Gardening: Nature weaves its own tapestryBy Linda Fort
May 18, 2012
One of the delights of a mature garden can be found in the tapestries created by plants growing close to each other.
No one could be worse at plant association than I am so I take no credit at all for the happy accidents that appear each year without my intervention.
I am off to Chelsea Flower Show next week and it never ceases to amaze me how professional garden designers can – deliberately – create tapestries of plants with flowers and leaves mingling in beautiful harmony.
Of course they are combining ready-grown plants – like arranging flowers in a vase – while in the real gardening world we have to make design decisions in the planting season, sometimes at the stage when a plant is no more than a seed.
If you were making a tapestry, then colour would be your first consideration and in the garden that is probably the easiest choice. You should at the very least know roughly what colour the flowers of the plant are going to be.
But there are other matters to consider – when are those flowers going to arrive and how tall will they be this year, next year, in 10 years? And what about the leaves before the flowers arrive and after they have gone, what will they look like?
I remember seeing a stunning display of small scarlet tulips and muscari planted in a carpet under a tree in a Gertrude Jekyll-designed garden near here.
I tried to recreate the effect under an oak tree in my garden but it never worked, probably because the very mature oak sucked up all the ground water before the bulbs had a chance to establish themselves.
The sorry display of tulip leaves and miserable patches of muscari continued to rebuke me and my efforts for years afterwards.
Now I have a burgeoning mature garden full of shrubs that are too large and borders that are too full and happy accidental tapestries happen all the time.
Cut back an overshadowing shrub one year and the under-storey of plants will suddenly reach for the light mingling which each other as they grow.
It doesn’t always work.
There is a frond of pink Clematis montana winding through a block of deep blue ceanothus at the moment which I want to pull out because it simply looks wrong.
The same clematis is climbing through the lime green flowers of the snowball bush – a sterile Viburnum opulis – which looks stunning.
And the appearance of an odd plant – say a tulip – in the middle of a clump of something else does not produce the same pleasing effect as the subtle combining of two plants nestling next to each other neither overwhelming nor overshadowing the other.
Knowing your own plants and copying from others must be the way to create these glorious effects intentionally – but it is still a matter of pure chance in my garden.