Wednesday, 1 June 2011

A soggy gardener's thoughts on plant choice and combinations

Hardy perennials in the pots and flowerbeds are very happy as miserable May gives way to flaming June but this gardener isn't feeling quite so hardy.

A riot of paeonies, alliums, roses, geraniums and sage in Whichford Pottery's courtyard garden
It was hard to start planting the summer displays last week because of the continuing cool and drying wind. This developed into a cold, blustery wind. I carried on planting, but some of the tender plants were damaged and battered by the wind and had trouble establishing while their tender new leaves lost too much water. This week it was cold, blustery and wet but I couldn't postpone the planting any longer, so the gardener began to look just as bedraggled as the petunias.
So nice to have a glamorous job.
Salvia semi-atrata
The weather has now started tentatively to improve, so it's full steam ahead. I'm hoping the petunias, salvias, Nemesia 'St George', Heliotropium 'Marine', Fuchsia boliviana 'Alba' and Ipomoea 'Grandpa Ott' (purple morning glory) huddled in the picture above will soon start to romp away. I'm not worried about the black Aeonium 'Zwartkop' because that is usually unperturbed by wind and rain: it only fears frost.
The aeoniums are an obvious choice in a display that includes some of our black pots but I also think that the intense purply blues of petunias and Salvia semi-atrata are rather wonderful against the black.

Small moments of satisfaction
The details of some pots will give me ideas for their contents. I was rather pleased with the way these marigolds (from a batch of Tagetes 'Disco Mix') echoed the shape of the palm tree on the Tresco pot.
Tagetes 'Disco Mix' in a Tresco pot
Where do I start?
People often feel stumped when they are starting their summer planting - there is just too much choice of  material. My advice is just to latch on to one or two details of shape or colour, or start from one particularly gorgeous plant and the rest will follow.

 I wanted a large pot for the two Solanum crispum 'Glasnevin' which I had kept from one of our Hilllier deliveries so I chose the largest Wisley Gardener's pot and placed it by a sunny wall. The pots that we make with grey decoration look good with grey-leafed plants but also suit blues and purples really well.

I was delighted to find that a new Nemesia which I had grown from seed had flowers which picked up the purple and yellow of the Solanum. My pleasure increased when I just happened to find a purple double petunia and a few yellow marigolds to complete the combination. This is a set of colours I like so much I can taste it! Er... I'm not alone in enjoying colour so much am I?
Nemesia 'Masquerade', Tagetes 'Disco Mix' and a double petunia in a Wisley Gardener's Pot

I really hope that Nemesia 'Masquerade' is a generous flowerer - because the first few blooms are very promising and make me smile every time I see them. I have decided that this little corner is a tribute to my maternal grandmother - my horticultural genes are from her - because she loved purple and yellow flowers together.

Nemesia 'Masquerade' - what an entertaining flower!

No need for alarm
The pots in the courtyard garden this year will favour hot colours, so I have been busy gathering up red salvias, dahlias and pelargoniums in the last couple of days. Red is a colour many people are scared of using but it can really lift your spirits, especially if the summer is very grey and British. Sometimes I pile all the reds together and hang the consequences - in theory they should clash but if you use clashing colours with conviction it can be surprisingly effective. Never clash half-heartedly, you really have to go for it. This summer I am using lots of different reds in the garden but am confining each group of pots to one particular group of reds - I think of these as orange reds, pillar-box reds, pink reds and cherry reds.

Voodoo child
Shiny black and warm red blend into the garden,
picked up by valerian (Centranthus ruber)
 in the foreground
In the group of Eclipse pots I have used Pelargonium 'Voodoo', which I consider a pink red (albeit a nice dark one). This has dark markings on the petals which cry out for the company of Aeonium 'Zwartkop'. Both of these plants tend to grow into interesting sinuous shapes and so are well suited to an asymmetric planting in the contemporary lines of Eclipse pots. I know you can't see the pot in these pictures but I wanted you to see how the little glimmers of warm red shine in the context of the garden.
Pelargonium 'Voodoo' and Aeonium 'Zwartkop'
Begonia 'Non-stop White' and Hordeum jubatum
The warm Voodoo red and glossy reddish black of Zwartkop then lead to the choice of other plants: Dark leafed Begonia 'Non-stop White' will have white flowers of course but the leaves tone with the Aeonium and have a reddish back to them.
Eucomis montana
Detailed analysis
Then I just had to add Eucomis montana to the planting purely because its emerging leaves have a flush of warm red at the base. Am I becoming a teeny bit obsessive? Few people will notice this detail, I'm sure, but it will give me pleasure and the cumulative effect of all these details is to tie the planting together. For the same reason I added a scented-leaf pelargonium (don't ask me its name) whose small, white flowers have reddish pedicels. Lastly some Hordeum jubatum, a grass which may look like a weed at the moment but in late summer will have reddish barley-like flowers which ripple in the wind and look wonderful back-lit by evening or morning sunshine.

Gardening is supposed to be a source of pleasure, so please don't get stressed about getting colour combinations "right": if little colour details float your boat you should indulge yourself. If you like big, bold contrasts go right ahead. If you are like me you will enjoy it all, depending on your mood. If something doesn't work, guess what - you can change it!

Calm down, dear...
Humulus lupulus 'Aureus'
on an obelisk made from willow trimmings
Complex mixed plantings are all very well but you do need a foil for all the busy-ness. I always make sure there are some plain plantings. Hostas are very useful for this, I also have two pots with home made willow obelisks which are beginning to be colonised by the golden hop (Humulus lupulus 'Aureus') which is only accompanied by Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea' in the same colour. A block of fresh limey green goes a long way towards calming everything down.
And finally here's a picture of the first flower produced by Lathyrus sativus 'Tutankhamun', beginning to perk up now, along with Cerinthe major 'Purpurascens'. Like me, they have just about survived the "early summer" weather and are looking forward to temperatures above 15C...

Lathyrus sativus 'Tutankhamun' with Cerinthe major 'Purpurascens in the background

No comments:

Post a Comment