Look out for the feature on garden photography with Clive Nichols and Chris Beardshaw at Pettifers garden in this week’s edition of Gardeners’ Question Time on Friday 5th February at 15.00pm GMT and repeated on Sunday 7th February at 14.00pm GMT, and thereafter on the BBC iPlayer.
The latest book to feature Pettifers Garden, The Private Gardens of England edited by Tania Compton. The section on Pettifers is written by Gina Price and gives a personal insight into the history and development of her garden. See more details about this beautiful book on Amazon’s UK site here .
December is a month for reading and dreaming – reading all the lovely books you found in the pillow case at the bottom of the bed at Christmas and dreaming of longer, warmer days with lots of flowers to make you smile.
I’ve been reading a lot of books on meadows recently as neighbours either side have been ‘asking questions’, so I thought I would crib up and at least sound more intelligent if not completely convincing on the subject. Four books later and the only thing I could state for sure is “good luck”, you’ll need it. However, reading often throws up odd snippets of information or ideas that take you away on a tangent to greater things. A natural scrub combination of plants in Derbyshire is Corylus avellana (hazel), Melica nutans (melic grass), Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley) and Geranium sanguineum (bloody cranesbill). Nice eh? Quite a little successional planting combination that. Change the hazel to a more garden worthy variety such as Corylus x ‘Red Zellernus’ where the whole tree from catkins, leaves and nuts (!) are a dusky red and you would make quite a statement.
But. . . .is it appropriate to make a colourful statement in the winter? It’s a subject raised recently by Tom Stuart Smith in the Sunday Times. He prefers the drear and sombre, form and functional. Evergreens, beech hedges, sharp plant skeletons left over from the summer. Yes, we have all those but the trouble is that it takes me 3 or 4 months to cut all the plants down for next season. This is not a 2 weekends worth of spring clear up type of garden. So when I’ve cut down the first bed in November, what happens there for the next 3 months? Do we look at an allotment patch or do we let Spring in early ie. colour?
It’s at this point that personal preference takes over. If you want colour, have it. If you want subtlety, so be it. My Plant of the Month is subtle, but there are varieties that are more flamboyant. Clematis cirrhosa ‘Ourika Valley’ is an evergreen (meaning it renews its leaves in summer) scrambling (meaning rather untidy) climber for a sheltered wall. If the winter is very cold or harsh it won’t flower that well but if the weather is clement like this year and last it is covered in the palest yellow/cream bells from early December until Spring. Our plant is on the driveway outside the tool store so I pass close by umpteen times a day. It is surrounded by cobbles on the drive and gets protection from a nearby yew tree that covers the area like a canopy. The only enemy is the wind that can whistle up from both north and south and does the leaves no favours. I couldn’t feed it even if I ever remembered to as the stems fill the gap in the cobbles completely and there is no soil showing. Out of flower it is certainly not a plant you would look twice at in the summer, which has its benefits – I feel no qualms at hacking it back then, no thoughts of, “oo it looks too nice right now to prune.” If it bores you in the summer, grow an annual climber through it.
So, if you can’t get outside to do all that cutting back, get back to the books. Read, plan, dream, tired eyes, just a little snooze. . . . .
As the nights draw in and the season ends it can seem all doom and gloom in the garden – so time to look for the fun and hilarity in life.
Leaf collecting. A fairly innocuous pastime to many, but to a clumsy gardener with a heightened sense of the ridiculous it becomes the swirling dance of the wire rakes. You will need: a leaf rake, various scattered leaves and long boot laces where the loops have come free after being tucked into the boots. Sweep leaves elegantly and rhythmically with rake. Catch boot lace in tines of rake. Continue to pull vigorously at rake. Sweep yourself off your feet! A mixture of Torvill and Dean doing the Bolero and Stan Laurel trying to leave a room ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AmhJUGl-zy0 ).
However, if adding yourself to the leaf heap is not your idea of funny, think back to the golden days of summer and all the pretty flowers. In the last post you will see a tall sunflower partly screening the two ‘coy gardeners’. That is Helianthus ‘Sheila’s Sunshine’. It is a tall sunflower in the ‘Lemon Queen’ mode – 6′, self supporting, flowers August to October. Yellow can be anathema to some people but Sheila is a cool yellow, no brown or orange in her, in fact, there is a hint of green or lime in the centre. Quite classy not brassy. Our plants are 2 years old and still a bit leggy, they certainly haven’t begun expanding on the ‘Lemon Queen’ scale (some people complain ‘Lemon Queen’ can be too vigorous). If the plants fail to send up a greater number of stems next spring, I will Chelsea chop it so the few stems we have ‘break’ and give us more flowering heads. The plant will be shorter, probably by about a foot, but will give a bigger impact. We planted it next to Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’ a pampas grass. The blue of the stems and leaves and the wonderful plumes of the flowers look particularly good next to the pale lemony/green of the helianthus. Not a pairing for the small garden admittedly but another blue grass such as Panicum amarum ‘Dewey Blue’, which we planted this year on Sheila’s right, would do nicely, up right, very blue and not ’empire building’ as some grasses can be.
A nice autumnal picture to bring a smile to your face and if you’re like me and can only say ‘Sheila’s Sunshine’ with an Australian accent, then a giggle in the throat too.
It’s strange how a group of plants suddenly grabs you. August is the month of BYD’s. . . .eh?. . . Big Yellow Daisies to the uninitiated. All the heleniums, helianthus, helichrysums, helianthemums (well done, a cistus family relative not a daisy). We’d got Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ but that was about it. We weren’t worried but we were missing a trick.
