Gardening: Mediterranean border a riot of glorious blooms

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I have been very excited by the Mediterranean border in recent weeks, as it’s suddenly become a riot of colour! This border was only created a couple of years ago, after an insightful trip to RHS Garden Wisley, and is now coming into its own.

I visited RHS Garden Wisley in July 2012 to spend a week working with the team. The Mediterranean Border at Wisley is quite spectacular; it’s the longest in the country to be divided into regions representing the world’s five Mediterranean climatic areas. Beneath it a splendid Mediterranean flower meadow mixed with olive trees - an explosion of colours and texture. A must see! The project covers a vast area but is dotted with interpretation boards that highlight some of the plant collections. The latest entry is the introduction of an almost 200-year-old olive tree, which is located in the Mediterranean basin walk.

The walk covers Californian and southern African landscapes too, but just before reaching the Chilean section you will come across one of the finest collections of succulent plants growing outdoors in England. Some of them are great for containers such as Dasylirion acrotrichum or green desert spoon and Yucca rostrata, sometimes called beaked yucca. Others, like Lampranthus brownii with orange, daisy-like flowers in summer and Sedum cauticola ‘Coca-Cola’ with blue grey foliage that darkens with age and bright pink flowers, are good for hanging baskets. This succulent section is given winter protection to help save it from the harsh winter weather, so something to bear in mind if you try growing these at home.  

I also spent some time with Heather Cooke, who was busy collecting seed at the time. What resulted was her giving me a selection of colourful seed which I set forth to sow, and thus starting our own med border!

Last year there were glimpses of glorious technicolor, but this year is full-on dazzlement (is that a word?). There are some Oenothera fruticosa subsp. glauca which you need sunglasses to look at. These are interspersed with the shocking pink Dianthus carthusianorum, and how shocking it is. Not to be outdone is Echium vulgare, a beautiful blue and pink hue, and Stipa tenuissima grasses waving gracefully in the wind.

In between all that is a diminutive little penstemon, a more muted orange-red – not colours you’d wear together but they work in the garden, and the public think so too as they are constantly asking about them.

The icing on the cake however is the statuesque Onopordum acanthium (Scotch thistle to us) which is actually a biennial, but once established, self-seeds freely. Its silver spiky leaves are easily standing over one and a half metres (five feet) high and I have been delighted by it popping out its first beautiful purple floret, perfectly formed and instantly adored by many insects. I am as proud as punch and can’t wait for more.

FLOWER POWER: Spring colour from Bergenia cordifolia.

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