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Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 18 June 2015 by Tim Ingram


Inspiration behind a garden comes from many directions and because our climate is often very dry in summer - the lawn now is gradually turning brown - we looked 30 years ago to Beth Chatto's garden and the alpines and small perennials she grows near to her house, and larger Mediterranean species on the slope below and in what originally was the car park for the nursery and garden. This is an example in our garden - Callistemon and Cistus growing beneath a large specimen of Eucalyptus archeri grown from seed collected in Tasmania. 

Plants come and go and this pairing of a variegated wallflower - which has been flowering for weeks on end - and the Glaucium (I think grandiflorum?) recalls buying the Glaucium from Beth Chatto's nursery years ago. Plants like these stamp an impression on a garden and more fundamentally teach you how to tune in to the conditions you are faced with, which can make gardens even only a few miles apart very different in potential. Even within our garden there are cooler and moister areas that can be exploited for plants that we really shouldn't try to grow: the subtlety of a garden reflects the subtlety of the environment outside the garden too.

Looking from our house Cornus controversa 'Variegata' on the right faces Pinus patula on the left - this is after all a Plantsman's garden even if it also looks to the natural ecology of plants and their associations.

About a month ago the pine was especially striking for its numerous male and just a few female cones. When pollen is released from pines en masse it can be quite a spectacle.

A small circular bed in the lawn (shown in the last but one picture) has now become full of bulbs through winter and spring - it started life as a weeping cherry which never grew well. Most bulbs are now over but Scilla hyacinthoides is flowering now. Are there forms of this with deeper blue flowers? Jim Archibald I think described this as like a blue eremurus which is not highly exaggerated.

Scilla hyacinthoides

The title of this essay - 'The Two Cultures' - is hopefully clear from what I have written; Art and Science are inextricably linked, both gain from the other. My background has been in the sciences but a garden combines the two better than anything else. During June artists in the south-east have been opening their studios to visitors and we visited two in a village near to us - one we know well, another we met for the first time - and both with very interesting gardens too. This seems quite similar to opening a garden in the way we do for the NGS and leads to close friendships and a broader view of the (your own) garden, as well as a chance to cadge cuttings! In the first garden Gabrielle grows the Californian sage Salvia apiana in a protected spot against her porch - along with the striking Solanum laciniatum. 

Salvia apiana

Her garden certainly recalls in some ways the picture of Dwight Ripley's that I showed earlier with many Mediterranean species and enclosed by walls. Artistically her paintings are quite abstract, often of dancers and figures, and very colourful. My daughter commented that like the garden itself her pictures work together rather than individually.

Bay Lees, who we met for the first time, is an art teacher and very versatile and imaginative in her work. She uses a large press that has come from a publishing company in Faversham when it closed down and was extremely interesting to meet. 

And her garden again was full of fascinating plants including this Aristolochia - can anyone give me its name?

After my short 'Comment' on alpines in the June issue of The Garden we were sent this great picture of a crevice garden by Andrea Patey - made by her brother Terry Hatch, a nurseryman in New Zealand. This is imaginative and eminently practical, and thoroughly artistic. As a Barrister might say, 'I rest my case'.

(There is a nice postscript to this entry from the latest 'Pteridologist' - The Fern Magazine - in which Răzvan Chişu writes about Helen Ahpornsiri: 'An artist and her ferns')

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