Marked in the trees on our westerly horizon, the sun came to its furthest reach exactly a fortnight ago. Long-awaited rains wet the ground deeply in the run up to midsummer’s eve and with it came the surge of exponential growth. A tangible feeling of opportunity and leaning into the light. Eglantines foamed pink where I’ve woven them into the hedgerows and the garden reared up, the layers suddenly asserting themselves and deepening.
The garden that wraps us close becomes increasingly important as the meadows dim and go to seed. Next week will see the start of the first being cut for hay and, as the fields simplify, we draw back from our meanders to count our first orchids and to check upon the spread of this year’s yellow rattle. It is then, as we pass into summer, that the garden becomes more complex, and deliberately so. First, waves of colour to hold your attention and then the layering of detail, which is planned to run from now through into late autumn.
This is the first year that the garden is revealing what I have been planning for. Settled by four years of growth up by the barns, we can see the volumes emerging now. Baptisia the size of armchairs asserting themselves handsomely amongst the self-seeders around them. Bupleurum falcatum that has run riot in the gravel and Eryngium giganteum now showing that it has a hold and will be here to stay. The Crambe cordifolia have their roots down too and have shown it in clouds of flower that you have to crane your neck and look up into. This feeling of the planting being settled is good.
It will be another couple of years before the woody material in the garden starts to have a presence, but you can see the arch in the Rosa glauca now and start to imagine how these forms will provide an anchor point for the perennials around them and a more significant foil with their glaucous-pink foliage. This is the third summer in the outer ripple of the main garden and the second for the inner beds that were planted the October before last, but already the planting is mingled and presenting some long-awaited couplings.
With the ground now covered and the gaps of last summer already forgotten, I can start to see how the plants are interacting. The community works well where there is a balance and the plants sit happy in each other’s company. Close to the path I have woven a ribbon of Bupleurum longifolium ‘Bronze Beauty’ to provide the way through with a layer of consistency. This delicate umbellifer pairs well with so many things for having a complexity of colours in its flowers – brown, sepia rust, saffron, lime green – and air in the plant too, so it that hovers. Out here on our hot, open slopes, the plants are failing where they are most exposed to a baking and tell me where they prefer to be by seeding into the cooler pockets. This is the best of educations and the best way for the garden to feel lived-in and truly naturalistic.
Trifolium repens ‘Quadrifolium Atropurpureum’ also lines the paths at the beginning of the garden where the colour is deliberately strongest and brightest. I have grown this dusky, four-leaved clover since I was a teenager and have never tired of its darkness and the welcome foil it provides. Here on our hearty soil it grows lush, the colour browner and less dark at a glance. Grow it harder and the leaves are smaller and deepest mahogany, the growth less full. Here I am surprised it has not eclipsed the basal rosettes of the Dianthus cruentus that I’ve marched through it, but they seem happy so far. A native of Greece, the brilliant pinpricks of crimson are held tightly together on wiry drumsticks and, although you almost loose the structure of the plant against the clover, the suspension of colour is dramatic and a feisty pairing with the Salvia ‘Jezebel’ with which is is also combined (image below).
It will be interesting to see if the dianthus is able to seed amongst the lush growth of the clover. Thinking about its rubbly home in Greece I doubt it, so have planned ahead with a newly raised batch of easy-to-germinate seedlings. They take their first year gathering strength in a rosette of foliage and come to flower in their second year. Given a brightly lit aspect I expect them to be reasonably long lived. My original plants – now being lost to eryngium seedlings down by the barn – are in their fifth summer and showing no signs of tiring where they still have the room to breathe. A commodity that is rapidly becoming less available to all but the strongest and wiliest.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 6 July 2019