Bring your holiday home….the Italian Garden

Olive groves and Italian Cyprus trees are seen at sunset in the Medieval Umbrian town of Orvieto. Italy. Image: Kim Newton / Alamy 

Returning from a Roman holiday? Missing the Mediterranean? Read on for our top tips on bringing an artfully elegant latin look to your garden.

It’s all Greek…

You might figure that the gardens of grand Renaissance Villas like those at Villa d’Este and Villa Lante, represent the birth of the classical Italian garden, but these 16th century masterpieces were in fact inspired by the gardens of ancient Rome, which were in themselves inspired by the gardens of ancient Greece.

Many of our great British gardens in turn drew strongly on the Renaissance, borrowing common Italianate features. Follies, temples, specimen planting and the use of focal points were all popular influences during the 18th century and some of the finest examples of this can be seen in gardens such as Stowe in Buckinghamshire and Painshill Park in Surrey.

So how can you bring a touch of Italian style to your garden? You don’t have to have vast acres. Big or small, key elements can be adapted to suit any outside space.

Water

A moss-covered woodland grotto or secret spring inspired by Italian gardens

A woodland grotto or secret spring

Whilst Villa d’Este boasts a total of fifty-one fountains and nymphaeums, 398 water-spouts, 364 water-jets, 64 waterfalls, and 220 basins, many Italian gardens have a simple stone pool with a single central fountain. Got a bit more room? How about creating your own grotto? Forget fancy shell-encrusted Temples of Venus; smaller, more naturalistic grottos are enchanting when set within woodland areas or stumbled across in sheltered spaces.

An original Vicenza fountain with artichoke spout

An original Vicenza fountain with artichoke spout from a selection at LASSCO Three Pigeons

Planting

Any Italian garden worth its salt should cast edible plants as star players. Gnarled olive trees near the house make for easy pickings and are more tolerant than you might think, they’ll live quite happily whether planted directly in the ground, in large pots or built-up planters. Mix topiaries of cubed box, lollipop bay trees and tall, straight cupressus (Italian cypress) to lend an air of the Tuscan landscape as well as providing definition to vistas.  For instant effect, pots of rosemary, oregano and jasmine placed on patios and by kitchen doors not only look the part, but scent the space with fresh, warm and earthy fragrances.

Cubed, rounded and tall topiary trees and bushes

Balance & Symmetry

The idea here is the imposition of order on nature, think clean lines and geometric forms. Parterres of box or ligustrum delavayanum can be used to create formal beds surrounding specimen plants or even miniature mazes. Moving further away from the inner garden, determine your boundaries and borrow from your surroundings to create views that draw on the landscape beyond your fence.

A gnarled olive tree in a pot

Gnarled olives trees, sourced by us, lend an immediate air of Italy

Materials & Accessories

Whilst conditions in the UK don’t often produce the same warmth underfoot of a sun-baked Tuscan terrace, with carefully chosen colours and materials, you can inspire a similar mood. The warm, soft tones of sandstone work particularly well though reclaimed red brick, with it’s rich yet worn appearance, can also work to create an aged mosaic effect. For complete authenticity, The Oxfordshire Gardener’s very own Italian-trained Environmental & Landscaping Consultant, Dr. Matteo Meloni, suggests sourcing stones “like travertino, granite, marble and natural rocks” throughout the garden to set off the landscape.

A range of terracotta amphorae arranged by a vicenza stone bench

Urns and Vicenza stone benches. For more visit LASSCO Three Pigeons

Outsized terracotta urns, pots and planters of various sizes grouped together, along with weathered busts and statues placed at interludes, all combine to create the look. Base your colour palette around the hues of the northern Italian countryside – soft greens and russets with hints of plum and the grape tones of scattered vineyards and you’ll find yourself transported back to Tuscany (minus the packing) in no time.

The Oxfordshire Gardener picking out tall cypresses

The Oxfordshire Gardener picking perfect cupressus for an authentic Italian look

Tuscany or Amalfi?

