Coral, Peach and Ivory Tones in Jo Thompson’s Wedgwood Garden

The Wedgwood Garden, designed by Jo Thompson, marks the 260th anniversary of the company, founded by Josiah Wedgwood in 1759. The hard landscaping is inspired by Etruria – the pioneering Staffordshire village that Wedgwood built for his workers – and the canals that transported his pottery throughout the UK. 

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One of the vistas through the garden

Many of Wedgwood’s motifs were based on Greek and Roman mythology and this influence is captured in the interlinked arches that provide multiple frames through which to view the garden. The importance of the Staffordshire canals are referenced in the watercourse that flows through the garden, connecting the architecture with the surrounding planting. The garden includes sculptures by Ben Barrell – ‘Erosion’ is a rippled stone surface inspired by centuries of erosion and ‘Poldhu Point’ is a bronze sculpture inspired by a headland on the Cornish coast.

The overarching conifers (Pinus nigra, Sequoia sempervirens and Cedrus atlantica) and soft colour palette of the shrubs, perennials and annuals creates a warm, secluded atmosphere, perfect for relaxation. I’m helping on the garden this week – answering questions about the design and planting, but what I most want to do is settle down amongst the umbellifers and peonies to drink in the sights and scents.

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Water is the key element in this garden – seen here in Ben Barrell’s sculpture

Jo’s planting takes my breath away with its subtle, natural combinations of form, texture and colour. I am particularly drawn to certain plants – as are many of the visitors to the garden – these are all cultivars that would be easy to grow at home in both formal and informal gardens:

Iris ‘Pink Charm’

A gorgeous bearded iris with a name that belies its delicate peachy falls and intense tangerine beard. This iris creates drama and height among the lower perennials on the margins of the garden. The fragrant flowers will reach 60cm and bloom throughout May and June. Iris need full sun and well-drained soil in a sheltered position. If you can give them the conditions they require (sadly not easy in my garden), they will repay you with bursts of peachy joy in your early summer borders. Without a doubt, my favourite plant in the Wedgwood Garden.

Iris ‘Pink Charm’

Eschscholzia ‘Ivory Castle’

Another flower attracting a lot of attention from the crowds is Eschscholzia (bless you) ‘Ivory Castle’, the Californian poppy. This delightful annual has glaucous feathery foliage and ivory flowers with a creamy eye. It’s not too late to sow seeds and as ‘Ivory Castle’ only grows to 40cm, it is ideal for softening the edges of beds and borders.

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Eschscholzia ‘Ivory Castle’

Paeonia ‘Pink Hawaiian Coral’

This herbaceous peony has semi-double flowers that last well in a vase. Peonies prefer well-drained soil in full sun, and prefer a sheltered position. It will reach 90cm and produces scented blooms throughout May and June. The glowing coral-pink flowers fade as they age, revealing a centre filled with soft yellow stamens. It’s a real beauty.

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Paeonia ‘Pink Hawaiian Coral’

Daucus carota ‘Dara’

Jo’s planting is light and airy using umbellifers like Ammi majusAngelica archangelicaAnthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’ – another of my favourites – and Daucus carota ‘Dara’. I grow this cultivated variety of wild carrot for its light burgundy umbels and ferny foliage. At 90cm, the flowerheads create drama above the surrounding planting, but don’t obscure the views beyond. As with many umbellifers, Daucus carota attracts pollinating insects and later in the season provides seeds for birds. Another bonus is the concave seedhead which is almost more beautiful than the flowers themselves.

Daucus Carota flowers and seedhead

DSC_0063 (2)Verbascum ‘Helen Johnson’

I love verbascum in all its shades and sizes – from native Verbascum nigrum (dark mullein) and Verbascum thapsus (great mullein) to cultivars like ‘Clementine’ and ‘Gainsborough’. ‘Helen Johnson’ was found as a chance seedling at Kew and its pinky-coppery shades bring together the dusky tones in Jo’s planting. Verbascum flowers attract a wide range of pollinating insects – bees, butterflies and flies. Rather wonderfully, hairs are also combed from stems and leaves by wool carder bees to use as nest material, and males guard areas of the plant for potential mates. 

Related Articles:

Book Review: Dahlias by Naomi Slade and Georgianna Lane

5 Environmentally-Friendly Ideas to Take Home from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Planting Palettes: Reflections on RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016

Cutting Patch: Into The Limelight

 

BBC Gardeners World Live – All About Inspiration

Visitors to BBC Gardeners World Live have a busy, exciting show ahead of them this year. With 10 show gardens, 6 smaller gardens, more than 20 beautiful borders and over 100 stands selling plants and gardening equipment, the show will provide inspirational ideas for everyone to take home.

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Inspiration is everywhere at this year’s show

Made in Birmingham

As soon as you step into the show garden area the Pullman Carriage and working steam engine draws you into the beautiful Made in Birmingham garden. Not only is the train a spectacular centrepiece, but the surrounding gardens are bursting with colourful vegetables and flowers grown by volunteers from the MIND group in Knowle, supported by Flowers from the Farm.

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Outside the Pullman Carriage I found an impressive vantage point over the whole show

I’m always in awe of giant brassicas and each one of the gargantuan specimens in the allotment section would feed a family for a month! The carriage was made in Birmingham (hence the name of the design) and the garden represents the city’s contribution to agriculture and horticulture throughout the Black Country. After visiting the garden and travelling through the train, it was no surprise to me at the Awards Ceremony when it won Platinum and Best in Show.

