Saturday, November 20, 2010

Succession Planting in the Cutting Garden

Since I've undertaken replanting the cutting garden/perennial bed at the Big House in earnest,  I'm deferring to the creators of some of the wonderful gardens we visited in England (though I'm aware I'll need to make some specific plant changes to suit the Atlanta climate.)  There are few gardeners in recent history who had the incredible sense of color (and the bravery to explore it) of Christopher Lloyd.  His garden at Great Dixter is legendary, and for good reason.                                      
 I've just started reading Lloyd's Succession Planting for Year-Round  Color, and  am enthralled by the combinations he created in that garden.  (Interestingly Lloyd wrote some incredibly good books, and some incredibly bad ones at different times of his life.  You might want to read some reviews prior to automatically spending for a book just because it has his name on it.  I found this one on Amazon for $7.50)

Here are some recommended combinations, just from the first few pages:

Byzantine Gladiola planted into a chartreuse striped low-growing bamboo.  The contrast between the dark-stemmed hot fuschia glads and the bright chartreuse bamboo is just amazing!  Since anyone in the Southeast knows that planting bamboo is right up there with planting kudzu, I'm going to use a chartreuse acorus as the base plant for that same effect. 

Aucuba japonica underplanted with hellebores, a spring-summer blooming medium height blue annual, and Japanese anemones.  Just go with this for a minute and let it digest.  The aucuba will bear fruit in the winter/spring at the same time as the hellebores bloom; when the hellebores start to look messy, the blue-flowering annual will take your eye off the fading hellebore leaves.  At the same time, the anemone leaves will grow up into the hellebores, fulling masking them in their "less attractive" time.  (In the border at Great Dixter, this is right next to the bamboo/gladiola mentioned above.)

Crocosmia planted right at the base of dark-leaved cannas.  The flowers of crocosmia are like little firecrackers in the perennial bed, but the strappy leaves are often a little ratty looking.  Just picture the hot orange crocosmia flower against the dark burgundy canna leaves!

Also in the first chapter, there are two "method" points that Lloyd makes that I think are worth mentioning. 

First, he talks about using pruned branches from shrubs as discreet supports for tall-growing flowers that will come later in the season.  I saw this everywhere in England, particularly at Nyman's to support dahlias and such.  We always save the trimmings when pruning interesting plants like contorted filberts to use as plant supports that aren't covered with dark green plastic.

Second, he mentions the use of mushroom compost in the clay soil around Great Dixter (Kent has similar soil to Georgia, though not red.)  According to Lloyd, the reaction between mushroom compost and clay soils results in a soil that is much more alkaline than normal, which is a problem for some plants that one would typically grow in this part of the world.  I can't vouch for the validity of that statement, but I'm certainly not going to challenge Christoper Lloyd, dead or not!  I'll let you know the results at the end of the season.

Anyway, all of that in just the first few pages of this book.  I'm thinking it was $7.50 well spent!


  1. Tim,
    I think this book is one of the most practical and inspiring books if you are trying to create a mixed border with interest throughout the year. I found it exceptionally instructive and helpful. Enjoy! I have to say I haven't come across any books by Lloyd that I didn't find worth reading.

  2. My favorite of Christopher Lloyd's is "Color for Adventurous Gardeners". Beautiful book with great color combinations.