Matteo also mentions one final point to consider, whilst the formal gardens of northern Italy immediately spring to mind when we think of the quintessential Italian garden, in the last 20 years especially, it has evolved into the somewhat looser, less formal style of the Mediterranean coast. Predominant in the southern regions of the country and the across the islands, the planting here combines aromatic plants like rosemary, lavender or winter savory with succulents, such as sempervivum and cacti.

Whether you’re looking for an Italian garden designed and installed or a few landscaping nods Livorno, The Oxfordshire Gardener can help. For more on our landscaping services, click here.

Top 7 winter trees & shrubs with splendid barks & foliage

Welcome to the second in our series on plants for creating winter interest in your garden. This week we’ve picked our top 7 winter trees & shrubs with splendid barks or foliage…or both.

Whilst winter might not conjure up quite the number of plants to rival the fantastic displays of the warmer seasons, mother nature has still provided a variety of species to bring the colours of the rainbow to your outside space. Here’s just a few of our favourite winter trees and shrubs who grab winter by the horns and make it their own:

shot-silk white trunks of himalayan birch

1) Himalayan Birch ‘Grayswood Ghost’ (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii)

With white shot-silk bark and slate-black twigs, this slower growing specimen of the birch family reminds us of a charcoal sketch, once fully revealed by the autumn leaf-drop. Especially effective when planted in groups, but also good for slender gardens due to its limited horizontal spread. For maximum effect (and for general care) give the bark a gentle scrub with soapy water once a year to remove any algae and to brighten the white stems.

Orange, yellow and red stems of Dogwood in winter

2) Dogwood ‘Midwinter King’ (Cornus sanguinea)

Create a virtual bonfire in your garden with a fiery display of brightest yellow, orange, pink and red twigs. Dogwood is a deciduous shrub with mid-green leaves and small white flowers in the summer, but it’s only in winter that the glowing glory of its stems are fully appreciated. Plant in sunshine for the best display, though Midwinter King will grow reasonably happily in partial sun. Thin but don’t cut back hard until a few years old. Planted against a backdrop of our next pick Midwinter King will create real drama in the border.

Blackish-purple stems of white dogwood 'Kesselringi' in winter

3) White Dogwood ‘Kesselringi’ (Cornus alba)

A rather misnomered variety of White Dogwood, Kesselringi has beautiful blackish-purple stems in winter, which make for a striking contrast when planted next to Midwinter King. Not just a shrub for winter though, Kesselringi also has clusters of small creamy flowers in summer, followed by white berries and lovely merlot-coloured leaves in autumn. It will do well when planted pretty much anywhere, except deep shade.

Spectacular hot-pink autumn foliage of the burning bush of compact winged spindle tree

4) Compact Winged Spindle Tree or Burning Bush ‘Compactus’  (Euonymous Alatus)

The prize for most spectacular foliage has to go to euonymous alatus ‘Compactus’. For most of the year it appears as a fairly inconspicuous spreading shrub with nice elliptical green leaves and non-showy tiny greenish-white flowers, but my word does it prove it’s worth in the garden in autumn. As the air begins to cool Compactus’ leaves turn stunning hot-pink to bright red before they fall in winter. At the same time, it bears purpley-red fruits which burst open to reveal orange seeds that are often retained well into winter, if the birds don’t strip them first.
Being as compact as suggested it’s a great shrub for containers, allowing you to easily move it to where your garden most needs a shot of colour.

Winter tree Peeling winter bark of the paper maple or acer griseum is reminiscent of a cinnamon stick

5) Paper Bark Maple (Acer Griseum)

As is often the case with acers autumn turns their green mantle of foliage to yellow, then orange and through to deep red, however, this particular variety has another string to its bow. The light brown bark on this small, slow-growing variety peels attractively during the winter, giving it the look of a cinnamon stick. It also offers small yellow flowers in April. Good for small gardens or planted anywhere it can be easily viewed, though avoid exposed sites.  

