Yellow, Purple and White

Clockwise from top left: phlomis tuberosa, rudbekia 'Goldsturm' with white clover, a view of the grass garden with yellow hemerocallis, verbascum chaixii album, panicum virgatum 'Warrior' and santolina rosmarinifolia in the foreground

Before moving here I lived in a suburban ground floor flat. It only had 3 rooms, that flat: one bedroom, a spacious living room with kitchen and a barely enough bathroom but the good thing of it was a 250 squared meters of garden along 3 sides of the building. The garden was the real reason why I choose that place. Soon I got rid of all the lawn and turned it in a gravel garden, placed a wooden deck in the middle, a dining set and a beach umbrella. It felt very cosy and sometimes I still miss that garden, I had more time to enjoy it because it needed less care than this new much bigger one (which is making me dream, though!).

My previous suburban garden

My previous suburban garden

The place was packed with plants of every sort, one each obviously, because I used to be a collector kind of gardener! And I was obsessed with colours: reds and oranges were strictly forbidden, pinks too close to yellows gave me some kind of itching on hands and so on…

Later I changed my mind, with a wider garden full of grasses that somehow dilute strong colours, I started allowing some hot colours in, like the beautiful red and orange heleniums that I now couldn’t give up, and above all I started to play with colours in a more relaxed way. Actually my garden is full of yellow, purple and white, in all their shades and this doesn’t bother me at all.

Clockwise from left: salvia verticillata 'Purple Rain' with tanacetum 'Isla Gold' and some grasses: molinia in the foreground and calamagrostis acutiflora 'Stricta' in the background -  A view of the Grass garden - Stachys 'Hummelo' with forget me not seed heads

I also changed my impulses when I go to a nursery and buy stuff: I am more focused, I know what I want and I know I can’t buy only one plant per type because I often need at least 3. This habit, keeping in mind the budget does not change, drops considerably the number of species I bring home and helps me focus on the original design I had in mind, rather than having me wandering around the garden with a pot in hand. The only exception allowed is maybe in slightly different cultivars of a same species (this is something I’ve learned studying Oudolf’s blueprints): for example you want a small drift of echinaceas? Let’s consider you need at least 8 plants: first of all buy 7 or 9, because odd numbers works better than pairs, then buy maybe 3 shorter, or pinker, or larger, or whatever plants and 5 of another variety. That will give a more natural feeling to the planting, creates movement and shades of colours and will be more relaxing yet interesting for the eyes.

Clockwise from left: white annual salvia of 'Marble Arch' series with eragrostis 'Totnes Burgundy' in the gravel garden - Oenothera about to bloom - Salvia x jamensis 'Navajo' with penstemon 'White bedder' and stipa tenuissima

Another simple yet very important thing that I really learned is to keep space between plants. Yeah, a stupid rule, a very very simple one, that every gardener breaks uncountable times! Considering the adult size of a plant is essential when you place it, this allows the plant to really bulk up quickly and maybe even to selfseed around. And don’t cheat! Don’t use fillers because the ‘that gap is awful and meanwhile I have this annual in hand I don’t know where to put it and ok it could stay here for now’ excuse doesn’t work, the perennial will know you are cheating and will stop growing!

Last but not least, another simple thing, very useful if you work with heavy clay like I do: root washing. Nurseries always use very light and inconsistent soil, they don’t care if it dries out in a matter of seconds: they have irrigation. Nurserymen need to keep their pots light, so they can move stuff easily and they can drop transport costs when they sell plants via mail. They don’t care if the plant survive when you go home. So you take a bucket, you fill it with water, discard the pot and make… an instant ‘coffee’. That will untangle the roots and wash away the ash that nurserymen call soil, wet roots will then mix better with dry garden soil and will recover quicker from the transplant.

These are all the things I have learned lately, not a big deal apparently but I’m seeing big changes in how plants thrive and I am more pleased of my job in the garden.

Clockwise from top left: sedum leaf cuttings (Matrona, Autumn Joy and Xenox) - real proof of the existence of our vegetable garden with paths realised by Ale-the-builder in one afternoon with discarded materials.

