Tag Archives: modern herbaceous plantings

Summer gardens update

I am worried about 2021. We all crossed our fingers that it would be better than 2020 but there was no radical change on January 1. The wall to wall Covid news coming out of the UK, Ireland, Europe and USA is unrelenting and disturbing. The trans-Tasman travel bubble so many of us are waiting for looks to be on hold with outbreaks in Sydney and Melbourne. And the transition of power in USA looks more dangerously unstable than the usual peaceful and orderly process. My thoughts go out to those readers in more dangerous parts of the world.

All I have to offer is summer.

Looking through to the Court Garden on Christmas Eve.

All spring, it was the newest of the summer gardens, the Court Garden where the main plantings are grassy-themed, that brought me the most pleasure. As I walked out to do my morning rounds, it was there that I chose to linger the longest.

The borders yesterday morning, just before the onset of steady rain
The light levels were fairly low which gave a softer feel than the harsh glare of the mid-summer sun

As December progressed and now that we are into January, the borders have taken over pride of place on my morning perambulations. They bring me much delight and while I can see a couple of areas that I will tweak, overall, I am happy with them. The borders have the most complex plantings and that means there is more of a succession of blooms.

The first auratum lily has come into bloom

The auratum lily border is the only garden we have that is dedicated to a single plant genus. It only stars for one month of the year and that will happen soon. The entire length holds the promise of so much with the mass of buds fattening and starting to show colour.

Stokesia and hydrangeas in the wave garden

The Wave Garden has its good sections and the flowering of the blue bearded iris in early November was a delight. But I have been reworking some bays that I was not so happy with so it is a bit patchy overall at this stage.

The grass garden on January 2

The growth in the Court Garden is nothing short of phenomenal and I am looking nervously at the abundant Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ but thrilled at the flowering on Stipa gigantea this season. Being sterile, the flowering lasts a long time. It really is the immersive experience I planned for.

Flowery abandon in the Iolanthe Garden

The Iolanthe garden is very different with its casual wildness and mass of blooms both planted and self-seeded. I am doing a bit of maintenance – well, I say a bit, but really I am wheeling out barrow-loads of seeding forget-me not, parsley and spent foxglove flower spikes. Fortunately, the weed infestation is nowhere near as bad as I feared and it has the appeal of an artfully casual cottage garden, very different to the other summer gardens.

May you stay safe and find hope where you can.

Glitter gardening (may not be quite what you think)

Two weeks and the foundation plants are all in the new Court Garden

“Now you can add the glitter,” Mark said when I proudly announced that I had finished planting the new Court Garden. It has been something of a marathon effort on my part. “What glitter?” I replied defensively, telling him I had put in assorted flowering plants. “Flowers like echinaceas and narcissi,” he said. After all it is to have a prairie look (albeit a prairie on steroids, somewhat styled into waves).

This was food for thought. I rejected the idea of echinacea. The Court Garden is flanked on one side by the twin, herbaceous borders and on the other by the lily border and the unromantically- named caterpillar garden. Over a glass of wine last Friday, Mark declared: “We don’t have garden rooms. We have galleries.” He was taking the mickey, of course. We certainly don’t have garden rooms but I wrote down the galleries because I feared the wine may dull our memories. It seemed a good description of this new garden – a main area with side galleries.

Lots of miscanthus – magical in autumn when back-lit. All our miscanthus descend from a single specimen which used to live in the Iolanthe garden.

In planning the new plantings, one of my ruling principles has been to use different plants in the different areas so they don’t all look the same over time. And echinaceas are a big feature in the twin borders so I didn’t want to repeat them. At this stage, there are only two plants that feature in both the borders and the Court Garden (miscanthus and the giant Albuca nelsonii) and I want to keep it that way. Nor did I plan to plant bulbs through the Court Garden. My vision is big, bold, immersive and generally low maintenance.

My restraint and resolve lasted precisely the two weeks it took to plant the Court Garden. Keeping to about 26 different plants may not seem restrained by some modern landscapers’ standards but it is extremely restrained by ours. In this we are not alone. Mark pointed out that Piet Oudolf’s planting plans can be astonishingly complex when you see his plant lists.

I am figuring that the Court Garden will be looking well furnished by next summer and autumn and starting to hit its peak by the following summer. Having looked at the grass garden at Bury Court, I also expect that over time, the grasses will dominate and crowd out the flowering plants. And I am fine with that. It will be survival of the strongest which means that at least some of the flowering options are short term only. This is not an area for choice treasures that need nurturing and attention to keep them going.

After all, what is lovelier than Lilium formasanum with a backdrop of miscanthus?

But in the interim, I decided that there is no reason why I can’t add plants that will perform and delight even if it is only for a few years. Yesterday, I added some of the autumn flowering Lilium formasanum because it looks so lovely flowering against miscanthus. And a daisy that I am told came from Bev McConnell’s meadow. Now I am wondering about adding dwarf narcissi. We have some trays of bulbs that are already well represented in the wider garden so these surplus are meant to be going down into the park meadow where they may, or may not, thrive.  Maybe they could flesh out the Court Garden in its early years instead. They can be the glitter Mark was envisaging.

I used to feel a bit defensive about loving ornamental plants. First we saw the native purist wave – “I will only plant natives. That is not a native, is it?” (said sniffily). Then there was the edibles wave. “Everything in my garden has to be edible or medicinal.” Or worse – and this is what I actually heard proclaimed by a doomsday prepper in Egmont Village – “In this day and age, anybody who plants a tree that is neither fruit or nut or plants that are not edible is a fool.” Apparently hard times and food wars are coming sooner rather than later. But what about feeding the soul with the beauty of a magnolia in full bloom, I wanted to say.

Now we know that the ornamentals are what feed the bees that we need to pollinate food crops. We understand far more about the need to maintain healthy eco-systems. A row of brassicas and a mandarin tree may feed the stomach but their contribution to the health of the environment is minimal. It is not just aesthetics – although a dwarf apple tree is never likely to ever take your breath away with its beauty.  It is about working with nature, furnishing the environment, feeding not just the birds and the bees but all other lesser appreciated insects and animals of a healthy eco-system. And it is about feeding the soul.

Good gardening is about a whole lot more than just feeding the human body, creating pretty pictures or improving real estate investments. It always has been but it has probably never been more important than it is now.

We have plenty of Macleaya cordata but my best photos of it are from Bury Court. Sadly, we lack oast houses here at Tikorangi.


For any readers who like plant lists, below is the initial planting from the Court Garden.

Key grasses and others planted in waves:

Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’

Chionochloa rubra

Calamgrostris ‘Karl Foerster’

Stipa gigantea

Elegia capensis

Astelia chathamica

Chionochloa flavicans

Albuca nelsonii

Other foundation plants:

Curculigo recurvata

Doryanthes palmeri

Austroderia fulvida (North Island toe toe – the only plants I needed to buy in)

5 different phormiums in red and black (‘coloured flaxes’ as we call them in NZ) Only two still had labels on them – ‘Black Rage’ (who named that one?) and ‘Pink Delight’ though all will be named forms.

A random large growing reed

Flowering perennials

Not so much glitter as flowering thugs difficult to accommodate elsewhere but worth a place where they can compete on more or less equal terms

Foxgloves in white and pale apricot

Nicotiania (sylvestris, I think it is)

Verbascum creticum


Verbena bonariensis

Salvia confertiflora, and two other very large salvias that I have yet to find the correct names for

Macleaya cordata (plume poppy)