Do you need a garden style?

 

Euphorbia rigida
Euphorbia rigida

It’s a strange thing that my thoughts about the garden are at their most clearest in the early hours of the morning when I am supposed to be asleep. I find myself seeing, with what feels like surprising clarity, exactly how a problem should be resolved and there is inevitably, as the birds warm up their vocal chords, a to do list which would strike fear into many a gardener. Some might therefore question why my garden still remains a challenge to me and the answer to this is simple – the clarity of decisions fades as the sun comes up just like Cinderella’s coach.

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I struggle with planting and working out what to plant with what, it’s a constant frustration. The problem isn’t so much about colour or even the combination of textures it is more about size. How much space should I allow? Do I plant for the short term and then adjust as the plant gets bigger or do I plant with the plant’s eventual size in mind? But even more frustrating is the combining of different size plants to create a cohesive whole.  I have increasingly added more trees and shrubs to the garden but they seem to be like islands in the border or the planting around them is out of proportion. This morning I was reading an article by Fergus Garrett who said something along the lines of ‘you wouldn’t plant a tiny fern next to a large banana’. Well no you wouldn’t but what would you plant next to a large banana that is of the right scale and contrasts with the leaves? What do I plant around my new Liquidamber in the middle of a border that will provide substance and a middle ground before you arrive at the epimediums, bergenias etc? These are the questions that perplex me when I am gardening.

Melianthus major
Melianthus major

I love plants and have had a very eclectic taste which has led to borders without cohesion or direction – a veritable mishmash. I am struggling to work out how to develop my garden to showcase my favourite plants. I have a penchant for large leaved and curious foliage but I’m not sure I want an exotic or sub-tropical garden because I also like roses, peonies and irises and I adore all bulbs. Whilst I love foliage I do still want the high moments of colour at different times of the year.  I suppose the question is do you need to label your style to enable you to develop the space? I have a number of friends who are very clear about their garden styles and their gardens are wonderful.  They have a sense of cohesion and clarity which I aspire to. However, the examples I am thinking of are either based on a very specific plant palette or in a setting with strong architecture which drives the approach.  Not only do I have a magpie approach to plants but my garden is the ubiquitous UK suburban garden with a standard late 1970s house of no particular architectural merit.

Grevillea victoriae
Grevillea victoriae

What adds to my frustration is my apparent inability to learn from inspiration elsewhere.  It is quite strange I have visited so many gardens which I have enjoyed, taken many photos, and looked closely at how borders have been put together but for some bizarre reason I am unable to translate it back to my own garden – it’s as if there is a missing link in my brain.  It is the same with looking at books and magazines. If I do come home feeling inspired inevitably the enthusiasm slowly fades away as I am unable to relate the inspiration to the reality.

I have started to tell myself I am trying too hard and over thinking things and I am sure this is so. There are small areas of planting which are working well I think and so I think the way forward is to focus on the small combinations rather than feeling overwhelmed by the whole garden.

But right now having written this post I am wondering can you have an exotic or sub-tropical garden which has roses and irises in it?  Would it work to combine these plants? And therein lies the problem as I will no doubt no try this and end up dis-satisfied with the outcome and maybe, just maybe, that’s why successful garden makers have a tendency to go for a specific garden style that is well rehearsed and successful.

 

Great Dixter – A Revelation

imageThere 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

My Garden This Weekend – 26th April 2015

 Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Valentine'
Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Valentine’

Today the forecasters predicted low temperatures of around 10C and wind and maybe rain.  Now I would certainly have welcomed the rain since it hasn’t really rained all month and whilst the established plants are fine those I have been planting out over the last month are struggling.  However, the reality of the weather is that we have had an amazingly beautiful spring day with temperatures reaching around 18C this afternoon.  We had rain overnight, not enough to make much difference to the water butts but at least it was some.  I was meant to take my mother out to buy a lilac for her garden as a birthday present but she was so convinced by the weather forecast that we went and bought it during the week meaning that today I was free to play in the garden.

