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


3 great plants for winter scent

In the depths of winter when there’s not much else going on in the garden scented plants really come into their own.

Sarcococca confusa
Sarcococca confusa

One of the top plants for winter fragrance has to be Sarcococca which is commonly known as ‘Christmas Box’.  There are a number of varieties of Sarcococca but I tend to plant Sarcococca confusa as it’s a compact evergreen shrub which is very well-behaved and doesn’t need any maintenance other than the odd clipping to tidy up.  For much of the year it’s just a background plant but in winter its small white flowers give off a really powerful scent.  And in any case background plants have their place in any garden.

As Sarcococca are happy in shade you can plant more flamboyant perennials in front of them for summer interest.  The glossy dark green leaves provide an effective foil for more colourful plants.

Daphne odora f.alba
Daphne odora f.alba

Daphnes are wonderfully fragrant and if you have the right soil conditions there’s nothing quite like them to fill the garden with perfume.  They generally do best in lime-free soil with a reasonable amount of moisture but good drainage – so unfortunately they are not the right plant for every garden.

Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata'
Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’

I particularly like Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ which forms a small rounded evergreen shrub but unlike the straight Daphne odora, this variety has creamy yellow margins on its narrow leaves for added foliage interest.  It also grows well in a pot so if you don’t have the right soil conditions in your borders, give it a go.  Works for me!

Hamamelis (or Witch Hazel) are large deciduous shrubs which make a great feature plant in the gloomy winter months.  The spidery flowers (ranging in colour from yellow through orange to red depending on variety) appear on bare branches and glow in the winter sunshine.

Hamamelis by Firgrove Photographic

Hamamelis  have a lovely spicy fragrance and, like Daphnes, prefer a lime-free soil with decent moisture levels (but no risk of waterlogging).  Be warned though – they are very slow growing and many varieties need plenty of room to spread.

And do remember, if you’re adding plants to your garden specifically for winter scent, they need to be positioned where you can enjoy them most.  There’s not much point sticking them way down the garden where you never set foot between November and March!  Put them near a pathway, doorway or seating area where you can really make the most of what they have to offer.  You won’t be disappointed – and if you can bring yourself to cut off a stem or two, you can fill your house with fragrance too.

Picture credits: Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Flower power for the spring garden

There are so many lovely trees and shrubs which flower in spring, it can sometimes be hard to choose what to buy. Instead of going for the obvious choices (like Forsythia!), it’s really worth visiting gardens, doing some research and maybe finding something a bit more unusual.  Here are just a few ideas of trees and shrubs which are always worth considering….

Delicate pale yellow flowers of Stachyrus praecox

A very pretty early flowerer (from February or March depending on how mild the weather is) is Stachyrus Praecox.  It’s a large shrub (up to about 2.5m x 2.5m) which needs lime-free soil and some moisture, but is happy in sun or partial shade.  It’s a spreader and needs space to show off its lovely bell-shaped pale yellow flowers.

Magnolia 'Heaven Scent'

Magnolias are always worth including if you have the right conditions in your garden (most prefer lime-free soil and shelter from cold winds).  There are so many varieties worth considering, but Magnolia ‘Heaven Scent’ (great name!) is a beauty. It’s a vigorous tree which will get up to about 10 metres in height, with large fragrant pink flowers.  And as the flowers often open before the leaves, they are a real spectacle in spring.

Spring flowers on a weeping Pear tree

One of my favourite small trees is Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’ – the weeping Pear.  It has masses of really pretty scented white flowers in spring, and narrow silvery grey leaves on hanging branches to form a dome-shaped tree.  Best in full sun, it’s not fussy about soil pH and is easy to grow in any fertile soil.

Prunus pendula 'Pendula Rosea'

The Cherry family is a great source for spring flowers, and Prunus pendula ‘Pendula Rosea’ (Drooping rosebud cherry) is no exception.  A small deciduous tree with green foliage which turns orange and red in autumn, it’s a good choice for a specimen tree as it has more than one season of interest.  The flowers in spring are a very pretty pale pink and can be admired close-up due to the arching nature of the branches. 

One of the first shrubs I planted in my own garden, and which I still absolutely love, is Viburnum sargentii ‘Onondaga’.  It’s just one of those great value shrubs that I wouldn’t be without.  A tall upright shrub (up to 2.5m high), it has very attractive maple-like leaves which are bronze when they open, turning green with purple tints, and finally orange in autumn.  The lacecap flowers are really stunning, opening from the outside in, and are followed by red berries. Happy in sun or shade, and a good reliable grower on most soils, what more could you want from a shrub?!

Stunning white flowers opening from red buds on Viburnum sargentii 'Onondaga'


There are so many more options, this is just a tiny sample of shrubs which flower between February and May, but as with any new planting it’s important to understand your site conditions to make sure you get the right plant for the job.  If you would like any help designing a planting scheme to include spring flowering trees and shrubs for next year, we’d love to help.

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