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October 2012

Book Bullet: The Layered Garden by David Culp

The Layered Garden by David Culp, pictures by Rob Cardillo. ISBN: 9781604692365lThis review appears in the current issue of Gardens Illustrated

“I do hold it in the royal ordering of gardens, there ought to be gardens for all months in the year, in which, severally, things of beauty may then be in season.” So said Francis Bacon in 1625, a thought presented at the very front of this book.

Of course, this approach depends on having enough space for plantings around the garden which will be at their peak, one by one, as the months pass. Renowned American plantsman David Culp has enough, two acres at Brandywine Cottage west of Philadelphia, and while this idea has influenced his planting he has gone further and in doing so has developed a concept which gardeners with far less space will surely appreciate.

His idea of a layered garden involves not only a physical hierarchy of planting to maximise the commitment to beauty from any one area – shrub above, bulbs above low ground cover perhaps – but also, in the same space, a succession of flowers and foliage from the first glimmers of spring to fall’s fading. Every square inch of garden makes a constant contribution to the beauty of the whole.

In a larger space this approach creates a saturated richness of planting in which, at every season, there are plants and plant combinations in a rolling succession of colour and form and texture. By changing, as the seasons roll by, the predominant colour of different areas excitement peaks at different times, in different places. It’s as if a series of different gardens occupy the one space.

In David’s revelations of how his plantings are created, his excitement is always bubbling just below the surface of his very readable text - and every now and then it breaks right out. Rob Cardillo’s fine photography captures the sweeps of the borders at Brandywine Cottage as well as the intricate detail of individual flowers. British readers should appreciate that the winter climate is much colder than in Britain, but his ideas and approaches are equally valid on both sides of the Atlantic.

David describes himself as an “equal-opportunity seeker of the sublime” and says “my rule for designing a garden is that there are no rules”, an approach which ensures that his plantings, and this book about it, are full of ideas to enrich your garden.

The Layered Garden by David L. Culp is published by Timber Press

  • A tempting recipe for rich, all-season planting
  • His excitement in creating appealing plantings comes right through
  • Very readable text based on intense experience
  • Impressive pictures by Rob Cardillo


With thanks to Gardens Illustrated for permission to post this review on my blog.

Summer's favorite flowers

Calibrachoa Cabaret™ Bright Red and Cabaret™ Deep Yellow. Images ©Ball Colegrave
During its season of summer open days Ball Colegrave, the British branch of the Ball Horticultural Company, invites its visitors (over 2000 this year) to choose their favorite plants from the huge range on display. It’s simple, each visitor marks their choice with a blue flag. The focus is on patio plants and colorful summer annuals, with plenty of perennials as well. At the end of every day the count is made and the flags collected in preparation for the next day’s voting. Then at the end of the season there’s a grand reckoning.

So, which variety came out top? Well, the overall winner for 2012 was Calibrachoa Cabaret™ Bright Red, with Calibrachoa Cabaret™ Deep Yellow in second place (above, click to enlarge). Both these new colors in the Cabaret Series are vivid in color, prolific and have a mounded, semi-trailing habit. They also tolerate cool conditions and being watered with “hard” (alkaline) water better than other calibrachoas.

I have to say, impressive though these were, I didn’t vote for either. My vote went to a geranium (Pelargonium), ‘Angel Eyes Randy’ (below, click to enlarge) which was colorful, prolific and very prettily patterned.

Last year’s top two, by the way, were a very different pairing. The winner was an ornamental grass, Panicum ‘Frosted Explosion’, and the runner up was the foliage begonia ‘Gryphon’.

Geranium (Pelargonium) ‘Angel Eyes Randy’. Image ©

The good, the bad - and the chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemum Igloo Series - No, not Dendranthema. Image ©Blooms of BressinghamBack in 2007, I sounded off here about the American branch of Blooms of Bressingham exhuming the dead body of the name Dendranthema. This was the new name for Chrysanthemum conceived by botanists taking a hard line following the rules of botanical nomenclature. There was an outcry.

