It’s time to rewild your bor­ders

Cer­tain plants help to blur the lines of for­mal plant­ing and al­low your gar­den to take on a char­ac­ter of its own. Why not let them sur­prise you, says Ben Pope

The Daily Telegraph - Gardening - - Front Page - Ben Pope is head gar­dener of a pri­vate gar­den in West Sus­sex where he grows fruit, veg­eta­bles and cut flow­ers, along with many or­na­men­tals. Visit his blog at the­work­ing­gar­den.com

As dusk set­tles on what was a late sum­mer’s day I stroll along a wind­ing gravel path by the side of the drive to­wards the gar­den. The air is warm and heavy, still thick with sweet smells and the buzzing of bees. I brush past Calamintha nepeta ‘Blue Cloud’ and Oenothera stricta ‘Sul­phurea’, which have self-seeded among planted clumps of Stipa tenuis­sima and Dig­i­talis parv­i­flora ‘Milk Choco­late’. In­for­mally knit­ting the dis­play to­gether is Al­chemilla mol­lis, Berkheya pur­purea and Dip­sacus fal­lonum. It’s a happy ac­ci­dent – but the com­bi­na­tion is pleas­ing, and one that the bees ob­vi­ously ap­pre­ci­ate.

“Well worth a spot in a bor­der,” I think to my­self. The irony is that many of these plants prob­a­bly started life in a bor­der but seem hap­pier grow­ing in a small patch of gravel, in­dif­fer­ent to the for­mal­i­ties of gar­den lay­out. Vis­ually, the es­capees and self-seed­ers work well, soft­en­ing the hard land­scape of the drive and com­ple­ment­ing the more struc­tured plant­ing by thread­ing their way back and forth. This re­laxed, nat­u­ral­is­tic style of plant­ing is so pop­u­lar now and I’m al­ways look­ing for good ex­am­ples of adapt­able, boundary-de­fy­ing plants.

Along with many oth­ers, I have come to ap­pre­ci­ate what na­tive plants can bring to the gar­den. As a coun­try, we are be­com­ing more en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious and aware of the im­por­tant role our out­side spa­ces have to play. We seek plants with lo­cal prove­nance and use na­tives in the gar­den to pro­vide food and shel­ter for wildlife.

I en­cour­age fox­glove ( Dig­i­talis pur­purea), sweet rocket ( Hes­peris ma­tronalis) and for­get-me-not ( Myoso­tis syl­vat­ica), to es­tab­lish in my bor­ders. All are na­tive sources of nec­tar and pollen while adding sea­sonal colour. Um­bels such as an­gel­ica ( An­gel­ica sylvestris) and

greater bur­net sax­ifrage ( Pimpinella ma­jor) en­thu­si­as­ti­cally self-seed, fill­ing gaps with their pin­nate leaves and sculp­tural seed heads.

A rich mix

How­ever, this love for na­tives is not ex­clu­sive. Our rich hor­ti­cul­tural his­tory pro­vides us with a wealth of plants to choose from, and re­cent sci­en­tific re­search has shown that non-na­tives can be just as ben­e­fi­cial to wildlife. Con­tem­po­rary plant­ing de­sign is all about cre­at­ing plant com­mu­ni­ties within our bor­ders – schemes in which na­tives grow along­side non-na­tives, cre­at­ing an ecosys­tem that pro­motes the sus­tain­abil­ity of the plant­ing it­self.

The 2012 Olympic Park in east Lon­don is a prime ex­am­ple. Large swathes of what ap­pear to be wild plant­ing gen­tly roll over the un­du­lat­ing land­scape that once was derelict. Sec­tions of the park are or­gan­ised and struc­turally planted in a nat­u­ral­is­tic way to rep­re­sent the dif­fer­ent flora of cli­matic re­gions around the world.

Typ­i­cally, the plants used in this style are tough and strong grow­ing but have a nat­u­ral aes­thetic – in other words, they lend them­selves to a loose, in­for­mal style: Aro­nia crini­ata, Eu­pa­to­rium mac­u­la­tum and Per­si­caria poly­mor­pha are good ex­am­ples of big and bold plants. Oth­ers, such as Rud­beckia triloba, San­guisorba of­fic­i­nalis and Thal­ic­trum roche­bru­ni­anum are softer in habit but like most, are gen­er­ally pest- and dis­ease-free.

