Herfst In De Tuin – My Autumn Garden

This year I am trialling a number of different species and cultivars of asters in the garden.

Aster scaber

Aster scaber is spreading too rapidly, but it is very attractive both in leaf before flowering and then when actually flowering very late in the season. Such plants are useful in the garden where they have to fight for survival in difficult situations, but give them the chance and they can easily become a problem.

Fuschia magellanica is late this year having been cut to the ground in late winter last year.

autum garden landscape

Replanted last autumn, this shade border is developing well.

Chaos abounds in the garden during autumn, but there is a lot of beauty in the details. Probably this is my favourite season and my job is to edit the rapidly changing scene to bring these into focus.

Cercis canadensis

Cercis canadensis signals the arrival of winter, but hopefully for a week or two longer.

As well as tidying the garden wherever need arises, this is also a very good time to replant new borders and move things around. The only exception to this is the ornamental grasses that are best left where they are until spring.

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Priona Tuinen – An Influential Garden In The Netherlands

Priona Tuinen

After a gap of more than eleven years I returned to this unique garden and was delighted to find it still had its powerful character. Henk Gerritsen is no longer there, but the volunteers and sponsors who aim to keep his philosophy alive are doing a fantastic job.

Priona Tuinen

A summer restaurant – De Tuinkamer – is now housed in an industrial style greenhouse there and makes full use of a wide range of crops growing in the garden, including rare flowers and herbs.

Priona Tuinen

It was October and summer colours had faded, but not the spirit of its creators – Henk Gerritsen and Anton Schlepers.

Priona Tuinen

Dogmas are broken and humorous quirks catch you by surprise in this garden. The plants in the vegetable garden are allowed to flower within its tightly trimmed hedges, for example.

Priona Tuinen
Priona Tuinen

The ethos of this garden is to embrace nature and its processes within a structured framework. The whole “Dutch Wave” movement stems from this garden and landscape architects from around the world are still visitors and admirers of what is still managing to be preserved here.

Priona Tuinen
The Rock Garden

I hope my pictures convey something of what we experienced in the Priona Tuinen and its excellent restaurant. http://www.tuinkamer-priona.nl

Priona Tuinen
Hens and Chickens ageing nicely


T i p

The two books by Henk Gerritsen still in print and essential reading for any serious gardener or designer are:

Essay in Gardening

To Order In Europe
To Order In The UK

Planting The Natural Garden – New, revised edition of the classic Dream Plants for the Natural Garden written together with with Piet Oudolf.

To Order In Europe
To Order In The UK
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Wet Grass

wet Ornamental Grasses

Grasses flop when wet which is why it is best not to plant them too close to narrow paths.

Perennial Meadow planting scheme

However, today, fine rain turned this border in front of my home into a glistening spectacle of textures and light. The fine flower stems of Sporobolus heterolepis arched under the weight of a thousand water droplets whereas the stiffer form of Molinia caerulea subsp. caerulea ‘Moorhexe’ did their best to resist gravity.

Schutterstoren, Amsterdam

Two days ago under the influence of warm morning sunshine the mood was completely different.

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Elements of Naturalistic Planting – Repetition

Traditional planting schemes set blocks of perennials and shrubs next to one another in order to develop harmonious or contrasting effects that build a picture comprising forms and colours.

The contemporary trend for informal, naturalistic planting schemes uses plants in ways that mimic the natural patterns that occur in native plant communities. Such patterns typically occur over extensive areas and appeal by way of the patterns and rhythms that occur by repetition of a few characteristic species.

In the planting scheme described in my previous post I have repeated blocks of salvias through a matrix of Euphorbia and Sporobolus grasses and here and there a smaller number of Echinacea pallida. Repetition is what gives this combination of just four plant species its visual impact.

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Perennial Border One Year Old

We set out the plants for this new perennial meadow border exactly one year ago.

The cylindrical residential tower on the outskirts of Amsterdam is in a natural green parkland setting. The planting scheme uses grasses to link the residence with the adjacent park.

Ribbons of the stiffly upright grass Molinia caerulea ‘Moorhexe’ bring structure to the design linking the convex perimeter of the round tower with the concave edge of the pavement at the front of the building.

The intervening areas are planted with a mixture dominated by the arching grass Sporobolus heterolepis. Euphorbia and Echinicea occur throughout with small blocks of salvias and asters each in their turn bringing seasonal colour.

