Grow­ing in har­mony In a Bel­guim gar­den, nurs­ery­man Jan Spruyt has used grasses and vi­brant peren­ni­als that com­ple­ment rather than com­pete with each other

Renowned nurs­ery­man Jan Spruyt spe­cialises in peren­nial plants for form and tex­ture, but in his lat­est project for a pri­vate gar­den he’s cre­ated a kalei­do­scope of colour

Gardens Illustrated Magazine - - Contents - WORDS NATASHA GOOD FEL­LOW PHO­TO­GRAPHS MODES TE HER WIG

Agar­den full of flow­ers, bees and but­ter­flies from March to Novem­ber is what we all dream of. And if we were told that that same gar­den could be achieved with no wa­ter­ing, no di­vid­ing, and al­most no pest con­trol, we’d know for sure that the dream was too good to be true. Or would we?

An­ne­mie and Guy Brus­sel­mans’ gar­den in Sint-Amands, a ru­ral com­mu­nity be­tween An­twerp and Brus­sels, proves that the dream is em­i­nently achiev­able – and more beau­ti­ful than we had dared imag­ine. De­signed by renowned nurs­ery­man and prairie-plant­ing ad­vo­cate Jan Spruyt, it is, for nine months of the year, an ever-changing kalei­do­scope of colour; dark tulips, ma­roon Aqui­le­gia vul­garis var. stel­lata ‘Black Bar­low’ and wine-red Gera­nium phaeum giv­ing way to pink achil­leas and or­ange, ra-ra-skirted he­le­ni­ums in sum­mer and, later, the buffs, reds and gold of au­tumn fo­liage and grasses, punc­tu­ated by huge drifts of asters. In late Novem­ber the pic­ture changes again to some­thing less colour­ful but still full of in­ter­est as seed­heads as­sume man­tles of frost or snow.“There are only about two weeks of the year when there’s noth­ing go­ing on,” says An­ne­mie. “And that’s in late Fe­bru­ary just af­ter we’ve cut ev­ery­thing down – but even then, you can see the bulbs nos­ing through the soil, and we start to imag­ine the de­lights to come.”

The gar­den’s suc­cess is down to two things. The first is Jan’s clever de­sign, which has only one or two shrubs used as

“There are only two weeks of the year when there’s noth­ing go­ing on, but even then, you can see the bulbs nos­ing through the soil”

trees, a good num­ber of bulbs and around 2,000 herba­ceous peren­ni­als. “Peo­ple al­ways as­sume peren­ni­als are a lot of work,” says Jan, whose highly re­garded nurs­ery Vaste-plantenkwek­erij Jan Spruyt-Van der Jeugd, is just out­side Sint-Amands. “But they don’t have to be. Prairie-style plant­ing, us­ing peren­ni­als that grow in har­mony with one an­other rather than com­pet­ing for nu­tri­ents and light, re­quires none of the lift­ing, di­vid­ing and re­plant­ing of the tra­di­tional herba­ceous bor­der.”

That’s not to say there is no work at all. An­ne­mie and Guy still re­mem­ber plant­ing the gar­den back in the au­tumn of 2012. “It took the two of us 28 days to plant ev­ery­thing and then an­other 28 days to pour the lava mulch – all 55 tonnes of it – be­tween the plants,” says Guy.

Since then the biggest task has been the an­nual cut­ting down of the seed­heads in late Fe­bru­ary. Wa­ter­ing has rarely been needed. “Wa­ter­ing dis­turbs the plants,” says Jan. “They will make more leaves, caus­ing more evap­o­ra­tion and they’ll suf­fer more from weak­ness and dis­ease.” Pest con­trol barely fea­tures ei­ther, since non-na­tive plants are not hosts for indige­nous in­sects, al­though they still pro­vide pollen and nec­tar for bees and but­ter­flies, as sev­eral

bee ho­tels at­test. The same goes for dis­eases: asters are known for suf­fer­ing from powdery mildew, but here it is not a prob­lem. “My ex­pla­na­tion is that be­cause we don’t use fer­tilis­ers, the cell walls are stronger and harder and the spores can­not pen­e­trate,” says Jan. “Rain­fall con­trib­utes around 40kg of ni­tro­gen to the gar­den an­nu­ally and the soil doesn’t need any more than that. Prairie plants ac­tu­ally im­prove the soil.”

The only task of any real sig­nif­i­cance is weed­ing, and it’s An­ne­mie’s ex­per­tise in this re­gard that is the other chief rea­son the gar­den looks so good – she whips out any un­wanted seedlings be­fore they have a chance to gain a foothold. “When I sense my clients aren’t re­ally in­ter­ested in gar­dens, I’ll tend to use drifts of just one plant,” says Jan, “so that any weed seedlings are eas­ier to spot. But I could feel An­ne­mie had the hands for it so I com­bined dif­fer­ent plants. She is with­out a doubt my best guardian.”

This sense of con­fi­dence also al­lowed Jan to in­clude some indige­nous plants (which by na­ture tend to self-seed) along­side rarer and more un­usual forms that he’s bred at his nurs­ery. Among his proud­est achieve­ments is Core­op­sis tripteris ‘Mosten­veld’, which at 2mplus tow­ers above most plants of the genus and, along with stat­uesque grasses, pro­vides struc­ture to the gar­den, par­tic­u­larly in late sum­mer and au­tumn. “In spring we can see right across the gar­den,” says An­ne­mie, “but as the sea­sons progress, it begs to be dis­cov­ered.”

An­ne­mie takes all the weed­ing in her stride. “Be­fore I only had a lawn and roses and I al­ways wanted to do some­thing like this. Now, tend­ing to the gar­den is my hobby. I walk through it ev­ery day and if I see a weed, I just pull it out.” USE­FUL IN­FOR­MA­TION Jan Spruyt’s nurs­ery is open to the pub­lic on Fri­days, 8am-3pm, and on se­lected Satur­days. See vasteplant.be for de­tails.

“Us­ing peren­ni­als that grow in har­mony with one an­other re­quires none of the lift­ing, di­vid­ing and re­plant­ing of the tra­di­tional herba­ceous bor­der”

In brief What Pri­vate, ru­ral gar­den that makes clever use of peren­nial plant­ing. De­signed by nurs­ery­man Jan Spruyt as a low-main­te­nance, prairie-style gar­den. Where Sint-Amands, Bel­gium. Size 500 square me­tres. Soil Sandy, acidic loam im­proved by chalk. Cli­mate Win­ters can be -14ºC; sum­mers can reach 36ºC. Har­di­ness rat­ing USDA 8.

The gar­den re­quires lit­tle more than a spot of daily weed­ing from owner An­ne­mie.

Tall grasses and plants, such as Eu­pa­to­rium fis­tu­lo­sum f. al­bidum ‘Mas­sive White’ and Euony­mus eu­ropaeus ‘Red Cas­cade’, shield the front of the house from the street.

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