In The Garden
Today’s posy draws upon some of the fine detail in our fully blown August garden. A garden arguably never more voluminous and drawn together now with a growing season behind it. Look up and out and your eye can travel, for the grasses and the sanguisorba are asserting their gauziness. The first of the asters are beginning to colour, in wide-reaching washes that I’ve made deliberately generous. At this time of bulk and volume, however, it is also important to be able to look in and find the detail in something intense, finely drawn and requiring close examination.
Most of the flowers in the garden here are deliberately small, so that they feel part of the place and cohesive with the scale of the surrounding meadows. Some, like the sanguisorba, appear en masse and register together to create a wash or a veil through which you can suspend an intensity of contrasting colour or screen another mood that appears beyond it. The Bupleurum falcatum, which has now seeded freely in the gravel garden, does just this in the posy to enliven the mood with it’s fine, acidic umbels. At another scale, the Fagopyrum dibotrys does the same in the borders, towering tall and creamy. This perennial buckwheat is prone to wind damage, snapping rather than flexing, but I have found it a sought-after niche close to the buildings to help to narrow the feeling alongside the steps. The scale of its flowers, and their airy distribution, is why it retains a feeling of lightness.
Some plants are more interesting for having to find, but their subtlety requires careful placement. The Clematis stans was initially planted down by the barns whilst I was seeing what it was going to do here, but it has been good to have it closer for the detail in the flower is up to regular inspection. This herbaceous clematis is rangy when growing in a little shade but here, out on the blustery slopes, it makes a compact mound of a metre or so across. Prune it hard to a tight framework in February and it rewards you quickly with bright, expectant leaf buds and then foliage that is elegantly cut and not dissimilar to Clematis heracleifolia. In high summer, when the light levels change, it begins to produce clusters of powder-blue flower buds which taper and colour as they move toward flower. Reflexing just the tiniest amount to form a bell like a hyacinth, they have a delicate perfume, which is lost if you bury the plant too deeply in a bed.
Earlier, in the heat, I was beginning to debate whether I’d take out the Centaurea montana ‘Black Sprite’, for it appeared to hate the brilliance of this summer and the exposure. Already a plant of some modesty, the relief of rain has them with flushed new growth to prove me wrong and it is a delight to come upon it, for it has to be found. The dark, filamentous flowers are as dark as blackcurrants, but combined with silvery Lambs Ears (Stachys byzantina), they are thrown into relief. The hunt is furthered by merging the groups with four-leaved black clover (Trifolium repens ‘Purpurascens Quadrifolium’) and Potentilla ‘Gibson’s Scarlet’. The clover is actually brown, and the potentilla punches colour strongly, but in tiny pinpricks that flash and then disappear as they open and close during the day. Walk the path in the morning and they will be blinking bright, but walk it again in the evening and they are closed, clocked-out for the day.
Over time, and now that the garden has grown and is demanding my attention, I’ve limited the number of pots up around the house. The Pelargonium sidoides are an exception and these are my original plants from what must now be twenty years ago. They have proved their worth despite their subtlety, but I help in having them close by the front door. They are grouped with pots of Tulbaghia ‘Moshoeshoe’. Early in the season and before they start their relay of flower, you might at first think that a potful of tulbaghia were chives, for the majority have a lingering garlicky perfume. The confusion of flower and savoury association is not always digestible, but this selection from Paul Barney at Edulis is an exception. The leaves do not smell and the perfume of the flower is delicate and sweet, particularly at night. They continue to push out flower from June until the frost, when I move the pot to the frame and deny it water for the winter and they survived last winter to prove their resistance when kept on the dry side.
There are several new additions to the garden this year on which I am keeping a close watch and reserving my judgement, but Geranium ‘Sandrine’ looks promising. It is a little larger flowered than G. ‘Anne Folkard’, but it has a similar rangy habit and bright green foliage and will find its way amongst other plants, so far without dominating. The flowers, which with many perennial geraniums are bang and bust, do not come all at once, but stagger themselves throughout the summer. This makes them more precious and they pulse with their darkly-veined centres. Succisella inflexa, a Balkan perennial, is entirely new to me, but this looks good for being so late in the season. Finely elongated foliage scales the stems, but stops to leave the thimbles of pale lilac flower hovering at knee height. It has a similar presence to Devil’s-bit Scabious, which is flowering now too in this window between summer and autumn. We will see if it comes back with good behaviour next year, but for now I am watching closely.