Not long after I’d finished the hard-landscaping of the top patio and was starting to put the finishing touches to the container planting area,1 scaffolders moved in and the courtyard garden looked more like a yard sale. A few weeks later the painters finally arrived to revamp the external features of the building and now it is only a case of waiting for scaffolders to come and remove their structures so that I can return to do some gardening here. The time gap has been immensely frustrating and inconvenient at this, the height of the growing season.
I have managed to scramble between the debris to rescue plants and even water where necessary (which given the amount of rainfall proves how much container plants still need a direct, regular dosing). Just as importantly I also procured a few shots of the plants I want to include for the ‘Dozen for Diana’ courtyard garden meme. With all the construction turmoil, I’d missed last month and so this is a longer than usual 2-plant feature:
Plant #5: A native wildflower is hardly a plant one readily associates with a courtyard garden and Sulphur clover is indeed misplaced and somewhat lost in the low wall border (and now almost squashed beneath the ladder). I had purchased it a few years ago on the basis of it being a rare find in a garden centre as well as the fact that pollinators were all making a beeline for the blossoms.
Another plan that went awry this year but I had wanted to transplant Trifolium ochroleucon from border to container, for since it’s not ideally growing in swathes in a naturalistic setting, it would make an unusual focal plant. Standing at 18 inches tall, mounds of blue-grey felt leaves invite the touch. After an early summer show of creamy-yellow flowers is over, the seed-bearing pom-pom heads continue, giving a bit of winter interest on this semi-evergreen plant. Like all clovers, it flourishes best in sunny spots but flowers well enough in part sun.
As with the Gardenesque anomalies of a Victorian design, this rural native will, I hope, look startlingly attractive in a containerised urban setting, especially when planted up with the dwarfish ‘Mystic Spires’ blue Salvia. On a serious note though Trifolium ochroleucon is now a nationally scarce plant in its natural setting and so I would encourage others to grow Sulphur clover, especially in the gardens of our eastern counties. 2
“These were moons on long stems,
their long stems giving their greenness
to the center of each flower
and the light giving its whiteness to the tops
of the petals. I could say
it was light from stars
touched the tops of flowers and no doubt
something heavenly reaches what grows outdoors” 1
Plant #6: At the opposite end of the scale, Acanthus mollis is an architectural giant of a plant that would look amazing in a container, if one can be found that is deep and heavy enough to anchor it.
Here the Acanthus is planted front-end of an east-facing shady border for the sole purpose of literally covering a multitude of sins. Behind it, a large splodge of builders concrete sits beneath the shallows of top soil, creating an impossible barrier to cultivation. Thus, combined with a bird bath that supplies the moisture, an unsightly bare patch is effectively hidden by the spread of the soft, floppy Acanthus foliage.
Looking nothing like the Bear’s breeches of their common name, the enormous lobed leaves were considered beautiful enough to sculpt as decor for Greek Doric columns and indeed it is mainly for their leaves that Acanthus is grown. Slugs like them too so it is necessary to vigilantly remove unsightly lower leaves every now and then.
I’d calculated that the plant would not flower this far into shade but as the Acanthus had a utilitarian purpose this was of little concern. Therefore I was surprised to see a trio of concertinaed blooms appearing recently, with one already erecting into racemes of two-lipped flowers with purplish bracts. 4
Intriguing rather than beautiful, each pale bloom in macro resembles a cartoon frog under a lily pad, accompanied here by a male Garden spider [click to enlarge]. With the flower spike reaching the dizzying height of nigh on 6 foot, I can only assume that the scaffolding has acted as spur to this stately Colossus of the courtyard.
Catch up with other Courtyard garden plant ideas this month at a ‘Dozen for Diana’