Seeds of Romance

PUBLISHED: 18:26 25 June 2009 | UPDATED: 16:05 20 February 2013

Glorious gardens

Glorious gardens

'Do it yourself' - that's the message that garden designer Arne Maynard gives to some of his favourite flowers and herbs

One of the most difficult things to create in a garden when it is new is the look that I love, that of a garden which has lots of self-seeded flowers and herbs. These self-seeders give the garden a casual and romantic air, softening the architectural lines of our design work and creating the feeling that the garden has been established for many years.

I would like to guide you through some simple approaches on how to use self-seeders, which plants to use and where to use them.

Last week at Allt-y-bela, I finished planting the roses and perennial plants alongside my kitchen garden. Some of my favourite plants have been included - Astrantia 'Claret', Sanguisorba officinalis 'Tanna', Salvia 'Purple Rain' and 'Amethyst', Lupinus 'Masterpiece' and other dark coloured perennials and roses. These have provided the bulk of the planting, but now I need to add into this a scheme of self-seeders. Self-seeders help to tie all of the plants together and link different parts of the garden. I sometimes like to call this my 'undercoat planting'. These are plants that are often seen in established gardens in various locations such as in formal parterres, herbaceous borders, rose gardens, within the kitchen garden and perhaps seeded into the paths and terraces. They form a lovely soft tapestry that nature has created over time, which helps to pull the whole garden together. In an old garden, which has been gardened for years and years there is a calmness. If we look carefully at these gardens you will notice a couple of plants that keep appearing throughout. A perfect example of such a plant is Alchemilla mollis. You can often find this self-seeded in the herbaceous borders, spilling over and growing out of brickwork or from chipping paths. It may also appear growing from joints in garden steps or between large flagstones on a terrace. Seeing this plant in all these different environments gives the feeling that the garden is old and mature and nature has had a hand in its order.
Going back to my newly planted border of rich clarets and burgundies, I will now use self-seeders to add a little more drama or even to soften the colour palette of my new border. However, when choosing the self-seeders I will need to consider all of the garden areas that need to have this treatment. I want particular areas to 'hold hands' with each other and these will include my terrace, steps, chipping paths, wildflower lawns, herb garden and kitchen garden. The first thing to consider is how many varieties of plants to use. My preference is to keep to only a limited number of varieties. The plants that I use need to feel at home and be able to grow in all mediums - border, paths and terraces.

The first plant I will use will be fine growing in all three of these mediums - Origanum vulgaris. I love the simplicity and honesty of this plant, which has a musky herb fragrance when you brush against it. This wonderful scent helps to create a unique atmosphere within the garden. The second plant will be Verbascum 'Helen Johnson', which will be mainly planted into the borders and a few growing from the limestone chipping paths and flagstone terrace. I would also like to use foxgloves (Digitalis). There are quite a few varieties to choose from but as we are surrounded by woodland, I will use Digitalis purpurea 'Apricot Beauty'. Bulbs will also form part of my self-seeded look, particularly alliums. I will use Alllium sphaerocephalon, a dark bobbing variety, which is plum-shaped and coloured, with flowers that float above its narrow leaves.

The dark opium poppy (Papaver somniferum 'Black Beauty') with its black flowers and grey silver leaves will add drama and excitement and Dianthus 'Cheddar Pink' will add colour to the edges of my borders, in the chipping paths and to the gaps of the stone terrace. Finally, Geranium phaeum will be added to my wildflower lawn, borders, terrace and a few coming out of the paths.

Now that I have put together my list of plants, once I have calculated numbers, I will place them in the various areas. For the borders I will require about three per square metre. It is probably easiest to measure the area that you have and calculate the number of plants required before deciding on the proportion of each variety you want. Once you have your plants there is no science to the distribution of plants. I like to place them in areas where there could be gaps. Sometimes close together and other times quite sparse, it helps to think of the way birds might drop seeds or the wind would blow

When planting self-seeders in paths of limestone chippings, I plant them along the edges allowing them to spill into the middle. They should not be placed along the entire length, but dotted so that they look as if the gardener missed them when weeding. When using self-seeders on terraces, you can either buy or propagate in plug trays so they are smaller and easier to plant in restricted areas, such as the gaps between flagstones. Plugs can also be used with great success in chipping paths and wild flower lawns.

Once these self-seeders have established in the various parts of your garden they will in the future perform naturally, seeding in the most unexpected and exciting places, softening and ageing your garden.

Arne is running a 'Creating a Sense of Place' course on Tuesday 22nd and Wednesday 23rd September at Allt-y-bela, near Usk in Monmouthshire. It is one in a series of year-round garden courses. To find out more or to book a place, visit or telephone 020 7689 8100.

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