In the Pickery, we have cleared away the cut flowers and vegetables, so now is a good time to plan next year’s collection. Memories of good combinations appear sporadically and need to be pinned down onto a sketch before I forget them. Organised people photograph the seasons in their gardens so that they can sit in a warm room in November and plan. I will probably be outside with our head gardener, Tim, working through the position of plants in a very grubby notebook. Later on, the plant list is transferred onto last year’s spreadsheet where supplier’s details and extra notes lurk. This will all come in handy when I order seeds in the New Year .
A key consideration is the performance of last year’s crop. Tulips will need to be moved around to prevent tulip fire and there are increasing signs of virus in other plants. Some of the little things like Gilia tricolor will thrive anywhere well drained while gross feeders like Dahlias need beds filled with compost. Once these thoughts have been talked through then we need to make sure the big plants won’t overshadow the smaller things and that there is a succession of flowers.
Straight lines or small blocks of each variety within much larger beds seem to work best and we like to edge them with a variety of lower growing cutting (or sometimes eating) material: parsley, Linaria, carrots, Gilia or sweet williams. Sweet Williams and Canterbury Bells are biennials so they will need somewhere to grow on for longer than a quick sowing of Cornflowers or Ammi majus. Easy annuals like these need to be carefully sited as they are over by the end of June and will need something coming on behind to fill the gap. Be wary of including bulbs for cutting in a display bed; they are better off in rows near the back where you can use every bloom for arrangements.
One of my favourite combinations is to use large flowered Zinnias through plants that have little architectural structure; Pennisetum villosum or cherry tomatoes perhaps. The beautiful rather rigid flowers grow straight and tall. Grown in isolation they look like lollipops but paced out through floppy foliage they bring the whole scheme to life.