Sylvia Clare’s Column – Cameos, inspirations, and grand vistas, July 2014

Published: July 31, 2022
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Cameos, inspirations, and grand vistas -July 2014

Having been away last week visiting some of the best and most well-known gardens in the country down south, namely, Great Dixter, Sissinghurst, Pashley Manor and Merriments, I have come home and realised that my garden, although never consciously modelled on anything or anyone, has much in common with each of them. Ok it is nothing like as grand or spacious, but I have bits that would fit into each of them.

For instance my slightly jungle-like area outside our living room window, that provides shade in high summer and privacy from visitors in the car park, is not filled with so many tender plants as Great Dixter's jungle spot but it has, to me, the same feel, and this was my first visit ever, so a real treat to see the original.

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Pots arranged in groups in the courtyard. Many still to start flowering, but again I realise a la Dixter.

I cannot store or over-winter bananas or tree ferns as they can, but I have bamboos and Arunda donax ‘Variegata' coming up between Robinias and Buddleias, and I always plant lots of tall sunflowers to peep through the tops of it all each year. I love the chaotic mass of colour and form and the way it sort of develops into its own space. There is year round colour and movement to look out on, and I cut the bamboos to use around the garden so they have not become a problem (yet). and Agapanthus, Astelias and Verbascums and Phormiums complete the jungle-like self-sown melee. Yet they are fronted by a narrow sloping path into the garden which allows wheel barrow access and is edged by alternating Box and Lavender balls which are slightly over grown at present and have other self-sown things coming up around them like Geranium cinerarium and Nigella. These will be pulled out or dug up and transplanted once the autumn comes and I can get a trowel into the rock hard ground here. It is south facing at the top of a bank and thus very, very dry and hot at present, even on a dull or wetter year this can be true in summer, yet in winter all may have to withstand icy blasts coming up the valley and cope with frost pocket conditions most winters. However, I thought, yes! I did a bit of Lloyd style stuff without consciously deciding that would be the effect. I just wanted plants that would survive and thrive there and do what I wanted them to do, so I bought or swapped what I could find and afford for that job. Not a Dixter, but my own version. Great! I also found that the massed planting of things allowed to do their own thing was very similar to my own approach, not from any planned idea but from my personality really. I am not organised or methodical in the way I run my life and a slight state of chaos is normal for me, so the garden reflects that, and I have often in the past felt that somehow that made it not good enough, but now I can say that unintentionally I am like Lloyd in my planting approaches! Don't we all blag from time to time?

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Sunflowers peeping through.

Then I wandered around my garden looking at what was there and I saw all sorts of little cameos and wonders that gave a little thrill or joy, things that happen because plants do their own thing. For instance I had cleared away some overgrown areas and suddenly a little weeping silver pear is not providing backdrop to some very handsome Crocosmias, or where I had been left with a wooden sided raised bed with almost no soil except almost pure chalky clay after some work had been done, and I thought maybe succulents would be the answer. I found what I could in my usual unplanned haphazard way, and stuck them in. Two years later and a lovely association of and some other Sedums, together with self-sown mallows and a dianthus cutting which I tried out and now it is a lovely little association, but the Euphorbia and Sedum trio really please me, and I think I may now take more cuttings and extend this particular trio further along the area. So inspiration comes from many happy accidents too!

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Crocosmia ‘Lucifer' against silver weeping pear.

Other areas do not do so well under close inspection since there is so much cutting back to do this time of year and I am only one who avoids extreme heat and horse flies this time of year; I am apparently very tasty to them and there are sheep in the field next door, so they are out in abundance, After 4 bites this morning I gave up and came in to write this up instead of struggling to keep going. And in the evening it is the mozzies! Short bursts of work today until it cools a little this evening and there is plenty to do indoors too. I have often thought it would be great to have a wife to look after the house for me -oh wait I am the wife hah! (I must add that we have an extremely democratic marriage, in case I give any false impressions here.)

I love the faded heads of old glories combining with the high summer colour bursts, such as the pinkish flower heads of Euporbia Martinii and Stachys lambs ears with bright yellow Verbascums poking between them and deep magenta Geraniums still in flower too. Coloured foliage also helps enormously to create a sense of transition between flowering highlights, allowing the flowers there to provide little accents of colour contrast.

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Fading glories.

But one highlight is the red border and consists of Bergamots, Crocosmias, Hemerocallis, Rosa Dublin Bay and another flower carpet red, and above all that the little dancing dark red bobbles of Sanguisorbas. This is something I did plan as part of my colour circle for people to meditate upon, and drew upon my very many trips to Sissinghurst back when I used to live in Kent. Colour is a profound influence upon our moods and mind states and excellent for certain types of meditative/mindfulness practice, as well as gardening generally.

I am also still trying to create a green section to my colour wheel and am making some progress with green Nicotiana, grasses and kniphofia, ferns and Euphorbias to fill a year of plants, but still wanting to add more to this section. It is very much more difficult to make highly colour coordinated combinations in one area for a whole year as each season has its dominant colours. Purple, blue orange and yellow are so easy by comparison.

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Green shades developing that section.

Whilst away, yellow, purple, and red were the predominant colours to be seen, although many more in between shades and tones were present too. Anyway, I love abundance, a natural look to things and colour contrasts which create vistas small and large. In conclusion I love plants and gardens, all of them and all year round. So when the heat today dies down a little I shall venture out once more to tackle which ever job leaps out at me as the next most pressing thing. Oh I forgot to mention, my new potting shed is underway but the chaos which reigns in the interim is -shall we say ‘fun', a ‘challenge to work around', a wonderful aspiration slowly coming to fruition.

Sylvia Clare

Text and photographs by Sylvia Clare, who has been an HPS member for more than 10 years.