Carol Klein talks huge-leaved foliage and green and white colour schemes
Beautiful wedding cake tree reflects the colour theme and most of the planting in Alice’s garden
Athick, cloud-pruned hedge of variegated box separates the brick garden from the beds below which have come to be known as Alice’s garden. This hedge isn’t straight, instead it forms a sinuous line across the breadth of the garden with one break in the middle where brick steps lead down to the next level. The box has grown so well that, despite being pruned assiduously, you have to turn sideways to get through. We might have to take out the two end bushes and readjust the shape, after all there’s no point having steps if you can’t get down them!
You can approach Alice’s garden four ways, either from steps down from the brick garden, steps up from Annie’s garden or from the track where you have the option of taking the broad path that separates it from the sleeper wall that raises up the ‘hot bed’, or through the centre up two broad steps. Although we talk about it as one garden, in fact it’s four beds separated by wide slate paths.
There’s one significant tree here that always makes its presence felt whatever time of
year. It’s a wedding cake tree, Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’. At the moment it stands leafless, its geometrically tiered shape exposed, but the crimson buds that contain next year’s leaves are already decorating the bare branches.
This tree sets the scene for Alice’s garden; in leaf it’s green and white, light and airy and much of the planting here reflects the same theme. Many of the flowers here are white and there are hostas whose leaves are edged in white. Hosta ‘Thomas Hogg’ (now known as Hosta undulata albomarginata) has been divided from time to time and clumps of it, here and there, help bring cohesion to the beds.
The best time to split hostas is now as they’re becoming dormant, or in late spring before the leaves emerge. We dig up the whole clump and slice it into chunks with a sharp spade but try to make the slices different sizes so the planting doesn’t look too contrived.
Selinum wallichianum is another stalwart here. In total contrast to the large entire leaves of the hosta, this classy umbel has intricately lacy foliage. In late summer through into autumn it flowers with typical plateaux of tiny white flowers. Equally decorative seed heads follow. Unlike so many other members of the Apiaceae family, which tend to be ephemeral, selinum lives for a good long time, getting bigger and better each year.
Another pretty umbel in this part of the garden, Pimpinella major ‘Rosea’, a pink-flowered version of a native plant, is not so long-lived but seeds itself around. How do plants always seed themselves in just the right spot, creating combinations that look so much more assured than anything you would carefully plan? Pimpinella alongside the dainty inflorescences of Melica uniflora, for example.
Another dependable plant that fits in well with Alice’s preferred colour scheme of green, white, pink and occasional crimson is Lamium orvala, a very handsome dead nettle.
As you come down from the house, this is the first time you encounter roses (apart from the Banksian rose on the house wall). Here you’ll meet three shrub roses, ‘Little White Pet’, ‘The Fairy’ and Alice’s special favourite Rosa mundi, with flowers striped randomly with pink and white. But we won’t be aware of them until the summer.
Meanwhile, groups of different snowdrops will take the stage, getting 2019 in Alice’s garden off to an auspicious start.
‘Many of the flowers here are white and there are hostas whose leaves are edged in white. They help bring cohesion to the beds’
Hosta undulata albomarginata in full swing – but now it’s dormant it’s time to divide it up