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Required Reading: Brilliant & Wild—A Garden from Scratch in a Year by Lucy Bellamy

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Required Reading: Brilliant & Wild—A Garden from Scratch in a Year by Lucy Bellamy

March 9, 2018

So much of garden-making is in the long game. Waiting for plants to fill out and to reach their potential can take years. But for anyone with a bare patch of soil or a blank slate of a garden, it’s perfectly possible to create something not only beautiful but also low-maintenance and sometimes budget-friendly in just a few months. This is essentially the idea behind Lucy Bellamy’s new book, Brilliant & Wild: A Garden from Scratch in a Year–a simple guide for total beginners who want to achieve a wildlife friendly haven rich in color and form.

Photography by Jason Ingram, courtesy of Brilliant & Wild.

Bellamy is the editor of the elegant UK-based magazine Gardens Illustrated, but there’s nothing lofty or intimidating in this book, with lovely photography by Jason Ingram.
Above: Bellamy is the editor of the elegant UK-based magazine Gardens Illustrated, but there’s nothing lofty or intimidating in this book, with lovely photography by Jason Ingram.

Bellamy’s book is chiefly inspired by the low-maintenance and long seasonal interest of the New Perennial Movement, whose chief proponents, including Dutch designer Piet Oudolf, create extraordinarily beautiful gardens and landscapes using naturalistic swathe or seemingly random matrices of contrasting or complementary plants.

“Consider what you will see when you look out of the windows or come out of the door,” advises the author. “If you have a favorite plant or combination you are excited about, place it where you will see it most.”
Above: “Consider what you will see when you look out of the windows or come out of the door,” advises the author. “If you have a favorite plant or combination you are excited about, place it where you will see it most.”

Bellamy breaks it all down for the novice—a garden with less watering, less weeding, less work: what’s not to love? This isn’t an instant garden, exactly. Even these sorts of fast-growing perennials will fill out and multiply over time, but it’s definitely a garden of quick gratification and one that can work on almost any scale. The smallest backyard patch can be given over to a meadow of luscious perennials that will draw you outside or which you can admire from indoors.

 Grasses act as a fantastic foil for perennials and create texture, movement, drama, and amazing silhouettes—from the billowy haze of Deschampsia or the rich colors of Panicums to the light, feathery inflorescence of Pennisetums.
Above: Grasses act as a fantastic foil for perennials and create texture, movement, drama, and amazing silhouettes—from the billowy haze of Deschampsia or the rich colors of Panicums to the light, feathery inflorescence of Pennisetums.

A useful directory flags some of the best plants for this type of scheme, and to create a successful design it’s important to understand the different forms of each. Umbellifers (including the gorgeous Anthriscus ‘Ravenswing’ or the pincushion blooms of Astrantia); spikes (including colorful spears of Agastache, salvias, or Veronicastrum), or dots (the cheery bobble heads of Knautia, heleniums, or Echinops) are all listed within their groups.

For each plant, Bellamy includes a botanical profile with the best species to choose and details about how they grow, where they look best in the garden, and what other plants will make good companions.

 By using a single color, you can create really impactful displays. Repetition can pull a scheme together: “Ribbons of a single plant that pop up here and there throughout the space are a good way to tie everything together, so add some to your plan—alliums work well for this,” Bellamy writes.
Above: By using a single color, you can create really impactful displays. Repetition can pull a scheme together: “Ribbons of a single plant that pop up here and there throughout the space are a good way to tie everything together, so add some to your plan—alliums work well for this,” Bellamy writes.

By being very selective, Bellamy gives us a range of plants that will work with all the others in various combinations. With simple sketches, she shows us how to make the scheme work using groups, repetition, or simple matrix designs.

 The real joy of this type of planting is its year-round appeal. Choose the right plants and you can have a garden that looks good for  months of the year or more, selecting perennials not for their flowers but for the seed pods and winter skeletons they leave behind.
Above: The real joy of this type of planting is its year-round appeal. Choose the right plants and you can have a garden that looks good for 10 months of the year or more, selecting perennials not for their flowers but for the seed pods and winter skeletons they leave behind.

After you’ve cut it all back in late winter, you can make way for a succession of spring bulbs that will bring a joyous array of color to the garden before the perennials really get going in late spring.

A hardcover copy of Brilliant & Wild: A Garden from Scratch in One Year is £.60 from Amazon UK. A US edition will publish in June; for information, see Amazon.
Above: A hardcover copy of Brilliant & Wild: A Garden from Scratch in One Year is £13.60 from Amazon UK. A US edition will publish in June; for information, see Amazon.
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