Taking Inspiration from Nature


I have recently been to the Dolomites, an area deservedly known for its wild flowers. In June and July the alpine meadows are awash with flowers before they are cut for hay. It is a great source of inspiration, as the plant combinations that form so naturally are invariably stunning to behold.

There may be a mass of primarily one plant such as the Ragged Robin interspersed with Cotton Grass growing in the damp meadow above. Or more often a combination of plants – delicate mauve Campanulas combining with the pink spikes of Orchids, or a vibrant combination of deep purple Horminum, rich orange Hawksbeard, and bright yellow Kidney Vetch. Whatever the colour palette and whatever the stature of the plants, they all achieve a cohesion often missing in gardens where it seems all too easy to either be too fussy and include too much variety, or go to the other extreme and just end up being boring. Repetition is certainly a key ingredient – use enough of a plant and even an apparently clashing combination (pink and yellow is a classic one that we often think doesn’t work) is given a confidence that makes it successful.

Higher up in the mountains the plants become much smaller as they hunker down amongst the rocks. Here diminutive delicate looking gems such as the fabled King of the Alps grow (photo below). This is my favourite habitat but at first sight maybe not as useful inspiration from a garden design perspective. But there is a useful lesson here too – on one ridge in particular there was a complete mixture of different tiny alpines scattered across the dark inhospitable looking volcanic rock, and yet the overall effect was still strong. This is because they all share the characteristics that enable them to grow in this environment – in that particular case, low mounds of small leaves.

When you combine plants that clearly belong together in Nature, you will have a successful planting scheme.


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This post was written by Christine Whatley on July 29, 2016 4:26 pm

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