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Giant brassicas as seen from the train window

Young Landscapers’ Award

Taking inspiration from an initial design by Diarmuid Gavin, four top young landscapers have paired up to create The Round Garden (The Plants and Paving Company) and The Square Garden (Bespoke Outdoor Spaces) in this brand new competition supported by the Association of Professional Landscapers.

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The Round Garden

Dairmuid discussed the award, emphasising the need to encourage young people into horticultural and landscaping careers, and he also highlighted the lack of female landscapers in the competition – expressing a hope that this will change in future years as the industry becomes seen as more accessible for women. This year, Jacob Botting and Laurence Senior are deserving winners for their elegant square garden with its elegant birches, gentle planting and immaculate slate walls.

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The Square Garden

Beautiful Borders

It is encouraging that many of the borders focus on wildlife-friendly planting, particular on providing food for our pollinating insects. Bee Inspired designed by Aldethea Raymond and Tiernach McDermott for Candide, the country’s newest gardening community, which aim to connect plant-lovers across the country through their gardening app. Their border displays bee-friendly perennials and the best photo of the show uploaded to Candide’s app wins the full border display.

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I love the salvias, heucheras and fairy bug hotel in the Bee Inspired border

 

The Useful and Beautiful border designed by Alexa Ryan-Mills includes more unusual cultivars like Sambucus ‘Chocolate Marzipan’, Linaria ‘Tarte au Citron’ and Achillea ‘Prospero’ to entice pollinators and Alexa told me she has chosen flower types and shapes to accommodate different insects. There are even gooseberries in the border to encourage pollinators – in this case, wasps!

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Alexa’s border shows how planting can be both beautiful and useful

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This beautiful native fox and cubs or orange hawkbit is radiant in the border: their petals reflect ultraviolet light, making them more conspicuous to pollinators

APL Avenue

My favourite garden on the avenue, which was awarded a Gold, is Living Gardens ‘Inspiration in the Raw’ Garden designed by Peter Cowell. This is a deeply tactile garden that draws you in to touch, smell and experience the raw recycled materials and plant up close.

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I felt at home in the ‘Inspiration in the Raw’ garden

DSC_0060 (2).JPGAs I walked through the space I was impressed by the way Peter has divided the garden into rooms for entertaining, cooking, relaxing, with secret areas for children, without losing the unity of the design: each space is subtly different but linked through the use of wood, brick and delicate meadow planting.

I felt grounded in this garden, so I’ll be taking the raw sense of this design back home and experimenting with recycled materials and meadow planting in my own garden in the future. 

What I would give for a heuchera wall like this in my garden – maybe next year!

 

 

 

 

Health, Wellbeing and Sustainability at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Chris Beardshaw recently said that he felt Chelsea show gardens should only be accepted if they were going to be relocated afterwards. It seems that other designers may be following his lead as this year’s show sees more of the gardens and planting being relocated than ever before. The recipients of the gardens are diverse; ranging from a refugee camp, a higher education college, the grounds of the Epilepsy Society, a community garden in Westminister and the grounds of the Hospice of St Francis in Berkhamsted.

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The Myeloma UK Garden will be relocated to the Hospice of St Francis

An average of 3010 plants are used in each show garden and many of these are borrowed then returned after the show; in fact some of the plants are Chelsea veterans, reappearing in different gardens year after year. The Weston Garden embraces the philosophy of reusing materials – many of the plants have been borrowed for the duration of the show from Crocus and the rest will be reused afterwards. Plants from The Morgan Stanley Garden for the NSPCC, designed by Chris Beardshaw, will be donated to the NSPCC who are organising plant sales in Barnet, North London and Maidstone, Kent. Across the whole show plants will be collected and redistributed to local schools and community gardens across East London and beyond as part of a reuse scheme set up by the landscape, architecture and art collective Wayward.

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The Urban Flow Garden plants will be donated by Thames Water to ‘Roots and Shoots’ – an environmentally-focused educational charity based in Kennington providing vocational training for young people from the inner city

The RHS Feel Good Garden is another design which is intended for a new life after the show. It will be relocated to the Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust which provides care and treatment to vulnerable adults in a build up area of London where green space is limited. Matt Keightley, the designer and twice-winner of the RHS/BBC People’s Choice Award, visited the NHS site in April. He said ‘I am delighted that the RHS Feel Good Garden will live on, providing a calm and beautiful space for adults in need of respite.’

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The RHS Feel Good Garden, destined for an NHS Trust site after the show

Matt is also creating a health and wellbeing garden at RHS Wisley, due to open in 2020, and the RHS Feel Good Garden is inspired by his Wisley design. With an increasing evidence base demonstrating the positive effect that gardens and gardening can have on mental health, the joint venture between the RHS and NHS to gift the garden to a mental health trust site signals the growing awareness of these benefits across the healthcare profession.

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The RHS Feel Good Garden creates a relaxing atmosphere which draws the visitor into the space

Sitting in the garden you are surrounded by soft planting in lemon, green and blue with bursts of deep reds and purples. It’s a relaxing space which also entices you to reach out and engage with your environment.

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Relaxing blue, lemon and green planting including nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’, Iris ‘Silver Edge’ and Salvia nemorosa ‘Amethyst’

The mellow sandy and chocolate coloured paving is laid transversely to give a sense of width to the space, encouraging the visitor to slow down and enjoy the journey through the garden. I like the way the planting falls across the pathway and Matt has chosen many aromatic plants like thyme, rosemary, mint and sage to create scent as you move around the garden.

