Sunday, August 30, 2015

Reviewing progress at the Olympic Park


The Sarah Price design for the 'Sheffield school' plantings at the QE Park
 A trip to the Queen Elizabeth Park with a lively group from the Landscape Institute – this is the vast new park in east London which is the legacy from the 2012 Olympic Park, the largest new park in the UK for over a hundred years. I was interested to see all the various naturalistic plantings, particularly the ambitious plant mixes created by Nigel Dunnett and James Hitchmough from the University of Sheffield; Piet Oudolf has created some borders here as well. Good to take an LI group around, get their opinions and feedback and since a lot of them have been here already find out what they thought it is like at other times of year.

Part of the Piet Oudolf planting at the QE Park
I had been here in June, and had left with a vague feeling of discouragement, so to see much looking really good just now has been most heartening. All in all I'm impressed! There is a lot of very colourfully exuberant planting, well maintained and looking as if it could continue to develop well over the next few years. This is a very large, ambitious and complex park- it is interesting to see the management documents from the London Legacy Development Corporation who are managing it, which outline a large number of different habitats, all receiving different treatments: particularly mowing and cutting regimes. There was a lot of scepticism in the group about how many of these will be adhered to, and suggestions that there will be an inevitable tendency towards 'one size fits all'. We shall have to wait and see.
Bupleurum fruticosum in the Oudolf planting
Much of the 'splash' of the Olympic Park plantings in 2012 was through annuals, which of course were a one-year special. Many of those areas have been grassed over now, although when I was here in June there seemed to be a lot of areas which looked like ex-annuals, with California Poppy (Eschscholzia) doing rather nicely. These areas often included a lot of native plants too and were attractive but did not look as if they would stay for long – I could see grass invading and taking over in a year or two.

There are a lot of areas which are basically using a limited range of native flora (which here in Britain is pretty limited anyway) alongside the tussock grass Molinia caerulea, on what looks like a pretty infertile substrate. Unlike most British grasses, the molinia will not form a suffocating carpet over other plants – because it is a tussock-former, and the low fertility soil will reduce the growth of other grasses as they will inevitably seed in from outside. So these should look good for a long while yet.
The North American planting
The Hitchmough/Dunnett plantings (not forgetting garden designer Sarah Price) who knitted them altogether were particularly impressive. They made four geographically-defined plantings along the waterway opposite the London Aquatics Centre: Europe, North America, Southern Hemisphere (basically South Africa) and Asia. In June there wasn't much in flower, although I don't think I'd got as far as 'Europe' on that occasion (I got jolly lost – it is a huge and at times disorientating place). One of the weaknesses of the Olympic Park as legacy project was probably that there was little thought given to spring bulbs, perennial or shrub performance (the games were in July). In fact one of the unusual things about the whole place, is the remarkably low importance of the usual range of horticultural shrubs – refreshing. Most of the shrubs here are native species.
The South African planting
The North American planting was just about to come to peak flowering – in fact there would appear to be very little in flower before this time; this is a planting which will end the year in a crescendo. The Southern Hemisphere mix, which looked rather dull and very gappy in June had clearly had a good summer and still had plenty of life in it. Over time the agapanthus will form solid clumps and the dieramas will probably seed, so filling the gaps. Of all the mixes this is the most exuberantly colourful and exotic looking: gladiolus, galtonia, kniphofia with underplanting of New Zealand carexes annd ?restios. The Asian planting was the most successful in terms of ground coverage, space filling and colour, but relying on very few species: Persicaria amplexicaulis, Anemone x hybrida, and grasses, and there was little in flower here in June.
Selinum wallichianum in the Oudolf borders
Since the Olympics, the main development has been some Piet Oudolf planting up around the various public grass and playground areas. It was interesting to see what he comes up for a public space which needs to have a simple, straightforward management regime – lots of perennials and grasses in easy-to-maintain small groups making a great impact as a backdrop for nicely-sized grass areas, very well maintained and mostly doing really well. Very little was in flower in June though and there was a rumble of criticism that the planting could have offered a longer season; the same has been heard about his new planting at Hauser + Wirth in Somerset. It being a Saturday, the whole area was being incredibly well-used, the people of London in all their amazing ethnic diversity picnicing, playing, chatting and relaxing.

