I’ve been taking a long hard look at my front garden and how it has been developing over these past 18 months. I’ve already covered what I call the fence border in a previous post. It is beginning to come together nicely, and with a bit more simplification I’ll be content to leave it to become fully established. Not so the wall border, on the opposite side. This runs along the boundary between the front garden and the small road into the estate. I did some planting in it last year, mostly of shrubs to add structure and privacy, later to be joined by a trio of birches and a rowan. The overall “feel” that I am aiming for has been clear in my head for over a year now, lots of silvery foliage, white, blue and lilac flowers. A slightly wafty feel, meant to hint at the sea and sky. Afraid that too much silver would be a bad thing I decided to add in some bronze contrast in the shape of Carex comans ‘Bronze’ and the slightly burnt orange flowers of Agastache rupestris. Add Verbena bonariensis, Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’, Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ and Stachys byzantina, and you had the basic planting palette. I knew I would want to add other, different plants up near the driveway, around the newly planted trees, but in the mean time the huge gaps have been filled with forget-me-nots and later lychnis. So what do I think.
Too much lychnis for a start! Though it did do a good job of filling the space in early summer. I have been gradually thinning it out to create more space, literally uncovering plants like the hebe that had been totally submerged.
The gap that you can see between the front-of-border planting and the remaining lychnis is where the tulips pop up. Always assuming they return… The lychnis did a great job of disguising the tulip foliage, but as it begins to fade the lychnis, in turn, require some concealing – or ripping out altogether. Later flowering perennials are the obvious answer, though in a perfect world I would have a swathe of nepeta along there. The cats make that impossible, but I have been considering trying Amsonia instead.
I’ve started adding some tall, late flowering perennials around the trees, and will add to the spring flowering bulbs in the Autumn. So far I have soft plumes of colour from veronicastrum – one white, one pale lavender. They have beautiful foliage.
The lavender one, Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Lavendelterm’, is actually an old friend, being a division from a division of the one I had in my previous garden, come back to me via Gardening SIL.
In the interests of simplicity and the pleasure of repeated plantings I want to add a third, assuming these two do well, the third will form part of the “hide the messy lychnis” planting, or that’s my current idea. So far they have settled in well, which is more than can be said for the astrantias I have tried to establish. More water and a better mulch might save them. I’ve also added a Thalictrum delvayi and a Penstemon ‘Blackbird’, with the aim of getting/making more of each. Add in a trio of Echinacea ‘White Swan’ and it has the beginnings of something pleasing. Gardening-sil also gave me a small Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’, which I may try adding in to complement the tall perennials, it is a good place to audition the grass for a more extensive role elsewhere in the front garden. The thalictrum and penstemon both came from the plant fair I went to at the end of June, and go beautifully together.
I am quietly excited about how the planting in this area is coming together, even though the plants are very young at the moment and there still seems to be more bare earth (currently dust) than foliage and flowers. I’ll be taking cuttings from the penstemon, and from the other plant that is delighting me in this corner, the perennial and perennially popular wallflower ‘Bowles’ Mauve’.
What’s not to love? it even has great foliage (another candidate for lycnhis cover), and the butterflies certainly approve.
I love ‘White Swan’, and it is great to see the flowers starting to appear on the plants I grew from seed, but they certainly take a lot longer to establish than the plain pink version. Still, ‘White Swan’ has certainly earned a place in the front garden, and will be staying – and I will be sowing more seed this Autumn to increase its presence in to something more noticeable! Such a beauty close up though.
So, promising, but if you look down at this end of the border from upstairs, still a lack of visible cohesion.
It will be a lot better once the escallonia hedge along the wall starts to thicken up. It is making good progress, but the Verbena bonariensis is still providing the only screening, as such – another plant that has sailed through its auditions with flying colours and will hopefully help to knit the whole garden together.