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Mellow paving to match the planting

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Beneath the seats and stonework nestle aromatic herbs and tiny campanula flowers

Grasses such as Deschampsia cespitosa, Briza media,  Melica nutans and Stipa tenuissima, alongside naturalistic perennials like Pimpinella major ‘Rosea’, Astrantia ‘Moulin Rouge’, Achillea ‘Moonshine’, Cirsium rivulare and Dianthus cruentus create an airy filter through which the more textural plants like the ferns can be seen. The light planting also softens the cantilevered stone terraces which appear to float above the plants, grounding the visitor in the sanctuary of the garden.

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The layers of planting build up texture in the garden

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The shade loving epimedium, ferns and acorus create a sense of intimacy in these stone cavities

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Soft curves and airy planting stops the stonework becoming too heavy

The mushroom seats create more floating structures within the planting. Herbs predominate in this area so that visitors have to step on the mint and rosemary to access the stools and the scent emanating from beneath your feet commits the mind entirely to the present moment.

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These organic shaped seats give the visitor licence to immerse themselves in the garden

I sat in the garden for a while, contemplating the way it made me feel. I had a sense of being grounded in the moment; I was relaxed yet at the same time completely engaged with my environment. If the garden can foster the same feelings of happiness in the patients, staff and families at the Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust that I felt yesterday, it will be an extremely worthwhile addition to the site and will hopefully encourage more dialogue and practical projects based on the important relationship between gardens, gardening and mental health.

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Striking contrast of the soft Digitalis lutea and Trollius ‘Alabaster’ with the dark, silky Iris ‘Black Swan’

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The RHS Feel Good Garden – inspiring on so many levels

‘When you are sad a garden comforts. When you are humiliated or defeated a garden consoles. When you are consumed by anxiety it will soother you and when the world is a dark  and bleak place it shines a light to guide you on.’ Monty Don

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Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe – the landscape, arts and the mind

I’ve spent much of the past week reading about one of the twentieth century’s most influential landscape designers and it has left me surprised that Geoffrey Jellicoe’s name doesn’t crop up more often in discussions of contemporary garden design. As someone who has always worked between the margins of different disciplines – especially focusing on the often disregarded connections between literature and science – I find Jellicoe’s focus on the links between design, landscape and the mind, both refreshing and inspiring. So I though I’d share some of his life and works on the blog this week:

Background

Geoffrey Jellicoe is known for his private and public landscape designs. He was born in 1900 and continued working through retirement and beyond, well into the 1990s. He believed that landscape design was part of a wider creative movement throughout history, which encompassed visual arts such as painting, sculpture and architecture, and he was influenced by such disparate forces as the writings of the ancient Greeks, Cubism and the psychology of Carl Jung.

Jellicoe was trained as an architect and in the early 1920s he travelled across Italy with fellow student, J. C. Shepherd, drawing the villas and their gardens, and immersing himself in Italian garden design. When he returned in 1924, the two young men published Italian Gardens of the Renaissance and the influence of this trip can be seen throughout Jellicoe’s later work.

Early Work

By 1929 he was a master at the Architectural Association school, a founder member of the Institute of Landscape Architects and was established in private practice with Shepherd. He continued to write, teach and design and in 1931, set up his own practice at 40 Bloomsbury Square, London. In 1934 he began designing the restaurant at Cheddar Gorge; the project which really saw him take his place at the forefront of modernist architecture. He included influences from German expressionist architecture, created a glass-bottomed pool with fountains above (water became a key element in his designs in later years) and also drew inspiration from the surrounding landscape.

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Modern view of the Caveman Restaurant designed by Jellicoe without the original pool and fountains, image by Philippa Crabbe, Creative Commons Licence

As his practice developed, he began to take on larger private gardens. From 1935 he was involved in designing the garden at Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire on a site where little of the original garden remained. He designed a formal landscape heavily influenced by his knowledge of Italian design, creating a long formal terrace overlooking the lake and a water-curtain of secret fountains to allow bathers to use a semi-circular pool unobserved from the house.

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Front view of Ditchley House, image by JeffJarvis, Creative Commons Licence

He also became involved in designing more public landscapes throughout the 1930s and 40s. 1935/6 saw him working on the surface layout of Calverton Colliery in Nottinghamshire, the plan for reconstructing the Mablethorpe foreshore in Lincolnshire and the town plan for Hemel Hempstead. By the 1950s Jellicoe was back in Hemel once more, this time designing the water gardens which surround the River Gade in the centre of the town. The gardens formed the shape of a serpent from the lake as the head, past a fountain which formed the eye and culminating in a curving tail resting on a mound. Bringing water into the town as a feature was intended to allow people to become closer to nature and the landscape.

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Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens

As Jellicoe developed as a designer, the role of the wider landscape in his designs became more important. With projects like Harvey’s Store Roof Garden (1956), Jellicoe made the most of the view of Guildford and the North Downs. Jellicoe wrote in Studies in Landscape Design that it ‘is primarily a sky garden and the underlying idea has been to unite heaven and earth; the sensation is one of being poised by the two.’ He based the design on the launch of the first sputnik which took place in 1957 while he was designing the garden. The circular pools represent the spinning of the planets and originally there were fish in the pools and a waterfall cascading over the parapet to the levels below. Once again Jellicoe was creating movement and impact through his use of water in the garden.

