New Naturalism

posted in: Gardening | 18
Earlier in the summer I read about how Fergus Garrett was introducing a ‘new naturalism’ to the famous Great Dixter garden. Intrigued? Well I certainly was as Great Dixter is on my bucket list. Fergus has certainly being revolutionary in his new ideas for that famous garden.

Under my kitchen window I’ve a modest little patch of garden border. Just over two years ago I removed an old Potentilla bush which had been a great football proof plant for many years!  Just moving one large shrub gave me the inspiration to totally change this part of the garden.  I first of all replanted with Rudbeckia and Verbenas and Anthemis … to name a few.  Then in late April 2013 a new path was created and two of the three blue arches that were rotting were removed.

So now I  have two ‘long borders’ viewed from my kitchen window and I want to bring a little bit of Great Dixter into my ‘Mini Dixter’ border…

New Naturalism

New Naturalism - the leavesnbloom garden
Mini Dixter at Leavesnbloom and new naturalism could come to this garden soon!

The Appeal of The Umbels


I love to photograph umbels!

Bronze Fennel | Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’  is already growing in this part of the garden and hopefully next year it will be mature enough to flower during the summer months.

But I want also some earlier flowering umbels in this part of the garden.


Cow Parsley

The lacy biennial Cow Parsley/Anthriscus sylvestris  was very popular at the Chelsea Garden Show this year.  It’s a favourite at Great Dixter and Fergus has been selectively propagating his choice plants  from the darker leafed seedlings.

New Naturalism - Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing'
New Naturalism – Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’

I’ve been seriously thinking about purchasing a few of the darker stemmed Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’ plug plants too as I love dark foliage in the garden.  A friend grows this and told me not to purchase the seeds as many of them would not have the darker foliage that I’m looking for.  

The white form is much too wild for my garden.  It covers the countryside all around our locality with it’s masses of white frothy flowers in early summer.

New Naturalism - Anthriscus sylvestris growing wild in Perthshire
Anthriscus sylvestris  growing wild in Perthshire

Ammi majus


If I want white frothy flowers then the other seed I’ve been thinking of growing is the annual Ammi majus.  It looks very similar to Cow Parsley and it’s great for floating amongst summer perennials and as a cut flower.  For the past two years I’ve been meaning to grow this plant and after seeing it this summer I just have to make a little room for it in 2014.

It’s another favourite at Great Dixter and if you click on the Great Dixter blog post – Staking and Hurdles  you’ll see how Fergus grows it with tall red poppies.

New Naturalism - Ammi majus
Ammi majus (wiki commons)



The other umbel I’ve been considering is Chaeroplyllum hirsutum ‘Roseum’ | Hairy Chervil. Chaeroplyllum grows wild in parts of Perthshire  but seems to be much more restrained than the white Cow Parsley.

New Naturalism - pink Chaeroplyllum hirsutum 'Roseum' | Hairy Chervil.
New Naturalism – Chaeroplyllum hirsutum ‘Roseum’

What I like about this plant is that it’s a hardy perennial and the cow parsley like flowers blush in hues of soft pink.  I’m not so sure if this is even grown at Great Dixter but it is grown at Harlow Carr.


Growing Vegetables For Their Flowers

This new naturalism even extends to growing vegetables for flowers and foliage.  That’s certainly nothing new at Great Dixter as the Late Christopher Lloyd was my inspiration for that. He used to grow Ruby Chard as an ornamental foliage plant in the borders along with parsley in between French marigolds and Verbena ‘Purple Homestead’ in planted containers.


This summer  I grew the dark leafted Lollo Rosso lettuce as an ornamental foliage plant as well as picking some of the leaves for salads.

New Naturalism - dark leafed lollo rosso lettuce
Lollo Rosso lettuce in a planted container with Cornus ‘Baton Rouge‘ and sedum



While in the spring I let the Black Kale flower amongst the alliums.  The yellow flowers are such a lure for the early pollinators.

New Naturalism - Black Kale yellow flowers in spring
Black Kale flowers May 2013

I only move the kale seedlings into their final planting position when they are big enough to resist the slugs and snails.


Fergus also grows Parsnips | Pastinaca sativa for their yellow umbel flowers at Great Dixter. They are yet another flower that the bees adore.

New Naturalism - yellow turnip flowers Pastinaca sativa
New Naturalism – Yellow umbel Parsnip flowers | Pastinaca sativa
Did you know that all parts of a turnip including the flowers can be eaten. I don’t think I’d fit many into my garden! But then again I’m a gardener and it’s amazing how we can always find some room somewhere!


