As I play around with ideas for what to do with the front garden, I very much want to make sure that whatever I create sits happily in the surrounding context, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious. A sense of place can make an enormous difference to how a garden feels, though I certainly want to avoid both pastiche and cliché!
Part of it is that wonderful view, it forms the backdrop for whatever I do out the front. The view changes constantly, of course, as do the colours, dependant on the state of the tide, the weather. Now, all is dark slate grey with a faint glow of yellow from the lichen on the cliffs opposite. The only blue is from a stray recycling bin.
The local rock tends to gentle shades of green – I couldn’t resist picking this up from the beach, and it will find it’s way into the garden in due course. For now it makes a rather good doorstop.
However, it is also about learning what plants grow naturally around here, and what plants people typically grow in their gardens – it’s not all hydrangeas, crocosmia and fuchsias, though they do seem to be the holy trinity! So when we decided to take a stroll along the cliff path the other evening, I took my camera with me.
Ironically, virtually the first plant I saw was crocosmia! Obviously a garden escapee, since it looks suspiciously like ‘Lucifer’ rather than the orange of the wild montbretia. It looks surprisingly at home above the rock pools.
There was also a hedge of Rosa rugosa in front of one of the many holiday homes that edges the cliffs.
I really like Rosa rugosa, the open flowers, the richly coloured hips, and patently it survives quite happily in this very exposed position. I have been wondering about planting some in the front garden, possibly the white version.
I also saw a lot of wild carrot. I love umbels, and have lots of Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’ seedlings to plant in the back garden when I get hold of some compost, but I think something like Ammi majus might be better in the front. Not that I am trying to mimic everything I see, honest, but in my mind’s eye I am beginning to imagine wafts of silver, purple, blue, pink, and white umbels would help knit it all together. We’ll see, I’ll have changed my mind again in another couple of days!
One plant I see everywhere around here, from gardens to verges to the cliffs, is ragwort. It is so bright and sunny it always makes me smile, and it looks stunning set against a blue sky.
The huge patch we saw up on the cliff walk literally made me stop dead in my tracks it was so dramatic. Other things are altogether more subtle. There is lots of common knapweed (Centaurea nigra) growing along the cliff path, and in the roadside verges around the less well tended areas of the village.
I love the form, and this (or perhaps a slightly less invasive version) definitely deserves a place, not least because it is a huge favourite of lots of different types of butterfly.
One thing I noticed was that the grasses currently in flower have stiff, oat-like ears to them, forming wonderful silhouettes. It makes me think about planting something like Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’, which has a reputation for standing up to the wind well. I loved how nature had it combined with knapweed.
I also loved the combed effect of this grass growing at the base of a rather beautiful wall, a lovely edging to the path, worthy of a show garden it was so immaculate!
One plant that you always expect to see in this kind of environment is Sea Thrift, Centaurea nigra. I love it, and round here you get huge carpets of it wherever there is a little bit of soil amongst the rocks. I must grow some, though I may go for one of the varieties with deeper, almost magenta, flowers, or perhaps a white form. Either way it is a beautiful little plant, I love the delicacy of the wiry stems.
I have no intention of trying to emulate a cliff top environment in my garden, for one thing there are far too many other plants I am itching to grow, but I think taking note of what grows naturally around here will help me create a garden that feels comfortable and harmonious. That’s the theory, anyway. And in the mean time there are the cliff views themselves to enjoy, with cormorants, sunsets, and apparently, later in the year, seals to watch for! I am a very lucky girl.