Thursday, 28 March 2013

Eye Candy

Plant of the Week - Cynara cardunculus (Cardoon)

Eye Candy Credentials - It might seem slightly odd to have this summer flowering species as plant of the week, but the new leaves are simply stunning.  They are deeply cut and intensly silver with an almost moonlit glow to them.  The leaves are also very textural and in the low morning and afternoon sun create some good shadow lines.

How to Grow - Cardoons, which are related to globe artichokes, need well drained soil and as much sun as possible.  They do get quite large so if possible grow them out of strong winds otherwise you may need to give them some support to stop the flowering stems from falling over.  They will give structural interest all year round.  Once the purple thistle like flower heads have faded do not cut them off as they will stay more or less intact all through the winter.

Looks Good With - Almost anything actually!  In early spring the new foliage looks great with strong coloured tulips such as Queen of Night or China Pink.  Pick up on the silver leaves with Stachys byzantina.  Echo the purple of the flowers with Agastache 'Black Adder'.

Technical Stuff - Cardoons are perennials and originate from the South West Medeterranean and Morocco.  They will grow to about 1.5m high and spread about 1.2m. 

Friday, 22 March 2013

What a Difference a Year Makes

 This is so depressing I hardly dare post it, but thought it might be interesting.

If a picture speaks a thousand words then all I really need to say is that these images were taken on the 23rd March 2012. 



And today through the rain.  Need I say more?

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Eye Candy

Plant of the Week - Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii.

Eye Candy Credentials - Huge yellow green flowers give a welcome punch of zingy colour which cannot fail to brighten a damp and grey early spring.

How to Grow - There are Euphorbias for almost every imaginable situation in a garden, but this variety needs sun and well drained soil.  The flowers are biennial so once they have gone over you will need to cut the stems back to the ground and a new batch will emerge.  Just a word of caution - the sap of Euphorbias is an irritant so wear gloves and don't get it on your skin.

Looks Good With - Aquilegia vulgaris var stellata 'Black Barlow', Anemanthele lessoniana, Geum 'Princess Juliana', Iris 'Sultan's Palace'.

Technical Stuff - Technically a sub-shrub, this variety comes from Portugal and the Western Mediterranean so will cope with some drought once it is established.  It is evergreen and will reach about 1.2m high and 1.2m spread.  As such it is a good structure plant to use.  However it can get a bit leggy so is best planted with mound forming partners to hide its embarrassment.  The Anemanthele does this job well. 

Monday, 18 March 2013

The Grass is always greener – or is it?

 An immaculate emerald lawn is one of the most expensive things you can have in your garden.

While the initial outlay for either turf or grass seed is not particularly high, the costs involved in maintaining a perfect green carpet are huge and the scope for getting it wrong is vast.  Perfect lawns have to be tended continuously.  This means hours of work a week – weeding, feeding, cutting and trimming.  If left for only two weeks during dry spells they turn brown.  If it rains for the same period they grow long and lush enough to hide a family of elephants.

So what to do? 

Well, if you think that life is too short, there are alternatives.  And, with a bit of imagination, you can have something beautiful which will give a lot of enjoyment and possibly even soothe your ‘green’ conscience.

First – as in all design matters – decide what you actually need your lawn for.

If it is for children to kick balls around on then a very simple maintenance programme may be all you need.  However even mowing can be creative.  Try raising the height of the blades to create patterns.  If you don’t like what you have ‘drawn’ in the grass simply cut it and try again.  Just a few centimetres height difference is all you need.  Look upon the lawn as a blank canvas, you need only be limited by your imagination.

You could plant small areas with other forms of ground cover such as creeping thymes or chamomile which look lovely and smell even better.

If your lawn is simply an open space in the middle of the garden try to leave some areas to grow long.  You will be amazed by what comes up.  Lovely grasses and wild flowers will appear.  One note however – never have long grass directly abutting a flower bed as it will creep in and look as if you simply neglect your garden.  Just mow around the edges.

Another alternative is to do away with your lawn, in total or in part, and sow an annual or perennial wildflower meadow.  Depending on the type of seed mix you may only have to cut it once a year to maintain it.  For the remaining 364½ days you can simply enjoy it.  Watch the grasses and flowers grow and see the numbers of insects and mini-beasts that set up home.

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Thursday, 14 March 2013

Eye Candy

Plant of the Week - The (humble) Crocus.


Eye Candy Credentials - What is there to say other than the sight of swaths of these lovely little flowers naturalised in grass really herald the start of spring.  The colours positively glow and if you get up close and personal many of them have a beautiful perfume.  Bees are quite partial too - so grow them for this reason alone.  They are a valuable early source of nectar and pollen.

How to Grow - They need full sun or dappled shade and well drained soil so that they don't rot.  Look best planted in drifts in lawns.  Get the corms in Autumn and plant about 8 - 10 cm deep.  Try planting in a circle around the trunks of deciduous trees or shrubs.  This way you will know where they are so that you don't mow the lawn until their leaves have died back.

Look Good With - Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrops), Cyclamen coum, Iris reticulata.
Technical Stuff - a genus of about 80 species of dwarf perennials grown from corms. Originating from a wide range of habitats from coastal to sub-alpine regions in central and southern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and Western China.  Crocus tommasinianus is the best variety for naturalising in grass.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Slopes Don't Need to be an Uphill Struggle

The South Hams is an exceptionally beautiful part of Devon.  However in one respect it is sorely lacking - flat, level ground

Most people with anything larger than a terrace will have to deal with a garden which slopes.  Sloping land might not be the easiest or cheapest to design, but it should not be looked upon with despair.  Rather think of it as a design opportunity and not a problem to overcome because, unless you are going to take really drastic action, you cannot change it.  So embrace your slopes, hills and cliffs – all is not lost.

The first thing to do, as in all garden and landscape design, is to assess what you have.  How steep is it?  Which way does it slope in relation to your property – do you look up or down it?  Is there any danger of flooding?  Which way does it face and how do the shadows fall?

Once you know what you have got you then need to decide what you want to achieve.  Do you need areas of level lawn and if so how large do they need to be?  Terraces or decks are important and obviously need to be level.  A terrace close to the house might be more convenient for eating, but one set at a higher level may get more sun.  Might you need steps or retaining walls?  Terracing a garden can create lovely ‘enclosed’ areas.  You may not be able to have a natural looking pond, but cascades or streams look and sound wonderful.

When you know where you are going in design terms there are a few basic rules that need to be considered.

·         Slopes change and compress perspective.  Geometric shapes only really work when they are on the horizontal plane.  Otherwise they distort and look odd.
·         Informal shapes allow you to work with the natural slope.
·         Planting can be used to emphasise or disguise a slope.  Some plants look best when seen from above, others are most impressive when seen from below.
·         Try to keep any soil that is dug out in the garden and use it to build up other areas – this is called ‘cut and fill’.

So don’t despair, some of the most dramatic, dynamic and stunning gardens are on slopes.