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A contrast of colours in our Sunken Garden

Apprentice Gardener Ian Painter, tell us about his designs and planting for our Sunken Gardens summer bedding scheme.

Hi, my name is Ian and I have been working as an apprentice Gardener at the Horniman for almost three years now.

We change our Sunken Garden bedding twice a year, with a summer and a winter bedding. This has been done for many years now, since the Gardens were redeveloped in 2012, and this year I was responsible for planning the summer display.

  • Summer bedding in the Sunken Garden, Connie Churcher
    , Connie Churcher

Both college and work have taught me a lot about bedding, so I knew that I needed to plan. To get started, I looked at previous years’ plans for inspiration and guidance, which we keep for that purpose. The measurements for the beds is 202 square metres: the two c-shaped outer beds are 68 square metres each and the middle four patches equal to 66 square metres.

When it came to choosing the plants for the bed, thinking of previous displays, the Salvia has always been a top choice as it’s highly cultivated and comes in a variety of colours. The previous Salvias we have had were two different cultivars but different shades of red: "Blaze of fire" and "forest fire" which were both very popular. Salvias are resistant to diseases, are easy to dead head and reach about 30cm tall.

I knew I definitely wanted Salvias, because I know how good they look and they are my favourite summer bedding plant, but I wanted to move away from red salvias.

I was taught that the best combinations of colours were either complementary colours or contrasting colours which are opposites on a colour wheel. White is a neutral and can go with any combination of colours.

I knew I wanted purple as my girlfriend had inspired me to use that colour, and I wanted to go with a contrast of colours, so the colour wheel led me to yellow.

With these colours in mind, I discovered a Salvia called “Salsa Purple” and used the contrast of Marigold “Yellow Boy”. I needed a third colour but struggled to find a dark orange or a baby blue to maintain the contrast, instead opting for a neutral: Cineraria “Silver dust”.

  • Summer bedding in the Sunken Garden, A bee tucking in to Salvia Salsa Purple, Connie Churcher
    A bee tucking in to Salvia Salsa Purple, Connie Churcher

Now I had my three colours and plants, I needed some height. A good dot plant for summer beddings is cannas so I got a “Tropical white” canna to sit in the purple Salvia groups and the silver Cineraria. Not only does it add the lovely green of the stem to the bed colours but it has a lovely white flower.

  • Spot planting, Connie Churcher
    , Connie Churcher

The next step was to sketch out a design. As well as it being colour co-ordinated, it shows how I wanted the plants laid out. The blue dots are the cannas.

  • Summer bedding in the Sunken Garden, The design for the Sunken Gardens, Ian Painter
    The design for the Sunken Gardens, Ian Painter

We started by rotavating the bed, which turns the soil, and added chicken manure pellets before smoothing the bed out. At this point, we measured the bed using my plan, and used bamboo sticks to mark out points, using sand to create the lines. My drawing was to the scale of 1cm = 1metre.

  • Summer bedding in the Sunken Garden, The rotavated bed with bamboo sticks that mark out the pattern, Ian Painter
    The rotavated bed with bamboo sticks that mark out the pattern, Ian Painter

  • Summer bedding in the Sunken Garden, Then the different sections were marked out in sand, Ian Painter
    Then the different sections were marked out in sand, Ian Painter

Once the marking out was done I transported the plants to the site and the planting was finished over a week.

  • Summer bedding in the Sunken Garden, You can see the pattern forming with the plants, as well as the sand marking out the scheme for when we get to that area , Ian Painter
    You can see the pattern forming with the plants, as well as the sand marking out the scheme for when we get to that area , Ian Painter

Finally, we watered the plants with a sprinkler and spread slug pellets by the box hedging. 

I’m pleased with how it has turned out. It’s caught a lot of attention and pleasant comments, so I am very proud of it. Although this post makes it sound brief, it was a lot of hard work!

  • Summer bedding in the Sunken Garden, The finished result, Ian Painter
    The finished result, Ian Painter

The other members of the team and I put our heart and soul into making the bed and would love you to visit to see our hard work. I hope you have enjoyed this blog or learned something new, and if you do visit I hope you’ll love the summer bed as much as me and the Gardens Team do.