“Our gar­den of grasses looks good all year”

Bleached blonde grasses create struc­ture in Glouces­ter­shire

Garden Answers (UK) - - Contents -

This dra­matic gar­den in a quiet cor­ner of the Wye Val­ley has plenty of win­ter in­ter­est, but rather than rely on glossy ev­er­greens, most of the colour and struc­ture comes from de­cid­u­ous grasses. “The front gar­den looks es­pe­cially stun­ning in win­ter,” says owner Kate Pa­tel, who lives here with her hus­band Hitesh. “The win­ter pal­ette al­ways re­minds me of a hair­dresser’s colour chart, with its blend of pale through to rich browns and buffs. The spent plumes ei­ther blaze in win­ter sun­shine, drip with jew­els on rainy days, or look ethe­real in ghostly mists. Of course, they’re al­ways mov­ing too, so the scene is for­ever shift­ing and rustling.” Kate used trial and er­ror to learn which plants would shine in win­ter. “I’ve con­trasted the bleached-blonde grasses with char­coal-dark seed­heads, or colour­ful bark and woody stems,” she says. “It’s even more ef­fec­tive than I’d hoped. But a suc­cess­ful win­ter gar­den is not just about which plants colour bands (clock­wise from above) The ter­raced front gar­den part­ners cala­m­a­grostis ‘Karl Fo­er­ster’ and shorter ‘Over­dam’ with rud­beckia and sil­very-grey nepeta; Cro­cus tom­masini­anus; Rud­beckia deamii; Phlomis fru­ti­cosa; Chionochloa rubra cir­cles the bird­bath; Prunus ser­rula with grasses and pho­tinia ‘Red Robin’; cor­nus ‘Mid­win­ter Fire’ and be­tula ‘Jermyns’

you use, but also how many. A sin­gle plant isn’t as ef­fec­tive as a group of them.” Kate and Hitesh have lived here since 2006. “We moved in with a van full of plants and a dream to create a gar­den of grasses that would look good all year round,” says Kate. “Our bud­get was lim­ited though, so we planned to do as much of the work our­selves, rais­ing hun­dreds of plants from seed.” The house was for­merly a row of work­ers’ cot­tages, stand­ing at the bot­tom of a rough grassy slope. “Our gar­den once sup­plied a lo­cal cider-maker with ap­ples,” says Kate. “It’s an awk­ward tri­an­gu­lar plot, stretch­ing across an acre and it slopes in all di­rec­tions. When we ar­rived it was the usual story, a

“The pal­ette re­minds me of a hair­dresser’s colour chart”

much-loved coun­try gar­den had been ne­glected for sev­eral years. Many of the trees needed ur­gent at­ten­tion and the bor­ders, such as they were, were in­fested with bindweed, ground el­der and bram­bles.” The cou­ple also dis­cov­ered that much of the gar­den is on a shelf of undig­gable bedrock. “We’re gar­den­ing on Offa’s Dyke!” says Kate. “And, in win­ter the heavy clay be­comes cold and sat­u­rated, some­times last­ing un­til late spring. The so­lu­tion in the veg patch was to build raised sleeper beds.” Kate and Hitesh tack­led the back gar­den first, re­vamp­ing a vast, sun-baked ter­race of 1980s’ pink-and-or­ange con­crete pavers. “Its only fea­ture was a large, weed-in­fested, kid­ney-shaped border that had once been a trout pond-cum-swim­ming pool,” says Kate. “This was the main view from the house; even in mid­sum­mer it wasn’t a pretty sight!” Today there’s a greenhouse and a new, cir­cu­lar border filled with grasses and daz­zling peren­ni­als in sum­mer­time. “We’ve cre­ated a shaded seat­ing area un­der a new per­gola draped with vines and Ac­tini­dia kolomikta for a touch of mys­tery and drama,” says Kate. “It draws at­ten­tion away from the dated pavers – they cover about 2000 square feet so re­plac­ing them was out of the ques­tion. In­stead we’ve al­lowed them to weather with al­gae and lichen and I’ve lifted the odd slab to plant in be­tween them.” The front gar­den, mean­while, com­prised half an acre of rough field grass planted with trees and was bi­sected by the drive. “We wanted to shield the open view across the drive to the lane,” says Kate, “so we planted a 70m-long hedge of Mis­cant­hus sinensis ‘Malepar­tus’ (a tall cul­ti­var with a strong up­right habit) in stag­gered rows around the perime­ter – the same way you’d use tra­di­tional hedg­ing plants, only the grasses are much more dy­namic. A friend of mine says my grasses are the glue in the gar­den, and it’s true. They stick the de­sign to­gether pretty much all year long.” Mis­cant­hus are Kate’s favourites for win­ter. “They have the fluffi­est seed heads, held on al­most glassy dried stems that clat­ter in the breeze,” she says. “I also like Cala­m­a­grostis acu­ti­flora ‘Karl Fo­er­ster’ – an­other tall grass, which we use here as an el­e­vated screen. It’s the grass of choice for strong ver­ti­cal ef­fects, and in win­ter it has a shim­mer­ing sheen that’s mes­meris­ing. “We also use the lower-grow­ing, var­ie­gated cala­m­a­grostis ‘Over­dam’ at me­tre in­ter­vals along­side the slop­ing path that links our Grasses Ter­race to the grassy or­chard view (clock­wise from above) An­cient ‘Bram­ley’ trees frame daf­fodils be­low, with car­doons left; golden bam­boo Phyl­lostachys spectabilis; Prunus ser­rula with up­right mis­cant­hus ‘Morn­ing Light’, pen­nise­tum ‘Black Beauty’ and hakonechloa ‘Aure­ola’; al­gae and lichens have sub­dued the 1980s’ pa­tio, with pot­ted mis­cant­hus ‘Ada­gio’; pots of rusty Per­si­caria vac­cini­ifo­lia

“My grasses are the glue in the gar­den... they stick the de­sign to­gether all year long”

plant­ing above. It’s a bold com­bi­na­tion that looks es­pe­cially dra­matic in win­ter.” Kate cer­tainly knows the plants that work best at this time of year. “My favourite peren­ni­als for win­ter are rud­beckia seed heads, nepeta and se­dums,” she says. “I think of them as the fi­nal flour­ishes, us­ing the grasses as a foil. The birds love Rud­beckia deamii and ‘Gold­sturm’ – last year a flock of bullfinches cleared hun­dreds of plants in just one week! Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ is an­other good choice; in sum­mer I’ll cut them back for a sec­ond flush of flow­ers that dries to a smoky grey smudge in win­ter. On a frosty day it sparkles with sil­ver... “The im­por­tant thing is to keep things sim­ple,” she says. “That means re­sist­ing the temp­ta­tion to use more than a lim­ited num­ber of key plants. Where I’ve re­strained the plant­ing in this way the ef­fects are so much more pleas­ing and rest­ful.”

STAND­ING TALL The kitchen win­dow of­fers a view over the sunken gar­den, flanked by ter­races of cala­m­a­grostis, laven­der and box balls. All the laven­der was grown from 5cm (2in) cut­tings. Cam­pan­u­las trail from the faux lead troughs

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