Paul Klee

Throughout his career, Jellicoe was heavily influenced by the work of modernist artist Paul Klee. The Swiss German painter lived from 1879-1940, but the two men never met. Klee’s work on colour theory and his use of elements of Cubism, Expressionism and Surrealism inspired Jellicoe in designs like the rose garden at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire in 1959. This design was based on an abstract Klee painting The Fruit (1932), which depicts an embryonic being inside a fruit. Jellicoe created a garden with soft curves and described it as a vegetable form, like a cabbage, which was intended to absorb the visitor deeper into the garden.

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The Fruit by Paul Klee, 1932, oil on jute, LACMA, 1932, {{PD-US-not renewed}}

The roses ranged in colour from soft pinks, through deep oranges, reds and yellows, again inspired by Klee’s experiments with colour. The rose garden demonstrates Jellicoe’s increasing interest in the relationship between garden and people in the way he uses shape and colour to create a connection between the visitor and the landscape.

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The Rose Garden at Cliveden was replanted with herbaceous perennials in 2002 as shown in this image, and then restored to a rose garden in 2013, image by Simon Q, Creative Commons Licence

More prestigious commissions followed with projects like the Kennedy Memorial Garden in Runnymede, Surrey indicating Jellicoe’s position as one of Britain’s foremost landscape designers. One of Jellicoe’s original ideas for this garden was that it would represent an allegorical journey from darkness to light, following the spirit of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. The garden opens on a stretch of meadow and then a pathway leads through the wood to the seven ton block of Portland stone monument at the top with views back over the Thames and the valley in which the Magna Carta was signed. The path is irregularly laid with 60,000 axe-hewn granite setts and the view of the monument is obscured until the visitor reaches the top, when the culmination of the pathway is finally revealed. In this way the garden is both a physical and metaphysical journey – mind and matter combined through landscape.

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John F. Kennedy Memorial Garden

Later Designs

In the 1970s and 80s, Jellicoe worked on a number of long term projects such as Shute House in Dorset (1970-90) and Sutton Place in Surrey (1980-86). At Shute, Jellicoe made use of the spring to create a series of watercourses guiding the flow through bubble fountains, rills, seven pools and out towards the open landscape. He experimented with creating a true harmonic chord with water as it passes over the four cascades in the rill, and the sounds and views created with water are intended to replenish the mind.

In 1980, Jellicoe was commissioned to design the gardens at Sutton Place for the American Stanley Seeger. Jellicoe proposed significant changes, such as moving the lake, adding a walled garden to balance the house, and developing a Paradise Garden and a Moss Garden. There was also to be a bronze sculpture by Henry Moore ‘Divided Oval’ and a ‘White Relief’ wall created by Ben Nicolson. Although the wall was installed, a change of ownership meant the sculpture was never added.

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Ben Nicolson 1934 (relief) oil paint on wood sculpture 1934, Tate Modern, similar style to the Nicolson Wall at Sutton Place, image by Wmpearl, Creative Commons Licence

One of Jellicoe’s final projects was the Moody Gardens in Texas, US which he began when he was 86. The scheme was to design a human landscape in the wetlands which would allow development of the site for domestic and leisure purposes. Jellicoe proposed a landscape which would explore the evolution of plants with a range of areas within the gardens demonstrating the ecology and habitats of different species. Creating the 126 acre site to encompass the botanical history of the world was a way to foreground nature within the landscape and to make a point about the importance of plants to the past, the present and the future. Unfortunately his plans were never implemented, but they demonstrated his desire to promote a design which, as Michael Spens explains, shows ‘man ‘in’ a botanical landscape of the universe. The theme is one of creation, growth, pollination and survival of species on the edge of chaos.’

A Designer For Our Time

Geoffrey Jellicoe’s work cannot be reduced to a single style or influence. His projects spanned the subjects of garden design, landscape design, architecture, town planning and teaching, and he was active in these fields for over seventy years. His influence on modern design tends to be overlooked, but his interest in the ways that garden and landscape design interacts with many other creative disciplines, his desire to see it as part of a wider artistic and historical movement, is innovative and exciting. He wrote in The Landscape of Man in 1982, ‘The world is moving into a phase when landscape design may well be recognized as the most comprehensive of the arts. Man creates around him an environment that is a projection into nature of his abstract ideas. It is only in the present century that the collective landscape has emerged as a social necessity. We are promoting a landscape art on a scale never conceived of in history.’ His deep conviction that gardens should relate to the wider landscape and his belief that our relationship with the landscape is intrinsically linked to our subconscious, mean that Jellicoe’s work has acute contemporary relevance, especially in a world which has become increasingly divorced from the reality of external landscapes, with far-reaching consequences for our present and the future.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on modern garden design. Which landscape/garden designers or styles do you find most inspirational and where do you think the future will lead us in terms of our relationship with the landscape? 

Featured image, Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe and Ben Nicholson by Harris Lynda, Creative Commons Licence

Planting Palettes: Reflections on RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016

Returning home from Chelsea yesterday and on waking this morning my main recollections of the show were all infused with colour, my brain still awash with the contrasts and blends which lent a particular character to each garden and plant exhibit. I’ve been entertained, surprised and soothed by the colours of Chelsea in the past and there’s no doubt that hues, tints and shades are a key part of designing gardens that engage the observer. But this year the use of colour spoke to me more directly, both the broad brush strokes across the show and the details of specific gardens.

