Designing with vertical plants



I would like to mess up this view.

It has been on my mind since November that there is a lot of horizontal here.

And the time has come to work some design ideas into the steep bank above the pool and change the view.

Actually the reason why it came to me was not when these two shots above were taken. June I imagine. But in winter.

It is a sea – a beautiful waving sea – of beige.

My eragrostis curvula grasses are divine.  But a bit like a mane of hair that is whipped about, it needs some sharp contrast to stop it looking so blocky.

Remember this picture I took in autumn?

Everyone who commented on it saw the dramatic sky and wacky clouds. All I could see was the huge expanse of beige in the lower shot and it looked wrong.

So now that I am stuck here in London for a few days I have the perfect excuse to get on with some actual garden design research. When I am out in the garden I’m too busy gardening. (Now there’s a surprise.)

And doing anything to this steep bank has proved tricky in the past.

In the very front of the bank are the mighty miscanthus. I do hope they survived the drought of 2017. I will only know if the grasses are alive when I start cutting back in a few weeks time. Will I find green shoots?

So I am looking to create some vertical height in the form of drought tolerant plants in between the miscanthus and the fence. I don’t have a lot of room to play with. This is yet another long narrow site.

And do the same on the other side of the steps where the pool garden bank lies. Linking the whole bank together.

And I’m ignoring the elephants in the room. The unsightly and leaning useless apple tree at the top of the bank on one side.

And the ugly telegraph pole in the middle (but not perfectly centred) in the pool garden bank on the other.

You would be amazed at how artful I have become at trying to crop those two unsightly features from my shots.

(Tried the old distracto trick at the beginning with colour.)

But there is no avoiding the pole. Nor the apple tree right now.  I have promised myself that if I can get some vertical design working in the lawn bank then I will celebrate by chopping down the apple tree. I’ve been itching to do it for ten years.

The fruit are inedible and mealy – even the horses give you a funny look when you shove a bucketful of the fruit at them. And as the tree is so high and leaning out over a precipice, I can never prune it. And it gets annually covered in vile sticky caterpillars and their webs.

It only looks fetching (far left in this shot) under snow.


Verticals.  I am leaning towards cupressus sempervirens.  Pencil cypresses.

Warning poor quality reproductions of endless pictures to follow.

I will spare you and shove them in a photo gallery to save you yawning and scrolling fast.

But will they survive the cold and the drought? Will I neglect them? And can I afford lots?

I could try using hardier shrubs that will gain height.  Plenty of ideas here too. I had a look in my RHS Wisley garden pictures for the ever popular columnar shrubs.

Beech looks good here. But I would have to use hornbeam which I find more tolerant of the conditions.

I was writing to Andrew about the plan and he reminded me that Beth Chatto was great for vertical planting ideas.

So I rummaged and discovered that her Dry Garden book is in France. But I had a copy of her Drought Resistant Planting and I found this:

I’m not about to reintroduce the dreaded verbascums having spent a decade eradicating the blighters. But her placement is artful. And I need to read more. If all else fails (I may have lent the book to someone and it didn’t come back)  I can walk down to the garden reference library early next week and read there. (The joys of civilization and all that.)

I was thinking of a line of cypresses on the narrow bank.  But my walk this morning around Hampstead revealed this sort of design horror.

Does that scream prison bars to you too?

What I need to do is kidnap Andrew and get him to help with the placing of the plants I choose.  It’s a four hour round trip to visit him. But I think I will do his trick of hammering in tall posts in the positions I think might work and stalking around every angle and seeing what works.

I did have another idea.  What is the most drought tolerant evergreen plant in the entire garden?

Rosemaries.  And I happen to have five Miss Jessop Upright plants which I propagated last year.

I could build a sort of chestnut teepee around the plants (to prevent the snow doing damage to the shape) and have height and drama at very little expense.

And I could even prune the rosemaries to a pyramid or cylindrical shape.  Completely ignoring the fact that access to this steep bank is playfully tricky and I have not visited the site at all after the annual grasses cut back event in February.

The idea came from the haystack around the mountain from us. I love how simple but dramatic it can be.

So there I will leave it. Agonizing about the design.

I think that if I can get to the Vachon plant nursery on Friday morning (they were closed over Christmas and New Year – a teeth gnashing frustration believe me) stock up on lots of shrubs and then go and meet Andrew for lunch at Rochemaure, he will inspire me to a solution.

It beats just mooching about the internet here in London loading the equivalent of garden porn.

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