Reaching new heights

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HOW many gardens do you see that are basically 2D?

There may be a tree or shoulder-high shrub in a corner, but the rest – lawn, bedding and edging, in a conventional plot, are rarely more than a foot high.

Look at any natural ecosystem and there’s plants evolved to fit in every niche and height. They don’t grow in order of size.

People are OK with using plants in the vertical as long as they’re up walls or at the back of borders, but there’s a fear of putting them “in front” of anything.

If there’s anything the great garden designers have taught us, it’s break preconceived “rules”.

Free-standing vertical elements in a border – tall, slim annuals or perennials, climbers grown on canes or obelisks or suitable shrubs or trees – break up your perception.

Your eyes rest on this natural “high point”. One of the first rules of garden design is don’t left everything be seen in one glance.

You’re forced to look around these architectural “false corners” to discover what comes next.

Here’s some of my favourites:

* For instant impact, you can’t beat quick-growing annuals. Top of the pile has to be the sunflower (Helianthus species). Last year, I trialled Solar Flash for Thompson and Morgan, barely 2ft tall, but the sky’s the limit, especially if you grow Mongolian Giant (14ft)! This is a novelty – opt for one of the six footers that don’t need staking, like Bees Knees, a pollen-free variety.

* Sweet peas, trained up an obelisk at the front of the border, can make a great impact.

* My favourite is the giant mullein, verbascum bombyciferum. It’s silvery, woolly rosette of leaves, 3ft across, gives way to a yellow candlestick of blooms, 6-7ft high.

It’s a biennial, but seeds itself freely, as do angelica and purple angelica (Angelica archangelica and gigas). They’re striking plants, with huge umbellifers of flowers.

* Verbena bonariensis is a favourite of designers, and a plant that has never failed to die on me – I have no reason why!

It’s fine stems and tiny purple flowers form a foil to see others through. Only I see more than most, as mine are always dead.

* Two plants that are going to get the chance to act as accent points this year are my potted yuccas.

For years, they were taken indoors to overwinter, until my plant collection got too big and they had to fend for themselves. They’re 6ft tall now, so time to be planted out, I think.

* Productive crops can perform this role – runner beans over cane wigwams, thornless blackberries (especially double pink-flowered Lock Maree), and raspberries.