As anticipated my visit to Great Dixter last weekend has really reinvigorated my enthusiasm for the garden. I have started to look at the borders and considered how they could be improved. There are some combinations which I am really pleased with which feature on this post but the lessons I learnt at Dixter are starting to help me re-evaluate those areas that I have struggled with for a while. I have removed the majority of the spent oriental poppies, leaving just a few to add seed to what Fergus Garrett calls the garden’s seed bank. Luckily yesterday when I got home from the monthly HPS meeting I spent a little time staking plants. I am hopeless at staking, always leaving it to late, but at Dixter I saw what a difference it can make to the border and how inconspicuously you can do it, so out came the canes and string. I am really glad I did as we had a heavy downpour overnight and I know that plants such as the Ammi majus would have been flattened.
In the poppies place I have planted out some zinnias which should contrast well with the agapanthus which look like they will have flowers this year, something I am really pleased with.
I have been looking at planting for the front of borders in particular to go in front of the roses which grow in the border along the top of the wall. Luckily at the garden club there are a number of nurserymen selling plants, as well as the members plant sales so I came home with a hefty haul of delights which strangely seemed to be predominantly pink. So planted out today were:
Viola cornuta ‘Clouded Yellow’Sanguisorba officinalis ‘Little Angel’
Geranium ‘Mavis Simpson’
Persicaria bistora ‘Hohe Tatra’
Helicrysum stoechas ‘White Barn’
Dianthus ‘Moulin Rouge’
I also included an Eryginum pandanifolium ‘Physic Purple’ which I bought at Dixter which should add some height to the Big Border.
I am really enjoying the profusion of flowers on the Geranium palmatum. I think it is my favourite geranium and I need to see about collecting some seeds as they are only just hardy and it would just be my luck to lose the lot if we have a hard winter this year. I fancy adding some to the front garden behind the Alchemilla mollis as I think the combination of the magenta pink and lime yellow would be electric. This is the best the top border has ever looked and I am finally feeling rather pleased with it. I want to relocate the Tetrapanex here, between the bamboos, as its leaves are swamping the surrounding planting in its current location just further down the slope.
As the garden was very wet for most of the morning today I made myself sort through the greenhouse. I don’t grow edibles any more but my youngest had a brief foray into vegetable growing which essentially meant that he acquired some seeds, sowed them, and then lost interest as his proposed house move hasn’t gone ahead so he no longer has a garden for them. The result is that I have ended up with some tomato, chilli, pepper, basil, parsley and sage seedlings as well as a rosemary and thyme plant. I managed to find space in the greenhouse for large pots for 3 tomatoes and then I planted another two in a very large pot along with the rosemary and thyme so hopefully there will be a fragrant productive pot on the patio.
I am pleased with the staging area this summer. The pelargoniums are flowering this year, after spending last summer producing lots of foliage. I took some twitter advice from Fibrex nursery and I am religiously watering them every day and feeding them once a week and it is already paying off, well apart from the one on the right hand side which is ignoring my efforts.
As I was staying in Sissinghurst village for my visit to Great Dixter at the lovely Milk House, which I would thoroughly recommend to anyone visiting that area, it would have been madness for me not to visit Sissinghurst garden.
I have to admit to having mixed feelings about this garden visit. Sissinghurst is one of those gardens that, as a gardener, you feel you should have visited and be able to reference. Interestingly during conversations on the study day at Great Dixter quite a few people were, shall we say, a bit sniffy about Sissinghurst, saying such things as ‘well I have visited but I don’t feel a need to go back’, which was intriguing. I need to say now that my mindset on arrival was somewhat distracted as I was having car issues and I was worrying whether the car would get me the 4.5 hours home (in fact the car was OK which was a huge relief). So I didn’t have the relaxing contented visit I had hoped for.
I had the benefit of being one of the first through the door and instead of exploring the tower I set out to see as much of the garden as I could before it become crowded. More by luck than design I found myself firstly in the renowned White Garden. Now I am not a fan of White Gardens I find them sort of static, I much prefer contrasting colours or even harmonious colours and the way the colours work with each other. However, I have to admit that this part of the garden had a nice calming atmosphere, particularly given my frame of mind.
Again in the Cottage Garden, which is planted up in hot vibrant colours, I wasn’t thrilled with this combination – the yellows are all the same and I would have liked to see some possibly lighter shades of yellow or an orange verbascum such as Clementine to jazz it up. However to be far this was just one small planting in the Cottage Garden, the rest was a mixture of strong yellows, red and oranges and lots of textures.
One of the things I really liked at Sissinghurst were the vistas through the various walls or hedges leading the eye to the next garden or an area you wanted to find your way to. I have quite a few photographs of vignettes such as the one above and also of large planted pots planted with a single type of plants – an interesting contrast to the mass groupings of pots at Great Dixter.
Like the White Garden I find the Nuttery with its shady woodland planting relaxing. I have a weakness for ferns and I was bewitched with the way the sunlight was bouncing off the fronds in this mass planting and showcasing the statue. I would like to try to do something similar but I don’t know if I have the space.
The area of the garden that I really enjoyed was the Rose Garden which was somewhat surprising. I am liking roses more and more and I particularly liked seeing them planted with other perennials. As you can see the alliums in the photograph above and at the top of the post provide a wonderful froth through the borders. The scent in this garden, especially as the sun was shining, was quite divine. I liked this colour palette which provided a really romantic atmosphere (if you ignored all the other visitors which I studiously managed to exclude from my photos). On arrival at the garden there was an exhibition about Vita Sackville West and Harold Nicholson’s marriage, with copies of their letters etc. On the walls of the barn that the exhibition was housed in were painted quotes from these letters which showed the strength of their feelings for each other and I think the Rose Garden really epitomises their love for each other.
