In Praise of Bergenia (Elephant’s Ears)

Five petalled flowers with delicately veined petals

I tend to be drawn to the palest pink or white bergenia cultivars, in preference to those with bolder colours, but this mid pink caught my eye last year at The Dorothy Clive Garden. The flower scapes were elegant; closely packed with flowers and I loved the subtle veining (or crinkle effect) on the petals.

Bergenia leaves and flower scapes

As The Beth Chatto Gardens Blog once put it, bergenia is a plant underdog, often dismissed as untidy, uninteresting or both. Slugs and snails like them, so you can expect the leaves to show bite marks in an accolade to their tastiness. I like them too. Continue reading

Flowers: Familiar And Less So

Trillium flower with three leaves and three petals

White trillium with a delicate, pink, central stripe

Wild Daffodil has piqued my curiosity today with her mystery flower, which I cannot identify, and reminded me of a couple of mystery plants of my own. So I decided to share a few well-loved flowers as bait for flower lovers, then throw some less-well-known ones in to see if anyone can help either of us out by letting us know what they are.

It’s not often I see a British flower growing outdoors that is a completely new species to me, mainly because I’m one of nature’s flower stalkers. Just like any butterfly or bee worth their salt (or perhaps that should be worth their nectar), there’s few flowers that don’t capture my attention. The trouble is, I don’t always know what they are, or even whether they are flowers at all. This green mound for example.

Leafy green flower emerging from the ground

Petasites japonicus, identified by Diane (Mystery A)

Continue reading

Six On Saturday: Spring at Holehird Gardens

Mum and I called in at Holehird Gardens in the English Lake District this week to see what Spring had brought so far. I’ve written about Holehird before, here and here, but today I’m joining in with The Propagator’s Six on Saturday. I had thought that the ‘Six’ had to come from your own garden, but the helpful participant guide says six things from a garden visit are also welcome, so without further ado:

1. Chionodoxa (Glory of the snow)

Blue star shaped flowers with white centres

Blue and pink Chionodoxa were at their peak in and around the rock garden. We were a little early to catch the daffodil field in full flower – I’d guess it was a week or so off looking its best.

2. Fritillaria michailovskyi

Bell-shaped dark maroon flowers with bright yellow tips

A visit to a garden is always a treasure hunt, so I was happy to spot a few of these, hidden away just past the hellebores, not far from a small clump of Fritillaria meleagris. The bell-shaped flowers are an unusual colour combination – rich purple-brown with bright yellow tips.  Continue reading

How To Make A City Garden In A Small Space

Garden with curved paths and benches

Want to make a, easily maintainable city garden? Just follow this plan, as illustrated above.

  • Select your space. The heart of a medieval city is ideal (the more souls that can overlook the garden, the better), but almost any space will suffice.
  • Create one or more organic shaped beds in the centre and another around the perimeter, leaving room for a sinuous, scrollable path (experts advise laying out the path first).
  • Edge the beds in a stone coloured material, selecting a darker tile to define the perimeter border.
  • Scatter shrubs, small, decorative conifers, grasses and herbaceous plants that can tolerate some neglect in the central beds. Keep it on the minimal side – you don’t want to crowd things.
  • Artfully place decent-sized rocks in small groups or piles.
  • Mulch with crushed slate.
  • Add curved, benches that will invite passers-by to linger. Chocolate coloured metal ones will match those tiles around the outer borders.
  • Fix trellises to the walls and encourage vines to soften them, creating the effect of a glade within a city (if you lack walls, add a fence or baffle first).
  • If the same vines can be pruned low to provide ground cover for the perimeter beds, so much the better. If not, plant something green to do the job.
  • Pave, staying true to the neutral, natural theme.
  • In winter, tie the grasses up into neat bundles by wrapping a few of the long outer strands around the clump.
  • Sit back and enjoy.

Continue reading

A Visit To Harlow Carr Garden In Winter

Colourful Winter Garden

In January, dogwood steals the show in Harlow Carr’s Winter Walk

We set off for Harrogate on a whim, inspired by the weather forecast, and booked into a hotel within walking distance from the RHS’s most northerly garden, Harlow Carr, a favourite haunt. The idea was to wake up next morning to find an artistic covering of snow or a hard frost – the added winter garden ingredients only nature can provide.

The forecast had been an exaggeration but, luckily, it turns out that a winter wonderland doesn’t need snow: it can cloak itself just as wonderfully in reds, oranges, browns and greens.

Snowdrops in a winter garden with a sprinkling of snow

Early bulbs are starting to appear, including these snowdrops (Galanthus elwesii ‘Mrs Macnamara’).

We were too early to see the thousands of snowdrops, cyclamen, irises and eranthis hyemalis that will be at their peak in February and March. A small number of the advance guard could be spotted in flower in the woods, along the Winter Walk or sheltered in the glasshouse, giving a hint of the pleasure to come. But if you find yourself wondering whether a winter garden really has anything much of interest to offer in January, other than peace, you’ll find plant after plant lining up as if to say: ‘You misjudged me. You doubted there would be colour.’

