The Big Picture

It may be that I love plants too much to be a gardener.


Paeonia cambessedessii


Paeonia cambessedessii

For me, there is nothing better than perusing the stalls at a plant fair and coming across a choice rarity or something that just stops me in my tracks. The Majorcan peony fits into both of these categories. As soon as I spotted it across the crowded room it had its place earmarked in the rear footwell of the car. Offered a plant with two unopened buds it was taken somewhat on trust. But I needn’t have worried. As each day passed and the glimpse of colour grew accordingly, first on one bud and then the other, I knew I had what I wanted.


Paeonia cambessedessii


Paeonia cambessedessii

The stems and the undersides of the leaves are beetroot red. It is worth growing it for these alone. After a few days the petals fade to a more delicate hue with the fine lines of darker pink ever more apparent. Their texture, by now, is something akin to tissue paper. It is stunning.

And therein lies the rub. First and foremost I am a plant collector. It’s a different mindset to being a garden designer. At £15 a pot there will only ever be one Paeonia cambessedessii. And why would I want more than one anyway, when I could spend the money on something else equally desirable? (And did.)


Omphalodes cappadocica 'Starry Eyes'


Omphalodes cappadocica ‘Starry Eyes’


But if I am ever going to make an impact in this garden the mindset has to change. The big sweeping spaces on the bank call for clumps and drifts of fewer different species, but more specimens of each one. Viewed from a distance this is the only way for their colour to show up, however vibrant the single plant may be in closer proximity. Individual plants tend to get lost and diluted into an amorphous mass of green. Or at best provide a spotty effect not so far removed from a bowl of M&Ms.



Heuchera ‘Peach Flambé, Ajuga reptans ‘Burgundy Glow’

And I do love my colour to show up.


Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Valentine'


Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Valentine’, Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’

Colour contrasts which smack you straight in the eye.


So this year, Consolidation Year, the plant collector is learning to think more like a designer. If I have a gap in the border, what lies around it? What is the best plant (or plants) needed to fill the gap? Which colour would add most to the mix. How tall? Is it a sunny or a shady border, moist or dry? Do I need a textural contrast or more punctuation in the form of architectural leaves?


Iris 'Gerald Darby'


The purple tinted leaves of Iris ‘Gerald Darby’


There will still be impulse purchases, of course there will. But the new shopping list is somewhat different from the old. Where there are two Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’, find three more. And could I add another seasonal layer to the pulmonaria cascade by interplanting it with Geranium ‘Rozanne’?


Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Orange Field'


Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Orange Field’

Thankfully, for the sake of the rapidly diminishing budget, four or five years into seriously developing this garden I have a head start. Some of those single plant purchases from way back have proved themselves stars. Persicaria is bombproof. Nothing seems to eat it. And not only that, it spreads. Two weeks ago, one large clump on the terraces. Now, one portion snuggled back into the original hole and six new plants up on the bank. Already a drift. And yes, even in Devon I need irrigation. A south facing bank made of clay goes from a quagmire to cracked earth in less than two days. I’ve had to use the drip system already this year.

The grass in the background is Arrhenatherum bulbosum variegata. It’s done even better. From one plant a few years ago I now have at least a dozen.


Astrantia major


Astrantia major

Two weeks ago, one large clump on the terraces. One back in the original hole and three up on the bank. Already a sizeable clump. April’s rain has really brought them on. I’m hoping Phlomis russeliana will lift its stately spires elegantly above it. Iris sibirica, consolidated from patches spread all over the garden,  adds a contrasting leaf shape.

Between these two new areas of planting, the vibrant bronzy hues of heleniums ‘Waltraut’ and ‘Moerheim Beauty’, the burgundy penstemon ‘Plum Jerkin’, Verbena bonariensis and the red tipped switch grass Panicum virgatum ‘Squaw’. I hope they’ll all look brilliant together. This year will tell.


Convallaria majalis


Convallaria majalis, Lily of the Valley

Primroses have self seeded. Should I leave them? I think I will. Nature has created a harmonious combination I wouldn’t have even thought of.


Camassia leichtlinii


Camassia leichtlinii, Phormium ‘Pink Panther’



While I might have been rushing about with the camera it was a pretty typical Sunday afternoon on the opposite side of the valley. If they could read, the Sunday papers would be much in evidence.



Sciurus carolinensis syn. ‘Little Bugg*r’

Not much chance of a drift of asters here.


Saxifraga x urbium


Saxifraga x urbium, the first blooms of London Pride


Polygonatum x hybridum


And from the woodland floor, Polygonatum x hybridum, Soloman’s Seal


Centaurea montana


Centaurea montana


And finally..

It being Consolidation Year when I try, as far as is possible, to avoid the distraction of new projects, I thought it might be interesting to revisit one of the previous End of Month View escapades. Just to see what’s changed. Especially as I have a new toy to play with courtesy of last week’s upgrade to the blog theme. Drag the arrows across the screen to see the ‘before’ and ‘after’. (This may not work if you’re viewing on a reader or the subscribers’ email.. just click through to the rusty duck web page.)


April 29th 2014April 29th 2018


Much has changed in the four years since I started work on the terraces.

The area to the right is so much more open thanks to the removal of the 70′ spruce, a fence, and that odd bit of return wall attached to the house, plus the conifer directly in front of it. The bright red azalea which was so front of mind back in 2014 has moved down to the bottom terrace far right. It’s only just now coming into bloom, a contrast which shows vividly how late Spring has been in 2018. The pieris and the phormium have grown beyond recognition. The season may be behind, but this border is better balanced now. We’ll have another look at it later in the year.


So which are you? Collector or designer? Or both? Please tell me how you do it!


Linking to Helen’s End Of Month View at The Patient Gardener (here) and Sarah at Down By The Sea (here). Click through to see what other gardeners are up to in this most glorious of months.