This business of managing the plants you want to self seed, but which look horrid whilst they are doing so, is something that I am still struggling with. Perhaps in future years I will be more proactive and demanding, collecting seed and sowing it myself in pots to then move in to position later, rather than seeing where the plants themselves see fit to place their progeny. At the moment I have ugly little stems of forget-me-nots lying hopefully on patches that I would like to see filled with the next generation, but at least where they have sown themselves around they form a lovely mat of evergreen groundcover – as does the lychnis, though ever-silver, in that case, I suppose. The cerinthe, which I have also been auditioning, seems less obliging, at least so far. I loved the way it contrasted with the plants around it, particularly the stachys.
But it dies horribly. So I am collecting seed, have already sown some and put the tray aside in a cool corner, and will be cutting the rest back. What do you do with your cerinthe, or other early flowering plants once they start to look *cough* past their best?
It’s funny, I really thought, when I planted up this border, that I had taken the mantra of simplicity seriously, but it still looks messy from above, partly because I have not block planted, but also, I think, because there are still too many different plants.
I love the Allium sphaerocephalon, and will plant lots more.
I also love the steely blue globes of Echinops ritro, another gift from Gardening SIL.
The echinops has great foliage, and I will be collecting more seed so that hopefully I can add to the ones already established. The perovskia is every bit as beautiful as I had hoped, and apparently easy to take cuttings from, so I will be attempting to generate more of what I hope will be another mainstay of the border, running all the way down. I do find it hard to photograph though, so far this seems to be the best I can do. Pathetic! Just doesn’t capture it at all.
I had hoped to use more knautia in this border, to tie it in with the fence border, but the flowers are too red to work, so they will get moved over to the other side. Likewise the pale creamy Californian poppy ‘Ivory Castle’ is wrong, it needs to be proper white, bluey-white, to work on this side, but the poppy itself is lovely, so I will try and collect seed and sow it in the middle bed instead. And no doubt resign myself to having to pull seedlings out of the wall border for years to come… I also had to yank out a fluffy pink poppy that suddenly appeared in the back garden last year. I collected seed and spread it in the wall border thinking it would work well, but it was too salmony to work, plus I didn’t like how fussy it was. Once again Gardening SIL came to the rescue and sent me seed from a deep purple poppy she has in her garden, and it works beautifully, and has lovely foliage. Definitely an audition passed with flying colours.
By far the least successful experiment in this border was with the coppery foliage of the carex. It just detracts from the clear colours of the other plants, so it has to go.
I was wondering about trying another evergreen grass Festuca ‘Elijah Blue’, but it is the wrong sort of shape, from what I can tell, and too short. Instead, I find myself gravitating towards Elymus magellanicus, which though only semi-evergreen, looks to be more the correct form and size. Another audition. And then I will use another plant that has worked really well for me, Erungium yuccifolium, for evergreen straplike foliage and a strong year round architectural presence.
It’s a shame that, apparently, it doesn’t take easily from root cuttings, so this is one plant I may have to spend actual money on, but I think it will be worth it.
So mostly a clear pass or fail for all the plants I have been auditioning, and what feels like a fairly clear plan as to how to take the whole border on the next step, but there is still one plant that the jury is still out on. A plant that I really want to love, and to have a place for. Agastache rupestris is a native of Arizona, and has wonderfully aromatic fine grey foliage. I grew it from seed, and it didn’t really flower last year, but it seems to be settling in well this year and the flowers are beginning to open.
I’ve seen photographs of it shining and shimmering like a soft, coppery cloud. The flowers seem to have a hint of the plummy colours that are working so well here, but I’ve seen other photographs where the overall effect is more fiery orange. And I still don’t really know what to expect.
It might be a case of the right plant in the wrong place, like the knautia or the creamy poppy. It might be just plain “no”. I’ll just have to wait and see. In the mean time I am eyeing up the rain that seems to be forecase for a week’s time, and wondering if I can do some moving and planting. I should probably wait until the autumn. Probably…