(In the photo above - Swan River daisies)
I had a productive morning - a two hour walk, plus an hour and a half of yoga, I bought some groceries and joined the library. Then came home and have been languishing like a consumptive Victorian heroine in dire need of smelling salts ever since. I'm in the conservatory which is creaking like old bones as it's a ridiculously windy day. My back garden's surrounded by a fairly low fence which lets the wind gust over. (Need to get higher fencing and some trellis.) The top heavy sunflowers are bending and swaying and - despite being staked - one of them's broken off.
Anyway, I'm inside, eating far too many digestives - so dunkable in a nice cuppa tea - and reading 'Designing with Plants' by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury. I've only recently become familiar with the term 'prairie planting' and quite by chance stumbled across the 'leading plantsman in Europe' Piet Oudolf who is massively influential with that style of gardening.
I'd gone into the local village library and mooched around the shelves, and was amazed to find this book available. I really want to learn how to put together successful borders, and love this idea of prairie planting - mixing perennials with grasses, getting the mix of colours and textures, allowing the plants to go through their life cycle and finding pleasure in the seed heads and decay as much as the stunning summer flowers.
I'm trying to teach myself garden design.
I'd love to do a course in it, but they look too technical and dry. They look the kind of courses that require you to fiddle with spreadsheets and stare at a computer screen for much of the day.
(Sorry, this and the rest of the photos used are stock images, so don't know the specific plant varieties.)
So I'm going to teach myself the parts of garden design that appeal to me, and the Piet Oudolf book begins with taking you through 'FORM'. The shape of plants. These are divided into main groups:
SPIRES - these are what they sound like, tall spikes of plants. Think of foxgloves reaching skyward, stems packed with flowers. Other spires are: Verbena Hastata, Salvia 'Dear Anja' or Baptisia Iactea. The more tightly packed the flowers on the stems are, the purer and cleaner the shape. Spires are best planted in clumps rather than a single plant on its own.
BUTTONS & GLOBES - think of Echinops, those globe like thistles or Allium seedheads once the flowers have finished. Buttons and globes are described by the authors as defined points. They're clusters of tightly packed flowers. Other examples are Knautia macedonica or Astrantia major 'Roma'.
PLUMES - think of plumes as soft connections between your spires. in a border They're made up of a myriad of tiny little flowers arranged in loose, sometimes transparent ways. Plumes look good en masse. If you've planted lots of bold shapes in your border you can use plumes to soften the more clearly defined planting. Examples of plumes are Rodgersia, Persicaria polymorpha or Filipendula rubra 'Venusta'.
UMBELS - lots of common wildflowers and weeds have these shapes. Think of upturned bowls (or the frame of an upturned umbrella). These gently rounded shapes contrast with those reach-for-the-sky, energetic spires. Examples of umbels are fennel, Angelica gigas, Sedum 'Stardust' or Achillea 'Terracotta'.
DAISIES - I think we're all pretty familiar with daisies, whether we're talking about Rudbeckia, Asters, Heleniums or Echinacea purpurea. We associate daisies with sunshine and happiness, and long summer days when hopes are high.
SCREENS & CURTAINS - These are plants that aren't solid and chunky, but thin enough to be seen through. You get networks of stems, leaves and flowers. They're insubstantial plants, such as Stipa gigantea or the young fennel plant when its got narrow leaves and sparse umbels. Think of Verbena bonariensis when it's at the front of a border. You can look past it and through it to what's behind.
The book then moves on to COLOURS, grouping them as:
HOT - your reds and oranges. Colours that shout 'hey! look at me!'. The authors caution you to use these colours sparingly. Also - interesting to realise - red's the first colour to disappear at dusk, meaning a red border takes on a sombre quality in the evening light. Hot colours are found with red tulips and poppies, or red peonies.
COOL - blue is a cool colour and one that seems to recede, so if you plant it in a border you're adding depth. Most blue flowers contain some red, meaning you can pair them up nicely with purples and violets (which contain even more red). If you're using a blue flowering plant that has a very grey or metallic quality to it, you need to place it carefully. Allow it's unusual colouring to be appreciated.
Examples are Campanula latifolia 'Gloaming' or Clematis integrifolia.
The next grouping of colours are -
SWEET - think pink. Whether that's baby pink or shocking. It's a superb linking colour that can be used to make connections between other stronger shades, but take care with some pinks as overusing them can be cloying. Too sickly sweet and bland. Examples of pink flowers abound, and include pink poppies, Sanguisorba stipulata and Salvia pratensis 'Lapis Lazuli'.
Next up are -
SOMBRE - these are the unusual colours, the ones with a sense of mystery to them. The sort of plants that make people bend down to take a look and ask 'what's this one called?'. Every garden needs an element of surprise, and touches of sombre colours can provide that. Examples are: Astrantia major 'Claret' and Cirsium rivulare 'Atropurpureum' (which is a red thistle).
Finally, we come to -
EARTHY - these are the browns found in grasses, and in plants that're going to seed and dying back. There's beauty to be found in plants that're past their best, as well as habitat for small insects. Examples of earthy colours are found, as already noted, in grasses but also in Echinacea purpurea once it's finished flowering and has gone to seed. Also Veratrum nigrum.
Well, that's what I've learnt so far. I hope you've found that useful too as I'm certainly looking at plants with new eyes now. That one's a classic globe shape. That's an umbel. That's a sweet colour, that's earthy.
Anyone else intrigued by the work of Piet Oudolf? Maybe you've been familiar with his work for years?
Moved from a garden-less city flat in the South West to a Yorkshire village in 2016. I now have a garden ... of sorts.