An unexpected cold spell has been wonderful for the flower garden. Often we go from full-on spring into December’s heat and dust with nothing to bridge the gap, but this year the late season – and a blessed fall of rain – has given me time to smell the roses before they started to wilt and to pick sweet peas for a good four weeks.
A key to prolonging your enjoyment of the summer garden is to grow the right plants. I was interested when visiting open gardens in Rockley recently to see what local gardeners were growing that would handle a limited water supply. I loved how cleverly everyone had created a variety of effects with a few reliable plants, something we could all learn from.
Me included I should add, all too prone to fall for something new and enticing instead of looking at what I have and growing more of it.
One garden I loved was that of John Monty and Jude Reggett who live in the old Catholic Presbytery next door to St Patrick’s Church, built in 1868. John is a trained horticulturist and his experience shows in the way he has designed and planted this garden, for the first eight years as a weekender and then for the last two years full time.
A pair of old-fashioned may bushes (Spiraea) frames the steps leading up to the house.
“They’ve been there for ever,” says John, which says it all about the choice of a flowering may bush for a low maintenance garden and why he kept them.
Either side of the steps the bank below the verandah is planted with tall alliums, mounds of blue sage and edgings of prostrate rosemary.
Over to the right, in front of the church – the parishioners must love John – masses of valerian (Kentranthus ruber) is busily self-seeding in shades of mauve, rosy pink, crimson and white, another an easy, low-maintenance choice.
The main beauty of this garden, however comes from the way John puts plants together, how he combines leaf shapes and textures and repeats colours and shades to create unity.
A group of bearded iris flowers echoes the ochre coloured stones of the church wall and a deeper purple nearby berberis, and their sword shaped, glaucous leaves make an effective, spiky contrast against the lacy foliage of a silvery grey artichoke.
One great benefit of a well-planted garden is the wild life it brings, especially in controlling pests and eliminating the need to hurl horrible chemicals around.
Wasps eat caterpillars, beetles eat slugs, ladybirds eat aphids; and birds, bees and beetles are essential pollinators.