Purple Predilections

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Purple, yellow, orange and white flowers and foliage in The St John’s Hospice – A Modern Apothecary

I could be accused of being a purpleaholic. I love purple flowers in all their guises – whether it be blending the soft purple of Verbena bonariensis or Allium ‘Purple Rain’ in gentle pastel colour schemes, using purple Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ to contrast with the zingy orange of a geum like ‘Prinses Juliana’ or using the deep purple centres of flowers like Centaurea montana ‘Amethyst in Snow’ or Nigella papillosa ‘African Bride’ against their white petals for delicate accents in the border. Purple foliage also has many uses aesthetically and for cutting. I’m particularly fond of Sambucus nigra Black Lace and even purple Pak Choi (Brassica rapa subsp. chinensis ‘Purple Choy Sum’), Kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea subsp. gongylodes ‘Azur Star’) and Kale (Brassica oleracea ‘Redbor’). All of these plants can be used to bring interest and beauty to a cottage or potager garden, whilst also supplying the table with vibrant vegetables and pink elderflower cordial.

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Calendula officinalis ‘Long Flowering’, Viola tricolor, Beta vulgaris ‘Bull’s Blood’, Amaranthus ‘Red Army’, and Allium schoenoprasum create a vibrant purple/red and orange mix

So I enjoyed the mix of purples in the flowers and foliage of The St John’s Hospice – A Modern Apothecary. Whilst appreciating the calm atmosphere evoked by the cobbled path, trickling water feature and gentle planting, I could also imagine a light salad eaten on one of the oak benches consisting of red/purple beetroot and brassica leaves (high in healthy anthocyanidins) and sprinkled with edible petals from the viola, chives and calendula.

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Surrounding the ‘Wellness’ water feature, the flowering thymes (‘Iden’, ‘Peter Davis’, ‘Porlock’ and ‘Fragrantissimus’) create a purple patchwork of texture and colour

The next study in purple I encountered was The LG Smart Garden, where purple combined with pale pinks and white results in an elegantly exuberant planting scheme.

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The gentle purples of the Hesperis matronalis, Linaria purpurea ‘Canon Went’, Phlox divaricate subsp. laphamii ‘Chattahoochee’, the soft blue of the Iris ‘Jane Philips’ and the white spires of Digitalis purpurea f. albiflora and Eremurus robustus create a soft celebratory atmosphere in this garden

 

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The soft blend of pastels in The LG Smart Garden contrast with the minimalist black and white hard landscaping

In The Chelsea Barracks Garden, Jo Thompson uses bronze foliage and sculpture as a background to the soft planting. However, unlike The LG Smart Garden, this garden takes the eye on a colour-based journey around the bronze-edged elliptical lawn.

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The pink and blue end of The Chelsea Barracks Garden

Beginning with blues and pinks alongside the purple foliage of Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’, the sightline travels past the Basaltite stone wall with bronze fins echoed in the handsome foliage of the Fagus sylvatica f. purpurea, which looks stunning next to the Digitalis purpurea ‘Sutton’s Apricot’.

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Darker purples and pinks adjacent to the bronze sculpted seating

 

When your gaze finally reaches the other end of the garden, the striking colours of Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’, Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ and ‘Amistad’, Rosa ‘Nuits de Young’, ‘Chianti’ and ‘Reine des Violettes’ and the purple stems of the Angelica archangelica contrast with the gentle colours at the beginning of the visual journey.

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Finally my purple preoccupation was almost sated in the Great Pavilion when I came across this wall of Heuchera ‘Obsidian’ (one of my favourite heucheras) and Echeveria ‘Pollux’. An impractical, but arresting and absorbing diversion.

Colour Blocks

In The Modern Slavery Garden, Juliet Sargeant uses striking blocks of colour to represent the bright social exterior which conceals the reality that people are still being held in captivity in the UK and forced to work without pay. Lupins, peonies, foxgloves and irises form a strong architectural framework in this garden. The message is bold and important and so is the planting.

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The Brewin Dolphin Garden – Forever Freefolk

Rosy Hardy’s garden is another space where colour dances for the spectator from the bright pathway to the wonderful daubs of unresolved planting. The vibrant contrasts serve to accentuate each plant, showcasing individual features that might get lost in more subtle colour schemes. Particular highlights include Achillea ‘Moonshine’, Geum ‘Red Wings’ and ‘Totally Tangerine’, Allium stipitatum ‘Mount Everest’ and Salvia ‘Eveline’.

Not to be outdone, the Grand Pavilion has stepped up to the colour challenge and delivered an engaging floral exhibit which showcases white and green flowers and foliage on one side and the Queen’s head resplendent in floral technicolor on the other. The exhibit was designed by Ming Veevers Carter for the New Covent Garden Flower Market to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday. It is bold and striking, and I thought it might be rather strident, but up close the flowers have a beauty which I found softened the whole effect.

Filigree Colour

The use of strong colour blocks to showcase individual plants and their features is effective, but nothing at the show drew me into the gardens like the latticework effects of the lacy umbellifers and other intricate flowers hiding in between the frothy grasses. Such planting combinations are a study in the subtle use of colour, none more so than in my favourite garden – The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden, designed by Nick Bailey.

