Week 8: Andover Garden Watch 2020 – a very special spring

The eighth week of watching colour and beauty emerge on each and every day of this surreal spring

Now midway through the season, the early flowering gives way to harbingers of summer. The garden is every shade of green, through which new shapes and colours shyly appear. The roses are on the point of blazing, and the ‘borrowed’ landscape around the river bursts with new foliage, closing gaps and filling spaces.

Sunday 10 May 

Nearly twenty years ago we visited Penelope Hobhouse’s garden at Hadspen, whose beds were organised by colour, laid out by Norie and Sandra Pope. In 2004 when we created our beds in Andover Hadspen’s use of colour was an inspiration, combined with Christopher Lloyd’s joy in contrasts and bright colours at Great Dixter.

Each day this week will focus on one bed in our bijoux garden – with its distinctive colour combinations. Look out for the avant garde: signature roses within the beds

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The garden, conveniently,  has at least six distinct areas.

Monday 11 May : the pink, grey, burgundy bed


The journey from the back door, via the developing cherries, leads to this view:


Forty years ago a dozen alders were planted along the boundary with the industrial estate. Several were felled soon after we arrived, and the removal of four more in 2012 enabled us to create a wide bed (see above) with a reasonable aspect, bounded by the fences on which the mulberry, morello cherry, ceanothus and a dramatic clematis lean. The bed is in the foreground; the remaining alders run S to the river.

As well as the six Pittosporum Tom Thumb shrubs (whose new leaves are lime green)  many of the plants in this bed have these deep reddy purple hues, and even the icy green sedum eventually develop dusky deep pink shades as the summer passes. Above is an as yet unidentified, delicate perennial, joined by clematis and heuchera.

The roses move (clockwise from top left) from increasingly violet, though brilliant reds to the most beautiful old rose-shaped pink while the Sedum Jose Aubergine, the Rosa Rubra and the fascinating Nectaroscordum Siculum or Dioscoridis (NOT an allium!) (clockwise, below) provide the deep grey burgundy tones.

In summer there are cannas:  some brilliant red with bright green foliage; others purple-leaved with orange flames; a sultry peachy pink – all yet to come, just peeping out of their winter mulch; and dahlias – Bishops of Llandalf and Aukland with their purple foliage; a brilliant red lobelia, and cherry red gladioli from Hadspen itself.

We mustn’t forget the silver grey thistles which provide contrast for everything else:



Tuesday 12 May: the shouty yellows and oranges bed


The modest space in front of the shed en route to the river, is a real challenge, with shallow soil baked all day by the sun, under the long-established limes which take both light and water. The Standard bay tree sports new growth, and the variegated box balls struggle with box blight, but their new yellow growth sets the scene.

Notice the precious seedling nasturtiums and poppies in the foreground below!


Spring was announced here by these primroses, cowslips and Brazen Hussey

and the very first early-bird rose, and pale lemon-green hellebores

Now the Euphorbia Mellifora offers some orange

And Rosa Absolutely Fabulous (an irresistible name!) begins to strut her stuff


This is a bed-in-waiting! There will be blousy gladioli in gawdy oranges and yellows; shades of lemon hollyhocks, sunny verbascum and even self-sown fennel, poppies and nasturtiums, all waiting in the wings, with only a solitary pansy, the rosebuds, and modest signs of life in the Dahia David Howard to keep us going

Wednesday 13 May – the ‘fairground’ and the river bank  

The ‘fairground’ plants are a motley collection of box shrubs, many grown from our cuttings and clipped carefully into a range of shapes – and a Taxus Standishii bought at Cranbourne Manor 30 years ago. There’s a slide and three helter-skelters! 

Sisyrinchium and Rosa World Peace continue the yellow theme 

A few steps further towards the river leads to the hard-standing


and then the river bank itself.  Erosion has been halted by using soil dug out for the extension’s foundations in 2011, and stabilised with clumps of campanula already present in the garden. These cover the bank and in full flower, are glorious.

The yellow water irises are playing their part despite being a staple of the water-vole’s diet. (Transgressive allium get everywhere, oblivious to colour theming!)


Thursday 14 May – the blues and white bed 

Here’s the view from the other end of the campanula bank, looking upstream. The Gunnera stands on the ‘diameter’ straight-line boundary of this semi-circular bed.


Not many blues and whites to be seen – yet !


though dramatic foxgloves pave the way


and not far behind, the Geranium Johnson’s Blue begin to emerge

If the sun continues to shine next week will see a transformation….

Friday 15 May – the herb garden and the gravel apron

The triangular herb garden is tucked between the blue and white bed, the garage and the house, and is presided over by a long-suffering standard olive tree and three stout variegated Buxus Elegantissima shrubs, clipped as cones. More foxgloves!


The herbs come and go – tarragon is very elusive – but purple sage, rosemary, chives, thymes, parsley and fennel are staples. Mint has to be ring-fenced – grown in a pot! The haze of nigella is a week away; but the cornflowers have barely germinated.

Alongside it the gravel path travels from the front gate to the white limestone circular table


passing beneath the wisteria, now covered in new leaf growth, its flowers faded, towards the climbing rose Blush Noisette, whose display begins… 


Saturday 16 May 

The small front gravel garden, west-facing, takes much of its inspiration from Beth Chatto’s innovative work with very dry soils near Colchester.


We began with an arrangement of box balls, grasses and yuccas, some of which had to go when we added the Gabriel Ash porch cum greenhouse in 2012. Only the yuccas remain from those days, kept company by allium, Californian poppies and sweetpeas on the obelisk: Euphorbia, beautiful black grass Ophiopogon Nigresens and Hosta Big Daddy in the sentry pot, and an alarmingly large contorted hazel!

The poppies are really annuals, though several plants overwinter each year. Just as well – germination of these self-seeding gems is very hit and miss!. Notice the two distinctive shades of flower; the paler version is a descendant of our first sowing a dozen years ago, and very much my favourite!

The addition of the greenhouse has been a triumph! It serves as a log store, winter shelter for the delicate, a nursery for the newly germinated and a playground for me

Clockwise from top left: beetroot, more sweetcorn (just as well – I lost all 56 plants at the allotment through last Monday’s frost!), peas, fennel and leeks.


These go on and on – and then sow seed, and start all over again – fingers crossed!


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