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Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 30 June 2017 by Tim Ingram

Interlude - Some Impressions of Faversham.

This connection with plants which we have in such a detailed way in the Alpine and Rock Garden societies runs through people in much more general ways who may have none of the same botanical or academic insights into plants. At heart it is to do with cultivation. And of course it is to do with society and that sharing of interest. This entry is to do with our home town, Faversham, and the gardening society of the town. 'A Fish out of Water', or typical of towns right around the country where our personal gardens have such fundamental value?

In my very first Diary entry I wrote of snowdrops and Myddelton House, E.A. Bowles' garden at Enfield in N. London. In my second I described the 'Best of Faversham' Market, which is a connection to the place in which we live. Here is a look at the Faversham Open Gardens and Garden Market Day (held last Sunday) which links these two things, the botanical and the garden; that very real sense of community that arises from growing plants, and the interest that can be stimulated more widely by partnership and imagination.

This summer event in Faversham (I have written about it in a Diary entry at the same time last year too) has become an enjoyable day to look forward to each year. It involves the collaboration of a whole range of people from the garden owners and market traders to all the volunteers who raise funds for the Faversham Society by organising the day. Thirty-six gardens were open this year but this is just a sampling of a few not far from the centre of the town, and especially the Stonebridge Pond Allotments, which have been described as 'one of the most beautiful allotment sites in England'. Not many true alpines on display (I'll come back to those at the end) but plenty of horticultural craftsmanship.

Not far from the Market Square, down a narow alley off Abbey Street, is this rather lovely small grassy meadow enclosed by walls - a garden owned by one of people involved in organising the day.

The planting is simple but delightful - a mix of knapweed, bedstraw and ox-eye daisy, along with yellow rattle going to seed - catching the perfect moment in late-June. Borders around the edge are planted with fruit trees, roses and perennials for earlier and later in the year.

Another garden close by had a more sophisticated palette of plants and with beautiful use of pastel colours; of real interest to the dedicated plantsman who is fascinated by the diversity of plants, and to the artist who plays with colour.

Here blues and purples predominate, colours which hold into the evening as light fades, and the plants are tolerant of hot and dry summer weather - Catananche, Teucrium, Nepeta, Salvia.

This colour scheme is accentuated in these arrangements of plants in containers, something we used to do more of in the past when we opened our garden, and which would be good to renew with this sort of inspiration.

On the shady side of this small town garden the grass was left uncut and contained a wide mix of winter and spring bulbs, a scene that many alpine gardeners especially would appreciate.

Almost all of the gardens open on the day are small town gardens, sometimes very small indeed. And then the detail of plants can have very real impact. Here for example the vivid Delphinium nudicaule and Australian 'Bluebell Creeper', Sollya heterophylla (which will tolerate a few degrees of frost and in mild sheltered spots near the house can often overwinter, as in this garden).

In his book 'Western American Alpines' (1932), Ira Gabrielson describes Delphinium nudicaule very evocatively in this way: '... from southern Oregon and Northern California, grows best in rock-slides and talus-slopes partially shaded by oak and madrone and filled more or less with the humus of their decaying leaves. Its fleshy, tuber-like roots are often found lying between two slabs of rock, the feeding rootlets threading through the accumulated leaf-mould adhering to the surface of the rock'.

 

The Stonebridge Allotments are a hidden treasure of the town, and a real highlight of the Open Gardens day. What is so special about them is the way they are surrounded and infiltrated by water - the road that runs alongside has the appropriate name, 'Flood Lane'.

Some parts are islands connected by bridges, others lie on the sunny south-facing slopes below Davington Church, and the result is a place which radiates charm. 

In a sense the allotments are like condensed versions of the various gardens and make an unique heart to the town, as they must do in many other places - cultivating your own piece of ground; what makes a gardener tick...

Karel Čapek, the famous Czech writer and playwright, put this in his own inimitable way in 'The Gardener's Year' (first published in Prague,1929), beginning his chapter 'On the Art of Gardening': 'When I was only a distant, scatterbrained observer of the finished work of gardens, I thought of gardeners as individuals of a particularly poetic and gentle spirit who cultivate the fragrances of flowers, listening to the singing of birds. Now when I look at the matter from greater proximity, I find that a true amateur gardener is not someone who cultivates flowers; he is a man who cultivates soil.'

Faversham is an especially historic town - it contains many old idiosyncratic buildings that really lend themselves to unique 'garden style' and colour. An alpine gardener might have troughs in place of planted containers like these, but some of that 'pizzazz' can be lost as a result.

Opening gardens in this way makes for a very stimulating event in the town and at least two of the gardens also opened a week or two earlier for the National Gardens Scheme as well.

We've now opened our garden for over thirty years for the NGS, from soon after it was first made and planted and I can recommend it to anyone who considers doing the same, for the enjoyment it brings from meeting fellow gardeners.  Especially for a specialist society such as the AGS it is also a way of introducing more people to the fascination of mountain plants and a way of gardening (or certainly a range of plants) that they may never have considered.  

Finally to return to the alpine theme in the town, this bank was first planted by Walter Abel, Parks Superintendent of the town in the 1960's, and is now cared for by volunteers. 

It makes a particularly striking entrance to the town and is planted with many good and easy-going alpines and sun-loving perennials and bulbs. It illustrates just how valuable these plants are in the urban landscape where conditions can be inimical for more traditional plantings.

And just a few yards away from 'Abel's Acre' is this magnificent clump of Dierama pulcherrimum, flowering in a small front garden by the road in early June, one of those plants that never fails to thrill when it is in flower.

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