A Dream of an Herbaceous Border

I spent most of last week trundling around Yorkshire with a large group of friends indulging in visiting gardens, plant buying and eating cake – what’s not to love.  I have been on this holiday for four years now, to different parts of the UK, and this year for some reason I was acutely aware that my taste and preferences in terms of gardens had changed, or maybe had become clearer.  I also found it interesting that some of my preferences were at odds with many of my travelling companions and this seemed to be possibly a generational divide.

It is some years since I wrote ‘reviews’ about specific gardens as they can become quite repetitive to read and my plan was to write a post which captured the gardens that I loved, and why I loved them as well as what I didn’t feel enthusiastic about but maybe others did.  However, looking at my photos I got stuck at the first garden we visited which I adored and took so many photos of.  So before I write a more analytical post of the gardens I thought I would indulge in a little flurry of herbaceous border photos.

The garden in question is Felley Priory, which is in North Nottinghamshire – we stopped on the way to Yorkshire.  I had never heard of it before but I learnt from fellow travellers that it hosts a wonderful plant sale later in the year so obviously is well known in the area.

If you asked me if I liked topiary I think my response would be indifferent but when I stop and think about it I realise that there is a deep sub-conscious attraction to some of these idiosyncratic creations.  I love the topiary at Levens Hall in the Lake District which reminds me of Alice in Wonderland and whilst not on the same scale as Levens Hall I loved the humour in the topiary at Felley Priory.  The topiary is something you encounter before you come across the herbaceous borders which are behind the yew hedges you see in the photo above.

For me the borders were breathtaking.  The planting was of an exceptional quality with a high level of unobtrusive maintenance.  Being someone who struggles with plants flopping I spent some time peering between the plants to see if I could see what supports were being used.  Our group, including professional plant growers and gardeners, all felt that there was no support so well was it hidden.  But supports there were, hidden away and clearly demonstrating the benefits of putting in supports early in the season so the plants grow up through them and not my approach of retrospective staking which never looks good.

I also loved the colour combinations in the borders which was wide ranging but not clashing, as many of the borders we saw later in the week were.  There is also something about the scale of the flowers to each other.  Nothing is big and blowsey and overshadowing anything else.  Each plant is part of the overall whole but allowed to shine in its own way. Some of the other borders we saw elsewhere had a complete imbalance of flower size and colour meaning that the border did not make a cohesive whole but felt very bitty to me – well that was my view.

I really liked this part of the border which is essentially red, white and blue but so subtle due to the inclusion of the burgundy scabious which provides a good link between the red mondara and the blues of the phlox and the eryginium. The skill is that the mondara is a bluey red, if you know what I mean, as opposed to an orangey red again adding to a harmonious whole. I also loved that the gardeners were happy to use white meadow sweet which many would worry was a weed.  The meadow sweet isn’t planted in a large clump or solid ‘drift’ but instead the planting is starting to move more towards the matrix style of planting which we came across a few more times on our trip and is, for me, the way forward.

 

 

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Centre

The first of, I suspect,  many blog posts from my garden visits in Austin, Texas. Our first stop yesterday was the Lady Bird  Johnson Wildflower Centre, part of the University of Texas in Austin. The Centre, opened in 1982 by Lady Bird Johnson and Helen Hayes, is one of America’s  largest online native floral resources and is dedicated to the promotion of native species.

As  you can see from the oppressive sky the weather was not in our favour yesterday and we experienced what I think is called gullywasher  with just under 4″ of rain falling. There was just time to scoot around the garden taking photos before the heavens opened so I didn’t have much time to stop and consider what I was seeing so I think I will just share some photos to give you a flavour of just how pretty Texan flora is.

The first photo is a Lady Bird Johnson quote which I really liked and thought was so true in so ,any ways.

The idea here is that each of the square beds show you what native plants to use in what conditions – simple but effective.

I may well get a chance to return before I fly home so I may be able to expand upon this post later.

I hope this has wetted your appetite for more amazing Austin gardens, we certainly have seen some fantastic gardens already and there is more waiting for us tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

End of Winter?

As predicted in my last post we have had snow.  Here in Malvern we have got off fairly lightly compared to some parts of the country and indeed this area.  Several friends who live in more rural settings have experienced drifts of snow over 6ft tall.  This demosntrates what has been so challenging about this phase of cold weather – the biting wind creating huge drifts in the strangest of places, blocking roads, closing airports and thwarting our rail network.

Whilst I spent yesterday turning up curtains I watched the antics of the birds.  They had been missing from the garden on Thursday and Friday probably due to the wind, bitter temperatures, and snow but with the weather improving a little yesterday, aside from the oppressive fog, the birds ventured out for food – much like my neighbours off to the supermarket.

