Seeking inspiration for autumn planting from four Herefordshire gardens

One of the great things about planning and developing a new flower garden is that it is a wonderful excuse to go out and seek inspiration from other people’s gardens (not that we really need much of an excuse to visit the beautiful gardens across England!).

During last week (w/b 7 October 2017) we visited four varied Herefordshire gardens to find out how they had maintained the colour in their borders into October.  We want to be able to extend the flowering season well into autumn if possible.  We had not visited any of the gardens before and everyone offered something to think about.

Firstly a little about the gardens and then we will say something about the planting combinations we discovered:

Hampton Court Castle (www.hamptoncourt.org.uk)

Located at Hope Under Dinmore just south of Leominster, Hampton Court has been standing by the River Lugg for 600 years.  This wonderful ‘formal’ garden is divided into a number of garden rooms with island pavilions, pleached avenues, grottoes, a yew maze and more.  We thoroughly enjoyed this garden and will try and visit again at other times of year.

Strong formal lines created by box hedges and topiary at Hampton Court Castle Garden

Croft Castle (nationaltrust.org.uk/croftcastle)

A National Trust garden situated near Yarpole and the home of some wonderful ancient oak and spanish chestnut trees.  If you like walking and have a dog the estate is dog friendly and there are a range of well marked walks throughout the parkland.  The castle has a walled garden and working vineyard.

The delightful church at Croft Castle near Yarpole

Hergest Croft Gardens (www.hergest.co.uk)

A plantman’s garden with a wide range of interesting and unusual trees and plants.  Located in the grounds of a building of the arts and crafts period the garden draws on specimens brought back by the plant hunters of the period.  The garden boasts over 90 champion trees.

The arts and craft era house at Hergest Croft Gardens

Berrington Hall (nationaltrust.org.uk/berringtonhall)

An absolutely stunning Georgian Manor and parkland near Leominster.  The manor sits within the last landscape commission of ‘Capability’ Brown as well as having excellent walled gardens, kitchen garden and orchards.

The Georgian mansion at Berrington Hall sits within extensive parkland designed by Capability Brown

October colour in these enchanting gardens

The first observation is that it is clearly possible to maintain the colour in your herbaceous borders right into October as long as you are clear of frost.

At Berrington Hall we saw beds of complementary colours brimming with colourful cosmos in a range of varieties and shades, complemented with pink malope (Malope trifida).  These beds also made use of Nicotiana sylvestris creating a wonderful structural candelabra effect (and I suspect that in the evening these beds would also be bathed in scent).  Contrasting some of the darker, purple cosmos was the lovely perennial sunflower which we assume was the variety ‘Lemon Queen’

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The borders at Berrington Hall used complementary varieties of cosmos and malope in pink and purple contrasted with the perennial sunflower ‘Lemon Queen’.

Berrington Hall also made wonderful use of grasses within the borders which really come into their own as this time of year.  The tall Miscanthus with its slightly pinkish seeds heads sits well with the candelabra of the Nicotiana sylvestris, Malope trifida and cleome.  The Rudbeckia ‘Cherry Brandy’ brings in a subtle red/brown which works well with the rest of the border.

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Herbaceous border mixing tall Miscanthus grasses with Nicotiana sylvestris, mallow, cleome and Rudbeckia ‘Cherry Brandy’

But of course contrasting colours can give a totally different effect and bring a zing to a border.  At Croft Castle the perennial sunflower ‘Lemon Queen’ sits alongside the tall floating stems of Verbena bonariensis.  In the evening light this Verbena almost has a fluorescence as the light fades.

 

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Contrasting colours of yellow Helinium ‘Lemon Queen’ and Verbena bonariensis at Croft Castle

And lets us not forget the strong shades of autumn colour that can really bring a garden to life.  Here at Croft Castle the Vitis coignetiae was in its full glory in the walled garden.

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Vitis coignetiae providing stunning autumn colours against the formal yew topiary at Croft Castle

At Hergest Croft Garden we saw a more traditional autumn border of michaelmas daisies, sedum and saxifrage in pink, mauve and white.  Very much loved by butterflies at this time of year these combinations are not to be under estimated.

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Long borders of autumn flowering michaelmas daisies, sedum and saxifrage in pink, mauve and white at Hergest Croft Garden

In contrast, Hergest Croft also showed that the more tender perennials such as Salvia confertiflora and Salvia involucrata ‘Bethellii’ can still provide striking border plants at this time of year if frosty nights have not yet arrived.  Mixed with dahlias and other salvias and edged with Liriope muscari these borders are still brimming with colour into October.

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Borders of salvias and dahlias still in full bloom at Hergest Croft Garden nicely edged to the path with Liriope muscari

Dahlias also featured in the beds at Hampton Court Castle gardens along with white cosmos to give a light airy feel and more cottage style to the borders.  A very striking addition was the strong architectural shape of the deep burgundy amaranthus, grasses and white cleome in these borders – stunningly effective planting.