Here is next lesson for me to learn: the vegetable garden. First of all I’m giving you real and tangible proof of the existence of our veggie garden, I’m not asking you to squint your eyes or use your fantasy today, I’m offering pictures of tomato plants, eggplants and salads. And believe it or not there also are zucchini plants and cucumbers with already baby zucchini and micro cucumbers, artichokes bulking up and chili peppers doing… well… pretty much nothing but they need more time. Indeed! There was a baby chili attached but some slug ate it… – dear slug, I hope your sticky mouth burn as hell, bitch! –

You can also see the pathways that Ale made from discarded materials (old bricks and plaster pillars, ghosts of the vineyard there used to be here), I love those paths, we don’t have raised beds but we have raised paths instead! 🙂

I also found a very clever way of having free bamboo sticks! Growing it? Oh, no, I don’t grow bamboos, I don’t trust bamboos. The better way to have bamboo sticks for free is to compel a relative or a friend (the only important thing is that they must live far away from you) that growing bamboo is actually the best thing they can do in that spare corner of their sad and ugly garden. Sometimes you pay them a visit and help them getting rid of all those bamboo canes that are growing everywhere – Hell, dad! I told you you should NOT water bamboo! – you might also get a free dinner in change of your help, as well as a load of bamboo canes. Easy, ain’t it?

Above you can also see a picture of some (well a lot actually…) sedum leaf cuttings I made, like Christina did a while ago and she already has her cuttings rooted! The other trays contain some echinaceas self sown around the garden, I want drifts of it, oceans of echinacea, so I’m trying to have them growing faster in a controlled blister with constant water and care.

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36 thoughts on “Yellow, Purple and White

  1. Hi Alberto,

    Beautiful indeed 🙂
    I know exactly what you mean about being a ‘collector’, I think most people are the same, especially when they first start out with gardening and then learn to buy in groupings instead. I know I’ve done the same too previously, mainly because in previous houses we had tiny little paved yards and I had to garden using pots instead. So it’s taken some transition to move to actually planting in borders.

    Good luck with your Echinacea; I never have much luck with them, they just get eaten or disappear but this year so far they’re surviving! (touches wood).

    I’m loving your tip about getting rid of the soil the plants come with in their pots. This is always a massive problem, especially when you end up with pot-bound plants too!

    • Not all the plants like this treatment, there are some plants whose roots you are not supposed to disturb at all (especially if it’s a taproot), but plants bound in their pots will love some fresh air, even you you cut their old roots open.
      I find echinacea a very easy to grow plant, and it’s very pretty, I have never enough of it! Anyway you grow successfully astrantias, so let me be! 🙂

      And about collecting… well that is apparently an animal instinct that all gardeners have, I just try to control the urge most of times…

      • Hi Alberto,

        Haha, Ok I’ll forgive you being able to grow Coneflowers then… Only just though 😉 I’d love to have a swath of E. Pallida… One day… I WILL have one!
        I just seem to have moved on from collecting one plant to collecting lots of the same thing. I’ve countless different Saliva now and just can’t seem to help myself. I need MOREEEEEEE 😀
        Add to that 4 different types of Astrantia, 3 different colours of Verbena Hastata, countless grasses… Hmmm maybe I am still a collector??? 🙂

        • I love salvias too but I need to chose them carefully, most of them don’t overwinter here. As for the verbena hastata… last year I’ve planted a couple of plants and now I am full of self seeded plant, I don’t even know is it a biannual?

  2. The deer ate some of my echinacea this year…bad words come to mind but I won’t say them…I am so impressed with your veg garden…it is wonderful. I hope mine grows as wonderful as yours. I love your lessons too…some I had not considered and will try the root washing. Love your purples!

    • Thanks Donna! Your veggie garden is already better than mine, don’t be silly! You have a lot growing decliciously in there, and you made everything on your own, from seeds, I bought the little plants 1 month ago and just stuck them into the ground!!!

  3. I was just the same when we started the garden here, just had to have one of everything. Now I feel the garden looks so much better when it has drifts of a few plants, I still buy just one plant, but then take cuttings or sow seeds or buy a plant that can be split into 3 or 4! Your veggie garden is coming on so well, you have been busy. Thanks also for the hint about washing off the nursery soil, it also washes off their weeds!

    • That’s right! Sometimes they have some very insidious weeds along with the plants! You are very clever and patient, you seed, divide… I’m not that clever! 😉 I’ve never had the courage of dividing just bought plant, I’m afraid I can kill them.

