Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 05 September 2015 by Tim Ingram
A Mixed Bag...
Siting on my computer screen screen are a mix of images of plants of interest (to me) in one way or another but not linked in the manner other Diary entries may be. So this is by way of a 'mixed bag' to clear them away before autumn really sets in.
My reference to Nigel Dunnett's roof garden shows how plantings are dynamic and adapt and change over time in a very different way to the 'set piece' theatre that they are often presented as at major shows and on television. Plantsman's gardens may be 'collections' - inevitably - but they are collections that over time teach a great deal about the ecology and natural associations of plants, and the subtle differences that enable so many species to prosper in the same garden. Our Kent AGS Group met for a summer picnic this August in Gill and Peter Regan's garden. Over many years this has developed into what is comparable to a climax woodland but with a wonderful variety of plants. There is no bare soil here so little room for weeds; plants self-sow and intermingle naturally and it is not 'tidy' in the way so many gardens tend to be, but far more attractive and appealing just as natural woodlands are. Peter and Gill travel extensively, as many members will know, and their garden looks after itself for much of the time. It is delightful in spring for the early woodland flora but also in high summer with stronger perennials, as these few pictures show.
There are always patches where new plants can be introduced, and this is one fascinating example - Lysimachia paridiformis var. stenophylla. This very unusual species - it really does look like Paris - was collected in China in 1992 by Mikinori Ogisu, who sent seed to Roy Lancaster (see The Plantsman Vol.3, p. 83, 2004). Roy passed these on to Margaret and Ian Young in Aberdeen (see: http://www.srgc.net/forum/index.php?topic=13428.75) who raised young plants. Now 20 or so years later it is still by no means a common plant in gardens (I had not seen it before) but is available from a few specialist nurseries. This is a fine example of the role of individual plants-people in disseminating novel and interesting plants which otherwise would find little horticultural interest other than in botanic gardens and amongst relatively few botanists.
Establishing true alpines in the garden is rather different and requires more practical input from the gardener and more upkeep - unless you are fortunate enough to have a natural alpine environment to plant into. These few pictures in our garden, show how an attractive planting can be quite quickly established on a simple raised bed in sandy well drained soil. Some smaller plants have been overwhelmed by more vigorous neighbours but have provided material for propagation and can be use in smaller troughs and beds in other parts of the garden.
7 September 2013 - before planting
10 April 2014
25 June 2014
24 May 2015
15 June 2015
After the Exeter Alpine Show in the spring we visited Adrian Young at Waterperry to see the saxifrage collection there. Adrian has written in detail recently in the Journal of the Alpine Garden Society about how he grows these plants but only seeing them in situ really gives an impression of how successful the plantings are - and how comprehensive. This is a very specialised planting of alpines but the growing conditions are applicable to a much wider variety of genera and some of the larger plants, shown in this first picture, are decades old. This collection continues the long tradition of growing alpines at Waterperry (and in horticulture generally) dating back to Valerie Finnis and before, and is also up to date with recent hybrids bred in the UK and especially in the Czech Republic.
My first thought after viewing these plants was to write more at length about them (we took plenty of photographs) but in fact we don't grow many - so far - and have a great deal to learn about them and the history of hybridising and introduction of new forms. The collection at Waterperry will be a place to visit and compare notes as we grow more in future years and develop a greater understanding of the genus. So these are just a few tasters for anyone else who is tempted to learn more about these plants too - with grateful thanks to Adrian for the opportunity to see them.
At the Czech Alpine Conference in May 2013 we were very fortunate to visit Jiří Papoušek's garden in Roztoky. Here many of the saxifrages bred by Karel Lang are grown in his crevice garden and new tufa cliff, along with an amazing variety of other alpines, especially daphnes. Very inspiring to see! The tufa planting in particular, rather different in construction but otherwise very comparable with Waterperry in the way the plants are grown, will be fascinating to see as it develops.
And finally - on saxifrages - here are a couple of pictures of David Hoare's collection not far from us in Kent. David grows them specifically in pots for exhibition, different again from Adrian and Jiří but equally fascinating and inspiring to see, and an indication of what goes on behind all those plants that are displayed at the Alpine Shows. And of the long time connections there have been and are between growers in Europe and N. America (for example Lincoln Foster and Malcolm McGregor) who have a fascination in this genus.
