Spiky Squares: UK Style And Southern USA Style

Spires of lupin flowers in a cottage garden

More spikes today, in support of Becky’s MarchSquares. My first shows a classic English cottage garden with lupins and foxgloves in the display gardens at Bridgemere Garden Centre in Nantwich. OK, one lupin is more bendy than spiky, but that’s beside the point. (Pause for groans). That one’s the flowers arranger’s lupin.

Brown, black and red coloured sticks

This is pretty bucolic too. It’s a tradition to coppice or pollard trees and to use the uniform branches that sprout back for garden projects. Here, long, slender branches have been harvested, bundled in colours and set aside for weaving fences, arbours or making plant supports at Harlow Carr Garden in Harrogate.

Foliage and flowers heaped in a wheelbarrow in a flower border

This  picture from my post about the red border at Hidcote shows stouter branches with an artisan feel, used to support dahlias. The contents of the wheelbarrow are pretty spiky too: someone has been hard at work. Some of the stems in the wheelbarrow have been discarded before they’ve had chance to open from buds. Perhaps the crocosmia was getting out of hand – that wouldn’t be unusual – or perhaps it wasn’t deemed to be the right shade of red.

Spiky foliage surrounds a pool containing a cube shaped sculpture

Bear with me as I cross the ocean to the Southern States of America. This picture shows how too many spikes in one picture can frazzle the mind. To capture the beauty of the Naples Botanic Garden, I needed to find a different angle: the trees, the artwork, the fence, the reflections and the portea foliage are almost too much to take in at a single glance.

House with pink shutters and foliage plants

It took me some time to understand tropical plants. Growing up in northern England, it was more common to see them as sorrowful-looking, slightly dusty things, surviving indoors almost despite themselves, rarely, if ever, flowering. On close inspection, you might have discovered the sturdier looking ones were plastic but even the ‘real’ ones looked artificial, outshining their surroundings to such a degree that they lacked plausibility.

It’s only when you see them outside worshipping the sun that you can appreciate their colour and gladness. With pink shutters behind them in this Key West garden, they are not merely plausible, but perfect.

Blue cactus with thorns

Southern American cacti and succulents differ from northern English ones in much the same way – not just their varied colours and sizes, but the glory of them. I found it easy for most of my life to overlook a small, green spiky thing on a windowsill, but you overlook plants like the one above at your peril. It had reached a meter (a yard) or so tall growing outside in the ten acre desert garden at the Huntington Library Gardens.

Wikipedia tells us that the founder had to be persuaded to grow them:

Mr. Huntington was not initially interested in establishing a Desert Garden. He did not like cacti at all, due to some unfortunate prickly pear encounters during railroad construction work.

Quite, but I’m glad he changed his mind. I defy anyone to see the Huntington’s collection and not leave with a greater respect for cacti and succulents – a corner of love that will take root and grow. Now this, for instance…

A house with large succulents in the garden

… is one of my favourite cottage gardens in Austin, Texas. And, yes, I do think of it as a cottage garden: a modern, hot climate, consciously landscaped one, perhaps, but with that cottage garden spirit where the plants try to outdo the house. For those who do not know the century plant, these succulents will eventually produce huge flower scapes that will dwarf the property then wither away, leaving hundreds of babies to take their place. I couldn’t bear to crop this one square.

Shared as part of Becky’s March Squares.

23 thoughts on “Spiky Squares: UK Style And Southern USA Style

  1. Laurie Graves says:

    Wonderfully instructive post, and the last photo is my absolute favorite for so many reasons. Yes, it is a cottage garden, and bravo to the homeowners for honoring their landscape, soil, and rainfall amounts. So striking!

  2. Eliza Waters says:

    I love the Huntington Gardens – one of the best collections I’ve ever seen. I was lucky enough to see it again a couple weeks ago. All the rain they’ve had this winter is making everything so happy.

    • susurrus says:

      I’ve only been there once. I’d heard of their rose garden, but it was months away from flowering. The Desert Garden came as a big (and wonderful) surprise. Now I’d be just as keen to go back and see the cacti as to see the roses.

  3. Oddment says:

    I’ve been looking at this post, off and on, most of the day. I was slowed initially by having to recover from “beside the point.” But there’s so much to look at! I love the contrast between the two cottages and their gardens. Yet, for all their dramatic differences, they seem much the same. But my favorite moment of all was when I got to that manic garden in Naples! It took me totally by surprise. After that, I needed the calm of the pink shutters on the white house. I was really thrilled, though, to read your reference to the Huntington. Every place you write about is new to me, but I’ve actually been to the Huntington! I have wandered and wondered there.

    I never knew spiky things could be so much fun.

    • susurrus says:

      ‘Wandered and wondered’ sounds perfect for the Huntington. It’s interesting how the gardens seem to share a kind of spirit – perhaps it’s the spirit of the gardeners we sense.

  4. Chris Donner says:

    I would love to take time off and tour English cottage gardens. I’m not so enamored of the formal gardens with their rigidity, but I love the seemingly organized chaos of a cottage garden. Lovely!

  5. BeckyB says:

    oh these are such beautiful spiky squares . . .so many gardens and all very beautiful in their own way. I agree with you on the cacti, your penultimate shot is amazing

  6. tonytomeo says:

    Coppicing and pollarding are a difficult topic here. Arborists insist that it is not horticulturally correct. I do it anyway, and recommend it for certain applications. However, none of the so-called ‘gardeners’ do it properly. They just chop away and leave big wads of stubs with a whole lot of stubble. Alternatively, they cut the knuckles off of pollarded trees. It is sad that even such simple techniques are too much to ask of them.

    • susurrus says:

      I’ve heard the discussions and have raised my eyebrows at how heated they can become. You’ve reminded me of talking to the Head Gardener at Levens Hall, where trees have been used in topiary for hundreds of years. He told us that the trees outside the garden that were left alone are now reaching the end of their lifespan, while the ones that have been cut back are still growing strong.

      • tonytomeo says:

        When I was a kid, cut flowers were still grown in fields in San Mateo County south of San Francisco. They included fields of pollarded eucalypti grown for cut foliage. Many were pollared quite well. Even those that were merely chopped were in production for decades. I intend to pollard a blue gum both because I want the aromatic foliage, and also because I do not want it to grow into the huge problematic tree that it normally is.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.