There are planting lists on the QE park website, which is at first sight looks a cheerfully dumbed-down affair, with a rather inadequate map but if you dig around you will find: http://queenelizabetholympicpark.co.uk/the-park/attractions/parklands/gardens/2012-gardens

* * * * *
If you like this blog, why not check out my e-books, which are round-ups of some writing I did for Hortus magazine back in the early 2000s, along with an interview with the amazing Beth Chatto. You can read them on Kindle, or Kindle packages for smartphones or the computer. You can find them on my Amazon page here. You will also find my soap opera for gardeners - currently running at eight episodes.
SUPPORT THIS BLOG
I write this blog unpaid (of course) and try to do two postings a month, to try to provide the garden, wildflower and plant-loving community with information, inspiration and ideas. Keeping it coming is not always easy to fit into a busy working life. I would very much appreciate it if readers would 'chip in' (as we say in England) and provide a little financial support. After all, you pay for magazines and books, and it is only for historical reasons that the internet is free. Some money coming in will help me to improve quality and frequency, and to start to provide more coherent access to hard information, which I know is what a lot of you really want. So – please donate now!! You can do this through PayPal using email address: noelk57@gmail.com
Thank you!
And thank you too to the folk who have contributed so far.
********






Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Peter Janke - plantsman AND designer


An all-too brief trip to Germany recently. A chance to get some summer sun during a singularly cool English summer, but to be honest, one does not go to Cologne to lie on the beach. The main reason for going was to interview Peter Janke about his garden (for House and Garden magazine), which is actually a bit further north, just outside Düsseldorf. I was staying in Cologne with Ina Sperl and her family – Ina is gardening correspondent for the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, the regional paper. Though technically a freelancer, Ina has a position in garden journalism that is now unknown in Britain, a two-day a week job with a desk in the office!
Peter practically has gardening in his genes, as his grandparents had a nursery, his grandmother having been a notable breeder of cyclamen (Germany has always much led in this field). He had to take over the family business as a young man, owing to his mother being ill, which meant that he never went through the long process of training (university or apprenticeship) which is normal in Germany. Note for the rest of us – you do not normally do anything in Germany without a long training, even supermarket shelf-stacking requires a long and arduous training (I am making this up, but you get my point). Peter designs gardens professionally, for him it comes completely naturally, “I had been growing plants and putting them together since I was five, making funny little combinations as a child”.

  People who have a good design eye and are real plant collectors are rare. Peter is one of these - “I try to bring together a collector's garden and a designer's garden”. On his 14,000 m2 plot, he says he has over 4,000 varieties, and yet as Ina had said to me over breakfast that day “there is nothing out of place”. There is a very strong sense of structure, and rhythm, but it is in no way 'formal' planting. “I like the idea of formal elements and natural things” he says, and his planting is very much about getting this balance - “we like formal landscapes but the trouble is people go too far and have formal planting too, formality works best with more naturalistic planting”. “I am fascinated by the Beth Chatto style from the beginning but I have things she would hate, like clipped shrubs.” Peter worked for Beth on and off for two years, an essential training, and she was clearly a mentor, but I can imagine a good-humoured argument or two between them over things like this.
One of the key problems in planting design is keeping interest going through the year, but Peter says “this is the trickiest part of planting design...but I truly believe a garden should be for twelve months, and comparing with fine art you can have a Claude Monet in summer and a George Braque in winter if you do it right”. Peter is very keen on using space twice over, such as experimenting with layering, eg. late-developing plants which can allow for a ground layer of small spring bulbs or low perennials first, eg, many Zingiberaceae or having late emerging foliage from things like Darmera peltata, or somewhat smaller, the fern Gymnocarpium dryopteris. with bulbs or very early woodland perennials. Another thing he is doing is testing different ways of cutting perennials down, pruning them mid-season to get healthy new growth, e.g. Geum rivale “two or three weeks later they look super”. He is trying to create combinations that you can do this with, using astrantia, tellima, onoclea, matteucia. In addition he says how “it is possible to have a border which is full of bulbs and spring flowers then the picture changes completely almost tropical in appearance with Tetrapanax, Boehmeria and many others”. This 'tropical' look is something which I have noticed a bit recently in Germany – where the real exotic look possible in Britain is impossible (winters are a lot colder) but often using large-foliage plants from the Far East, like many Aralia, Boehmeria, Shefflera etc.

