We moved to Anglesey almost exactly two years ago, and I found myself the proud owner of an overgrown front garden with sandy soil, in full sun, right by the sea.
Hugely exciting, as my previous garden was much smaller, with heavy clay soil and limited sun! The more I thought about the feel I wanted, the more I realised that I was after the kind of calm feeling you get from lots of repeated plants. I even blogged about how I restrained I was going to be. A huge challenge, given that I was like a child in an old fashioned sweet shop, mesmerized by all the options I now had. All those sun loving plants I had admired on other people’s blogs, in magazines, on the TV, and had never been able to grow. I also want to make the view the star, so am aiming to avoid really strong colours that steal the eye. At least that cut out a lot of plants on my “must have” list! I did decide to be kind to myself and compromise, rather than have the whole garden one very simplified whole, I decided to use the fact that you can rarely see all of it at any one time to have a different feel to the two long edges.
One, the fence border, runs along the path that leads to the park, and a stand of willows. It becomes quite shady near to the house, so I decided that the area closest to the lounge window would have a spring focus – something to look at over lunch on a dull March day – and the whole border should have a green, purple and bronze theme to it. The other, that runs along the little road into the rest of the estate, is in full sun, and already had two huge mophead hydrangeas. It is also the area that leads most obviously to the gap between the pillars, through which we have a view of the beach, the sea, and the cliffs beyond. Silvery foliage, whites, blues and mauves, with bronze grasses to pick up the colours on the cliffs was the plan. The plan was to repeat forms if not actual plants to knit the two together, and use the central area to merge the two schemes more closely. So echinacea purpurea in the fence border, echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ in the wall border. Verbena bonariensis everywhere. That kind of thing.
Now, two years on, and probably 18 months in to actually developing the garden, I find myself needing to take stock.
I started with the fence border, and it has filled out amazingly since I first planted the bulk of it last summer. One of the issues I have is that it is hard for me to get out and visit gardens, and there are not any really good garden centers close by. Consequently, plant choice for this border has tended to be based on what I already know, what I can easily grow from seed (less expensive if I make a mistake), and things I have fallen in love with on other people’s blogs or elsewhere online. The internet is my friend, and most plant buying is done on line.
Up near the house, I have Hakonechloa macra, Alchemilla mollis (it never grew this big in my previous garden), Cephelaria gigantea (which truly is gigantic), Euphorbia palustris and a poppy which just appeared from where I had cleared the old shrubs that filled this space originally. The white foxgloves were a surprise – they were carefully labelled “digitialis ferruginea”. Hah! But pretty, and they worked, so ho hum. Another thing that seems to be working that I wasn’t at all sure about is the Astrantia major ‘Shaggy’. I wasn’t sure it would thrive in what is fairly sandy soil, but it seems to be settling in nicely.
I am totally in love with the Cephelaria gigantea, the soft colour works perfectly, and the sight of the buttons – flower or seedhead – bouncing around on tall wiry stems against the sky is magical.
Further along, Verbena bonariensis does the same thing, and so far seems to be happily perennial – it always used to die in my previous garden. I mustn’t take this for granted though, I need to propagate it, it is one of my “knitting everything together” plants, appearing in both long borders, and I want to bring it up closer to the house to mingle with the cephelaria too.
Another source of delight is the sight of the echinacea flowering in front of the Pheasant’s Tail grass (Anemanthele lessoniana). The grass is muscling out the phormium, so more moving to do in the Autumn, but the echinacea works even better than I thought it would – it barely flowered last year, as I only sowed in the February.
Inevitably not everything is working so well.
Knautia macedonica is one of my favourite plants, and it works beautifully in this border, but it does nothing for the Aster frikartii ‘Mönch’. I think I am going to move this lovely plant to the other side, but I’m not sure what to replace it with at the moment. Possibly more echinacea, as I am after simplicity.
This end of the border will change soon anyway, as it needs to feed in to the revamp of the bottom half of the garden.
I’ve enjoyed the self-seeded wild verbascums that have appeared along here, they were very civilised, placing themselves carefully at the back, and it does highlight that I do want some spikes – Digitalis parviflora is a candidate. The other plant I have been wondering about is sanguisorba. More wiry stems, but a contrast to the buttons, and a deep wine colour could work really well. I was lucky enough to make it to a plant fair a few weeks ago, held at Plas Newydd, and oh, what a joy to see lots of lovely plants “in the flesh”, so to speak. There is no substitute. I confirmed that I want to add at least one Stipa gigantea, though TNG and I will need to have a vigorous debate about the pros (me) and cons (him) of semi-transparent screens of wafting stems where the sea view is concerned… I also confirmed that I will opt for Calamagrostis ‘overdam’ rather than ‘Karl Foerster’. And I may have bought a few plants too…
Sanguisorba ‘Rock and Roll’ just leapt into my basket. Its really pretty, but I think I may have to move it into the central bed, it isn’t quite impactful enough where I have put it.
I’d never heard of Stachys aethiopica ‘Danielle’, but again it was love at first sight.
It is a diminutive little beauty, happy in sun or part shade, and should flower all summer, apparently. I have taken a couple of cuttings in the hopes of it becoming a regular, but like the sanguisorba it is still being auditioned for a role.
I think that’s one of the main things I have learnt since coming here. I might know that I want a blue salvia to add a contrasting colour to the central bed, but I’ve never grown any salvias – other than culinary sage, that is. So how do I know which one to choose? So I am feeling my way forward, cutting down the potential candidates on the long list to a few potentials, and then buying a single example. For instance, I bought Knifophia ‘Little Maid’ thinking it could be the perfect foil for the vigorous yellow daisies of Anthemis tinctoria ‘E.C. Buxton’. The slugs got to it within days of its arrival, and I refuse to knowingly buy slug fodder, so that’s that.
Hmm. This has been a really useful exercise for me, but it is turning in to a long one, and I am getting hungry! So I’ll tackle the other half in another post, and leave you with another photo of a plant bought on spec that has passed its audition with flying colours – Achillea ‘Terracotta’
Do you audition plants? Or is it just me?!