Design in the Plant Collector's Garden: From Chaos to Beauty

Overview


All gardeners love plants but if you love them too much the chances are you will end up with a plant collection rather than a garden. Help is at hand from confirmed plantaholic and architect Roger Turner, who describes how to indulge a passion for collecting plants without forfeiting the joys of a coherent, well-designed garden. Happily, the book prescribes little need to curb the excesses of plant addiction but simply recommends ways of focusing it to the advantage of all who share or visit your garden. Good ...
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Overview


All gardeners love plants but if you love them too much the chances are you will end up with a plant collection rather than a garden. Help is at hand from confirmed plantaholic and architect Roger Turner, who describes how to indulge a passion for collecting plants without forfeiting the joys of a coherent, well-designed garden. Happily, the book prescribes little need to curb the excesses of plant addiction but simply recommends ways of focusing it to the advantage of all who share or visit your garden. Good collections need to be displayed well so that you can see them properly. The first part of the book looks at the structure of the garden as a whole, the balance of 'empty space' to 'planted space', the use of framing devices, and the value of paths in providing routes around the garden. At the heart of the book is a large section on plants that proposes ideas and solutions for making gardens with different types of plant collections. Here you will find schemes for displaying collections of trees from small groups to full-scale arboreta; recommendations for single-genus collections that look well planted together in one bed; and the ideal 'space-holder' plants that cover bare earth before prize bulbs emerge. Over 200 eye-catching and informative photographs highlight successful planting methods and illustrate the rewards to be gained from finding the perfect setting for a treasured plant. Plant enthusiasts, collectors and gardeners everywhere will unite in their enthusiasm for this practical book that provides the key to making beautiful gardens while keeping the spotlight on the plants.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780881926903
  • Publisher: Timber Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/23/2005
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 7.86 (w) x 9.52 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Meet the Author


Roger Turner trained as an architect and now works as a landscape designer. He is a knowledgeable plantsman, active in the Hardy Plant Society and founding member of the Gloucestershire group of the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens (NCCPG). Author of the monograph, Euphorbias: A Gardener's Guide, Roger Turner also wrote Better Garden Design and Capability Brown. He contributes to a number of journals and magazines including Hortus and The English Garden, and lectures on a wide range of subjects.
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Read an Excerpt

The answer is shrubs, said the bold chapter heading in one of the first gardening books I ever read, and at first glance it does seem that shrubs have a lot to offer. However, after many years as a gardener I am not at all convinced they are the all-purpose, work-free, and colour-full answer to all gardening problems that is sometimes claimed. It's true that shrubs need comparatively little attention, especially when they are first planted. But the reality is that many of them just go on getting bigger and bigger, and this can end up being a nuisance where space is limited. Maybe I wanted a large shrub, but on the other hand, maybe I didn't — it's easy to buy and plant first, without realizing that your neat-looking, container-grown shrub is a cuckoo in the nest that eventually wants to be eight feet tall and ten feet across (2.5 m and 3 m). Or maybe double that, in the case of Rosa xanthina var. hugonis — judging from the one at Kew.

Size is the main issue that I have with shrubs: many of them are simply too large for the average garden. Their relentless growth means that when they are planted with other kinds of plants they turn out to be remarkably antisocial. They surreptitiously squeeze out neighbouring perennials and bulbs, until they die quietly due to lack of light or starvation beneath the shrub's ever-extending branches. Usually this is not the shrub's fault, but the gardener's, who planted the perennials too close to the shrub in the first place.

A related problem is that many shrubs are not particularly floriferous for their size, and may also have a relatively short flowering season. Shrubby honeysuckles, forinstance, come into this category — or, think of any of those winter- or early spring-flowering viburnurns. In one of the coldest months of the year, when nobody is out in the garden, you get a spattering of deliciously scented but very small flowers. And the rest of the year you get leaves: a rounded mass of undistinguished foliage approximately eight feet high and six feet across (2.4 m and 1.8 m). In a large garden or public park this may be fine, but for my money a shrub like this doesn't pull its weight in the garden.

Shrub gardens, therefore, are either large gardens, or they are labour-saving and not-very-exciting gardens. However, shrubs are only labour-saving if they are planted at the right spacings in the first place, and sadly it isn't very easy to discover how big your plant is going to grow. Even the best books tend to be coy on the subject. It all depends, is what they will tell you. This is true, but unhelpful. Hillier's Manual describes shrubs as large, medium, small, dwarf, or prostrate, which is better than nothing. But if the eventual size of a shrub is said to be somewhere between five and ten feet (1.5 and 3 m) high and the same across, this actually means that in terms of mass the largest possible specimen can be 800 per cent larger than the smallest.