  Walking through the woodland area of the garden Peter tells me that “variegation almost used to be a no-no, but now my attitude has changed completely, I can appreciate that it can be very useful, in very small quantities, it brings light into shaded places, and it can be used to create some striking combinations, particularly good for urban situations.”
It is interesting to hear how Peter describes himself as being very influenced by Karl Foerster (a writer, nurseryman and plant breeder who was immensely influential in the early part of the 20th century and who wrote extensively), “the antithesis of what I knew in the cut flower industry, the use of plants which are not necessarily flamboyant and colourful, he taught me to see plants in a completely different way”. But we agreed between us that actually Foerster's style today would be seen as relatively conventional. Things have moved on – partly because his last major book, on grasses and ferns, in 1957, has helped initiate a whole new more naturalistic planting style.
I remember a previous conversation with Peter, a few years ago, in which we were comparing British and German gardening cultures in the early part of the 20th century, and probably discussing which was more influential. Peter said that he thought that German garden culture had been almost irreperably damaged by the 1939-1945 war. Actually, there was a huge drop off in plant availability in Britain too, a loss which carried on through the 1950s. In Britain however gardening remained culturally important; in Germany, Peter thinks less so, “we lost our German identity completely after the war, in garden culture too, but now we are getting our garden culture back.... the garden lecturers like Cassian Schmidt have done a lot to change people's perceptions, and the fact that more and more private gardens are open that helps a lot, started with groups of plant collectors opening their gardens to show each other, now nearly every city has an open garden gate event, it makes people work at their gardens”.

A couple of years ago I did a blog post on pre-war German gardenculture – see here.
Since then, I have made contact with a member of the family of the artist, Escher Bartning, who did many of the illustrations for Karl Foerster (such as the phlox in that previous blog post – the delphiniums were by her father Ludwig) from the 1930s to the 1950s, by which time Foerster was living in the DDR (communist East Germany). Her niece lives in Leipzig and still has many of the original watercolours (I told this to a colleague in Berlin, whose response was “is that where they are, we have been looking for them for years”). Recently I was able to get hold of a whole set of Gartenschönheit, the magazine that Foerster edited before the war. More on this in a later blog post I hope, its a wonderful but also deeply poignant view into a liberal, broadminded, modernist Germany, at a time when the dominant political and cultural currents were going very much the other way, and a cataclysm beckoned. I'll end with some of Escher Bartning's covers for the magazine.



* * * * *
If you like this blog, why not check out my e-books, which are round-ups of some writing I did for Hortus magazine back in the early 2000s, along with an interview with the amazing Beth Chatto. You can read them on Kindle, or Kindle packages for smartphones or the computer. You can find them on my Amazon page here. You will also find my soap opera for gardeners - currently running at eight episodes.
SUPPORT THIS BLOG
I write this blog unpaid (of course) and try to do two postings a month, to try to provide the garden, wildflower and plant-loving community with information, inspiration and ideas. Keeping it coming is not always easy to fit into a busy working life. I would very much appreciate it if readers would 'chip in' (as we say in England) and provide a little financial support. After all, you pay for magazines and books, and it is only for historical reasons that the internet is free. Some money coming in will help me to improve quality and frequency, and to start to provide more coherent access to hard information, which I know is what a lot of you really want. So – please donate now!! You can do this through PayPal using email address: noelk57@gmail.com
Thank you!
And thank you too to the folk who have contributed so far.
********




Monday, July 27, 2015

Getting the meadow cut - and why I hate sheep



At last we have gotten the meadow cut. This is an annual nightmare, as it is for a lot of other owners of small patches of grassland. In the end a local contractor, Phil, came to the rescue, borrowing a huge John Deere tractor and flail off a farmer friend to come and do it for us. We're very grateful!

We are typical of many of a new demographic in the British countryside, the micro-landowner, with just a few acres – we have about 3+ acres of wildflower meadow to cut. Ours is very bio-diverse, indeed some of it quite exceptionally interesting, a rare survival of a pre-intensification grassland. But getting it cut, let alone doing what we should be doing, getting it cut and raking off the cut grass as hay, is always really difficult. The problems of doing so bring one up against two things: the problems of actually achieving good medium-scale habitat management, and the realities of global agriculture.
In the past, a local farmer would be happy to come and cut the grass for hay, problem solved. But no-one wants hay anymore, although horses are happy to eat it, silage is better for most animals and a lot easier for the farmers – apart from anything else, hay has to be left to dry, which is not always possible in the climate of west Britain. 