  4. I haven’t actually wshed plant roots like you but I always sink the pots into a deep container of water (if I’m planting a whole border I use an old bath). I will try washing of the nasty soil of some plants in future, thank you. Your sedum will soon root, some of mine took less than a week. Christina

  5. Ha ha, my dear Alberto,
    You obviously do not have a rabbit problem. When rabbits invade your garden each night, if you left spaces between your plantings they use them as pathways, and munch away to their hearts content. I cannot afford the luxury of gaps and have to remove plants periodically to give others room 🙂 My plantings are dense to stop the rabbits entering, they are always cautious just in case something may be hidden that will eat them (like me)….just teasing with that last comment.
    Of course, what you say is absolutely correct……….and good advise to anyone that does not have a rabbit issue 🙂

    Love your colour combinations, you cetainly know what you want to achieve and I respect that greatly.
    I love to see yellow and purple together……it is one of my favourite colour combinations, along with red and yellow.

    Tku for the advice about bring pots home from the nursery and root washing. I have never tried that but after your recommendation I will certainly try it…………

    Love your blog BTW, probably the most interesting gardening blog I have read for a long time.

    • Oh my goodness, I don’t have rabbits nor deers or other munching creatures in my garden, so I didn’t consider that variable… to be honest this post of mine was intended to be a report of what I learned based on my personal experience rather than a lesson taught to the readers, so take it as it comes, please! Oh my God, maybe someone will kill his plants washing the roots tomorrow and I will be taken away by some SWAT or lawyers… 🙂
      I shouldn’t have complained about my hot flavour lover slug, you have rabbits!

      Your last comment made me blush, I’m just a silly guy with a deep love for his garden.

  6. Hi Alberto
    All your efforts are coming together so well. I ‘m glad you’ve embraced the vivid colors, so nice among the grasses as you note.

    I am surprised that washing a growing plant’s roots is helpful. It seems like a treatment for a dormant plant and I’m surprised it isn’t a shocking set-back to ones that are growing… Also I think bamboo would be a lovely tree-like but grassy element in your garden. I see you have tricked your poor father into taking all the risk, but really the risk isn’t much if you plant in a space that is accessible from all sides and can be cut around with a shovel. My bamboo is years old and has behaved nicely. It is one of my favorite plants and so useful.

    • I know perfectly how you grow bamboo, it looks clever, but I don’t trust bamboos anyway, so I won’t try! I placed a medium bamboo (150cm) in a large iron bucket in the loggia (very far from the ground!) and it’s living well as a secluded. I may plant more as it seems to be the only surviving thing up in the loggia (too dry and shady), I also need to move all my hostas from there! 😦

      Root washing is something you need some courage to make, at least the first time, and I obviously have no scientific proof of what I say but in my soil it seem to work very well.

  7. Had’nt heard that before about washing the light soil off bought in plants…it makes sense though. Love your cheeky way of getting Bamboo. Now who could I convince to grow some…

    • Hahaha, Bridget just keep in mind the first rule: it must be someone living quite far from you, so don’t compel your neighbor or you’ll have bamboo shoots under your kitchen floor in a matter of weeks…

  8. Hi Alberto. That’s very interesting about the root washing. I do it when I’m dividing primulas, as sometimes it is the only way to untangle them – but I don’t like doing it. It definitely sets the plants back, as it is bound to damage the little root hairs that take up the moisture. The other times I do it is when a plant has become full of grass and other weeds. With pot-bound purchases I usually cut straight up two sides, then spread the roots out into wings when planting. But maybe Scottish nurseries use better compost? Also, I only ever dare buy single plants, because in my climate you can’t tell what will survive, so it is better to lose one rather than three or five! You are right about buying uneven numbers. With even numbers it is hard to avoid straight lines. Love the paths! Congrats to Ale.

    • Hi Mr. K! As I wrote to Cheryl, I reported my personal experience, I didn’t mean to teach lessons to anyone, remember you have a very damp soil, I have serious drought problems instead, I think widening the roots helps the plants get more water. Anyway root washing never set my plant back, those echinaceas on my previous post has never been watered since the day I planted them. I do sometimes cut into wings too, when the plant is impossible to untangle.
      I don’t think Scottish nurseries use better soil, aren’t Scottish supposed to be a little greedy? Maybe they don’t use soil at all, instead… 🙂
      Thanks about even and uneven I need to remember that. I thought it was odd and pairs but odd sounded odd… why odd? 🙂

  9. Ciao, I’m Angie from Slovenia, Bovec Garden!! Cà Rossa has become a marvellous garden, I love your gravel garden, and now also the new vegetable garden! I had some problems by using a potting substrate wich wasn’t a light one and with a high percentage of white peat (wich is very expensive), but a cheap soil, with a lot of black peat, very bad drainage, bad air capacity and water retention…If I had a piece of land I would love to grow plants on the ground with real soil, and pot them just for the selling season.