Big white blooms of the snowball viburnum, burgundy foliage in autumn mean it makes the cut of our top 7 winter trees & shrubs

6) Japanese Snowball ‘Sawtooth’ (Viburnum plicatum f. plicatum)

Big, bold snowball flowers in May make a hydrangea-like show against attractive forest green foliage. The leaves are serrated and it’s this feature that inspired the name ‘Sawtooth’. If this plant was chosen only for its spring/summer blooms and large, deep-veined foliage it would have earned its place in the garden, but the attraction doesn’t end with the warmer weather. Sawtooth’s foliage turns beautifully burgundy in the autumn. This viburnum is not drought-tolerant so keep it well-watered in hot, dry weather, but plant in free-draining soil as it won’t appreciate being waterlogged either.

Glorious pinky-red, bronze-purple foliage of the sacred bamboo or nandina domestica make it a perfect for our winter trees & shrubs top picks

7) Sacred or Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica)

Not actually a bamboo though nandina definitely shares many of bamboo’s habits. Its leaves are pinky-red when young, turning green as they mature, then returning to a more colourful reddish-bronze each autumn and staying throughout the winter. This small evergreen is largely unheard of, though makes a fabulous addition to any garden. Panicles of starry white flowers turn out each spring followed by the added bonus of red berries. Makes wonderful front-of-house plant, plus it has been known to withstand even extreme drought.
A native of the Far East, where it is thought to have the ability to dissipate or deter bad dreams, hence it is thought of heaven-sent.

Missed the first article in our winter garden series? See our guide to winsome winter berries here.

9 fruits & berries for winsome winter gardens

Standard holly trees with balls of foliage and unusual yellow-orange berries

Not-your-average-Holly…

Winter doesn’t have to mean a barren and bare garden, nature has provided beautiful, colourful plants to delight the senses and provide sustenance at every time of year. In the first of our series on creating interest in an Oxfordshire garden in Winter, we take a look at those jewels of the colder months – fruits and berries.

The colourful display put on by foliage at autumn’s arrival is over, deciduous plants have been stripped by the season’s blustery gales, summer annuals have disappeared and gardeners are pruning back and mulching, all of which might have left things looking a little stark. If autumn garden maintenance has revealed some gaps in your garden or left it looking somewhat dull, fear not! Our guide to winter garden berries will help to keep your garden a bountiful, riot of colour through the colder months.

Colour & Scent in the Oxfordshire Winter Garden:

1. Christmas Box or Sweet Box (Sarcococca confusa)

 Christmas Box shrub with flowers and berries

Unusually this shade-loving shrub offers up a vanilla-honey fragrance with wispy ivory flowers in winter through to spring. The blooms give way to shiny plump berries in the summer, but we’ve included it here as the berries frequently persist through the winter, often giving you flowers and berries all at the same time. Sweet Box likes moist, though well-drained, humus-rich soil and will tolerate neglect, making it an easygoing all-rounder in Oxfordshire gardens.

2. Beautyberry (Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii)

Vivid violet bunches of beautyberries

It’s not called ‘Beautyberry’ for nothing. Happy in sun or partial shade, though it’s worth noting that you’ll need to plant more than one to ensure pollination and therefore, fruiting. Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii has possibly the most eye-catching fruits of all shrubs with vivid violet berries appearing in autumn, following the summer bloom of tiny lilac or pink flowers. Some callicarpa are evergreen while others are deciduous, yet even the foliage joins in the show, with leaves appearing purply-bronze in spring, green in summer and rosy-pink as they fade through the autumn. What a stunner!

3. Farges harlequin glorybower (Clerodendrum trichotomum var. fargesii)

Farges Harlequin Glorybowers magenta lobes reveal bright blue turquoise berries

One heck of a name for an equally startling plant. It’s pinky-white almost jasmine-like flowers are highly scented, but they are just the precursor to the main event. Glorybower’s extraordinary fruits appear in autumn as bright blue berries surrounded by magenta lobes. A vigorous, deciduous shrub, it can grow up to 8m in height and width, so is an excellent spacer-filler.  It will do well in almost any soil, so long as it’s moist, but it does enjoy a little shade and shelter.

4. David viburnum (Viburnum davidii)

Turquoise teal berries in a cluster on viburnum davidii

Evergreen with a low spreading habit, viburnum davidii is ideal in garden design if you’re looking for low maintenance ground cover under roses or naturally leggy shrubs. Clusters of small, white unassuming flowers blossom in spring and develop into phenomenal, almost preternatural berries of the rarest of shades found in the plant world, turning from turquoise to dark teal over the course of autumn and winter. Plant at least 3 for cross-pollination and in full sun for maximum fruits.

