Floriade 2012

Thoughts on planting combinations at Floriade 2012

Following on from my previous post about Floriade 2012 I thought I would share some of the planting ideas that I encountered there. As I commented earlier, such a season long show allows designers to experiment with different uses of plants, but unlike a garden show such as the Chelsea Flower Show these plantings have to work for at least one full growing season.

Floriade 2012This was an area of planting around the terrace where I stopped to eat my lunch. My feeling is that it is untidy and lacking in structure with too many plants of a similar height. I had noted this area during my first visit in April and it looked promising, but green and not particularly attractive. I can imagine that in late summer when the flowering plants have turned to seed and the many clumps of Calamagrostis x acuitflora that occur throughout turn stiff and golden the meadow like scheme may look magical, but this is too long to wait.

Floriade 2012How could this planting have been better? I think the plants surrounding the tall grasses should have been selected to form a lower more solid layer; I am thinking broad leaved Nepeta subsissilis or Phlomis russeliana. As I see it at the moment there are too many whispy and tall grasses pushed in together, but some will find this informality attractive.

Floriade 2012In the Green Engine zone I liked the silver shrub borders that were used to edge and organise the space around the dominating Villa Flora exhibition hall. The use of concrete sleepers and not natural rocks to bring some solid structure worked well. In Holland rock is only to be found in one tiny region in the south of the country, traditionally buildings are made from bricks and tiles. For this reason, I always find the use of rocks and boulders in Dutch gardens as inappropriate. These man made elements added structure and pattern to these planting areas.

Floriade 2012One plant that stood out was tall wiry Cephalaria gigantea, the giant yellow flowered scabious. I grew it years ago and thought it ineffective and whispy, but here as a fountain above its neighbours it was most effective. So next week I will be trying it again in my garden behind two perennial meadows dominated by low-growing molinia grasses. In early summer they do look rather flat and ineffective, the placing of this scabious behind might just do the trick.

Floriade 2012Another perennial plant used amongst these silver shrub borders was Epilobium angustifolium ‘Stahl Rose’ the garden form of willowherb. Now it looked fantastic in these gravel topped borders and I am sure some gardeners will be encouraged to introduce it into their own gardens. When I did, it took me three years to get rid of it; even on my heavy clay soil it charged around like a herd of buffalo. However, here, for a one-season flower show it worked very well!

Floriade 2012I commented upon the large perennial borders in the Education and Innovation zone of the show in my previous post. Like mini border schemes, patches of planting are stamped into these huge borders one next to the other and repeated at intervals along their length.

Floriade 2012Individually the patches were fine but their repetition gave the impression of the plant growing well in some areas on not in others. I have seen photographs of these borders following thier first year’s growth at the end of last summer and the effect looked chaotic. Perhaps by the end of their second season things will be working better, but I must reserve judgement.

Floriade 2012I commented positively about the wide drifts of ornamental grasses surrounding rivers of heathers during my first April visit. Now in mid June they still looked very good and whilst I might hate them when eventually the heathers flower, this is an idea I would like to try out one day.

Floriade 2012Another interesting planting detail here was the association of adjacent blocks of deschampsia grasses. These different cultivars are all slightly different in height and flower colour and so together they created a subtle modulated scheme.

Floriade 2012The final planting idea that I found whilst wandering around was the combination of Phlomis russeliana, course and upright, and the frothy white (daisy) flowered Kalimeris incisa. These are both plants for open sunny sites with an incredibly long season. It was a simple but inspired association.

Floriade 2012So in conclusion a show such as Floriade 2012 is a marvelous laboritory in which to try out new ideas. If they don’t fully work we all can learn, and anyway it is only for one summer. Each of my visits so far has made me think, tought me things and been thoroughly enjoyable. If you too get the chance be sure to pay it a visit; if you don’t you will have to wait ten more years!

Floriade 2012

6 thoughts on “Thoughts on planting combinations at Floriade 2012”

  1. Pingback: Planting at Floriade 2012 – the final countdown | Perennial Meadows

  2. Michael,

    I very much enjoyed your comments on the different combinations. It would be fun to walk through this garden with you. I was particularly interested that you liked the large blocks of grasses. I had assumed from your previous work that you would not like massing on this scale–too monotonous or something. I find massing like this to be one effective way to use herbaceous plants, particularly for non-garden sites where maintenance levels are low. Curious your thoughts about large scale massing of perennials and grasses.

    1. Thomas,
      Thank you for replying. I see plants as exciting and challenging tools for designing outdoor space; massing is just one way of using. Everything depends upon setting and scale. Much of my recent writing has focused upon using mixed perennial planting schemes on a domestic scale. In a public arena such as a park different factors come into play, but essentially my eye is drawn to simple, bold solutions. Maintenance is also a constant headache. When professional staff is available anything is possible, but how often is this the case? The one drawback with massing however is that you put all your eggs in one basket. I noticed during my Floriade visit that some areas of deschampsia grasses had been flattened by the stormy weather we have been having and will now remain looking untidy for the rest of the season.
      Yes, it would be really great one day to spend time viewing gardens together.

      1. Yes, that makes sense to me. Setting and scale dictate everything.

        You’re absolutely right about the risks of too large a massing. Wolfgang Oehme would plant almost exclusively in large blocks like this, even at a residential scale. Most of the time, it was a fabulous technique, but when a mass didn’t work, you had a huge glaring hole in the garden.

        But even then, it was relatively easy to address by replanting with something else. Maintenance is the most difficult hurdle of herbaceous planting on this scale. I’ve found that re-arranging and re-planting must happen almost yearly. The idea that a site has to be re-planted yearly is a hard concept for a client to accept. But it tends to be a very small percentage (10% the first year, less every year after that) that has to be replanted ever year. What I like about the block planting is that if there is a big “hole” in the border, it provides a better impetus for a client to replant than if one species dies off in a highly mixed composition. I watch too many designs of mixed planting slowly devolve as maintenance is ignored. Death by a thousand little cuts.

        Here in the States, the “low maintenance landscape” is king, but for me, anything that encourages a client to invest more in a landscape (more weeding, more re-arranging, more re-planting) is a good thing to me.

        Still though, mixed planting is something I like very much. It’s just something that’s taken me much longer to do well. But still experimenting . . .

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