Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 17 March 2015 by Tim Ingram
A week or two earlier the Hardy Plant Society in Kent had arranged a visit to Harris and Annie Howland's garden at Harrietsham. Harris is best known for his interest in lilies (he co-wrote 'The Gardener's Guide to Growing Lilies' with Michael Jefferson-Brown, and has chaired the RHS Lily Group) but their garden on a sunny day in February was full of early bulbs, and immaculately kept. Even this early the flowers of Crocus tommasinianus and Eranthis were buzzing with bees and the result, after 30 or more years of making the garden were wonderful mixed drifts of winter flowers.
In the middle of the garden a large rockery provides ideal conditions for crocus, cyclamen, irises, erythroniums as well as many later flowering alpines: the garden is relatively small but it is easy to see how much interest can come from a feature like this, and quite simply how much it extends the range of plants that can be grown.
One plant in particular was intriguing to see - Echeveria elegans. This is not something I would imagine hardy enough to grow outside but Harris has had it here for a good number of years with no protection. Fiona Wemyss (Blueleaf Plants), who I will introduce later in the year with reference to the Plant Fairs Roadshow at Hall Place in April, specialises in these plants - and green roof planting. Given perfect drainage and poor soil many prove pretty hardy.
The snowflake, Leucojum vernum, more robust than snowdrops, generally prefers wetter and heavier soils - it has never established well in our garden - and more selections of this are gradually appearing. It is rare to see this growing en masse in anything like the way snowdrops do but it is just as delightful a plant to have in the winter garden.
Finally I tried, and succeeded reasonably, in getting a picture of the male and female flowers on a plant of the contorted hazel, Corylus avellana 'Contorta' (and must admit to have never observed the small female flowers before). Bean describes this as discovered in a hedgerow at Frocester in Gloucestershire in the late nineteenth century, and it must be one of the most striking of all small winter trees in gardens and a perfect complement to the other winter flowers I have shown.