The walnut path – creating interest along a grassy path

From A to B. It’s so easy to just walk from the top of the courtyard up beside the barn and up onto the road without giving much aesthetic thought to what one could see.

The barn is stunning, a master class of dry stone wall building, topped by some fantastic old tiles.  And the rocks on the other side are a curious garden structure.  (Unless they are covered in weeds.)

But I yearned for a bit of colour here. Nothing fancy. But something more than what we found.

What we found was a sandpit, an elderflower weed that was trying to take over the end of the barn, and ivy. And nettles.

I like curves, and I thought it would be fun to start with a small bed as the start of the path.

I don’t dare show you my pathetic attempt at small wall building.  It was quietly and discretely improved by our stone mason Nicolas one afternoon.  And he then moved on to creating a wall at the top of the barn garden that sits beside this path.

This left me with a long winding fifty metre path that I could now try and work out how to gussy up.

This bed is seen from the front door of the house and all parts of the courtyard. So it has to earn its keep.

I started it by planting a gift from Andrew Wilkie – a large pannicum plant.  This one is a survivor as it is protected from the worst of the weather by the edge of the barn wall.  I may have lost all the pannicums in the pool garden bank, but this mighty beast thrives.

Mind you, it is the last grass to come into growth in spring, so I do get a heart in mouth anxiety every year in case it has expired.

Around it I have planted three younger pannicums, some helenium moorheim beauties, which are not happy, and some hemerocallis (day lilies), which are.

And that’s a shame as I can’t stand the colour.  Every year I make a note to lift the day lilies and give them away.  But they disappear into their winter dormancy and I never seem to locate them.

And come spring, I’m way too busy to chase a wayward plant or three.

So for the moment they remain.  The biggest success I have in this small, dry, built over stone bed are the bulbs.  Who would have thought my galtonica candicans – the white tall bulbs in the main picture – would come up year after year? I’m amazed and delighted every spring.

Smarting from my failed experiment to succeed with pannicums elsewhere, I didn’t dare invest in any more to have the plants flow up the side of the barn and up the path.

So I just transplanted from elsewhere.  Purple sage is one of my favourite herbs: it is extraordinarily easy to propagate, and it doesn’t flower or demand much attention.

I cut the sage back every February, in early spring, and just stick the cut back branches into a deep tray of compost and vermiculite. A bit of water, a bit of neglect, and they will root in about two to three weeks.

So using them as an anchoring plant, I placed them all the way up the north side of the path, and interspersed them with leftover stachys lanata plants. And irises and camassia bulbs.

I’m still pondering this design as the stachys are too pale for the beefy grasses beside them. So they may come out when I can come up with a new plan.  It is north facing and bone dry.

I had some irises dotted through this narrow strip of land, but was about to add fifty-five more further up.

I know that was the tally as they came out of the courtyard gravel garden when we were obliged to change the courtyard.  I didn’t have to move them far. Just a few paces up the path.

And in this garden of long narrow terraces, sometimes you just have to give in and create long thin drifts of the same plant. I like how the irises mimic the stone wall right beside.

And opposite these irises I was forced to plant more. My friend Leslie gave me a huge load of them from a garden she was clearing. I can never say no to these amazing plants.  And I had a lot of spaces to fill.

But I must confess I really only like them for their upright strappy leaves. Some of the colours their flower spikes throw up are frankly hilarious.

Whenever I see these iris in flower as I walk up the walnut path I do laugh. What absurd creatures. Bred so tall and frilly and not madly me.  If I get them in time I cut the spikes to the ground and shove them in a vase.

They do actually have a delicate scent.  But give me the glaucous grey leaves any day.

I’m going to leave this review here. I have a confession to make. This garden area only looks gorgeous for half a year.

Once the weather hots up and the rain fails to fall, this grassy path gets more parched. And the iris flowers fade. And I’m left with foliage, and more pressing tasks elsewhere.

So gaze on perfection.  And avert your gaze until next spring.