The naturalistic style of planting popularised over the past twenty years by Dutch garden designers, including myself, places great importance upon perennials that look good throughout the winter by retaining their form either as dead skeletons or by way of their distinctive seedheads.
At this time chaos threatens and the urge to tidy away the dead plants becomes ever pressing. This year in the Netherlands winter ended with a long cold and wet period which coincided with the time, in February, I would normally be out in the garden hacking and chopping everything down.
This week the weather changed and finally the big tidy up could begin. Everything is either broken or cut into short pieces which are dropped on the ground amongst the crowns of the perennials. This technique of mulching feeds the soil, represses weeds and saves time carrying the debris to a compost heap. Four afternoons work is all it takes to tidy a 500 m𝟤 garden; a pleasing task with an instantaneous result – so long as you don’t mind crawling about on your knees.
Daffodils will now start to come into flower, followed shortly by tulips – what a relief the show can finally begin.
As gardeners there are two groups of purple moor grass to be aware of: Molinia caerulea subspecies caerulea which flower somewhere between knee and hip height and Molinia caerulea subspecies arundinacea which top head height.
The taller of the two make diffuse fountains of flower stems that dance in the slightest breeze, however they need room around them to fully show off their dramatic form.
Molinia begin to flower in the second half of summer and above you can see a clump of M. c. subsp. arundinacea ‘Cordoba’ two months ago developing its warm golden autumnal colouring.
Invariably, their display, and ceaseless movement, continues until the second half of December when suddenly they collapse into an untidy heap. The lower-growing molinias don’t do this and remain effective as long as snow and wild weather permits; they are ideal in mixed planting schemes and work well as mass plantings. However, for the excitement of their taller-growing cousins we must pay a small price and be prepared to venture into the garden just before Christmas and tidy away their debris.
Unlike other tall-growing grasses which need cutting back hard using shears and secateurs; the purple moor grasses are one of the easiest grasses to tidy up.
Their leaves and flower stems break cleanly off at ground level leaving a hard mounded crown.
My winter workout lasted little more than five minutes, but the difference was worthwhile.
Looking forward to fresh start in the New Year.
I have just released a new eBook on tulips.
Without tulips many perennial meadow and naturalistic planting schemes would be very dull at the beginning of spring. I mix them into my borders, dropping them into any spaces I find between the perennials. In spring they flower amidst the emerging foliage and sometimes the flowers of these perennials.
The Tulips eBook aims to summarise the important points you need to know about how best to use tulips in the naturalistic style. We are not interested in mass plantings as you see so often in public spaces and parks. In gardens, tulips need to be placed and combined sensitively with the other garden plants that surrounding them: shubs, trees, perennials and other spring flowering bulbs.
There are early and late flowering tulips and many that fit in-between. I explain which types fall into each category and, accordingly, how best to use them.
The different groups of tulips exhibit specific characteristics which we need to appreciate in order to use them well in our gardens. Their characters range from the exquisite beauty of some Viridiflora Group tulips to the brash vigour of the Darwinhybrids. Throughout a survey of these different types I recommend specific species and cultivars that have proved reliable in my own gardens.
Tulip bulbs can be planted any time up until the end of the year, so there is still time to be inspired and enjoy a stunning display in your own garden next spring.
Price €5.99 Euros
Sun must shine in autumn to reveal what the season has to offer.
My bulbs are all planted, the garden is tidy and I have finished moving plants around that seemed in the wrong places. Now is the time to stop and enjoy the changes that occur on a daily basis in this special season.
In winter I do very little other than tidy any chaos that develops. February and early March will be when I reach for the sheers and chop down the dead remains of this years garden.
Now is the time to revel in details of form and texture that low-angled sunlight reveals.
By early summer this border had lost the fresh colours of spring bulbs and matured into a gentle green cavern.
Now in November, the fountains of ornamental grasses have brought movement to a space that sparkles in the season’s low-angled sunlight.
In spring this area will be open and flat in anticipation of the dramatic changes that will once again occur. It never ceases to amaze me.
Enjoy the moment!
Perennials and shrubs continue to offer up surprises and pleasure in the late autumn Perennial Meadows’ garden.
Grasses making an important contribution include various cultivars of Miscanthus sinensis; some tall and dramatic, others stiffly upright and low-growing forms such as ‘Pagels’ (above) which is more interesting for its autumnal foliage colour than its flowers.
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Kleine Silberspinne’
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Hermann Mussel’
Back lighting is the key to placing plants such as these which flower or colour up in autumn.
Both shrubs as well as perennials offer autumn colours that draw attention in this season. The transience of such spectacles makes them all the more worthwhile.
Whilst most perennials and shrubs are in a rapid transition to their winter states, some plants remain fresh and green. This Polystichum fern looks lush and is still unfurling new fronds at the very end of October. It will remain like this until the end of spring when it will completely renew its winter-worn foliage.
It wont be long before all these tints are just a memory – enjoy them whilst you can.
As you can see bulbs, and in particular tulips, are amongst my favourite flowers. However, six years ago I hit a big problem; mice and voles started eating the bulbs – every single one of them. In that year I had carefully planted over eight hundred tulip bulbs individually amongst the garden’s perennials!
I resorted to growing tulips in pots as the daffodils were being left alone. Each year I tried a few in the ground and most were eaten but sometimes a few were left alone – why?
A Dutch bulb grower offered two solutions to the problem: poison or interplanting with Fritillaria imperialis – Crown Imperials; apparently their smell is repugnant to rodents as much as it is to humans. Last year I tried this and it seemed to have worked, but the jury is still out as I explained in an earlier post on red tulips.