2015_04250061The focus of my efforts today was to address all the seedlings that have been germinating and need pricking out.  I am very good when it comes to sowing seeds but the looking after them once they have germinated, certainly beyond the initial pricking out, leaves something to be desired. I am trying very hard to do better. It is that time of year when space is at a premium and I am conscious that in a week or so I will be sowing the tender annuals such as zinnias.  Both the cold frames are full on the top shelves although the bottom halves are empty since this is very shady and not ideal for seedlings but good for storing tall plants over winter.  Anyway, as ever it started out with some organised pricking out and then the greenhouse got yet another reshuffle.  The temporary shelf was replaced with a wider one – its amazing what wood you have to hand when your son is a cabinet maker.  Whilst this was a distraction I finally took cuttings of the aeoniums and malmaison carnations which I have been meaning to do for weeks. I am really hoping that with a little care I can get the carnations to flower this year. I have started to pull some of the larger plants out during the day to start hardening them off so hopefully it won’t be too long before the space issue is no more.

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The border along the patio which I really sorted back in March is looking so much better now. By removing all the bluebells the lily of the valley has re-emerged and its fresh leaves look very pretty.  Sadly there aren’t that many flowers and I wonder if this is because the plants have been swamped for years; time will tell.  The four meconopsis poppies are still in existence and have grown slightly, hopefully if we have the rain they forecast later this week they will put some real growth on.  2015_04250021

But the thing that has been occupying most of my thinking is the front garden.  I was going to say I have a love/hate relationship with it but that would be far to generous – I hate it.  I always have and it has defied all my attempts to engage with it and make it something I am proud of.  Maybe that is a little harsh since obviously it’s not the garden’s fault that I don’t like it but I do despair particularly with the area at the very front by the birch.  I have added loads of organic matter and mulched it over the years but as soon as we have some dry weather the clay in it turns to rock and it is pointless trying to weed or plant or anything.  I have blamed some of my apathy on not enjoying working in the front garden as it’s not very private but both the laurel (not my best idea) and beech hedges I have planted have grown and provide a degree of privacy. I squared off the lawn a few years back to provide some formality and have tried an approach of planting an edge of alchemilla mollis, bergenia and as you can see ballerina tulips but whilst I love the tulips I think this style/approach isn’t me. When I was weeding here earlier in the week I found myself telling myself off.  The front garden is the size of many a small garden and here I am ignoring it whilst I am desperate for more space for the plants I love in the back garden.   It dawned on me that part of the problem is that my favourite plants are woodland plants and I enjoy planting shady borders. Whereas the front garden is anything but shady and I need to embrace a new range of plants and a new approach to make the most of this space.  2015_04250020Where to start? It occurred to me that I needed to consider plants that could cope with baking in the clay in the summer so I started to re-read Beth Chatto’s The Dry Garden which was quite inspiring.  The thought process lead to the notion that really I should just dig up the lawn and be done with it.  Lawn is far to grand a term as it is mostly moss which goes dry and yellow in the summer. I think I find the strong shape of the lawn quite limiting for some reason, I much prefer the more relaxed approach I have in the back garden.  I also looked at the recent book on A Year in the Life of Beth Chatto’s Garden which is very photogenic but lead me to conclude that a dry garden wouldn’t necessarily work given the wet clay in winter and to be honest I struggled to see me working with this style of planting.  Then by chance yesterday, I won Dream Plants for the Natural Garden in the raffle at the local HPS meeting and this coincided with a thought that maybe I could finally get grasses to work in the garden.  So the current thinking is to go for a naturalistic approach.  I want to add a small tree and I can visualise some Stipa gigantea catching the morning sun, then….. well that as far as I have got.  My block at the moment is that there is no reason for anyone to go in the front garden.  The front door is roughly in line with the side border where the tulips are so anyone coming to the house walks up the driveway and to the door.  I have toyed with putting some sort of path through the garden but again it would be too contrived and no one would use it.  I think there needs to be some sort of path or clearing if only to assist me with working in the space but I just can’t visualise it yet.