(Silage, by the way, is grass cut young and lush and fermented to make a very digestible animal feed which can be kept for up to two years.)



Not any more. Coming and cutting small acreages is simply not worth it for farmers. The last two years we had a silage cut, which is done in June when the grass is lush, but it is not worth it for them to come back – it involved a small army of huge machinery to come quite a few miles. Anyway a silage cut removes the grass before a lot of wildflowers have performed, let alone seeded. In many places it can, I believe, be a disaster for biodiversity. See what I wrote about it in Austria a few years ago. But it did remove the nutrients for those years – as we all know now, removing grass/herbage removes nutrients, so reducing the nutrient level of the soil, which reduces grass growth and so therefore encourages biodiversity. 

You would think that one or two of the local farmers might have cottoned on to the fact that the area now has lots of people like us who want small scale cuts done, and come and cut them at a premium price. Not a bit of it. Like many semi-marginal agricultural areas most of them are the ones who haven't had the initiative to go and do something else; they seem completely stuck in the same old way of doing things: overgrazing the land with EU-subsidised sheep and mechanically producing silage, preferably from monocultures of ryegrass. This is one of the problems with small-scale farming – most of those who practice it never made an active choice to do it, they are just following in their fathers' and grandfathers' footsteps. There is the occasional bright spark who has realised that this is all completely uneconomic and diversified into the new rural economy – niche farming and food processing: artisan cheeses, fruit cordials, single-variety cider etc. Fortunately this does seem to be growing in Herefordshire.
 

Even if some of the local agricultural community did get the initiative to offer small meadow management services, they would face the next problem – the 'kit'. All modern agricultural machinery in Britain is vast, made for the plains of Kansas, or at least Lincolnshire - the places where a totally different landscape actually feeds us. Agriculture is subject to an elementary economic law – the Law of Diminishing Returns, which basically means that scale is everything (except if you can buck the Law by developing a niche market, which is essentially what so-called 'organic' production, farm shops and food fairs are all about). The Law means that there is no longer a market for small or medium-sized tractors etc, so anyone who enters the small acreage market inevitably has to be a vintage tractor and farm machinery addict.

One answer, in the neighbouring county has been the Monmouthshire Meadows Group whose mission statement declares "Our aim is to conserve and restore flower rich grasslands in Monmouthshire by enabling members to manage their own fields and gardens effectively". Their website lists contractors for all sorts of wildflower meadow conservation services and apparently they did club together a few years ago to buy an Austrian small cutter and baler. There is talk of something being set up in Herefordshire, which is very good news indeed.

So, what is so special about our bit of grassland?
We were here for a year before we realised just how special one bit of our land was – it had an incredibly dense sward with very little grass, but instead was made up of two wildflowers – fleabane and silverweed, plus rushes and sedges, plus a whole lot of other wildflowers. There were a few orchids, three the first year. Our neighbour (a v. old-fashioned smallholder) had sheep on it, we gradually reduced them, and as we did so, the flora burgeoned – we now have thousands of spotted orchids. As time has gone on, we have seen this very interesting flora slowly spread – it is actually a flora which is more typical of 'dune slacks' – wet areas of sand dunes, on the south Wales coast, than anything else I have seen around here. In parts I am reminded of alpine herbfield – as there is so little grass.


I suspect that there was once an awful lot more of this kind of biodiverse grassland around. I also suspect that if the amount of sheep-grazing were reduced we might seen the development of a lot more. Sheep are the curse around here – the deforested scenery of much of Wales and the borders is constantly nibbled to within a millimetre of its life by them. Unlike cattle, which are no longer rough grazed in the area (what Americans call ranching) they tiptoe around bracken, which continues its onward march, smothering vast areas. The sooner we give up subsidising farmers to keep these biodiversity-gobbling beasts in marginal areas like this, the better. A landscape of woodland (economic use = biomass?) and small patches of economically useless but biodiverse grassland like ours, would be much more preferable. 


