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Plant Combinations

As Autumn leaves us and Winter frosts starts to explode the cells in plant leaves and stems and wilt our Summer's efforts, I am reminded of these photos I took of Autumn plant combinations.

Creating a garden design for your garden needs to factor in not just particular plants but how they go with each other- the tones of green foliage, the colours, the height and the frothiness of plants, the season they comes into their own and how they look as they die back.

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Highdown- garden design on Chalk

Highdown- Heritage Garden at our Doorstep

 

Highdown Garden in Worthing is one of the best green secrets in the Sussex. It is the biggest and finest chalk garden in the UK with wonderful tree and shrub specimens and a mecca for anyone who wants to know what they can grow if their garden is chalky and therefore alkaline.

It is also a very atmospheric garden, a labyrinth of small and larger spaces with different levels including a fish pond, a larger pond at the foot of the chalk cliff and lawn areas for children.

Originally the area was a lime quarry in the 18th Century where chalk was burnt to produce lime for agriculture and building. (The lime building is still in the garden.)

In 1909 Sir Fredrick Stern, a rich Edwardian, bought up the site and tried to turn it into tennis courts. However glare from the chalk cliff put players off and Stern went about trying to solve the problem by lowering a workman on ropes to try and dig out planting pockets in the chalk to plant and hopefully cover up with plants the whole of the cliff face. When this failed a love affair ensured, as Sir Stern spent the rest of his life leaning and experimenting with plants to create a garden that would grow on chalk.

He sponsored some of the great plant collectors of the day to go to China and other far flung places to bring back seeds so he could continue his experiments. For example, as you enter the garden a huge avenue of Pittisporums welcomes you. They were planted right at the beginning of the birth of the garden in 1909.

In the 1960’s another passion was born. Gary Prescod as a child used to grow plants on his little balcony in South London. He went on to study Natural Science at Cambridge University and the Chelsea Physics garden. He is now Head Gardener at Highdown and loves the place.

“There is myself and two other full time workers plus we have an apprentice at the moment and a volunteer two days a week who was the daughter of the Head Gardener who worked here many years ago.

“This is the finest chalk garden in the UK and we have the National Collection of Sir Fredrick Stern Introduced Plants here.

We have the largest Catoneaster in Europe and the biggest Himalayan Musk Rose outside of China.”

He points to an absolutely exquisite and delicate tree. “And that is the largest Chinese Weeping Hornbeam in the UK” . The sun pours through the delicate leaves. “The seed was brought back by Reginald Farer in 1913.

We have a lot of berry trees for Autumn interest as it is mainly a Spring and Summer garden in terms of colour.

He brings my attention to an enormous shrub about 12 foot high with masses of red berries. That is a Viburnum beechulifolia.  Earnest Wilson, nicknames Chinese Wilson, brought that seed back with him 100 years ago.” The birds don’t like the berries so some of the clusters stay on the branches till the next year’s flowering. 

And that is Euonymous grandifolia salicifolius which George Forrest brought back in seed form in 1914.”

The mature specimens in the garden reads like a Who’s Who of early 20th Century plant collectors and many of the mature trees were grown from the original seeds.

“Chalk is very difficult to grow on. The top soil is often only inches deep and roots find it hard both to penetrate and then find any nutrients. Then the water and nutrients constantly drain out. We mulch as much as we can but still in Summer the leaves can look faded as the plants dry out. There are some surprising exceptions to what one thinks one can grows here. That for example!”

He points to a lovely specimen of an Arbutus uendo, the Mediterranean Strawberry tree with it’s viivid smooth bark that is normally considered an acid lover.

“This Yew tree is a rare yellow fruiting variety and every Autumn the branches turn yellow as birds try to wipe the poisonous seed from the fruit they want to eat.”

For the local gardener who puts their spade in the soil and hits chalk this garden has huge amounts to offer.

You can see smaller plants like Liriope, Dianthus, Stocks, Knuatia, Wall flowers, Geraniums, Sarcococca and  Epimedium and shrubs like the Euonymous europa. Unusual plants like Virginia Pokeweed and Canary Island Echiums as well as mature trees like Gleditsia Sunburst, Pittisporum, Holme Oak plus a rare Afganistan Judas Tree can all be seen in the garden and it will give you confidence to go out and buy them.

There is even a blue floretted Hydrangea aspera velosa that dates back to the 1920’s.

Because bulbs are shallow rooted Daffodils and Cyclamen go well as well as Winter Aconites and there is a huge collection of Snowdrops. In fact for the first time Highdown will open its gates on a Sunday in February to offer a Snowdrop tour.

Gary is passionate about the garden and has recently applied for Heritage Lottery Funding.

“My wish is for this garden to be properly conserved so that everyone can recognise its importance. For example that huge Acer grisem over there was grown from seed brought back by Chinese Wilson. Of the 100 seeds that were then grown by the Veich Nursery, which specialised in exotic and rare species, only a handful remain. And they are dying out in China which makes its preservation that much more important. We have recently get Kew Gardens Millennium Seed bank involved.

“We want to create a Visitor’s Centre here, interactive stations for children and label the plants to help inform people of the rare specimens they are looking at. Also there is so many documents that relate to the garden that I don’t have time to go through and archive. Apparently there were over 500 species of plants here at one time. We have so little time we haven’t even got a proper audit of what is still growing.”

