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rubus-ulmifolius-bellidiflorusI first espied this intriguing plant back in 2011 at Hampton Court and incorporated it into my front garden a couple of years later.

Now I’m a fan of a Rubus (Japanese wineberries, raspberries and blackberries), but planting this in my urban front garden has been a bit of a mistake. Yes, there have (eventually) been some pink pompoms (which originally attracted me to this plant), but it’s been a quick grower and, similarly to my Japanese wineberry, it starts rooting each time a tip of a cane hits the ground. In fact, it seems to be even more successful than my wineberry, flipping over, seemingly at will, and spreading itself all over the place. And it comes with some rather nasty thorns. What’s more, although decorative (up to a point), it doesn’t produce oodles of edible berries, so what was I thinking?

As space is tight in my front garden, I’ve called it time on Rubus ulmifolius Belliddiflorus and have spent a good few hours digging it up, untangling it from other plants (noticeably a wild rose and my Oregon Thornless blackberry) that it has artfully woven itself into, and yanking rooted canes out of a slightly crumbling wall.

Its purply/pink stems and pompoms are, indubitably, attractive features, but it’s definitely a case of right plant, wrong place and I shall have to wait until I get an extra acre or two before I start growing this beast again.

The other morning I watched a grounds maintenance crew as they attempted to cut back some Rubus cockburnianus (lovely white stems in winter, but also viciously thorny), cursing as they got scratched and caught up in their clippings. These plants are amazing, but like Rubus ulmifolius Bellidiflorus, best  left to their own devices in a scrubbier bit of land where they can happily do their own thing.

Great Dixter 4 I often feel that I’m a tad gushing when I write about Great Dixter, but I just can’t help myself. If you’re ever feeling a bit jaded about gardening (or despair about Brexit), then a day spent soaking up the gorgeous borders will lift your spirits and help you to think anew about the planting in your own garden.

Lolloping plumes of Cortadeira richardii On this visit, the towering but delicately airy Thalictrum ‘Elin’ was one of the plants that really moved me (rubbing shoulders here with nodding plumes of Ampelodesmos mauritanica and Cortaderia richardii, giant fennels and teasels). (Should you be heading towards Normandy for your holidays, then Jardin Plume also has some very inspiring planting with Thalictrums).

Rachael Dodd is one of Fergus Garrett’s knowledgeable and enthusiastic team at Great Dixter, and illustrated on part of our garden tour how Thalictrum are carefully staked to (seemingly invisibly) support the plant in this windier part of the garden. Good to know how much careful planning and work is carried out to achieve such glorious planting schemes.

It also struck me that there are no half measures at Great Dixter. This is high-octane gardening (with lovely soft, dreamy edges), and the transformation of different areas from season to season is always experimental and innovative, packed with ever-changing colours and textures, and this is what makes the gardens so enticing and inspiring.

Long border with house as backdrop at Great Dixter June 2016The ‘all singing all dancing’ long border was glowing, as ever, with wonderful plant combinations,

Long border at Great Dixter June 2016looking lush from any angle. I think the pink flowers at the bottom of the frame are Viscaria oculata and to their left, parsnip flowers have been given the ‘Chelsea chop’ to avoid the need for staking. The purple above is Salvia nemerosa.

Great Dixter 2

Poppies were at the height of their flowering in many areas,

Papaver glaucum 2dotting their jewel like qualities throughout different borders. This variety (above) is Papaver glaucum (seeds available from Chiltern Seeds). A beautiful annual poppy, with further buds on side shoots that will supply continuous flowering for around 5 weeks.

Wildflower meadows at Great Dixter 2

And then the gardens flow into wildflower meadows,

Wildflower meadows surrounding the house Great Dixter 2

tying in the estate to the countryside,

Wildflower meadows at Great Dixter with orchids and Hay rattle and knapweed

with orchids and hay rattle and many other natives that will encourage and protect wildlife diversity.

Woodpile at Great Dixter

Further additions, such as these Andy Goldsworthy-esque woodpiles are being constructed around the estate to further increase wildlife habitats to invite in other insects and fauna.

Clerodendron bungeiAnd the nursery was as intriguing as ever, packed full of desirable plants so you can go home (as I always do) with another little bit of Great Dixter for your own garden. (Above are Clerodendron bungei cuttings growing for future sales).

Parsnip flower at Great DixterAt the end of the day, I dragged myself away from the voluptuous planting, but I can’t wait for my next visit to see how the gardens progress throughout the year.

Flashy Butter Oak LettuceLettuces started off in the greenhouse and planted out in my front garden about 5 weeks ago are just about ready to have leaves harvested. This is the gorgeous ‘Flashy Butter Oak’ (above) from The Real Seed Catalogue, looking a little tatty at the edges from slugs and snails, but as it’s survived so far (not all of them did), I’m hoping it will now flourish.Reins des Glaces LettuceAnother little beauty from The Real Seed Catalogue is ‘Reine des Glaces’, a cultivar that’s about 200 years old.  Lovely crunchy sweet leaves work really well with softer lettuces and its curly spikeyness is so darn decorative in the garden. I love it!

Forellenschluss Lettuce (soeckled like a trout)

Forellenschluss (meaning speckled like a trout apparently) has similar colourings to the above ‘Flashy Butter Oak’, but it’s an Austrian heirloom Cos lettuce, so will hopefully develop some nice crunchy upright leaves. (I do like a good crunch in my salads these days.) It also looks a lot like Freckles, another delightful Cos, but maybe a bit looser in shape. Seeds available from the ever entertaining Chiltern Seeds. I’ll keep on harvesting just the outer leaves of these lettuces, so they should last me a good couple of months, and I know that it’s time to sow another batch of lettuces right now, although if I get round to this is another matter…

Lettuce seeds waiting in the wings are: ‘Cocarde’ and ‘Red Sails’ (from Nicky’s Seeds) and ‘Crisp Mint’, ‘Really Red Deer Tongue’ and ‘Devil’s Tongue’, (all from The Real Seed Company).

Should I develop a glut of leaves, Nigel Slater has a great recipe for lettuce, pea and mint soup in ‘Tender: Volume 1’. Very tasty and utterly refreshing. I wish I’d discovered this years ago.

Golden Streaks Mustard leafMy mustard leaves sown at the same time are now going to seed (‘Golden Streaks’ above), and although the leaves are getting spicier by the day, still taste great when used sparingly in salads, as do the flowers.

Sweet CicelyAnd Sweet Cicely adds a lovely aniseed note to the mix too.
Front garden lettuce bed with alliums and mustard leavesIt’s so lovely to have dinner on my doorstep, with the odd bit of decoration too.  (Allium Globemaster just about to come into bloom there.)
Front garden veg bed with runner beans and tomatoesAnd bed no. 2 has runner beans, tomatoes, sweet peas and radishes for more front garden veg (and deliciously scented blooms) later in summer. (Mustard leaf ‘Red Giant’ at the front of the bed, also just about to go to seed.)

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