The Steppe: Then and Now

Back on the 4th April, I gave a quick run down on my latest bit of trial planting of very low plants.  I almost gave up on it in early spring, when it looked like being overrun with weeds, and I started to move taller stuff in.  But a couple of friends stayed my hand, and insisted I stick to the plan.  I’m glad they did, and that I had the good sense to listen to them.

The original intention was to create a planting of low, fairly consistently domed planting, and to puncture it here and there with something taller that would hover overhead without dominating the moundiness of the low stuff.  As is nearly always the case in Australia, you can’t start with what you’d really like to use.  You’re forced to plant the very limited range of plants available.

Anyway, this is how it looked upon planting (Nov 15)

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And this is how it looks now (Dec 16), with bench and pergola-thing (soon to be draped in great veils of Virginia creeper) added later.

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A heap of things drowned in the winter, including most of the lavender, and several of the Euphorbia ‘Copton Ash’.  Even the best of the latter looked like they were incapable of any sort of a show, but they’ve recovered remarkably, and then flowered with ridiculously unexpected generosity.

I love the moundiness of it, and I’m really pleased with the Stipa gigantea floating overhead.  This is their first year flowering, so they’ll be better next year, and some in key spots didn’t flower at all, so I’m looking forward to achieving the balance I planned for.  In the future there’ll also be white Dierama dancing here and there above the undulating carpet. Can’t wait for that.

I’ve got to admit, however, that in some parts all that purple and lime makes me a little squeamish.  It’s just too contrasty, and borders on the indigestible.  Who’d have ever thought there’d be a complaint about too much colour?  So I’ve planted heaps more Festuca glauca amongst it all, as my favourite bits are where the haze of its straw-coloured flowerheads tones things down a bit.

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I’ve also found that the little sparks of white from the Dianthus cut through the richness of the saturated colours, so I’ll spread a bit more of that around, and maybe add some more white with Triteleia laxa ‘Silver Queen’ and a touch of creamy lemon from Eschscholzia ‘Milkmaid’.

The biggest surprise was the brilliant success of the straight blue Triteleia laxa (used to be Brodiaea laxa ‘Queen Fabiola’). I’ve always found this reliable in flowering, but almost impossible to place effectively.  Its foliage is gone by the time it flowers, so it floats self-consciously above bare soil, as if someone’s pulled the chair out from underneath it and it’s caught – like Wile E Coyote having run over a cliff – in that moment before a fall.  It eventually dawned on me that it really needs to ‘borrow’ foliage from other plants, so I planted it where it would puncture through low grasses and other low perennials.  Its flowers are both physically and visually supported by its companions, and I enjoy it like I’ve never enjoyed it before.

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While this planting has a long way to go, with a few years yet of fine-tuning, I’ve really fallen for it.  A major thanks to those friends who stopped me ripping it all out in frustration in November, and to commenter Rupert, who, when I expressed some doubts in my blog back in April last year advised ‘Patience Gulliver.  Lilliput wasn’t built in a day’.

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