Planting Scheme: Jurassic Plants

A trip to the Natural History Museum, London, with a gang of under-fives naturally culminated in a visit to the Dinosaur exhibition. But rather than revelling in the life-size moving, roaring plastic T-Rex (ever wondered what you might feel like just before you’re eaten alive?), what fascinated me were the descriptions of plants from the Jurassic era, the ‘Age of the Reptiles’, when dinosaurs roamed.

With tree ferns, cycads, Ginkos, monkey puzzle trees and horsetails it was a spiky, green and tough environment to exist in. But these architectural plants could form the bones of a very interesting garden today. The monkey puzzle (Araucaria araucana) is a beautiful tree, but today relegated to grand country estates or depressing suburban front gardens. And they are usually planted alone as a sole feature. How about a drift of monkey puzzle trees in a very large garden? You do need space though, as they can grow to 40 metres high.

Cycads (I use Cycas revoluta) and tree ferns (try Dicksonia antarctica) are a garden designer’s saving grace for shady corners which need architectural evergreens. The arched fronds – spiky for the Cycads, soft for the tree ferns –  often fill a space over a metre wide.  And both look excellent in large pots.

I’m  longing to plant horsetails. (Equisetum) You see them growing wild by streams and in boggy patches in England and France, with their pine-like spiky shoots. Hellishly vigorous if they invade your space, you could try transplanting wild ones in a controlled space –  however plant at your peril as they are described by the RHS as “an invasive, deep-rooted weed”. Use purpose-made plastic strips  as a root barrier, to stop the plants from spreading, as you would when planting bamboo.   

The Ginko biloba, or maidenhair tree,  is an exquisitely elegant tree, and comes from China. For years it was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered growing wild in China’s Tian Mu Shan Reserve. Its charm is its exotic leaves which unfurl to form scrolled fan shapes. But beware they can reach up to 35 metres. Go for a male tree, as female plants produce mucky falling seeds.

Once you’ve got your spiky structure, send through some dinosaur-like perennials in dark reds, oranges and bright greens and some modern shrubs. Try the towering Gunnera manticata with its giant rhubarb-like leaves – it needs boggy ground - and bright green versions of red-hot pokers with their spears of fringed flowers - Kniphofia 'Green Jade’.  And for a dynamic flash of colour, use foxtail lilies in orange, Eremerus ‘Cleopatra’.

This won’t be a soft and friendly garden for children, but you can just take them to the Natural History Museum for their Jurassic experience instead.


Planting Scheme: Shady Lady

Today I went to see a garden which is  predominantly in shade, and the request was not for architectural–style planting, which is easy for a shady garden, but a pretty country style, with flowers. A North facing garden will ideally, in terms of planting, be textural, verdant and with few flowers. The designer has contrasting leaf shapes and sizes to play with to create interest – for example combining ferns with hostas. But flowers? Well, fortunately, there are a few. 

These are my pretty cottage garden winners for a shady patch. Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’ produces pretty white flowers on tall 80cm stems in September. But it’s a spreader, and can take over your garden if you don’t watch it.  Lilium regale is a tall, highly scented white lily with a pink blush, and Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’  will usually produce decent flowers,  as long as they are not in deep shade underneath a tree. Geranium macrorrhizum ‘White Ness’ is essential as a mid-height filler, and Aquilegias - my favourite at the moment is Aquilegia chrysantha ‘Yellow Queen’ – will thrive in part shade and spread.

For ground cover under trees try Vinca minor -I like the deep purple or white varieties - and then there is the fantastically useful Liriope muscari, with its strappy leaves like oversized plump green grass and purple upright flowers.  Both will tolerate deep shade. To cover walls the free-flowering Clematis viticella ‘Etoile violette’ and Trachelospermum jasminoides with it’s fragrant white flowers and tidy climbing habit are indispensable. 

Of course the good thing about a North-facing garden, is that one wall always faces South, and this is the place for espalier-trained apple trees, fragrant roses and herbs to complete the country-style garden.

Troughs 2011

Did not bother buying in loads of plugs in advance like last year, because did not want to use up precious window space again only for the hail to decimate them! Of course only now do I remember the reason I had so many plants was I took cuttings as I went along and doubled the number of verbenas from what I’d bought.

Using pretty much same plants as last year, but changing the arrangement. Found that the geraniums took so long to kick off, they were rather boring facing the window, plus they could more easily be damaged than the upright verbenas. Also decided not to mix the colours, for more impact.

Small Trough (x2) 8 total plants in each:

Red Geranium (4)
Red Verbena (1)
Red Verbena (1) Red Geranium (1) Red Verbena (1)

Long Trough 11 total plants:

Burgundy Geranium (2) Burgundy Verbena (2) Burgundy Geranium (2)

Burgundy Verbena (2) Burgundy Geranium (1) Burgundy Verbena (2)


Planting Scheme: Window Boxes

I’m working on ideas for winter window boxes today, and have decided on an upbeat burgundy and white scheme for one of my London clients. We’re mixing the fluffy-headed Pennisetum grasses with a deep purple leaved Heuchera, and then adding some drumstick Allium sphaerocephalon bulbs which should pop up through the foliage in spring. For the smaller window boxes, we’re trying white Erica (heather), and small burgundy Cyclamen, with the Alliums again, and some white grape Hyacinths, Muscari, bulbs. Cyclamen are excellent value because they keep flowering throughout the winter, and Muscari are one of the first bulbs to emerge in the New Year, their green shoots providing a cheery signal that spring is on its way.