This Friday (17 April 2015) is the first ever National Open Gardens Day, in which gardens all over the country, including RHS Wisley and Hyde Hall, open their gates for free to encourage us all to get gardening.
It is also the day when A Little Chaos, the official movie of this week’s National Gardening Week, opens in cinemas. Kate Winslet plays fictitious unknown garden designer Sabine de Barra, who is commissioned to create an outdoor ballroom within the royal gardens at Versailles by King Louis XIV’s landscape architect, André Le Nôtre (Matthias Schoenaerts), who was, as we know, the master of symmetry.
However, when he visits De Barra to check out her own tiny garden in a converted stable, completely charmed, he proclaims: “This abundance of chaos... is your Eden?” and, of course, De Barra gets the gig.
That glimpse we have of her Eden — of foxgloves growing cheek-by-jowl with arum lilies, of hanging lanterns and a shell-clad wall fountain — is enchanting, and makes a great case for introducing a little chaos, a little individuality, into our own gardens.
You might, for instance, soften the lines of container topiary — a lasting legacy of Versailles — by planting bacopa around its feet to add a fresh, lacy, green-and-white ruffle that will last through summer and beyond. London clay is not ideal for French lavender, so like De Barra, grow it in generous terracotta pots, and keep them by the garden bench so you can run your fingers through the aromatic foliage.
A little chaos is charming, but a lot is not, so rout out the dockweed and introduce a few choicer weeds, allowing them to spread themselves, giving the garden an organic feel.
Main contenders to bring in are the small pink-and-white daisy Erigeron karvinskianus, which frequents all the grand English gardens, yellow Welsh poppy and the dusky purple hanging flowers of Cerinthe major Purpurascens.
Replace brambles with a small, thornless blackberry, such as Lowberry Little Black Prince (www.lubera.co.uk), and in shady spots, plant Vinca minor so weeds don’t have a chance to grow between the trails of dainty green leaves and lilac periwinkle flowers.
Clothe a bare wall with foliage, but there’s no need to smother it. Instead, create a delicate green tracery by pinning ivy stems on wire in gentle swirling patterns. Or let a Clematis Étoile Violette, with flowers a rich shade of violet, scramble through pink climbing rose New Dawn. All you need do is cut the clematis right back in early spring.
Let the grass grow a little and give your lawn a labyrinth by mowing in a spiral, and create a mini meadow by planting bulbs of wild daffodil Narcissus pseudonarcissus in autumn.
Bring a little disorder into the borders by growing antique roses over hoops or bamboo U-canes. The starring rose in A Little Chaos is the silvery pink Quatre Saisons, a highly perfumed Damask rose that, unusually, blooms again in late summer (www.davidaustinroses.co.uk). Mix fruit with flowers, adding “maypole” apple, pear or plum trees that offer springtime blossom (www.kenmuir.co.uk).
Go one better than De Barra’s woodland pink foxgloves and seek out the ravishing hybrid apricot foxglove, Suttons Apricot. This is the moment, too, to buy young sweet pea plants to train up rustic poles or an arch, for bunches of fragrant flowers all summer long.
At the start of the film, the Sun King (Alan Rickman) proclaims of the gardens at Versailles: “Heaven shall be here!” — which is also something to aspire to in your garden, creating your own personal heaven, with a glorious abundance of chaos.