Follow Rosie Nixon:

Photography Tutor and Gardener

Rosie is a garden photographer, writer and nature lover. She enjoys soaking up nature and is easily distracted from doing the weeding by anything that flutters, flies, buzzes, creeps or crawls! She enjoys sharing the beauty of creation through her photography. Rosie has been featured on TV on BBC2's The Beechgrove Garden and she uses the outdoors as her natural light studio. Her work can be seen at one of Scotland's only photography galleries - Close Gallery, 4b Howe Street, Edinburgh. She also writes and shares her nature images on

Latest posts from

18 Responses

  1. Mark and Gaz

    Bucket list…absolutely full but deliberately not looking at it at the moment as so much going on here at the moment.

    Fergus is doing an incredible job at great dexter and his risky use of cow parsley is successful and has paid dividends. And lately this naturalism has been in vogue in flower shows, but for how long before the next big thing overtakes it? A little naturalism does look good and a delight to look at 🙂

  2. Coline

    Naturalism is about all we manage to do here…

    May have to start a bucket list and stop relying on free plants when a few trees come down this winter after they became to large for the garden…

  3. rusty duck

    Cow parsley already grows with abandon in the wilder parts of the garden and I have to pull it up as it seeds so freely. I love the Ravenswing form though, and can see what a good bridge it would make between that part of the garden and the more formal. I've only made it as far as the nursery at Great Dixter. The garden was shut on the day we were there – just had to make some purchases in recompense!

  4. ann

    I love the lacy flowers and the delicate leaves. I am amazed that you start such beautiful plants from seed. I should be that brave.

  5. Janet/Plantaliscious

    I'm not sure what I think about the label "New Naturalism" but I do love the look – and umbels. I grew Ammi majus this year because I knew I wouldn't have flowers from fennel or anthriscus sylvestris, and I have been wondering about Chaeroplyllum hirsutum 'Roseum' too, I'm just not entirely sure about the pink, not for where I have in mind, I think it needs to be white. Any which way I will nejoy watching you experiment with your mini Dixteresque borders, and will ready myself to pinch idea!!

  6. Carolyn ♥

    I have so many plants that I enjoy in my gardens that I have to refrain myself from allowing some that want to take over the space that other's enjoy. Would love to have room for more. Your images are always dreamy and entice me to want to give in.

  7. Rosie Nixon

    HiMark and Gaz I can just imagine that home decor and design is more your thing these days. I know for some it was quite a shock to see 'wild flowers' at Chelsea this year. GYO was and still is very popular – not so sure that the new naturalism will become as popular.

  8. Rosie Nixon

    Higreggo some I've mentioned are natives here and planted in an area in the garden would give a naturalistic look to it within 2 yrs. A few like the ammi majus I've mentioned are annuals so will flower in yr 1 unlike the natives that would take until yr 2 to flower.

  9. Rosie Nixon

    Hi Janet/PlantalisciousI borrowed that term from Fergus. 🙂 I wouldn't be growing the Chaer. roseum in that corner of the garden either as pink wouldn't suit the rest of my colour scheme for May. I'd probably have it in the corner opposite with it's pink frothiness grown in contrast to the upright flowering stems from the Persicaria and candelabra primroses.

  10. Rosie Nixon

    Hi Carolyn ♥ and thank you :). My big problem is the soil – it's so wet and heavy and I've lost so many choice plants in the past. Cow parsley can cope with conditions like that including it's darker leafed cousin … and I love dark foliage flowering plants too 🙂

  11. Melanie J Watts

    My whole garden is natural, well mostly. I do grow a few cultivated plants , including veg although I'm planting all the perennial vegetables that are hardy up here. every year I let most things go to seed radishes, lettuce, arugula and any biennials like parsley that are still in the ground. I must grow parsnips next year their flowers look lovely, I'm sure they taste good too:)

  12. Millymollymandy

    Rosemoor in Devon just because it's not too far from where my mum lives, but then it's never the right time of year when I go to England!
    I absolutely love that purple cow parsley and I really ought to think about letting some parsnips flower; my problem being is that the spuds need to go in that space the following year, so I'd have to sow a few seeds in a different part of the veg patch where there was room for them to flower the following year. Hmmmm! Thanks for making me think! Love the post Rosie. 🙂
    Oh parsley flowers are really, really tiny and insignificant but I left two plants to go to seed in a patch that I dedicated to annuals for pollinators. They were really popular with tiny pollinators and now that I've taken one out, I've got a complete swathe of tiny parsley seedlings coming up! I wouldn't recommend it for a small garden as they take up a huge amount of space when flowering, and are not very attractive.