Looking at a Snowdrop

Annuals and Biennials

by Roger Phillips, by Martyn Rix
London: MacMillan, 288 pp., £19.99

The Genus Galanthus

by Aaron P. Davis, illustrated by Christabel King
Royal Botanical Gardens/Timber Press, 297 pp., $39.95

My Garden (Book)

by Jamaica Kincaid, illustrated by Jill Fox
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 229 pp., $23.00

Small Books of Great Gardens: Alhambra: A Moorish Paradise Enchantment, each volume, 79

photographs by Claire de Virieu, text by Gabrielle van Zuylen, by Gilles de Brissac, by Pierre Bergé, by Madison Cox, by Lauro Marchetti, by Esrne Howard
Vendome Press, Apremont: A French Folly; Majorelle: A Moroccan; Ninfa: A Roman pp., $18.95 each

Much garden wisdom can be turned on its head. “The wise gardener,” say Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd in AYear atNorth Hill,

faced with an undeveloped plot, will begin from the edges and work inward, planting shrubs and trees to create a frame for the garden and perhaps to separate it off from the visual distractions and the flurry of the world that lies beyond. He will see first to its structuring plants, the hedges, bays of shrubbery, and small trees planted along borders yet to be. He will cultivate ground covers and perennial plants…. He will lay down the paths of the garden…. He will contrive terraces and seating areas, usually near the house as transition to the garden…. All this is a lot of work, leaving little time (or money) for annuals, which do not assist in the steady development of the garden.

My italics. The wise gardener will have done himself a grave disservice if he exhausts his garden budget before investing in a few packets of seed. Indeed the wise gardener, were circumstances so to dictate, could dispense with all the preliminaries set out above, and make himself a garden entirely composed of annuals.

Imagine a plot of ground, rectangular and devoid of any permanent planting, dug roughly in the autumn and left to the beneficial action of the frost. Next spring it is dug again and the annual weeds are left to germinate before being hoed away. In May it is sown with the seed of annual flowers, and sown for the most part directly into the ground. By June we are beginning to see results. July and August are a riot, September sees a falling off, and in October the whole thing is cleared away, redug and left.

I saw such a regime in action last summer in the Botanical Garden in Edinburgh, and very exciting it was too—a long, broad border devoted entirely to directly sown plants which will germinate, bloom, and set seed, all in the course of one season, and which will then die if left to the frost. This is a surprisingly rare sight in Britain, although the planting regime would suit many people, including those who expect to move house before long, and those city dwellers who satisfy their need to garden by renting a small plot called an allotment. Indeed the regime is much like that of the typical vegetable allotment. Nothing is permanent. Nothing on an English allotment is normally allowed to be permanent (unlike the Schrebergärten in Germany, where summerhouses are built, and fruit trees planted, and one can do everything short of sleep over there in the summer months). A garden of annuals would seem perfect for such a space.

In my own garden last year we tried to re-create, in one bed no larger than six paces by two, a wheat field with its traditional wildflowers. The flowers did better than the wheat: we had a superb micro-meadow of annuals. As Roger Phillips …

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