I live with my wife, Clare, in the attractive leafy town of Welwyn Garden City in the county of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom, about 20 miles (30 kilometres) north of London. We have lived here since 1976, but only started more serious work on the garden following my retirement in 1999. Neither of us has had any horticultural training. What we now know about gardening has simply been picked up from reading books, visiting gardens, talking to fellow gardeners – and of course our own gardening experience.
Our suburban garden, close to the town centre and around a third of an acre (or 1300 square metres) in size, is fortunate to have a wonderful natural setting, with its backdrop of mature trees on its northern and western sides, and a more open aspect on its southern side. High hedges give a sense of enclosure as well as privacy. As with most residential gardens, we suspect, our garden has evolved over many years. There has been no overall plan, just a straightforward objective to concentrate on plants, chosen and planted to create a particular effect and atmosphere in the garden. As a deliberate decision on our part, the garden has very little hard landscaping, sculptures or other garden ornamentation. Despite more recent gardening trends we still have a traditional large lawn, for the very good reason – we like it, and of course it sets off the planting extremely well!
There have been two influences on the style of planting. The more important one resulted from a visit in September 2000 to a specialist nursery near Potters Bar, not far way. On display was a wonderful selection of flowering grasses, which swayed and shimmered in the early autumn sunshine. The nursery owner showed me the book “Gardening with Grasses” by Piet Oudolf, the eminent Dutch garden and landscape designer, and introduced me to Oudolf’s naturalistic planting style – also known as prairie planting. This style has become the dominating influence in our garden. In his planting designs Oudolf uses carefully chosen hardy perennials, mostly modern selections of robust wilder looking plants, and grasses. In his larger schemes these are often planted in large blocks or flowing drifts of colour. We have visited many of Oudolf’s gardens in the UK; also, in late summer 2006 we visited his private garden in Hummelo in Holland, which was truly inspiring. Many of his signature plants can now be found in our garden.
The second influence is our travels abroad, particularly to North and South America, Africa and Asia, where it has been exciting to see exotic plants in their natural habitats. Having seen such wonderful plants, we found the urge to grow just a few of them in our garden irresistible. Inevitably, there have been failures as well as surprising successes.
The garden therefore attempts to combine these two influences, hopefully in a way which is harmonious and pleasing – but also consistent with the overall style of the garden and its natural surroundings. The lawn at the rear of the house is surrounded by deep herbaceous borders full of tall perennial plants and grasses, planted in a contemporary naturalistic style. Further from the house behind a tightly clipped conifer hedge the garden has a small scale perennial meadow – and the introduction of more exotic plants, such as rhododendrons, camellias, trachycarpus, astelias, phormiums and a large cordyline. There is also a small cactus and succulent bed. At the far end of the garden under the canopy of mature trees there is a jungle garden containing lush foliage plants such as palms, tree ferns, bananas, bamboos and other unusual less hardy exotics.
We would like to welcome you to our garden. We open the garden every year in late July and every two years in October. In July, you can expect to see the herbaceous borders at their peak, including in particular monarda, echinacea, astilbe, lythrum, perovskia, persicaria – and many more. We also love the very different look of the garden in October, a time when many might consider the garden visiting season to be over. Come along and you will see some late summer flowering plants, but mainly flowering grasses and many interesting seed heads – and of course you will enjoy the lovely autumn colours. No cutting back of perennials until well into January, as the decaying plants continue to provide plenty of interest throughout much of the winter.