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


Last call for hedging!

It’s so nice to have the opportunity to plant hedges along garden boundaries rather than building a fence.  But hedges can also be used within gardens to divide areas or create backdrops for planting – or simply for their own sake.

Box hedging & topiary in a formal setting at West Green House

If you are planning to plant a traditional hedge this winter (be it formal or informal), time is fast running out as it should be done between November and March while the plants are dormant.  Depending on what type of hedge is wanted, plants are available in a variety of forms.

Mixed native hedging which is deciduous (ie the foliage dies back in winter) is planted as bare-root ‘whips’ – these are basically single stems usually available in a variety of sizes ranging from 60cm in height up to about 1.5m, and planted in staggered rows.  Native planting is used where a more traditional hedge is required (especially appropriate in rural locations) and offers interest most of the year round from its mix of leaf, flower and berry.  As a result these hedges are a great habitat for wildlife.  In areas where rabbits and deer are a nuisance, spiral guards placed around the plants (with a cane to hold them up) are invaluable – but there’s no getting away from it, they do look pretty unattractive for a few years until the hedge is established and the guards can be taken away.

Hawthorn blossom in a mixed hedgerow

Traditional flowering hedgerows are generally made up of a combination of some or all or the following – Acer campestre (Field Maple), Crataegus monogyna (common Hawthorn), Prunus spinosa (Blackthorn), Viburnum opulus (Guelder rose), Viburnum lantana (Wayfaring tree) andRosa canina (Dog rose).

A formal beech hedge in winter

For more formal hedging, at this time of year plants are available either as bare-root specimens, or root balled (which means they are dug out of the ground with soil attached in a ball shape around their roots, and then covered in hessian for protection).

Root ball holly hedging in position to be planted, staked & wired

Generally Buxus (Box), Fagus sylvatica (Beech) and Carpinus betula (Hornbeam) hedging is available as bare-root plants and/or rootballs.  Evergreen plants such as Taxus (Yew), Ilex (Holly), Laurels and many conifers are bought as root ball plants in a variety of heights up to 2 metres plus.

Box hedging can be bought at very small sizes but it is slow to grow

On a practical note, here are a few tips for hedge planting

–         check your soil type and take into account other site conditions such as shade and exposure before deciding which varieties to plant.

–         large plants may need staking or tying in for stability (especially on windy sites).

–         avoid planting in frosty weather.

–         if you buy plants and are unable to plant immediately, keep the roots or rootballs moist and free of frost (dig a temporary planting hole to store them if necessary, or cover rootballs and keep them moist).

Please note that Box, Laurel and Yew hedging is poisonous to livestock.

Hornbeam is very tolerant of difficult conditions and creates a good hedge all year round as its leaves hang on through the winter

If you prefer something more ornamental, there are many plants which can be used as alternatives to traditional hedging and which can be bought in containers and planted at any time of the year. Numerous shrubs knit together well to create attractive flowering hedges or hedges with interesting foliage.  The choice is huge depending on site and the desired effect, but whatever the type of hedge, they are a valuable addition to gardens of every size.