I’ve never found the space, or more correctly, the context, for small stuff in my garden.
I’d much prefer to be swallowed up in plants, than tiptoe over a carpet of them.
But over the years I’ve accumulated a (fairly short) list of short plants that I’d like to grow. That led to the challenge of creating a context for them – a place where they formed more than just a collection of small plants – where they worked together as a collective whole.
Hence my ‘steppe’ planting. I’d been dreaming up a carpet of apparently self-sown grasses and perennials into which were tickled small bulbs, also distributed to look as self-sown as possible.
The whole thing surged forward late last year in response to 1. The discovery of some pictures that totally captured my vague mental images in Scott and Lauren Ogden’s ‘Plant-Driven Design’, and 2. The request by a client to plant up a shallow old quarry, which required similar massed low-plantings in order to avoid obscuring the appealing contours and exposed rock faces, and 3. The chance discovery of a chink in my procrastination armour.
I can’t claim that my planting has been a wild success, or that I’ve yet started to love it. It’s too early to determine the former, as I’m still planting, but I know for a fact that the location I’ve chosen would work better with plants in the 1.0 – 1.8m range. The annoying thing is I can’t quite determine why this is, and therefore can’t work out if there’s a way I can change the surrounds to make my 25cm deep carpet planting look or feel more comfortable than it does. But I’m sticking with the program until things have matured and the bulbs I’ve planted start to make a reasonable statement. If the context fails to satisfy, I’ll turf (or move) the lot, and replace with taller stuff.
The trouble with low plantings is that you always feel like you’re on them, and never in them. They can only work when surrounding features or plantings create the sense of in-ness. To this end I planted a double row of Italian cypress that I intend to keep at about head-height ie just tall enough to define the space, and give me a vague sense of enclosure, and something that approximates my scale.
Furthermore, I’ve begun to suspect that the space is, paradoxically, too small to do justice to small plants. To get any sense of the pleasing patterns of density and diffusion revealed by self-sowing plants in wild shortgrass prairie or steppe, you really need a lot of room.