I don’t plan to do anything drastic until late summer/autumn so lots of time to think and plan and draw up lists of plants.

 

Malvern Show Gardens

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I’m no longer much of a fan of showgardens and tend to gravitate to the nurseries and floral marquee more.  However, I thought I would have a quick look to see what was on offer this year.  Malvern has always been one of the shows where new designers can stretch their wings and have a go at doing a show garden.

In my humble and inexpert view the gardens have a tendency to be fairly safe and what you would expect but then Malvern, in my opinion, is a show for plant buyers and has an excellent reputation for the number and variety of nurseries at the show and therefore it doesn’t really need to try to attract crowds with the promise of weird and wacky designs – that is the remit of Hampton Court Flower Show.

I only had time for a quick run round, plus the press and television crews were in the way, and so this post is very  much based on a fleeting glimpse

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The two photographs above are of the garden that really quite my eye and made me stop in my tracks and I believe it received a Gold award.  It is designed by Villaggio Verde a fairly local company that specialises in olive trees and other mediterranean plants.  The garden is part of a set of gardens all celebrating the Tour de France and represents a cafe in the South of France where professional cyclists have stopped for 100 years.  I liked the non-fussy planting especially around the beehives and it felt to me a fair and realistic representation where the designer hadn’t got too carried out.

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Another planting that appealed to me was in the garden called, A Return to the Med designed by The Garden Design House.  I liked the textures of the planting and also the detail in the pebble pathing.  I would like to replicate this pebble pathing on my patio although I suspect it would take me ages to do and may just send me mad so this will be an idea I file away again for yet another year.

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The two photographs above show the planting in a garden entitled, Single Track Mind, designed by Teresa Rham of Groundesigns;  another garden in the Tour de France group.  The intention of the garden is to represent the mental challenges faced by the road racing cyclist.  I have to confess that I never really get the deeper meanings of these show gardens but again I was attracted to the planting.  The mixtures of textures and shades of green in the photograph above and the darker shades, again in flowers and foliage, in the top photograph.  Of course we have to remember that the plants are planted far closer together than any of us would in our gardens and this is typical for showgardens where there is a pathological fear of earth showing; honestly, they can get marked down on it!

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Finally, this garden appealed to me – A Room for a View designed by Alchemy Gardens.  I suspect that I am attracted to both this garden and the very top one as they are completely different to mine.  Something that I could never have in my own garden and so far more interesting to me than the cottage/woodland style gardens.  I also suspect that there is an element of escapism in them, taking us to somewhere warm, and in the case of the Alchemy Garden, tropical which couldn’t be much further removed from the cold, damp and windy show ground yesterday.

Whilst these gardens are not as unattainable for the average gardener as the showgardens at RHS Chelsea Flower Show they are still something that few of us would replicate in our gardens.  However, the pundits always like to say that the average gardener can get inspiration from showgardens so what  inspiration did I get from these?  As I have said I like the pebble pathing in the Return to the Med garden and the understated green textures of the Single Track Mind garden is food for thought when planting a border where you want interest besides relying on flowers.  The Cafe garden demonstrates the impact planting en masse can have and as for the last garden again the good foliage combinations are shown but really for me I just want to paddle my feet in the pool, who needs inspiration!!

My Current Inspiration

My overgrown slope with a late summer focus and lots of textures
My overgrown slope with a late summer focus and lots of textures

This post is written in response to the latest prompt from the Grow Write Guild. We were asked to write about what inspired us to garden, or who our mentor was.

I don’t have a gardening mentor and I don’t really remember anyone in my past being very garden focussed.  I remember my parents clearing overgrown gardens so we spent a lot of time outside but they have a tendency towards lawn so that can’t have fuelled my passion.  I remember spending time with my aunt’s mother who had a small greenhouse and being fascinated by it but I don’t remember gardening with her so I have no idea where my passion comes from.