* * * * *
If you like this blog, why not check out my e-books, which are round-ups of some writing I did for Hortus magazine back in the early 2000s, along with an interview with the amazing Beth Chatto. You can read them on Kindle, or Kindle packages for smartphones or the computer. You can find them on my Amazon page here. You will also find my soap opera for gardeners - currently running at eight episodes.
SUPPORT THIS BLOG
I write this blog unpaid (of course) and try to do two postings a month, to try to provide the garden, wildflower and plant-loving community with information, inspiration and ideas. Keeping it coming is not always easy to fit into a busy working life. I would very much appreciate it if readers would 'chip in' (as we say in England) and provide a little financial support. After all, you pay for magazines and books, and it is only for historical reasons that the internet is free. Some money coming in will help me to improve quality and frequency, and to start to provide more coherent access to hard information, which I know is what a lot of you really want. So – please donate now!! You can do this through PayPal using email address: noelk57@gmail.com
Thank you!
And thank you too to the folk who have contributed so far.
********

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Is Naturalistic Planting almost Mainstream now? !

Intermingling as a planting strategy works well at Little Ash Bungalow with things like Knautia macedonica, which often needs support for its rangy stems.
A few days in Devon leading a tour group for Gardens Illustrated magazine was a good opportunity to drop into some gardens I like, but in some cases haven't managed to get to for years. Reflecting on what we saw, I think its fair to say that naturalistic planting is really making an impact. One place we went to was the Garden House, well known for this approach, and now with a new head gardener in charge who is very much a follower of Keith Wiley, who made the garden what it is. However it is two other gardens I'd like to talk about here, all the more important for their being more low-key, and in terms of what most people can do in their gardens, realisable.

Here I'd like to look at the planting in these two gardens, concentrating on some key aspects of naturalistic planting: density, intermingling, self-sowing, spontaneous native plants and integration with nature.

Little Ash Bungalow, is a Yellow Book garden, which Helen Brown has made into a new-style plantsman's garden. It illustrates well just how effective the higher density of planting that is so crucial to naturalistic planting can be when used with good plant combinations - for which this garden is an excellent example.

 Conventional planting with its separation of plant from plant and bare soil now seems so much a thing of the past. Whilst we are still a long way from the density of natural plant habitats, the modern planting style has a kind of voluptuous freedom about it, which is a joy to see.
 Helen's garden is mostly herbaceous but some strongly structural stuff as well. Grasses make good space fillers.

Whilst here there is not much of the conscious repetition with the true intermingled planting style aims at, dense naturalistic planting is such a good way of managing and making the most of the wide range of plant forms which herbaceous perennials take, and which people like Helen like to cram into their borders. NONE OF WHICH are to be found growing on their own in splendid isolation in nature - ok, there are exceptions but they are very few; Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) is one which does, but that is another story. The overwhelming majority of perennials grow cheek by jowl with many others, and physically intermesh and hold each other up, interpenetrate each other, so there is often a visual intermingling from a limited number of plants. The planting at Little Ash illustrates this extremely well.
 Self-sowing, self-seeding, whatever you would like to call it, is a crucial part of the new naturalism. Although progressive gardeners from Margery Fish onwards have promoted it, it is now really only coming into its own. Burrow Farm garden is a good place to appreciate it. This expansive and ambitious garden has been made over many years by Mary Benger on land which has presumably been gradually acquired from her husband's farm - a successful example of agricultural diversification, and one which, because it is open to the public as a business means it is a very accessible place to get to, to see how traditional English mixed planting style is morphing into a distinctly naturalistic one. Self-sowing is a big part of what makes Burrow Farm successful visually.

The sheer scale of Burrow Farm and its very subtle transitions from one area to another is quite something, and of course it illustrates well that naturalistic planting is the obvious way to manage such extensive areas. I would love to see Mary being put in charge of Wisley for a few years.

 Scenes like this which counterpoint very conventional and almost cliched English garden features like bird baths with seeding perennials would once have been seen as a sign of neglect. How far we have come!

The partial acceptance and management of what turns up in the borders on its own is another crucial aspect of naturalistic planting. Here is hemlock! Yes! The stuff that killed Socrates. There is even some giant hogweed lurking down by a pond.
 Finally, there is the integration of cultivated plants with more fully semi-natural habitat like these Iris ensata matching the colours of some wild orchids - common spotted (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) but which seems to hybridising with some garden ones (D. foliosa) with their deeper colours. Managing the boundaries and borderlines between what a naturalist would unhesitatingly call 'habitat' and the gardener 'border' is one of the ecological-artistic skills of the new naturalistic gardener.