By the end of the first summer the flowering grasses and asters were dominant and remained effective throughout winter.

Tidied up in late winter the border became effective from April with the flowering of the first tulips. Gradually they were joined by Euphorbia polychroma which continued to be effective long after the tulips finally faded.

Allium and Salvia are currently flowering and these will shortly be joined by Scuttelaria and Echinacea throughout the summer.

When the grasses flower, starting next month they will bring a mellow, natural atmosphere to the scheme mixing with the remaining seedheads of alliums, euphorbias, salvias and echinaceas.

The scheme is still developing and it will be at least one more year before it begins to approach maturity. To date the results are pleasing and maintenance is moderate. As the grasses grow together this will become progressively less and less.

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Last Tulip of Spring

Tulipa sprengeri

This tulip,Tulipa sprengeri, is the exception to the rule. It will grow and flower well in semi-shade unlike any other and when it does it brings the tulip season to an end. This year it is early in my Amsterdam garden, but often it will not be in flower until June.

Its colour is strong and up close it screams refinement.

Tulipa sprengeri with Luzula nivea in late May 2019

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Is naturalistic planting for you?

In comparison to a carefully planted and staked traditional herbaceous or perennial border the naturalistic style can look loose and untidy. Your personality will dictate which you prefer – order or chaos.

Formal planting with plants arranged at regular intervals and often placed to mirror one another bring instant logic to their surroundings. This must be the easiest style of garden design to get right, but of course, the minute one of the carefully place plants dies your scheme is ruined and all attention focuses on the gap.

Personally, I like some elements of formality in a garden’s design to contrast with the informality that I seek to create, but for me a totally formal design quickly looses its fascination no matter how impressive.

Through the associations that naturalistic planting invokes it has the ability to engage and enthrall us. It can trigger memories of longed for landscapes that offer escape and relaxation. American gardeners can use prairie plants to recall nostalgic thoughts about the once extensive tall grass prairies of their homeland. For me such plantings recall the countryside I am isolated from having chosen to live in the heart of a city. And perennials above all other plants demonstrate the dynamic nature of living things and clearly signal the changing seasons and fluctuations in weather.

The biggest problem with naturalistic planting for those of us how want to pursue it is using it within the confines of our domestic gardens. The ideas underpinning this contemporary design trend were first developed in Germany for use in public green spaces. Later adaptions both in Europe and America lead to dramatic schemes for public parks, large private estates and high profile garden exhibitions. These highly publicized projects accompanied by exciting photographs fueled interest and encouraged gardeners to have a go for themselves. Regrettably, few of the projects that followed lived up to peoples expectations and the reasons are really quite simple to identify.

Naturalistic planting needs space to make a bold statement. The plants used are repeated across the planting area to emulate natural plant communities. where the same plants reappear randomly to fill the horizon. In a small private garden there is simple too little room for this to work. Further, most landmark schemes were situated in open sunny locations which gave the plants the best opportunity to grow sturdily. Private gardens in comparison offer shelter, shade and nutrient rich soils – all of which lead to tall, lanky growth resulting in plants collapsing or needing to be staked.

My own ideas for the perennial meadows I now design evolved over may years of struggling within the confines of a small, humble garden. The need for repetition of key plants has to lead to compromises and must result in the use of a restricted pallet of plants. I have learned to create schemes using a small range of key plants, but at the same time leaving room for some extra diversity and freedom. I have also found that by arranging perennial meadows as neat and ordered units within a total garden design that I can introduce some order and formality that is often necessary for gardens that are closely associated with buildings in urban environments.

The wide extravagant naturalistic planting schemes you have read about many not be for you, but I hope that the perennial meadow approach will allow more of us to enjoy the benefits of this exiting new trend in planting design.

perennial flowers in meadowThis is a small perennial meadow in my own garden, covering only a few square meters in area but providing colour and interest all year round.

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Mind Gardens 4 – Romantic Strolling Garden

Tuin met geliefden: Square Saint-Pierre – Garden with lovers
@ Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Stichting)

Through design and planting a garden acquires a distinctive mood and for this Mind Garden I imagine an informal space through which to wander, relax and feel secure. Van Gogh’s garden with lovers is just one of such images that artists have created throughout history illustrating the sort of strolling garden l have in mind.

