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  • katyelton8

June - the blend

If we had to choose one word to sum up the garden this month, it would be 'abundant'. There is a sense of fullness, of overflowing, and of bursting at the seams which comes from a conscious merging of cultivated and wild. Despite what the effortless-looking results may suggest it takes plenty of work to look so natural, and in some ways this style of garden can pose more of a challenge than the manicured, formal alternative.

So, what are the secrets to creating this soft and plentiful paradise?

Edges (or lack thereof)

Key to achieving that feeling of informal ease is a distinct lack of stark, hard lines. Throughout the garden, you'll find 'fringe' vegetation erupting along the edges of paths, walls, driveways, patios, and steps. Usually, this is a combination of garden plants which have seeded their way into nooks and crannies, wildflowers drifting in from the surrounding landscape, and a few deliberately introduced plants.

Take, for example, where the gravel drive meets the hot border and the planting appears to spill over the wall. Here, plants like red hot poker and cotoneaster have been intentionally planted while others have popped up of their own accord, such as valerian, bronze fennel, vetch, plantain, cat's ear, lady's mantle, and meadow grass. That some of these are thought of as garden plants and others weeds creates a thought-provoking ambiguity, encountered repeatedly throughout the garden.

It's a similar story around the barn opposite, though here hollyhocks, rosemary, and a fig have been added to the mix.

The effect is also seen on steps, though here we really have to give all credit to the plants, and their determination to grow despite a total absence of soil.

Utilising self-seeding plants

Garden plants able to spread themselves around by seed are another crucial component of the 'brimming over' look. Not only do they do much of the work when it comes to softening edges, they also fill gaps in the borders and have a knack of inserting themselves into places we never would've thought to. Things such as chives, columbines, fox and cubs, and Mexican fleabane fall into the 'welcome invaders' category, now joined by recent success story, spreading bellflower. This beautiful British native was introduced three or four years ago, and though rare in the wild has naturalised eagerly throughout the garden.

Spreading bellflower (Campanula patula), seen bottom left, pops up all over the garden and flowers for many months over summer

The warm orange flowers of fox and cubs (Pilosella aurantiaca) somehow manage to look right wherever they appear


The perfect self-seeder? Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus) does it with grace and style.

Of course, inviting vigorously self-seeding plants in the garden can be something of a fine line to tread, and many of them (Verbena bonariensis, fennel, honesty, foxglove, and hare's ear we're looking at you) have made themselves a little too at home. When it comes to these, it's a case of selective weeding – allowing some to stay put, with a firm 'thanks, but no thanks' to the rest.

A authorised patch of hare's ear (Bupleurum rotundifolium)

An example of a self-seeder giving us way more than we bargained for is nettle-leaved bellflower. This tall perennial was introduced to the Birch Grove a couple of years ago, chosen for its ability to thrive in dry shade and propensity to self-seed. Well that it certainly did, and what indestructible little seeds they were. Immune to the effects of the composting process, they remained viable in the mulch which was then spread all over the garden, and have been sprouting with great gusto ever since. In contrast to the much daintier spreading bellflower which co-exists easily with other plants, this larger species is a great deal more thuggish. It sends out a long, difficult-to-remove taproot, and produces a wide, chunky rosette of leaves much to the detriment of surrounding planting. A priority for deadheading this year if ever we saw one!

The pretty yet brutish nettle-leaved bellflower (Campanula trachelium)

Birds of a feather. Nettle-leaved bellflower and hare's ear stand united.

Local interlopers

It's not just garden plants permitted to choose their own spot in the garden, but wild species too. Flanked by rolling meadows to the north, and a lane lined with banks and hedgerows to the south, Gasper Cottage not only complements the surrounding landscape, but invites it in.

Nowhere is this more apparent than along the sweeping gravel drive, often the first part of the garden encountered by visitors. Rather than a jarring contrast, this stretch is a continuation of the plants found out on the lane, along with the occasional cultivated specimen.

For cultivated plants introduced to this 'wilderness' it's a case of survival of the fittest, of which a surprise success story has been the peonies – happily outcompeting the 'weeds' for over seven years now. In contrast to the more cossetted peonies over in the curved border they have resisted blight this year and produced significantly more flowers. Tougher conditions make tougher plants..? Or perhaps there's a more balanced and robust ecosystem amongst the wild, native plants.

As always, there's careful consideration as to what plants are used where, as explained by Bella; "this drive edge position is a good place for a plant with a fleeting interest as the space is less precious, and so once the brief, glorious flowering is over the plant can simply be left to its own devices".

A peony jostling with ground elder

A cultivated form of geranium holding its own amongst native grasses, plantain, and even a few nettles

The 'wild' drive bank continues around the outer edge of the New Ambition garden, the two appearing to blend seamlessly into one another. The casual onlooker could be forgiven for thinking its only a matter of time before the ground elder smothers its cultivated neighbours, though what they wouldn't know is that a deep metal edge separates the two. While only showing a couple of centimetres above soil level, this extends around 30cm down into the ground and has proven itself to be a remarkably effective barrier.

Cultivated on left, wild on right. Separated by an invisible barrier

This literal blurring of the line between cultivated and wild demonstrates perfectly the ethos behind Gasper Cottage. "Strict colour combinations form the basis of my designs for the garden", explains Bella, "which are then enhanced by self-seeding and wild interlopers, bringing a vitality and depth that would have been nigh on impossible to plan. The close exploitation of every possible planting niche by the plants themselves creates a generosity of effect which is joyful".

She is conscious that this love of blurred lines may be something of a family trait. "In the nearby landcape gardens of Stourhead, my ancestor Henry Hoare II (known as 'The Magnificent') was a great proponent of lost edges, and while he was working on a far larger scale, the principles are remarkably similar".

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