Crown Imperial bulbs are large and expensive and also difficult to grow well in my heavy clay soil. I can improve the soil when planting and will definitely add some more to the flower borders this autumn, but I am also going to try something else which may just prove to be more effective.
Fritillaria meleagris colonises damp soil sites by self seeding; its nodding flowers are charming, but more importantly its bulbs also smell and are very cheap to buy. My plan is to drop one into each and every hole I dig to plant my tulips. In theory this should be more effective in deterring the rodents than the occasional Crown Imperial placed one in every square meter or so. The nice thing is that, if it works, this easily grown fritillaria will seed around making the garden less and less attractive to mice and voles over the coming years.
Finally I placed my bulb order in spite of having planned to do it early this year, but fortunately they still had stock of everything I wanted. Next spring orange will be the theme featuring the sophistication of the Fosteriana Group tulip ‘Orange Emperor’ and the vibrant Triumph ‘Prins Willem-Alexander.
“Will it work?”, time will only tell.
Designing mixed perennial meadow plantings is all about choosing plants that work together well over an extended period of time by uniting into a living community where each has a part to play.
Books will tell you that such plantings are low in maintenance and possibly need no more than an annual tidy-up. This can be true, but mostly mixed perennial plantings need knowledgable maintenance to keep them up to the standard of the original design intention. See my earlier post on Community Planting.
Looking around my gardens at the beginning of July examples of this are to be seen.
The small entrance border that was a delight in spring is now taking a rest.
The wild geraniums and Lysimachia that flower there now have arrived spontaneously. They are charming at the moment but in a couple of weeks time this border will have its mid season tidy-up. These weeds and the wild aster that grows here will be pulled out. Some of their roots will remain behind and make a welcome return next year, but these plants are not going to be allowed to take over this border.
The two borders in the middle of this garden are low and filled with drifts of bulbs in spring. In summer they become green and restful, building in height to a late summer crescendo when eventually drifts of yellow rudbeckias and large clumps of miscanthus start flowering.
Some replanting was needed to redefine the edges here and stop the area looking abandoned and wild. These changes were made a few weeks ago during a period of rainy weather. With such a dense mix of large and spreading perennials this part of the garden is very low in maintenance indeed.
In early summer two long, narrow borders draw attention with the combination of the purple spikes of Veronicastrum sibiricum ‘Red Arrows’ and the flat umbells of Cenolophium denutatum. The veronicastrum will continue to contribute its seedheads to these borders for the rest of the year, but the umbell will start to form seed and create a seedling problem if I don’t intervene. Also by mid July these borders look over full and the rigorous cutting back of the umbells creates space for the grasses and heleniums which will come to dominate this area in a few weeks time.
Maintaining perennial meadows is as much about removing things as it is about putting plants together in compatible associations.
They are early this year, but Tulipa sprengeri are flowering in the garden and this marks the end of the tulip flowering season.
There is no better time to plan your bulb order than now whilst the memories of the past season’s bulb displays are fresh in your mind. In my earlier post I showed how well the red tulips had worked dotted amongst my masses of emerging perennials. Most of these red tulips were Darwinhybrid Group tulips which are amongst the most likely to return of the many types that we can grow. In these borders I plan to add more of the reds as well as some glowing orange tulips to extend next year’s display.
Repetition and large numbers of the same varieties and colours are the way to create the most impact with your tulips. Never buy less than thirty of anything; I mostly order a hundred of each variety and limit the selection to five or six varieties. Each when flowering will have a vivid impact and, if well selected, their season will be long with early, mid-season as well as late varieties flowering in sequence.
You need not limit yourself to a single colour. The central area of my garden will be red and orange next year, but I have one border in which over the years I have played with different mixtures of violet, purple and lilac flowering cultivars. In another small border I use mainly pink varieties with just a few darker coloured cultivars such as mid-season flowering Tulip ‘Jan Reus’ and the later flowering Tulip ‘Queen of Night’ for touches of contrast.
Tulips look fantastic in pots, but these are best when used as focal points within the garden’s planting schemes. When they are dotted amongst other plants in wide drifts they have greater impact in a far less formal manner.
If you are interested in getting the most out of tulips you should really try and get hold of a copy of my book – Gardening with Tulips by Michael King. The book is comprehensive in its coverage with an emphasis on planting design. History is summarised as a means of explaining the current assortment offered today. I cover twenty different groups of tulips each offering a specific set of features that allow us to carefully integrate them into planting schemes. The hundreds of species and cultivars illustrated and discussed in the book are only just the tip of what is available to adventurous gardeners.
Plan your tulip order this weekend and send it in as soon as the catalogues arrive.
Shrubs are at their most useful when they bring height and flower colour to those gardens dominated by perennials. This is the case in my own gardens in early summer.
I try to select shrubs that will sit high and command the borders in which they grow.
By late summer those that once drew all the attention may vanish into the background behind tall-growing, bulky perennials, but in spring and early summer they are indispensable.
Inspired by the dominant leaf colour of my neighbour’s purple leafed hazel I have also added to the garden a number of other shrubs with bold purple foliage.
The two Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ on the left will eventually rival the hazel tree in stature whilst the various forms of delicate maples add variety to this purple foliage theme in other areas of the garden.
If you want to learn more about my ideas of how to combine shrubs and perennials please check out my eBook on Shrub Features which I put together a couple of years ago for gardeners interested in naturalistic planting.