This will be a garden without a focal point, it will surround you with a single sense of place, allowing you to wander, focused upon your inner thoughts or the person with whom you are sharing the space.

My eBook “Shrub Features” details the idea of surrounding specimen shrubs and trees with appropriate schemes of mixtures of perennials. These shrubs stand free from the garden’s boundaries or shrub borders and are thereby presented to their best advantage and allowed to grow naturally.

A series of borders featuring widely spaced shrubs and separated by winding paths is the model for this strolling garden. In the smallest of gardens we may be looking at no more than a couple of such shrub feature borders, but ideally this is an idea for a larger garden space with room for a more extensive network of paths with here and there benches to stop, relax and maybe steal a kiss.

Strolling Garden 50 m. x 50 m.

There are two types of borders: some with small, evergreen Arbutus unedo trees and the others with Hydrangea paniculata shrubs. Each type will have a basic perennial meadow mix covering 75% of the ground area. Additionally, up to ten different complementary plants (small shrubs and perennials) will be planted as bold groups randomly throughout the whole garden space; each group being repeated at least twice.

Repetition is the key to creating the unified space filling this garden. Arbutus trees are multi-stemmed with flowers and fruit in late summer. The plants surrounding them will reinforce their evergreen character and give the garden its year round impact.

The hydrangeas are wide arching shrubs that flower for a long period in late summer. They will rise above a border dominated by arching green Hakenochloa macra grasses. In winter this grass will turn straw coloured, but remain effective through to the following spring.

The repeating clumps of complementary plants add additional interest to the scheme as well as weaving it into an all embracing familiar whole. Strolling through the space the same plants will be seen in ever changing relationships with one another.

Feature Border with tree – Arbutus unedo as a multi-stemmed tree and additional evergreen shrubs including Choisia ternata ‘Astec Pearl’, Viburnum utile and Ilex crenata or Buxus will be included here.

Theme plants – per square meter

2 × 3 Polystichum setiferum ‘Pulcherrimum Bevis’ – fern

1 × 1 Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Nora Barlow’

2 x 1 Epimedium rubrum

3 × 1 Phlox divaricata

2 × 1 Aster divaricatus

Feature Border with deciduous shrubs – Hydrangea paniculata and edging clumps of Sarcococca oriental give these borders their structure.

Theme plants – per square meter

3 x 1 Hakenochola macra ‘All Gold’

1 x 2 Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Alba

2x 1 Euphorbia x martinii

1 x 1 Aster thompsonii

2 x 3 Amsonia hubrichtii

Complementary Plants for use throughout the whole garden in groups that will cover approximately 1 m2 each time.

Rodgersia podophylla 5 x, Hosta sieboldiana 3 x, Astilbe thunbergii 8 x, Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’ 8 x, Anemone × hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’ 5 x, Luzula nivea 10 x, Aruncus ‘Horatio’ 3 x, Dryopteris erythrosora (fern) 8 x, Chelone obliqua 8 x.

In many ways the actual plants proposed for this Mind Garden are less important than the ways the different groups are being used. The small evergreen tree Arbutus may be difficult for some to find at an adequate size. The trees could just as easily be small deciduous species such as Acer, Sorbus or Prunus and in a larger garden even Betula. Similarly the perennials need to form a harmonious understory with interesting variations in texture, scale and seasonal flowers. Nothing should dominate and which species are actually used will be dictated by the constraints that apply to all the perennial meadows discussed in this blog. What is important here is the repetition at ground level, mid level and tree level giving this design its strong character.

The theme plant schemes are similar to a number included in my eBook on Shady Perennial Meadows. There you will find detailed descriptions of the plants used together with suggestions for a range of different planting schemes.

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Mind Gardens 3 – Hortus Conclusus

Gardens are often made to replicate a historic style which may be in-keeping with their situation. And such historic styles of themselves may be a good enough reason to shape a garden space and plant it with appropriate plants.

Islamic gardens have served for centuries as an oasis in the desert to feel closer to ones beliefs. Enclosed by protective walls and served by a water source flowing outwards, every element and individual plant playing a symbolic role in the design of these formal gardens.

