Tag Archives: starting a new garden from scratch

From scratch – the caterpillar garden

The caterpillar garden has been bringing me much delight this summer.

Starting to lay the area out in 2016 and marking the basket fungus shape

It is a flat area. Mark had to get up the ladder to get a view

Basket fungi

We refer to it as ‘the caterpillar garden’ but we really need to come up with a better name. It is the caterpillar garden because of an episode of BBC Gardeners’ World we watched several years ago. English designer, Tom Stuart-Smith, went into Carol Klein’s garden and clipped her buxus hedge into his trademark, undulating, wavy caterpillar style. That was the starting point for Mark’s vision for this particular area – a central backbone in clipped, undulating caterpillar-style but planted in a small leafed Camellia microphylla rather than utility buxus. He laid it out in pentagon shapes and I wondered about calling it ‘the pentagon garden’ but I would need to wait for a new president of America to go with anything that carried such strong, albeit irrelevant, connotations. Now Mark is wondering about ‘the basket garden’ on account of the basket fungus that guided his layout but that is a bit obscure.

May 2018, a few months after planting. The Podocarpus henkelii in the centre is such a handsome tree that we are keeping it and working around it. The little white flowers are Camellia microphylla in bloom in early autumn.

We both laughed when a Facebook page of Broughton Grange’s parterres came through on Facebook this week. Lo, there was Tom Stuart Smith’s undulating caterpillar hedging, filled with a tapestry of plants. Same, same but different. I think his shapes are hexagons, not pentagons and he has closed each shape rather than opening bays to the side paths as we have. He has gone for a different colour palette too – bright reds and yellows rather than our softer hues of blues, whites and lilac. And he has put the taller plants in a separate border to the side of the parterre rather than having them rising out of the central enclosures as we have. But we feel we are in excellent company with our caterpillar garden. We were a bit surprised that a small snippet of inspiration could see us end up at a similar destination several years later.

Very late spring 2018 – white iberis and Brodiaea ‘Queen Fabiola’ with the blue perennial forget-me-not (Myosotis) in the background

I wondered about appending a plant list to this post at the end, just in case any reader wanted to see what we have used but these things are never that simple. Even mass planting for impact and restricting the selection for each separate enclosure to between one and three different plants, I have kept adding to the plant palette to try and extend the seasonal interest and a quick count came to about fifty different plants so far. So I won’t be listing them. I can tell you that it gets us through three seasons with different plants being a focus but it is never going to be a great mid-winter garden. I would also comment that we could not afford to garden on this scale if we relied on buying the plant material. It takes many (many, indeed) plants to fill such an area of around 200 square metres. We have drawn on plants we already had in the garden, plants we have been given and trialled in Mark’s vegetable and meadow areas and plants we have raised. In fact, while it has taken plenty of time and effort and a lot of thought, the dollar expenditure currently sits at zero. We are quite happy to pay for special plants or ones we need to get us started, but this is not a garden for special plants. We are after mass effects and colour blocks.

The Salvia uliginosa is too floppy to be in an outside bed

This is now a garden filled with life, particularly butterflies and bees

This has been its second summer. It was patchy last year with big gaps. Some of the plants are smaller growing and more compact so take longer to spread and cover the area. This summer, I have felt it is coming together as we hoped. I have just completed the first – and most major –  reworking that is often necessary when the reality doesn’t match the vision. The pink shades had to go. Too pink and detracting from the spectrum of blues and whites. Salvia uliginosa is too tall where I had it and needs to be moved – but placed with care because it does have dangerous, invasive instincts. I am quite happy doing the fine tuning. For me, it is worth the effort.

I love the white Japanese anemones and blue asters currently in bloom

I have high hopes for next year when I think it will all come together as we envisage it. And we may have the paths laid and quite possibly some garden edging to emphasise the curves. I was going to avoid edgings if I could but I think this is a case for gently rusting Corten steel edging defining the lines and keeping the mulch from the paths. Not tanalised timber ply, not in our garden.

It feels as though this garden has taken longer to get to fruition, but what is a few short years in the greater scheme of things?

This was back in 2012 when we emptied out the capillary beds (which had been built around the Podocarpus henkelii 20 years earlier).

In 2014, we cleared and re-contoured the area. Same tree in the centre. Spike, the dog at the front is still with us but distinctly elderly and very deaf these days,

And this week. Filling in colour blocks with plants.