5. Common Holly (Ilex Aquifolium)

Spiky, green holly leaves with clutches of bright red berries

Surely no plant better represents winter than the Common Holly with its spiky green leaves and brilliant red berries, but not all Holly’s adhere to this classic Christmas look. There are some unusual and interesting varieties out there to pique your interest, though nearly all grow best on well-drained soil and prefer sunny or partially shady positions. Holly’s, in general, have small, white flowers in spring, but berries are only produced on female plants, so make sure you pick the right gender if you want to see it’s glorious fruits.

‘Pyramidalis Fructu Luteo’ – Has abundant bright yellow berries.

‘Handsworth New Silver’ – Young shoots are purple and it’s creamy-white variegated leaves give an overall silvery look when viewed at a distance.

‘Amber’ – Gorgeous coppery-apricot berries.

‘Elegantissima’ – Variegated leaves are tinged with pink when young.

‘J.C. van Tol’ – Bright red berries against dark green foliage, however, the difference here is that its leaves are spineless, giving you that warm festive feeling without the prickles.

Fruits:

6. Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides)

Orange berries of Sea Buckthorn against their spindley green leaves

A native British shrub often found naturally growing along the coastline, Sea Buckthorn is packed full with vitamins C, A and E. Deciduous silver-green narrow leaves with yellow flowers in spring, followed by orange berries through winter, this super-fruit is highly adaptable, tolerant of poor soil and exposure. You will need to give it plenty of sun and plant both male and female plants for pollination though. The berries are rather sour eaten raw but juiced and sweetened with honey or sugar they have a fresh fruity, citrusy taste and can be used to make everything from mousses to jellies.

7. Chilean Guava (Ugni molinae)

Chilean Guava Berries

A very pretty berry indeed and a rarity amongst berries as its pale pink flower is equally pretty. Reputedly Queen Victoria’s favourite fruit and we can see why for this delicious delight tastes like strawberry and kiwi. Whilst not particularly well-known here, they are common ‘down under’ where they are known as ‘Tazziberries’. Their popularity is on the rise though with exponents like James Wong, who recently developed a British-bred variety called Ka Pow. The Chilean Guava is a small-leaved evergreen with pale-pink and white bell-shaped flowers in spring which transform into pink blueberry-like fruits, ripening to a deep, dark wine colour in winter. Hardy down to -10 and tolerant of most soils, they like a lot of light and shelter but will tolerate a little shade. Think of them as growing in ‘edge of the wood’ environments and you’ll have the right conditions in mind.

8. Goji Berries (Lycium barbarum)

Goji Berries on the vine

You might think that these exotic darlings of the health food industry would be difficult to grow, but in fact, they are really quite easy, once they are at least 12 months old. Seedlings need to be kept warm for the first year and are prone to rotting in compost, so you’re better off buying young plants. Once over a year old they are hardy and will begin producing fruit in their 2nd year with heavy yields from year 4. Goji berries will grow in almost any kind of soil and are surprisingly drought-tolerant. They’ll also do reasonably well in partial shade, though will yield more berries in full sun.

9. Common Myrtle (Myrtus communis)

ripe black myrtle berries on a bush

A traditional favourite of brides, especially in the Victorian era, as it represented purity and love in the language of flowers. Myrtle is an evergreen shrub or small tree with aromatic leaves often used to flavour pork or game dishes and star-like cupped white flowers which are followed by dark purplish berries. Being a native of the Mediterranean, myrtus needs long, hot summers to encourage it to fruit and whilst it likes to be kept moist, it must also be well-drained and sheltered. The berries have notes of juniper, rosemary and spice and when combined with apples make a dark, fragrant jam. They also make a rather tasty liqueur.

Still not sure how to best make the most of your garden year-round? Let us help to take the guesswork out of creating a beautiful environment. Find out about our garden design and winter garden planting services by clicking here. 

