Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Plants Are People, Too; Pattie Barron Discovers the Good, the Bad and the Ugly Personalities That Populate a Garden Border Homes & Property

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Plants Are People, Too; Pattie Barron Discovers the Good, the Bad and the Ugly Personalities That Populate a Garden Border Homes & Property

Article excerpt

Byline: PATTIE BARRON

EVERY crowd has its characters: the attention-grabbers who just have to be centre stage; the shy, blushing types who keep their heads down; the pushy brigade who probably weren't invited in the first place but to help make the party go with a swing. Just like the best bashes, every border needs an interesting mix of diverse players that clash and complement one another.

Grouping plants by personality, rather than botanical families, is an informative way of rating their contribution to the border, as well as a helpful means of setting them in the memory.

Character traits - be they aggressive, uncomplaining, temperamental - are as valuable as height, habit and flower colour when choosing which plant to grow. And by understanding the quirks and eccentricities of each plant, we can give them the conditions in which they thrive.

This is the fun and worthwhile theory behind notable plantswoman Carol Klein's book, Plant Personalities (Cassell Illustrated, [pounds sterling]20), with delectable portraits by Jonathan Buckley. Klein assembles an extensive cast of favourites, from A-list divas, such as the thrilling Canna Durban and brazen Crocosmia Flamethrower, to prickly customers such as the Mediterranean thistle Galactites tomentosa and wire-wool bush Artemesia alba Canescens.

All gardens need their share of what Klein whimsily calls will-o'-the-wisps and wafty whisperers - for these can introduce magic.

"Whether it is groups of grasses deliberately designed to introduce lilting rhythms, or the selfsown fuzz of fennel or nigella, levity, movement and music can help prevent any garden taking itself too seriously."

Love-in-a-mist is one of the frothiest in her armoury, and makes the surrounding planting appear to float. Would tulips look so substantial, she argues, without the low-lying mist of forgetmenots swirling about them? Other frothy assets to include in the border are diaphanous Gaura lindheimeri, with fine, wiry stems and flowers like ice-pink fluttering butterflies, and perennial Omphalodes cappadocica Starry Eyes, with dimpled, stripy lavender flowers, invaluable for softening border edges in shady sites. The super-swishy plumes of pampas grass Cortaderia respond to every whisper of the autumn wind, but instead of isolating it as usual, Klein suggests integrating it into beds and borders.

Soft touches - irresistibly tactile, textural plants - make inviting additions. The furry, silver leaves of Stachys byzantina and the huge, felty foliage rosettes and woolly spires of Verbascum bombyciferum are chief players in Klein's sensually rich category.

Pasque flower Pulsatilla vulgaris is a strokeable third, needing poor conditions to bring out its deliciously silvery sheen.

Make sure you include a scattering of intricate plants from the band of dainty and detailed to focus the eye at the front of the border, or anywhere you can admire them at close quarters. …

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