Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 19 June 2016 by Tim Ingram
Under the Eucalyptus
Under the Eucalyptus
After looking at the 'Alpine Shows', which if you are a nurseryman are meat and drink, as well as theatre and instruction (you might say), I would like to return to my first love and what I regard as most important about plants - gardening. This picture, taken one evening as I was weeding under Eucalyptus pauciflora subsp. debeuzevillei (the Jounama Snow Gum), reminds me of the cover of 'Some Branch Against the Sky' by Geoffrey Dutton. The situation is very different though. His book is about marginal gardening, making clearings and pathways in a natural landscape and incorporating some exotic plants. This is an exotic part of our garden - because the whole garden has been made from a field - which had become overgrown and weedy and which steadily we are returning to a planting, not natural but at least ecologically reasonably self-sustaining (this is the hope). It is a relatively warm and sheltered area, very dry in summer, which gives opportunities to create a 'Mediterranean-type' planting in parts. Many of the plants are not alpines - and so I question sometimes the relevance to the Alpine Garden Society - but many smaller species are, and a good number are unusual and rarely grown, stock from which we can obtain propagating material for the nursery. (I deliberately relate those previous Diary entries and this one, and some that will follow looking at other gardens, because of a belief that the AGS is a broader church than generally appears on the website - and often in the Journal - and this has always been a large part of a relatively silent membership).
This is a wonderful species of eucalypt for its white bark, more restrained than many, but still probably 30 feet high now after 25 years or more, and has formed a dramatic bole at ground level. (It originally came as a seedling from Celyn Vale Nursery in Wales). Around it we are planting rock roses, 'silver' foliage species, and bulbs such as Allium schubertii.
Roll back two and a half years to just after the severe storms we had after Christmas of 2013 though and the scene here was rather different...
By November 2014 this had been partly cleared up and during 2015 the area I will show you was planted.
This is a good spot to grow helianthemums and many years ago Alan Robinson, whilst at Wisley, gave me a list he had researched of some 200 named forms dating back to the early twentieth century. Very many will be extinct, and others not so reliable (a lot of the doubles we haven't kept so well), but the range of colours and habit is still very remarkable, and it would be good to build up strong stock plants again and use them as frontal plants in this area. One we know only as "Apricot", which came from an artist friend, is a particular favourite, vigorous and robust, and free-flowering.
Here you can see it planted alongside the more compact and deepest-orange 'Ben More'.
The colour range grades through white and yellow, to pink and deepest magenta and red, ochre and orange, often bicoloured, and still with a good number of doubles. They are certainly plants well worth promoting again, and hugely valuable alpines grown in, or potentially growable in, almost any garden. 'Wisley Primrose' and 'Wisley Pink' are two of the finest with good greyish-silver foliage which makes such a good foil for the flowers.
The best red is probably 'Fire Dragon'.
Other plants here include 'Rock Roses' proper, Cistus, and Halimium (does anyone succeed well over time with the exceedingly beautiful x Halimiocistus wintonensis 'Merrist Wood Cream'?), the Tasmanian/Australian Leptospermum lanigerum, Olearia species, and infilling plants such as this white salvia and lavenders.
In the background is the silver foliage of Centaurea cineraria, possibly the shy flowering but more intensely white form, 'Colchester White', which was grown by Mrs Desmond Underwood at Ramparts Nursery in Essex many years ago. A tough winter would see this off but it has established well tight up against the trunk of a eucalypt in bone-dry soil.
Centaurea is a large genus full of alpine gems, and I wonder if that superb and rare species, C. clementei, quite often seen at Shows, would establish in such a place? This is where gardening can often spring surprises with plants regularly regarded as ungrowable outside finding niches in certain gardens where they prosper and provide material from which to propagate. Beyond this picture showing Chamaerops humilis (the European fan palm), grown from seed and one of the few original plants here from a decade or more ago, we are trying a number of more obscure plants such as Euphorbia stygiana from the Azores, the American Lupinus chamissonis, and a species of Lotononis from S. Africa, the curious American Aster sericeus (since renamed) which I recall from Graham Stuart Thomas' classic, 'Perennial Garden Plants', and Scabiosa cretica, given to us by a member of our East Kent AGS Group, Margaret Wilson, who lives in the relatively balmy climate of Walmer, right on the east coast.
Here too are dryland umbels such as Lomatium grayi (ex. Marina Christopher, Phoenix Perennials, who previously worked with John Coke at green farm Plants) and an especail favourite, the European Laserpitium siler.
Beyond this area the garden still needs to be tamed and replanted, the project for this and future years if the reader would like to follow the story along...