Garden Landscape Design – Planting for Year-Round Interest
Garden Landscape Design
Planting for year-round interest
In an ideal world, without limits of space, time, or money we could have special gardens reserved only for bearded , for peonies, for michaelmas daisies or any flowers, for that matter, that for a few radiant weeks would be looking their most glorious, and for the remainder of the year would be best forgotten. Hidden behind high walls, these gardens would be only visited in their prime. Imagine for example a winter garden, enclosed by cloisters, sheltered from the outside world, flagged in mellow sandstone in which you would only grow mimosa, the earliest camellias, scented tender jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum), and the lovely pale yellow Coronilla glauca ‘Citrina’. There would be an ancient specimen of wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox ‘Luteus’) in the centre of the quadrangle, and from each corner the delightful fragrance of Daphne bholua would be carried on the air. A great quantity of the rare Narcissus minor `Cedric Morris’, its little lemon-yellow blooming on the shortest day of the year, would shine from the feet of the wintersweet. And in all the shady spots would be carpets of coum, whose flowers in white, pink and vivid magenta seem way too delicate to survive mid-winter.
However, most of us have gardens far too small to indulge in such ideas. A single border may have to contain all the different elements at once: something of interest in bloom most days of the year, something delicious to sniff, some scented leaves to crush and hold to your nose, some patterned foliage, and an occasional rare and delectable plant in flower, to come upon by chance. The seductive curve of a petal, the sinister hood of an aroid or a billowing bank of shimmering colour may enchant equally —but we would ideally like all these sensations at once, and in a very small space. There are several ways in which to assess the plants you choose to ensure that there is always something to look at in the borders.
Length of flowering
Always consider for how long a particular plant is going to contribute to your garden picture: does it have one brief moment of glory like an oriental poppy (Papaver orientale cultivar) or bearded, or is it going to decorate throughout the year with its eye-catching shape, like a yucca, that is highlighted in summer with spires of creamy bells? Some plants have flowers that are remarkably fleeting but they would still deserve a place, such as the exquisite single peony, Paeonia obovata alba or the giant , Cardiocrinum giganteum.
Plants that seed themselves are a special bonus. Positioning themselves at random, in a spot you would never have thought of, they quickly soften the raw look of a new border. One can never have enough of the endearing little heartsease or wild pansy (tricolor) or Venus’ navel wort (Omphalodes linifolia), a confection of white and ice-blue. If you have a bed that has a muddled, disunited look, let Campanula persicifolia, the white musk mallow (Malva moschata alba) and Tanacetum parthenium scatter themselves here and there — they will often bring the whole thing together. Round up some of your foxgloves in early autumn and plant them together in groups to fill gaps. (You can tell whether foxglove seedlings are going to be pink or white by looking carefully at the base of the leaf stalks. If you just want white foxgloves, choose only those that are totally without a pink flush.) And do nor forget columbines ( vulgaris), equally happy in sun or shade, and one of the mainstays of the garden in early summer. As the columbines fade, (Linaria purpurea) will take over for the rest of the season. An immigrant from Europe, that has come to stay for good, it will add a useful note of height with 90cm (3ft) spires of tiny purple flowers.
Planting in layers
To make the best possible use of every bit of ground, always think of planting in layers:, their fading leaves masked, by small, ground-covering plants and , are complemented in turn by nearby shrubs, while an occasional small tree adds height. Climbing plants ramble on and up through each layer and, like painting a picture, you can add patches of colour with and .
As you walk round the garden, instead of letting your eye glide from flower to flower in a haze of self-congratulation, search out critically any areas of bare soil, empty of colour and interest. Perhaps the resident plants are late arrivals on the scene (in which case why have you not interplanted them with bulbs?) or they may, like oriental , have finished the summer season and are now having a rest. You can pull away their tired foliage (as you can with alstroemerias in later summer) and plant some late-sown annuals on top.
It is a race between you and nature as to who colonizes any empty soil first. There are a great many small plants — periwinkles (Vinca), Alchemilla, London pride (Saxifraga x urbium), Viola labradorica, Cyclamen hederifolium to name but a few — that are only too happy to be given a place undertrees and shrubs, so plant some of these rather than let the weeds take over. And have a look at your trees and shrubs with a very circumspect eye — might they be suitable hosts for climbers?
Gardening is a much more brain taxing occupation than you might think and you should always keep a notebook and pencil to hand (if it is raining a pencil will still work, a pen will not). Make notes about gaps in your borders and try to find out which plants of the season have been forgotten; look up books, visit other gardens and pester fellow gardeners with questions. Even make a surreptitious visit to the nearest nursery and buy plants in full flower if need be: though the plants might not be at their best to start with, at least this way you have a fine chance of getting the right plant in the right place first time.