Every year our garden team devotes a huge amount of time to seeds and an incredibly worthwhile endeavour it is too. With a garden as rich and full as Sissinghurst it would be a crying shame not to make full use of the bounty of seeds on offer, so throughout the season great care is taken to collect, clean, label and store in excess of 350 different plant varieties.
The process of seed collecting offers us a chance to look at the garden from a different view point. Where normally we are attracted to, and our eyes enticed by, the stunning floral displays throughout the garden rooms, now we are looking for a different form of beauty. Now we look for and recognise nature’s creativity and artistry in the form of seed heads.
The decorative beauty of plants at seed should never be underestimated, the stunning range and shape of seed heads, pods and fruits is truly staggering and their architectural form and beauty can add so much to a border, mingling with foliage and flowers to create a full and satisfying picture.
Two of my favourite seed heads at Sissinghurst are borne in the Rose Garden; the floaty, majestic seed heads of Clematis integrifolia ‘Rosea’ and the perfectly formed, globe-like structures of the various Alliums. The Clematis as soft, free and ethereal as the Alliums are hard, structured and robust. These contrasting forms add so much to their respective borders, creating texture, interest and beauty, while contrasting perfectly with the plants surrounding them.
A striking example of the impact seed heads can make is illustrated perfectly in the purple border in the Top Courtyard. The purple border itself is a rich display of varying hues of purple and blue, with varying heights, foliage types, colours and forms melding together to create a sumptuous and intoxicating display. Adding to this display is the architecturally proud Cynara cardunculus with its arching silver foliage and tall, striking flower heads which tower majestically above the neighbouring plants. The Cynara seed heads are awesome and amongst the largest collected here at Sissinghurst. As the purple flowers fade, large domed heads remain, within which lay protected, small, attractively mottled seeds full of promise.
As you walk from room to room throughout the garden, plants at seed announce themselves and display a variety and diversity of form which is quite staggering. In Delos, the unusual but delightful Paris polyphylla carries its pronounced star shaped, dome of seeds proudly atop each stem. In contrast, Francoa appendiculata bears its seeds on tall, narrow elegant spikes with seed heads alongside fresh flower blooms.
In the White Garden, a sea of Eryngium giganteum develop their seed heads amongst spiny bracts as their flowers fade. The Eryngiums, although one of my favourite plants are amongst my least favourite for seed cleaning due to their spiny nature. Tough hands are required to remove each of the small seeds encased in the spiky domes, but it’s well worth the pain and effort!
Of a gentler nature, the papery casings of Nigella damascena (white form) are quite simply beautiful, the balloon like seed heads are produced in profusion and carry numerous tiny black seeds. These elegant little plants continue to be so when at seed and add much to the late summer view of the garden.
Other noteworthy plants include Aconitum napellus ‘Bergfurst’ in the Lower Courtyard which carries a sheer mass of pods full of rich black seeds and the elegant and beautiful Dierama pulcherrimum in the rose garden continues to embody its common name the ‘Angel’s Fishing Rod’ with delicate seed pods hanging from the tips of each finished flower stem.
Hostas in the Lower Courtyard carry upright stems with enormous clusters of elongated seed pods and the fantastic annual Galactites tomentosa bears hairy, spiky heads containing tiny sandy coloured, sticky seeds.
The variety is just amazing so next time you visit Sissinghurst or any garden, look at the borders afresh. Whilst enjoying the flowers and foliage, look for the unsung heroes of the late summer garden, the plants which may have finished blooming but still offer so much to be enjoyed. Look for the grace beauty and elegance of the seed heads all around you.
Emma Grigg – Senior Propagator