Get inspired by master plantsman Jimi Blake and plant your own border of jewels
I love this time of the year. The garden is still full of colour and flashes of colour surprise and yet there is a change in the air. Waking this morning I saw a misty fog drifting over the lake, a sign of chilly air coming in. Arriving perfectly in time for back to school days and earlier evenings, this change signifies the sudden arrival of the season of Autumn and makes me want to buy fluffy autumn coats and kick crispy leaves along the roadside.
But not just yet. While the season is surely upon us, our gardens still have plenty of glorious surprises in store for us. The incredible heat of this years Summer months may be gone, but if we put in a little bit of planning into our borders now, the reward will be a delicious explosion of jewels in our Autumn borders.
One garden that dazzles with it’s striking autumn displays is Huntingbrook in County Wicklow. This excitingly contemporary and wildly beautiful garden is designed by Jimi Blake, the noted Irish horticulturalist, teacher and plantsman and features one of Ireland’s largest private collections of plants. At the heart of the gardens lies Jimi’s home, which also serves as the informal headquarters and classroom for different events and workshops which Jimi hosts- from wellbeing to gardening as well as his supper clubs. Surrounding this timber home, Jimi has created a series of spaces filled with meandering paths, full of surprise and wonder and overspilling with lush planting, all in his unique and eclectic style.
Jimi’s garden is set 1000 feet above sea level and is known for its large scale planting combinations, stunning mix of prairie and perennials and woodland planting. Here, on this almost 20 acre site, wild, yet deliberately designed and highly experimental meadows sit beside lush green woodland, overspilling with ferns. Borders host an exciting array of perennials, prairie style grasses and bold explosions of tropicals.
These gardens have a wholly unique and recognisable design, unique to Jimi’s style which is both boldly eclectic and heart-stoppingly beautiful.
It is no wonder, considering the energy and vibrancy of his approach, that Jimi has received much praise and attention from national and international press and this year saw Gardener’s World visit him to feature his creation. On the show Monty Don described Jimi as a ‘plantsman to the very core’ and commented that this is a garden created in a long and distinguished tradition of plantsmen and women. Well deserved praise for someone who lives gardens and is always looking to create something new and special.
Never one to sit idle, this year Jimi decided to take out an old border of shrubs and bamboo and start totally from scratch. The core of the idea, he tells me, was to create a new exciting and significantly lower in height scheme, which allows for hazy views through it, and thus allowing for a more meaningful connection with the landscape beyond.
Taking this into account, Jimi went about creating a design of breathtaking, theatrical beauty. The border is a masterful study in colour theory, texture and dreamy structure. Full of unexpected plant choices and exciting touches, the result is a composition which made me sigh with delight and I couldn’t help but look at it in more detail.
When it comes to selecting colours Jimi said that the wanted to keep the colour scheme more toned down and muted than some other corners of the garden. While the colour scheme may appear simple at first, on closer inspection there is some wonderfully intricate weaving of colours, all masterfully combined to form an exciting whole.
First, Jimi concentrated on plenty of greens as a base colour- silver greens, fresh greens and frothy yellow green, all forming a strong base layer of soft, green texture. Over this he went on to create exciting layers of planting and colour which really bring this scheme to life. These images, taken by photographer Richard Murphy for Jimi Blake, really show the composition perfectly and allow us to look a little closer at how Jimi designed the scheme.
The main palette of colours was based on orange, peaches, apricots and touches of burgundy.
Glowing oranges feature in many annuals and perennials with the annual Calendula taking a strong centre stage and repeated in the orange Geum, which float above the other plants on their long stems, as though suspended in mid air. A hint of orange and pink is also in the gorgeous frothiness of Lunaria ‘Peachy’ which is a magnet for bumblebees.]
To top it off, what better plant to really underline the gorgeous fiery, glow of the orange concept than the Kniphofia ‘Echo Rojo’. Spires of this African native float like glowing candles above the whole scheme and give a gorgeous striking hint at the tropics, one of Jimi’s signatures in planting style.
Burgundy is introduced in the gorgeous Salvia ‘Love and Wishes’ which grounds the scheme somewhat and the warm and fiery colours are cooled down a little by the contrasting silver foliage of some Artemisia, both creeping and upright. The surprising additions of spires of Cacti lend some soft blue texture too top it off.
Planning an Autumn garden
Ideally, all parts of the garden should have elements which look beautiful in Autumn. This will ensure that no border just disappears when Summer ends. The reality however is that certain schemes just naturally calm down and fade to green while others can really come into themselves in the Autumn months and put on a glorious display of fiery colour. When planning to design a space that will delight in Autumn consider some tips from Jimi.
- Prepare the ground
One thing that Jimi has realised over the years of gardening, designing and on the garden tours he organises all over Europe is this: correct soil is everything. In this instance, he had the pleasure of starting from scratch and went about creating a good base for this sunny border which would need well-drained soil. A mix of top soil with lots and lots of garden grit was the starting point and after this, no manure and no feeding. Though this seems counter-intuitive to many, this approach created a perfect dry, gritty ground for the sun-loving scheme to grow in, with even cacti and succulents thriving.
- Repeat your colours
For impact Jimi advises using a repetition of a strong coloured, long flowering plant to pull the design together. Here the Calendula ‘Indian Prince’ takes centre stage and brings all elements together, from the Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ to the spires of Kniphofia.
- Break the rules
One striking and unique element of Jimi’s compositions is that they are unafraid to break traditional rules of composition on plants. The addition here of cacti and succulents at the front of the border makes for the most striking combination, artfully playing with texture, exploring shape and form and making a dramatic statement in style and atmosphere. While you may have to bring some of them indoors in Winter, plants such as Aeonium, Cleistocastus strausii and even the New Zealand native tree Pseudopanax in its juvenile form, for example, are fascinating additions to borders and take the border from expected to extraordinary.
MASTERCLASS WITH JIMI AND NOEL KINGSBURY
Understanding Plants – Choosing and using for long-term impact, Wednesday 26th September @ Hunting Brook Gardens, Co. Wicklow, with Jimi Blake and Noel Kingsbury
SEPTEMBER SUPPER CLUB
On the 28th of September Jimi will run his late summer supper club. Join him for a guided walk in the garden followed by one of his delicious vegetarian suppers. Door opens at 6.30pm -Cost €35 per person
Join Matthew Tull for day learning to Scythe in Hunting Brook Gardens. (Matthew is a gardener in Lismore Castle) The course will run from 10am until 4pm on Sunday the 29th of September. The course is 80 euros.
For more info or to book go to www.huntingbrook.com