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The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden uses delicately smudged purples and oranges

I found the planting in the gravel borders absolutely riveting. Spires of Resda alba rise gently from the speckled Briza mediaGeum ‘Mai Tai’, Iris ‘Kent Pride’, Allium atropurpureaCentaurea montana ‘Jordy’, Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’ and Calendula officinalis ‘Sherbert Fizz’ (which I first used in a design earlier this year and which I’m growing from seed in my own garden). The colour of this calendula attracted me because of its coppery, almost muddy tone – a characteristic shared at Chelsea this year with other subtle orange flowers such as Geum ‘Mai Tai’, Eremurus ‘Cleopatra’ in the RHS Greening Grey Britain garden and Verbascum x hybridum ‘Copper Rose’ in The Chelsea Barracks Garden. I also grow Allium atropurpurea, a favourite allium which I noticed was just beginning to flower this morning in the espalier/herb border. The deep purple rigid structure of this allium echoes another treasure in this scheme – the almost black Centaurea montana ‘Jordy’ with its delicately feathered petals. The flowers can get lost when combined with green foliage, but here it forms small velvety black holes in front of the orange Geum ‘Mai Tai’.

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The soft planting looks stunning in front of the copper band symbolising the germination and growth of a seedling which sweeps around the centre of the garden

The use of umbellifers is popular once again at this year’s show. Their lacy beauty acts as a foil for other plants and creates a shimmering backdrop against which to exhibit stronger colours. I loved the umbellifer combinations in the RHS Greening Grey Britain garden and the way they create a latticework of structure and colour. From the tall Angelica archangelica, to Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’, a lovely dark-leaved form of our native cow parsley, which froths up behind another beautiful umbellifer, Orlaya grandiflora. The clear, white flowers of the Orlaya highlight the dusky reds of Verbascum ‘Firedance’, Lupinus ‘Towering Inferno’ and Rosa ‘Heidetraum’.

Then on the other side of the path the froth continues with this beautiful combination of strong orange Geum ‘Prinses Juliana’ and the lovely purple Lysimachia ‘Beaujolais’ both emerging from beneath Deschampsia cespitosa.

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Delicate colour contrasts through the wispy grasses

I found one final umbellifer delight at Pennard Plants in the Great Pavilion whilst exploring their unusual vegetable range in the modern allotment area. A new one on me, it’s called the earth chestnut, giant pignut or black cumin (Bunium bulbocastanum) and has a tuberous root which can be eaten raw or cooked and tastes like sweet chestnut. And so I end where I began – with a plant which is both beautiful and edible. I’m off to find some and plant it alongside soft orange Geum ‘Mai Tai’, Calendula officinale ‘Sherbert Fizz’, Briza media and my Allium atropurpurea and Centaurea montana ‘Jordy’ in a pale recreation of a mathematical garden which will colour my memories of Chelsea for many years to come.

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Earth chestnuts at Pennard Plants

My Hard-Working Garden: An Ongoing Transformation (Part 2)

Welcome back to my potter through the changes in our back garden over the past 6 years. In the last post I considered the diverse aims of many modern gardens and their similarity to the older styles of cottage, potager and walled gardens – that of combining utility and beauty in one place. My garden is no different. We wanted a space to provide fruit and vegetables for the family, to have flowers (some for cutting), to provide a place for the kids to play, grow (in all senses of the word), explore and have fun, and to give us somewhere to be outside with friends and family.

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Stunning sunflowers  – beautiful and edible

Fruit Cage Protection

Previously I looked at the side espalier/herb border and the spring garden. This leads on to the fruit cage, which has now been established for 5 years and which provides us with raspberries (‘Joan J’, ‘Allgold’, ‘Glen Moy’ and ‘Glen Ample’), currants (red ‘Rovada’, white ‘Blanca’ and black ‘Ben Connan’), blueberries (‘Patriot’, ‘Chandler’, ‘Earliblue’, ‘Bluecrop’ and ‘Pink Lemonade’) and rhubarb (‘Timperley Early’ and ‘Early Champagne’) throughout the summer. I had grown fruit in our previous, extremely small garden and remember vividly the morning I pottered outside in my pjs to pick the gooseberries which were perfectly ripe – only to find the bush had been stripped by creatures unknown. I blame hormones for the tears I cried over this mishap (I was pregnant with my first child at the time), but to be honest I think I might still react the same way now.

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The fruit cage – worth its weight in raspberries

So I determined to investigate small fruit cages for our new patch to give me a head start in the fight to save the fruit. We decided to buy a walk-in 2m x 3.5m aluminium fruit cage from Harrod Horticultural. It was a bit of an investment, but five years on it is still looking great and we’ve lost no fruit in all that time, so I reckon it’s paid its dues, especially when you consider soft fruit prices and the amounts we’ve picked. It just needs the netting roof removing in early winter and replacing in spring. Occasionally young dunnocks get in under the pegged down netting and need to be chased out again. Never any other birds – always dunnocks, presumably because of their habit of footling around in the undergrowth. But apart from that it’s pretty maintenance-free.

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Sweet peas and sunflowers in front of the fruit cage

One of the disadvantages in a small cage is having enough room to move between the plants. The raspberries are planted in two rows so I can get between them to pick – just. But a couple of years ago the gooseberry ‘Invicta’ I’d grown from a cutting had to be donated to a friend because of its antisocial habit of lacerating me every time I squeezed past to get to the rhubarb. Now I’ve got an allotment we’ve been able to plant a new gooseberry, a red ‘Hinnonmaki’, so gooseberry crumble will be on the menu again – a very small one this year – provided I get round to erecting some kind of netting round it!

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One of last year’s colourful fruit harvests

Raised Vegetable Bed Bounty

In front of the fruit cage are my two raised vegetable beds which I designed to allow a small path between the beds and the lawn/flower border. They are constructed out of wood, which despite being sturdy and treated, is badly rotting at the base after only 5 years and looks like it will need replacing in the autumn.

