From wild to tamed: South African bed at Nymans

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This last year a recovered garden bed at the bottom of the garden has been renovated and redesigned resulting in the creation of the South African bBed.

Research has uncovered evidence that South African plants were grown and trialed at Nymans as part of the general collection. The new design by Kirstin Kelly aims to embrace the bed's wild past and re-introduces the South African collection in a meadow style planting.

Historically the patch of ground now dedicated to the South African bed was known as ‘The Wild Garden’, and due to it’s wild disposition it had become extensively overgrown. Magnolia trees over the years had layered themselves forming a dense thicket of branches. Pernicious weeds such as Ground elder and Couch grass took hold infesting much of the root system of existing plants. It was a significant piece of work tidying it up and planning the new plantings.

Highlights of the new planting style


Great use is made of herbaceous perennials, bulbs, daisies and annuals to give maximum colour, playful textures and rhythmic patterns together with bold drifts.

The planting style is purposefully low in habit to enhance and underline the outstanding views of the Weald beyond.  That said, Red hot pockers or Torch lillys (Kniphoa) rocket up from the ground in groups of vibrant spires as if to say, 'look at this amazing view we’ve got'. On closer inspection the South African bed is a treasure chest of unusual and interesting plants that can’t help but attract attention.

Berkheya purpurea ‘Zulu Warrior’ are showstoppers, with abundant large daisy like flowers on spiny winged stems from mid summer onwards. Gladiolus papilio flower stems twist and turn producing dusty purple hooded flowers that hide gold centers, while Pineapple lillys (Eucomis) and their pineapple like heads ramble away through the bed.

Nerines sit on top of gentle undulations in the ground like small explosions of pink fireworks – they will be performing on the run up to fireworks night. African love grass (Eragrostis curvula) together with Restios (Elegia tectorum) weave through the bed providing movement and structure through out.

We will be testing these plants' hardiness against the great British weather. The likelihood is we will lose some to the combination of cold and damp in the winter, and some may surprise us with their resilience. Ultimately though the South African bed is an experiment and we aim to have fun trying, testing and hoping.