Monthly Archives: September 2014

Red wonder

Parthenocissus quinquefolia - Virginia creeper with Clematis vitalba - © Richard Bloom/GAP Photos

Parthenocissus quinquefolia – Virginia creeper with Clematis vitalba – © Richard Bloom/GAP Photos

If you’ve got a large, empty space that needs covering quickly with a climber, try Parthenocissus quinquefolia. Commonly known as Virginia creeper, this native of North America twines itself rampantly up to a height of 15m (50ft) and is ideal for training against a wall, fence or even into the branches of a large tree. It’s so easy going, it will do well in sun or partial shade.

For much of the year, this climber provides a dense foil of green with its large, palmate leaves. It’s attractive enough but not remarkable, and during this time Virginia creeper largely remains in the background as perennials and other flowering plants take centre stage. Its moment of glory come in autumn, when the leaves turn vibrant shades of orange and scarlet as temperatures start to fall.

Apart from its ornamental attributes, this plant is an ideal choice for those wanting to attract wildlife. The clusters of small green flowers that appear in late spring are popular with bees and other pollinating insects, while its black berries are eaten by birds.

Although Virginia creeper is self-clinging, it’s best to give it a helping hand to get started – tie shoots to supports with twine. It does have the potential to take over, so prune this climber annually in late winter or early spring to keep it within bounds.

Glory of grasses

When John and Jennie Makepeace bought Farrs, their eighteenth century honey coloured stone farmhouse in Dorset, they inherited a roughly rectangular shaped, 2-acre piece of land between high walls that was largely laid to lawn and contained very few plants.

According to John, they inherited nothing of interest apart from an old yew hedge in the front garden that had been clipped by the previous owner to resemble a huge steam train. Over the past decade, John, who is a leading furniture designer, has used his creative skills to trim the unusual piece of topiary into a more abstract shape, although it’s still possible to make out its prominent funnel.

Contemporary clipped Yew hedge alongside lawn with bench - Farrs - © Abigail Rex/GAP Photos

Contemporary clipped Yew hedge alongside lawn with bench – Farrs – © Abigail Rex/GAP Photos

Today, the garden in Beaminster, a picturesque village close to Lyme Regis, is spectacular and regularly opens for the National Gardens Scheme. It has been divided into four distinct areas – a formal garden running alongside the driveway at the back of the house, a lawn with topiary and two distinct spaces that reflect each of the couple’s passions; John’s is a structural, contemporary space that’s largely planted with grasses, while Jennie’s is a potager of flowers, fruit and vegetables that sits alongside an outdoor studio filled with knick knacks.

A pair of stainless steel gates lead into the front garden, where you walk under a large Phillyrea latifolia, an evergreen shrub with looks similar to an olive, to a neat lawn that runs around the west facing side of the house – the walls of the building support several choice climbers and wall shrubs, including a red-barked myrtle with heavily scented white flowers and Pileostegia viburnoides, an evergreen from Asia with elegant spear-shaped leaves and clusters of star-shaped flowers.

Pileostegia viburnoides - Climbing hydrangea - Farrs - © Abigail Rex/GAP Photos

Pileostegia viburnoides – Climbing hydrangea – Farrs – © Abigail Rex/GAP Photos

From late summer onwards, Farrs piece de resistance is undoubtedly John’s grass garden. Close to 50 different varieties have been planted together around an irregular shaped pond that’s planted with waterlililes. Towering Stipa gigantea ‘Gold Fontaene’ and host of different miscanthus provide height with their feathery plumes, while Stipa tenuissima, deschampsia and Luzula nivea provide texture at a lower level.

Mixed grasses in autumn including Miscanthus Malepartus and Gracillimus alongside wooden bridge to summerhouse - Farrs - © Abigail Rex/GAP Photos

Mixed grasses in autumn including Miscanthus Malepartus and Gracillimus alongside wooden bridge to summerhouse – Farrs – © Abigail Rex/GAP Photos

There are some gorgeous plant combinations to be found. The fluffy, light brown flowerheads of Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Cassian’s Choice’, which rise above clumps of orange autumn leaves, help to soften clumps of phormiums with their sword-shaped leaves, while the vivid foliage of Imperata cyclindrica ‘Rubra’ provides splashes of bright red among phormiums, cortaderia and Panicum virgatum ‘Rehbraun’.

Cortaderia, Phormium, Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra' and Panicum 'Rehbraun' in autumn border - Farrs, Dorset - © Abigail Rex/GAP Photos

Cortaderia, Phormium, Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’ and Panicum ‘Rehbraun’ in autumn border – Farrs, Dorset – © Abigail Rex/GAP Photos

A curvaceous stone pathway sweeps past the collection of grasses to a secluded, circular patio that shielded from the sun by a shade sail mounted on three large poles. There’s no need to turn round to get back into the garden. Step onto a pink steel bridge clad with strips of oak and you can cross the pond to reach a glass fronted garden room – this is used by John as a place to read or relax and contains a striking sculpture by artist Tony Heywood.

Contemporary red chair on circular patio with sail shade, Miscanthus and Phormium - Farrs - © Abigail Rex/GAP Photos

Contemporary red chair on circular patio with sail shade, Miscanthus and Phormium – Farrs – © Abigail Rex/GAP Photos

Jennie’s part of the garden is nearby. Here, the look is far more informal with a fruit cage built from green oak, a large greenhouse and raised beds planted with an assortment of vegetables. Running along the outside of this part of the garden is a exuberant border planted with rudbeckia, crocosmia, cephalaria, dahlias, cosmos and other flowers that Jennie cuts and displays indoors.

Tucked behind this large productive space is Jennie’s studio, a large building made from straw bales and a timber frame, which is heated by a wood burning stove. Inside is a hammock and items she has collected from her travels over the years, such as fossils, masks and shells.

Smashing pumkins

Pumpkin carved with floral pattern - © Elke Borkowski/GAP Photos

Pumpkin carved with floral pattern – © Elke Borkowski/GAP Photos

Halloween is just around the corner, so it’s time to give the garden a spooky makeover by carving a pumpkin. Large, orange pumpkins are probably the easiest to carve and offer a large surface for your designs, but there’s no reason why other shapes or colour of pumpkins and squash can’t be used.

Nobody knows for sure where the tradition of carving pumpkins originates from, although some believe it started in Ireland in the 19th century, when turnips and beets were given grotesque faces during the Gaelic festival of Samhain. Irish immigrants took the tradition with them to the USA, where pumpkins were originally carved in order to celebrate the harvest season.

When it comes to cutting pumpkins, people often stick to a simple, monstrous face. Yet there’s no reason why you can’t be more ambitious. It’s possible to create all sorts of designs from the outline of a haunted house to a scary spider, or from a flying witch to a floral pattern.

The key is put a design down on paper, then tape it to the outside of the pumpkin. Prick holes around the outline, remove the paper and carve out the design following the dots. Now all you have to do is place a tea light inside and display your masterpiece in a prominent place.