One of the iconic sights on a visit to Wisley is the grand bedding displays around the garden. Apart from the few days a year at change-over time there’s always something to see in the beds of Top Terrace and the Walled Garden.
When you think of bedding what springs to mind? Ordered rows of brightly coloured annuals, geometric shapes of spring bulbs, beds crammed to bursting point? Well, think again - this year we're trying something new.
Is Gardening Art? Some of us view gardening as art and I agree that some elements of what we do fit in with this viewpoint. This year the bedding at Wisley has seen a movement to a more artistic approach. Our schemes have themes, sources of inspiration and even titles. We are almost treating the beds as an installation or exhibition.
In both of our main bedding areas our upcoming winter/spring bedding will feature a palette of the colours of green and white. On Top Terrace my design is titled ‘A Green and Pleasant Land’ and takes inspiration from looking out of an aeroplane window at Britain’s changing landscape below, seeing the patchwork of fields and woodlands. It features Primulas, heathers, tulips, Euonymus and standing birch stems.
In the Walled Garden we are using fine turf and white gravel to create a ‘Winter’s Parterre’ designed by Enrico Mailli of the Wisley Formal Team. Can you see symmetrical shapes cut into the turf that represent the abstract forms of animals? Whilst working on this scheme, laying the turf and cutting out the shapes, we have had a massive response from our visitors – everyone’s so interested because it’s so different to what we would normally be planting for bedding. Ok, so this scheme does not feature any flowering plants, which for some will be disappointing, but we hope to demonstrate that simple, clever design can give just as much impact as any other.
Where does it begin? Back in spring 2014 while we were all still enjoying the riot of colour of tulips and the excitement of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, my team and I were brainstorming our ideas for next year’s display. In many parks and gardens the supervisor or head gardener solely produces the plans for the schemes and here at Wisley in past this was true. But today at Wisley we believe that variety is key to ensure innovative new schemes. So here we open the floor to anyone with an idea and it’s produced some great results so far.
When a scheme is chosen we look at sourcing plants and planning propagation requirements. Our Propagation Team takes our orders, sets a planting date and produces the large volumes of plants required for our schemes.
D-day arrives! After months of planning and growing we are back at change-over time (6 October to be precise). My team and I set out removing the fading summer scheme, preparing the soil, marking out the new scheme and finally planting fresh new plants. The satisfaction after several days planting thousands of plants and bulbs is rewarding – standing back and admiring what, until now, was only a two dimensional sketch on a piece of paper.
And here we come across a recurring problem with bedding. Is bedding sustainable? Twice a year we remove a mass of plants which have cost a fair amount of money to produce, used up resources such as compost and pots, delivery lorries and fuel, heated glasshouses and time and labour growing and maintaining – and all for something that is ultimately destined for the compost heap.
At Wisley our areas of bedding are not on the same scale of our cities’ parks so you could imagine the impact of these larger schemes. So is bedding worth doing? In these difficult financial times you could argue that local authorities should be spending their money elsewhere other than on bedding, but I see in our parks and gardens the schemes are as grand as ever. Could it be that yes, times are hard, but the pleasure that bedding brings to so many is socially valuable and not all is doom and gloom?
The Top Terrace scheme at Wisley (‘A Green and Pleasant Land’) features plants that will have a ‘life after bedding’. So for example the Euonymus, Erica and Calluna will be used elsewhere in the garden when the scheme comes to an end in early June.
And so the ball keeps rolling; with our winter/spring schemes in the ground, we now look to next summer. Last week we discussed our ideas for summer 2015 and it looks to be a rather fun and exciting scheme indeed.
Is gardening art? Let us know what you think below...