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Architectural planting of amaranthus, grasses and cleome complement the cottage style planting of dahlias and white cosmos in these borders at Hampton Court Castle
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Beautiful combinations of form and texture in these borders at Hampton Court Castle

In addition to this stunning planting of complementary shades, many of the borders a Hampton Court Castle also used contrasting colours to great effect.  Combinations of strong blue with a very dense double ‘feverfew’ and also the yellow perennial Rudbeckia fulgida with tall stands of blue Monkshood (Aconitum) made wonderful combinations for an October border.

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Striking blue and white combination provide something very different at Hampton Court Castle for the autumn garden
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Large stands of perennial Rudbeckia fulgida contrast well with the blue Monkshood at Hampton Court Castle gardens

Plenty to think about…

Well there is certainly no doubt that, with planning, your herbaceous borders can look full of colour right into October.  We will certainly be adding some of these combinations to our future planting plans for the new garden and I hope it has also inspired you to see that the garden has much to offer at this time of year and is not simply shutting down for the winter.

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Michaelmas daisies in the autumn sunshine

Deep purple Michaelmas Daisies attract late season Comma butterflies in large numbers

An excellent late season perennial for the cut flower garden in a wide range of pink, white, lilac and purple shades.  The butterflies love these flowers in the late autumn sunshine.

Hardy Perennial

Latin name: We mainly grow Aster novibelgii, Aster novaeangliae, Aster pringlei an Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’

Origin:  Mainly North America

Family:  Asteraceae

Height:  Wide variety from small clump forming varieties up to 4-5 feet.  Tall varieties definitely need staking in our windy conditions.

Position:  We grow these in a sunny open position as part of a mixed perennial and annual border.

A striking October combination of Aster Novae-angleae and Rose ‘L’Aimant’

Cut flower:  Yes.  We use these widely in our September and October bouquets and also use Aster ‘Monch’ which flowers earlier in the year but also continues right into autumn.  All stand well after conditioning if picked young before the bees get to them.

Conditioning:  Standard conditioning in cool clear water for at least 2 hours.

This lilac clump forming Aster sits well with the strong colour of this Schizostylis

Suppliers: At this time of year one of the best places to see a wide range of Asters is the Picton Garden and Old Court Nurseries near Malvern.  They hold the NCCPG national collection of autumn flowering asters and it is a stunning show at the right time of year.

Their website www.autumnasters.co.uk provides a wide range of background information to help you choose and grow these lovely plants.

Aster pringlei

Laying out the formal hedging in the new flower garden

Well the thinking and planning are over and it is now time to get down to the hard graft in the new garden.  We are starting with the planting of the new formal hedges as we want to get these into the ground and give the plants time to get their roots down before it gets too cold.

We could have used box or yew for this but have decided to go with Lonicera nitida.  With all the problems with box blight here in the UK we decided on the honeysuckle because it has worked very well for us elsewhere in the garden providing an excellent, dense dark green hedge which is easy to keep in shape and under control.  The hedging plants were sourced from Buckingham Nurseries (www.hedging.co.uk) and were delivered in 9cm pots ready for planting.

Having marked out the circle we dug down deeply and removed as many perennial weeds as we could.  We suffer from a lot of couch grass so try hard to remove as much as we can before planting anything new.  Many wheelbarrows of garden compost were added to improve the sandy thin soil before planting.

We would like to have added bone meal but the dogs just love it and we struggle to keep them off anything we plant.  We did add pelleted chicken manure and dug it all in well with our Mantis tiller (an excellent machine!).

Once prepared we covered the ground with weed suppressing membrane to reduce the future weeding around the plants.

To plant we cut slits in the membrane and planted the new plants about 1 foot apart (80 in all).  Having watered in well we mulched with wood chippings we had collected from tree pruning work last year (nothing goes to waste here!).

Last but not least is the final pruning of the new plants to help them get really bushy.  I hate this bit but it has to be done.  Each plant was cut back by half to make sure they will bush out well from the very bottom.

Voila!  Hopefully these will all settle in well and we will begin to see the formal structure of the garden develop in the spring next year.  A very satisfying job.

Autumn arrangements of British flowers from the cutting garden

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We may be moving swiftly into October but there are still so many beautiful flowers to pick from the cutting garden.  This bouquet was created this morning from freshly picked Cosmos ‘sensation mix’ (Cosmos bipinnatus), lilac and mauve michaelmas daisies (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae – varieties ‘Colwall constellation’ and ‘Colwall galaxy’), chincherinchee (Ornithogalum thyrsoides), zinnia , outdoor grown chrysanthemums (varieties ‘Incurve Purple Royal Mist’ and ‘Incurve Pink Allouise’) and peach, pink and white dahlias backed with eucalyptus and fresh lime-green feathery cosmos foliage.

