I am sitting here in the study, listening to the rain being driven onto the windows by the gale, obsessing about the front garden. Again. Having lived with it for six months now, I feel we are finally starting to get to know one another. Structure apart (for which see the End of Month View post when I get it finished), the focus of my obsession is the planting. Colour, form, feel. What do I want? What does the garden, and the context, demand? And do these coincide?! I find myself falling more and more in love with the front garden and the opportunities it offers. True, there are significant challenges – the fence (part of which blew down today), the pond, the circle bed. But I never fail to be entranced by the “where” of it, the view out across the bay to the cliffs, the wide skies, the weather. Even today, sat eating my lunch, my attention was continually stolen away from my book by the play of the wind in the grasses and shrubs, the way the hazel shone out despite the driving rain and overall grey, the dark slate of the sea lightened by frequent white horses and the crashing of waves on rocks.
It is the time of year for northern hemisphere gardeners to find refuge in magazines, books, seed catalogues, even photos of the garden in warmer times. The time of year for seed orders. Which is my current problem. I did the edibles order with no trouble at all, it practically wrote itself. I know what I want to (try to) grow and eat, I know where it is going to be planted. My seeds are all sorted into bags by sowing month, and the first have been set off. There is a slight glitch in that my compost delivery has been delayed by all that snow, but overall, under control.
The ornamentals, on the other hand, are giving me trouble. With a capital ‘T’. It is a large front garden. I have a small budget. Apart from some shrubs that I brought with me, and a handful I have acquired since arriving here, it will be filled with annuals and, eventually, perennials. Most of which I want to grow from seed. So far so good. But the question arises, what perennials? What feel do I want? What is the colour palette? What is the season of interest? I have spent months pouring over books and magazines and wandering the internet collecting inspiring images and ideas. There are many inspirational images, and oh, so very many plants I would love to grow. But the interesting thing is that the more time I have spent winnowing down the images I am drawn to the more it becomes apparent that the planting schemes that I sigh over, that really make my heart sing, are simple. The palette of plants is limited, leading to a great sense of calm. A few plants are repeated, giving rhythm and continuity. There are strongly contrasting shapes and textures. And if I am going to at least attempt to create my own version of calm beauty that enhances but doesn’t overwhelm the view that I love, then a list of 33 different plants that I apparently intend to grow from seed simply will not do…
It’s interesting, the assumptions I approached this project with and what has happened to them. I was certain I wanted a palette of predominantly blues, purples, silvers. It stands to reason, in a coastal garden, that already has some silver and white and blue. And given how much I love verbena bonariensis and how long I have wanted to grow perovskia – which does very well here – not to mention my long suppressed love of eryngiums, the colour palette seemed set. Except. This is an area of browns, bronzes, greens and greys. True, the sea and sky can be deep blue at times, but the beach is shades of brown, with outcrops of rock in shades of green, red and brown. The cliffs are brown. The gorse glows yellow at times, and there is the purple haze of heather in its season, but the plants in the front garden that settle really well into the surrounding landscape are the carex, the blond wisps of stipa tenuissima, the soft yellow of the witch hazel, the muted shades of the shrub roses. Which doesn’t mean an end to my dreams of Russian sage and eryngiums, you only have to look at the way the purple heather sings out against the brown rock of the copper mines, but it does mean that mixing in pale yellows and rusty orangy-browns feels right. And lots of green and white, binding it all together.
So that means a big fat yes to digitalis ferruginea and the lovely pale yellow Giant Scabious. It means keeping all the carex and stipa, and finding a grass to complement them that has more height and presence – (Stipa arundinaceae – or should I be calling it Anemanthele lessoniana – is a contender). I definitely want plenty of grasses, I want to be able to watch them dance in the wind, and I may yet fork out for a trio of Calamagrostis ‘Overdam’. It means that plants that will tolerate full sun and partial shade are preferable, because I will be able to use them throughout the garden, which will help knit it together. I want some winter structure, so evergreen euphorbias like Euphorbia myrsinites could be really useful, I already have the carex and stipa, and I have inherited a collection of hebes, which could also work well. Ironically, it also means that the golden gravel that I was angsting about a few months ago fits in perfectly, so there you go.
The “season of interest” side of things has been interesting. I don’t want all parts of the garden to have to be interesting all the time, I think it will then inevitably wind up looking bitty. On the other hand I have a flowering cherry currently lurking in a pot that I want to use in the fence border, which already has the twisted willows which offer winter interest, and I have a spindle. I am thinking the fence border, at least the section near the house which is in part shade, will be a Spring and Autumn garden, with Spring bulbs, hellebores, blossom, the Smoke Bush also lurking in a pot for a blaze of Autumn colour. The center of the garden should sing loudest in summer, along with the wall border. And I keep having this fantasy of turning the end of the garden, at the far side of where the pond currently sits, into a sunset border, filled with soft yellows and oranges, since the sun sets over that corner and turns the sky some wonderful colours. I will have to be careful of that though. The bright bedding in the circle bed drew the eye all summer, detracting from the view. I don’t want to make the same mistake.
For contrasting shapes I am tempted by phormiums, but they are pricey and grow enormous here. I’d like to try Astelia, since that would carry the silver over into the partially shady border, and the much coveted eryngiums will make a stark contrast to other, more billowy, plants. The question is, can I really winnow down my list of “must have” plants to something that (a) I could reasonably expect to grow over the coming couple of years and (b) will form a coherent whole, rather than just satisfying my pent up desire to grow various sun loving perennials that I have never had scope for before… Watch this space…