    • Ciao Angie! How’s your project going? I like your website layout! Thank you for you comment and for following me, you should let me know when I could start coming over and buy plants! 😉

  10. Loved all your tips! I am the world’s worst about filling every spot. I know eventually I’ll have to pull out half my plants (my husband doesn’t know). I also love your raised pathways. And I don’t trust bamboo, either. There is some taking over a large area down the street. I should go get some!

    • Yes! You may also give a favour to the land’s owner in taking some of its bamboo sticks! The good thing of bamboo sticks is that they don’t root, I should start use bamboo for shorter staking too, I use willow now, or dogwood, and I have plenty of new plants of them rooted from… sticks! 🙂

  11. Hi Alberto, I will continue to enjoy your wonderful garden images. Unfortunately my eye problem cant cope with the very small text on your blog, Normally holding down ctrl and + sorts it out for me, not on your site unfortunately. I will keep dropping by. Alistair

    • Hey Alistair! I am sorry but please feel free not to read all the bullshit I write, maybe just press the like button if you like, I’ll know you’ve been here and that’s pretty enough to know for me. Be patient, I may change my theme rather soon, I do it rather often… 🙂

  12. Your slug curse is a classic and I’m memorising it. And thanks for not making me have to squint (Long John Silver like), so my eyes are the size of a grain of rice, to see your lovely veg plants. I used to work in a garden centre and many of the plants came from an Italian nursery and yep, the soil in the pots wasn’t good. Indeed, it was, as you say, quite ash like. Never heard of anyone washing it all away before though. You’re like cutting edge, aren’t you Mr A? D

    • Do you think I’m that much borderline? I know everything that comes out from my mouth could sound weird at least but root washing come from far more trusted lips than mine, I am very sorry I can’t reveal my sources or I’m going to be killed though.
      That grain of rice thing really impressed you, didn’t it?
      I have already tasted my fist zucchini and my lettuce by the way. Didn’t know some little vegetables were so easy and quick to get ‘up and running’…

  13. Useful tip about the echinaceas especially because I have uniform seedlings of the same variety growing at the moment. If they survive, I’ll think about adding some variety.
    I’m afraid life’s too short to leave empty spaces, waiting for the plants to fill out.

    I am trying to understand how you love grasses but you don’t like lawns – nothing better than sitting on warm grass having a picnic, surrounded by daisies.

    • A lawn with daisies would be unmown and I’d like it. Unfortunately lawns here in Italy are very different from the English ones and they need a huge amount of maintenance and water.

  14. Ciao Alberto, i tuoi scorci sono molto belli e interessanti.
    Mi piace moltissimo il tuo sentierino dell’orto. Caso mai ne trarrò ispirazione.
    Bisognerebbe essere lì per godere la vista di tutto il tuo giardino che mi sembra abbia fatto grandi progressi.
    E’ intensamente pieno. Mi piace molto. Complimenti.

    • Ciao Loretta! Si è decisamente molto pieno ed sta maturando a ritmi incredibili anche per me che lo vedo tutti i giorni. Ora vediamo perché in questi giorni di ferie sto facendo lavori sulla casa e nn ho tempo per seguire tutte le piante assetate, spero che domani piova come dicono perché qui a Cà Rossa i temporali prendono sempre il largo ultimamente…

  15. Such good advice…I REALLY need to get better at planting things at the correct spacing…it’s my biggest downfall. BTW…what’s that amazing red-tinted grass behind the white salvia in the 4th photo from the top. From the color, I would have assumed Panicum of some sort…but the growth habit looks more like Molinia.

    • Hi Scott. None of the two above indeed. It is a beautiful eragrostis ‘Totnes burgundy’. Very drought resistant with an elegant yet relaxed habit. I’d like to buy more plants but I’ve been told it self seeds around so I’m waiting to see new plants popping up. (I got a panicum with very red tinged tips, you have a similar one and I love it!).

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