Nothing can beat an outing with a new customer to look at a garden. It’s the best way to get their bounce-off reaction to planting combinations and their sense of delight or displeasure to colours, textures and overall form and shape.
A project I am working on at the moment is a small town garden, part walled with a very specific colour palette from the graphic designer owner. So to Beth Chatto a few days ago to see what plants we might put on a wish list. The best advice I have ever been given on planting was from Julia Fogg at Hadlow College and was this simple thing: choose the effect that you might want – jungly, formal, architectural – and work back from there to the choice (which will be limited by climate,soil type and so on).
We let ourselves loose on the gardens. The visiting numbers are restricted due to covid and it was raining. Pretty much sole ownership was ours. The impact at looking at so much after months of seeing limited horizons was like drowning in a tin of Quality Street. For this reason
I’ve restricted this post to 10 plants that we chatted about and chewed over for possible inclusion in the planting plan for the town walled garden.
Tropaeolum speciosum is a clambering plant of the nasturtium family. It is one to thread through other plants so that it can scramble about with the flashing scarlet flowers and cool roots. We have a painted wall and brand new cream coloured treillis so this little plant – that is not entirely hardy – might gave a red accent there amongst cool greens.
Rosa glauca is quite often chosen for the winter presence. It has a bloom on the stems and good hips which right now are dark chocolate in colour. But it is the mournful grey colour which really appeals – I can see its tall vase shape against the painted wall. Shrubs that do not heft sideways in cauliflower splurge are always useful.
Primula bulleyana grows by Beth’s pond and is one for the wet site but this orange is definitely of a shade that we are after – the colour palette is to go through every hue from pale cream to hot orange. I will hunt for this colour in the smaller crocosmias and geums.
Then for a shady corner the widows geranium is a good performer, and this form Geranium phaem Samobor has the beautiful leaf markings which makes it a good contrast for a co planting with companions that are a little calmer.
Arisaema consanguineum is new to me. Earlier in the year I spent some time looking through Edrom catalogue for woodland plants. It was a hangover of a memory from the first nursery that I worked in, long gone but a woodland plant specialist. Ariseamas are positively reptilian and eye-catching and maybe not that easy to grow – I know they increase by stolons and don’t want the ground to be too wet.
Paris polyphylla is an unforgettable plant. I first saw it at Great Dixter and its green whorls and the excellent unstaked posture and its liking for shade single it out. Obviously it will want some short plants round its ankles.
Teasels (Dipsacus follonum) seem to have jumped over the fence into the garden. I’ve loved them ever since living in Lavenham where historically they were used for combing the nap on wool and I remember the goldfinches flocking to eat their seeds. Suspect it might seed everywhere and take over?
Achillea Gold Plate is definitely too big a beast for our designated flower border. However if we can find a small yellow or orange yarrow then that will be perfect..
Gaura Whirling Butterflies is a gauzy plant has become so useful for the late summer border winning top marks for its fluttering movement and transparency. I would love to see these growing in situ.
Pimpinella rosea – this no 10 plant made us swoon. Umbelliferous plants are in vogue but this one seems pretty tolerant of part shade, It is a gorgeous pale pink and associates well with agastache and sanguisorba.
As ever a trip to Beth Chatto Gardens is a learning process which is why I have been volunteering here for the past 18 months. I am sad to tell you that today the owner of the gardens sent out an email to the Volunteers to dismiss us all. I suspect the garden may lose out from ditching this well of hardworking and committed free labour.