Petal carpets feature large for us. Spring storms may batter plants in bloom but with large trees, the strewn petals offer a second delight, albeit shorter-lived. These used to be more problematic before we discovered a bane of suburban life that is a boon for large gardens – the leaf blower. Once the petals start to discolour and decay, we blow them onto the garden beds where they can quickly rot away to nothing. There is nowhere near the nutritional compost value in fallen petals that there is in leaves, but they are part of the cycle of nature.
The big-leafed rhododendrons in our park are already passing over. They are showy but flower very early in the season and are vulnerable to frost. They are also difficult to propagate and take up a lot of space so you rarely find them offered for sale. If you are determined, raising them from seed is the best option for the patient gardener. Other rhododendrons are opening however and the season extends right through to Christmas.
I am madly digging, dividing and reorganising summer perennials. We returned from our trip to see English summer gardens inspired and energised. We were very focussed this time, wanting to see the contemporary gardens rather than the classics like Hidcote, Sissinghurst and Great Dixter. Gardening, after all, moves on and the Arts and Crafts garden style derives from the first decades of last century.
We haven’t heard much in this country about the New Perennials Movement, naturalistic gardening, the Sheffield School and prairie gardening but it has been as big a revolution in garden design and planting as the garden rooms of Arts and Crafts were in their day, or the cottage garden genre that followed. It is a whole lot more than just adding in grasses to perennial plantings, as some sniffily deride.
We were lucky to get into a few private gardens that are not open to the public and we looked at the work of some of the major designer-practioners – Piet Oudolf, Christopher Bradley Hole, Tom Stuart Smith and the late Henk Gerritsen, as well as lesser-known gardeners.
Our conditions are different so it will never work taking the lessons from another country and imposing them here. We need to use different plants in many cases (pampas grass is on our banned list and the lovely Stipa tenuissima is threatening to become a noxious weed according to the Weedbuster’s website). Our management also requires different strategies and some of the gardening practices we saw just won’t work here.
But the underpinning philosophy is relevant and many of the ideas are challenging our preconceived notions. We are serious about the move to more environmentally friendly gardening even though it will push the boundaries of what most New Zealand gardeners regard as acceptable in terms of tolerance for weeds. Our interests also lie in extending our spring flowering well through summer and into autumn and we can’t achieve this without managing perennials much better. No matter. We are inspired. And as gardeners, we take the longer term view.
First published in the New Zeakland Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.