I am self-taught, I read lots of horticultural literature and over the years have picked up tips from various television programmes and a few day schools I have attended but I have had no mentor.  However there are writers who inspire me and I have pondered on this post trying to decide who I would like to be my mentor if I could choose and meet that person in real life.  My first choice was Christopher Lloyd, fairly obvious and I love his writing and his passion but I think he would be too intimidating as a mentor and my confidence is a fragile thing.  Also whilst I like his style and his ‘I’ll do what I want’ approach I’m not so keen on some of his planting.  I used to think I liked the big tropical  look but actually deep down inside I am a true English girl and I like the cottage garden look far more.

The patio border - its late summer appearance, it also has lots of spring bulbs
The patio border – its late summer appearance, it also has lots of spring bulbs

However, I have discovered someone else who I can completely relate to and whose book, he has written only one, encouraged me hugely last year.  David Culp is an American horticulturist and gardens in Pennsylvania.  He wrote a book called The Layered Garden which I reviewed last year.  Like Lloyd and others his approach is to build up the borders with layers and not just the border the garden.  So whilst each border has one or two seasons of interest when it isn’t at its peak it still looks good.  He gardens around the year and his book spoke to me as he not only loves plants but the same plants as me.  His garden is romantic, lush and quite wonderful – well if the photographs are to go by.

He made me start to think about how you use plants.  Yes he collects plants but he also understands about how to create a garden with them and how to show them at their best.  Planting so one plant picks up on the colouring of its neighbour or contrasts with the textures etc and this is something I am now trying to do.  I found his approach liberating, he states that you should garden for yourself.  You should forget about the current trends and what the neighbours will think. “Experiment, play with colours, do what pleases you, and do not be afraid to change things if you wish.” He talks at one point about how his grandmother when he was small planted a bed with hot and spicy coloured plants which was against the norm and how it had an impact on him at the time which has given him the courage in his later life to do what he wanted.  He says there is no rule book when it comes to planting, “Some gardeners get so hung up on all the “rules” that have been laid down by so many “experts” that they are constantly wondering, “What am I doing wrong”? My first rule for designing a garden is that there are no rules….” and I find this quite exhilarating.

Another view of the slope
Another view of the slope

There is a page in the book where he shows a border when he first creatred the garden and it now.  The first picture shows a border which I have to say I would be pleased with and looks a little like mine now (see photos of the slope) – he calls it dull.  But rather than be deflated by this I am inspired by the ‘now’ photo which shows a border with many of the same plants: irises, roses, geraniums etc but it is alive and exuberant because he has incorporated some fluffy grasses, architectural Phormium and there is a repetition to the planting and the colours. Not only does he look at the contrast or harmony of colours but also their values and as someone who has spent time painting this makes sense to me.

I spend ages peering at the photographs.  I really wish I had the book electronically so I could enlarge them and peer closer. There are archetypal herbaceous borders but with a twist, collections of pots, a gravel garden, a shady slope, a hellebore garden and rose beds.

Not only does David advocate an approach I aspire to achieve and which I admire hugely  but  he is a plant collector with passions for snowdrops, hellebores, narcissus, epimediums and many more.  Here is someone who has found a way to collect the plants he loves but to also create a garden with them which has a cohesive appearance and not a hotch potch as my garden had begun to turn into.

Having read David’s book last year I took a different approach to planting the front garden.  I thought about the structure of the borders as well as how the plants interplay and picked up on each other.  I have still got a very long way to do but I am pleased with the results already and I am finding that I am looking at the plants I love differently and my garden is benefitting from it.

So whilst I might not have, or have had, a real life mentor I am currently inspired by David Culp – his book makes me think but also makes me feel that the look I long to achieve is within my grasp.

Stone House Cottage Garden, Worcestershire

I’m on annual leave for two weeks with no plans at all during this first week.  I have done stuff in the garden and house but half way through the week I got itchy feet and needed a change of scenery and some stimulation.   I had a ponder about where to go and decided to finally get around to visiting Stone House Cottage Garden and Nursery.  It has been recommended to me a number of times and I have read a few interesting articles on it over the years.  Less than an hours  drive from me it seemed very inviting.