Medieval gardens of Western cultures were once created as safe havens in an otherwise hostile world. The high walls of the hortus conclusus offered protection and created a space in which to relax as well as grow plants to nourish both body and mind. Simple geometric arrangements of flower beds allowed useful vegetables and herbs to be grown. The apothecaries garden is a form of such a garden where various medicinal herbs were grown in logically arranged beds around an available source of water. Alongside these in monasteries, cloister gardens occurred, often surrounding a central water well. These uncluttered spaces offering the monks a calm retreat in which to think and to study.

All of these models might be used today to create a garden space that is sheltered, peaceful and focused upon itself rather than any surrounding chaos or outside influences. Their walls bring separation, as do our garden fences, and water is both used symbolically and as a necessity.

In this third Mind Garden design I want to use the elements of enclosure and water, but at the same time not try and reproduce a copy of an Islamic walled garden or a Medieval herb garden. The design idea I have evolved is to place a simple source of water in the very centre of the garden: a small round pool or a large bowl overflowing with water will be enough. The walls will not be the boundary fences, but plants set within the garden using a combination of evergreen shrubs (clipped Taxus hedges) and rows of upright growing grasses.

The grass used is Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ as its height and stiff upright growth habit develops quickly in early summer and prior to this is will bring bands of fresh growth amidst many spring flowering bulbs, especially tulips.

In winter the short Taxus hedges will stand free as upright specimens within the open garden and become surrounded by low-growing perennials and drifts of bulbs in spring. As summer arrives the grasses will grow up between the Taxus hedges and together they will become the enclosing walls of this contemporary hortus conclusus.

It would be tempting to allow the rest of the design to become a formal arrangement of patios and paths, but to both break with tradition and also to dramatise the transition of the informal spring garden into the formal enclosure focused upon its central water feature in summer, I have used organic curving shapes for the off-centre patio and paths.

Two planting schemes are going to be used here: one full and dramatic within the grass hedge and surrounding the patio and one in the space between the hedges and outer boundary.

The outer ring of perennial planting will be low-growing, especially interesting in spring and contain a high percentage of evergreen species such as ferns and sedges. Practically this will work as many of the plants need to be shade tolerant both later in the growing season and at certain times of the day as the sun moves round causing the boundary fencing to cast shade over this outer zone.

In full sun, the central area of this garden could be planted in numerous different ways according to taste. My choice here has been triggered by the central water feature from which I have planned narrow rivers of blue flowered salvias to flow outwards. The rest of the perennials used are chosen to work with this dominant element.

Scheme One –Spring interest and shade tolerant with bold ferns and the addition of large clumps of autumn-flowering, taller-growing perennials.

Theme plants – per square meter ( x 1 )

1 x 2 Dryopteris cycadina (Syn.D. atrata) – fern

3 x 1 Pachyphragma macrophyllum

3 x 1 Luzula nivea

3 x 1 Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae

1 x 2 Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’

Complementary plants: Chelone obliqua in clumps of 6 every 3 meters along fence. Aster laevis in clumps of 3 every 3 meters along fence. Underplanted with snowdrops and daffodils for bold spring spectacle.

Scheme Two – Blue rivers of salvias and dark mounds of Actea surrounded by seasonal flowering perennials and white flowered Pennisetum grassses.

Theme plants – per square meter ( x 1 )

2 x 1 Pennisetum orientale – grass

1 x 2 Actea simplex ‘James Compton’ (Syn. Cimicifuga s.)

1 x 1 Veronica ‘Red Arrows’

2 x 1 Nepeta kubanica

2 x 1 Aster laterifolius ‘Prince’

Complementary plants: Ribbons of Salvia nemorosa ‘Ostfriesland’ radiating outwards with Astrantia ‘Claret’, Geranium ‘Patricia’, Sedum ‘Xenos’, Astilbe chinensis var. taquetii. as occasional complementary plants within the theme plant mix.

The fact that perennials grow from nothing to maturity in a single summer allows them to alter the garden spaces they occupy. The use of upright grasses here changes the mood of this garden completely in just one season. Throughout winter many of the plants used here will remain as interesting silhouettes with seedheads and dried stem skeletons.

More schemes such as those used here are to be found in the Perennial Meadows eBooks together with details of the individual plants used.

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Mind Gardens 2 – Art As Inspiration

Gardens can evolve over time to reflect the interests and character of their makers and eventually a unique atmosphere will develop. Alternatively, they can be designed either by their owners or a professional designer with the aim of creating a specific mood or visual impact. In this series of posts – Mind Gardens – I will try to show how different ideas and dreams can be realised in the gardens we design and plant.

