The new planting went in on the spring equinox, a week that saw the energy in the young plants shifting. Just seven days later the emerging fans of the hemerocallis were already splayed and flushed, and the signs were also there in the tightly-clasped crowns of the sanguisorba. The chosen few from my trial in the stock beds had to be split to make up the numbers I needed, but energy was on their side and, once in their new home, they seized life quickly to push new foliage.
We mulched the beds immediately after planting to keep the ground clean and to hold in the moisture whist the plants were establishing. Mulching saves so much time in weeding whilst a garden is young and there is more soil than knit of growth. This year I was also thankful because we went into five long weeks without rain. I watered just once, so that the roots would travel down in search of water, but once only so that they did not become reliant. The mulch held this moisture in the ground and the contrast to the old stock beds that went without has been is remarkable. Spring divisions that went without mulch have put on half as much growth and have needed twice as much water to get the same purchase. I can see the rigour of my Wisley training in this last paragraph, but good habits die as hard as bad ones.
Since it rained three weeks ago, the growth has burgeoned. As the summer solstice approaches the dots of newly planted green that initially hugged the contours of our slopes have become three dimensional as they have reared up and away into early summer. I have been keeping close vigil as the new bedfellows have begun to show their form, noting the new combinations and rhythms in the planting. Information that I’d had to hold in my head while laying out the hundreds of dormant plants and which, to my relief, is beginning to play out as I’d imagined.
Of course, there are gaps where I am waiting for plants that were not then available, and also where there were gaps in my thinking. There are combinations that I can see need another layer of interest, and places where the plants are already showing me where they prefer to be. The same plant thriving in the dip of a hollow, but not on a rise, or vice versa. Plants have a way of letting you know pretty quickly what they like. At the moment I am just observing and not reacting immediately because, as soon as the foliage touches, the community will begin to work as one, creating its own microclimate that will in turn provide influence and shelter. I lost my whole batch of Milium effusum ‘Aureum’, which I put down to the exposure on our south-facing slopes. However, most of them have managed to set seed, so I am hoping that next spring the seedlings will find their favoured positions to thrive in the shade of larger, more established perennials.
The wrap of weed-suppressing symphytum that I planted along the boundary fence is already knitting together, and I’m happy to have this buffer of evergreen foliage to help prevent the landscape from seeding in. However, a flotilla of dandelion seed sailed over the defence and are now germinating in the mulch. We saw them parachuting past one dry, breezy day in April as if seeking out this perfect seedbed. They are easy to weed before they get their taproot down and will be less of a problem this time next year when there will be the shade of foliage, but they will be a devil if they seed into the crowns of plants before they are established. A community of cover is what I am aiming for, so that the garden starts to work with me, and time spent protecting it now is time well spent.
The comfrey is planted in three drifts. Symphytum grandiflorum, S. ‘Hidcote Blue’ and S. g. ‘Sky Blue Pink’. The latter is new to me and I’m watching carefully that they aren’t too vigorous. I’ll have to keep an eye on the next ripple of plants that are feathered into the comfrey from deeper into the garden as the symphytum can also be an aggressive companion. The Sanguisorba hakusanensis should be able to hold their own, as they form a lush mound of foliage, and the Epilobium angustifolium ‘Album’ should be fine, punching through to take their own space. I’ll clear the young runners where the creep of the comfrey meets the gentler anemone and veronicastrum.
The ascendant plants were placed first when laying out and will form a skyline of towers through which the other layers wander. They are already standing tall and providing the planting with a sense of depth. Thalictrum ‘Elin’ is my height already, a smoky presence of foliage and stems picking up the grey in the young Rosa glauca and proving, so far, to not need staking. This is important, because our windy hillside provides its challenges on this front. Thalictrum aquilegifolium ‘Black Stockings’ has also provided immediate impact, its limbs inky dark and the mauve of the flowers giving early colour and contrast to the clear, clean blue of the Iris sibirica ‘Papillon’. Next year the garden will have knitted together so that the contrasts will work against foliage or each other, but for now the eye naturally focuses not on the gappiness, but where things are beginning to show promise.
There have been a couple of surprises already, with a fortuitous mix up at the nursery reavealing a new combination I had not planned for with a drift of Salvia pratensis ‘Indigo’ coming up as S. nemorosa ‘Amethyst’. I am very particular about my choices and I’d planned for ‘Indigo’ since growing it in the stockbeds, but the unexpected arrival of ‘Amethyst’ has, after my initial perplexity, been a delight. I’ve not grown it before, and I like its earliness in the planting and how it contrasts with the clear blue of the Iris sibirica with a little friction that makes the eye react more definitely than with the blue of ‘Indigo’. I like a little contrast to keep zest in a planting. The Euphorbia cornigera, with their acid green flowering bracts, are also great for this reason with the first magenta of the Geranium psilostemon.
As the last few plants that weren’t ready in the nursery become available, I’m wading back into the beds again to find the markers I left there when setting out so that I can trace my original thinking. I am pleased to have done this, because it is very easy to start to reshuffle, but the original thinking is where cohesiveness is to be found. Changes will come later, after I’ve had a summer to observe and see where the planting is lacking or needing another seasonal lift. I can already see the original perennial angelica has doubled in diameter, and I’ve added eight new seedlings which, if left, will be far too many so a few removals will be necessary comer the autumn. Patience will be the making of this coming growing season, followed by action once I can see my plans emerging.