When Margaret Nettlefold planned the garden at Winterbourne, daughter Valerie revealed that her mother ‘lived with gardening books for a year or so’. Here, the influence of Gertrude Jekyll is inescapable. Winterbourne is filled with Jekyllian detail inspired by her 1899 classic Wood and Garden. Each month, we follow in Margaret’s footsteps to see how the garden compares now and then…
“By the middle of August the garden assumes a character distinctly autumnal. Much of its beauty now depends on the many non-hardy plants, such as Gladiolus, Canna, and Dahlia, on Tritomas of doubtful hardiness, and on half-hardy annuals…” Gertrude Jekyll, Wood and Garden, 1899
This year we have begun to re-invigorate the Red and Yellow Border using a range of half-hardy perennials and annuals. The Red and Yellow Border, situated on the Lower Lawn opposite the Pergola, is a typical Arts and Crafts feature composed of colour harmonised planting, peaking in June and July.
Using half-hardy plants (many of which flower into August, September, and even warm Octobers) will allow us to breathe new life and colour into the border much later in the year. The use of half-hardy annuals in particular, which are removed at the end of the year after flowering, gives licence for experimentation. New additions can be introduced each spring so there will always be different combinations to see year after year.
Preparations began in autumn when congested hardy-perennials were divided to make room for their more exotic counterparts. Aided by our dedicated team of volunteers, the Garden Team set to work dividing large swathes of Inula hookeri that had grown to dominate either end of the border. The ground was then improved with compost before smaller clumps of Inula were re-planted, leaving room for new neighbours to join them in the spring.
The largest planting pockets were reserved for Dahlia ‘Bishop of Auckland’, a deep maroon flowered dahlia with deeply divided, purple-leaved foliage providing colour long before the plants begin to bloom. Originally planted in pots on the Tea Room Terrace (and moved under glass in the winter), they will now be permanently planted in the Red and Yellow Border, and mulched heavily at the end of the season to help them survive the winter.
“There is a wall of sandstone backing the border, also planted in relation to the colour-massing in the front space. This gives a quiet background of handsome foliage, with always in the flower season, some show of colour in one part or another of its length.” Gertrude Jekyll, Wood and Garden, 1899
To compliment the purple and red tones of the dahlias we have planted the dramatic Ricinus communis. Also known as the castor oil plant, this rapid-growing tropical shrub is grown as an annual in the UK. It produces huge palmately lobed bronze-red leaves and panicles of flowers that mature into spiny, bright-red capsules, before seeds are formed. Dramatic in more ways than one – these seeds contain the deadly poison ricin and have been used in a number of infamous assassinations.
Other half-hardy annuals such as Rudbeckia hirta ‘Cherry Brandy’ were chosen on the strength of their flowers alone. Another late-season bloomer, this particular Rudbeckia is grown for its masses of daisy-like flowers with dusky-crimson petals surrounding a large, black central disc. They are easily grown from seed and with regular deadheading will flower for up to four months providing a ready supply of cut flowers for the house.
But not everything has been successful. The Rudbeckia flowers have proved only unreliably crimson, producing a number of orange flowers as well as red, and many tones in between. The trailing Nasturtium ‘Empress of India’ also failed to establish in this summer’s drought and was soon overwhelmed by black fly as a result.
The whole length of the border is backed by a mature row of Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’ (an upright form of yew) planted atop a loose, dry-stone wall, retaining earth where the garden is terraced as the ground falls away from the House. These yews are interplanted with part of our National Collection of Perennial Anthemis whose mostly yellow flowers fit with the red and yellow theme. However, some self-seeded plants allowed to mature in the Red and Yellow border below have emerged with stark-white flowers. These must now be removed in order to maintain the hot harmonised colour scheme.
“It is important in such a border of rather large size, that can be seen from a good space of lawn, to keep the flowers in rather large masses of colour. No one who has ever done it, or seen it done, will go back to the old sprinkle of colouring without any thought of arrangement…” Gertrude Jekyll, Wood and Garden, 1899
Plans are already underway to make further improvements again next year. To assist the planning process, volunteer photographer Maggie Bucknall has been tasked with photographing the border in flower from various different angles. This will help to jog the memory when everything disappears beneath the ground for winter, and will allow us to assess the merit of the borders design as it is seen from somebody else’s perspective.
This autumn we will continue removing tired and congested perennials. More Ricinus will be grown and planted in bigger open spaces (we’ve found they struggle to out-compete some of their more established neighbours). New dahlia cultivars will also be introduced, and previously untried plants, such as the red-leaved grass Pennisetum, will be trialled as replacements for this year’s selections that have failed.
Of particular concern is how the border combines with other already established borders in the garden. The Red and Yellow Border is rarely viewed in isolation. Instead, most visitors will view it from some distance away, looking across the Lower Lawn, and meaning that the cool purples and whites of the adjacent Ovid’s Garden form a part of the same singular picture.
With this in mind, the purple beech hedge behind Ovid’s Garden plays an important role. Its dark-purple foliage provides the perfect foil for cool colours, but it also complements the hot colours of the Red and Yellow Border as well. More purple and red leaved foliage plants like Ricinus will be chosen and planted to reflect this tonal palette, and weave a common thread through two otherwise unrelated colour schemes.