Birth of a Knot Garden

Birth of a knot garden 025My recent inspiration hasn’t translated itself to the keyboard. It took a new project and a day or so of much-needed rain for me to get up the desire to write about what I’ve been doing. My pictures are not exactly sparkling, because the weather was rather dull today (a bit like the photographer). Yesterday I finally began to set out the knot garden I’ve been planning for a couple of years. The box cuttings were taken from my existing box hedges in the garden last June and simply thrust in little bundles into the garden soil of the cold frame. During the heat of summer they had the protection of a small poly tunnel to stop them drying out. I’ve been amazed at how well they’ve done (although still pretty titchy by anyone’s standards). I didn’t have enough to finish my chosen pattern. It’s not – forgive the pun – a ‘true lovers knot’ (click on the link here for images of that design), but a more angled geometric design that I think will suit the site well. I took some pictures from the little balcony of our guest bedroom today and the fact that I had watered the plants in shows the design off perfectly. Birth of a knot garden 029 Now I’m feeling inclined to carry on this year and finish it, by dint of a method that some gardeners have used, but that I originally felt might not work on our hot slopes. In June, since I’ve nothing to lose, I’ve decided to direct-stick cuttings to finish off the little boxy bits in the corners of the design. The pattern below is is how it should look in the end (with a larger central circle). But I’m also going to do cuttings in the cold frame, since I’ve any amount of use for box in the garden. knot garden 1 (2)I’d like to add some topiary shapes, particularly in holly. Infilling? Not sure yet, but we thought originally to use peonies and summer-flowering bulbs with some foliage colour like artemesia, santolina, lavender. I think (like the design itself) it will be ‘make it up as you go along’ – but given that tulip time is just around the corner, I’m feeling intense yearnings tonight. Now that I’ve learnt to handle box blight better – not to mention the fact that a fungicide for amateur use has just been introduced, according to my February issue of The Garden  – I’m allowing box to take hold of my imagination. I knew there was a reason we bought a sixteenth century house … On the other side of the path from the knot garden (which I’m also calling a ‘winter garden’, since in harsh winter weather it may be almost all we see of the garden from the house) is the ‘wild winter/spring’ garden. Birth of a knot garden 031 It’s starting to come together, although I still haven’t enough ground cover to protect the clay soil from harsh summer sun. I’ve planted a silver-foliaged lamium, purple ajuga, epimediums, comfrey, vinca, and so on – I’ll split them up and spread them around. A little Lysimachia nummularia (Creeping Jenny) given me by a friend is very useful, but is already starting to assert itself a little too much. And a nice surprise to find that my ground-cover plantings have all survived a very wet winter. I had fears for the Lamium maculatum ‘Mega White’ (couldn’t get rust-resistant ‘White Nancy’), but it has its toes in now. It’s not that easy to find plants that will take lightly shaded, but still hot, conditions on a heavy clay soil that is either almost too wet to work or dried hard like concrete. I’m also considering bergenias and I have small pots of Mileum effuseum ‘Aureum’ (Bowles’ Golden Grass) and Corydalis solida to plant out. Both came from my mother’s garden in Scotland and, although C. solida is pretty tough, I’m not sure that it will survive my clay … but nothing ventured. In the autumn last year I started to add bulbs to this area. First Narcissus ‘Jet Fire’, which I used to have in my garden in Suffolk. Much-loved by my husband, Nick, who still (rather weirdly) remembers them fondly, although he is not really a ‘plant person’. The trumpet becomes much more orange as the flower matures. Birth of a knot garden 042 Also ‘Peeping Jenny’, presumably deemed to be a kind of mix of the best characteristics of white ‘Jenny’ and old ‘Peeping Tom’. I love ‘Jenny’, who I wanted to add to the Rose Walk this year for her white flowers. I was too late to order and bought this yellow trumpet version instead. A beautifully shaped daffodil. Birth of a knot garden 123 Then there were bluebells (taking liberties, because Hyacinthoides non-scripta is not native to this part of France). The foliage just appearing now. Birth of a knot garden 104 And, yes, Nick – we now have fritillaries! We thought Fritillaria meleagris would be perfect for the ground low down in the garden near the river (we do dream a lot – hence the blog’s name – and Nick and I visited nice wild colonies together in Suffolk). The 15 purchased in 2014 (only 3 have flowered) is my start, hopefully to raise more from seed for eventual naturalising. In the same area are what I now call ‘Beatrix’s anemone’. A dear friend in Basel who visited in 2012 presented me with bags of hostas (all still alive Beatrix!) and this little Anemone nemorosa came along for the ride. Wonderful to have such a plant-rich garden that little sweeties like this hitch a ride when you give something away. Birth of a knot garden 109 This week there was a sleepy bee on one of my Hayloft Plants hellebores, drunk in the warm sunshine (the bee, not the hellebore). Odd that it was a double flower – I thought pollinators didn’t like doubles? Tree Following March 262 Tree Following March 269 It lay inside that flower for such a long time that I thought it was dead, so I nudged it gently. It buzzed drowsily and was gone the next day. The hellebore wasn’t supposed to be double (it’s one of Hayloft’s ‘Pretty Ellen’ series), but I’m charmed regardless. Birth of a knot garden 168 The Rose Walk is at one of its nicest stages, in my opinion. Lots of allium and tulip foliage pushing through. Unfortunately I spent so much on other bulbs last autumn that I’d not really money in the budget to add to my plantings of ‘Queen of the Night’, ‘Sorbet’ and ‘China Pink’. I suspect the display will be rather disappointing, but they should come back again a bit next year after their ‘year off’, since they are amongst the most persistent of tulips. It will be interesting to see how many flowers they have in their second/third years without adding to them, as I originally planned. Further on down the Rose Walk I did add this tulip with the pretty white edge to the leaf, ‘Sweet Impression’. Birth of a knot garden 138 When we first moved here I had many, many bulbs in pots that I had raised from Alpine Garden Society seed. They had followed us from England to Ireland, to here. Many were killed in the first hard winter because I didn’t plunge them properly. The fritillarias and the cyclamen were the saddest loss, but the survivors are sweet, and just starting to flower now. Birth of a knot garden 175 Narcissus pseudonarcissus. I thought this was the Tenby daffodil (N. pseudonarcissus subsp. obvallaris, but it doesn’t look right with those pale-yellow petals. Perhaps simply N. pseudonarcissus, although I can’t imagine why I wanted to grow it from seed. Birth of a knot garden 184 Narcissus bulbocodium – hurrah! The first flower … Birth of a knot garden 201 On the banks right next to the Rose Walk where the hazels live I’ve managed to get foxgloves going as well as Angelica sylvestris and Hesperis matronalis from Hardy Plant Society seed. The last swamped all the roses in their first year, but I’ve persuaded it to migrate onto the slope were it will still partner without threatening. And finally, something else that came in under a different name. This was supposed to be Calamintha nepeta, but is clearly Pulsatilla vulgaris. I’m pleased because I know it did well on the clay of a previous garden and will increase easily from fresh seed. Birth of a knot garden 206

