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.
See here for the participant’s guide.
Lots of great photos and some tips I need to note down. I’m finding myself more drawn to grasses of late and the few I have coped well in the heat.
Most of my grasses have done OK, except one Carex which is very brown. I might remove that one and plant a taller grass in its place.
Feathery, frondy things are lovely. I really like the verbena, and your rudbeckia growing in the grasses make a nice pop of colour. Did you make it to a garden today? 🤗💗
The grasses have done well except for one of the Carex which is brown! That might come out and make way for one of the taller ones. The verbena is all self-seeded and growing mainly in the gravel! No garden today, the closest one was closed, but open tomorrow so fingers crossed. 🤞
We were in the loveliest house on the edge of Pateley Bridge yesterday. Definitely how the other half live but the nicest couple and you could have had such fun with their garden. Good luck for today. We’ll be at Ripley Castle and gardens 🤗🏰💕
They may take over the garden, but I do like verbena boniarensis. Your pictured of areas of your garden are lovely. I go for a lot of one variety rather than a little of many varieties…..yes, I’m rather lazy.
The verbena has certainly made an impact this year, self-seeding into the gravel so not very well rooted in the wind! Still it is easy to pull out and I am hoping it seeds about more for next year.
pictures, not pictured.🙄
Very nice piece to read–in fact, worth reading from time to time to remind us of some basics. Kudos.
Thanks Susan. Glad you enjoyed the post. I just hope I can carry out all the work that needs to be done so that my garden is more consistent than it is now.
You are using your photographer’s eye in the garden. I am much more disorganised in my photographs and the garden. Still, I try to bear it in mind because it works. Amelia
I am quite obsessed with flower photography so always go out to take the photos for this weekly post with an eye on what looks good, glad you like the results!
I see what you mean – you have been thinking! Your redesign sounds beautiful. Echinops and Eryngium are welcome for their blue as well as their texture. I’ve never grown grasses (not on purpose anyway), but yours look wonderful in the light, and they’ll help create the river effect you mention.
Well I have 3 more of the same grass on their way, so it’s simply a matter of rearranging everything into the right place. Did I say simply? 🙄
What an interesting post, Jude, which I really enjoyed reading – and the photos were brilliant as well as perfect for illustrating the points you were making (but I wouldn’t expect anything other than excellent photos, of course!). Your grasses really do make n impact and I love the little mounds in the photo near the end
Thanks Cathy. Looking at photos from last year to this I am amazed at how much those mounds of the chamomile have grown! In fact I am considering removing all the pebbles from that area and mulching it with bark as very soon there will be no pebbles to be seen and I can certainly reuse them elsewhere.
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