Tuesday 24 March 2015

a beautiful bumblebee border

Not single plants, but drifts of them. All bearing simple flowers, providing seeds or shelter. For invertebrates, birds, mammals and reptiles. Natural and beautiful.

That's the vision: a skilful mix of annuals, perennials and ornamental grasses.

Piet Oudolph is the Dutch master who is responsible for this style of planting and we have visited many of his UK gardens.

What is striking is the informality of the planting combined with a very contemporary 'feel'. But behind the informality, considerable precision is hidden in making exactly the right choice and combination of perennials and grasses.

Exploring and trying to understand Piet's work has consumed much of our spare time for the past four years. We have visited his gardens and studied them; taken photos and collected copies of his planting plans. Jill has drifted around the plants, fingers playing with the inflorescences and seeding heads of the grasses.

Since 2011 she has selected, sown, cultivated and propagated her favourites in readiness for this year.

statuesque Inula magnifica
For my part, I have turned soil to create the first south-facing 56m2 bed on heavy Brackenhurst soil playing the game of stoop-to-hunt-the-couchgrass-rhizomes-embedded-in-the-clay. This game has much to commend it for families, believe me. I have about 100m2 still to go. You'll have a whale of a time. And what's so great about walking upright anyway? Over-rated. I have also barrowed well-rotted compost from my 2012 vintage until my back has refused to bend. Backs are generally over-hyped.

And finally this week we have planted:
Ice Plant (Sedum spectabile)
Yarrow (Achillea filipendulina 'Gold Plate')
Cone Flower (Echinacea purpurea)
Globe Thistle (Echinops Vitro)
Michaelmas Daisy (Aster laevis 'Calliope')
Daylily (Hemerocallis)
Korean Mint (Agastache rugosa 'Liquorice Blue')
Inula magnifica
Astrantia major
Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum 'Broadway Lights')
Loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata 'Firecracker')
Globe Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus)
Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing')
Bergamot (Monarda 'Cambridge Scarlet')

We hope that the varied flowers will be helpful to a wide range of our bumblebees especially.

And ornamental grasses:
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)
Tufted Hair Grass (Deschampsia cespitosa)
Golden Oats (Stipa gigantea)

We are still waiting to plant:
Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum)
Chinese Silver Grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Silberfeder')

We have also left two areas for annuals that will include Bullwort (Ammi magus) and Cosmos.

The whole area will be given a light mulching of chipping after the next decent rain.

This part of the garden packs quite an emotional punch for us, including as it does some of our favourite plants - Joe-Pye weed reminds us of early visits to RHS Wisley; Inula magnifica was first seen on a visit to Bluebell Nursery and Arboretum in Smisby at the start of the Cordwood project - and cone flowers bring memories of Monarch butterflies gorging on these beautiful flowers in Maine.

This first year is very much a 'draft' or 'work in progress'. We will have to see how the plants combine and how well they do in this border, shaded as part of it is by mature trees. The ground is heavy and some plants (e.g. the Ice Plants) may put on too much fleshy growth and insufficient flower.

But the main judges won't be us. We are not the Paul Hollywood or Mary Berry of Cordwood. Ours is populist gardening and our public is our wildlife. If the flowers hum with bees and flutter with butterflies and moths: if hedgehogs snuffle for worms and finches fight over winter seed heads - then we will have succeeded.

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