26 thoughts on “Birth of a Knot Garden

  1. johnvic8

    I am excited to see how your knot garden develops. You seem to have just the right spot for it…and to have it visible from the house just makes it more so.

    Reply
  2. bittster

    What a surprise! You have been quite busy this spring and it looks fantastic!
    So may exciting things coming along, so many new beds, and so many new forms to the garden. I love how you are carving it up and enclosing it to make such a comforting retreat. I think one of the best things too is that you can overlook it all so well and really get a feel for the design from up above.
    You are really bringing out the potential of that old garden, and breathing life back into the soil. What a rewarding process it must be!

    Reply
    1. Cathy Post author

      Nice comments Bittster, thanks! The carving up is almost dictated by the many changes in level, but because of the period of the house and the village (Renaissance) it makes complete sense here – to my relief. In a way, I don’t like seeing it all at once (which you do), so I’m trying to ‘hide’ little bits as well. We need sprightly visitors to enjoy it properly though!

      Reply
  3. rusty duck

    I love the knot garden and the glorious spring planting, fritillaries and anemones especially. Good to hear we now have something to use against box blight too. I am planning a low hedge here, box becomes a possibility again.

    Reply
    1. Cathy Post author

      Thanks Jessica for the thumbs up, Jessica – yes, isn’t it great about box! We do get the kind of temperatures here which ought to kill the spores in summer, but it’s not completely working. I clip a lot less than I would otherwise. I think 2013 was the year the blight really arrived in France.

      Reply
    1. Cathy Post author

      Thanks Amy – yes, I’m a bit excited about it. But it will be a few years (and maybe some rejigging) before it really works.

      Reply
  4. Chloris

    Lovely to see how your garden is coming on. I enjoyed the tour. Your box knot garden is very impressive, I love the design.
    I used to garden on clay and found it quite a challenge as it baked solid in Summer but I was able to grow wonderful roses. They seemed to love.

    Reply
    1. Cathy Post author

      Thanks Chloris. Clay is a pain, but at least it’s fertile! Yes – roses would do well here if it weren’t for our resident pests, the voles and the European chafer. So far my poor roses have battled a bit, but it was definitely better last year – here’s to June 2015!

      Reply
  5. pbmgarden

    You must be thrilled to be living and working such lovely, old property. The house and gardens form an inspirational setting. The knot garden design is sure to be enjoyed since you have such a great vantage point to view it. I know you have work to do but hope it rains again so you’ll have time to write and show us your progress this spring. susie

    Reply
    1. Cathy Post author

      It is very beautiful, but the lovely old property does cause some sleepless nights as well – work going on inside and out at the moment and I can barely concentrate to read! Anyway – that’s what change is. I resolve to try harder re blogging – I get so tired!

      Reply
  6. Anna

    What an exciting project Cathy. That ariel view makes it easier to imagine what it will look like when it knits together. Great photo of the bumble bee nestling in the hellebore. What bliss!

    Reply
  7. hoehoegrow

    Your knot garden will be fantastic – such an interesting project for you too. It is a very intricate pattern. We made one in a very simple design and have filled it with David Austin English roses with cosmos in the summer and bulbs in Spring. It seemed to take an age to ‘join up’ though – I was very impatient!

    Reply
    1. Cathy Post author

      Your knot garden sounds lovely. I’m afraid ours wouldn’t really be big enough to fill with roses. But I do have them elsewhere. I think I’m going to get impatient about mine joining up too!

      Reply
  8. Christina

    You’ve chosen a lovely shape for your knot. You might want to read my GBFD post from 22nd April about another devastating problem with box – I think I have lost all mine, but prompt action could help. It is a caterpillar that eats box foliage.

    Reply
    1. Cathy Post author

      I have not been active for a while Christina – thanks for the info about your post. I will look back and read (hopefully not in horror!)

      Reply
  9. gardeninacity

    This is so ambitious, and looks great so far – I’m so impressed. Nice selection of Narcissi! The conditions you are managing are indeed a real challenge. Have you considered hardy Geranium ‘Biokovo’? Or perhaps some daylilies?

    Reply
    1. Cathy Post author

      Thanks! Actually some existing daylilies do extremely well here – I’m not mad about them, but slowly coming round (because they are happy – go with the flow!). I like the yellows very much. I have some G. x cantabrigiensege, though not ‘Biokovo’. It looks lovely – will add to my list!

      Reply

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