Gardening: Indulge your passion for natural-style perennials

Informality and harmonious colours are the order of the day with this style of planting.
Informality and harmonious colours are the order of the day with this style of planting.
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The fashion of ‘naturalistic planting’ was a great revelation when I was studying horticulture in the 1990s.

Dutch garden designer and nurseryman Piet Oudolf was a relative newcomer on the scene of UK gardening, and this ‘new’ style was very different from the 1970s gardens of crazy paving and shrubbery that I had grown up with in the suburbs of London.

The wonderful informality and textural elements of his gardens was like having a landscaped ‘Monet’- the blurred lines of the planting, harmonious colour-wheels inspired me to learn and experiment with plants in this ‘natural style’.

The main borders at Harlow Carr are my naturalistic perennial passion; and through every year I have my star-performers that make the season so long and gloriously gratifying – firmly into autumn 2014 the Sanguisorbas and Persicarias are displaying their slice of stardom in the flower beds at the moment.

Sanguisorbas historically were a medicinal plant, used to treat gastrointestinal problems, the name deriving from the Latin, sanguis (blood) and sorbeo (to soak up). Commonly called burnet, it is one of our native wild flowers, however it is the showier species are used to provide splashes of colour and height in the perennial borders.

All Sanguisorbas need fertile, moist soil to flower well, and in full sun or semi-shade for the best effect.

Nestling alongside the Sanguisorbas are the other star performers of the borders - Periscarias. They all come with long spikes clustered with fluffy, red or orange flowers rising from mid-summer to early autumn above semi-evergreen, lance-shaped, mid-green leaves. Clump-forming and vigorous this perennial has handsome foliage and quickly makes dense groundcover in sun or partial shade. The flowers are bountiful and dazzling shades of dark red/orange, P. ‘Firetail’, ‘Firedance’ and ‘Taurus’, are some firm favourites in the main borders, All persicarias team well with the umbels and daisy flowers, the larger leaved cultivars needing space; left unchecked they expand quickly needing to be divided every 2/3 years. They love moist soil and are great for those difficult wetter areas of your garden. They do come into leaf surprisingly late into the season; this year it was the 2nd week in June before I was sure they still lived! Plant them in bold swathes to add vertical interest in the borders right through summer till autumn, and then the bonus of interesting seed heads into winter which the foraging birds adore.

The joy of naturalistic planting schemes is the wonderful diversity of the plants you can use to have a glorious display of colour, texture and interest all year round with minimal maintenance – but this autumn its hats off the Sanguisorbas and Persicarias who are now starring in a garden near you.

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