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Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 13 June 2014 by Tim Ingram

June - this & that in Kent

These are six quite contrasting plants at their prime in early June this year. Lilium candidum - the Madonna Lily - is unusual for its adaptation to very dry situations, and one of the few species which really prospers in our garden which lacks sufficient summer rains for most lilies. It is also one of the most beautiful of all species and has self-sown freely alongside the drive in a particularly dry spot. This is a plant from the eastern Mediterranean with the typical winter growth habit of such plants, but very atypical of lilies in general. The plant we grow does set good seed (this came originally from Jim & Jenny Archibald), but many commercial bulbs may be virused and are often sterile. Because these are so early into growth they are generally less damaged by lily beetle than many others, which have to be watched much more closely.

The next two plants are for cooler situations in semi-shade staying at least moderately moist through the summer. Phlox carolina 'Bill Baker' has those almost silken flowers that give many of the genus a very distinct appeal and is an easier garden plant than many of the other woodland species, at least in our conditions. This flowers over quite a long period in the summer, growing not much more than 30cm or so high with an upright but partly sprawling habit. It would actually combune very effectively with the second plant I show, one of several hybrid corydalis that arose some years ago in the garden where Corydalis flexuosa and C. elata were grown in proximity. These have proved better garden plants than either parents with a very long flowering season and staying in leaf throughout the year so long as the soil doesn't dry out severely. The plant shown grows in a humus-rich raised bed and has a powerful, slightly curious, scent - it benefits from extra watering along with the nursery plants nearby but also does well elsewhere in the garden.

In the same bed as the corydalis, and rather surprisingly (it has arisen from spent compost used to fill the bed) there grows one of the most exquisite of all alstroemeria species, A. pulchra (JJA 2.029.410 - but originally a collection by Beckett, Cheese & Watson 4762). In his seedlists Jim Archibald describes this as of borderline hardiness - it grows in heavy red soil in the Valparaiso-Santiago area of Chile - but never the less it has persisted in our garden through some of the coldest winters we have experienced. It is a particularly delicate and strongly coloured plant, and one of the few of many raised from JJA seed which we have maintained in the garden.

The final two plants are real sun-lovers - Teucrium aroanium, a Greek alpine of limited natural range but excellent in sandy soil in the garden, spreading steadily to make a low carpet of foliage, and with the showiest of flowers of any of the genus. And the South African Geranium incanum. This is nearly always tender in the garden, coming from narrow southern coastal regions, but the lack of a true winter this year has enabled it to prosper and flower. Like Convolvulus sabatius from Morocco, which I showed earlier, this plant is also well worth overwintering with protection for its fine combination of foliage and flower.

*****

Two events in Kent may be of interest to any gardeners in the region. On Friday 20th June the East Kent Group of the AGS have arranged a special talk from the S. African botanist David Gwynne-Evans - details below, visitors would be most welcome:

And on Sunday 29th June the 'Plant Roadshows' in collaboration with Hall Place in south-east London (very close to the A2 and just within the M25) are holding a Specialist Plant Fair. The details are not too well reproduced on the poster below but there will be a wide range of plants, refreshments, and the gardens at Hall Place itself which are diverse and interesting. The West Kent Group of the AGS (who meet quite locally) will also have a display and stand on the day, and there will be a good range of alpines for sale amongst much else. (Hall Place & Gardens, Bourne Road, Bexley, Kent, DA5 1PQ)

The garden at Hall Place includes a large rock garden, originally made over 50 years ago but still quite striking for many of the plants grown in it - this was described in the AGS Bulletin in the 1960's, and the details below are taken from articles on our nursery website (www. coptonash.plus.com):

The Rock Garden at Hall Place, Bexley (1st December 2013)

At the end of June this year we attended a small but select Plant Fair at Hall Place Garden, Bexley. This garden is on the eastern outskirts of London with easy access from the A2 close by. A most notable feature is an extensive rock garden, originally constructed in the 1950’s using ninety-five tons of Kentish ragstone. This was supplemented with a further seventy-five tons four years later, making one of the most significant rock gardens in the country (see Quarterly Bulletin of the Alpine Garden Society, Vol. 33, p.59, 1965). The planting of the garden is described by F. H. Eul. In 1964 widening of the adjacent A2 encompassed the rock garden and  nearby woodland plantings leading to reconstruction on a new site - as Eul says: ‘... beauty must give way to progress.’

 

The range of plants he describes growing in the rock garden is very diverse, including rarely grown species such as Geranium napauligerum (farreri) and the dwarf Astilbe crispa. Many more familiar plants were also used, including Mountain Avens (Dryas octopetala), a variety of gentians, and especially suited to the sandy soil and dry climate, succulents like sedums and sempervivums. A stream, pool and boggy area provided for Water Lilies, the pink flowering rush, Butomus umbellatus, and a wide range of primulas. Pictures taken of the garden at that time also show very many dwarf conifers which give good winter structure to such a garden.

 

Although now some 50 years later the garden is very different and mature, it retains much of the fascination it must have had when first constructed, showing how well suited it is to the site. In the long dry summer of 2013 succulent species thrived and flowered very well. Sun loving plants like rock roses, hypericum, osteospermum, anthemis and geraniums made a colourful carpet amongst the rocks. Many of the conifers have now developed into fine specimens, giving the planting real presence.

 

As a location for a choice and special Plant Fair, Hall Place is ideal - the garden itself has a wide variety of plantings, including an excellent vegetable garden and range of ornamental glasshouses. June this year saw ten specialist nurseries offering a very wide range of plants, and a stand from the Hardy Plant Society, which has a strong following in the south-east from keen gardeners, especially those who grow and seek out rare and unusual perennials. 2014 will see this event developing and becoming a strong feature of the gardening scene in the east of London and further afield.

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