April at Great Dixter, reprise, for a spring-flowering extravaganza and a lot of inspiration

These images were taken on a visit on the 20th April this year to the gardens at Great Dixter in East Sussex. I had been to the charming and gently planted King John’s Nursery beforehand, and there is some memorable naturalizing of spring bulbs and primroses in the old orchard that is quite superlative. But for bangs for your buck, Great Dixter delivers.

Known for a triumphant fanfare in High Summer and on into late Autumn, I had never been before in the Spring and I was suitably impressed – great swathes of bold planting with tulips, with grand brush strokes of complementary planting – giant fennel, forget-me-nots -more – and dazzling displays of pots in a rich kaleidoscope of colour that we might struggle to recreate at home on this scale, but we can still make a statement with gathered pots like these and bulbs are entirely suitable for container grown life.

The garden structure is of course strong, with good bones and great evergreens as foils for the explosive planting. Pots are grouped together for impact, or used singly, and in more formal groups in larger pots, They are the accent and focus of so many lines of sight. Amongst the open beds and borders, they are used with equal dramatic effect.

The use of dense companion planting, with Myosotis, the annual forget-me-not in blue, white and I think pink, swathes of sweet rocket, Hesperis matrona, mostly in white, purple and white Lunnaria annua, Honesty, and lots of chartreuse green Euphorbias, including the larger spires of E. charcias wulfenii are all key players and in time will help disguise the failing leaves as the bulbs go over and look very much past their best as goodness is taken back into the bulbs. Emerging foliage from spring and summer perennials, such as the hardy geraneum, geums, peonies, campanulas and more will help hide a multitude of going-over foliage. Tapestries too I notice including the marbled glossy dart-like leaves of Arum italicum marmoratum. Huge sleeping dragons formed of nascent Giant Fennel, Ferrula communis, provide an alternative texture and a cool green restfulness from the vibrant tulip displays and shouting cacophony of colour. Though again, these sleeping green plants will be giants in their turn.

Colours are repeated in large groups and ribbons through the underplanting, often with cooler colour receding to accentuate the distance before punctuating the further reaches with a blast of primary red or orange, to play with our sense of distance. Cool colour recede, bright colours forshorten the perceived view but you don’t always have to follow the rules (chuck out, for spring and autumn too, any well-intentioned mentions of the colour wheel).

I’ve a workshop tomorrow at Petersham Nurseries covering all things spring-bulb related, and this refresh has done me the world of good. I’m finishing off a couple more little reprises which will further set the scene I hope, before I put my notes for the talk online, with even more galleries featuring inspirational plant combinations and portraits for February, March, April and May. Bulbtastic, folks….


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