A Tatton show garden in the making: ‘Sleep Well’ a garden for wellbeing


The plants

Last Friday was World Sleep Day! I have it from a reliable source that a representative from the Mental Health Foundation carried a bed onto Hampstead Heath and fully dressed it-presumably to educate the public on the importance of sleep for good health. So I won’t be the only mad fool to install a real bed outdoors in the UK!

Back to sensible issues-choosing the plants for my Sleep Well show garden

Where to begin choosing plants? I have been close to plants all my life; my parents are keen gardeners and used to grow their own fruit and veg. I helped out at Dad’s garden centre when I was a teenager and in my early twenties I spent eleven glorious years working in Plant Biology, UCNW Bangor. I now have an allotment where I grow mostly fruit, including black, red and white currants, raspberries, strawberries and gooseberries to keep daughter #2 in smoothies. It should have been almost impossible to choose plants for the show garden because I just love them. However, because the concept of the garden was clear in my mind, and my garden design training had instilled a set of rules in me, I found plant choice relatively simple (whether I manage to acquire the plants remains to be seen!).

Maisie and I on our allotment

I used the following selection criteria to start the plant list:

1. Create the mood-comforting, calming, dreamlike and scented
2. Choose a limited colour palette to reflect the mood
3. Choose a variety of leaf/flower shapes, textures and heights
4. Ensure year round interest
5. Plants must have a healing/medicinal quality (I have exercised some artistic licence here to allow for grasses)
6. Plants must be happy in full sun and similar soil type

From the RHS Encyclopaedia of Plants and Flowers to a few main plant groups

The process of whittling down a world of plants to very few was similar to playing ‘Guess Who’ but instead of Eric, David and Susan I ended up with Echinacea, Sanguisorba and Salvia! Each plant under consideration from the first plant list was put through further selection criteria:
Player 1 (me): does your plant have bright red flowers?
Player 2 (the selection criteria): No (because I don’t want bright red) – put down all your plants with bright red flowers
Player 1: does your plant have an airy form?
Player 2: yes- keep all plants with an airy form up
At the end of my game I had a number of plants from which I selected a limited number of genera and colours.

Plants were chosen for three main height groups: tall, medium and low. The tall planting should disguise the fencing and over time make the bed look like it had grown from the garden with the plants. Medium and low planting would create ‘cushion’ shapes as well as allow for viewing the garden from the boundaries. Plants of one type will be placed in ‘drifts’ or small groups, next to drifts of complementary types. For example, amongst the ‘Santolina cushions’ would be the ‘airy Sanguisorba’ providing movement; similarly loose airy grasses would be used in the tall sections to complement Salvias. Verbena officinalis planted in the gravel will create a delicious lemony aroma, and Santolinas and Sage will complement this. The colour palette is limited by design to be calming but there is a ‘pop’ of colour from Sanguisorba ‘Tanna’ in the low beds, and Sanguisorba officinalis in the medium beds.

Some of the plants featuring in the show garden. Airy Sanguisorba ‘Tanna’, Santolina ‘cushions’, Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ and Salvia officinalis purparescens.

Keeping designing rules –and breaking them

Where possible I have chosen different species from the same genus for unity in planting: tall and shorter Sanguisorbas and Verbenas. Similarly I have two types of flowering purple ‘spires’ in Salvia ‘Amistad’ and Agastache ‘Black Adder’, two ‘button flowered’ plant types in Santolina and Echinacea buds (or centres if the flowers are open). Variety is important, with the contrasts in form and colour – broad ferny leaves of Artemesia ‘Powys Castle’ and the intricate coral-like leaves of the Santolinas, silver leaves of Santolina and purple of Sage, and the broad flat Fig leaves and slender grasses. It is always good to adhere to a planting plan, but I have a feeling that when I am trying out placing different plants next to each other at the nursery I may be surprised by some unlikely and pleasing associations! In addition, some plants may not be the expected size in July, and some might be in flower instead of bud (I would like Echinaceas in bud for a feeling of newness and future promise), so plant placing might well evolve over June.

Echinacea buds, Santolina ‘button’ flowers and ‘dreaming spires’ of Salvia ‘Amistad’ and Agastache ‘Black Adder’.

Sourcing the plants-the hard bit!

Hard as I tried I could not find Santolina ‘Edward Bowles’ in a decent pot size, which was disappointing as he had looked magnificent in garden blogger Rosemary’s garden when I visited last year [Here’s my garden]. In fact, any Santolinas greater than pot size 5L are not on sale so I will try to create my ‘cushions’ by growing 3 x3L plants together in 10L pots. I have also realised I am never going to find everything in one place and so will be paying several delivery charges.

I needed to decide on a large statement plant and after much deliberation it was between a few Silver Birches, with their ethereal white trunks or some sumptuous full standard Fig trees. After much deliberation and several email correspondences with Tim at Paramount Plants [Paramount Plants], who patiently sent me photos of said trees, I opted for the Figs. Figs wouldn’t get too big for the future garden; they have fabulous leaves and edible fruit (if you’re quick enough to beat the birds). I have a beautiful Fig in my garden and had a bumper harvest last summer, with some for the birds too. My only concern was that standard Fig trees might look too ‘designer’ for my naturalistic/understated planting, but I think they’ll work – we’ll see!

In an attempt to save money (I will talk about budget in another post) I have sown some Verbena ‘Hastata’, Verbena ‘Bonariensis’ and Scabious atropurpurea for weaving into the tall border; I also ordered some plug plants of bronze Fennel, all of these are from Sarah Raven’s beautiful collection [Sarah Raven]. The Scabious germinated in a few days, Verbena ‘Hastata’ after two weeks, but no sign of the Verbena ‘Bonariensis’ yet! I feel I’ve tempted fate by even mentioning them, but if some of them come good and tall I will feel that great elation one does when growing plants from seed.

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Late February 2018: Brrr-it’s cold outside but the seeds are warm


Quite a few friends have asked me how my plants are growing for the show garden and I realised that this must be a common misconception that one would obtain plants big enough for a show garden in one growing season – I wish I could have grown them myself but on this occasion I will need to buy them from nurseries.  For the recipient of the garden I shall create a maintenance plan to outline gardening jobs for the year-although there won’t be much to do aside from sleeping or using the plants for medicinal purposes. Even if you can’t see yourself making a tincture of Echinacea to stimulate your immune system, you would probably enjoy a nice cup of lemon tea or a fresh succulent fig!

I hope my blog has inspired you to think about plants for your own garden. Thank you for reading!

Next time…..the bed and the quilt



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