Plant Layering

Plant Layering

The new garden is finally finished. Well… there are always some little jobs here and there that need tackling, but it’s mainly done and most importantly I have raised beds I can plant in that are filled with lovely loamy soil and not dreadful sticky, yellow clay. Digging holes for the new plants has been a pleasure rather than a back-breaking effort, but who knew choosing them would be such a complicated business.

First of all there’s the confusing misinformation in books and on websites regarding the ultimate height and spread of trees, and trees categorised as suitable for a small garden that can reach 10m by 10m! I think what classes as a small garden has changed somewhat since these lists were drawn up.

Then there’s the next layer of planting – shrubs. These are often maligned plants consigned to municipal planting schemes now that grasses and wafty designs are all the fashion, but shrubs can be fabulous plants which will add interest and structure, especially in winter when those trendy grasses have collapsed and perennials have retreated underground. Choosing the right ones is crucial if your garden is on the small side as many shrubs can take on tree-like proportions and some can look quite boring for most of the year. I’ve gone for a Cornus kousa and a compact lilac, both of which have pretty late spring/early summer flowers and autumn leaf colour.

I’ve also found space for a species rose. When I first moved in and I told people I had such awful clay soil nearly everyone responded with, “Well, you should grow some roses, they’ll love that clay!” I sighed. I had roses in my last garden and each and every year they succumbed to the fungal disease blackspot. I vowed when I left never to grow roses again. So what changed my mind? Well I’ve gone for a wild rose called Rosa glauca that has the most gorgeous blue-grey foliage on purple-grey stems which provides a striking contrast to the bright pink flowers. It’s relatively compact, the single flowers mean it’s good for pollinating insects, it produces a lovely display of rosy-red hips in autumn and, perhaps most importantly for me, being a wild rose it’s less prone to diseases.

Around these are the perennials – a mix of flowers and grasses, some tall like Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’, which can grow to 1.5m and others that are low-growing like Geum ‘Mai Tai’ and Campanula portenschlagiana, a bellflower which will hug the ground and tumble over the sides of the raised beds.

In autumn I’ll add to the layering with spring-flowering bulbs. There’ll be drifts of dainty daffs, ones that don’t have big leaves that take an age to die down and look a mess while they’re doing so. I’m also thinking of species tulips around the edges of the beds. These come back reliably each year unlike most of the bigger cultivated tulips. These I’ll save for pots. At the moment there’s a lot of bare brown soil and the shrubs look more like a collection of twigs but I have the beginnings of a garden.

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