My focus has been more on feeding the ground feeding birds which I think get overlooked a lot.  We have a bench which makes a good platform so several times a day I have been putting out a selection of bird food including the usual seed, dried mealworms, suet and apples.

The offering of apples were rewarded by a small flock of Fieldfares arriving in the garden much to my delight as we only see them when they pass through on their migration route.  They do have a weakness for apples so I was hoping they would appear. They seem to have sentries as we have had one of their number strutting around the place for the last two days guarding the food from all comers with his fanned tail, just like a turkey.

And just to make the gloomy day even better a small flock of Long Tailed Tits appeared on the bird feeders.  They are my all time favourite garden birds with their distinctive excitable song as they flit around the trees and shrubs looking for insects – like little puffballs.  I always worry about them and their small relatives when we have cold weather so it was a relief to see them.

Now on Sunday afternoon the temperature has reached the heady heights of 10C degrees, a bit of a difference to -4C a couple of nights ago and the thaw has started – it always makes me hum Little April Showers from Bambi. Heres hoping that we can now move on to Spring.

 

What makes a good border?

Double Herbaceous borders, Arley Hall, Cheshire

So what makes a good border these days? A thought that dogged me on my recent visit to gardens predominantly in Cheshire. And what do we mean by border? Is a good border classed as a typical herbaceous border as seen at Arley Hall or has that doyenne of the Victorian grand garden lost its edge and been replaced with more relaxed and mixed planting?

Bluebell Cottage Garden, Cheshire

This border, well large square island bed, at Bluebell Cottage has almost the same range of plants as the famous double borders at Arley Hall and yet for me they have more vibrancy and make my heart sing more. But what is it about the second border that speaks to me – again and again this came up over the trip.  The Arley Hall borders are historic, allegedly the oldest double herbaceous borders in the country but they haven’t stood still in time as new introductions have come along the planting is refreshed. However, unlike the Bluebell Cottage plants the Arley Hall plants are staked within an inch of their lives.  Don’t get me wrong the staking is unobtrusive but it is there and the plants are standing to attention, all neat and tidy.  By contrast Bluebell Cottage has limited staking, if any, in fact the owner, Sue Beesly, advocates moving borders into the centre of the garden as the plant grow more upright away from shading fences, hedges and trees.  Maybe the freer movement of the plants is what appeals?

Abbeywood Estate, Cheshire

The Prairie Borders at Abbeywood Estate from a distance impress on their sheer audacious scale, colour and textures but they are essentially large blocks which can become a little flat when considered for any length of time. Again, many of the same plants are present here as in the top photos.

Abbeywood Estate, Cheshire

Here is a shot of the same borders but closer up and consciously taken to give interest to the picture.  The colours work well and harmonious and there is texture.  This is possibly bringing us nearer to a rationale for my preferences.  I had never considered that I liked harmony in the colours in a garden and have avoided colour themed gardens as too contrived but maybe there is something about colour harmonies that is important to a good border.

Abbeywood Estate, Cheshire

And then there is texture and that often means foliage and I do love good foliage.  The tropical borders at Abbeywood Estate bowled me over so exuberant and masterfully constructed but again there is an element of harmony in the combinations of the colours here.

Trentham Gardens

I had high hopes for the Italianate Garden at Trentham, after all it has been designed by a top designer, but there was no quickening of the heart, no sighs and to be honest few photos taken (always a sign of disengagement).  Maybe it was the sheer scale that put me off but I think the planting is also too contrived for my taste – box hedging and fastigiate yews have never been my thing.

Trentham Gardens, Stoke on Trent

But the wildflower meadow planting was another thing altogether. Whilst there was a feeling that there was just too many white flowers in the planting the overall effect was loose, generous, floriferous and alive with insects.  You felt immersed in a world of flowers.

So it seems that the criteria for my perfect border is colour harmonies, texture, loose planting with minimum staking, and wildlife.

Grafton Cottage

Which brings us to the final garden of our trip, Grafton Cottage.  A tiny country cottage garden whose borders had consumed the instruction manual on planting a border, digested it and then spat it back out reconfigured.  Here we had colour harmony taken to a new level, possibly too far in some cases.  Borders of blues, purples and white; yellows, oranges and red; pinks and purples.  Textures, flower shapes, you name it the borders had it by the bucket load.

Grafton Cottage

It was quite breath-taking and you wondered how so much could be growing in such a small space.  Investigation showed that again staking was at the root of the success of this border.  Geranium flowers were lifted up from their normal sprawling mess and held upright allowing the flowers to be seen but also to take up less space. The same was true of the Dieramas which were held more upright than they would normally grow.  Maybe this was just too much – like a child who has gorged on an illicit box of chocolates I felt like I had experienced a huge sugar rush and then a sense of queasiness.