It is very heartening to visit these two gardens, both created by people who are not perhaps self-consciously part of the 'new perennial' movement, but whose work illustrates so well what the more noisily evangelical ones amongst us in planting design have been banging on about for years.

Of course doing good naturalistic planting does depend greatly on understanding plants. In collaboration with My Garden School I have published the first of what is intended to be a series on planting design. It is very much a textbook, written with a global audience of non-English speakers in mind, for anyone and everyone who is involved with planning or planting vegetation, from amateurs to landscape architects. This first book is aimed at understanding the basics of plants through their ecology.
Here it is on the amazon site.


* * * * *


If you like this blog, why not check out my e-books, which are round-ups of some writing I did for Hortus magazine back in the early 2000s, along with an interview with the amazing Beth Chatto. You can read them on Kindle, or Kindle packages for smartphones or the computer. You can find them on my Amazon page here. You will also find my soap opera for gardeners - currently running at eight episodes.
SUPPORT THIS BLOG
I write this blog unpaid (of course) and try to do two postings a month, to try to provide the garden, wildflower and plant-loving community with information, inspiration and ideas. Keeping it coming is not always easy to fit into a busy working life. I would very much appreciate it if readers would 'chip in' (as we say in England) and provide a little financial support. After all, you pay for magazines and books, and it is only for historical reasons that the internet is free. Some money coming in will help me to improve quality and frequency, and to start to provide more coherent access to hard information, which I know is what a lot of you really want. So – please donate now!! You can do this through PayPal using email address: noelk57@gmail.com
Thank you!
And thank you too to the folk who have contributed so far.
********




Friday, June 12, 2015

The Garden at Montpelier Cottage in May

The garden in May. I'm pretty happy with it now. We have been here ten years and things are coming along nicely. This May in particular has been good, and to a large extent I feel the plants have done the work for me. I have seen a couple of public projects lately by colleagues and been astonished how little there is in flower in them, which strikes me as odd when there are so many perennials which flower at this time; many are quite physically insubstantial, which means that they can then disappear amongst taller bulkier later-flowering plants. Or they are semi-summer-dormant, which is neat as they can then literally be left to disappear beneath later-developing plants.

Actually, before I go on, the pictures here do not come across well, so I have uploaded them on to flickr as well - they give you a much better idea.

This is the view down from the house, towards our yurt which always makes a good focal point for photographs. A lot of what you see in terms of visual impact now is stuff that has put itself there, notably the wild Anthriscus sylvestris and forms of Aquilegia vulgaris. Increasingly this garden is about managing self-sowing. The visual impact is also about having a limited number of species widely distributed, which is also one of the advantages of seeding - as the plants do the work for you.

The big leaves in front are Filipendula camtschatica, which does very well for us on our moist soil. The foliage makes a good graphic counterpoint to all the fine textured species. It is good at all times, so much so that we left this clump standing after we had cut everything else back in the winter. It seeds a little bit, and since it forms very solid clumps, definitely something to keep an eye on in the future.


Aquilegias with Cirsium rivulare atrosanguineum to the lower left and right and our hornbeam hedge, which is trimmed to look vaguely like it might be a ruined wall. I like minimal bits of architectural shaping, just enough to give some substance to the garden.
The yellow is Trollius europaeus, which has proved one of our most successful species; we are in the region where it does grow wild, and these are all grown from wild-collected seed. It is the kind of thing which simply does not flourish in many places as it gets too dry but here flowers for weeks with great big fat flowers, vaguely reminiscent of buttercups; it as the great advantage of completing most of its growth now so it does not mind being swamped by other things later on.

The aquilegias are remarkable. Originally from seed from Jelitto, they continually seed and spread, and with a continued ability to produce a very wide range of colours, as well as occasional doubles. So often a seed strain ends up going back to a murky version of the wild plant, but not these, they almost get better and better in terms of genetic variation.

