With the hard structure in place, Ruth Chivers sets about adding plants for year-round interest to Greenfingers competition winner Tina Mantle’s garden
After weeks of looking at a building site, Tina Mantle was relieved to see some plants being laid out in her new garden. After all, plants are one of the most important materials in a garden. With a keen gardener like Tina, the plants selected had to be ones that she liked. And I wanted to complement her existing planting, adding interest and structure throughout the year.
The design created new spaces for plants. The side area was the most dramatic transformation, from a bit of a ‘glory hole’ to a courtyard garden enjoying the evening sun. The angle of the two raised beds offered maximum planting space and their height helped to balance the expanse of fence behind. I became aware that Tina had reservations about these timber beds – after much prodding she admitted she thought they looked like packing cases. The other large bed was in the corner behind the upper deck, and there were various other ‘pockets’ needing a good plant.
Planting for year-round interest should include a good proportion of evergreens of all types. Our evergreen choices include Choisya ternata 'Lich' Sundance, Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. repens, Fatsia japonica, Phyllostachys nigra, and Cotoneaster radicans ‘Eicholz’. Choisya is an excellent plant if you have limited space. Not only evergreen, it has aromatic leaves, scented blossom, combined with lovely foliage right down to ground level. ‘Sundance’ produces fewer flowers but its golden leaves will contrast beautifully with blue flowering plants nearby. The Ceanothus came from Tina’s large collection of containers. It was raring to be planted in open ground, and will drape over the edge of the raised bed. Fatsias have looks that go with Japanese-style gardens, and work well with water. I used it here to mask the change in boundary from fence to hedge (belonging to the neighbours) and as a luxuriant leaved backdrop to the water feature in front.
Along with ornamental grasses, bamboos have become increasingly popular recently. Phyllostachys nigra, a black-stemmed form, is not a rampant spreader, and the stems take a couple of years to reach true blackness. It looks great at any time and also links here with the Japanese style of the area beyond it. The low growing cotoneaster was chosen for its ability to spread and drape over walls. Again, it’s a multi-purpose plant, with white flowers in late spring and red fruit in autumn. To add some exotic-looking planting behind the hot tub, we liberated a New Zealand cabbage palm (Cordyline australis) from the confines of another of Tina’s containers. Borderline hardy in some regions, its winter wet and winds that take their toll. Here, it should be sheltered enough.
Adding deciduous plants to a backbone of evergreens plays up contrasting foliage, textures and colours. Acer palmatum 'Garnet' and Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii are our key deciduous plants. The Japanese maple adds to Tina’s collection of acers, has beautiful finely cut purple leaves turning red-purple in autumn, and looks made for sitting near water. We planted it alongside an ever-overflowing glazed pot, retaining its star qualities by underplanting it with low growing Heuchera ‘Rachel’. This is an evergreen perennial with similar coloured leaves producing a froth of pale pink flowers in early summer.
In small gardens, growing climbing plants up walls and fences helps mask boundaries. I wanted to add a softening layer of climbing plants to the rather forbidding looking fence. Trellis panels had started the process of transformation. The archway into the side garden and the corner arbour both offer great planting opportunities for climbers. A vine (Vitis 'Brant') will soon cover the entrance arch with its vigorous growth, and produce good dark dessert grapes. Semi evergreen Akebia quinata will quickly twine its way across the trellis, and has attractive palm-shaped leaves with spicy purple-brown flowers in early spring. The pale pink flowers of Jasminum x stephanense will waft sweet scent across the back garden in summer.
We selected four different clematises to complete our planting. Blue flowers are a favourite of Roy’s so we’ve planted ‘Beauty of Worcester’ and 'Lasustern’. 'Jackmanii Alba' will grow in a large container to give the arbour a covering of cool, pale blooms. Finally, we snapped up a healthy but unnamed clematis from the nursery’s rescue corner on impulse. We can’t wait for next spring to see what it is - and the rest of the garden in full growth.
See also the Helping Hands workshop: Planting for Year Round Interest