The Great Broad Walk Borders, Kew Gardens, London, UK

It is just breathtaking to stand at the beginning of a wide path and look as far as the eye can see, and beyond, at 320 metres of herbaceous border – a Great Broad Walk indeed. It was a bold move from Kew to  resurrect a garden form that many say has had it’s day, and on such a grand scale. But its success is not only in scale, it’s also superbly well done.

What makes it work so well? It seems to me it’s following the classic rules and implementing them really well – rhythm of form and colour, punctuation, unfolding seasonal interest, combined with huge horticultural skill so that every plant grouping, almost every flower, is the best it can be.

10255_HH_2880x1620.jpg

Overview of the Great Broad Walk borders in early Summer (photograph from Kew Gardens website)

The overall form of the border is a series of curves, said on the Kew’s web page about the borders to resemble a giant bean pod, so that the border ebbs and flows symetrically on either side of the path. The narrow part of each section, where the curve meets the path, is punctuated by clipped yew pyramids, and rather beautiful facing pairs of wooden seats. The backs of the borders, the broadest part of each curve, incorporate the existing conifers, and as well as adding a fabulous dark green backdrop of foliage for the show of plants, they support the flow of the border along its huge stretch. For most of the walk the background trees enclose the border, but every now and then a vista or view other than the axis of the path unfolds, most dramatically of The Hive, Kew’s current sculpture and music installation about the lives of bees.

IMG_4430.jpg

View of The Hive from the Great Broad Walk borders

The plants for each section of the border have been chosen on thematic grounds that reflect the breadth of scientific and horticultural research at Kew. Some sections use a single plant family or type – for example, the daisy family, Compositae, with fabulous selections of Heliopsis and Heleniums, or Monocots, the large grouping of  single leafed plants including many grasses and bulbs- whilst others reflect a particular use or characteristic – pollinators or shade plants for example. This approach could have created some rather dry and uninteresting areas (think of the ‘family beds’ of many botanic gardens, which are horticulturally useful, but aesthetically dull), but the plants for each theme have been chosen with skillful attention to colour and form, creating beautiful patterns and contrasts, and showcasing interesting varieties.

IMG_4432.jpg

Monocot themed section of the border, with Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’, Agapanthus ‘Jack’s Blue’,  Hemerocallis ‘Lemon Bells’ and Kniphofia ‘Nobilis’

IMG_4441.jpg

Helenium ‘Loysder Wieck’ from the daisy – Compositae– family themed border – an unusual cultivar with subtle colouring and distinctive spatulate petals  -Wieck means ‘Windmill’ in Dutch  (thank you Chris Marchant of the wonderful Orchard Dene Nurseries for your informative catalogue description!)

IMG_4444.jpg

Helenium ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’

The plans for the border and each section have been beautifully realised and labelled with the species and cultivar names in a semi-photographic way, repeated on raised boards along the length of the border. It was easy to see that these were creating huge interest amongst the visitors wanting to identify particular flowers to use in their own gardens.

IMG_4438.jpg

I found stunning examples of cultivars I didn’t know, and also wonderful new combinations of colour and form  – I loved the moody, bruised blues of the Agapanthus ‘Jack’s Blue’ and Verbena bonariensis below.

IMG_4433.jpg

Fabulously moody combination of Agapanthus ‘Jack’s Blue’ and Verbena bonariensis

 

Do visit during August or September if you can – the borders should be superb until the end of September, with many grasses  on the verge of flowering right now.

Kate Jury

 

Advertisements
Posted in Garden visits, Seasonal plants | 1 Comment

Meadows for gardens

© Mim Saxl Photography, www.mimsaxl.com

Meadow turf green roof, Barracks Lane Community Garden© Mim Saxl Photography, http://www.mimsaxl.com

 

Now is probably the best time of year to go out looking for wildflower meadows – although you are as likely to find them in a garden or managed landscape as in the open countryside. By the year 2000 nearly all our heritage of wildflower hay meadows had disappeared – according to meadow expert Pam Lewis (note 1), over 98% were destroyed in the 60 years after WW2.

Hay meadows were man-made creations, dependent on traditional practices of grazing and stock management, and cutting hay for winter storage. Many took thousands of years to evolve their precious mixtures of wildflowers and native grasses, and are literally irreplaceable now they have been superseded by fields of coarse grass managed by machine and fertiliser.

However, some have survived and can act as seed stores for local restorations, and inspiration for garden and landscape imitations, and whilst they will never replace the delicate balance of flower and grass evolved over centuries, they will at least help sustain some of the insects and wild life which have suffered from loss of habitat.  Many of the most beautiful meadows we have left are now under management by wildlife trusts and similar organisations.

