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Diary of a Cultural Gardener - July 2020

Now it is high summer and in the central part of the garden the perennial grasses have come into their own. In the wind, the planting moves together as one mass, rippling with changing colour.

Our garden has been designed by Tom Stuart-Smith for year-round interest and it is inspired by natural plant communities, where every species has its niche within the yearly cycle. Just as one plant finishes flowering, a different perennial nearby is about to start. Throughout July the vibrant purple of the Salvia has mellowed as the indigo of Perovskia has risen to the fore. Golden seedheads of the perennial grass Stipa have brought cohesion to this dynamic tapestry and they move in the breeze with the motion of a wave across the body of the sea.

Some of our herbaceous perennials are curious personalities, one of the most characterful plants flowering right now is Liatris pycnostachya, which is native to the prairies of North America. Liatris begin with low linear leaves and then they put up a flowering spike nearly as tall as a person. The flowers are striking in their verticality and they look like cat’s tails, sometimes curling about at the end with a living eccentricity. In July the flower spike changes from green to purple and hundreds of tiny flowers open from the top downwards, creating narrow columns of feathery purple. We are still in the garden’s first year and so some Liatris are growing at a curious angle, as the neighbouring perennials have not quite yet established the bulk needed to provide support. These individual Liatris flowers have a very comical character, as their line meanders through the air seeking the vertical. Against our pale concrete paths, they look like lines drawn in space and they remind me of the artist Paul Klee’s famous drawings in his Pedagogical Sketchbook, 1925 and his lovely idea of drawing being ‘An active line taking a walk’.

Liatris is from a family of bold characters for it belongs to Asteraceae, one of the biggest plant-families on earth. This family is also known as the daisy family and includes coneflowers such as Echinacea pallida and Rudbeckia maxima, which are also looking striking in the garden this mont. Coneflowers are true to their name, as they begin and end their flowering process with the central cone. The petals only appear around the edge in the middle phase of the flower’s life, as an advert to attract pollinators. Plants in this family are sometimes called composites and that is because the central cone is actually composed of many tiny flowers. These are little factories of pollen and nectar and are where the seeds will form. The petals, botanically know as ray-florets are bright in colour in order to catch the eye of pollinators, such as bees and hoverflies and to tell them to come and get their sugary reward. In return they transport the pollen to another flower and help the plant to reproduce.

Whilst the garden has been accessible over the last few months, we are delighted that the gallery has now reopened – Wednesdays through to Sundays, so do join us to see the beautiful exhibition of Henry Moore and Bill Brandt‘s work.

Katy Merrington
Cultural Gardener