The botanists were sent to bed without any supper to consider the error of their ways. And, instead of making them sulky and resentful (as it did me)… it worked! The name Chrysanthemum was restored and Dendranthema was dead and buried for good. Excellent. Or so we thought.

Then Blooms of Bressingham dug up Dendranthema and arbitrarily applied it to hardy garden types of Chrysanthemum, like its own Igloo Series (right, click to enlarge). And they’re still at it. Everyone else, just about, was happy to go back to using the name Chrysanthemum for them all.

Chrysanthemum 'Clara Curtis' - No, this is not a Leucanthemum. Image © (all rights reserved)However… Now there’s a new case of pretending a plant is not a chrysanthemum. One of the largest wholesale horticultural outfits in the world, The Ball Horticultural Company, have decided that ‘Clara Curtis’ (left, click to enlarge), that familiar and dependable hardy garden chrysanthemum - is a Shasta daisy! They list it as Leucanthemum ‘Clara Curtis’. You’d think such a huge company would know about plants. Apparently not.

But I tell you who does know about plants, and their names – Hortax. Hortax is the handy name for the Horticultural Taxonomy Group. This is group of European botanists - independent, but linked to the Royal Horticultural Society - with an enthusiastic interest in the naming of garden plants. They’ve just re-launched their website at, and there you’ll find easy-to-follow explanations of all the worldwide rules that govern the naming of garden plants and plenty more great plant naming info.

Hortax has also launched a forum and anyone around the world with an interest in the names of garden plants can participate in discussions, ask questions, help others, and get advice on plant names from the people who know. I know they'd welcome more participants from outside Europe. And the Hortax members are not the dry-as-dust botanists of long ago, botanists who preferred to lock themselves in herbariums and never set foot in gardens. These are gardeners who are botanists, botanists who are gardeners.

And if The Ball Horticultural Company had checked with Hortax, they would never have decided that ‘Clara Curtis’ was a Shasta daisy. It’s a Chrysanthemum!

Petunias fail at the red, white and blue

Red, white and blue Petunia 'Easy Wave' (right) and Phlox '21st Century' planted in a Union Jack pattern! Images ©
Back in a British summer dominated by the London Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, red-white-and-blue planting schemes - especially in the pattern of the British Union Jack flag - were everywhere and petunias were the favorite plants to use. But a visit to the UK headquarters of the Ball Horticultural Company, Ball Colegrave in Oxfordshire, which always reveals plenty of interesting plants and plant stories, showed how disappointing petunias can be if the weather is poor – and also showed an unexpected plant thriving in a red-white-and-blue flag planting.

On the day I was there, a day of both sunshine and downpour, Petunia ‘Easy Wave Union Flag’ (above, click to elnarge) was a disaster. Not one flower was open on the flag – not one! Not much of a celebration. “Powerful weather tolerance” it says in the catalogue. Hmmm…

But right alongside was a bright and sparkling flag – of annual phlox... Phlox drummondii ‘21st Century’ in the same red-white-and-blue (above, click to elnarge). It looked absolutely wonderful - before, during, and after the rain..

In dependably sunny climates, of course, Wave petunias are splendid. But in less predictable conditions these ‘21st Century’ phlox, the first F1 hybrid annual phlox and new last year, are well worth growing.

Simply Gardening blog - recent posts

Simply Gardening is my blog mainly for British gardeners, hosted by the good people at the fast rising online mail order plant and seed company Simply Seeds and Plants.

Here's what I've been writing about over the last few months. Although the blog is intended for Brits, I'm sure everyone else will also find it interesting.

