Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Garden Study #1 ... "Allium in a Sea of Blue Flax"

About Garden Studies

Every once in a while, we will study a photo of a garden scene that inspires us. 
The studies offer ways to recreate these garden scenes
in our own gardens.
I hope my readers will be inspired as well.
Garden Study #1
A garden scene from Great Dixter
"Allium in a Sea of Blue Flax"

Great Dixter Garden Scene
© Copyright Oast House Archive
This is a lovely little garden study from Great Dixter in England. The thing that really pops for me, the main focus in my view, is the allium poking up through a sea of blue flax. I like the juxtaposition of placing the top heavy allium, Allium giganteum, in a bed of delicate blue flax, Linum perenne. In this photo there are what appears to be spent irises, as well as some yellow flowering plants, possibly common sundrops. If I were making this bed, I think I'd keep it simple and focus only on the main subjects. The yellow flowers and the spent irises seem a bit intrusive to me, even though yellow and blue are complimentary on the color wheel (apologies to Great Dixter and how dare I). The cropped view below is less busy to me and more subtle.

© Copyright Oast House Archive
It wouldn't be difficult to emulate this garden in a corner that has a backdrop of taller shrubs, trees or hedges. Consider a smallish space surrounding your favorite lilac (instead of the heavily pruned shrub visible between the trellises),  or another large and interesting shrub. I'm suggesting a lilac because most gardeners love it and have at least one in their gardens. It's a good spot to use as a foundation for this Garden Study. Place a simple rustic trellis on each side of the lilac. Add a white flowering climber to each of the trellises in the background. In front of the trellises and lilac, use blue flax as groundcover and intersperse with allium bulbs so that they poke up like sentinels through the wavy blue sea.

As you can see from the backdrop in the photo, there is what appears to be a shaped and pruned shrub or tree. I'm not personally a fan of this sort of heavy-handed manipulation to trees and shrubs. Pruning is necessary to shape and encourage, but this looks like a princess in a Mohawk. Some gardeners do it simply because they can and they believe it adds architectural interest to the garden design. Maybe so, but if a shrub could think I'm sure it would feel humiliated by the hair cut. My romantic garden tastes always lean to the natural aesthetic, letting the plants simply be what they are supposed to be. I prefer a less contrived shrub.
Note: If you have a very old lilac with thick stems, you can still add that architectural interest by doing some major pruning of side suckers after flowering each year and throughout the growing season. Lilacs do throw out a lot of suckers at the base, and this is why most lilacs have that bush shape. To get an interesting shape, keep them pruned out, so that the shrub has three to five main trunks to promote growth on the ends of the branches. Eventually, you'll have a lilac that looks like a small tree with long shapely branches. I'm going to try to find a picture of a pruned out lilac, but I may have to wait until May. 
 Ingredients for "Allium in a Sea of Blue Flax"
  • 2 rustic trellises 4' to 5' wide x 6' to 8' tall
  • 48 Allium giganteum bulbs
  • 100 or more blue flax plants or forget-me-nots (both easily grown from seed)
    Note: I'm not 100% sure the blue flower in the photo is blue flax, but it's very similar in color-shade, height and delicacy. Blue flax should flower at the same time as the allium. There are few true blue flowers like this.
    They could also be forget-me-nots. Both allium and forget-me-nots flower at the same time in the UK, where the Garden Study picture was taken. Have a look at this article at Alternative-Planting. It's another lovely scene, and the flower is credited to forget-me-nots. Forget-me-nots do tend to spread like mad, more so than flax, so there are choices.
  • Either 2 white climbing roses, 2 white-flowered clematis, 2 simple ipomea grown from seed, or any other white flowering climbing plant that pleases your garden palate
Serves an area up to 100 sq ft in allotted garden space of 20' long and 5' deep. Ideally, give a bit of shape to the bed when you dig it out. Curves or asymmetric shapes are more natural looking, a style befitting this garden study as well as your more relaxed romantic gardening tastes.