 

Create a Woodland Stumpery

A stumpery complete with green ferns and leaf mould

Have you recently felled some trees and aren’t sure what do with leftover stumps and logs? Do you have a shady area under trees or hedges, where nothing much grows? Don’t ignore shady spots, they’re the perfect place for a wonderfully atmospheric woodland stumpery.

Low maintenance and a great home for birds, insects and hedgehogs, a stumpery is an unusual yet surprisingly effective addition to any garden, large or small.

Ingredients:

Tree Stumps (at least one, but as many as you like or have, depending on the size of the area to be filled)

Driftwood and/or logs (again as many as you like or have space for)

Ferns

Handfuls of moss

Woodland plants and bulbs (try foxgloves, bluebells, Japanese anemones, narcissi, snowdrops, primroses, cyclamen, astrantia and fritillaries)

Edible fungi spore dowels

Natural yogurt

Leaf mould and compost

Bark chips

Method:

  • Start by forking over the ground to loosen any compacted soil.
  • Incorporated plenty of leaf mould and compost to recreate the rich humus conditions of a forest floor.
  • Choose hardwood stumps and logs, hardwoods are best as they rot more slowly, choose Chestnut, Oak and Beech.
  • Position your stumps (if they aren’t still in the ground where trees have been felled), taking time to stand back, view and rearrange to give the most interest.
  • Try positioning in groups and individually for a naturalistic look.
  • If you have a large space then add logs and driftwood (the more gnarled, the better) intertwined, laid on top of each other or placed in spaces between stumps, you can even use them to create a loose border around your stumpery’s edge.
  • Fill gaps between stumps and logs with compost and plant up with ferns, if your stumps have large hollows you can plant ferns here too, just add a little gravel and drill some drainage holes to ensure they don’t get waterlogged.
  • Remember not to bury the ferns crowns, leave them just proud of the surface or they are likely to rot.
  • Add handfuls of moss around the crowns to help secure and protect them (but don’t cover the crowns), water well.
  • Plant clumps of woodland flowers and bulbs in and around your stumpery, scatter bulbs and plant where they land; group young plants together for an artfully uncontrived feel (see above for flower and bulb suggestions)
  • Add bark chips around plants and to cover any exposed ground to discourage any weeds and enhance the forest floor effect.
  • Daub logs and stumps with natural yoghurt to encourage the growth of mosses, lichens and fungi.
  • You can also buy edible fungi spores to add to your stumpery, giving you a harvest of mushrooms too. Gourmet Woodland Mushrooms offer a wide range of DIY mushroom growing kits as well as excellent customer support. For a real talking point then Mushroom Box offers special ‘glow-in-the-dark’ mushroom spores! Take note that some species of luminescent mushroom are not edible, so please read descriptions carefully.

Need a hand creating your stumpery or woodland walk? Let us help care for your trees and habitat with natural design and planting.

Hand drawn sketch of a woodland design

Make fallen leaves into an excellent soil improver

Making leaf mould is good motivation for raking all those leaves up; the more leaves you have, the more leaf mould you will produce.

Gathering up leaves to make leaf mould

Leaf mould is an excellent soil improver. Be patient though; it takes a year for the leaves to turn into leaf mould, but it’s worth the wait and it’s free as it’s from your leaves!

Here is how it works….

  • Find or create a contained area, box or bin bag, making sure there are plenty of gaps or holes for aeration
  • Place all the fallen leaves into a contained area, box or even bin bag
  • Note that some leaves will rot down quicker than others; oak, alder and hornbeam compost quickly, whilst beech, chestnut and sycamore take rather longer. Evergreens leaves take considerably longer so best to only include small amounts and give them a head start by chopping them up too.
  • Leave until next year and then simply dig this soil improver into the garden

It’s as easy as that! It’s a great way to keep your garden tidy and well-nourished.

Compost bins full of leaves for making leaf mould

The Oxfordshire Gardener designs and installs practical compost bins for all types of garden. Our garden maintenance team makes rich leaf mould for clients and applies it to their gardens, contact us to find out more about our garden services. 

Glorious in the garden now….September

Blooming Anenome 'September Charm' nodding it's head in the wind, is our plant of the month for september 2017. It's glorious in the garden, autumnal sunlight now.