So what is my overall impression of Sissinghurst? Firstly, I think I was spoilt by my visit to Great Dixter the day before which really speaks to me. However, Sissinghurst is a beautiful garden and is the first National Trust garden I have visited which has an atmosphere which, in my opinion, is so hard to come by when the garden is not managed by its creator/owner. I know that Troy Scott-Smith, who took on the role of Head Gardener in 2013, is working to move the garden away from pristine horticultural excellence back to a garden, which although demonstrating good horticulture, also has a more artistic feel such as it had in Vita’s time. You can really see that there are areas where this has been achieved and other areas where it hasn’t quite got there. Hardly surprising given Troy has only been post for two years. I think I would like to visit again in say 2 or 3 years to see if Troy has been allowed to have his way and how the garden has developed.
There are some places that you dream of visiting. You study the photos in books or on-line and you create an impression, maybe a little gilded, in your mind’s eye. For me Great Dixter is such a place. I have longed to visit for years but just as you hesitate to watch a film of your favourite book I was nervous that it would not live up to my imaginations.
As soon as I approached the house through the lawn/meadow area I knew that I wouldn’t be disappointed but I was thrilled to discover the garden actually exceeded my expectations. I was completely bewitched by the area called the stock beds (above). The exuberance of the planting, the scale was fabulous.
But back to the real purpose of the visit – to attend a study day. I figured that if I was going to trek across country to visit the garden I wanted to get the most out of it and so a study day was the answer. I booked the Succession Planting day, as although I had heard Fergus talk about this subject before, it was the only one which fitted with work commitments and I knew I would pick up lots more tips and tricks. The talk was held in the Yeomans Hall with its wonderful exposed timbers, the atmosphere added to with the crackling of the log fire which had been lit to combat the unexpected cold of the day.
I never tire of listening to Fergus Garrett, he has a quiet charisma and he is so knowledgeable, I just sat and soaked it all up. Whilst I had remembered somethings from before, either some of it was new or my gardening knowledge has improved so I can take on board more things. There is a mental list which I really need to write down of immediate changes I want to make but I think the real lesson was to look and consider. You need to assess plants, consider them from all aspects, what seasons of interest do they have and, most importantly, if they aren’t earning their keep ditch them for something better. In a small garden such as mine this is a really important lesson. But there is also the lesson that if you combine the plants better taking into account texture and shape and seasons of interest you might improve how a plant appears. Finally focus on one big moment of impact in an area, get that right, then think about how you can extend the season – maybe with bulbs earlier in the year, adding some annuals to create interest in the planting before (or after) the main plants have performed.
After lunch we split up, my group went off to explore and the two ladies I had met and I had a lovely wander. We went to the stock beds first, pushing along narrow paths past sodden plants. Then on to the exotic garden which was a surprisingly small space waiting for the seasonal planting to be done – we later learnt that Fergus plans to plant out conifers here which caused some sharp intakes of breath but I think it will be interesting to see how they combine with the bananas etc.
My reaction to the Long Border was interesting. It is the part of the garden that is always featured in magazines etc and you feel a familiarity with it. The border is beautiful and a real lesson in the art of mixed planting with shrubs, perennials, biennials, annuals, bulbs and climbers but it didn’t make my heart sing as the stock beds did. I wonder why? Aside from the stock beds the plantings that I also really enjoyed, although you understand all of the garden was wonderful, were in the sunken garden area where there was narrow small borders with shade lovers which showed you how to bring the best out of them by combining the plants well; here I could really relate ideas to my own garden and the plants I love to grow.
We finished with a tour with Fergus so he could demonstrate the points he had previously made. The tour ended with the stock beds where we learnt some of the tall umbellifers were actually parsnips gone to seed – I am wondering if I could get away with anything so dramatic and big. The other tip I picked up was that you only need to add a handful of annuals in a large area, kind of running them through the plants, to make an impact and the poppies in this area were a good demonstration of this – so I only need to grow 10 of an annual at the most for a space such as my Big Border.
So that was my magical day at Great Dixter, which I will visit again, if not later this year definitely next year. I love the way the garden pushes the boundaries, it challenges the rule books and creates its own rules but they aren’t really rules – Fergus calls his approach a system which can be adapted. I think that is a fair description but I think ethos is a better word to system which sounds so hard and manufactured. And yes I did buy plants but I can’t remember what as they are hiding in the car. Tomorrow I am off to Sissinghurst which no doubt will provide an interesting contrast.
I also took masses of photos but am writing this post from my B&B and I have only downloaded a few from the camera so there may be another post soon covering things I have forgotten, such as the pots – I need more pots.
I’m off today on a short garden visiting odyssey so there won’t be the usual weekly update of things in my garden. Instead here are some pictures of what is looking good in the garden I managed to take yesterday afternoon between rain showers.
I am thrilled with the impact of the Geranium palmatum at the top of the garden. It seems to have gone mad this year and you have to battle your way along the top path. I suspect the amount of growth is because we had such a mild winter the plants didn’t get knocked back.
So those are my solstice delights. I will be back later in the week to hopefully share with you some images of the amazing gardens I am visiting down south.