Chelsea 2013 – Small Gardens

While Kazuyuki Ishihara for his garden Satoyama Life won the best in show of the Artisan gardens I have to admit to being less enthusiastic.  Don’t misunderstand me, it was beautiful.  Perfectly designed and impeccably planted but this like the Roger Platt garden I discussed yesterday was almost identical to other gardens he has created in former years.

Perhaps I am being unrealistic and certainly I’m not someone who likes change for change’s sake, but surely if the RHS can’t persuade designers to be more original then they need to change the brief and be more critical of the designs when they are submitted and not just accept them because the designer is well respected.

My favourite in the Artisan category was UN GARREG – one stone by Welsh designers Harry and David Rich.  The planting was beautifully understated and their use of stone was exemplary.  Laying the stones vertically in parts of the traditional dry stone wall showed real ingenuity.

David and Harry Rich (I think)

David and Harry Rich (I think)

The Box ball seemed a little out of place

The Box ball seemed a little out of place, the wall behind was stunning.

The planting was nicely understated

The planting was nicely understated

Iris Sultan's Palace took my eye, but not really emblamatic of a Welsh hillside

Iris Sultan’s Palace took my eye, but not really emblamatic of a Welsh hillside

There were several gardens based on recreating a natural environment this year including the above Artisan garden, The Australian Garden winner of best in show and a garden in the Fresh category that illustrates a garden in the south of France after a fire by James Basson.

Living in a more or less Mediterranean climate myself (we have colder winters than ‘true’ Mediterranean climates) I was particularly interested in how the plants looked in this garden.

New growth emerges after the fire

New growth emerges after the fire

At least here ALL the plants were suitable for the climate.  I think they had been grown in the UK though because they were ‘soft’.  I’m not sure how else I would describe them. Plants grown in Italy (or France in this case) grow tough because they don’t receive copious amounts of water, the wind is strong and the sun is really hot, the lavender in particular hardly looked like the same plant.  But this is an observation not a criticism.  I felt the contrast between the dead trees (from the fire) and the new vibrant life growing underneath was evocative of ‘place’ in a way few of the other gardens achieved.

Tulips update, my thoughts on Tulips

I promised in my last posts about tulips that I would tell you how long the various tulips flowered this year and which have flowered again from previous years.

Looking back at my photos for last year I can see that although this has been as amazingly warm and sunny spring, the fact that the winter was cold (even if also with many days of sun) some of the tulips were at least 2 weeks behind this this.  The roses are also later – but most are just beginning now.

Because I don’t irrigate I am able to leave my tulips in the ground.  I only began planting tulips in the ground in autumn 2008 so I am only talking about  tulips that have flowered for their third year at most.

T. White Dream in formal beds

I planted 1000 Tulip White Dream in 2 formal beds in autumn 2008.  I planted by digging largish planting holes and putting 10 12 bulbs in each hole, I also planted alliums at the same time and at a slightly higher level than the tulips.  Even in spring 2009 I don’t think 1000 bulbs came up – I think this was my fault for planting too close together.  They were also quite short in their first year, possibly because the site is so windy.  I have noticed this year that tulips planted in positions more sheltered from the wind grow taller!

The same beds in early April 2010

on the 3rd April 2011

There have been less appearing each year but they have still given a good show.  Triumph tulips flower early here and I intend planting another white tulip possibly Swan Wings into these 2 beds and the other 2 which haven’t had tulips before.  This number of tulips is quite expensive but I like to have something in these beds that will flower relatively early.  I am considering also planting the local blue Iris that grows wild everywhere in these beds with the perovskia.

T. Negrita 21st March 2010

Negrita is another favourite; I love the strong colour and its large size.  This is another Triumph type and is one of the first to flower and usually lasts well, often losing its petals long after others that opened later.

It is also very similar in colour to Double Dazzle which was also very long lasting I intend planting more Double Dazzle close to where the Negrita are planted to keep the colour tones but increase the period of interest.

Negrita in close up in 2010

The same tulips 5th April 2011

Long lasting T. Double Dazzle

Even as they died the colour in the petals remained again increasing the period of interest.

Another Triumph type tulip I enjoy very much is Abu Hussan; I particularly like the fact that it is perfumed, smelling delicately of honey.  I first planted these in 2008, some in a pot that didn’t re-flower this year and a few in the ground some of which did appear again but probably only 25%.  I planted a lot more in autumn 2010 in the small island bed close to two different varieties of Euphorbia.  They have a real presence in the garden so I may plant more next autumn or wait another year or so to replenish those that fail to regrow.

T. Abu Hussan, 5th April 2009

the same tulips, during the first week in April 2010

New planting but amazingly pictured again on 5th April 2011

In 2009 I planted parrot tulips for the first time – I don’t really like as tulips but if I just think of them as a different strange flower then I think they are fun.  I planted Texas Flame, the flower-heads were large and top heavy.

15th April 2010, the flower head is larger than the height of the stem

I didn’t have any real hope that they would re-flower, I thought them too hybridised; however not only did the majority of them flower again this year, each bulb produced three flower heads!  Maybe not quite so large as last year but still larger than their stems.

2011, pictured on 17th April, T. Texas Flame

Tiny Tulipa Linifolia begins with strangely twisted stars of foliage, last year I thought they were Alliums rather than tulips; they flower as if the flower is coming straight out of the ground, completely hiding the foliage.  The colour is truly scarlet red and they appear to me to be smiling faces in the sun.  All last years bulbs re-flowered and some divided to give an even better show this year.

T. Linifolia in 2010

T. Linifolia, April 12th 2011

Burgundy lace also flowered well for a second year.  In 2010 they faded so slowly they seemed to be flowering for ever,  this year despite hot sunshine and strong winds they have again outlasted many others.

T. Burgundy Lace, a fringed type

I didn’t remember accurately where they were planted and sowed some California poppies right where they were planted; the red of the tulips mixed with the orange and yellow of the poppies gave a surprising colour shock to the large island bed.  Combined with purple (not sure of the name as they seem to be different to the description) and some Gavota planted nearby, the brightness reminded me of visits to Sissinghurst to see the spring walk (a part of that wonderful garden I always enjoyed almost more than the more famous White Garden or the wonderful roses).

I think this and all the tulips look much better when planted with foliage of other plants close by.  But I’ve written too much already, there is time for one more post about tulips and their complementary plants next week.

I wish you all a very happy gardening Easter.

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My Thoughts – Stipa tenuissima

This is the first of a series of posts I intend writing during the winter.

I thought that while the weather is not so good to be outside enjoying the garden I would spend some time pondering the effects certain plants have in the garden.  They will probably all be plants that in themselves may seem very ordinary, very easy, not worth a second thought; but that in reality support the performance of other plants adding to the overall beauty of the garden.

I have chosen Stipa tenuissima as my first plant because for me it performs in every month of the year, supporting a changing cast of seasonal flowers.  Giving them a soft green or honey- coloured background; also giving them physical support as something to lean on; filling in gaps that would otherwise be bare soil.

2nd January - Stipa tenuissima in the circular rose bed. adding some green to the bare stems of the roses

As I have mentioned here before, it is a plant that self seeds profusely in my tuffo soil!  Even if you don’t want lots more plants this is not a problem they are easily removed and can be added to the compost heap without fear that they will reproduce from their roots.  If there is a downside it is that they look wonderfully green during their first year of growth but after ‘flowering’ they turn honey- blond and unless you remove the dead flowering stems and pull or comb out all the golden foliage it will remain hiding the new bright green leaves that add so much to the garden during the winter.  I usually pull the strands out with my fingers, combing through the plant; I am considering using a small rake, the kind we harvest our olives with –like a child’s rake for sand at the beach.  Nurseries often cut back the foliage but I think this leaves an ugly clump of dead foliage and it loses its lovely fountain quality.

Looking bright green on March 21st

As I have so many seedlings I’m considering removing older plants and simply leaving the newer plants.

Now some photos to show how I combine Stipa with other plants:

with Tulip Abu Hussan April 4th

At the end of May with Sisyrinchium striatum

again the end of May with roses and Gaura

with Knifophia Little Maid in June

By 25th June the Stipa is begining to flower and bleach

with Drumstick Alliums again June 25th

September 12th Stipa bleached honey gold with Sedum

7th November again with Sedum

On the slope which I have been discussing in my ‘End of Month Reviews’ I will  leave them to see what happens – I want the whole area to be like a prairie so unless the Stipa begins to crowd out other species I will be happy they are covering the ground stopping more pernicious weeds taking hold.

Here some of the seedlings I have transplanted to the slope. There are also almost invisible Gaura seedlings

Here is the description from the RHS:

“Stipa tenuissima (interestingly they don’t give its synonym Nassella tenuissima)

Densely tufted, deciduous perennial with erect, narrowly linear to filament-like, tightly inrolled, bright  green leaves, 30 cm (12 in) or more long.  Throughout summer, bears a profusion of narrow, nodding, softly feathery panicles, to 30 cm (12 in) long, greenish white at first, becoming buff.  The whole plant billows in the slightest breeze.”

For me this last phrase is the most important – the movement (and therefore life) this plant gives to the garden is incredible.