…Anenome ‘September Charm’

At it’s best:

‘September Charm’ flowers in August and, as it’s name suggests, September, making it a top choice for our ‘plant of the month’. Its host of soft pink slightly cupped, yet saucer-shaped flowers are a deeper pink on the underside of it’s petals and are set-off splendidly by its yellow stamens. The flowers are held aloft on fine upright stems that are slightly taller than other varieties, allowing them to gently nod and dance in the wind (which may account for their common name of ‘Windflower’). Winner of an RHS Award of Merit for its many virtues in the garden, it also makes a great cutting flower for vases in the house.

When and where to plant:

Perfectly positioned in partial sun, though it will tolerate full sun so long as it’s kept well-watered, September Charm loves to be in rich, moist but free-draining soil. Whatever you do, don’t let it dry out. Prefers a sheltered position and will grow to 3-4ft tall with a spread of around 2-3ft. In the right location they will naturalise prolifically and can become a bit of a thug, albeit a very pretty one, however this low maintenance plant dislikes being moved around so once planted is best left alone. Mixes well with grasses and other perennials such as asters, it works wonderfully when planted in the borders of a cottage garden style or a naturalistic prairie or meadow planting scheme. Salt-tolerant, this versatile little gem will also look great in coastal gardens.

Pearl-white double-anenome

This pearl-white double anenome makes an attractive alternative to the ballerina-pink of ‘September Charm’

Tolerance and resistance:

Resistant to most insects and disease, plus it won’t be nibbled away by visiting deer or rabbits. This is a hardy perennial, though in colder parts of the country it may need mulching in the winter.

Wildlife:

Anenomes are attractive to both butterflies and bees, so are a good addition to any wildlife-friendly garden.

Curious cuttings:

Often described as Japanese, this type of anenome is actually a native of China, the confusion arises from its cultivation in Japan over many centuries. The plant was first introduced to Britain in 1844 by plant-hunter, Robert Fortune, after he found it growing in China, where it was traditionally used to commemorate family ancestors and offer protection from evil spirits.

If you’d see to know what we chose as our plant of the month for August 2017, simply click here.

How to… create a stunning late-summer planter

The Oxfordshire Gardener shows us how to put together a gorgeous display of late-summer colour

Ingredients:

1 x Dahlia ‘Bishop of Leicester’

1 x Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’

2 x Agastache ‘Black Adder’

2 x Crocosmia

2 x Gaura

2 x Persicaria affines ‘Darjeeling Red’

1 x Physalis ‘Gigantea’

 Method:

  • Fill a water bath or tray with a couple of inches of water, add the plants in their pots and allow them to soak up the water by capillary action for a minimum of 2-3 hours, but preferably overnight. Don’t leave them much longer though as the roots will start to rot when left too long.
  • In a large planter or pot, add some drainage aids such as crocks. In a heavy pot like this one, Simon recommends using some empty plastic plant pots with holes in, placed upside-down as they’re lightweight and it will make moving the planter to its final location a lot easier.
  • Next add peat-free compost, here Simon is using a mix of Melcourt (RHS approved, organic compost, widely available from garden centres) and his own compost mix (1 year old, twice-turned).
  • Starting with your main focus plant (in this case our dahlia), begin removing the plants from their pots, teasing out the roots and arranging in the planter. It’s a good idea to test out the overall effect and style by placing the plants in the planter whilst still in their pots, you can then move them around until you’re happy. Simon has created a naturalistic style by allowing the plants to meld in with one another for a relaxed look and not focussing on planting round the rim.
  • Look at each plant as it’s goes in and snip any old leaves and spent flowers.
  • Once all the plants are in, add more compost in any gaps and press to firm the plants in a little.
  • Give your planter a good watering.
  • Sit back and admire your handiwork!

A gorgeous display of late summer colour in a large terracotta pot

Full late-summer colourful container

Update: Going strong one month on. Here’s how our planter looks in the autumn sun this morning (19th September 2017):

Late-summer container in September and full to bursting with colour

For more late summer colour, click to see our plant of month for August 2017.

