• People in Helmsley Walled Garden

July 2018 – Right plant, right place

Happy HeleniumsPretty much all the annuals and dahlias are planted and it’s all hands to the pump to keep on top of the weeding and the deadheading so the displays keep flowering. It is calming down now as everything settles down from spring growth madness into a steady summer beauty. I love walking round the garden first thing, listening to the bees in the border and enjoying the full glory of the colour and scent that abounds in the Garden at this time of year.

I realised I hadn’t spoken before about one of my gardening heroes (there are a few and I will introduce you to them over time). The hero in question is Beth Chatto creator of the Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex and a highly influential plantswoman. Mrs Chatto died in May at the age of 94 after a lifetime of working with plants and creating beautiful gardens reflected in ten successive gold medals at the RHS Chelsea flower show.

She brought a more naturalistic planting style to design promoting an ecological approach using natural plant groupings. Her philosophy was always ‘right plant, right place’ and this is perhaps the greatest lesson she has taught me as a gardener. It sounds so simple now but at the time it was revolutionary. Look at the area you are planting up? What is the soil like? Is it sandy and free draining, or clayey and prone to waterlogging in winter and drying hard as nails in summer? Every plant has a preference and it’s up to us to take heed.

I once spoke to a couple in the Garden who were visiting from Arizona. They took great delight in our roses and bemoaned the fact they could not grow them in Arizona despite trying many times. I felt slightly faint when I thought of what Mrs Chatto would have said; poor roses. Mind, I did feel for the couple as well as it’s very hard when you love a particular plant so much but the conditions in your garden are against you.

The Gravel Garden here was inspired by Beth Chatto’s work at her garden at Elmstead Market near Chelmsford. Mrs Chatto turned their heavily compacted car park into a garden of sweeping curves and relaxed and colourful planting. The ground was given a good dose of organic matter, every plant was given a thorough soaking when it was planted and then covered with a thick mulch of gravel. The premise was brutal; that was all the care they were getting and if they didn’t do they would come out. Nothing has been watered since except by rainfall and it is spectacular.

We have never watered the Gravel Garden since it was planted and it has grown vigorously. It reminds me of two things, the first is just how much water can be lost from bare soil. The other is to always give thought to what you plant, how you plant it and where. Happy gardening.

Tricia Harris July 2018