Magazine article The Spectator

Banish the Old Attitudes

Magazine article The Spectator

Banish the Old Attitudes

Article excerpt

If you go to Chelsea Flower Show next week, you will see 'gardens' representing every style from Mogul to Moroccan, from Provencal to Cotswold, not to mention gardens for children, the elderly, the scented and the just plain fanciful. These show gardens will be monuments to the infinite capacity we British have for taking pains, especially over our hobbies. What you will not find are many examples of 'matrix' or 'ecological' planting. Yet, if we gardeners (and not just Chelsea exhibitors) are not to buckle under the strain of gardening in ways which have become too onerous, then we should at least take notice of it.

'Matrix' planting is the term Peter Thompson (a garden writer and erstwhile nurseryman and Kew plant physiologist) uses to describe the system whereby plants are encouraged to grow into self-sustaining, almost labour-free garden communities. The approach is intended to mimic the way that plants grow together in nature, but is by no means restricted to British native wild flowers and trees. The idea is that plants, whatever their origin, should be grown where they naturally like to grow, in large groups which intermingle, so that ultimately there is no bare earth for rampageous 'weeds', such as nettles, to colonise. The aim is to reproduce the same elements of `order, predictability, persistence and stability' in garden communities as are found (usually) in nature. It means using more plants, but of far fewer varieties, and intervening only to remove the odd perennial weed or too dominant plant.

His idea has close affinities with German 'ecological' planting (which has gained favour in this country in recent years and will be represented at Chelsea by a flower meadow in the Daily Telegraph's `Latin Garden') whereby hardy perennials are chosen for there suitability to the soil and situation, and their compatibility with each other, rather than for their colour relationships. Decorative grasses are often important elements, used to form a weedsmothering and unifying 'matrix'.

In Thompson's version, however, trees and shrubs as well as hardy perennials, are employed. In fact, he believes that, in this country at least, the approach works best in woodland or semi-woodland situations, i.e. 'shade' or `partial shade', rather than `full sun'. This is because our winters are warmer and summers cooler and wetter than those on mainland Europe, conditions which can favour the rapid growth of weedy, undesirable grass species here. …

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