The cow parsley (the Anthriscus) is a wild species which is basically a winter annual, flowering May/June and then seeding, so we pull most of it out to stop it seeding too much. It makes a great visual linking plant, separating brighter colours and preventing 'clashes'. The blue is mostly Geranium sylvaticum, which seeds modestly. The wild buttercup (Ranunculus acris) is a good ingredient too, although it can seed too much. Also some Polemonium caeruleum which hopefully will spread with time.

 Geranium x monacense in front, one of the G. phaeum hybrids - all good plants for this time of year, murky colours but fascinating and a good complement to stronger colours. Unlike the slightly later pink G. endressii types they do not form enormous clumps which collapse after flowering, which is an advantage, making it easier to mix them in with other plants.
Our native red campion (Silene dioica) here as well, on the left, a short-lived perennial, which seeds strongly once established, and another winter annual, which is semi-dormant after it seeds in June. Again this is something which can just be left to get covered over by later-developing plants. The yellow here is Primula helodoxa, one of the Himalayan candelabra primulas. It does ok but has not started seeding yet as it has in many moist soil gardens. Thalictrum aquilegifolium too, in the background, which is good for height, as there is little else which flowers at this height at this time; it too can be forgotten about after flowering as it has so little bulk.

Symphytum caucasicum. A very aggressive spreader which is in its own bed, which gets mown around. It is a fantastic bee plant, for wild bumble bees rather than honey bees. In less fertile soils it struggles.

 Euphorbia palustris with some of its last-year dead growth left, which we do deliberately, as it forms a kind of stiff cage inside which the very soft new growth develops and is supported - one of those things which makes you say "isn't nature clever?". This is a seriously large plant but appears not to spread, it is not actually clonal but seems very long-lived. It can seed and since it gets so big this is something which has to be watched.
Persicaria bistorta 'Superba' in the background here.  Between clumps of bamboo, which are almost the only evergreens here. They have a softness so often lacking in evergreen shrubs and fit into the landscape better.

Euphorbia griffithii on the left and in the centre, Silene fimbriata, which has fascinating fringed flowers and is a surprisingly good perennial for a silene (they are usually short-lived like our wild campion species), forming big clumps with time. A good plant for back-lighting.


* * * * *
If you like this blog, why not check out my e-books, which are round-ups of some writing I did for Hortus magazine back in the early 2000s, along with an interview with the amazing Beth Chatto. You can read them on Kindle, or Kindle packages for smartphones or the computer. You can find them on my Amazon page here. You will also find my soap opera for gardeners - currently running at eight episodes.
SUPPORT THIS BLOG
I write this blog unpaid (of course) and try to do two postings a month, to try to provide the garden, wildflower and plant-loving community with information, inspiration and ideas. Keeping it coming is not always easy to fit into a busy working life. I would very much appreciate it if readers would 'chip in' (as we say in England) and provide a little financial support. After all, you pay for magazines and books, and it is only for historical reasons that the internet is free. Some money coming in will help me to improve quality and frequency, and to start to provide more coherent access to hard information, which I know is what a lot of you really want. So – please donate now!! You can do this through PayPal using email address: noelk57@gmail.com
Thank you!
And thank you too to the folk who have contributed so far.
********

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Piet Oudolf story, and many



A lot of regular readers of this blog will probably be aware of the 'Oudolf Hummelo' book being 'out'. I've been meaning to write something about it for some time but been very busy.
In the introduction I make a joke (which I have repeated ad nauseam and will stop doing so now) made by Piet that “only footballers have biographies written about them in Holland”. It is more than a biography anyway. I intended it to be a story about a group of people, of whom I am one, so in some ways it became a personal memoir, but also a social and cultural commentary. I wanted to place what Piet does in his planting in a bigger context; he would not have done what he did or be successful at another time in history. It was a great opportunity to write about a whole circle of people, from different walks of life, but who were all passionate about plants and gardening.

Writing the book was also an opportunity to get under the skin of the Dutch a bit more. I find this a fascinating country. I love it. The Dutch are the most civilised people in the world. But I would never live there. Too flat. And when push comes to shove, I think it is a more conformist culture than at first appears.

I visit The Netherlands a lot. In particular I'm fascinated by the way the whole landscape has been sculpted, created, physically made by the ancestors of the people who live there. The more I visited the more I realised that this place used to be lake, that one a vast wetland, and this place is several metres below sea level. I ended up reading a couple of books about the creation of the country's landscape, and realised it was a lot more to it than how it is often presented – that of the Dutch heroically building dykes and keeping the sea out.