There are relatively few shrubby genera that would inspire enough enthusiasm to lure the plant lover into collecting them. Shrub collections are fine for an institution, such as the garden of a horticultural college or a botanic garden, but are likely to have less appeal in the private garden. Roses are obviously the exception — they are in a class of their own. Then for gardeners on acid soil, rhododendrons and azaleas are a very tempting option. But apart from that there are very few shrubs, despite their various individual attractions, that one would save up and buy a field for. A desire to create a small arboretum is not unknown, but the ambition to plant an extra-large shrubbery seems more-or-less unheard of.

A collection of shrubs all of a single genus (or of varieties of just one species) will tend to highlight the issue of value in relation to size. Because all the shrubs in question will be related to one another, the likelihood is that they will all be fairly similar in form, and flower at more or less the same time of year. This will be fine when they are all in bloom, and hopefully there will be a dazzling display of colour in the garden. But it also means that for the rest of the year there will necessarily be a large blank area where nothing in particular is happening.

This is partly a question of scale. At Kew there are several large beds devoted to lilacs, which are attractive and of interest at lilac time. During the other eleven-and-a-bit months of the year you don't really notice that anything is amiss, partly because they are not beside a main path, but mainly because they take up such a small part of Kew as a whole — a mere flea bite compared with the 300-acre site. But in a smaller garden, a lilac collection would represent a much higher proportion of the whole, and for this to be "dead" for eleven months would hardly be acceptable. In fact there's a long list of shrubs that aren't going to look their best placed all together in a collection: Philadelphus, Weigela, or Lonicera, for example, are likely to look exceedingly dreary when out of bloom, and need to have other contrasting plants mixed in with them. Alternatively the collection could be dotted around the whole site. This may be less convenient if you want to compare one with another, but will be better in terms of garden effect.

Of all single-genus collections, the rose garden must be the most frequently seen and also the one with the longest and most celebrated history. This is not surprising, bearing in mind the charms of roses. However, considering that there are thousands of different cultivars available, a rose collection aspiring to completeness could be a possibility only for a large garden of national or regional importance. However, a themed collection of roses might be manageable: one could, for example, concentrate on the Bourbons, or whatever subgroup or historic period took your fancy. It's about time someone made a collection of roses from the 1940s and 1950s. While many of these are still around, there must be many more lingering on in gardens, but abandoned by commerce. 'Eiffel Tower', raised in the 1960s, which I once grew, seems already to be unavailable in Britain. But fashions change, and what goes out of fashion may after a while become fashionable once again.

When it comes to selecting roses, the choice seems unlimited, and new ones continue to stream from the breeders every year. But whether you make a limited collection by period, a collection by type (species, hybrid tea, floribunda, patio, ground cover, etc), or simply grow a few roses you fancy, there will still be the issue of colour to consider, especially if modern roses are chosen. Not all roses blend together. You may or may not like the rose called 'Masquerade'; I do, as it is a "multi" — a mixture of yellow and red — which looks so good with catmint and lavender to cool it down. But it's important to remember that this rose will on no account blend with the soft, mauvey pinks of the old roses. And many of the "salmon pinks" won't blend with the older hint-of-mauve pinks either, because of the trace of yellow they have in them.

What is most often meant by a rose garden is one in which the dominant plants are roses, blended in with sympathetic perennials, climbers, and occasionally other shrubs, as at the famous English examples of rose gardens at Sissinghurst in Kent and Mottisfont in Hampshire. Completeness is not the issue: all that is aimed at is to create a pleasing garden at rose time, and as far into the other summer months as possible. Even so, such rose gardens are often part of some garden whose overall size is much larger than average and in this context it is perfectly acceptable for this particular part of the garden to have only one season of interest.

One of the problems of rose gardens is that roses as plants resent competition by other plants. They hate to be crowded around with vigorous perennials, for example, and respond by sulking and behaving badly. Roses are hungry plants that need feeding, and it is almost impossible to apply a mulch to the surface of ground already covered by other plants. Some gardens open to the public have a rather sneaky solution: they treat the perennials that grow around their roses as if they were bedding plants, or play musical chairs with them by moving them in and out of a reserve plot — in other words, they generally cheat in ways that are not possible where the only gardener is the garden owner.

However, whether the roses like it or not, a rose garden looks much better when the ground is covered with plants. The combination of bare soil and the prickly knees of roses looks quite hideous, no matter how beautiful the flowers may be higher up the plant. One solution is to grow taller roses. For instance, I used to associate various low-growing geraniums, hostas, and the yellowy-green Euphorbia villosa (a species that is similar to E. palustris) with a tall hybrid tea rose with cerise flowers, and the rose seemed reasonably happy. An alternative approach is to be extremely selective about the ground cover you use. At Scotney Castle, in Kent, I've seen pink hybrid teas successfully underplanted with pale pink Geranium asphodeloides, a plant that is not only low-growing, but also spreads out over a wide area from quite a small centre or crown, leaving the ground largely bare in winter for mulching and cultivation.

