Front door Posted on February 2, 2011

Here’s another of those ‘What sort of gardener are you?’ tests. How do you feel about plants seeding themselves in the gravel of your drive? I mean desirable plants, probably ones you put in the bed by the door or under the windows. One Essex neighbour of ours has the art to perfection. Annie Turner (She lives at Helions Bumpstead, and sometimes opens her immaculate garden for charity) has, to my mind, the world’s most alluring front door. You pick your way to it among plants you long to touch, scattered with artful abandon from under the windows to halfway across the drive. Cars? They take another route.

There are obvious candidates that enjoy the shelter of the wall: cistus (C. Silver Pink for one) and rosemaries, including the marginally tender ones. Euphorbia wulfenii in its best forms is almost too happy here; they need discipline – and echiums, their perfect companions, love the conditions. The variegated Sisyrinchium striatum stands up perkily in its pale fans. Hollyhocks can be overwhelming and block the house windows. Alstroemerias are not advised:
they eventually push up through and flop over everything else. Alliums are hard to control, too. Nerines for October, of course.

The prickly green-and-white-leaved Silybum, the far-spreading fretted leaves of Geranium palmatum (it has survived this winter unscathed), wallflowers in their element, seeded between the bricks and hanging down the wall,. Almost too much of the daisy-froth of Erigeron karvinskianus, some gracefully arching Dierama pulcherrimum …… the tide of twenty different plants flow over the gravel, seeding and rooting. In reality Annie is always editing it; most of the plants will come up with a simple pull (which means giving them to visitors is easy). My latest acquisition (I must be careful what I admire) is a knee-high weeping caryopteris. I called Annie to check a name. What had I forgotten? Only the Corsican hellebores, the white valerian (loved by hummingbird hawkmoths), the Verbena bonariensis, the saffron crocuses, the cerinthes, the pinks, the Daphne odora, the early dwarf irises …….. (you do reach the front door eventually).

I was first attracted to the idea of a drive swamped by seedlings at Keith Steadman’s Wickwar nursery near Chipping Sodbury, many years ago. But then his whole garden was swamped by plants too rampant for their space but too precious to touch. It was hard to find the garden walls themselves. When I let the tide advance too far at Saling I was firmly told that cars (it is a turning circle) have precedence. `Why can’t they share the space?’ was my question. The wheel tracks would look good where they discouraged the tapestry of growth. But I often claim that untidiness is interesting – and don’t always get away with it.

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