Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Nursery Stories

A key relationship for any garden designer is that with a trusted and reliable nursery.  Plant supply is a dark art, subject to its own seasonal oscillations that are sometimes at odds with what is going on in the garden year, and the advice and support of talented and knowledgeable plantspeople who are also able to supply healthy stock can make the difference between a successful scheme and one which is merely acceptable.
Orchard Dene Nursery near Henley on Thames in Oxfordshire, run by Chris and Toby Marchant is one such.  This is not a retail nursery - stock is grown for wholesale supply to designers and landscapers, including those at the top of the field in the UK.  Calling in on any particular day you are likely to see plant orders assembled for the likes of Andy Sturgeon, Tom Stuart-Smith and Anthony Paul - a roll call of the notable names in our profession. 
It's no surprise that these people come here for their plants - the quality and range is terrific, with every plant on the list 'road-tested' for its garden-worthiness and contribution to a planting.  Chris and Toby have built an enviable reputation for quality and regularly supply plants for the most demanding arena of all, the show gardens, putting their wares under the scrutiny of the harshest judges in the horticultural world.  The plants I used in my own garden, supplied mainly in 9cm pots, have grown away brilliantly this season - it is hard to believe that the planting was only a few weeks old when I photographed it for my website.
The list is particularly strong on plants and groups popular in the 'New Perennial' school of plant design - large, robust perennials with good form and habit that could easily have come from the wild.  Improved forms rarely stray too far from this ideal - overbred plants with their attendant problems don't seem to feature here.  There is a good selection of grasses, particularly varieties of Miscanthus, to go with Persicaria, Salvia, Eupatorium, Helenium and Rudbeckia, amongst many others.  The catalogue also offers great advice on plant combinations, more than one of which has found its way into my garden.
If you live too far distant to make use of Orchard Dene then hopefully you will have an equivalent nearby - the world of horticulture is full of talented, committed and helpful people, ready and willing to assist.
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Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Planting with Style

In a garden designed by Christopher Bradley-Hole in south Oxfordshire, sweeps of naturalistic planting merge together to form a plausible community of wild plants - plausible, but not genuine, and certainly not wild.
The planting is beautiful, however. Here, Bradley-Hole has employed his grid system, with square beds of perhaps four metre dimension separated by gravel paths. The planting is so dense that the pathways become visible only when you are looking directly along them, and each square of the grid echoes its neighbours in the choice of plants. Dynamism and variety are introduced almost mathematically - the proportions of each type of plant change with each bed, and select additions subtly bring new colours or forms to the overall pattern.
Elsewhere in the garden, a fringe of massed grasses and huge Persicarias along the boundary picks up the theme of these plants which runs through the planting as a whole, and a mown circle of grass allows for rough-grass planting of spring bulbs around its perimeter. The terrace, raised above the level of the garden, is fringed by a tall bank bearing swathes of different Persicarias and more grasses - looking at this head on gives the impression of a huge pointillist screen, ranged in colours of rust, plum and tawny yellow.
Some find this pattern of planting somewhat 'spotty' - too many small groupings of plants (often in fact single plants) creating, for them, a hectic mess of plant material.  This is highly skilled design, however - although the plantings cannot be read easily at distance, closer inspection reveals the rhythm built through repeated forms, closely-related varieties of the same plant and the same colours, appearing in the foliage and flowers of completely different species.  I find the style deeply satisfying - a creative response to the environment that suggests wild places and natural communities of plants through highly knowledgeable design.

Paul Ridley Design
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Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Autumn colour

After a relatively overcast August in the UK, when the vibrancy of late summer flowers has been toned down by the grey skies, the sunny opening to September is a reminder of the value of bright light in maximising the impact of late summer and autumn plantings.
Many plants flowering at the moment have a daisy form - either simple as in the Rudbeckia deamii shown above or doubled up as in the Shasta daisies and asters that also make valuable contributions at this time of year.  Other groups with daisy forms at their peak include the annual Cosmos and  Helianthus varieties, Bidens and Coreopsis.  Colours tend to yellow and blue/purple with plenty of whites to soften the clashes.  Some of the sunflowers show wonderful rusty dried-blood reds - 'Velvet Queen' is a favourite, whereas the asters (often quite scruffy plants overall) have a colour range extending from the classic blues and mauves through salmon and white to eye-popping pink (seek out A. 'Andeken an der Alma Potschke').  In short, if you are looking for a daisy to enliven your September garden, you'll find something, although of course the scale of a sunflower will have a very different effect to a cloud of small asters...
I have to confess that I love the simplicity of the single rayed daisies, and the Rudbeckia, with its black cone offsetting the bright yellow petals or the blue of Aster 'King George' contrasting with its orangey-yellow centre are pleasingly unaffected - robust and dependable at a time of the year when to be fussing too much in the garden seems just wrong - we are in wind-down mode and should rightly be enjoying a lull in the ornamental garden after all the hard work of the spring and early summer. 
 It's a happy fact that, with often similar environmental origins, these simple flowers associate superbly with the late-flowering grasses - Miscanthus varieties often have purply-brown feather plumes that would look magnificent behind a stand of the 'Velvet Queen' sunflowers, with perhaps a few of the branching, smaller-flowered 'Italian White' to leaven the mix.  A combination of the Rudbeckia with creamier, less strident Bidens can be partnered effectively with the drooping awns of Stipa gigantea, perhaps loosened further with the extraordinary weaving flower spikes of Stipa barbata.  There is still plenty to enjoy, and while the sun continues to shine in September and October, the daisies are there to bring colour and structure to perennial plantings.

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