For one thing, the story of the Dutch landscape is actually one of self-inflicted near-disaster, but rescue through technological innovation and communal effort. Rising sea levels were rising naturally (they have been rising since the last ice age, which is why climate change is frightening), but digging channels through peat land to drain them was made things far worse. As the peat dried out it shrank, so the sea and flooding rivers made their advance; by the late Medieval period there were vast areas which were either inundated or were on the point of being swallowed up. Windmills and an increasingly complex systems of dykes, drains and sluices kept the sea back, together with a unique system of management which revolved around communities having to consult with each other about their plans (as all too often one village's attempts to get rid of its flood waters would result in another being placed at risk). With the 19th century invention of the steam pump, the Dutch could be proactive and not just keep the waters back but actually drain what had been lost centuries before. I like to see a parallel with humanity and the threat of climate change – except that the Dutch have never had the equivalent of US Republicans bellowing that the flooding wasn't actually happening.

Much of the Dutch landscape is incredibly highly managed, with little room for nature. Historically, natural habitats were ruthlessly cleared out of the way. One of the side-stories in the book is of Jac Thijsse, naturalist who was born at around the time (the 1860s) that the last Dutch natural forest was felled. What has been remarkable about the latter part of the 20th century however is how the Dutch have actually held back, and begin to re-wild, create new habitat, and establish a nature-culture balance in the landscape. And this, I believe, is where the gardening comes in.

There were big political battles over the future of the landscape in the latter part of the 20th century and the areas being set aside for wildlife are very much the compromise that came out of disputes between conservationists and the agriculture and water management lobby. Wildlife-friendly and naturalistic gardening were part of the outcome as well. It was as if certain people saw what was being done to the landscape – its total rationalisation, and stepped back, determined to leave a space for nature.

This is also the land of the well-planned public housing estate. Dutch urban landscape planning is, along with Scandinavian, the most advanced anywhere. Everything is on a very human scale and there is always plenty of nature, albeit often heavily managed. One way of looking at the Oudolf planting style is to see it as a kind of 'enhanced nature', which parallels the way the larger landscape is managed, a model of a kind of planting design that satisfies the aesthetic needs of humanity but which also has a sustainable and wildlife-friendly aspect.

I have often thought that the garden is a microcosm of a wider world and that gardening can be seen as metaphor for our management of the planet as a whole. If so, the Dutch experience is one of the most valuable guides to our common future.

One further little funny story, which illustrates the tolerance the Dutch are famous for. At a launch party for the book in Haarlem back in March, towards the end of the event, a friend sidled up to me and mentioned to me that "the old whores are here" and 2 old ladies (well into their 70s), identical twins dressed identically, had turned up and had monopolised the canape tray (clearly their intended supper). They were both trying to sell their own book "Our lives in the Red Light District at (sic) Amsterdam". Apparently they roll up at any event of cultural significance, so I supposed they were a kind of seal of approval. Your truly had his photo taken with them, Piet maintained his usual Olympian distance.

* * * * *
If you like this blog, why not check out my e-books, which are round-ups of some writing I did for Hortus magazine back in the early 2000s, along with an interview with the amazing Beth Chatto. You can read them on Kindle, or Kindle packages for smartphones or the computer. You can find them on my Amazon page here. You will also find my soap opera for gardeners - currently running at eight episodes.
SUPPORT THIS BLOG
I write this blog unpaid (of course) and try to do two postings a month, to try to provide the garden, wildflower and plant-loving community with information, inspiration and ideas. Keeping it coming is not always easy to fit into a busy working life. I would very much appreciate it if readers would 'chip in' (as we say in England) and provide a little financial support. After all, you pay for magazines and books, and it is only for historical reasons that the internet is free. Some money coming in will help me to improve quality and frequency, and to start to provide more coherent access to hard information, which I know is what a lot of you really want. So – please donate now!! You can do this through PayPal using email address: noelk57@gmail.com
Thank you!
And thank you too to the folk who have contributed so far.
********

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Eden Project - a review

We visited the Eden Project for the first time in years the other week. So interesting to see how this fantastically imaginative project is coming on. I thought it would be interesting to 'review' it. So here are my thoughts, and its interesting to read others' comments too ....... read on.......