The blogging world is a funny old place. You find yourself accepting invitations from people you have never met either to meet up with them at events or visit their gardens. My mother often raises an eyebrow at this since of course back in the day you, especially a single lady like myself, would never accept an invitation from a stranger. However, whilst sometimes I set off to these meet ups with trepidation I am always pleased that I do as I have met some great people and been lucky to visit some wonderful gardens.
This Thursday was no exception. I had excepted an invitation from Kate to visit her garden in the Wye Valley. Kate had picked up on my curiosity about grasses and my tentative steps to start introducing them into my garden and had invited me to visit her and her husband’s garden which has a strong focus on grasses. The journey to the Kate’s was interesting. You follow the road from Monmouth to Chepstow along the River Wye; it is a beautiful piece of road with pretty villages and views of the river and the steep hills behind. If you know anything about the Picturesque art movement or the work of Gilpin then you will know that the area around Tintern Abbey and the Wye River featured heavily in paintings of this style. Back to my journey, just before Tintern you cross the river and take a road heading up the hill. The road quickly becomes narrow and step and I crawled along from house to house, taking a wrong turn only to be put right by a helpful postman. Finally I found Barn House and as soon as I looked over the gate I knew I was in the right place.
Kate is an expert on grasses, although she is quite self-deprecating, she rattles off the names of the various grasses and she can tell you how they grow in sun, shade, good soil, bad soil, when to cut them back, by how much, which ones are from where etc. Not only is she very knowledgeable she is passionate about her grasses too, she really loves them. Many of the grasses are planted in large groups; she has some miscanthus which she has used as a hedge in front of the mixed boundary hedge and there are other large groups of single cultivars as you work you way down the terraces to the house.
At this point I have to apologise for not taking any wider shots of the garden to show you it in its glory but I was so busy talking to Kate that I forgot and the only ones I took are close ups taken while we were chatting. I have also forgotten most of the plant names although Kate did give me a list along with a map so I will be able to sit down and work some of them out. However, I do know that the grass in the photo above is Anemanthele lessoniana as I have recently planted some in my garden and I was excited to see what they will look like when they mature. If you would like to see wide shots of the garden visit Kate’s website where she tells you the history of the garden
Seeing all these different types of grasses together really helped me identify the types I liked. Molinias are definitely ones I am keen on as I like the way their flower spikes waft well above the leaves and shimmer in the sun. I have Molinia caerulea ‘Skyracer’ and I would like to add some to the front garden as I think they would work well in front of the laurel hedge, wafting above it.
Kate also has a very impressive display of bamboo, which are just huge and some of the stems are almost at the size where you could imagine them being used as scaffolding poles as they do in their native Asia. I really liked the effect of the stems being cleared of the lower twigs and branches and I think I will have a go at doing the same with my bamboos. Kate’s are under-planted with crocosmia and where there was a long stand of the bamboo, blocking the view of a neighbour, the crocosmia was very effective bring a warm glow to the base of the plants.
Whilst I really liked the movement and effect of the big plantings of grasses I also appreciated the more delicate combinations which were generally around the end and back of the house. Here Kate has some of her special grasses and you will also find more exotic plants which are used in pots in combination with the grasses. I like the way the grasses above have been used as a ‘skirt’ round the Acer, so much so that I have planted the Pennisetum villosum that Kate gave me at the base of the Mountain Ash in the front garden – it’s a start but there are germs of ideas forming based on what I saw and learnt during my visit. But I think the best piece of advice Kate gave me when I was trying to write down some plant names before I left was not to worry about specific varieties but if I saw a nice looking plant to buy it and give it a go – how very sensible and just the advice you need when you are dipping your toe into a new area of horticulture.
Thank you Kate for a lovely afternoon – if you would like to visit Kate’s garden the details are on her website.