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Protected growing in spring

Over the past few years we’ve grown a range of different crops in the raised beds, including oca, potatoes, flowers for pollinators and for cutting, salad leaves, courgettes, beans, peas, brassicas, tomatillos, onions and garlic, carrots, beetroot, a strawberry bed – the list goes on… I’ve never had as much room as I’d like, so this year, for the first time with the allotment, I’m just using the garden beds for salad crops and the children’s vegetables, and anything which needs to be in the ground longer term can be installed in the allotment (more on the allotment growing in a later post).

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Summer brings the greatest rewards

Flower Border Fun

In front of the spring garden is the only flowerbed (flowers are often unfairly relegated to smaller spaces in my garden unless they are edible as well as beautiful), but I do love growing flowers for their own merits wherever possible. We extended the border into the lawn to create more growing space and to separate the lawn from the back of the garden, creating different areas of interest. Here’s how the flower border has developed over the past six years in six photos…

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Established shrub borders, but no space to grow…

 

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Early days in the garden…

 

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Clearance time

 

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The extended border, fruit cage, raised beds, new shed and willow den

 

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Spring tulip glory (Tulipa ‘Queen of Night’, ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Purple Prince’ with Myosotis sylvatica underneath)

 

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Summer bounty – I love the frothy effect of the Verbena bonariensis, Festuca glauca flower spikes, Knautia macedonica and Ammi majus

We kept an established Spirea japonica ‘Goldflame’ for the foliage colour, although I remove the pink flowers as they don’t fit in with the more dramatic colours of the border. This shrub also works well with the willow den to add structure to the border in front of the shed. Initially the border had predominantly crimson and white flowers, but over time it has developed to include more purples and blues. We planted Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’ for winter colour, Salvia ‘Caradonna’, Monarda ‘Gardenview Scarlet’, Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’, Knautia macedonica, Centranthus ruber ‘Albus’, Hesperis matronalis ‘Alba’, Sedum telephium ‘Purple Emperor’, a selection of different Dianthus, Centaurea montana ‘Jordy’ (with flowers which are gorgeous for cutting, but tend to get rather lost in the flowerbed) and ‘Amethyst in Snow’ (one of my favourites at this time of year.)

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Centaurea montana ‘Amethyst in Snow’

Then I add to the seasonal interest by growing annuals in the border, either sown direct (or self-sown) or sown initially in modules and planted out later. Stalwarts include Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Purity’, Ammi majus and Nigella papillosa ‘African Bride’. I also plant out my Dahlia ‘Bishop of Canterbury’, ‘Scura’, ‘Happy Single Date’ and ‘Wizard of Oz’ for some extra zing.

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My favourite dahlia – ‘Bishop of Canterbury’ – such vibrant flowers and deep purple foliage

On the edge of the border is a low hedge of Lavandula angustifolia ‘Dwarf Blue’ interplanted with Aubretia ‘Red Cascade’. The aubretia begins to flower in April and just as the flowers are fading the lavender reaches its best. In this way, the hedge provides colour from spring right through to later summer.

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The aubretia ‘hedge’ bursting into flower last week

 

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The lavender hedge later in the season

The Working Areas

These are the main elements of the garden. Other important features include the greenhouse, the compost bin and the cold frame. These provide the fuel and growing spaces for the garden – allowing it to work at full capacity.

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When we arrived the greenhouse thought it was for storing bikes

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We soon taught it otherwise

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Our compost – the most valuable commodity in the garden

Time To Enjoy

At the beginning of the first post I set out to retrace my steps through designing and building this garden. I also intended to look forwards to where I want it to go in the future. Whilst I’m sure there’ll be more plants added and taken away, more harvests of fruit and vegetables and more learning to be done, the main aspiration I have is to make more time to share the garden with those I love. I’ve created a lovely outdoor space with the help of friends and family, and now I’d like to spend more time enjoying it with them.

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Friends and family enjoying the garden

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If you have enjoyed reading this, or other posts, please leave me a comment and follow the blog via email or wordpress to get future updates. Thanks very much. Nic

My Hard-Working Garden: An Ongoing Transformation(Part 1)

Potager gardens, walled gardens and old-fashioned cottage gardens – all styles I love for their eclectic mix of vegetables, fruit and flowers. They can be seen as nostalgic, whimsical, outmoded; gardens which exist in an historical context, from time to time tempting modern gardeners into grand estates or rural open garden shows, but without contemporary relevance. Their visual, almost casual beauty belies the amount of hard graft behind such dual purpose gardens, which needed to create an aesthetic impact whilst also fulfilling a practical role for the household – whether that be a cottage with two occupants or a grand estate of many hundreds.

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My veggie bed with a mix of edible flowers, flowers for cutting and vegetables (plus Billy the Scarecrow!)

Modern gardens don’t have to provide us with medicinal herbs which are unavailable elsewhere, they rarely need to feed large estates, or provide food for families who have no access to other sources of nourishment. But they do have to work as hard as in the past, especially modern small gardens which are required to fulfil a number of purposes. Many have an assortment of children’s toys sprawled untidily across the centre (ours often does), they are required to provide aesthetic appeal with flower borders, containers and other key features. They are intended to attract wildlife, to create space for entertaining, cooking and relaxing,  and some even have to provide fruit and vegetables for the table. As our requirements for our gardens increase and their size diminishes, the pressure on outdoor spaces to cater for many purposes grows. In this way we could be seen as returning to these older styles of gardening where the garden has to work hard to earn its keep. In spaces too small to allow different areas for each function, the potager style works well as each part of the garden can be used in multifunctional ways.