Many are of­ten great self-seed­ers and happy to grow in prox­im­ity to their neigh­bours, be they flow­ers like Erigeron an­nuus and He­le­nium pu­beru­lum or or­na­men­tal grasses such as Molinia ‘Trans­par­ent’ and Pan­icum vir­ga­tum. Used to­gether, these char­ac­ter­is­tics make this group of plants easy to in­cor­po­rate into ex­ist­ing bor­ders, as well as be­ing can­di­dates for more ne­glected sites.

In var­i­ous parts of my gar­den, such as along the pe­riph­ery, I al­low self­seed­ing to dic­tate the de­vel­op­ment of the plant­ing. Here non-na­tives are mixed with na­tives, an­nu­als along with bi­en­ni­als and peren­ni­als. It is very much an ex­per­i­men­tal, dy­namic process that changes year on year, dra­mat­i­cally af­fected by both the soil and weather con­di­tions.

Not only do I plant wild­flow­ers in bor­ders but I am also try­ing non­na­tives in wilder ar­eas. For in­stance, our meadow has be­come home

to Stipa gi­gan­tea and Euphor­bia palus­tris. Both are tra­di­tion­ally found in the herba­ceous bor­der, but they sit equally well with “cow pars­ley” na­tives such as An­thriscus sylvestris and Dau­cus carota. I have also added easy-go­ing bulbs: Or­nithogalum pyra­mi­dale, Al­lium

(Nec­taroscor­dum) sicu­lum and Gla­di­o­lus com­mu­nis subsp. byzanti­nus pro­vide flashes of peren­nial colour that com­ple­ment the na­tive Gera­nium pratense and Leu­can­the­mum vul­gare. The over­all ef­fect en­hances the “nat­u­ral” ap­pear­ance of the meadow.

Mind the gap

How­ever, the ex­per­i­men­ta­tion has gone fur­ther. I am al­ways look­ing for space to grow more plants. It is now the gaps be­tween lawns and bor­ders, along bound­aries and build­ings that have caught my at­ten­tion. These pro­vide mini mi­cro­cli­mates that, with a bit of plan­ning, can be ex­ploited by care­ful plant­ing of adapt­able, op­por­tunis­tic plants.

In a grassy sward at the base of a de­cid­u­ous mixed hedge I have planted Ori­g­anum ‘Her­ren­hausen’ and Kniphofia ‘Bees’ Lemon’, plus plugs of an­nu­als like Tagetes lin­naeus and Echium ‘Blue Bed­der’, which sit hap­pily with the ex­ist­ing Prim­ula

vul­garis and Suc­cisa praten­sis. The semi-shaded base of a wall pro­vides an­other, yet very dif­fer­ent, op­por­tu­nity. Here, planted in small pock­ets and then mulched with a soil con­di­tioner, is a col­lec­tion of non­na­tives in­clud­ing Geum ‘Lemon Drops’, Muk­de­nia rossii ‘Kara­suba’,

Ber­ge­nia cil­i­ata and Hakonechloa macra. They are pulled to­gether with ram­bling clumps of Lon­don pride ( Sax­ifraga x ur­bium), cre­at­ing a tapestry of in­ter­est­ing fo­liage and tex­ture that lasts through­out the year.

Like the Olympic Park, these plant­ings are not static and nor are they com­plete. In the fu­ture I want to ex­per­i­ment more with the ad­di­tion of bulbs, self-seed­ing an­nu­als and other peren­ni­als. Of course, there will be some fail­ures as well as some suc­cesses, but guar­an­teed there will be ex­cite­ment and dis­cov­ery as I con­tinue to bridge the gap be­tween bor­der and wild pe­riph­ery.

Blurred lines: a mass of peren­ni­als in the cot­tage gar­den at The Gar­den House, Devon, top. Ben Pope, left, with dachs­hund Ge­off

Wild at heart: from left clock­wise, grasses soften the lines of hedge and path; evening prim­rose self-

seeds among sea holly; Prim­ula

alpi­cola, a non­na­tive, looks wild; grassy verges can be sub­tly en­hanced

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