Unbelievably, entrance to Highdown incurs no cost and is upkept by Worthing council, as in 1967 Sir Stern’s widow passed the garden onto the people of Worthing so they could enjoy it for free. (Their beautiful flint mansion is now the hotel that can be seen next door.)

The garden receives up to 30,000 visitors each year but it is so intricate that it retains an intimate feeling.

Opening Times

Cost- Free

Winter -1st October to the end of March

Monday to Friday 10-4.30pm

Summer - 10-6pm including weekends

 

 

 

 

 

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Garden Design- Phil and Mary Ann- Dahlia delights

Dahlia Magic- The Largest Dahlia Collection in the UK on your doorstop

Tucked away just outside Storrington along Fryern Rd is an amazing feat of horticulture -the UK’s largest Dahlia collection.

Run by the very passionate couple Phillip Godsmark and Mary-Ann Joyce, they grow literally thousands of Dahlias each year from seeds and tubers.

If you pass by in your car, or the local bus (Phillip swears that he has noticed more people sit on the side his farm is on so they can marvel) you will see fields of multi coloured blooms.

Though they grow mainly for cut flowers, each wedding normally requiring up to 300 blooms, Phillip’s real passion is creating new varieties. He bred Ryecroft Jan, a creamy white Pompon, which is currently one of the most popular Dahlia in the the world.

“I collect about 5000 seeds each year from the cream of the crop. I then grow the seeds, as well as take cuttings and divide tubers, and trial them for 5 years before I send them out as a new variety as I want them to be world class. My favourite moment is when I walk down the rows and see what the seeds have grown into. I don't know what the bees have fertilised and cross pollinated so it is a complete surprise that I can’t predict. For every one new Dahlia that I discover I have planted 1000 seeds!”

“Yes” says Mary Ann “and we have run out of females in the family to name them after. That one there is called Sam Sunset named after our little dog who died when still young. Jan was named after Phil’s late sister.”

Phillip first came across Dahlias when he a boy. “Like everyone else in the 1960’s, my father grew them. I still love their variation of size and colour and shape. There is no flower like them. A local nursery used to exhibit them. They went out of fashion in the 80’s but they are back now.”

Which is very true- top designers use Dahlias for their amazing colour variations and heights, especially billowing over from the back of the border. When Summer has peaked these flowers really do hold centre stage and can flower well into October and even November.

Though they still exhibit at The National Dahlia Show at Wisley each year unfortunately for Phil and Mary-Ann, discovering and growing on new discoveries is not very profitable. After a year, their ownership of the variety ends and then anyone can make a cutting a sell the variety on. 

“Every year we say we are going to give up but it’s difficult. People come for miles for them. Recently 4 Australians got off at Gatwick and came straight here. We grow and test Dahlia varieties sent to us from all around the world”.

But it is back breaking work. Every October, before the cold and damp set in, they dig up over 8000 tubers by hand, clean off the mud, label and store them in dry boxes under cover. “Because they originated from Mexico they don’t like wet feet and can only last a couple of days before they begin to rot. Even though we have good sandy soils here we sometimes have to hand wash and dry them.”

On the 10th April each year they plant them all back again along with the new seedings that carry the hope of discovering even more new varieties. “ I developed the first scented Dahlia in the world by crossing two that had a mild scent.”

Along side personal injuries and thefts from their farm it is hard work to keep such a big plot of land going as they also grow vegetables, Zinnias and Gladioli and sell direct from their farm shop to the public.But they are still there! So if it is a warm Autumn you may still have a chance to see and buy some of the most beautiful Dahlias grown anywhere in the world- and some vegetables too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Garden Design using the soft colour palette

Even though it is increasingly popular to have vibrant reds and oranges in your planting scheme, take a look at these photos.

The softest of pink Roses, with interesting companion planting.

Blue and purple compliment the pink blush of the Rose with Phlox, Campanula, Forget-Me-Not and Irises.

Plus the white of Digitalis and Aquilgea with the frothy white Ammi Majus freshen clean up the palette.

Then to round the colour scheme off there is pink Persicaria bistorta Superba and Thalictrum, all floating on a body of green foliage.

This is definitely a mid summer garden. You could have Tulips and Purple Sensation Alliums for the earlier months and then move on into late Summer with Dahlias and Asters.

 

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Using Umbellifers in your Garden Design

I took these photos of Cow Parsley around the lower lake at Sissinghurst.

Cow parsley - Anthriscus sylvestris- is achingly beautiful in a wild setting but not great in a garden bed as it spreads and is a nightmare to contain.

However a good mix of plants in your garden should include the umbellifera shape as it softens formal hedges and topiary, compliments other flower shapes like daisies, balls, bells and spires and gives a general frothy and floating effect.

There are lovely well behaved alternatives.

If you want height you can go for Fennel or Angelica. If you are happy to grow them from seed each year there is Ammi Majus (which looks good with Dahlias or Cosmos al woven together). Other Umbells to look out for are: Selinum wallichianum and the Sweet Cicerly herb- Myrrhis odorata.

If you have shady conditions look at Chaerophyllum hirsute roses with its lilac petals.

 

 

 

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