The Making of the White Garden ~ 3. Which Plants Where?

Having sorted out the space for the new White Garden (parts 1&2 here) the task of researching appropriate plants was the next step.

However, my priority was to get some bulbs planted in the autumn for a blast of spring colour. So before I got down to doing the homework, I bought about 30 bulbs of 2 varieties of Allium: ‘Mount Everest’ (which can be slightly more difficult to grow than the more common purple varieties) and Allium Karataviense ‘Ivory Cream’ which is lower growing and, despite the name, annoyingly came up slightly pink. For now, it can stay, but I am learning that a few plants which have “ivory” in the name have a tendency to have either a yellow (or even pinkish) blush. How fussy one should be when building a white, green and grey garden is a good question ~ the jury is out. I also planted 2 Camassias (‘Semiplena’) and the (again) alarmingly yellow Wallflower ‘Ivory White’. These all went in at the end of September 2016. A week or so later I added 2 ‘Iceberg’ roses, and started to postcrete in a few timber structures which were left over from an unwanted fence. I am terribly keen on vertical structures in any garden and I wanted to learn how to concrete. The hardest part was keeping 2 curious kittens off the newly laid, wet concrete!

postcreting the first 3 posts

Over the next couple of months I took the risky decision to also plant up some shrubs, most of which survived despite some very sharp frosts (-9C) in our first winter at the property. I wanted a good lot of evergreen structure in both borders and to that end chose the following, mostly in twos or threes:

Sarcococca confusa; Choisya ternata ‘White Dazzler’; Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’; Fatsia Japonica ‘Spider’s Web; Salvia ‘Schneehugel’; Phormium tenax; Skimmia ‘Kew Garden’ and Hellebore ‘White Beauty’ + ‘Molly’s White’; Buddleja ‘White Profusion’ and Ilex Crenata, which I tried to cloud-prune, thereby almost losing them. They held on and are now thriving, but the cloud-pruning mid-winter almost killed them! A couple of Hydrangeas, one of the Fatsias and a Philadelphus sadly didn’t make it through the winter and have now been replaced (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ from cuttings).

My choices were made using a vast array of books in my library as well as seed and plant catalogues and various websites. I made copious lists, noted measurements of the eventual height and width and checked hardiness. The next job was to autumn sow some seeds: Sweet Pea ‘White Ensign’; Nigella ‘Albion Green Pod; Papaver (Poppy) ‘Swansdowne’; Hollyhock ‘Halo White’ and Antirrhinum (Snapdragon) ‘White Giant’. Keeping these alive and thriving over winter in the unheated greenhouse during several lengthy periods of severe frost was quite a task, but with fleece and hope, they mostly thrived. Sowing in the autumn gives you a bit of a head-start in the spring ~ with luck, by the time the last frosts are over, your strong (pinched out and potted on) plants are eager to get their roots down into the warming soil.

These plans show the bare bones of the evergreens, as it looked after the first few plants had gone in.

 

These 3 pics show some of my notes on possible plants, organised by Evergreen Structure, Summer and Anything Goes (not very helpful in the long-run).

 

Of the things I sowed, the Snapdragons, Poppies (below), Hollyhocks and Sweet Peas have all been spectacular. I am letting them all self-seed copiously, as well as spreading their love further afield in the rest of the garden.

Next time I will show where we are with the White Garden now, mid-summer of its first year and how to add grey into the mix.

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Annie Bee x

The Making of the White Garden ~ 2. Farewell Parterre

This post follows the first of my blogs on how the White Garden came into being.

There is that old saying,

If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans

Plans: they are all very well, but when you are a novice, fitting a garden plan onto a lovely, fresh, white piece of A3 is asking for trouble. If only life were that simple! It took me months and a visit from my BF to accept just how wonky my back garden is; however long I watched it and however straight I wished it to be, it simply wouldn’t budge. It is as curved as a crescent moon. Or, perhaps more appropriately, a scythe. A parterre simply would not work ~ cheerio symmetry and four Weeping Pears.

A slow rethink and a new sheet of A3 and I arrived at this (below) and even this one doesn’t do the bendy nature of the beast justice:

white garden final plan

What did this new garden have going for it? Well, three lines of hedging (Copper Beech and Photinia) into which could nestle two new large, square borders for starters and a lovely, promising aspect, which is more or less due north/south. A few concerns: it sits fairly high up, so is quite exposed and I had no idea what I might find on removing the vast quantity of turf.

