Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

August border

The earth spins, the seasons change and each autumn I look at the photographs of the cottage garden and wonder at its metamorphosis and my complete inability to impose any sense of order.

The basic structure of the garden is dictated by the landscape, the climate and my desire not to impede the view from the window seat in the cottage – beloved by the visitors to Croft Garden Cottage. I also have to remember that during the summer months the presence of the gardener must only be seen as a retreating figure when the visitors return after a day exploring the islands’ other delights. The relaxed, informal planting scheme of the garden is tolerant of this minimal intervention and often appears resentful of the intrusion of the gardener. At times it seems that the more I try to take control the more protean the garden becomes.

In June I described the garden as a riotous assembly but the cooling rain of July dampened its ardour and the borders became lush and green. There were the usual exuberant colour contrasts, but I have learnt to love the random invasion of orange from the escholzias and grown tolerant of the army of calandulas which dominate some parts of the garden. However, I feared my delight in the oriental poppies was probably to become an indulgence I might regret later.

Each year I nibble away a little more grass as the borders continue to overflow and I introduce a few new plants. This year the outstanding success was the Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum × superbum), grown from seed last summer, over wintered in the polytunnel and planted out in May. A stalwart of many Hebridean gardens (of any description) it took me a long time to get round to growing it. The brilliant white daisies seem to add the perfect counterpoint to the anarchy in the rest of the garden.

In August the borders often have a soft, gentle, rather over-blown, fin de siècle feeling, but this year the mix of aestheticism and decadence was in danger of being overtaken by a rambunctious, marauding mob intent on spreading anarchy even to the most sedate parts of the garden. Spires of Verbascum competed with the seed heads of the self-sown poppies and did battle against the borage. The aquilegias are obviously setting a bad example as the even the astrantias became profligate and sought to usurp the geraniums. Orange horned poppies (Glaucium flavum var. aurantiacum) migrated through the borders but met their match with the corn marigolds. The salvias sulked and refused to flower again as the scabious grew tall and flirted with all and sundry.

Next year, will be different, but only in that some of the plants which self-seed will move to new locations, I will transplant some and others will just appear elsewhere or perhaps not at all. Some of the new plants which were introduced to the borders this summer will either die or survive the winter and prove their worth. I may tinker with the details or even introduce major changes, but the ethos will always be more “art for art’s sake” than the formal impressionism of Miss Jekyll or an homage to Piet Oudolf. Plus ça change!

21 thoughts on “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

  1. Saila

    Your view seems to be spectacular – no wonder that is an important starting point in creating the garden.
    This year I grew a few oriental poppies from seed, it will be interesting to see the flower colours next year – if they flower yet then, and if they survive the winter first. That is always the second big challenge, the first being germination!
    Your garden looks lovely, that profusion of flowers in all colours goes so well with the seaside meadow feel.

    • As a gardener you work with what you have and I suppose the landscape compensates for the climate!
      I struggled with oriental poppies for ages until I tried direct sowing – well just scattering some seed. The firs year wasn’t great, but this year, plants all over the garden! The variety was Papaver somniferum ‘Cherry Glow’ but the seedling are a much darker red with a purple tinge – still a great colour. Lots of seedheads this year so it will be interesting to see what appears next summer.

  2. Liz Morton

    Absolutely beautiful , thank you. It would be wonderful to be sitting on that window seat now & looking out to sea.

    • The view from the window seat is spectacular, particularly on a stormy day.

  3. It really is amazing what you have achieved in such a windswept place. Presumably if anything was foolhardy enough to grow above the height of that wall it would be a different story.

    • Thank you, I just wish it was alittles less anarchic at times, but in this setting it seems to work.
      Anything that gets above 18 inches either has to sway in the wind or be decapitated – natural selection seems the best arbiter on plant choice and location.

  4. Oh yes, that window seat…it triggered a prolonged period of pondering whether to forego the French windows in our back sitting room and have a big picture window instead with our own window seat… Fortunately we/I eventually decided that a full height view was worth hanging on to! Rambunctious maurauding mob?! Certainly a riot of colour despite the mob – that verbena is really striking. Do you know what variety it is? And the lovely shade of oriental poppy?

    • I wish I’d managed to put a window seat in the new house – when w replaced the patio doors I lost and had to settle for book shelves – probably a more practical choice!
      The poppies are seedlings of Papaver somniferum ‘Cherry Glow, a little darker than the original but still very attractive.
      Verbascum – third generation seedlings so the name is lost in the mist of time. Would you like some seed or a seedlings (they seem to transplant ok)?

      • No, I did mean verbena but perhaps they were salvias – the blue/purple spikes in the earlier pictures? I shall reject the offer of verbascum though – have never been able to work up any enthusiasm for them! Thanks anyway

        • Sorry Cathy for creating confusion – the blue spikes are Meadow Clary Salvia pratensis. British native wild flower, likes well drained soil and sunshine, loved by bees. Very easy to grow from seed and will flower repeatedly if you deadhead. I think there are cultivars available – there is quite an attractive pink form. Sorry I didn’t collect any seed this year but it should not be difficult to obtain – try Chilterns.

          • Thanks Christine – I do grow both blue and pink clary sage but they are never as tall or as striking as these. Nature must know best, presumably!

          • Must be the invigorating sea air!

  5. How beautiful – not rambunctious at all! Your visitors must delight in that view across the flowers and out to sea.

  6. Great photo series…It is amazing what can grow with just the smallest bit of kindness and help, love being a gardener.

    • Thank you Charlie. Love is an important ingredient in creating and tending a garden, but I have also to confess to stubborness and a certain amount of expletive deleted muttering under the breath!

  7. It must be a real delight for the visitors to see the view beyond the garden wall as well as both the wild and tamed flowers in the garden… a beautiful setting, and I am always so impressed with what you manage to grow. I am also fond of that anticipation of what will appear next year – the aquilegias definitely, Sweet Williams perhaps, and then always something new too. 🙂

    • Thank you Cathy. I have never grown Sweet Williams, a flower that reminds me of my childhood. As for aquilegias, I wouldn’t be without them, but I really must remove some of them before they swamp everything.

  8. I agree with Jessica from Rusty Duck, I can’t believe what you grow behind those sturdy stone walls…a great achievement!

    • When someone enters the garden for the first time the first reaction is jaw-dropping silence – the view not my exuberant borders.
      Like all gardeners I tend to a bit hyper-critical, but a little peak at the photographs from 5 years ago helps restore my deterimination to continue.

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