Isn’t she sweet? Actually she’s one of three – triplets, you might say – and I’ve had them all tucked up in pots over winter on my herb shelf, which is up against the house wall outside so quite a sheltered little spot.
The reason I’m so chuffed with my babies making it through winter is that they’re Erygium agavifolium, a plant I have admired in other people’s gardens for many years. It’s a very spectacular and somewhat exotic-looking eryngium, sometimes known as the button eryngium; like most sea-hollies it has bracted rather thistle-like flowerheads, but in this case they’re 6ft tall and come in huge ghost-white clusters. The plant is also evergreen with imposing and I hope you’ll agree rather attractive rosettes of glossy mid-green toothed leaves. It’s borderline hardy – which is why I put the littlies up by the house.
More to the point, these particular ones were free. I spotted a forlorn single remaining specimen while I was at West Dean Gardens near Chichester last year and pounced on it (slightly manically but I don’t think anyone noticed). Imagine my glee when I realised that nestled under the main crown were three little babies. Not a word did I utter to the nice lady at the checkout: I paid for one plant and got four. Of such stuff are gardeners’ dreams made.
Once home I split the whole lot up, potted up the babies and popped mum in the border by the pond, where she’s looking a little battered after this awful winter but still healthy (rather giving the lie to the minus-five minimum temperature usually given for these plants: as usual I think it’s the wet rather than the cold that you’ve got to watch out for). Now I’m looking forward to a fourfold display of spectacular ghostly fireworks this summer. There will be photographs.
Sadly, my college course has now finished – I shall miss it, not just for the chance to jaw about plants for a whole day each week but also because I actually learnt a lot that may be of some use to me if anyone is ever foolish enough to let me loose on their garden.
As a finale, we spent the last day of the course visiting Bury Court, a fine garden not far from here, just over the border between Surrey and Hampshire. The interesting thing about it is that it was designed by two of the leading designers of our time: Christopher Bradley-Hole and Piet Oudolf. The result is a garden of two halves: the “front”, an ultra-modern grid around a rather funky wooden building with holes in the sides (a sort of cross between a summerhouse and a pergola), and the “back” a sweeping curve of herbaceous border and sumptuous planting. You can probably guess already who designed which bit.
Here’s the front garden: the grid system leads you around the garden and since all the plants are around head-height it invites you to wander into one of the paths off the main drag and get very pleasantly sidetracked.
Grasses predominate, but big hefty ones -there were loads of Miscanthus. All the plants, too, were the kinds that grow really, really tall: the plume poppies (Macleaya cordata) were looking particularly fine.
Though this bit of the garden mainly relied on foliage contrasts for effect, there were splashes of colour: daisies, kniphofia, and here from a little yellow eremurus (they were all over the place in this garden, as it’s very dry, and they looked absolutely gorgeous: note to self – acquire as many foxtail lilies as possible next year). But on the whole, restrained and elegant rather then exuberant.
This was more typical, and very effective against that weathered old barn behind. In full flower, these are I believe Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, and though I’m not usually keen on monocultural planting this was stunning.
In classic Piet Oudolf style there’s some bold structural backdrop to it all: these yew hedges curved sinuously among the planting, crooking themselves around the flowers in a protective embrace and, of course, giving them something to show off against.
As always with this consummate plantsman you find lots of plants you’d never come across before but which shoot right to the top of your gotta-have-it-gotta-have-it list. Here a wonderful eryngium of softest pewter blue, the younger flowers still freshly green: it also had the softest texture despite the prickly appearance. I have no idea what kind it is: this is not a garden that has plant labels, so I shall just have to go on one of those quests that lasts most of a lifetime and has you going into nurseries saying, “I’m looking for this sea holly I once saw….”
And here’s another one: this fabulous thistle-like plant was at head height yet those flowers were covered in the most curious scales: here’s a closeup:
I could go on for hours with pictures of individual plants as there were just so many. Here’s another mouthwateringly-lovely scabious: don’t tell anyone but a few of the seeds happened to fall into my purse (from a very non-perfect seed head, I hasten to assure you) so you never know, I might be able to persuade it to like my little patch at home.
It’s blindingly obvious by now, no doubt, which half I responded to most enthusiastically: but as an exercise in compare-and-contrast it was a real education. Bury Court is a wedding venue (wish I’d known about it when I was getting hitched) though I think you can arrange to see the gardens by appointment. There are a few more photos on the website: but if you can possibly wangle a visit, do go and see it for yourself.