Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Stopping by Woods

As gardeners we can learn so much from the natural rythms all around us.

My cycle route takes me along the river Yar, where a ribbon of deciduous woods flanks the river on one side and the farmland on the other. To the sound of the curlew and sandpiper piping through the woods my attention was caught by the repeated patterns of vegetation mile upon mile.

Young hazels, willow and oaks formed the structure, with just a glimpse of catkin and tight coppery bud waiting to emerge. Ground ivy covered most of the marshy earth and in places reached for the sky, growing up into fallen branches and the taller trees, twining amongst liguana -like honeysuckles. Brackish pools appear randomly amongst the fallen leaves with escaping streams leaching out their precious gift of water into the surrounding vegetation. Whispering rushes guard these, forming an inpenetrable edge to the river. The early morning light washes over their feathery tops, changing tone with the seasons. Endlessly fascinating, wave upon wave as the wind brushes over them.

Clearings with fallen logs invite me to stop and stare - or play like many families do, so that their children can explore the wonder of the quiet glades. What can be more magical in a young child's eyes than tiny woven paths through vegatation, with logs to scramble over and hidden plant treasures peeping out from dark corners?

Stands of the glossy leafed evergreen fern, Asplenium scolopendrium punctuate this with their bold foliage. Strap-like leaves of iris foetidissima form further aysmmetric groupings in the clearings. In design terms we would talk of 'ground cover' and 'architectural specimens'!

The simplicity of this woodland planting can be echoed in our own garden plantings, especially in those wild boundary areas. Why, the endless formal hedge or cuprinol stained fence? A natural planting like this will not only please the eye, but provide home to much wildlife as well. Shade loving ornamentals and bulbs can be added to create further interest if desired.

My joy at this scene is yet to be heightened as I know that concealed and sheltering among the leaves are mile upon mile of primroses and my favourite, the celandines. Come spring they will highlight the path just like cats eyes in a road.

This truly is a lesson in 'less means more'.

© Chris Barnes

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Saturday, 3 November 2007

A Gentle Plea for Autumn Planting

A Gentle Plea for Autumn Planting

At a recent seminar I attended on water-wise gardening and water-saving methods at the Hillier Gardens in Hampshire I was staggered at the alarming statistic that the south of England receives less annual rainfall than parts of the Middle East!?

So I thought it may be timely to remind all gardeners, new and experienced that one of the best times for any form of gardening activity is the autumn.

It has become glaringly obvious this year that the ‘window of opportunity’ for any real gardening activity is getting shorter. So begin to plan ahead for the autumn and don’t wait another season before you are caught out by either water-shortages or long dry winters or indeed a long wet spell!!

Autumn has always been the best time for fruit tree, ornamental tree and shrub planting, particularly bare-root hedging plants. But it is also an ideal time for most ground preparation and for planting of all garden plants. The soil will still be warm and with a decrease in day-time temperatures and increased rainfall, growing conditions are ideal to give plants a good start. If garden borders are given a good mulch of organic matter as well it will both help to feed the soil over the winter period and also help to conserve moisture if there is a hose-pipe ban. A bulk purchase of compost is a very good investment as is increasing water butt capacity and installing other rain saving devices.

I know I speak for most horticultural professionals when I say that we can best meet out clients needs if gardening projects are planned now and worked on over the autumn and winter period. It is simply impossible to fulfil all gardening tasks between the Easter Bank Holiday and the May Bank Holiday – so make plans now and begin to act on them. Because if all predictions are correct we are going to have to get used to these changing weather patterns and adapt our gardening practises sooner rather than later.

Chris Barnes – garden design, consultation and management http://www.chrisbarnesgardens.co.uk

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Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Death by Gravel

Having built and demonstrated the strengths of Gravel Gardens I find myself being asked to help others do the same. Starting from scratch is often easier than doing a re-design which was what I was asked to do recently. I wasn't sure I was up to this task when I saw the absolutely huge expanse of gravel that lay before me. What was the drive and where did the garden start and finish? It was really hard to tell there was so much gravel and so little planting.

But my Clients were really good folks and honest about the weaknesses of their newly acquired garden. They had seen the gravel garden at Afton Park with it's flowing grasses, architectural shapes and pools of seasonal colour and realised that their own gravel garden was wanting.

Fortunately, I knew a little of the history of both the house, site and garden so between us we were able to piece together what must have been the rationale behind this mass use of gravel. The site was indeed demanding. Over the years it had been used as a builders yard where concrete blocks were at one time manufactured, then a joinery workshop and finally a conversion to a beautiful barn home. The gravel had simply been poured down to conceal a multitude of sins, the worst of which was vast areas of solid concrete. The only redeeming factor was that the owners of the joinery workshop had laid some decking paths and tracking in and around the gravel which broke up this mass surface area. A huge concrete cruciform and two chronically congested wooden planters with a palm and dogwood desperate to be re-planted had been used to 'give interest' to the gravel plus a motley collection of pots of all persuasions with a curious collection of everything from miniature conifers (yuk! sorry but just don't like them) to Pennisetum grasses (lovely!). The previous owners had clearly tried but lost their way in this sun-baked, shallow soiled expanse of building materials.

But how to proceed? A closer examination of the planting within the gravel was revealing. It was clear that several plant species were holding their own and indeed beginning to colonise this inhospitable area. Stipa tenuissima was doing well, Alchemilla mollis , Calendula officinalis, Linaria were all self-seeding into the gravel. Large carpets of 'Snow in Summer' with its lax grey foliage and white flowers was dominating the edges, but lacked the all important contrast of a stronger colour nearby with the two exceptions of a stunning pool of magenta dianthus and a couple of mounds of Armeria maritima or Common Thrift. I was encouraged by these survivors and felt by adding to the pallete of plants within this garden and upping the ratio of plants to gravel we could alter the whole character of the garden.

As ever, I began to make my mental list of plants for hot, dry, situations over shallow soil. What I was looking for was a contrast in leaf shape, texture and form. Stronger colours were needed to punctuate the blandness of the gravel. More grasses were needed both tall spires and more flowing examples. Flat, creeping ground-huggers would offer another dimension also. I was definitely beginning to get excited. Then my Client took me over to their newly built Alitex Greenhouse which had some newly acquired stunning architectural plants in it. Now we were cooking . . . . .

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