Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Thursday, 4 August 2016

The Secret of the Erigeron Steps

Steps overlooking the upper moat at Great Dixter
The Erigeron steps of envy plus must-have Papaver glaucum at Great Dixter, late June 2016 

There's a pivotal scene in Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps, when the hard pressed hero Richard Hannay asks the theatre act Mr Memory... "What is the secret of the 39 Steps?" A similar question has teased me ever since I read Christopher Lloyd's Succession Planting for Adventurous Gardeners 12 years ago... "What is the secret of the Erigeron steps?"

They look artfully effortless don't they? And I'm sure the gardeners at Great Dixter have to do quite a lot of editing for their Erigeron steps to look so ravishing. Christopher Lloyd's book was my "lightbulb" moment, when suddenly this gardening lark made sense. It was a picture of those steps in particular which inspired me and became a must-have for the garden.

Erigeron at the top of the central patio steps at Great Dixter


To achieve that aim hasn't proved quite as easy as I'd imagined. I've sown plenty of seed and planted healthy plants, all to no avail. Then a couple of years ago, a small seedling appeared in the spent compost of a tomato pot left to overwinter in the garden. It was tiny, just about large enough to transplant at the top of the central patio steps. As you can see, it's thriving.

My recent trip to Great Dixter gave me Erigeron step envy all over again. My plant is beautiful, but sadly solo... until I went out in the garden last night to take some photos for today's planned post [on a completely different subject - Ed] ... and found another tiny self-sown plant, in one of the box ball pots this time.

Newly transplanted seedling at the top of the patio steps
Newly transplanted seedling... right by an ants nest :(

I've gently teased it out of the pot and transplanted it on the other side of the steps. Fingers crossed it'll thrive just as much as its predecessor across the way. Then as I bent down to take another photo, what should I find? An even tinier Erigeron seedling... self-sown into the patio steps this time.

So what is the secret of the Erigeron steps? My answer is not to try too hard... and to have oodles of patience.

More Erigeron steps at Great Dixter
More Erigeron steps at Great Dixter - I still have a way to go with mine

18 comments:

  1. Plants do tend to find that they don't they?

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    1. I find they often don't do as they're told... and my garden is the better for it :)

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  2. One beautiful garden I visited for Radio Leicester this year had little pots of Erigeron each side of a flight of steps from her kitchen right up to the garden. Heavenly! An idea I'm going to copy.

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    1. That means I should have left my Erigeron in the pots where I found them ;)

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  3. Erigeron steps are so pretty. This shows that yet again, plants do what they want, when they want to. Hopefully now they will take off of this time next year you'll be cutting them back as they are trying to take over.

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    1. I did wonder if I should be careful of what I wish for Gwenfar! Thanks for the #CommentLove :)

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  4. I have tried to sow them too. But without any succes so far. I hope they wil grow in your steps like in great dixter. Loved the steps there for the same reason. Groetjes Hetty

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    1. It took about 10 years for the first lot of Erigeron to appear Hetty, so there's hope for you yet!

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  5. Like you I have been trying to establish Erigeron with a natural look. Perhaps when we have been gardening as long as GD we will achieve it!

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    1. Yours and Hetty's comment makes me wonder whether they're quite a choosy plant Brian, depsite what Great Dixter (and in my case Iford too) may be showing us!

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  6. I have a confession....I ve never visited Great Dixter! I hope to remedy that very soon...but in the meantime am admiring the steps . Gardening teaches us patience though , teaches us patience and the appearance of your Erigeron seedlings are all the more sweeter for you now after wishing and hoping!

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    1. It took me quite a while to break my GD duck and I ws worried it wouldn't live up to my expectations. But it did... with knobs on... on a cold icy day in March before the garden opened to the public for the season :)

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  7. They'll come thick and fast now, and pop up in all sorts of places. But don't worry - I have never found them to be a problem. I think my whole garden could be covered with erigeron and I would be quite happy!

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    1. You're right Victoria, I've spotted another couple of seedlings in pots since writing this post! I've now extended my Erigeron vision to encompass the gravel areas in the garden :)

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  8. Perhaps Erigeron is not the name of a flower, but of a mythical place with flower-decked steps – and an invisible portal at Great Dixter. Did you consider that? Careful where you tread. You might be opening your own portal now.

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    1. You've got a vivid imagination on the go today, Helen. I love it :)

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  9. I've not had much luck encouraging erigeron into our garden yet either. Must find some more seeds and try again. That opening picture is stunning, Papaver glaucum has been on my radar recently and that effortless combination, discarded petals and all, is wonderful. Sara

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    1. You can't go wrong with a photo of Great Dixter Sara :) I'm so pleased I posted this as it's been comforting to hear how many people have struggled with Erigeron in their garden. I thought it was just me - one of the joys of the internet is finding I'm not alone.

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