I wasn’t sure what to expect especially at this time of year when garden can often seem to have gone over.  The first path I took wasn’t that inspiring as you can see above.  I am sure it looks wonderful earlier in the year as the ground is covered in geraniums but this is obviously its down time.  Off a couple of paths lined with yew there are various paths leading to small intimate garden spaces.

I really liked these narrow spaces which was surprising as often in the past I have found lots of clipped hedges claustrophobic but I think in this garden the borders draw your eye away from the hedge although in the winter I am sure the hedges add wonderful winter interest.  The other thing I was really interested in was the narrowness of some of the borders and how much was in them.  This was particularly interesting given the size of my garden and borders and my plantaholic tendencies.

I found myself even pacing out the depth of the borders which drew a curious look from another visitor.  So many gorgeous interesting plants and I was quietly chuffed that there were quite a few I have already although that really makes me sound like I have a problem.  The textures of the foliage are so interesting, something which I think is the way to go when you are planting in shady settings and an approach I am trying to take.

From the shady areas you come to the house and this interesting paved brick area where there were all sorts of small delights.  I mentioned in a post last week that I was thinking of converting part of my garden to a raised veg area when I give up the allotment but this morning doubts had started to creep in and seeing this area as fed those doubts and pushed the idea of a similar area with a nice bench.

A close up of the border you can see in the background of the above photograph.  Here I found myself peering under the plants at the front to see how they manage to plant up so close to the grass without everything flopping and causing problems for grass cutting.  Lots of hidden staking – more food for thought.

This though was the area that made me say ‘wow’ out loud.  The border was a mass of bees and other pollinators all enjoying the mix of phloxs and monardas.  This is the second garden in the last month I have seen with masses of phlox and I am definitely thinking about where I can incorporate something similar although a lot smaller.  I asked the owner about the border and whether it had one season of interest or more.  She confirmed that, as I suspected, this border had one season of interest and was the only one like it in the garden.  I don’t think that is a problem and I find myself getting torn between having parts of the garden looking great at one part of the year and then thinking they look dull the rest of the year.   I wonder if it just a case that in a large garden you can have areas which you ignore for part of the year whereas in a smaller garden everything has to work much harder.  Saying that though I have found that when I have started to add other things to a border to try to extend the season the whole effect is diluted.  Even more to ponder.

The garden at Stone House Cottage is now one of my favourite local gardens along with Bryans Ground in Herefordshire.  Interestingly they are similar in their compartmentalized approach, the long hedges, romantic planting and eccentric and wonderful buildings.  It seems to me that this is my style of garden. Whilst I don’t have space for the hedges and alleys I can try to emulate the planting style.  I particularly like Stone House Cottage as it has many unusual plants, something that the nursery is known for and which consequently meant I came home a little poorer than I went and the plant list I also bought back means poverty beckons even more.

The garden is open along with the nursery as all the plants for sale are in the garden too but it also opens for the National Garden Scheme.

 

Gardens of Inspiration

Sitting here on a bleak December day I have been contemplating lots of changes to the garden next year and have found myself  looking back at gardens I have visited this year for inspiration. 

I have realised that when I visit gardens my interest is really drawn to particular plants rather than the planting overall.  I suspect this is because I am more of a plant person than a garden designer.  However,  my borders are feeling rather bitty at the moment so I have been reviewing photos to look more closely at other people’s borders to see how they have combined plants and what appeals to me.  The photo above was taken at Stockton Bury, Herefordshire in August this year.  I was particularly taken with the planting around the pond and the way it hides the edges so well and blends into the adjacent borders.  I have been trying for some time to achieve  this sort of affect around my pond. I have always thought that it was good  design to combine leaf shapes but  the picture above shows lots of plants with strap like foilage and  not much variety.  Personally I think this would look  better with some broad leaved plants.  So whilst I am impressed with the lushness and excuberance of the colours for me this  isn’t quite right and I would include some Ligularia and Hostas.

