Over the years, I have noted three areas where designers tend to make mistakes by omission when designing Planting schemes.
Failing to include adequate bulb provision in designs to add interest during the quieter seasons.
Failing to adequately cover unsightly surfaces like drab fences with quality climbing plants.
Failing to recognise the importance of seedheads, fruits and winter stems from plants while they are declining or in winter senescence.
Generally speaking, these are easily remedied, but are areas where we designers should actively consider the value of plants to ensure retrofitting is not required post design. Aiming to fill gaps in seasons with appropriate bulbs, cover surfaces with the choicest and most interesting climbers and wall-shrubs and to ensure plants have interest well beyond their flowers, is to understand the value of these plants and shows your desire as a designer to comprehensively design a space.
Prunus spinosa (Sloe), Hypericum x inodorum and Rosa rugosa
As we move into late summer, the appearance of decaying stems, seedheads and ripening fruits should remind us of this. Flowers from meadows and field margins are drying and browning as seedheads develop. Rosehips are swelling and fruits like crabapples, sloe, bullace and other interesting native or naturalised plants prepare to feed our wildlife.
Today, I have been thinking about this a great deal and while considering this ripening towards harvest, I have been thinking about who really designs with this in mind. Historically UK garden design has been evergreen structure and flower focussed. The European New Perennialist planting movement (Henk Gerritsen, Piet Oudolf, etc, etc) are really the first people to focus heavily on plants that provide little in the way of an evergreen presence, but value plants as highly for their decaying winter stems and seedheads as for their flowers.
While I’m not a huge fan of the style, tending as it does, to not lend itself overly well to smaller spaces or the UK climate; I do see that it has merits and we should definitely take more from the value of perennials post flower. Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) is one of my favourite examples here, with the seedheads persistence rivalling any plant that I can think of. I do like the aesthetic of much of this planting style, but its practical application puts me off it somewhat and most people claiming to be doing it in the Uk are largely just using a few herbaceous plants in a border not fully grasping the importance of the plant structure being of critical importance to each scheme‘s seasonal value.
Architecture and beauty together.
I shall put some more time into considering this seasonal or transitional value of plants and when working with them in designs pay more attention to applying these ideas.