Pettifers had been ticking along nicely, doing August rather well, with our grasses and asters, a sudden need for punchy colour would be filled by shoehorning in some crocosmias. Then, in a magazine, Gina saw Coreopsis tripteris. We did a mutual raising of eyebrows, a sly smile passed between us and we raced off to the Autumn Border – Gina won, she sent me back to get bamboo canes as markers just as I rounded the last corner a nose in front.
That was 2 years ago. The plants we bought sailed through their first summer and then through a very wet winter increasing in girth very well. This spring we decided we wanted more and so split the biggest 2 plants and moved the other 2 around to create more of a swathe rather than the 4 clumps we had before. As a result, this summer they have surpassed themselves with a good 3-4 months of golden yellow daisies on 6′ stems, waving gently in the wind – sturdy but still ‘see-throughable’. The Autumn Border is huge, very deep and all the plants are nearing 6′ (our groundcover is Aster ‘Sonora’ at 3′) so Coreopsis tripteris fits in as a touch of yellow, not as a bold statement plant as it would in a smaller border. But it would work in a smaller border, yes it’s 6′, but it’s vase shaped, delicately leaved with a sprinkling of flowers and the stems are well-spaced – it’s like Verbena bonariensis in form, only on steroids! In drier soil or a drier/hotter summer it would be shorter. Frequent division seems likely to benefit it, it certainly didn’t like being crammed in the pot from the nursery, but then that’s typical of members of the daisy family.
Introducing a new plant can do more than give you the thrill of a new discovery. With us, it actually highlighted a deficiency in the border which we hadn’t noticed previously. The border had been too blue, too mauve, too sombre. If it hadn’t been for Helenium ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’ (a BYD!) the border would have looked like a thunder storm was brewing. The yellow of the coreopsis blended in with the yellow and orange of the helenium and contrasted with all the blue and purple shades in the eupatoriums and aconitums
So for us, Coreopsis tripteris has ticked all the right boxes.
(Coreopsis is colloquially know as tickseed. So Sorry. Really bad horticultural pun. So, so sorry)
Looking back at summer from a dampish day in October, I remember nice, calm, sunny days. I think we’ve has a good summer, not too hot, enough rain, bit cool at the beginning of August but this put off the asters from flowering too early which they were threatening to do – we were seriously worried that Autumn maybe a little, er, green, and, frankly, over before it had started.
A plant that has taken us right through this time is Clematis ‘Blue River’. We’ve had it a couple of years now and must have bought it very soon after its release as it only launched in 2009. Buying newly bred plants can often be hit and miss (Clematis ‘Dancing Smile’ anyone? Hope you have better luck than we did!), you plant them with good faith, do all that seems sensible and sometimes they do what they say on the tin and sometimes they sit there and linger. Oh the waste of time that is a lingerer. Just curl up and die, make a decision won’t you!
But, ‘Blue River’ is an absolute beaut; a true mid blue with a lilac central stripe and bold white anthers. Each flower is about 3″ across opening to a pointed bell shaped star. Gina found it at a plant fair in Paris but had to wait until she got back before we could buy it due to lack of boot space in the car – imagine, 3 ladies getting lost outside Paris in a hire car packed to the gills with plants, tendrils getting looped around the steering wheel , leaves blocking the windows and frayed tempers steaming up the mirrors. Modern day plant hunters in action.
The clematis is herbaceous, a type 3 variety meaning that in the spring you cut it down to the ground, it re-sprouts and flowers on the current years growth. Very easy. It is nice and vigorous or should I say healthy, as it only grows to 4-5′ tall. We grow it on a metal support – as it reaches the top it flops over and continues to grow and flower. We also have to tie it in as it is a scrambler and not a proper climber but this actually makes it easier to control – none of those pesky leaf stalks twisting around and catching and making life difficult.
In fact, Clematis ‘Blue River’ has been such a success we are planning on planting 2 more in the Spring. I took 3 cuttings and they all rooted. I don’t get smug about this: this is the girl who has to take 20 sage cuttings to get 3 to take!
So even though we didn’t actually buy it in Paris, ‘Blue River’ seems to have a touch of the joie de vivre about it.
I was reading the other day that a garden should not have a beautiful view, as the view would be a distraction away from the garden and the garden could never live up to the view. Throwing caution and modesty to the wind – what rot! Unlike Lucy Honeychurch and Miss Bartlett in ‘A Room with a View’, we have a view. Although at the moment some people may be more in sympathy with Mr Emerson and his son George, who had a view but didn’t value it, as the hill opposite our garden has oil seed rape ablaze.
Oil seed rape is a particularly strident acid yellow with a touch of mustard thrown in. Not a colour that would seem sensitive to either the English idyll of a garden or countryside. However, Pettifers is made of stronger stuff and it never shies away from colour at any time of the year. Cue Euphorbia polychroma ‘Major’. This is a 80cm tall dome of yellow that if the colour was reflected on a pH chart, would come in at about 4. Wince inducing but perfectly in keeping with the field opposite. By repeating a colour from the landscape in the garden we have done the clever trick of melting the two together, or as the landscape gardeners did in the 18th century of ‘borrowing’ the landscape.
Within the garden Euphorbia polychroma ‘Major’ contrasts with the usual spring blues that always abound, the dark purple of ‘Queen of the Night’ and ‘Black Parrot’ tulips and another euphorbia, ‘Excalibur’. This is a new plant to the garden and at the moment is a smouldering bush of deep purple leaves striped with white and green – the acid yellow flowers come later. Factor in the mauve of the bench placed in front and you have quite an animated colour palette. But it works because the area is in full sun where subtler colours would look drained and washed out. Sun is what the euphorbias need. They’ll take half sun but they’ll throw up fewer stems from the base each year and won’t live as long.
Well, would Miss Honeychurch and Miss Bartlett approve? It might not be the Arno but for a north facing English garden I think the Cockney Signora wouldn’t receive many complaints.
Picture to follow