Archive for the ‘RHS TATTON’ Category

After a roller coaster RHS Tatton show, birthday/anniversary strewn summer holiday [one every week and consequently far too many cakes] and finally a peaceful week away in Cornwall, life is now getting back to a comfortable humdrum of a routine. The September version of the BL Magazine article is all about ornamental grasses, well, more like a pick of my absolute favourites… to be fair…

Ornamental grasses have become increasingly popular in recent years and I am one amongst the gardening fraternity that has also fallen hook, line and sinker for them. I think my love for them started with discovering the wispy fluffy plumes of Stipa tenuissima many moons ago. The slightest breeze will make them billow and sway, giving planting schemes movement and depth, especially when repeat planted.

Using grasses in perennial schemes is a style that was brought to the forefront of the planting design world by the Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf. His planting schemes are jaw-droppingly sublime, magical and somehow manage to epitomise nature. This ‘naturalistic style’ of planting evolved through observing how grasses and perennials grew in the wild, concentrating on structure and the textural qualities of each plant. It is this link to nature that appeals to many [including me] and is probably the reason why grasses have become enormously popular today.

In true Piet Oudolf style, I will go though some classic ornamental grasses that have become my favourites to use in planting schemes by their structural form. Starting with transparent, and there are many in this category, is a form that tends to include the taller grasses that create a see-through screen. Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea ‘Transparent’ [ridiculously long Latin name I know] or commonly known as Purple Moor Grass has incredibly elegant feathery spikelets that will catch the slightest breeze. Their fine see-through flowering stems will reach around one meter in height and will contrast beautifully with bolder perennials. It will do well in most soil conditions as long as it is not too dry, will tolerate light shade but does best in full sun.

Stipa gigantea is another transparent grass but instead of a fine fizz of flowerheads this grass has golden oat-like flowers on huge arching stems; once established they can reach 2.5m in height. It is a lovely majestic grass, definitely for the back of a border and will add height and shimmer in the evening summer sunlight. One last transparent must-have grass is Deschampsia cespitosa Goldtau [pictured below]. Another elegant grass with finely textured flowerheads on long slender stems it will give your borders an extraordinarily magical, almost dreamlike quality. Plant as single specimens dotted amongst perennials for maximum sublime effect.

Grasses for foliage texture is another structural form and offers an important contrast to other plants. Carex comans ‘Frosted Curls’ [also pictured below] is a small evergreen grass with silvery leaves that curl at the tips. Its fine, wiry texture looks great next to broader leaf forms like Alchemilla mollis, even the purple sage in the picture, and gives you interest all year round. Also pictured here is another grass Molinia caerulea subsp. caerulea ‘Variegata’ [these Molinia’s like these long Latin names] which has unusual cream and pale green variegated leaves. This particular grass gives you the best of both worlds, textural leaf contrast as well as the transparent qualities from its purple flower spikelets, which reach around 0.6m high.

One last grass in this category is Hakonechloa macra [again pictured below]. I love this grass and first discovered it only a few years ago in a garden I went to visit [I think it was Dunham Massey, near Altrincham]. The specimen I saw was obviously very happy in its position and very mature as it was a substantial hummock of cascading fresh green leaves. If there is one grass that epitomises nature itself, lush green fields and meadows in the spring, it has to be this grass. On a recent garden design project my client wanted to reduce the maintenance of his garden [bad knee] and decided [begrudgingly] to dig up the lawn, in favour of a more practical patio area. I immediately told him about this grass and suggested we should surround the patio area with borders and plant them en masse with Hakonechloa macra. He went for the idea and now, a year on from planting up, reclining on that patio gives you the impression of a lush green field, albeit in the middle of a suburban garden.

The final category is plumes. This form is a soft, fluffy inflorescence that acts as a great companion to the more bold forms of plants. Astilbes and Filipendulas are classic perennial examples of plume flowers, but there are a couple of grasses that also fit the bill. Stipa tenuissima, which I mentioned at the beginning, creates a plume-like shape, great for softening and blending a planting scheme. Another plume grass is Calamagrostis brachytricha which has rather tall [up to 1.5m] fluffy flowerheads tinged silvery grey with a hint of purple. Use in the middle of a border to soften harder structural forms like Echinops ‘Taplow Blue’.

Ornamental grasses offer garden plantings a wealth of additional qualities that traditional plant types like perennials, roses and shrubs just cannot give. From majestic to magical, textural to just plain practical, there is one out there that will convert you; it’s just a matter of time.

