Chartreuse And Wine

In the spring, I found myself captivated by a container planting scheme in a magazine.

Container of ferns and grasses by Jacky Mills from Gardens Illustrated May 2016

I was drawn to the effervescent chartreuse foliage, illuminated so beautifully against a dark overgrown background in this container planting presented by Jacky Mills in the May issue of Gardens Illustrated. I loved the contrasting shapes and habits of the ferns, particularly the maidenhair fern spilling down around the edges of the old stone pot, and the sprays of tiny pearl-like flowers erupting from the grass.

I was immediately driven to try and reproduce this scheme in the fifth and last of our patio containers, which was as yet unfilled. Sited closest to the house, this position enjoys the early morning sun before being enveloped by the shadow of the building for much of the day. Ferns and grasses seemed an ideal combination, and I set about trying to source the constituent plants: Dryopteris clintoniana, Melica altissima ‘Alba’ and Adiantum venustum. My enthusiasm was soon met with frustration as I could not find the Melica for sale online at all, nor could I find a single supplier for both the Dryopteris and the Adiantum, and carriage costs made it unfeasible to order these from separate places.

Asplenium trichomanes in container

I was undeterred, however, and quickly tweaked my plant choices to make the scheme my own. Thus it was that a week or so later I took delivery of one Athyrium filix femina ‘Lady in Red’ to form the centrepiece, accompanied by two Melica uniflora ‘Albida’ and three plants of the maidenhair spleenwort, Asplenium trichomanes. I also added in a single specimen of the dusky cranesbill, Geranium phaeum ‘Samobor’.

Container planting of Athyrium filix femina ‘Lady in Red’, Geranium phaem Samobor, Melica uniflora Albida and Asplenium trichomanes

The plants have filled out in the ensuing weeks, and I’m really pleased with their performance throughout the summer. The red stems of the lady fern contrast beautifully with the chartreuse fronds, and are complemented perfectly by the red blushes of the cranesbill leaves, whose large lobed shapes also anchor the more ethereal fronds of the ferns. Earlier in the year wands of Samobor’s dark flowers danced above the container to add further interest, but the foliage is the main focus of this planting. The grasses are still small; glimpses of their linear foliage and sprays of pale flowers add little highlights to the pot which should increase in impact as they grow.

Athyrium filix femina 'Lady In Red' ladyfern foliage with red stems

The planting has evolved somewhat from the original inspiration piece, though retains a similar spirit. Chartreuse remains the starting point, embodied in the fronds of the ladyfern, but the colours have been expanded gently with deeper, bluer tones from the cranesbill and spleenwort, as well as the additional veins and splashes of red; yet still the palette is sufficiently limited to make a restful counterpoint to the rainbow hues which abound in the rest of the garden.

Container planting of Athyrium filix femina ‘Lady in Red’, Geranium phaem Samobor, Melica uniflora Albida and Asplenium trichomanes

Nestled in the corner of our patio, the plants have fared well in the diverse weather conditions that this summer has seen – from droughts to deluges, and with varying winds. This has swiftly become one of my favourite containers, I hope it overwinters happily and continues to flourish next year.



13 thoughts on “Chartreuse And Wine

  1. Inspirational. Want to increase the foliage containers on our terrace next year, I will have similar problems to you in finding the plants I want !

  2. What a beautiful composition and a good story, from the details of stem and leaf right up to the reveal of the whole container. Just shows that garden mags can be a good source of inspiration.

    • Thanks Kate. I’ve never been compelled to follow a ‘planting recipe’ before, however loosely, but I rather fell for the original combination, and now I am even more taken with my own… Seems my subscription is good for something other than just making me drool, ha ha!

  3. [J] I notice your actual background is light – white render it looks like. Are there times of day when this is in shade, but the pot in light, giving it the effect you were originally inspired by?

    • Ah that would be magical to catch the pot in the light while the background was in shadow but if it does happen it’s too fleeting for me to catch yet! As you noticed, the white painted wall that the pot stands against is so reflective of light as to make it unlikely to achieve that wonderful illuminated effect even so, but I’m still pleased with the play of shadows on both plants and wall as the sun moves round.

  4. I remember seeing the same illustration. Your tweaking on the theme is both striking and subtle. You must be delighted with the effect.

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