Future plans for the cutting garden

Cutting garden plan small

The Honey Pot Flowers cutting garden has been a very productive space over the last six years providing us with a wide range of beautiful cut flowers for use in our wedding flowers, gifts and celebration bouquets.

However to grow efficiently and provide easy cutting the garden was created in long straight beds using large blocks of the same species or variety. It worked very well for us but we have decided that we want now to develop the garden to be more aesthetically pleasing, still a cutting garden but somewhere that you want to stop, sit and enjoy.

Visitors often think the cutting garden will be a wonderful sight, full of colour, but in reality there is often little to see as it has all been picked.  By its very nature an efficient, large commercial cutting garden will be constantly picking and there should only be a few flowers in bloom.

Our aim over the next few years is to move away from a production orientated flower garden to one that a wonderful place to be.  No longer large blocks of a single species but a garden that has wonderful colour combinations and fragrant flowers, changing naturally as the seasons develop.

During the last six years, working as wedding florists with seasonal British flowers, we have learnt a lot about bringing together stunning combinations and arrangements.  We recognise that these ‘bouquets’ cannot necessarily be created in a garden setting as many of the plants you use in a bouquet may need different growing conditions.   However, what we are seeking to create as you look across the garden each day of the year is a series of colour themed cameos along similar lines.

This vision requires a major change to the layout and design of our flower garden.  It will continue to include a wide range of annuals, biennials and perennials but will increasingly involve more shrubs and roses.

I call this approach formal informality.  We have used this in other parts of the garden very effectively, combining formal well clipped hedging with cottage garden planting of foxgloves, hesperis and campanulas.  In my view the association works very well and creates a striking effect.

In addition to adding more formal hedging and having fun with our planting plans we are also looking to use height variations to add additional interest.

More details to follow …

Quinces

One of the beauties of growing your own fruit is that you can grow things that you don’t often come across in the supermarket.  Quince (Cydonia oblonga) is something that is well worth growing both for its large, delightful pink blossom in the spring and its large yellow fruits in the autumn.

Quince fruit

The tree in our orchard was planted in 1995 and did take some years to get going but now fruits reliably year after year.  The fruits do seem prone to scab but this only effects the fruits on the surface and does not impact the flesh at all.

Quince flowers dusted with pink

At first glance the fruits might seem daunting being hard and solid and difficult to cut through.  You will need to feel strong to prepare these!  However, peeled and cored and boiled for around an hour in a limited amount of water creates a wonderful, fragrant peach coloured puree that is quite unique.  Mash up (technical term!) with a hand blender and add sugar, lemon and cinnamon and you have the most wonderful puree for use in a wide range of desserts.

The following Quince Crumble Tart from BBC Good Food recipe is one we have done many times and always works well.   The quinces will fill your house with a beautiful quince perfume.

Quince Crumble Tart

Tip: We freeze cooked fruit in large muffin trays.  When frozen tip them out into a bag, label and pop back in the freezer.  You can then take out exactly the amount you need when you need it.  One frozen block fits nicely in a ramekin dish, then topped with crumble mix and placed in the oven gives a quick pud.

The Site

The garden
Aerial photograph of the Honey Pot Flowers garden at Waverley c.2014

Honey Pot Flowers is located in the small hamlet of Lower Norton between Warwick and Henley in Arden in the heart of the Warwickshire Countryside.

The garden is about 1 acre in size and is at around 350ft above sea level sloping gently down hill in a south-westerly direction.  This does mean that the garden in bathed in sun throughout the day but is subject to south westerly winds as they blow up the shallow valley and across the fields beyond.

The soil conditions vary throughout the garden with some areas very dry and others continually damp.  This allows us to grow a wide range of different plants as long as we are very careful in exploring what each individual plant prefers.  We have learnt a lot over the years about what works and what does not.

Prior to setting up the garden in 1994 the site was meadow grazing although there is evidence of previous ridge and furrow cultivation especially in the orchard area.

Waverley Garden 1994
A blank canvas – the Waverley garden in 1994

We have about 2 feet of soil sitting on top of heavy (triassic) clay.  In the winter this means that the water table is very high and many parts of the garden are sodden and there is often standing water in some of the beds.  The top soil is very sandy and dries out quickly in the summer but over the years we have improved this by adding lots of organic matter from our own garden compost heaps.  Both the wet and the dry offer interesting challenges.  For example some of our large orchard trees have struggled to gain a deep foot hold and have ended up leaning badly (but are still very productive as you will see).

The garden is sheltered on all sides now by a range of tree species.  Many were planted in the early 90’s as part of a Warwickshire District Council hedgerow scheme.  The boundary hedgerow and copse trees include hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), hazel (Corylus avellana), blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), oak (Quercus robur), ash (Fraxinus excelsior), lime (Tilia x europaea), field maple (Acer campestre) and holly (Ilex aquifolium).  As many are now over 25 years old these mature trees provide a wonderful range of habitats for different wildlife species.