I am a great admirer of naturalistic planting design which relies on the contrast in plant shapes and textures, rather than on colour, to look good all year round. Mingling perennials and ornamental grasses should hopefully create a low maintenance garden.
My ‘Gravel Garden’ is the closest I can come to a similar design, on a much smaller scale. I have plans to alter this next year, to open the garden up a bit and move plants around, and certain plants will have to come out altogether. My take on the design is to choose plants that grow well in my area and repeat them, which is something I haven’t been very good at. My garden is a bit of a ‘pick and mix’ with one or two of a lot of plants. I aim to reduce the number of plants that don’t suit this climate or have outgrown their space and those which take up a lot of my time in maintenance and look for plants that look good over several seasons. According to Piet Oudolf ‘a good plant has to look good dead‘
Plant shapes are a primary consideration – vertical, horizontal and rounded.
My verticals at the moment include two deciduous grasses which are very easy to maintain, simply cut back to the ground in spring. Calamagrostis brachytricha (glossy green leaves turning yellow in autumn, fluffy purple-tinged plume-like sprays in late summer) and Calamagrostis Overdam (striped green leaves, feathery purple plumes in late summer). My Echinops which currently live in a raised bed can be moved with the airy Verbena bonariensis adding height throughout the garden from self-seeding.
Horizontals can be used to create a river affect throughout the space and should flower at a similar height to the foliage of the grasses so I am thinking of my hardy geraniums which are spread around the garden, both in sun and shade, as I have rather a lot of them. Some are a bit sprawly (yes I am looking at you, Rozanne and Anne Thomson), so placement will be key, but with luck they could tie the different areas together. Heleniums, Asters, Rudbeckias, Astilbes, Astrantias and my Daylilies also would work but I have very little success with the Heleniums so I’m going to use Penstemons. And during the summer annuals such as Cosmos and Californian poppies can fill any gaps.
I already have many Rounded shapes in the garden: Carex evergreen grasses Evergold and Everest (around the flat stone), several hardy geraniums such as Geranium ‘renardii’ (white), Geranium sanguineum ‘Max Frei’ and Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’ as well as Erodium ‘Bishop’s Form, Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Golden Ball’ and Santolina chamaecyparissus and the non-flowering Chamomile ‘Treneague’
In a small garden like mine it is best to choose perhaps only one or two of each shape and repeat it, using colour as there isn’t a lot of opportunity for pattern and repetition. I need to add a few more grasses to provide more repetition and move some of my plants around to create the effect I am seeking.
The second important consideration is Texture. So combining the spiky Yucca, Echinops and Eryngium with softer textures such as Asters or Rudbeckias. And using architectural plants like the large-leaved Fatsia japonica and sword-like leaves of Crocosmia, Irises and Gladioli.
I have plenty to think about over the coming months. What to keep, and where to place them and what to remove .
As always, if you want a peek over other people’s garden then please pop over to our host, the lovely Jon, AKA ‘The Propagator’ where you find links to many more wonderful garden enthusiasts from all over the world.
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