09 August 2013

It Plants: World's Best List

On writing about Derry Watkins and the experience that is Special Plants near Bath recently, I mentioned in passing that she has a floral crystal ball. Seek her and your garden will be hot. The same could be said for Chris Marchant, the fragrant soothsayer from Orchard Dene, but you have to be 'in the trade' to access her wisdom.

I didn't get round to talking about many plants (in the aforementioned post, published by Gardenista) but the following have been linked with one or both of them and once these It Plants have been remarked on, you'll notice them in all the right places.

Above: our reporter goes incognito at Cottesbrooke Hall, Northamptonshire.

Aster divaraticus, spotted at Beth Chatto's last September, comes highly recommended by Chris Marchant. It doesn't get too tall, it doesn't flop, it's a kind of ground cover, it has dark stems and a fresh foliage when other plants are looking a bit haggard. It's an It plant.

Ultimate zeitgeist contender, except that there are two variations. Dianthus carthusianorum, in the Great Dixter-inspired 'Hot Stuff' garden at Hampton Court, is the taller, more magenta one. Dianthus cruentus, dark red and fringed, was pushed into the limelight by Tom Stuart-Smith at Chelsea a few years ago. His new meadow at the Barn Garden (developed with James Hitchmough) is full of it, growing happily out of sand and punctuated with curving grass paths.

Valeriana might test the endurance of tidy gardeners as it self-sows with abandon. But this list has more to do with fashion than tidiness. As seen in the elegant wildflower-strewn Chelsea garden of Sarah Price last year.

Gaura lindheimeri 'Summer Breeze', in Derry Watkins' yard, waiting for the next discerning customer.

Pulsatilla (Pasque flower) grows out of Cotswold chippings at Cottesbrooke Hall and at Beth Chatto's Gravel Garden. The flowers are jolly but the seed heads are what it's all about.

Sanguisorba at Beth Chatto's garden. Looks good with wavy things, thistly things, flowery things. If you love the colour of Knautia macedonica or Cirsum rivulare, choose this; it is more agreeable.

Ladybird poppy (papaver commutatum) in Derry Watkins' garden. Seen at the entrance of Cleve West's Chelsea garden last year, it mingled with Nigella and Geranium 'Bill Wallis', all provided by Orchard Dene.

Verbascum blattaria albiflorum, at Special Plants. A far cry from its cottage garden cousins, and caterpillars, in my experience, are intimidated by it as well. Executive.

Say "species tulip" to any of the taste makers and they'll think of only one: Tulipa sprengeri. The latest to flower, it is worth the wait as the inconspicuous green bud opens to reveal a gorgeous, delicate scarlet. Seen here at Christopher Bradley-Hole's garden at Chelsea this year.

The not-so-humble umbel shows no sign of retiring from the top ten lists. Ammi visnaga is appreciated as much by pollinators as people as are its many variants including orlaya grandiflora. For a perennial version, Chris Marchant says: Go with Silenum wallichianum.

Or, you could forgo the above list and just plant Stipa gigantea, seen waving about at Beth Chatto's Gravel Garden, with anything you like. Honorary mention: Stipa tenuissima. They both hold their own and can give hours of pleasure if you are in a sedentary mood.