We moved in to the house at the end of April 2016 and it was in August that I finally set about marking out the plot. With the help of my two practically minded and mathematically competent sons, we decided on the dimensions and paced it out. Pegging it out with string made it seem very real and I was sure this was the right answer. Son No.2 came up with the brilliant idea of introducing a curve (now fondly known as “The Bill Curve”). Still more time was spent thinking (an under-rated part of planning) prior to starting the excavation. We toyed with the idea of hiring a digger and some skips (No.1 son and I both fancied the idea of a digger!) but, for various logistical reason, ended up hiring a turf cutter for a weekend. The turves (vast quantities) have all been saved and are slowly rotting down and will be added back onto the garden in 18 months or so.

 

 

The turf-cutting weekend was September 19th 2016, with a view to having the two beds ready for planting some spring-flowering bulbs in mid-autumn. It was a cold and drizzly experience, but we ploughed on, No.1 son and I, with a little help from the kittens. The turf-cutter was a big old beast of a thing to manoeuvre in the damp conditions, and if you weren’t careful, you could easily over-step the pegged lines. However, after a full day’s work the basic outline of the north and south borders were there and the turf-stacking had begun.

And what of the soil? Well, on the whole it is fairly good, apart from the remnants of a kids’ sand-pit and some hefty roots from the old orchard. The critical thing was to get as much of the grass and weeds out early on, otherwise I could see years of remedial weeding ahead of me. And nobody wants that.

The next blog will detail the plant lists and my final choices of bulbs, shrubs, perennials, grasses and annuals.

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Annie Bee xx

The Making of the White Garden ~ 1. The Plan

Since the relocation of Bee HQ to a small village in north Oxfordshire, (is it the Cotswolds? ~ no, not quite but we can see it from here) I have spent a great deal of time on and in my new garden. The last time we moved house, at the turn of the new millennium, we didn’t have the knowledge or the skills to design the garden ourselves, so employed a landscape garden designer. This time round I have just enough know-how, chutzpah and creativity to test myself and boy! am I having fun. I am now spending the majority of my time in the place that gives me the most pleasure: the garden.

The ‘bones’ of this garden (which is just under an acre in total) are exquisite. Clearly somebody with a good eye for structure, dimension and form planted heaps of simple but useful yew, copper beech and box hedging, a few good shrubs (repeated throughout the garden), a handful of hardy perennials, some classic topiary and half a dozen espaliered fruit trees. The lines are clean, the proportions are just right and the borders, such as they are, are small but of reasonable depth. Apart from a bit of tinkering, I have left all that largely alone, other than pruning, trimming and general maintenance. The soil still needs a lot of organic matter adding, but that will happen over the next few years, and beyond.

On first seeing the garden, in January of 2016, I was struck by the opportunity to do something bold with a fairly large expanse of lawn at the back of the house. A sales brochure from 1874 calls the house a “gentleman’s farmhouse”; it was built at the very end of the 1700s. The brochure also talks of “a large piece of highly productive garden ground and lawn”. Neighbours have said that a few decades ago, there was an orchard on the area in question and the village children used it as a playground. Presumably in the mists of time, it may have had farm animals on and around it. Certainly the soil is generally fairly good at the back. Unlike the front of the house, which is quite manicured and designed, we found a rather dull and under-utilised space ~ perfect for a new project; it felt like the owners who made all the design decisions at the front simply ran out of steam.  I must admit now that even before we had exchanged contracts on the house, I was already planning what I grandly referred to as my parterre. I even did some initial drawings.

Below, you can see my (very) rough drawing of how it looked in the January, followed by a photo (looking north-ish) which should give you an idea of the blank canvas. The two lines of fastigiate yews made no sense to me at all and they were removed (and resold and therefore reused) within a week of us moving in. The white A3 plan below that is a very simple sketch of the ‘parterre’ idea and I was bold enough to include a plant list. At that stage, the idea of it being a white (+ green + grey) garden hadn’t occurred to me.

 

White Garden

What did happen when we moved in at the end of April 2016, was that I planted up a cutting garden (look out for a separate blog post to come) and spent several months deciding whether the parterre idea could work. Taking that time to decide ended up being an excellent decision. So how does it look right now, in June of its first year?

Annie Bee\s white garden south border

 

Annie Bee's white garden north border

 

More soon ……..

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