Tag Archives: grass garden

Another week in the garden of Jury

Subtitled: Rain! At last! A study in a sparrow’s nest, waterworks, the raspberry coop, tamarillos and an update on the new grass garden.

It is mighty unusual for us to get excited about rain in our climate. But a good rain last night was certainly a relief. It has not been a particularly hot summer but it has been a dry one. We do not irrigate our garden. Nor should anybody else, in this day and age when we are realising that water is a precious commodity. Garden to your conditions. Grow what flourishes in your climate. Target watering only to what needs it to survive and produce, not the whole area.  But I digress. The rain last night, in addition to the 9 ml we received last week, is very welcome.

It also brought down more of the old sheaths clinging to the Queen Palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana)  We describe this particular specimen as being an entire condominium of nesting birds, mostly sparrows. As each sheath falls, so too does a spent nest. In this case, it appears there were two families of sparrows squashed into the same apartment. Sparrows may be a common and unpopular little bird here (Oi! England! Do you want your spadges back? We could do a two-for-one deal and throw in Mrs Tiggywinkle and her large family) but their nests are soft, feather-lined creations of great charm. When you think how small these birds are, creating a cosy, safe place for their offspring’s first weeks is a major effort. What is more, they have to repeat the process every year.

It disintegrated in the fall from a great height but look at how much work the little sparrows put into creating this one-season masterpiece

As I wrote last week, we have decided we will reopen the garden this year for the 10 days of the Taranaki Garden Festival. Work in preparation has already begun. I tackled the raspberry coop. Mark marvelled that he did not think it had ever looked as tidy, including back in his father’s day. Lloyd was terribly impressed by my weekend’s efforts. It is a very old pipe and wire netting cage which is scheduled for removal but not for another year or two. We call it the raspberry coop because it houses a very productive row of raspberries but it was the sad, neglected blueberry that forced me into action. It was limping on with its cropping when I saw a photo of a commercial bush that was way more impressive. Maybe ours would do better with some care and attention, I thought. So I fed it, gave it compost as well, cleared everything else around it and mulched it. I am hoping for great things next year. The coop also houses seven geriatric dwarf apple trees. With feeding and mulching, I am hoping they may become venerable, rather than geriatric. They date back to the 1950s and we still have a collection of varieties that were popular back in those days – Sturmer, Golden Delicious, Spartan and others of that era.

Never before has the raspberry coop looked this smart

The raspberry coop is on the margin of the Iolanthe garden that I have been working on transforming to a perennial meadow and if visitors are going to be looking at that, I felt that a weedy, unloved raspberry coop was not a good look at all. Now I just have to keep it this tidy and free of weeds.

A work in progress on what used to be the big pond. The water level is way up after last night’s rain

Lloyd has been slogging it out this week, carving out a stream channel through the large pond that had silted up and become choked with water weed. It is an area where the digger did not have sufficient reach to enable him to do by machine. I did not think to take my camera down to record the simple system of floating platforms and boards that has enabled him to walk on water (well, floating mats of weed, really) to cut it up and haul it to the side so you will have to wait until next week for handy hints on how manpower can achieve what machinery cannot. Some weeks, that man is worth his weight in gold. We are only days away from being able to put the water back down the channel and that will be a celebratory conclusion to a major maintenance task.

A great crop on the self-sown tamarillo

Ripe tamarillo fruit

We know this South American fruit as a tamarillo in New Zealand, formerly a tree tomato. I doubt that many people know it by its botanical name – Solanum betaceum but there seem to be plenty of other names for it around the world. ‘Tamarillo’ is another case of NZ renaming a fruit to increase its marketable qualities (like ‘kiwifruit’). For us, it is a bit like the Cape gooseberry and passionfruit – short-lived but able to pop up around the place from seed. We didn’t plant this specimen, it is a volunteer and it is carrying a great crop this year. Those hanging fruit will not be ripe until they turn red. It is not my favourite fruit but it adds variety to our diet and can be used in both sweet dishes and as part of a savoury salad. Mark’s father used to like it with a little chopped onion on wholemeal toast but it is more common to peel them and serve them with sugar.

