Ula Maria's garden of childhood memories
An award-winning show garden from designer Ula Maria has been given a second life in her father’s small plot. Words Rae Spencer-Jones Photographs Rachel Warne
Ula Maria’s memories of childhood are filled with family and gardening. She spent her early years in Lithuania and her recollections of that time – and much of the Baltic state’s flora – have worked their way into many of her gardens. She credits her Lithuanian grandmother Terese for her green fingers. “My grandmother loved gardening and had an amazing collection of lilies,” says Ula Maria. “We grew absolutely everything. All our own vegetables, fruit and flowers.”
Today, the award-winning designer calls London home, but it was to her childhood home she looked for inspiration when designing the show garden that won her the coveted title of RHS Young Designer of the Year at the 2017 RHS Flower Show Tatton Park. So it seems especially fitting that this garden – an ode to idyllic summers spent on Lithuania’s Baltic coast – should find a new home in her father’s small Northampton garden. “At the end of the show all the blousy plants were sold,” she says. “The leftovers were grasses and foliage plants. These particular plants love very poor soil, so they were perfect for my father’s garden where the soil is really bad.”
What A small urban garden inspired by the plants of the Baltic coast.
Size 12m x 4.5m.
Soil Poor, dry, very free-draining.
Hardiness zone USDA 8.
The plants’ new home is a tiny plot (just 12m by 4m) behind her father’s terraced house – a typical Victorian red-brick building, overlooked from all angles. Ula doesn’t exaggerate about the soil. Dry, devoid of nutrients and very free-draining, it was filled with rubble. The prospect of installing a lush green lawn was never on the cards.
Although the original boundaries of low brick walls offer little privacy, they partially allow an opportunity to ‘borrow’ next-door’s shrubs. Elsewhere the walls were fitted with screens of slatted pine timber providing height and seclusion balanced by a sense of spaciousness from light filtering through the slats.
“We never sat down and actually designed the garden,” says Ula. “Creating it was a stage-by-stage process over three years. It was so interesting for us to work together as a family, and we were really sad when it was over, but it brought us, and our happy memories of Lithuania, together.” Read more about the garden below.
Garden designer Ula Maria moved her award-winning show garden from the 2017 RHS Tatton Park Flower Show to her father’s modest garden. A bushy Pinus sylvestris ‘Watereri’ creates a focal point for this tapestry of texture and muted colours, which is filled with plants that remind Ula of her Lithuanian childhood, including Centranthus ruber ‘Albus’, Stachys byzantina, Helichrysum italicum, rosemary and sedums.
In many of Ula Maria’s planting schemes, texture takes precedence over colour. Here the calm palette is mostly shades of green with the occasional pop of white and pink flowers. The grass-like foliage of Allium sphaerocephalon and the evergreen needles of Pinus sylvestris ‘Watereri’ are a textural feast for the eyes.
The lush planting of Artemisia abrotanum, sedums and stachys is only watered as a last resort in very long, hot spells, otherwise it takes care of itself.
One of a pair of garden chairs that Ula found on an antique stall at a French market. Harmonising with the patio of wooden setts, Ula describes the patina of the metal as “shining in the sunshine like a fish scale”.
A York-stone slab atop offcuts of wood creates an informal table on which to place a bowl of sedums.
Key plants in Ula Maria's garden
Sorbaria sorbifolia, with downy racemes of white flowers, is happy in full sun or part shade. 1.5m x 1.5m.
Crocosmia Orange Pekoe (= ‘Pek Or’)
Crocosmia Orange Pekoe (= ‘Pek Or’) establishes healthy clumps of sword-like leaves and vibrant orange-yellow flowers. 70cm x 20cm.
Phedimus kamtschaticus Atlantis (= ‘Nonsitnal’)
Phedimus kamtschaticus Atlantis (= ‘Nonsitnal’) is a ground cover option that thrives in poor, dry soil and tolerates severe droughts. 30cm x 30cm. RHS H7.
Rosa rugosa ‘Alba’
Rosa rugosa ‘Alba’ with its pure-white blooms and faint perfume is a favourite memory from Ula’s childhood in Lithuania where they are naturalised in the Baltic landscape. 1.5m x 1.5m. RHS H7, USDA 3a-8b.
Stachys byzantina with its velvety silver leaves is a Mediterranean ground cover that does well in dry and nutrient-poor soils. 20cm x 45cm. RHS H7, USDA 4a-9b.
Potentilla fruticosa ‘Daydawn’
Potentilla fruticosa ‘Daydawn’ adds an interesting texture with its dark, pinnate leaves that contrast with the profusion of pale-peach flowers, which cover the shrub from spring to autumn. 1.2m x 1.5m. RHS H7, USDA 3a-7b.
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