Where do you find a design idea when your garden is nothing more than a square area behind an average house with a view of boundary fences and other similar houses? This is the dilemma of many gardeners who are not fortunate enough to have a garden surrounding an architecturally distinct building or a view across glorious countryside. Many sources spring into my mind, but here I want to look to art for inspiration.

My interest goes towards the work of  abstract artists of the early twentieth century; your own interests may differ, but my process will hopefully suggest a way forward.


Whenever looking at works by artists such as Mondrian, Kandinsky and Malevich I cannot help myself from seeing designs for the layout of garden landscapes on a range of very different scales. Sometimes the patterns in these paintings suggest border layouts, lines can become paths or hedges and colours identify different planting arrangements.


It would be ridiculous to think that you would want to reproduce any of these works using garden components in place of paint and colour, but certain elements can be used to trigger a design process.

Kandinsky’s early work from the Bauhaus period consist of different coloured shapes linken by straight and curving lines. For Kandinsky these works were intellectual expressions of his evolving art philosophy. I am fascinated by their intriguing interrelationships of lines, forms and colours.

Taking the distinctive lines, some curved and some straight and tapering, I have attempted to create an abstract planting design in which a central yew (Taxus) hedge cuts across the garden space and changes in height and width along its length. A curving path to the left and a curving line of tall growing grasses further divide the space. 

Room has to be created in the pragmatic process of a garden’s design for sitting areas and access and these elements have eventually created a number of separate areas into which I have chosen to drop in three mixed meadow planting schemes taken from my Perennial Meadows eBook series. 

On the right, Scheme 3 is tall and robust and will create a sense of enclosure for the rest of the garden; it lies behind a curving hedge of Miscanthus sinensis ”Ferner Osten’. In the centre of the garden a bold mid-height scheme which is dominated by the long flowering  period of Rudbeckia fulgida var. daemii is divided in two by the taxus hedge. This hedge will be over 2 meters tall at the rear, dropping to just 90 centimeters near the patio area. Scheme 1 is the lowest-growing of the three with a fresh blue green colour theme and will demand full sun and well drained soil to thrive.

To link everything together theme plants from these schemes will be added as complementary plants to the others. So, for example, the Eupatorium of Scheme 3 will reappear as a bold block inside Scheme 1. Likewise, the Calamagrostis from Scheme 2 will appear here and there in the other two schemes. The advantage of this calamgrostis is that it grows and flowers earlier in the summer than the miscanthus which will eventually dominate the whole garden.

Scheme 1 – taken from my Prairie Meadows eBook

Theme plants – per square meter ( x 1 )

1 x 2 Baptisia  alba var. macrophylla (Syn. B. leucantha)

4 x 1 Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’

2 x 1 Schizachyrium scoparium (grass)

2 x 1 Salvia x sylvestris ‘Blaukönigin’

1 x 1 Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spire’

Complementary plants: Eupatorium maculatum, Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’

Scheme 2 – taken from my Prairie Meadows eBook

Theme plants – per square meter ( x 1 )

1 x 1 Phlox maculata ‘Omega’

1 x 2 Helenium ‘Rubinzwerg’

1 x 2 Aster umbellatus

4 x 1 Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii

2 x 3 Calamagrosts x acutiflora ‘Overdam’

Complementary plants: Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferner Osten’ as background hedge

Scheme 3 – conceived for this project.

3 x 3 Eupatorium maculatum (planted as bold clumps)

1 x 2 Aster umbellatus

2 x 2 Vernonia noveboracensis (planted as bold clumps)

1 x 2 Phlox paniculata ‘Utopia’

2 x 1 Monarda ‘Saxon Purple’

Complementary plants: Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’, Phlox paniculata ‘Hesperis’

To understand how these planting schemes are put together and function you should read the early posts in the Meadows 101 section of this web site. Schemes such as those used here are to be found in the Perennial Meadows eBooks with details of the individual plants used.

The garden design presented here could never have been created by simply looking at the site and responding to its setting. By finding inspiration in art (in this case) I have created a ground plan that is both unconventional and exciting to look at. Later in this series of Mind Garden posts I will be looking for other source for inspiration and showing how these can result in a range of very different garden plans and planting schemes.

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