Piet Oudolf and the dutch perennial new wave have changed the way that we garden. It used to be that designers and landscapers looked for structure from evergreens, topiary, hedging and trees. Now dead perennials and grasses have been introduced into the mix.
In the best perennials the structure of the plant and its shape becomes distilled in its seed head. There are many cottage garden favourites that don’t die very well – they flop, or rot, or disintegrate. But there are many that retain a wonderful profile and becoming a majestic winter silhouette.
The naturalistic style of my garden and its aspect, looking out onto rolling countryside, does not lend itself to topiary or large blocks of evergreen formality. Too much intervention would look false and unnatural. This is a garden in which I would like to push the boundaries of informality and loose planting to their limit.
When we designed the front entrance border (a cold, north-facing, free-draining wind-tunnel) I gave us the brief of “winter silhouette and warmth”. I wanted a planting that embraced as soon as you drove into the drive and that retained its shape as it would be backlit throughout the winter months
It isn’t quite right yet. The Deschampsia cespitosa has enjoyed itself a little too much and the dark seed heads of Echinacea, Rudbeckia, and Sanguisorba are getting a little lost in the density of gold seed head. Which is beautiful in its own right.
In the gravel garden the structure combinations have been slightly more successful. Here the tawny-gold, orange, black and silvered seed heads of largely light airy and “transparent” plants contrast with the evergreen mounds and hummocks of Euphorbia, Myrtle, Hyssop and Cistus.
In the Autumn we have always had flocks of finches, red wings, and tits visiting the garden to feed on the teasel heads that are left in the meadow or the hawthorns. Now they come in great chattering congregations to the gravel border. The Evening primrose is the Dunnock’s favourite….the Goldfinches like the Cardoon… and the pheasants just sit on the table looking resplendent (if slightly silly).