennial cornflower has been naturalised in the UK since as early as 1597 when the herbalist John Gerard records growing it in his garden. The name ‘Centaurea‘ originates from the Greek ‘Kentauros‘ as the plant’s medicinal properties were first discovered, according to Pliny, by the mythical character Chiron the Centaur.
Centaurea as a genus encompasses between 350 and 600 species of thistle-like plants in the family Asteraceaea. Centaurea montana is also known as ‘perennial cornflower’, ‘great blue-bottle’, ‘mountain cornflower’, ‘batchelor’s button’, ‘mountain bluet’ or ‘mountain knapweed’, with ‘montana’ referring to the sub-alpine regions in which the plant originates.
Centaurea montana does have a tendency to be an enthusiastic garden plant – it needs to be controlled by removing unwanted sections as it spreads out, but the named varieties are much better behaved in my experience. Although I love the colour of ‘Jordy’ with its deep plum purple flowers, I find they can get lost in a border when viewing it from any distance away. They work well as a cut flower and, as with all Centaurea montana, if picked regularly the plant will continue to produce flowers for a long period. My favourite variety is ‘Amethyst in Snow’ for its ability to create delicate highlights in a border, its contrasting amethyst eye, set in the snowy white petals and the silver-green foliage. ‘Amethyst in Snow’ was discovered in 2002 by Dutch seedsman Kees Sahin and it tolerates a little shade more happily than other varieties. It is supposedly the first bicolor knapweed and is similar (possibly identical) to another variety called ‘Purple Heart’.
For a fully white flower there’s Centaurea montana ‘Alba’ and ‘Gold Bullion’ has blue flowers against chartreuse yellow foliage. ‘Carnea’ has soft pink flowers and ‘Violetta’ deeper violet purple flowers. This varied colour range means Centaurea montana has the ability to be combined with soft pastel planting or included in vibrant schemes with deep reds, oranges, blues and purples. A versatile garden plant, Centaurea montana ‘Amethyst in Snow’ combines elegance with a stout heart.