About Blue Flax
Blue Flax
© Copyright Derek Harper
Blue flax is a lovely plant and a rare true blue color. It has delicate, but very strong stems and feathery leaves. It is easily grown from seed and freely self-seeds which makes it a good choice for this garden study. The idea is to use the plant as a groundcover plant, filling in the whole square or rectangle you've prepared. It grows about 12" to 16" . Blue flax has a main flush of color in spring, and it flowers sporadically throughout the growing season. 
Note: It's always a good idea to add fresh seed from another source every two - three years. It ensures the bed is always vibrant and full, keeping the stock healthy, diverse and renewed. Otherwise it could end up looking a little sparse and spindly.      
        About Forget-me-nots
© Copyright Steve Daniels
Forget-me-nots Myosotis are members of the borage family. There are 50 different species of forget-me-nots grown in northern or temperate zones. The most commonly grown forget-me-not is sylvatica. It's a lovely little plant, with true blue flowers. It can fill an area in no time by self-seeding.

For gardens in shorter growing seasons, it's best to sow the first seeds directly outdoors in early spring, after the danger of frost has passed. They will flower the following spring. For gardens with milder winters, you can sow the seeds in the fall for spring flowers. 

Forget-me-nots prefer dappled shade over bright sunlight and actually do better in cooler temperatures.

About Allium (giganteum)
Allium giganteum grows to about 4' tall. They grow best in sunny locations. This is partly why I think it would work best with the flax. Both prefer sun. 

The bulbs should be planted at a depth three times their size, about 3", and they are best planted in the fall. 
          About White-flowered Clematis
Clematis Miss Bateman
© Copyright Oast House Archive
  In this Garden Study, there is a white-flowering climber growing up the rustic trellis. Since this original garden scene is at Great Dixter in the UK, it may be a clematis, in particular, 'Clematis Miss Bateman' which grows there. But there are lots of white clematis varieties available, so the gardener shouldn't have any difficulty finding one variety for each trellis or two varieties to mix it up.  
 Clematis Montana Albens
© Copyright Maurice Pullin

Clematis should be planted in spring in alkaline soil. They like there roots shaded or cool, so many gardeners plant a small evergreen in front of them the keep the soil shaded. For this purpose they plant it slightly on its side to ensure it grow up the trellis and and not into or through the small evergreen.


About White Climbing Roses
Some great white climbing and rambling roses include 'Sombriel', 'White Dawn', 'Climbing Iceberg', 'Felicite et Perpetue', 'Rambling Rector', and 'Sander's White."

There are many to choose from. Look for a white rose that will suite your garden zone as well as your tastes. 

Other white flowering climber choices might include Jasminum officinale, or ipomea, but there are many climber plants with white flowers.


Beth @ Daylily Soup said...

I love the Great Dixter garden scene. The Allium is beautiful. I think I'll add Allium to my garden if it will grow here. I enjoyed the lovely post. :-)

Lorraine Syratt said...

Thanks Beth. I love the look of allium myself, and I think I'll be doing this study.

Anonymous said...

These garden studies are a great thing. I am looking forward to the next one.


Lorraine Syratt said...

Glad you liked it, Denise. It was fun to do. More coming.

HolleyGarden said...

This made me want to pay the price they charge for those large allium! I really do need to add these to my garden - they are so stunning! It does look beautiful with the blue, and I think it would look quite fresh with the white flowers you suggest instead of the yellow. I do like yellow and purple together, but the white seems a bit more clean. Good study!

Lorraine Syratt said...

Ouch! I haven't priced allium bulbs ... something to think about here. But they are funky plants though, aren't there. So architectural. There are other sentinel plants that would work as well, like regal lilies. I plan to do regal lilies poking up through lavender one of these days.

Thanks for your comment. This was fun to do. More coming.

Sunray Gardens said...

Lovely blooms. Thanks for stopping by and I am following back.

Cher Sunray Gardens

ramblin' rose said...

Ooh--just found your blog and
am having such fun. I'm looking
for a companion plant for a row
of blue nepata . . .like the
pink rambling rose idea, and/or
the allium and need something--
dare I say It?----easycare.
thanks for great posts.

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