Picking just one or two roses for a small garden is an impossible task to approach rationally. If I tell you how wonderful 'Renaissance' is, then you will tell me about the merits of various other cultivars. However, on the whole hybrid teas are probably best avoided, because they are such inept mixers. If I had to mention particular roses, I would put in good word for R. xanthina 'Canary Bird', because it flowers so early, and R. glauca, which has the merit of foliage interest and good habit. Next in value come the rugosas, and after that, the choice of good shrub roses is vast — just don't pick one that's trying to be an old-fashioned rose, but blooms a bit longer. Instead, choose one that reliably covers itself with a succession of flowers, has neat foliage, and doesn't get black spot or mildew. The best plan is to visit gardens where a wide selection of roses is grown, and see which ones look healthy and attractive.

Azaleas are without equal for floral value and are eminently collectable, but are only a possibility if they are grown on lime-free soil. Anyone with an acre or two of lightly shaded acidic woodland to spare could hardly be blamed for giving way to the temptation to collect deciduous azaleas. I don't find the evergreen ones nearly as attractive. All I would ask is that you don't let the labels go missing, as seems to have happened with nine out of ten azalea-etums that one visits. And my second request would be that a little restraint is exercised when it comes to colour. Some people like brilliant orange, but those of us who are sensitive souls would prefer it if you would at least keep the oranges away from the pinks. The beauty of azaleas is that the flowers themselves are often what brick manufacturers call "multis". Within each flower is a range of colours, giving a subtlety to the overall effect. When there are so many lovely creams, pale yellows, and pale pinks, there is really no need to dazzle the visitor with excessively brash colours. There may be a place for virulent candyfloss pink, but please, not within native-green, deciduous woodland.

Rhododendron collections need huge swathes of space, and even when this is available they are often seen planted too close to each other. All that heavy dark green foliage can be rather overpowering, and in my view about three huge hulks twelve feet (3.5 m) in each direction is about the most one should have to cope with before returning once more to deciduous woodland, or plants of a completely different type. If the same species or cultivar of large rhododendron is repeated, closer planting is possible, as it then begins to look more naturalistic, but walls of endlessly changing colour can get a bit much, however beautiful the flowers. And it's best to lay out the paths in the woodland first, and then plant the rhododendrons to suit the route of the viewer. Don't plant the rhodos first and then have to devise irrationally winding and backtracking paths to enable to visitor to view them.

As with trees, there are several ways to cope with the eventual size and growth of shrubs. The obvious solution might seem to be to plant each shrub at a spacing to suit its full-grown size, and this does have much to recommend it. But it also means that for several years there will be large areas of bare soil or chipped bark to look at, and plenty of weeding to do as well. Inevitably, in time these gaps will be seen as tempting homes for plants bought on impulse, thus entirely defeating the object. With really large plants such as lilacs this is not a sensible approach, and the planting of the blank spaces in between must be approached more methodically. There are several lines of attack.

One approach is to cover the bare soil with perennial ground cover plants, such as lamiums, Vinca minor cultivars, symphytums, or Geranium macrorrhizum. As the shrubs grow the perennials will slowly be shaded out, but this will be of no consequence, since they were chosen for this purpose and were of no great distinction or rarity. The second approach is to plant dispensable shrubs. Rosemary and purple sage, for example, are neither rare nor expensive, and can easily be pulled out when the time comes. In any case they won't flourish too well once they start being shaded or elbowed out by anything as tall as lilac. The third method is the landscape architect's technique — plant two, three, or perhaps ten or more, of the shrub you actually want. This allows a few weak specimens to die (which assumes that plants in the public or commercial sector will often be poorly maintained), and the survivors will either blend or merge together, or can be thinned out if desired. The final (most common) method is to accept that eventually some moving around of plants is going to have to take place, and take on board the labour and effort involved. As you can see, almost all these solutions require work, all of which sadly proves (to me at least) that the allegedly labour-free shrub garden is a myth.

As for the idea of a shrubbery, this seems to me to be a needlessly limited concept. Just as an arboretum can benefit from having shrubs and perennial ground cover mixed through it, so a shrubbery is greatly improved by not being such a purist concept as "shrubbery" suggests. Nature knows of no such thing. It only knows of habitats, or types of vegetation, which may of course be of various heights. So the occasional tree, some clumps of pampas grass (Cortaderia), Miscanthus, Aruncus, Camassia, Crambe cordi
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Table of Contents

1 The plant enthusiast's garden 10
2 Collecting plants 18
3 Making a general collection 24
4 The single-genus collection 36
5 A strategy for the garden 42
6 Selecting trees 56
7 Trees, gardens, and arboreta 70
8 Climbers and wall shrubs 84
9 Shrubs 94
10 Collecting perennials 110
11 Choosing perennials 124
12 Bulbs 136
13 Alpines 150
14 Plant associations 160
15 Border style 172
16 Border strategy 184
17 Integrating the single-genus collection 196
18 Some favourite genera 210
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