I’ve been embracing a kind of experimental spirit I call dynamic planting in my designs for clients and at home for a few years now – and I’m in love with the results and the process.
Dynamic planting doesn’t mean digging with a smile and jazz hands – though that should be encouraged – it’s the way we grow plants in borders. You allow the planting to change and evolve naturally over time rather than sticking to a fixed plan – what some might consider very similar to naturalistic garden design.
Originally I had a little planting plan for my small London patio: each plant had its fixed spot for guaranteed interesting combinations. Over the years, however, I’ve grown a fondness for the plants that change the plan by spreading themselves about, bringing unexpected results. It’s fun because every day holds a new surprise, whether a chance seedling or new flower, and it’s less effort removing unwanted excess plants than you might expect.
Embracing dynamic planting requires forgoing the desire for everything to be “just so” using clippers and constantly weeding, keeping everything in the place you planted it five years ago. Instead, it requires an element of nerve from the outset to let plants go with the flow, allowed to change over time by spreading and seeding, as they would in the wild, managed with a pluck and a tweak.
There’s a mindfulness element to this, too, because it brings us closer to the plants, observing what they do to manage them. This is real gardening, and it’s magical.
女大学生的沙龙:The history of dynamic?planting
Dynamic planting isn’t new. William Robinson, the outspoken late-Victorian garden writer, introduced the concept of wild beauty to gardens from his home, Gravetye Manor in Sussex. Scorning bedding and allowing wilderness in the countryside to creep in and blend with formal borders near the house. Weeds and wild flowers allowed to grow alongside roses and lupins? Sacrilege!
Of course, cottage gardens are really to blame; they embraced and popularised garden chaos. Freer, informal borders filled with self-seeders suit twee thatched cottages more than any other garden, apparently. “How quaint,” we say, to see nettles and foxgloves by their picture postcard front doors, but not in urban settings, that’s unforgivable.
Cottage gardens, as with so many ?garden styles, arose out of functional necessity for food, medicines and herbs.?My grandmother Annie Divine, for instance, was the last crofter alive from her now abandoned village in Northern Ireland, still living off the land?in the last century.
Flowers were simply planted or left to grow close to the home, ?nestled into the landscape that rolled up the hills and down to the?sea.
Over time, the media decided this was a style, with gardeners encouraging and enhancing the look. The likes of Gertrude Jekyll took this to a grand scale in her designs and her home, Munstead Wood, as did Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson at Sissinghurst. Great Dixter in Kent, now headed by Fergus Garrett, embraces dynamic planting too, allowing plants to grow where they wanted, whether through a wall, between paving or on a barn roof.
But it’s really through the work of Nigel Dunnett and James Hitchmough that we have the modern definition: a designed garden or landscape allowed to evolve and change as the plants would in nature.
Dunnett and Hitchmough study plants in their natural habitats to understand how they grow in specific conditions and alongside other plants. Famous examples include the Barbican steppe and the new Grasslands Garden at the Horniman Museum, both in London.
女大学生的沙龙:How to manage dynamic planting
I find dynamic planting largely boils down to a mix of plants that stay put and plants that spread. By designing a garden with tough shrubs or large perennials that stay put (“anchor plants”), you can then allow smaller, less vigorous plants to do as they wish around them. Increase or decrease the number of each type of plant to suit you, and pay attention to how they behave in your soil and climate.
In my own small tropical garden, for anchor plants I use the shrubs Schefflera taiwaniana, S. rhododendrifolia, Buddleja davidii ‘Thia’, grass Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails’, dahlias, and conifers Pinus wallichiana ‘Nana’ and Pinus montezumae. Around these, I allow spreaders, including rhizomatous monardas and ferns, and self-seeding Verbena bonariensis, V. hastata f. rosea, Centaurea cyanus, Geranium robertianum, Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’ and Persicaria orientalis.
I leave all the seedlings and spreading plants until late spring, when I can see what impact they’ll have through summer, before removing excess numbers and any other random intruders I know I don’t want. Importantly, I leave any weed seedlings until I know what they are or they flower to check if they’re visually good or bad volunteers.
Dynamic planting is less about physical effort, more about mental effort. Mind over plant matter. This involves a close relationship with plants growing in your borders from seed to flower and eventual death. Keep things manage?able by starting with one or two spreaders. Observe them closely and how they spread, the rest will fall into place.
女大学生的沙龙:Five anchor plants to stay put
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Flamingo’ – full sun (knollgardens.co.uk)
Euphorbia characias subsp. characias ‘Humpty Dumpty’ – full sun (longacres.co.uk)
Indigofera heterantha – full sun (bluebellnursery.com)
Polystichum setiferum – full shade (plantsforshade.co.uk)
Hydrangea aspera ‘Hot Chocolate’ – part shade (norfolkqualityplants.co.uk)
女大学生的沙龙:Five easy- to-manage spreaders
Thymus serpyllum coccineus – full sun (manorfarmherbs.co.uk)
Nigella damascena ‘Miss Jekyll Alba’ – full sun (sarahraven.com)
Monarda didyma – sun to part shade (farmyardnurseries.co.uk)
Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’ – part shade (claireaustin-hardyplants.co.uk)
Viola odorata – part shade (grovesnurseries.co.uk)