Think outside the box when it comes to creating a decorative and productive garden

Suddenly the weather has turned airless and incredibly warm. It’s almost too hot to work outside, so I am thankful that, here in our north Cotswold acre, I decided this year to create inspired perennial patches wherever there was space to do so. Gardening with perennials – herbs, vegetables and flowers saves time; once established they will ‘do their own thing’. And if plants are packed tightly together, weed growth is discouraged. I can concentrate instead on creating a garden that is beautiful to look at. So it was interesting to see this technique had been adopted by many Show Garden designers at the 2014 RHS Malvern Spring Festival. (Hard to believe that I was there taking photos and talking to plant growers and garden designers only a week ago.)

Decorative Edibles

Salads by the seating area were almost too tempting!
Edible plants were part of a productive and decorative Show Garden at the 2014 RHS Malvern Spring Festival

My favourite garden – ‘A Fruity Story’ designed and created by Richard Wanless of Twigs Gardens – exemplified my theory that inspired perennial patches can be both decorative and productive. The catalogue description says it all: “The garden shows that trees, soft fruit, herbs and easy salad crops can be combined in a creative way to produce a space that is fresh, fun and functional”. It certainly was and I was privileged to be invited to sit in the sunken area, making notes, with the outdoor wood-burning cooker warming me on a chill day, and salads within plucking reach (I did not dare!)

The Pity of War

War zones inspired a most beautiful and gentle garden at the 2014 RHS Malvern Spring Festival
Even tragic events can inspire a peaceful Show Garden

New to the garden design scene is Martyn Wilson of Wilson Associates Design, and his festival garden – for newcomers to the profession, was symbolic in every sense of the word. ‘The Journey supporting the RAF Benevolent Fund’ contrasted the exuberance of a cottage garden with an arid-style planting that reflects the landscape of Afghanistan. It’s 100 years since the start of the first World War (resonant for me as my father-in-law was badly injured on the Somme) and 70 years since the Normandy invasions (my uncle participated). And 2014 marks the year that British combat troops will withdraw from Afghanistan. An inspired perennial patch indeed. How peaceful was this garden – albeit embedded with poignant touches that brought home the brutality faced by British troops – a soldier’s helmet, a sunken trench, barbed wire buried amongst starburst alliums, campion and poppies.

Back at Home – inspired perennial patches

Inspired perennial patches can be created in odd spaces - herbs and dwarf veg are easy
A decorative and edible patch: dwarf runner bean ‘Hestia’ combined with clary sage and calendula

Inspired perennial patches are easy to create. Starting from an existing veg plot or vegetable beds; add just a small area of perennial flowers specifically for cutting. On offer from the Dobies website are many that will beautify the home as well as the outdoors. The link will take you to plants rather than seed, so you can become an instant flower gardener (almost). Harder perhaps is the concept that vegetables can be part of the flower garden. Never mind if you don’t want them as food, some are highly decorative. Herbs that you allow to flower are particularly attractive, and will benefit bees and other insects. For height, try wigwams of climbing french beans – particularly those with purple or golden pods. Buy them as plants, or there’s still time to sow seed in pots. Runner beans will serve the same purpose, with decorative flowers. Or plant the dwarf red-and-white flowered ‘Hestia’ with in the herbaceous border, or amongst mid-height herbs.

Brassicas & Bibles

Brassica plugs are an easy method of growing a mixture of 'greens'
Brassica plugs, potted on and awaiting readiness of the beg plot

Being short of time this year, I am growing my brassicas not from seed, but from a collection of plug plants. I potted them up and grew mollycoddled them on the kitchen windowsill, then outside until the plot was ready for them, just before Malvern. Oh dear .. only away three nights and the birds had stripped them almost bare! Tip: make sure they are covered with netting. Mine now are, and are re-sprouting.

The main Dobies 2014 Flower & Vegetable Seed catalogue
Keep the main Dobies catalogues handy – a gardener’s bible

As for bibles – I am referring to the two main Dobies catalogues. The ‘2014 Flower & Vegetable Seeds’ is a constant companion, as is the ‘2014 Perennial Plant Catalogue’ featured in the blog late last month. Both contain so much advice and planting hints, that will help you to plan your own inspired perennial patches.

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