Finally, I give you the latest photos of my grass garden, planted at the very end of May, just nine months ago. I am really delighted with it. Mark is a flower and colour man and wistfully asked if I intended to add more colour. I defensively reeled off all the flowering plants in it (pale apricot foxgloves, Verbascum creticum, Inula magnifica, salvias red, yellow and blue/green, daisies, evening primrose and more). It turns out he was discounting white flowers. What he really meant was colour. The answer to that is probably not. I am fine with it growing just as it is. It is getting the immersive atmosphere I want and to stand or sit amongst it when there is a breeze blowing is the pleasure I hoped for. It is very different to any other part of our garden.

The garden at Bury Court

Layers of Oudolf plantings in the walled garden

One of the gardens that so impressed us on our 2014 visit that we wanted to go back and have another look was Bury Court Barn near Farnham in Surrey. On this recent visit, we were honoured to be taken around by the garden owner himself, John Coke. I say honoured because while this garden is attributed to two big name designers – Piet Oudolf and Christopher Bradley-Hole – this does not accurately reflect the skills and hands-on involvement of the garden owner himself. It is very much his place.

The front garden was the first to be done and is a walled area. We have seen a number of large scale Oudolf plantings now. Bury Court is early Oudolf but, more interestingly, it is domestic and private in scale and design which makes it very different. The perennial plantings are still big, bold and bouffy but on a scale suited to this environment.  I look at the photos and I see how much thought has gone into the combinations and juxtaposition of plants but when you are surrounded by them in person, it is more an experience of being enveloped by the vibrancy.

One of the prettiest of meadows

The meadow is signature Oudolf, I realised when I spotted the Trentham grass rivers. And tactile, evocative, full of gentle movement and startlingly pretty. Again, deceptive simplicity. John Coke wryly noted that to keep it looking as it does makes it the most labour intensive area of the garden. We saw the same hands-on intensive maintenance going into Les Carrés Américains at Le Jardin Plume in Normandy. There are lower maintenance styles of meadow but they won’t look like this one.

Clearly the white wedding border by the functions hall in a converted barn

Bury Court has embraced the wedding and events market, as have many gardens. We have done the opposite and shunned weddings at least, but that is another story. I couldn’t help but notice the brilliant placement of all the event paraphernalia. They do the full shooting box – wedding ceremony, function, corporate events and all but it has been organised so that it does not dominate or dictate the nature of the entire property and the privacy of the home has been preserved by clever design, not barriers. Despite a sophisticated functions set-up, it still feels a personal and private garden.

The techniques of separation of different areas of this garden are both subtle and effective

Considering they started with quite a lot of buildings (oast houses, even!) and the area is not huge, the design skills that underpin this discreet separation are considerable but hidden. As I commented on the perfect Cotswolds garden, the thing about really-o, truly-o good design is that you don’t notice it but it underpins the entire garden environment and experience. As we sat having coffee in the front grass garden, there was a wedding taking place but it was entirely removed from us. I would have asked John Coke about this subtle separation had I thought about it at the time. It was only afterwards that it occurred to me that this was what had been achieved and that it was done by skill, not chance. My guess is that this is the result of a collaborative effort between the designer of the front garden, Piet Oudolf, and the garden owner himself.

The grass garden at Bury Court

I wanted to go back to Bury Court to have another look at the grass garden, a more recent major garden designed by Christopher Bradley-Hole. Despite my initial cynicism (how could a garden comprised almost entirely of grasses be remotely interesting?), I found it nothing short of inspirational when we first saw it in 2014. In the intervening three years, it appears that the flowering perennial count has dropped We worked it out to be about one perennial to eight grasses on that earlier visit but that seems unlikely now that the grasses have matured.

A bold Japanese-inspired summer house and reflecting pool

This grass garden is signature Bradley-Hole, I am told – sharp-edged, geometric design filled with gentle movement and informal plantings. On a second visit, I noticed the level of unobtrusive detail that underpins this garden – how the slight change of ground levels is handled, the definition and the materials used to strengthen the sharp lines of the design, the proportions of the summer house, the pond and the total space. Again, highly skilled design can be so subtle that you are barely aware of it yet it provides the foundation for everything else.

Now I want to see this garden in the autumn when the grasses are all shades of tawny gold and brown.

Again, I have too many photos of this particularly good garden to use in this post so have added an additional album to our Facebook garden page.

Garden owner and creator, John Coke