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Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 30 April 2017 by Tim Ingram

An Alpine Spring...

An Alpine Spring

One of those balmy early spring evenings (28th March) when the low light catches the flowers of alpines as they emerge...

We are fortunate that the well drained open-textured and fertile loam of our garden allows many plants to do well with little modification to the soil - here just with incorporation of a liberal surface layer of pea gravel. What is so exciting about many of these plants is watching them emerge as the days warm and daylength extends. In the foreground Adonis vernalis is one of the first plants to appear and flower, along with Pulsatilla halleri.

In the opening picture another Pasque flower, just in bud, is a N. American form of P. patens, in which the leaves are still to develop as the flowers open.

Paeonia tenuifolia also does well here and the success of these three genera means that we have been planting more species and forms, and in time aim to remove some of the older rock roses and other plants which have had their day and/or found other places in the garden. Bellevalia dubia grows and self-seeds nicely, the young flowers a vivid and striking blue... 

... and for the first time the Prophet Flower, Arnebia pulchra, has produced its rather beautiful soft-yellow tubular flowers.

These are mostly montane meadow plants, flowering early in the year in the same way as the many bulbs that fill the bed beyond in the opening picture. In time I could see these two beds merging with a few paving stones between... so the garden has gradually evolved. 

The bulb bed itself is full of 'blues' - Anemone blanda with in the foreground, Narcissus 'Gypsy Queen' and Pseudomuscari azureum

Corydalis wendelboi grows and very slowly increases, almost insignificant until viewed closely, and hints that more corydalis would happily take to these plantings.

Fritillaria kotschyana is also a little bolder and stronger every year, but still only produces a couple of flowers. And species narcissus such as N. jonquilla and N. panizzianus also do well. Every few years when this bed is cleared in the autumn it is heavily top-dressed with pea gravel, which has no doubt helped many of the bulbs to establish and self-seed. Later it fills with perennials as I have shown before, and for a relatively small area holds a remarkable number and variety of species.

These beds have been gradually evolving and integrating with the wider scene, and looking from a different perspective we are also introducing more bulbs and early perennials (such as primroses and cowslips) into the grassy meadow below specimens of Magnolia x loebneri and the variegated Cornus controversa

Snakeshead fritillaries and snowdrops are now self-sowing quite freely here, mixed with erythroniums...

... and seed of Tulipa sprengeri broadcast here last summer is germinating in places, though not as much as I had hoped. We have been sprinkling seed here for several years and some seedlings must now be close to flowering size (I say optimistically!).

This is a picture taken in Peter Shotter's garden at a high point on the North Downs at Warren Street (which we visited on the way home from the Easter Kent AGS Show, and I will return to in a later entry about the Show), illustrating the effect we are aiming for - here with Camassia esculenta giving a nice touch of blue.

In one his books Brian Mathew mentions trying a whole variety of different bulbs in grass and steadily we are introducing more diversity, especially as the shade of the maturing trees has weakened the sward and more moss has established. Corydalis malkensis is one of the few species which is self-compatible and can spread well, here starting to set seed in late March.

Woodland anemones and several trilliums have or are being added, along with the spring ephemeral Cardamine pentaphyllos, which has long grown in a shady spot elsewhere but never really increased.

In time I hope this whole part of the garden, which we look out on every day, will become quite natural and self-supporting, without too much input from weeding and management, but many of the surrounding beds still have a long way to go before this is achieved more widely in the garden. An early morning picture taken on the 19th April as the sun was rising...

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