Skip navigation.

Wisley's way with annuals - a blog by Lucie Ponsford

Posted by Sara Draycott on 19 Sep 2012 at 04:39 PM

This week's blog is by Lucie Ponsford, an enthusiastic and bubbly gardener who has loads of inspiring ideas to share.  Over to you...




Hello and welcome to my chit chat about working in the wonderful world of Wisley.  My blogs are hopefully going to be a ‘how to’ guide on design, revamp and reinvigoration in your garden.  Or just some inside info on details for you to look out for next time you come to Wisley.



The Model Gardens are the venue for my ramblings and where I am trying to assert what design and plants in the garden can be. 


The great thing about these gardens and indeed your own is there will always be an established structure from which to start.  It could be a neighbour’s hedge or your urban location or just the fact there is bare earth to fill; there is always something that will strike the tone of your outdoor space.


In my case, and for the purpose of a succinct first blog I want to share with you the limitations and consequently the wonderful results of the once Bonsai Garden. 



Regular visitors to Wisley, or indeed anyone who has been to the garden within the last six years may have come across Herons Bonsai garden, installed by Mr Chan, 21 time Chelsea gold winner and supplier of the wonderful Bonsai collection.  This garden was moved to a new and sophisticated location between two formal yew hedges creating the Bonsai Walk; well worth a calming amble through as the autumn colour turns the miniature trees to firecrackers against the dark green foil of the yew. 


The remaining site at the top of the Model Gardens was mud and red hazard tape!  Fences had come down incorporating the old Subtropical Borders and opening the whole space up. Trees, gravel, plant material and sculptures had been relocated and the bare bones, the garden structure, was all that remained: sloping marble pavers, a stark white central gravelled area flanked on two sides by a low wall and then the expanse of bare earth. 


What to do with an empty space with spring hot on your heels and a not-yet-completed vision for permanent planting:  “direct sown hardy annuals” came the inspired word from the powers-that-be at Wisley. Kindly supplied by the Wisley Plant Centre, seed is a relatively cheap option as it's about a 10th the price of a shrub, quick to establish and a full and floriferous display within the season.  The dear things put it all in to one of the best theatrical performance of the flora kingdom in a bid to get the pollinators and the next generation secured.  This is a factor very useful to the home gardener who can save the seed and so make the second years display even more economic.


The process:


So a few tips to try this in your garden next year:  clear the ground: a quick option is strim and rotavate any larger areas or weed kill and dig over – you will need soil with a reasonable tilth.



I referred back to the ‘Old boys’ of the 40’s and 50’s who sowed in drills 30cm apart and covered the seed with sand. This not only marks the area but ensures good drainage and quick germination of your seed.


The main factor in the early stages is to make sure there is enough moisture for the seed to germinate and then establish. Once there’s more than five leaves thin the seedlings to allow them to get the space they need. They do not like to compete for sunlight or nutrients.


After that sit back watch the show evolve.  Weeding as necessary!!


The display at Wisley had the extra drama of cannas, dahlias and five banana plants to add height and conceal the inner gravelled area, but it could just as easily have been all sunflowers.  The great and, at first, limiting factor of stark white gravel and marble path surround became, with the hot yellows and reds, a sunny retreat with seats and a large container full of the same cannas and dahlias where families sat and picnicked.  My Team Leader Adam Bowley said “It was like swimming in marmalade” and I think that was the best impression of it. 



Try it yourself next year. With a small, intimate space it should take you a weekend to get all prepped and sown and then pop a chair in the centre and watch your garden perform in flower.


We’ve now cleared the area and are about to sow it with a selection of green manures in a geometric tumbling block pattern.  Watch this space…



No comments have been left