5 essential … plants for a relaxed country look

As much of my work is in country gardens around Hampshire, Surrey & Sussex, I often need to find ways to blend the plants inside the garden with those in the wider landscape beyond the garden boundaries. There are a number of plants which I use for that purpose, and also where the planting needs to transition from cultivated flower beds to a wilder look in the further reaches of a garden, where wildflowers such as daisies and cow parsley may be growing for example.

With millions of people watching Country File on the TV every week, there’s no doubt that an awful lot of us hanker after the Great Outdoors and yearn for a touch of countryside in our lives, so even if you have a small suburban plot by choosing the right plants to put in it you can bring a flavour of country life into your own garden.

You can’t get much more ‘relaxed country look’ than Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’. Romantic as the name sounds, this is in fact a rather more sophisticated and elegant form of the very familiar cow parsley.

Anthriscus AS

 

The difference is in the foliage, still deeply cut and lacy but a wonderful deep purple/black in colour that perfectly offsets the umbels of delicate creamy white flowers appearing from May to July. Rising to a height of 1m, but with a dainty spread of just 30cm and happy in sun or partial shade, this short-lived perennial or biennial will self-seed freely and makes a perfect companion for ornamental grasses in less formal or meadow areas of the garden. Fully hardy and prefers well drained soil.

Foxgloves are a wonderful addition to natural planting schemes, providing vertical interest and self-seeding freely. And bees love them too! Digitalis ‘Pam’s Choice’ is a particularly attractive form, its nodding white trumpets of flowers heavily dotted and splashed inside with deep maroon.

Digitalis AS

The flowers last from May to July on stems that reach 1.5m high and the basal rosettes of soft green leaves spread to about 45cm. They like a moist, humus rich soil and full sun to partial shade, but don’t worry too much about positioning – once you have them in the garden, one of the joys of foxgloves is watching them pop up each season where they know they’ll be happy.

Leucanthemum x superbum ‘TE Killin’ has been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit for consistent and reliable flowers of great beauty. The large, white, semi-double, daisy-like flowers have golden yellow centres and are held on sturdy stems with dark green leaves from July to August.

Leucanthemum ©RHS

With a height and spread of 80cm x 60cm this makes an excellent mid-border plant and gives a relaxed, meadow-like feel to any summer border, looking especially effective when planted in large drifts. An easy-to-care-for, free flowering and fully hardy perennial happy on any reasonably moist and fertile soil in full sun or partial shade.

Viburnum Opulus ‘Roseum’ (also known as ‘Sterile’ which doesn’t sound half as nice!) is a beautiful large shrub which is covered with snowball-like white flowers in May and June. Berries follow the flowers and later in the year, the fresh green leaves turn a beautiful purple-red colour before dropping. This is not a fussy plant, thriving in sun or some shade, and any reasonably fertile soil – just give it plenty of room as it could potentially reach a height and spread of up to 4 metres.

Vib opulus Roseum RHS

A smaller variety of this plant is Viburnum Opulus compactum, at approximately 1.5m height and spread – making it a much more manageable shrub for a smaller garden.

Viburnum Opulus (commonly known as ‘Guelder Rose’ even though it isn’t a rose!) is often used in native mixed hedges and is a magnet for wildlife as well as being hardy enough to cope with exposed positions.

Everyone loves honeysuckle don’t they?! I do anyway, and Lonicera periclymenum ‘Graham Thomas’ is a climber I plant regularly when I don’t need something neat and well-behaved!

Lonicera AS

This is ideal to plant on a large pergola structure or to scramble over walls or through trees. The flowers are a pale creamy yellow and are at their most fragrant on a warm summer evening. This is a vigorous twining plant and it will get up to 6 or 7 metres high, so it needs a lot of space as well as sturdy support.

It’s an easy plant to grow, tolerating most soil types plus some shade, (although it’s at its best in a sunny position for maximum fragrance). It’s also a valuable plant for wildlife with nectar and berries attracting bees, butterflies and birds.

Other plants which I like to use for the country look include the ornamental grass Deschampsia ‘Goldtau’, the brilliant red poppy Papaver ‘Beauty of Livermere’, Crataegus monogyna (Hawthorn) and the wild rose, Rosa rugosa.

Photos:  Firgrove Photographic, Royal Horticultural Society

Growing annual flowers for summer colour

marigolds

Marigolds add a splash of colour all summer long

One of the quickest and cheapest ways to fill your garden with a splash of summer colour is to grow hardy annuals.  These are flowers which you can sow as seeds directly in to the ground in spring (when the ground has warmed up), and which will reward you with masses of flowers over the summer months.  Normally the time to do this is March but this year it’s been so cold there would have been little point!   But there’s no time like the present and it would be worth giving this a go now and, all being well, in 12 weeks’ time your garden will be a riot of colour.

Growing annuals is an ideal way to fill gaps in your borders if you have spring or autumn plants which are over or yet to perform, or if you have newly planted borders which are still looking a bit bare and need a bit of oomph (technical term!).  They are very useful too to bridge what can be a difficult time between early and late summer flowering when a lot of gardens suffer from a bit of a lull in interest.

sunflowers by Firgrove Photographic

Statuesque Sunflowers to make a statement

Or, if you like to grow flowers for cutting, you can create a simple cutting garden or mini wildflower meadow packed with beautiful annual flowers.  And there’s no doubt that encouraging children to grow annuals is the perfect way to get them interested in gardening.  All you need is a sunny spot, some well-prepared (weeded and dug over) and well-drained soil, and a handful of seed packets.  What could be simpler?!