Warneford meadow

Warneford meadow, Oxford; Sorrel and buttercups

Of course, hay meadows are not the only types of meadow we have in this country, or Europe. There are other meadow-like habitats – water meadows, such as the fritillary meadows in Oxfordshire;  the ‘Machair’ coastal meadows of the Ireland and the Western Isles; the alpine meadows of Europe.

I’ve been designing gardens with wild flower meadows for six or seven years now. The first I ever worked with was at Barrack’s Lane Community Garden, where we incorporated a small wildflower meadow onto the roof of a timber shelter with solar panels. I’ve also incorporated wild flower ‘meadows’ into garden designs in quite urban or suburban settings, usually as part of a distinct wildlife area with a pond.  I’ve never tried to create a meadow from seed but always used turf supplied by the Wildflower Turf Company (note 2), who supply a wonderful species rich turf with 33 species of flowers and grasses (note 3). They have recently introduced naturalizing bulb mixtures to scatter before the Wildflower turf is laid, and a meadow laid this Autumn with bulbs underneath has produced stunning results this Spring.

What I and my clients find entrancing about these meadows is the way that different species shine in different years, according to the climate and season – one year it will be Ragged Robin, the next year Wild Carrot, another year Sorrel and Yarrow. But always there is a glorious mix changing from month to month, and even the smallest area of meadow will bring a breath of the countryside to gardens, and a feast for insects and birds.

Oliver's meadow

Oliver’s meadow, Doddington, Northumberland

 

Notes

  1. Pam Lewis, Making Wildflower Meadows, Frances Lincoln, London 2005
  2. http://www.wildflowerturf.co.uk/Info/wildflower-turf.aspx#
  3. WFTurf Wildflower Turf Ltd Landscape spec v3 20.3.15
Posted in Barracks Lane Community Garden, Just potted, Seasonal plants | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Heritage of Common Plants

oxford herbarium specimen urtica dioica

Oxford University Herbaria specimen for Urtica dioica

a-piece-of-nettle-cloth-retrieved-from-denmarks-richest-known-bronze-age-burial-mound-lusehc3b8j-may-actually-derive-from-austria-new-findings-suggest-the-cloth-thus-tells-a-surprising

Nettle cloth from Denmark, retrieved from a bog-grave

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m very pleased to be working with Barrack’s Lane Community Garden again, and with The Nature Effect, to implement the new lottery-funded Heritage of Common Plants project. There are several strands to the project, which focuses on the cultural and productive heritage of five common garden and hedgerow plants – Stinging nettle, Mint, Lavender, Dog-rose, and Elder. One of the aims of the project is to create a unique Herbaria for the Garden, collecting the experiences and memories of the garden’s users around these common plants, as well as collecting physical specimens to create herbarium samples. This kicks off on Saturday 19th March with a day programmed around the Nettle – there’ll be soup, fibre-making and nettle tea as well as a host of other early Spring gardening activities and the annual Seed Swap. Later on in the project we’ll be working with a group of unaccompanied young asylum seekers as a part of their support programme, introducing them to some of Oxford’s beautiful plant- related heriatge sites and collections, and working with them in the Community Garden. I’ll post more information as the project develops.

The_Swan_Princes_-_Anne_Anderson

Illustration from the fairy-tale, The Six Swans, collected by the Brothers Grim. Their sister had to weave six nettle shirts to help break the spell put upon her brothers by their wicked stepmother.

Posted in Barracks Lane Community Garden, The Heritage of Common Plants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rousham

IMG_3774 IMG_3778 IMG_3779 IMG_3782 IMG_3783 IMG_3784

I visited Rousham House garden (Charles Bridgeman 1725/William Kent 1737 to 1741) in the Spring sunshine on Sunday – so unspoiled and yet beautifully maintained. Horace Walpole described it as the ‘most engaging of all Kent’s works. It is Kentissimo’ – which sounds surprsingly modern to me for an 18th-century description! The dovecote and parterre in the walled garden pre-date Kent, but are a charming and intimate counterpoint to the broad outward looking sweep and thought-provoking imagery of the gardens designed by Bridgeman and Kent. Here in the walled gardens we are charmed by the concerns of gardeners – the beautifully trained pear tree on the wall of the dovecote, the very ancient looking espaliered apples, the beautifully kept potting shed and glass house with shelves of sweet pea seedlings, drying chillies, and scented pelargoniums; the cold frame full of pots of tulips being brought on to place in the gardens later in the season. There are no postcards, no shops, no tea-rooms, and on a sunny Sunday in March, practically no people. I hope this wonderful balance between fidelity to the genius loci and ability to maintain the gardens at this standard can be kept forever!