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It is now day eight of the Tatton build and up till today it seems that we have been blessed with mighty fine weather; a bit of a novelty for this event as it is renowned for its inclement weather conditions. Despite the sun I still have a couple of perennials that are not quite in flower, the talking and fondling of foliage doesn’t seem to be helping either. They may not make the grade and will probably end up being sent back to the nursery as time is running out.

My beautiful new trees arrived yesterday after a heart-in-mouth moment earlier in the week when the original specimens arrived far far too tall. Six initial replacements didn’t make the grade either so the ordering of these new specimens and their arrrival in time yesterday was hugely critical. They are now planted, trimmed and all tweaked and I have to say they are looking great.

Planting has started, but today it is my mission to get it completely finished and with the worst sleep to date I’m heading in super early to get a head start. We’ve even been put on the ‘early list’ so we can actually get on site an hour early. I suspect the ‘Coleman event shelter’ will be worth its weight in gold today…we’ve positioned it over the garden so the work can carry on full steam ahead whatever the weather!

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The niggles, the worries and the sleepless nights are all gaining in momentum. Progress has been steady over the last two days and has focused on the two wood features in the garden, the seating and the birch screens. The logs we thinned out from a friend’s [Tom’s] woods have been cut to size, lovingly and meticulously scrubbed to reveal the beautiful peachy white  hues of the bark. The careful shunting of the rather large oak and poplar tree trunk sections into position for the seating has also taken place… along with more scrubbing and cleaning.

The majority of plants arrived today and are now sitting in pride of place under Graham’s Coleman event shelter as well as sprawling out across the rest of our surrounding space. You can never have too many plants…always best to have more than you actually need! Still waiting on some other specimens to arrive though including some replacement birch trees.

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Remarkably, the night before the big day my mind was not worrying about all the things that could possibly go wrong during the build for St Ann’s Hospice’s garden ‘Embrace’… the plants going over, plant heights, soil levels, fixing the living wall modules, assembling the extensive irrigation system, the seating and screening not turning out as expected, the weather, the genuine block wall going up in time, the pebble paving… I could go on. But, thanks to my landscaper, Graham, my mind was firmly focused on his last words to me that Friday evening…”I have a lovely surprise for you in the morning, you’ll love it”.

The surprise I would never have guessed. A brand spanking new PINK cement mixer kindly donated to use for the build up week by Travis Perkins. It’s certainly turning a few heads that’s for sure! This, together with a super enormous Coleman event shelter [I remember the pair of us drooling over Chris Beardshaw’s team’s event shelter in 2009; Graham was so smitten with it he went and bought one!] kicked the day off to a great start.

The first day always involves faffing. Here I mean important and constructive faffing… marking out, double checking measurements, digging, more digging and starting the foundations. Wall heights are a big issue in the back to back category as no one wants a neighbouring wall towering above anyone elses. We’re on a sloping site so careful calculations and negotiations with the Show Manager have taken place. By end of play, with the help of our volunteers Andy and Adam plus the two lovely fund raising ladies, Clare and Wendy, all is set for the arrival of the super brickies in the morning.

The block wall shot up at a phenomenal rate of knots while I raced down to Garstang, Preston [with hubby roped in to help out] to visit a great little plant nursery for some back up specimens/ substitutes and to collect the pile of birch tree logs we helped fell a couple of weeks back [wood thinning]. The plant sourcing proved successful, although I hadn’t planned to purchase so many and it was a very tight squeeze to fit them all in the back of the Ranger.

The next stop for the logs presented an unexpected challenge. The dodging of swarming bees. Well, if I’m honest more like legging it out the way and jumping in the Ranger until the coast was clear…Ranger electric window decides to quit working at this crucial ‘take cover’ moment…not at all good. The gods must have been with us as the bees shifted up and away over the farm house. I was later coaxed round by the bee keeper to see if they had landed…a crawling, buzzing bough of honey bees. Magnificent. Bees… and cute little kittens… distractions over, logs loaded, the journey down the M6 to the Tatton site was a noisy, breezy and wet one. Any electric window experts passing Tatton tomorrow…please help.

Back at the garden and the walling is up, ready and waiting for the rendering; which is the first job on the to-do-list in the morning. Getting the logs tidy and marked up for cutting is the next challenge, together with the start of the constant on-site plant nurturing regime…dead-heading, staking and watering. Thank goodness for all the volunteers!

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