Stylish nurs­ery peren­ni­als

Garden Answers (UK) - - Contents -

This colour­ful nurs­ery gar­den in Not­ting­hamshire is packed with in­spi­ra­tion for au­tumn. “We’re known for our aster dis­plays,” says owner An­drew Ward, a plant sci­en­tist and breeder who lives here with his wife He­len. “They look fan­tas­tic just now. We grow them with peren­nial sun­flower, he­lianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ and Rud­beckia triloba. “When we first came here 25 years ago it was an empty field,” says An­drew. “It’s a two-acre site on heavy clay that was full of 9ft-high bram­bles and net­tles, which all had to be cleared be­fore we could start.” Like most clay gar­dens, the soil be­comes a slip­pery quag­mire in win­ter and bakes hard as con­crete in sum­mer. “The plants have to be re­li­able per­form­ers in th­ese con­di­tions,” says An­drew. “Last sum­mer the cracks that ap­peared were so enor­mous you could have lost a small child in them!” To make mat­ters worse, it’s also a frost pocket, where win­ter tem­per­a­tures of­ten dip to -14C (6.8F). “There are rolling hills all around the gar­den and this is the low­est point where the frost col­lects on cold win­ter nights. If I’d re­alised I prob­a­bly wouldn’t have bought the land at all!” In spite of th­ese chal­lenges, the gar­den has be­come a plant-lovers’ haven. “The de­sign isn’t dot­ted with plants or bitty though,” says An­drew. “The plant­ing schemes are co­he­sive for a suc­ces­sion of colour through­out spring, sum­mer and au­tumn, so visi­tors can get a good idea of how to use the plants at home.” The gar­den has evolved grad­u­ally since the cou­ple moved here in 1994. “We’ve cre­ated lots of new plant­ing ar­eas and borders as we’ve gone along,” says An­drew. “For in­stance, our wood­land area is full of tril­li­ums, ery­thro­ni­ums and hardy or­chids in spring, then in au­tumn we have tri­cyr­tis, hostas and aconi­tums. “There’s a very large pond area with a bog gar­den full of op­u­lent plant­ing. Our can­de­labra prim­u­las are to die for in late spring, then in sum­mer he­le­ni­ums emerge – they seem to like it quite moist – to min­gle with the eu­pa­to­ri­ums.”

Other plant­ing ar­eas in­clude scree beds and a wood­land gar­den. “We also have two Na­tional Plant Col­lec­tions of as­tran­tias and hardy chrysan­the­mums. It was quite a tough, dry sum­mer for the as­tran­tias, so I cut them back and they flow­ered again in Septem­ber. I plant them with wirys­temmed Ver­bena bonar­ien­sis, pink and pur­ple Ver­bena has­tata and white and pink nico­tiana for a haze of au­tumn colour. “By late sum­mer, the aster buds are wait­ing to pop. I do like the New Eng­land asters (Sym­phy­otrichum no­vae-an­gliae) which are less sus­cep­ti­ble to mildew. Good ones in­clude bright pink ‘An­denken an Alma Pötschke’, darker ‘Ma­rina Wolkon­sky’, Nor­well-raised pur­ple ‘Dark De­sire’ and white ‘Herb­stschnee’ for con­trast. “I grow a few of the New York asters (S. novi-bel­gii) that will with­stand mildew, such as flu­o­res­cent pink ‘Neron’ and shaggy pink ‘Fel­low­ship’. Th­ese tend to reach only about 75cm (21/2ft) feet tall while the New Eng­land asters grow to 1.5m (5ft) . “We’ve also planted a ‘gras­sore­tum’ – an area of mown lawn punc­tu­ated by up­right or­na­men­tal grasses in­clud­ing Mis­cant­hus sinen­sis ‘Malepar­tus’, ‘China’ and ‘Afrika’ as well as M. gi­gan­teus, which reaches 4m (13ft). You cut it down to about two inches in March, it sulks for a month, then in April and May it’s so fast and vig­or­ous you can al­most see it grow­ing. “Molinias also grow among the asters. ‘Wind­spiel’ and ‘Trans­par­ent’ bring a sense of light­ness, and their dark pur­ple flower plumes waft above the dark pur­ple asters.” An­drew’s Na­tional Col­lec­tion of hardy chrysan­the­mums is an­other use­ful source of au­tumn flow­ers. “Th­ese bloom when the asters fin­ish and in a mild win­ter stay look­ing good well into De­cem­ber. Many are honey-scented and bring out the but­ter­flies and bees on mild au­tumn days. “They’re not the ex­hi­bi­tion type our grand­fa­thers grew on their al­lot­ments and over­win­tered in green­houses. Th­ese are hardy peren­ni­als such as ma­genta ‘Mrs Jessie Cooper’, which my wife gath­ered by the arm­ful for our son’s chris­ten­ing in early De­cem­ber, 22 years ago. ‘Sweet­heart Pink’ and or­ange ‘Killer­ton Tan­ger­ine’ are good too. Dou­ble sil­ver-pink ‘Em­peror of China’ grows to 1.2m (4ft) and as tem­per­a­tures drop its fo­liage turns a fab­u­lous beetroot red. Ner­ines are an­other good choice. “Here we grow the aptly named ‘Favourite’, pale pink ‘Stephanie’, more in­tense pink ‘Is­abel’ and ‘Alba’ be­cause it’s nice to have a white, though it’s not as vig­or­ous as the pink ones.” New at the nurs­ery is an ex­per­i­men­tal area of raised sand beds. “They were built from bricks, in four in­ter­lock­ing si­nu­soidal [math­e­mat­i­cal] curves, and filled with coarse, sharp sand. Th­ese have en­abled me

We’ve also planted a grassere­tum punc­tu­ated by up­right or­na­men­tal grasses

to in­clude all sorts of plants that I couldn’t grow be­fore, ow­ing to the heavy soil. Two of the beds are now full of North Amer­i­can pen­ste­mons, gaura, ner­ines, amaryl­lis and erodium and two are tra­di­tional alpine beds with gen­tians and daphnes. “It was quite prob­lem­atic get­ting them es­tab­lished last sum­mer; we had to wa­ter them ev­ery cou­ple of days. The idea is that you take all the soil off their roots so the plant has to work very hard at get­ting their roots down some 40cm (16in) into the clay be­low. Then, once they’ve achieved that, it’s like a switch has been turned on and they grow phe­nom­e­nally well.”

PAS­TEL PAL­ETTE (clock­wise from top left) Sym­phy­otrichum no­vae-an­gliae ‘Dark De­sire’ was bred at the nurs­ery; Hes­per­an­tha coc­cinea ‘Rosea’; stooks of Arundo donax with asters and ver­bena; Mis­cant­hus sinen­sis cul­ti­vars; Ac­taea mat­sumu­rae ‘White Pearl’; Abu­tilon megapotam­icum; peach-coloured hardy chrysan­the­mum ‘Beechcroft’

KEY PLANTS (clock­wise from above) Grasses Mis­cant­hus sinen­sis and tow­er­ing M. gi­gan­teus, with red Lo­belia tupa and nico­tiana; peren­nial sun­flower, he­lianthus ‘Lemon Queen’; glad­i­o­lus ‘Adri­enne’; Rud­beckia triloba; New Eng­land asters form a back­drop for a sunny bench; re­gal heads of Lo­belia tupa

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