Posted in Garden visits | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Just potted: Sweet things

More of my obsession with Spring’s sweet whites. Two beautiful plants for the wilder/more natural areas of the garden, both with species name ‘odorata/um’ from the latin for perfumed or fragrant:

Sweet woodruff, Galium odoratum : Tiny white flowers hover above fresh green whorls of star-like leaves. Valuable under-planting, forms a carpet under shrubs and trees, loves alkaline soil. Leaves persist right though the year until the new ones burst through the older leaves.  Much more garden-friendly relative of Lady’s Bedstraw, Galium verum, and the ever-spreading Cleavers or Sticky Willy, Galium aparine

Woodruff/Galium odoratum

Woodruff/Galium odoratum

Sweet Cicely, Myrrhis odorata: Vigorous perennial with fine soft grass green umbellifer leaves, and big panicles of white flowers – in growth and in flower before most other umbellifers are even thinking of it, a really useful precursor to the Ammi genus such as Ammi majus. Strong aniseed smell and flavour to the leaves, which are edible and a great addition to rhubarb.

Sweet cicely, Myrrhis odorata

Sweet cicely, Myrrhis odorata

Posted in Just potted, Seasonal plants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Just potted: Glooming in the gloaming

I get obsessive about white flowers in Spring. Last year I posted on Wild Whites, revelling in the rush of white flowers that seem to gallop across our country side between March and May. This year I’ve been walking a lot in our local woodlands (using Shotover Hill as the nearest thing to the Pyrenees that Oxford can offer, training for my June walk along the Camino de Santiago). There is something special about the way that small white flowers shine out in the dappled dark of a wooded valley – I found myself wondering about the collective nouns we could use:

A Gleam of Sorrel

Wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella)

Wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella)

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Gloaming of Wood Anenome

Wood anenome, Anenome sylvatica

 

 

 

 

 

A Ghost of Stars

Greater stitchwort, Stellaria holostea

Greater stitchwort, Stellaria holostea

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe together they are a Wood of Whites ….

 

 

 

 

Posted in Just potted, Seasonal plants, Wildlife plant of the month | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just potted: Marsh samphire in autumn

Just how complicated can a simple* be?

Walking last weekend with my daughter in the salt marshes of the Cuckmere valley we saw brilliant patches of red amongst the grasses and reeds bordering the rivers and pools.        We were intrigued to know what it was – I managed to get close enough to pick a small sprig, and saw that it was some sort of samphire-like plant, but instead of the usual grassy-green it was coloured dark red/purple.

IMG_2425 IMG_2428

I was puzzled – mostly by the colour, and partly by the ease of access: my only real knowledge of the habitat of Samphire coming from Shakespeare:

“How fearful And dizzy ’tis to cast one’s eyes so low!
The crows and choughs that wing the midway air
Show scarce so gross as beetles: half-way down
Hangs one that gathers Samphire: dreadful trade!
Methinks he seems no bigger than his head.”

220px-Perce-pierre

It didn’t take a lot of research to find that my confusion is not uncommon: the true Samphire is a single species genus, Crithmum maritimum of the Umbillifer family (the same family as Parsley and Carrot): the plant we saw was a Glasswort, Salicornia, a somewhat confusing and jumbled genus of the Goosefoot and Orach family, which includes other edibles such as  Purslane and Fat Hen. Which Glasswort it was is unsure – my Collins Flower Guide lists them as

‘extremely variable and difficult to identify as the distinction between the species is not clear’. 

A somewhat older source, Herbal Simples Approved for Modern Uses of Cure, by William Thomas Fernie, 1897, gives the following guidance

“Samphire, of the true sort, is a herb difficult to be gathered, because it grows only out of the crevices of lofty perpendicular rocks which cannot be easily scaled. This genuine Samphire (Crithmum maritimum) is a small plant, bearing yellow flowers in circular umbels on the tops of the stalks, which flowers are followed by seeds like those of the Fennel, but larger…A spurious Samphire, the Inula crithmoides, or Golden Samphire, is often supplied in lieu of the real plant, though it has a different flavor, and few of the proper virtues. This grows more abundantly on low rocks, and on ground washed by salt water. Also a Salicornia, or jointed Glasswort, or Saltwort, or Crabgrass, is sold as Samphire for a pickle, in the Italian oil shops.”

My conclusion – what we saw was probably Purple Glasswort (Salicornia ramosissima), but may have been Common Glasswort, also known as Marsh Samphire, (Salicornia eueopea) in it’s reddened autumn state.

salicorniaramosissima GuernseyNorfolk_Samphire

Whether or not what we saw is one of the edible and delicious samphires (as opposed to those rich in saponins, which can be toxic) is another matter altogether. As William Thomas Fernie says in the introduction to his Herbal Simples: 

“The Primitive Simplers presented here show the way of life in other generations, it is not suggested or recommended trying them yourself”.

I’ll admire the plants in the salt marsh and buy my edible samphire from the fish monger.

* simple, being the old word for a medicinal herb, as in ‘Simple Simon to the Pie Man’ – not a stupid Simon, but a boy selling herbs.

Posted in Just potted, Seasonal plants | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment