Inspired by grasses
Time was the only grasses in an English garden were those overlooked while mowing and allowed to go to seed. Today most gardeners have at least one or two of the ornamental variety with the more adventurous weaving them through borders or even dedicating whole areas to grasses.
Even so, it takes a certain confidence to garden the way Kate Patel does at Barn House. Rather than using grasses as a filler, she has built her garden around them. Even more impressively, she has resisted the temptation to cram her one-acre plot with barrow-loads of different plants, adopting instead a remarkably restrained plant list.
I first visited the garden on the Gloucestershire Wales border when Kate joined the National Gardens Scheme in 2013. Three years on and the garden has matured while her collection of grasses now numbers around 120 with about half-a-dozen grown in the hundreds rather than the handful.
The new ‘grass meadow’, still in the planning stages the last time we met, is one area where these grasses are used in bulk. To cut down on what would have been a huge job, Kate decided not to dig this area when planting but rather to deal with it in what she describes as “lasagne-style”, building up layers of turf, mulch and wood chips.
Molinia and deschampsia, all grown from seed, are dotted through with asters, veronicastrum and towering teasels, which are proving irresistible to butterflies and other insects. Prolific self-seeders, these grasses have been confined to this slightly wilder part of the garden where they can be more easily contained.
One of the features that stuck in my mind from my first visit was the unusual miscanthus hedge; it is every bit as good as I remembered.
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’ forms a graceful boundary at the edge of the garden, with a simple mix of Geranium macrorrhizum, rudbeckia and Euphorbia cyparissias ‘Fens Ruby’ forming an understorey of contrasting foliage and colour.
“I did think the rudbeckia would have been choked out by now,” admits Kate.
Nearby, in an area that is fenced off to allow her dogs to run without damaging more delicate areas of the garden, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Starlight’ is used to form a low-level hedge alongside a seating area.
A more transparent barrier is separates the main patio from the garden behind. Here, Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’ and ‘Avalanche’, which has cream stems, form a vertical accent in a bed of swirling blues and mauves. This is made up of lavender, both ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’, Geranium ‘Blue Sunrise’, G. sanguineum ‘Vision Light Pink’, nepeta and Clematis ‘Petit Faucon’.
On the other side of the path, more calamagrostis, this time ‘Karl Foerster’ is teamed with nepeta, rudbeckia and persicaria, while blood-red Sedum spurium ‘Voodoo’ hangs over the edge of the retaining wall.
Sometimes it’s a single grass that stands out: golden hakonechloa, combined with Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Black Beauty’ and Geranium ‘Rozanne’ brings a shaft of sunlight to a difficult space under a Prunus serrula. Definitely an idea to note.
A few of the grasses are grown in containers where they can be enjoyed and even fussed over a little more. These include the wonderfully tactile Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Little Bunny’, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’, a dwarf variety, and an unusual evergreen grass from New Zealand, Chionchloa conspicua, which frames a set of steps.
In fact, container planting is another of Kate’s strengths and she has quite a number on the sunken terrace that help to soften the appearance of the hard landscaping. Pulling together the diverse mix, which includes cosmos, sedum, cordyline and, of course, grasses, is a ribbon of Geranium ‘Sanne’ that forms a neat edge and helps to hide the pots of more upright growers behind (pictured above).
Kate developed her love of grasses when she and her husband, Hitesh, lived in South East Asia and another legacy from that time are the bamboos.
These are often viewed with suspicion by many gardeners as some varieties are known to be uncontrollable in their spread and vigour.
Barn House has a neat way of dealing with them: raised beds lined with DPM have proved more than a match for Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’, while underplanting it with Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is inspired with the scarlet a beautiful contrast to the golden bamboo stems.
Yet another idea to add to my list of things to copy.
• Barn House, Brockweir Common, is open by arrangement for the National Gardens Scheme until the end of September. Contact 01291 680041 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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