Continue reading

Weekly Photo Challenge: Temporary Plants

A leafy plant with purple and silver striped leaves

When I first started gardening, it was in a garden that was so big, it seemed to eat up plants. The broad expanses of clay soil, hospitable enough with plenty of leaf mould and grit dug in, were insatiable. Had this been a boarding house for plants, a jaunty ‘Vacancies’ sign would have been permanently on display.

I could order a whole box of bare roots, at considerable cost, but they seemed to melt away in the garden’s expanse. Three would go here, and three more there; a choice plant by the gate so you were bound to appreciate it; a few more in the main borders and underneath the canopies of trees, but the box was soon, sadly, emptied and the garden seemed virtually as open as it had been before.

Luckily I like propagating – splitting plants, growing from seed – so that was OK. But I developed the habit of not liking annuals. Annuals were a waste. Mere temporary fixes. Their gap of land would still be a gap in a year’s time – in five years or twenty – if ‘real’ plants were not put there instead.  Continue reading

Sempervivum ‘Lady Kelly’: A Beautiful, Unusual Form Of Hen And Chicks

Sempervivum 'Lady Kelly' (hen and chicks)

Sempervivum ‘Lady Kelly’ with one chick growing out sideways from its mother (front, left).

Many people know sempervivum as houseleek, or hen and chicks, which celebrates the plantlets produced as offsets. It is monocarpic which means the original rosette-like plant will reach flowering size after several years’ growth, then after flowering once, will shrivel and die, being succeeded by its chicks of various ages and any seedlings.

Sempervivum ‘Lady Kelly’ seems to be a rare form. The place where I saw it (Beth Chatto’s nursery) didn’t have any for sale and when I searched for one to buy online, I couldn’t find any source, let alone an equally reputable one.*

The rich lavender – blue – grey colouring was very striking in real life against the greens and corals. I fell immediately in love with the plant and ‘Blue Boy’ a similarly coloured sempervivum cultivar that I might share in a future post.  Continue reading

Aeonium ‘Sunburst’ And A More Menacing Variegated Succulent

Aeonium 'Sunburst' (group)

Until I had chance to travel through the Southern States of America, I didn’t much care for succulents. Gradually they’re been growing on me – not literally – though I could see these aeoniums being worn as cute little hats to Ascot or Chelsea Flower Show Press Day.

Aeonium 'Sunburst'

Aeonium ‘Sunburst’ captured my heart because of the variable variegation (did I just write that?) – each rosette is a blend of bluey green, green and cream, edged in pink. Continue reading

Plant Heritage At Risk As Rose Society Enters Administration

Rose with rosebud

The UK’s Royal National Rose Society (RNRS), which was dedicated to preserving a wide variety of roses for future generations, has gone into administration. Its rose garden, home to over 5,000 varieties including hybrid teas, climbers, ramblers and shrub roses, was due to re-open for June-July but will remain closed to visitors for the foreseeable future. The society’s long heritage dates back to 1876, making it the oldest specialist plant society in the world, but in recent years it had struggled to recruit new members.   Continue reading

Creative Combination Planting At Chihuly’s Garden And Glass, Seattle

Chihuly Garden And Glass In Seattle

We travelled to Seattle last May to see this unusual garden at its peak, when the perennials were in bloom. The underplanting feels as if an artist has laid out the plants by magic, with the sweep of a brush.

Combination planting

Underplanting is the idea of planting a garden in layers, with shrubs growing beneath trees, and shorter perennials and bulbs underneath them. The designer  thinks about the height and spread of each plant, their colours and textures, then combines them in the most pleasing way. I’ve seen many attempts but rarely seen the effect better realised.  Continue reading

The Healing Urban Garden

Healing Urban Garden, Hampton Court

I’ve been meaning to share this picture of the HUG (the Healing Urban Garden) designed by Rae Wilkinson for the Hampton Court Flower Show. The garden looks much more open viewed from the front, but from this angle, it’s easier to see the style of the planting, which is densely packed and surprisingly linear. That’s the part of the garden that fascinates me.

It’s an interesting, textural effect, reminding me of the rows commonly used in crop gardens, such as cutting gardens or kitchen gardens. I wonder if for some people, the sense of order and rhythm underpinning the design makes it more relaxing? If asked beforehand, I’d have said I preferred plants to mingle together naturally, but something in my pattern-loving nature responds to the technique, especially as it’s not rigidly applied.

The plants included lots of aromatic perennials and healing herbs, such as lavender, artemisia, thyme, stachys, rosemary, salvia, allium, eryngium and nepeta. The calming, subtle colour palette of silver, blue and green was lifted by purple, the bronzy foliage of head-high, multi-stemmed trees and lavender, the latter carried through to the walls and accessories.  Continue reading