So what is the answer, what is the perfect border?  Well after a week with 36 obsessive gardeners my conclusion is that it is different for everyone. For some the formality and horticultural prowess of borders such as Arley Hall is something to aspire to;  others prefer the soft relaxed borders of Bluebell Cottage. For me I think it is a bit of all of the above – after all these are photos from the best gardens we saw – they each have something special, something to learn from, to take away and ponder but in the meantime the front border of Grafton Cottage with its mix of happy annual was a delight to my over stimulated mind.

Foliage Follow-Up – April 2017

Blechnum chilense

Sorry I’m a day late in joining in Pam’s Foliage Follow Up although to be honest it is months since I last joined in but I’m sure she will forgive me.  I thought I would take ferns as a theme this month especially as it is the month of the emerging ferny frond, with croziers and fiddleheads all over the place.

Onoclea sensibilis

Whilst Blechnum chilense (above) is an evergreen fern, many of my ferns are deciduous, going dormant over winter.  Onoclea sensibilis, better know as the Sensitive Fern, is one of the first to push up its fronds which initially emerge with a red hue to the stems but soon the frond and stem go a delicious soft green.  It needs moisture to do well, mine are in my old bog garden, and have a habit of dying back in the summer if it gets too hot.

Osmunda regalis

Osmunda regalis, the Royal Fern, is another one that benefits from some moisture.  These emerging fronds are my favourite ones each year.  I’m not sure if it is the elegance and fragility of their appearance of the grey/brown of the stems; whichever it might be I always know the season is progressing when they appear.

Athyrium niponicum

I have a number of Athyrium niponicum in the garden, this one may well be ‘Burgundy Lace’. I certainly have ‘Burgundy Lace’ somewhere and to be honest I struggle to tell the difference between the Athyrium niponicums at times. Anyway it is a very pretty small deciduous fern that bring a nice purple and grey highlight to the border.

My final fiddlehead and not only can I not remember the name of this fern, I can’t even remember where this plant is located.  I took the photographs on Friday ready for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day so who knows which it is .  However, as with all the ferns there is something prehistoric about the fronds unfurling which I enjoy.

Thanks to Pam for hosting this meme which I strive to join in with as I love foliage but generally I fail to remember!

Early Spring at Ashwoods

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Having had a less than good start to the year I was determined to go on a garden visit to John Massey’s garden at Ashwood Nurseries organised through my local HPS group.  Not only was it a chance to get some horticultural inspiration and partake of a bit of retail therapy but also catch up with my HPS friends who I hadn’t seen since November.

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I’ve been to Ashwoods at this time of year for quite a few years now as my birthday is in early March and to be honest there aren’t that many good reliable horticultural destinations to head to.  I have also visited John’s garden in early Spring before but it was interesting how the difference of a few weeks and milder temperatures provided a different horticultural experience.

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I’ve included some photos in this post of things that inspired me and/or I learnt from.  Firstly, I spoke in my last post about cramming lots of narcissus bulbs in the front garden borders and above is the look I want to achieve.  In between the bulbs there are young leaves of rudbeckia, geraniums and other late summer perennials emerging. I also like the idea of the large pots in the border to bring height and structure in the winter.

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John is keen for the garden to look interesting all year round and quotes Christopher Lloyd who says that a garden that looks good in winter will look great all year round (or words to that effect).  This is definitely an approach I agree with and am trying to achieve too.

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Part of this approach is to prune the shrubs and trees to create strong shapes.  John practises an approach to pruning which is essentially crown lifting and thinning the canopy of trees and shrubs so you can see through them.  This gives you more space under the tree or shrub for planting. The tree in the above photo is Prunus kojo-no-mai which I also have as a large shrub but I am now thinking I might start removing the lower branches to create a more see through effect.

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I don’t remember this area when I last visited the garden.  The focus of this garden is irises – sibirica and ensata.  The gravel forms a sort of river through the border into which the run-off rain water from the greenhouses is piped into.  The inspiration I am taking from this area is about creating the right growing conditions for plants which is something John strongly advocates. I have heard him speak before about the need to give plants the best drainage possible and this will help the less hardy plants come through the winter as it reduces the risk of them getting waterlogged.  In the front of his garden there is a mound of very gravelly soil which is used to grow Southern Hemisphere shrubs and bulbs – another passion of mine.  I have already used this approach when rethinking the planting in the Big Border.

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Another passion I share with John is ferns.  The fernery above was planted only a few months ago and already looks good.  I really like the fern panels on the fencing which remind me of some of the boundary treatments I saw some years back in San Francisco.

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I also liked the pot display.  I am getting more interested in creating pot displays particularly pots of one species.  I thought these were rather nice as was the display on the patio table…

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So all in all a very good visit and it was rounded off with a little plant retail therapy and much pondering on the way home and a determination to visit at a different time of year to see how the borders fill out.

Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion)

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Ginkaku-ji (The Silver Pavilion) was our first Japanese garden of the tour and delivered on many of the archetypal Japanese garden elements. I’ve already shown you the Golden Pavilion, the garden of Yoshimitsu, and the Silver Pavilion is the garden of his grandson, Yoshimasa (1435-1490).

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Ginkaku-ji is home to some early examples of the dry landscape gardens of the late Muromachi era; these symbolise the ocean and the mountain. The ocean (above) is represented by ginshanada which means ‘silver sand open sea’ and you can see that the sand is raked to represent the waves.  I am curious as to how often the sand has to be raked.  Having peered at it and other sand gardens we saw it seems that the sand must be combined with something to keep it in shape, otherwise surely when it rains the patterns would be destroyed.  You can just about see how sharp the edges of the sand platform are and to my simple mind the sand must have been treated in some way to keep this looking good.

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Again, looking at the second element of the sand garden – the mountain, kogestsudai, a ‘platform facing the moon’, you can see how precise the shape is especially the flat top. The dry sand elements are based on zen principles and are intended for contemplation.

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I have to admit to being left rather cold by the sand gardens we saw, particularly as they are so antiseptic in appearance encouraging no wildlife whatsoever.

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I much preferred the garden away from the dry sand garden.  Near the Silver Pavilion you have a strolling garden which is a variation of the gardens, exemplified by the Golden Pavilion and would probably have originally been intended to be viewed from boats on the lake or from within the temples.  The current garden is much diminished in size from Yoshimasa’s time having only two buildings left of the original twelve.

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Having done some research since my return this waterfall could well be the ‘sengestsu-sen’ waterfall which means ‘spring in which the moon washes’ and apparently it is intended to capture the reflection of the moon ‘washing’ itself in the waters.  I much prefer the greenness of this part of the garden over the grey of the dry sand.

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From the lower part of the garden you traverse steep paths up the slopes to the upper garden from where you have wonderful views out over Kyoto. The upper garden is a moss garden with streams, islands and bridges. The path then brings you back past the Silver Pavilion.

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The Silver Pavilion is a bit of an enigma as there are no silver elements so no rationale for it name.  As Ginkaku-ji was not finished before Yoshimasa’s death in 1490 then I suppose its possible that there was an intention to finish the Pavilion along the lines of the Golden Pavilion, other theories are that the name was coined to distinguish it the two Pavilions or alternatively because the moon’s light was reflected off the building’s former dark timber.

The pavilion you see in these photos was reconstructed in 2010; we soon learnt during our travels that few of the buildings we saw were original.  Hardly surprising given the construction is based on timber, prone to fires and earthquake damage.

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For me the nicest part of the garden was up in the high garden amongst the trees, which were slowly changing colour for the Autumn, and looking out across Kyoto.

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Whilst I was bowled over by the splendour of the Golden Pavilion, I preferred the quieter gentleness of the Silver Pavilion garden.

 

End of Month View – October 2016

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Well Autumn is truly upon us now.  The Colchicums are flowering, the leaves are falling and the clocks went back an hour last night.  I’ve always enjoyed Autumn, just as I do Spring.  I remember as a child one of the highlights of the season was raking up huge piles of beech leaves and jumping into them. For some reason autumn leaves always seem to be damp these days so not conducive to jumping in.

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Hugh’s Border is slowly losing its foliage and preparing for winter but many of the plants are deciduous so some interest will remain through the winter.  Come early spring the snowdrops will flower and if I remember rightly some narcissus.

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I’m including some photos of the wider view mainly because I have treated myself to a wide-angle lens ahead of my trip to Japan in a week’s time.  We will be doing a lot of travelling to temples, castles and into the wider landscape so I thought a wide-angle lens would be a worthwhile investment – well that’s the excuse I am making to myself! The photos on this post are all with the new lens and it means I can show you the wider garden view so the different bits make more sense and you soon realise just how small the garden is and inevitably how much it slopes.

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Oh and you are probably spotted the large timber scattered around.  These are to replace some of the risers on the steps from the patio and also to provide a more definitive edge to the bottom of the Big Border.  Work has started now that many of the plants are being cut back and there is less chance of damage from large feet.  The aim is to get the new hard landscaping completed over the winter before my spring bulbs start making life more challenging for the landscaper.

Its interesting looking at these photos how much colour there is still in the garden and how much of it comes from foliage as opposed to flowers – reinforcement of my view that if you get the foliage right the flower are just the icing on the cake.

Anyone is welcome to join in with the End of Month meme.  You can use it to follow a specific part of the garden through the year or to give your readers a tour of the whole garden – whatever works for you. I like to follow one area through the year as it helps me to be more critical of the space and make improvements.  All I ask is that you leave a link to your post in the comments box below and link back to this post in yours – that way everyone can connect.