If you garden on heavy soil, try adding compost and grit to improve drainage.  If your soil is light you should be fine – don’t add compost as you don’t want to make the soil too rich; these annuals will prefer a light relatively poor soil.

Here are a few ideas of plants to try:

Eschscholzia Californica

Californian Poppy

Eschscholzia californica  (Californian poppy)

Nigella, Love in a Mist

Nigella

Nigella (Love in a Mist)

Calendula officinalis ‘Indian Prince’ (English Marigold)
Helianthus (sunflowers)
Cerinthe major purpurascens   (Honeywort)

Salvia hormium (Clary sage)
Papaver (annual poppies)
Limnanthes (poached-egg flower)

cornflowers by Firgrove Photographic

Cornflowers

Centaurea cyanus (cornflower)

nasturtium edible flowers

Nasturtium – a colourful addition to both gardens and salads!

Nasturtium

Lathyrus (Sweet peas)

What’s more, one advantage of growing annuals like these is that very often they will seed around your garden so you won’t just get to enjoy them this year.  They are also great plants to attract beneficial insects in to your garden, and in some cases (Nasturtium and Calendula for example) the flowers are not only beautiful, but edible too.

Need I say more?!

Poppies

Brilliant poppies in a wildlflower mix

Picture credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Wildflower meadows – simply lovely

I don’t know what it is about wildflower meadows that are so appealing, but I for one love them!  Maybe it’s just the gorgeous mix of simple flowers or the fact that they attract so much insect life – or maybe it’s just a bit of old-fashioned nostalgia.  Either way I know I’m not alone, as I’m finding that more & more of my clients are interested in dedicating areas of their gardens to growing wildflowers – even if on a relatively small scale rather than going the whole hog and turning over large swathes of land to meadow.

The wonderful thing is that as more seed and turf companies appreciate the current popularity for wildflower planting, the more accessible it’s becoming for all of us.

Plants are now available as seed mixes, miniature ‘plug’ plants to grow in existing turf, or even as ready-made rolls of turf with the seed already in them and which can simply be rolled out like a carpet.  You can choose from a range of native wildflowers or go for non native species to extend the flowering period. It seems that pretty much anything is possible to suit all budgets and abilities – as long as you understand from the outset what is involved.

The key is to decide whether you want to simply grow a mix of annual flowers or whether you are looking for a traditional long-term meadow made up of a mix of grass and flowers. Once that decision has been made it’s of paramount importance to understand your garden conditions – in particular soil type and fertility, but also light and moisture levels.

Annual meadow at RHS Harlow Carr

Annual ‘meadows’ are exactly that – ie they last just for one year (but on the plus side they don’t take a great deal of work to put in place). Preparing the ground any time from autumn or early spring, it’s vital to clear the soil of any grass and weeds to begin with, then it’s just a question of raking over the soil to create a fine tilth, and then sow away.

When the flowers are over, to ensure a good balanced mix of flowers for next year it’s generally best to start the process again from scratch (removing any trace of the plants). For that reason annual meadows are probably best for small areas of ground.  You do also have the option to strim off the growth and leave it on the ground for any remaining seeds to fall, and then let nature take its course. You will inevitably get some flowers popping up the following year from self-sown seed, and you could just top those off by adding extra seed to fill the gaps.

If you prefer to go for a perennial meadow (one that will come back every year) there’s more work involved in terms of preparation and initial management, and it’s vital to make sure there are no weeds in the ground which will swamp the meadow grasses and flowers as they come up.  This may involve zapping the area more than once with a herbicide such as glyphosate, to be certain that the ground is clear before sowing seeds.  Generally perennial meadows are much more successful if grown in poor soil, so that may mean stripping off a layer of top soil to provide the right conditions.  Having said that, there is a wide range of seed mixes on the market with suitable plants in the mix to succeed in different site conditions, so it’s worth investigating the options.

Depending on soil fertility, it could take up to 5 years for a perennial meadow to establish, so it’s not the easy option many people imagine it to be! Once that point is reached though, managing it will basically be a question of cutting and raking it once a year, with a little spot weeding as required in spring time. Do bear in mind though that no two meadows will grow in exactly the same way or at the same rate, and the mix of flowers and grasses will vary year on year (especially given the vagaries of the British climate!).

If that all sounds a bit complicated and you just want to get the look without embracing the wildflower meadow wholeheartedly, you could simply let your existing grass grow long and in time wildflowers will appear. I love this look in orchards particularly where paths can be mown through the long grass.

It’s a lovely way of creating areas in the garden which look more natural, and in rural areas it’s a perfect way to blur the boundary between the more formal ornamental part of the garden and the countryside beyond.

And it’s up to you to decide how long you want your grass to get – even if it’s just a few more inches than the path it can look very attractive.  Add a selection of spring bulbs such as Daffodils into the turf and it’s a winner!

All the companies who supply seed mixes will be able to advise you on how best to establish and manage your meadow depending on your individual situation and the effect you are looking for, and here are a couple of useful links to start with

http://wildseed.co.uk/home

http://www.pictorialmeadows.co.uk/

But if you’re interested in creating an area of meadow in your garden and would like to investigate it further with our help, then of course we’d love to hear from you.  Just call 01730 261712.

Picture credits : www.photoforsale.co.uk / Janet Bligh