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Our much-loved, but enormous slide and swings

We moved into our current house six years ago and have just finished the major changes on the garden (although I know it will always be changing and evolving and that’s the fun bit). Now there’s no major designing and restructuring to do, I thought it might be good to look back over the past six years at what we’ve achieved and where I hope it might go next.

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Original tidy but rather dull border

Six years ago our back garden was uninspiring, with established shrub borders, a small rotting shed, a lovely little greenhouse and a fair-sized lawn. The garden is about 9m by 13m and is north-east facing, without much shading tree cover and fenced all round. I guess many people would have viewed the garden as low-maintenance, finished and tidy, but I saw it as an opportunity to create a garden which packs as much in as possible without seeming too busy or chaotic.

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This side had an empty gravel border which emphasised the concrete fence base and an overgrown Ceanothus

My first aim was to replicate the semi-wildness of my childhood garden for my kids. I grew up in a 1/3 acre garden in Cheshire with several mature trees, a vegetable and fruit garden and a wild patch at the bottom. The wild patch existed quite happily without having an impact on the rest of the garden as it was unviewed fron the house and therefore an ideal place for secret club meetings, wildlife watching and endless hours of tree climbing with an apple and a book. We have no trees big enough to climb in our current garden, nor much likelihood of growing any, so I decided to create a willow den in the flower border to give the kids an area where they could exist unobserved.

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Behind the shrubs, the border was empty and unused

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The garden had a good-sized lawn

We kept the lawn (although we extended the border area) and the greenhouse, which had been one of the things which had initially attracted me to the garden. I replaced the shed with a larger potting shed, in which I’ve spent many productive, happy hours in the past five years, creating a small plant empire and generally pottering, in teeming storms, muggy afternoons and evenings so dark I’ve needed a headtorch.

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Love my potting shed…

Initially we removed the large Thuja which were blocking light from the garden and then cleared out the back border, giving many of the plants away to local people though Freecycle. My main aim was to get the fruit trees and bushes established first as these would take the longest to become productive. Now, five years on from planting, the plum, apples, greengage, cherry (in a pot) and pear (in a pot) are really getting into their stride and we’ve been harvesting superb crops from the raspberries, currants, blueberries (in pots) and rhubarb for several years. We chose espalier apple trees along the side fence (‘James Grieve’, ‘Egremont Russet’ and ‘Bountiful’), two dessert apples and one cooker/dessert. ‘Bountiful’ went in the shadiest spot near the house, as cookers can tolerate more shade, and we planted short hedges of lavender and rosemary to create areas for herbs between the trees. We now have three modestly productive espaliers, now with four tiers, and a thriving herb border with sage, chives, garlic chives, assorted mints (sunk in pots), thyme (which has been fabulous for the past five years, but didn’t like the wet winter so now needs replacing), majoram, chamomile, lavender and rosemary.

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After planting the espaliers

I’ve also added bulbs with varying levels of success. The snowdrops along the side of the lawn are thriving and the white hyacinths which I planted around the base of each apple tree have increased threefold and look and smell stunning in the spring. Tulips were less successful as the area is mulched with bark and slugs (the latter not intentionally) so I gave up the tulip struggle in this border as they emerged eaten and misshapen year after year. Alliums are more successful and the Allium sphaerocephalon increase each year. This year, however, the stock of larger allium like Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ and Allium christophii looks diminished and I wonder if the wet winter is again to blame (we do have quite heavy soil here, but I usually use grit under bulbs when planting which seems to help with longevity.)

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Espaliers, herbs and Lonicera ‘Hall’s Prolific’ on the house wall beginning to get established

 

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The alliums at their best in the herb/espalier border

Winter clematis (‘Freckles’ and ‘Jingle Bells’) thrive up one of the espalier poles and Clematis ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Artic Queen’ up another. The final post supports Vitis vinifera ‘Reliance’, which last year gave us our first harvest of sweet, seedless pink grapes.

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Clematis ‘Freckles’ flowers non-stop throughout the winter

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Clematis ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Arctic Queen’ twine together up the post

At the back of the garden around the fruit trees I’ve planted several varieties of Narcissus which look and smell lovely in the spring, along with Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’, Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’, Primula vulgaris, Fritillarea meleagris and two Cotoneaster horizontalis which were found in the garden as seedlings and have been trained up the shed wall as coverage for insects and berries for the birds.

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Fruit trees becoming established

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Daffodils at their best this year

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Early dwarf daffodils emerging – the logs are sections from the tree in the front which we removed as it was too large, too close to the house

 

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Plum heaven…

On the back fence, between the dogwoods and primroses we have a blackberry ‘Apache’ which gives us lovely blossom followed by huge, sweet fruit which form the basis of sorbets, stewed apple and blackberry and fruit leathers in late summer. It fits in perfectly with the potager style – combining beauty and utility, covering a boundary with foliage, flowers and fruit.

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This bench catches the afternoon and evening sun – perfect for a late cuppa and a book

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Other pop-up structures the garden has to contend with…

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Our DIY tent

So much for the herb/espalier border and the fruit tree area which I, rather grandly, call the spring garden in reference to the blooming of the daffodils, primroses and fruit blossom from March to May. In the next post I’ll take a look back at the development of the fruit cage, vegetable beds, willow den and flower border. All testament to the fact that you can include much of what you want in a garden, if you are prepared to think a bit outside the box (willow den in a flowerbed), embrace the potager style and let your imagination run wild…

Read about the transformation in the rest of the garden in next week’s blog post…