Seedheads, Skeletons, and Structure.


The wonderful Piet Oudolf and the dutch perennial new wave have changed the way that we garden. It used to be that designers and landscapers looked for structure from evergreens, topiary, hedging and trees… Now dead perennials and grasses have been introduced into the mix.

I left the chalk slope meadow this year because the seed heads were too beautiful to cut. Particularly the carrot and poppy.


In the best perennials the structure of the plant and its shape becomes distilled in its seed head…. There are many cottage garden favourites that don’t die very well – they flop, or rot, or disintegrate… But there are many that retain a wonderful profile and becoming a majestic winter silhouette.

The naturalistic style of my garden and its aspect – looking out onto rolling countryside – does not lend itself to topiary or large blocks of evergreen formality. To much intervention looks false and unnatural. This is a garden in which I would like to push the boundaries of informality and loose naturalism to their limit.

When I designed the front entrance border (a cold, north-facing, free-draining wind-tunnel) I  gave myself the brief of “winter silhouette and warmth”. I wanted a planting that embraced as soon as you drove into the drive and that retained its shape as it would be backlit throughout the winter monthsimg_2744

It isn’t quite right yet. The Deschampsia cespitosa has enjoyed itself a little to much and the dark seed heads of Echinacea, Rudbeckia, and Sanguisorba are getting a little lost in the density of gold seed head… Which is beautiful in its own right.

But there are combinations that are working:

The gnarled mulitstemmed Amelanchier in a cloud of Deschampsia:img_2702

The dark sombre spires of Digitalis ferrunginea – a brilliant perennial foxglove, monarda, and echinacea pallida. img_2787

In the gravel garden the structure combinations have been slightly more successful. Here the tawny-gold, orange, black and silvered seed heads of largely light airy and “transparent” plants contrast with the evergreen mounds and hummocks of Euphorbia, Myrtle, Cistus, Lavender and Rosemary.

My top winter seed heads are as follows…

Fennel; Allium sphaerocephalon; Allium hollandicum; Eryngium; Digitalis ferruginea; Phlomis; Cardoon; Sedum; Succisa pratensis; Echinacea pallida; Sanguisorba; and Rudbeckia ‘Henry Eilers’

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Nevertheless the seedheads need a foil: a backdrop of lightness  that is provided by the grasses: Deschampsia cespotosia; Anemanthele lessoniana; Stipa gigantea and Stipa tennuisima.

In the Autumn we have always had flocks of finches, red wings, and tits visiting the garden to feed on the teasel heads that are left in the meadow or the hawthorns and crab apples… Now they come in great chattering congregations to the gravel border… Alliums get picked apart by blue tits… The Evening primrose is the dunnock’s favourite….the goldfinches like the Cardoon… and the pheasants just sit on the table looking resplendent (if slightly silly).






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