Glorious in the garden now…

 

Plant of the month for August - Achillea Terracotta with it's flat heads of ochre-coloured flowers

…Achillea ‘Terracotta’

At it’s best:

Achilleas generally flower from July through August and September, providing colour ranging from whites, pinks and reds through to shades of yellow and muted orange tones, perfect for reflecting the hazy golden sunlight of late summer and early autumn. Foliage is fernlike, sometimes silvery and downy. The seed-heads continue to offer interest into late autumn and winter, both in the garden and when dried. For the best effect allow Achillea to form a good sizeable drift and try pairing with large daisy-like flowers such as Helenium and Rudbeckia. It also makes a great cut flower.

When and where to plant:

Plant out in a sunny or partially sunny location. Reaching from anywhere between 45cm (18″) to 200cm (6ft) with a spread of up to 50cm (19.5″), depending on growing conditions. Achilleas tend to do best on chalky soils but will be fine on slightly acidic soil too. Longevity is prolonged when planted on poorer, drier, free-draining soils.

If you have a heavier soil, then try cutting the flowering stems back to the ground around early-October as this can bulk up the base and allow the plant to fare a little better over winter.

Tolerance and Resistance:

Good resistance to both pests and disease, though you might find the odd greenfly in warmer weather. A hardy perennial and drought-tolerant too, Achilleas are mostly trouble-free plants.

Wildlife:

Loved by hoverflies and butterflies, though not bees. The seed-heads will also attract finches, who enjoy feeding on the seeds in winter.

Curious cuttings:

Named after the Greek hero Achilles. Legend has it that his soldiers used Achillea to treat their wounds, which explains why it’s also known as All Heal and Bloodwort.

Maths and mindful planting, an unparelleled Oxford garden comes to fruition

The Oxford Seat of Learning Garden

A mathematician’s mind of circular geometry, vertical dimensions and precision joinery influenced this shape-shifting landscaping project in Summertown, Oxford. A natural stone pathway sweeps with exactitude towards a circular seating area, graced with a majestic arc of Taxus baccata. 

Made-to-measure diamond trellis panels add depth and dimension, offering not only support but also providing a focal point of their own. Rising up, they give a splendid backdrop to the sweetly scented climbing Trachelospermum jasminoides underplanted with leafy Polystichum, Brunnera and Geranium ‘Rozanne’.

Alice in Wonderland was all about a child’s craving for access to a secret garden. Walking through the swaths of HeleniumHemerocallis and Phlox in the densely planted beds, you can imagine you are in a secret garden of your own. When writing the book, the mathematician Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) observed the Oxfordshire landscape and college gardens. The Cheshire Cat is thought to have been modelled on Alice’s cat Dinah who sat on a low-hanging bough of the horse chestnut tree in the Deanery garden at Christ Church.

Early narcissus bulbs start the year mingled with prostrate evergreens. Aquilegia vulgaris follow, with their hanging hoods rising above the burgeoning greenery. The green and gorgeous Heucherella happily combine with the dreaming spires of Agastache, Perovskia and Kniphofia. Flourishing blooms and waving grasses are in abundance to provide interest throughout the year.

At the heart of this garden are two radial beds with bespoke ‘green heart hardwood’ soft-angled seats set within the outer curve to provide an unobtrusive spot amongst the Acer palmatum from which to observe the naturalistic view – a new enchanted garden within which to dream up a new fantasy adventure.

Waking up to Autumn’s jewels

Planting Autumn’s natural jewel colours to pep your mood
prairie-planting

Gaze out on an autumn morn at ruby reds, the lustre of emerald greens dappled with soft sapphire pinks swaying in the breeze. Helenium ‘Moorheim Beauty’, with its blousy ruby-red flowers has great textural form planted in long swathes with a plethora of echinaceas (pinks and whites), feathery grasses and rudbeckias for the relaxed spirit of prairie planting – and you don’t need a great plain you can plant mini-prairie in a smaller garden. Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ takes us through the autumn harvest with its warm summer yellows to its dark, dramatic seedheads adding magical winter interest when covered in a sparkling frost. Underplanting with bulbs such as long sweeps of Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ gives spring interest.

Feel inspired? See wild, herbaceous planting in The Walled Garden at Broughton Grange, Oxfordshire.

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