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