APRIL 2012

Spice up life with chillis Three Chillis - featured in my Spice up life with chillis blog post(picture right, click to enlarge)

Grow fabulous fuchsias

Grow healthier, tastier, heavy cropping tomatoes

Disease free chrysanths

MAY 2012

New ways with brassicas

Echinaceas transformed
Three heucherellas featured in my blog post - Heucherellas: fantastic foliage for containers and shade
Fuchsias from Chile take the chills

JUNE 2012

Perfect container perennials

Heucherellas: fantastic foliage for containers and shade (picture right, click to enlarge)

Feed the birds – fewer pests

Colourful coreopsis that beat the winter

New styles with favourite perennials

Must-read new memoir by veggie star Joy Larkcom

JULY 2012

Two plants - one attractive plant picture

Marvellous yuccas: myths exposed

‘Blue Heron’: an outstanding spring perennial for shade

Bright summer perennial planting


Hot new pokers

Flowers and foliage combine in spring

The best new perennials

Cabbage all-year-round from one variety

One step success with plant associations

SEPTEMBER 2012 Your best chance of sweet peas like these is to sow in the autumn. Image ©

Daffodils: Best of the old, best of the new

Why sow sweet peas in autumn?
(picture right, click to enlarge)

Heucherella Falls Series: Impressive dual purpose perennials

Forcing hyacinths for early flowers



Petunias in baskets - used well, and not so well

House in Maine with a petunia basket. Image ©GardenPhotos.comThere are two ways to grow petunias in baskets. You can mix them up with other varieties, or you can grow one variety all by itself.

Visiting friends on the coast of Maine recently, right across the street was a house where they’d done a great job with just one basket (left, and at the end, click to enlarge), featuring one variety of petunia, hanging on the front porch. And they’d not chosen one of the Surfinia types, which so often develop long trails which swing in the breeze and can end up looking ragged.

They’d chosen a variety which is shorter and bushier. This one looks to me like British-bred ‘Corona Rose Rim’ (at the end, click to enlarge), now available all over the world. And it made a simple and elegant display in what is, way up on the north east coast of Maine, a harsh climate with wind and mist and salty air and cool temperatures.

The alternative approach is to mix things up, and there are two approaches to creating blends of different varieties: harmony and contrast. Going for harmony creates less of a risk that the White-flowered basket with Petunia, Verbena and Alyssum. Image © colors will just look plain wrong. This planting of three white-flowered varieties (right, click to enlarge) features Petunia ‘Supertunia White’, Lobularia (=Alyssum) ‘Snow Princess’ and Verbena ‘Tukana White’ and it looks gorgeous. It’s one of the many suggested combinations from Proven Winners.

I have to say that home grown baskets of this sort usually have the flowers far less intermingled as home gardeners usually start with fewer, but larger plants than show baskets like this one.

Hanging basket with Petunia, Bidens and Phlox. Image ©ProvenWinners.comThe risk of attempting a basket of contrasting colors is revealed by another Proven Winners combination (left, click to enlarge), this one featuring Petunia ‘Supertunia Mini Purple’, Bidens ‘Peter’s Golden Carpet’ and Phlox ‘Intensia Star Brite’. I think I’d be very disappointed if my basket turned out like this. The colors are all wrong.

So, the most dependable approach is to choose the variety of petunia you like, and whose color works well in your setting, and plant up your basket with just that one variety. I’m sure it will look wonderful – as long as you remember to feed and water regularly. Like this Petunia 'Corona Rose Rim' (below, click to enlarge).

Petunia (probably) 'Corona Rose Rim' in hanging basket. Image ©

Interview with photographer judywhite

Jjudywhite's stellar snapshot of a great spangled fritillary and a Peck's skipper on a purple coneflower appeared in the July issue of Birds & Blooms Extra. Image © (all rights reserved)There's a very interesting new interview with award-winning photographer judywhite over on the Birds & Blooms blog. She talks about the surprising journey from studying cell biology to becoming such an accomplished photographer, and then about another more recent turn from there. She's a great example of "you can do anything if you put your mind to it".

judy also describes the intensity and thinking ahead involved in taking good pictures and shares some advice to which we should all pay attention. And she explains why her name is all one word. It's well worth a look.

Birds and Blooms is a splendid American magazine, the title neatly explains exactly what it's about, and it always features excellent photography.

[Declaration of interest: judywhite is my wife!]