Baptisia an eye-catcher at Bloom

The herbaceous perennial was in a different guise at Bloom, where it caught the eye of Peter Dowdall.

Baptisia an eye-catcher at Bloom

The herbaceous perennial was in a different guise at Bloom, where it caught the eye of Peter Dowdall.

BAPTISIA AUSTRALIS , often referred to as wild or false indigo, is an easy-to-grow herbaceous perennial which is much under-used in gardens in this part of the world.

Most hybrids will grow up to 1.2m high, developing into a clump about 1m in width and, like so many perennial plants, once you have provided it with the conditions which it likes and it has established itself, then it just keeps on giving.

Baptisia likes a sunny aspect with a well-drained, slightly acidic soil and will grow well even in exposed sites. Those of us familiar with the plant tend to think of it with a blue flower — as I did.

However, with thanks to garden designer Kevin Dennis, I now see this genus in a whole new light. Kevin’s “Urban Sanctuary” garden at Bloom recently featured some different Baptisia hybrids, namely B. ‘Dutch Chocolate’ and B. ‘Vanilla Cream’.

‘Dutch Chocolate’, as the name suggests, is deep-purple/brown in colour — think Bourneville chocolate! As with all dark colours in the garden, I would certainly combine this plant with a brighter colour to provide good contrast and so the dark flowers aren’t lost in the garden, considering our climate can be so dark.

‘Vanilla Cream’ freely produces masses of flower spikes up to 25cm in length, the buds starting off yellow and opening up to a vanilla, cream colour.

This is where garden and flower shows are so useful. You may be looking to start a garden completely from scratch and thus a visit to Bloom, Mallow, or Chelsea is all about shopping. You may just be looking to see which designer’s garden appeals to you the most and, provided you have the chequebook to facilitate, then employ him or her to design and create your outdoor space.

Perhaps you want to create your garden yourself and you’re just seeking inspiration or maybe you’re like me and just a plantaholic and never tire of learning more about gardens and plants, finding new varieties and different ways of using plants.

Kevin’s original design for this garden, which gained him another Bloom Gold Medal to add to his collection, contained a planting of the Baptisias, as their rounded foliage with the copper and yellow tones of their flowers would provide him with exactly the look that he wanted to achieve.

“By mixing these with the ornamental grass, Panicum ‘Squaw’, I felt that the copper tips of the grass would tie in well in terms of planting tone and by punctuating with clumps of tall Eremerus, the Foxtail Lily, I hoped to create that contrived natural planting effect,” explained Kevin.

Even at this top level and in the world of show-gardening, things don’t always work out and you can be at the mercy of supply and availability. The Baptisias weren’t available in the quantity that was required and some Ficus, which were also part of the original design weren’t of good enough quality to satisfy the designer, so they didn’t make the cut.

What did make the grade, however, were the multi-stemmed Osmanthus aquifolium and they stole the show, providing an elegant and structural impact, particularly important in this, contemporary, urban-styled garden.

It’s when things don’t go according to plan that good designers come into their own and thus the new planting scheme which Kevin devised, for underneath the Osmanthus, worked fantastically.

Perhaps not as exact and perfectly positioned as he may have wished for when picturing the garden in his head all those months ago, but then again, maybe that’s what made it work. It didn’t have the “contrived natural” effect that he spoke of. Instead, it looked more real and less contrived.

He did use some of the Baptisia and this is what stopped me at first, as I didn’t recognise the colours. They were mixed with Lupinus ‘Tequila Sunrise’, Salvia ‘Royal Bumble’ and three different varieties of Alstromeria, including the copper-leaved form ‘Indian Summer’.

The bright colours of orange, yellow and red created a strangely exotic feel to the show-garden in the centre of Dublin and the Panicum ‘Squaw’, which was repeated throughout, tied in to the original copper-coloured theme and softened the rest of the combination, keeping raucous flowers in check.

Kevin’s planting scheme proves the point that, to have a garden that will help the pollinators and sustain bees and other beneficial wildlife, you don’t have to sacrifice the “designed” element.

Of course, it’s possible to have a maintained and elegant garden and still promote biodiversity, an important point to remember, as not everyone in suburban Ireland is happy to simply leave their gardens to nature and to re-wild themselves.

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