A visit to The Tynings, Stoulton in  July failed to provide me with any design inspiration but it did show me that lilies are much  better planted in the ground rather than in pots.  The owner had lots and  lots of lilies all in the borders but only one plant had suffered lily bettle damage whilst  my few lilies in pots at home had really been attacked.  My suspicion is that the lily bettles lay their young in the pots where they are protected more from pests and the cold than they would be in the border. I also think the plants look very messy when the flowers have finished but planting them in the border surrounding plants hide the dying foilage.

One of the real garden visiting highlights was Dumbleside in Nottinghamshire.  The garden was stunning and had everything you could wish for – a small meadow complete with orchids, beautiful borders but its real gem was the planting along the stream (see photo above).  I loved the combination of foilage which provided a delightful textural background to seasonal flowers – when we visited in June it was Primulas. I think what I took away from this visit was  a desire to plant more densely and to concentrate on foilage as much if not more than the flowers.

However, a visit to one  of my garden club members’ gardens, also in June, shows that texture can be achieved with the clever use of flowers (above) in this case through using dainty pastel shades and small delicate flowers.

So my review of photos taken over the last year has given me a lot of food for thought and ideas to mull over.  I also have a pile  of gardening magazines to browse through and I am already seriously considering a jungle/tropical border something I would never have considered a couple of years  ago.  I am planning lots more garden visits in 2010 and this time I think I will be looking more at the planting than focusing on particular plants  but I am sure that there will be plants that creep on to my never ending wish list.

Inspiration, Great Dixter and fab plants

 

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In my one before last  post I moaned about this time of year and not getting a gardening fix and how I was feeling depressed.  Well I have taken quite a leap forward from that position thanks to Fergus Garrett, of Great Dixter fame. 

On Monday of this week I went, with some other gardening friends, to a local horticultural society where Fergus was going to be speaking.  I hadn’t realised that it was their AGM so we had to sit through a review of their finances and justification of buying new tables etc, election of officers and information about their programme for next year (Bob Brown & Ursula Buchan were mentioned so may be going back!).  All abit tideous but amusing when its not your club!

However, the evening improved once Fergus took over.  He speaks so well conveying his passion and enthusiasm for the planting style that has been developed at Great Dixter.  His talk started with a bit of history on Great Dixter and some wonderful black and white photos of the house when it was first bought and how it was developed.  We then moved onto the actual planting looking how different communities of plants worked together in different locations and more importantly, and what I was waiting for, how to use different plants together to create successional planting but also structural interest. 

Whilst I have quite a few of Christopher Lloyd’s books listening to Fergus talk about the subject with photos to demonstrate what he meant, and there were alot of photos, was truely inspirational.  I came home with lots of ideas buzzing around in my head so much so that unusually for me I had to sit down and write them out before they were forgotten.  To give you some hints  there was a magical sweep of Ammi majus which I have grown in the past but not planted in such a big clump; a lovely little area where snowdrops were planted under ferns so the snowdrops flowered first and then the ferns grew up and disquised the dying foilage of the snowdrops; fantastic use of pots in displays which are refreshed every 2 weeks; and a lovely combination of planting growing out of a dry stone wall.  All of these I can immediately see that I can incorporate, albeit on a very small scale, into my garden.  But more importantly it was the attitude to how plants could be used and how to look to see what would work with what that really triggered something in my brain, quite an achievement given how slow it has been recently. 

So I am feeling very inspired and positive.  So this Sunday, the first opportunity I will have had, I will be looking round the garden to see how I can put some of the lessons I learnt into practice, even if it means staring out of the window through the rain.   If you get a chance to hear Fergus talk I would really recommend it.

The photo is of Dahlia Blaisdon Red taken at The Tynings, Stoulton, Worcestershire – an NGS garden