3 August 2014 - 9:09pm

Structural plants for drama

How do you like your flower borders – cottagey, neat, blousy, colour themed, bold as brass? We all have our own preferred style, apart from those of us who just buy a plant, dig a hole and enjoy it. Who is to say which of us is right? In the end it’s your garden so do what you want and have fun. (barring illegal and antisocial stuff I hasten to add). Since you asked (well I knew you’d want to) I like mine crammed with plants to the point it looks almost out of control. Bare soil is an absolute ‘no no’. To be honest this year it actually has been out of control, but that’s another story! I keep an eye on colour, but enjoy bold contrasts as well as gentle harmony. But some plants I can’t be without are the large, dramatic ones that provide structure. Don’t think ‘small garden, must have small plants’ either. Some of the best small gardens I’ve seen have a few carefully chosen large specimens. Here are a few of my favourites: Scottish Thistle (Onopordum acanthium). Huge feller, is currently standing way over my head and it as the name suggests, is like a giant thistle. Gorgeous bright grey spikey leaves (pictured) so don’t plant it near where the children play! This is a biannual, which means is sets seed and grows a fairly low rosette of leaves in the first year, then he flowers, seeds around and dies in the next. Gunnera – I’ve heard people say this is only for very big gardens and it’s true that when it gets going it’s very large. if you have the space its natural habitat is damp shade so it looks best by water. It has big leaves, reminiscent of a rhubarb. Give it a mulch in winter as it’s rumoured to be not too hardy but it’s been going here now for at least 10 years or so through some pretty harsh winters. I do have a tiny gunnera, only a few centimetres high, but to be honest it’s more a plant for the obsessive gardener and plant snob like me: it doesn’t add a lot to the overall ambiance! Darmera peltata (Indian rhubarb) is a much underrated and often misnamed plant. It throws up really pretty pink flowers a bit like a huge saxifrage (to which it’s related) on bare stems in early spring. Big leaves follow for drama not unlike a smaller gunnera, so a good choice if space is more limited. It likes the same damp situations, so happy in a bog garden. Macleaya cordata, or Plume poppy is a bit of a thug, but good for a biggish space in fairly natural planting scheme. It can reach 3 metres, has pretty leaves not unlike a huge oak leaf and feathery, astilbe like flowers in a pretty kind of beigey pink. Not fussy here as to soil or situation, but it is a little prone to early frost damage so best with a bit of shelter. Yucca is a bit of a marmite plant, I sit firmly in the ‘love it’ camp. I know the recent fashion is for Phormium, but the leaves die and become ugly fairly quick and I find them really hard to place in our natural style country setting. Yuccas however say ‘tropical’ without being hard to keep going and looking good, and do seem to fit better in the borders here. We have the variegated one which is very hardy and is lovely next to red companions such as poppies and roses and is a good host for climbers like the orange Chilean glory vine (pictured). Again though, keep the youngsters away, they have viscous spikes.