It never ceases to amaze me what a wonderful plant the humble bronze fennel is. After it has finished flowering, the architectural skeleton has enormous durability, standing up to rain and gales and making a beautiful feature deep into the winter. It is a promiscuous thing; self-sowing all through the beds, and surfs the line between being wanted and a weed. When we clear the beds in autumn we always make sure that some seedlings are left behind, so that they can do their good work through the growing season.
In the spring, the bronze of its foliage is at its most impressive and is so useful at a time when dramatic herbaceous foliage can be in short supply. Here it worked particularly well for us in combination with the tulips Havran and Arabian Mystery.
We also allow it to seed around the kitchen garden, and although it is not tolerated in the cropping beds, I love it popping its head up on the edges. Its seeds are useful in the kitchens and I am told by a great chef and friend of mine that the flavor of the seeds from the bronze form is much better than that of the ordinary green one.
By mid-summer, the bronze of its foliage has softened to a fresh green but it is still so valuable in the borders. Here the color from Echium russicum, Iris and Lupines take center stage, but the combination wouldn’t be nearly as successful if it weren’t for softness of the fennel as a back drop.
In late summer, the fennel flowers and its flat yellow saucer shaped inflorescences work so well amongst mixed perennials. Because they sow themselves through the garden, they do a great job at linking the beds and give a certain spontaneity to the plantings. In this photo with Sanguisorba in the foreground, the yellow of the fennel really pulls out the intense blue of the cornflower.
So there you have it, I think Fennel is fab, and really enjoy using it as an easy plant in the borders at Gravetye. And the moral of the story? Next time you are weeding, think twice before you pull one out.
Words by Tom, photographs by Martin and Jimmy