What’s wrong with this picture?

red cordyline usher

We know that plants grow and, in time they evolve. But what about gardens, especially historic ones. If we visit a garden around a palace, once the home of King Rupert the something, do we want to see the garden as it was when he reigned or do we want a contemporary design around the historic house. I think the answer is obvious and, as an adjunct to the palace, the garden should probably also be a museum piece.

But what about a garden such as Mount Usher? Should the garden be preserved in aspic? Or should it change and develop?

Just being practical for a moment I think that change is inevitable because plants grow. Hedges can be maintained at approximately the same size but trees grow, shade spreads and plants increase or die. But the style of a garden can be maintained even if the garden itself evolves.

I know the dilemma because of my time at Myddelton House where it was not possible to restore it as it was a century ago because of changes in tree cover and staff levels primarily.

And then there is the job itself. I, for one, would not find it satisfying looking after a garden where I could not be creative or make a mark and if the garden could not change.

But what about the plants? Can you put new varieties in a historic garden? In some cases I think the answer is no but in many other cases I think it is permissable. At Myddelton I took a middle road and chose historic roses, introduced before the death of E A Bowles for the rose garden but was more flexible in other areas, but always took account of the plants he chose so that, providing the plants were not those he disliked and not of the wrong style I included them even if they were introduced after hos death.

But this planting at Mount Usher made me think. Is there a place for modern, pink, variegated cordylines in this landscape? There are certainly plenty of cordylines in the garden. And the garden has had several owners over the years and areas have changed. This, like other gardens, is notable now because previous owners were inveterate plant collectors and loved novelties.

The name most associated with the garden is William Robinson who was an advocate of the ‘Wild Garden’, something that is evident everywhere here.

But a natural approach does not mean having just boring or native or plain green plants. Look at all the wonderful Japanese maples here in every colour. In summer red-leaved maples contrast with the drifts of wild flowers and naturalised plants. So coloured foliage is acceptable here and I don’t bat an eyelid.

So why do these cordylines cause me a problem? Are they right here? Do they rankle because they are modern, garden centre plants? Am I being a plant snob?* I can’t say what I think really. I can’t quite decide. What do you think?


* I have bought and planted them here – currently they are in pots.






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9 Comments on “What’s wrong with this picture?”

  1. derrickjknight
    November 29, 2015 at 7:41 am #

    Gardens, as rightly say, evolve. Nothing wrong with adding your mark

  2. Lucy
    November 30, 2015 at 12:12 am #

    I did a gardening design course and the teachers were keen on putting in “spiky” plants for contrast of form. To my mind they just look wrong in any naturalistic northern European garden, better in pots. I’d prefer to see ferns or grasses.

    • thebikinggardener
      November 30, 2015 at 7:53 pm #

      Yes, spiky plants are dotted about to punctuate borders but they can look a bit ‘wrong’. This particular garden, like most gardens in Ireland are full of cordylines but it is the colour of this one that troubles me

  3. Jackie Stockley
    December 2, 2015 at 9:19 am #

    I looked at that scene and wondered if the picture would look less inviting without the red cordylines, I decided that they were not needed. That,s just my personal feeling. I have these plants in my garden and I love the form and colour they bring here though!

    • thebikinggardener
      December 2, 2015 at 6:18 pm #

      Yes, I agree with you on that and I think they are distracting in the landscape but that they do have their place.

  4. Meriel
    December 5, 2015 at 3:05 pm #

    Like you, I can’t quite make up my mind. I’m not a big fan of most cordalines but I do like this cultivar when given enough shelter to grow well. I have noticed it is not as hardy as the green one. I do like one very much which is grown in the nearby Kilmacurraghand Jimmy Blake grows it too.- a much broader leaved and stout one. I don’t remember the name. I think shorter too.

    • thebikinggardener
      December 5, 2015 at 5:21 pm #

      Ah yes – C. indivisa – that is planted at Mount Usher too. It is not as hardy as C. australis so I could not dream of growing it in the UK

  5. Meriel
    December 6, 2015 at 7:21 pm #

    I should have known you would do a name check for me, thanks. I was too lazy to look it up!

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