In my entry back in February 2014 I mentioned the recent monograph of the genus Pulsatilla by Chrisopher Grey-Wilson. The interest in these plants is certainly as strong horticulturally as it is botanically and they are amongst the most beautiful, and most recognisable, of all alpines in the garden. Only as you gain experience of growing more species does the variation in the genus become more evident. On the Scottish Rock Garden Forum Luc Gilgemyn showed a picture of the flower of P. rubra subsp. hispanica, from the Picos, in his garden. This species from SW Europe looks very like the familiar P. vulgaris but can have the deepest of purple flowers as this copy of Luc's photograph shows -
(you will have to view the picture on the Pulsatilla thread of the Scottish Rock Garden Club Forum as the image has not downloaded).
Luc has kindly sent us fresh seed of this species from his garden and this has germinated rapidly and hopefully will produce plants with the same wonderful depth of colour in the flowers.
Susann Nilsson in Sweden also has a strong interest in this genus and has travelled widely studying plants in the wild. She has recently shown pictures of P. rubra subsp. hispanica in its natural habitat, uniformly with the same very dark flowers and studding hillsides - and has also very kindly sent us seed. Hopefully then, this, and other species of Pulsatilla may become more widely cultivated in the future and the genus better understood by gardeners.
Here for reference is a link to Luc's photograph: http://www.srgc.net/forum/index.php?topic=13047.msg334255#msg334255
In my entry of the 9 December 2014 I showed pictures of the bottom corner of our garden where the Christmas storms of 2013 had brought down a large eucalyptus. The eucalypt fell on top of a good specimen of the New Zealand shrub Corokia cotoneaster. It has taken nearly two years to clear and begin to replant this area and the corokia fortunately is growing away again. Of even more interest though is this plant of Bomarea hirtella which was planted a long time ago and has re-emerged and is flowering well scrambling through this shrub. No doubt our last mild winter has enabled this to come into growth early and have a good long growing season - often it doesn't start to flower until almost the first frosts of autumn. It's good to see the garden recover in this way.
Clearing this area has enabled us to plant out stock of various perennials including a range of bearded irises bred by Olga Wells in the British Iris Society. It will be interesting to see these in flower and compare between them in coming years. Next to these we have replanted three clumps of Paeonia obovata grown from seed fiteen or more years ago but in a place that has become very shady and dry - they grow but never flower. With a bit of luck they will take to this more open and sunny spot and charm us with flowers along with the irises. Where they were is now much better suited to snowdrops and cyclamen and other woodland bulbs which are dormant in summer.
I entitled my last entry 'Highlights of Summer' and these are some more examples to finish this mixed bag. In truth any plantsman's garden has highlights whenever you look at it because it is the detail of plants which impresses as much as the overall view. For the nurseryman it is not only the flowers but the seed that they produce which is valuable and exciting, and the ways that you discover plants can be propagated. Fortunately this doesn't pall even when flowers go over and weeds grow: amongst all of the books I have read it is still highly practical ones such as 'A Plantsman's Perspective' by Alan Bloom that inspire me most, and this is pretty much what this Diary aims to be. The reason isn't hard to explain - it is the personal connection between gardener and garden.
After a long time just producing leaves this clump of sternbergia now flowers well each year, a really glorious introduction to autumn. Other than a few bulbs that we introduced into the lawn hoping they might flower there in time (not very successfully so far) this is the only species we grow, but certainly suggests we should try more - and be patient!
Legumes share with a few other families of plants species with very attractive foliage, even if the alpine representatives such as Astragalus and Oxytropis are often challenging to grow. I have a particular soft spot for lupins and the foliage of this species, as a number of others, is exquisite in the heat of summer. I showed a picture of it in flower earlier on and, like most legumes, seed is set well so it should be possible to maintain it in the garden, even though it is generally rather short lived and vulnerable to cold and wet winters - and also to lupin aphid!
Roscoea and Selinum
Under the rows of dwarf apples in the garden we grow a wide variety of woodland plants, mostly for spring when so much flowers between February and May and the soil is moist. By now it is the foliage of ferns and the fruit on the trees that holds most interest. However, these two genera do look good this year despite a long dry summer. Roscoea purpurea has bulked up to make a sizeable clump flowering here under the Swedish apple 'Katy' (or 'Katja'), which is amazingly prolific. Roscoea 'Red Gurkha', a selection from its form rubra, is still only a young plant (an excellent potful bought from Julian Sutton a year or two ago), but the prospect of this increasing in the same way is exciting. Certainly we should try a wider variety of the genus. I hadn't expected these to be so tolerant of our often dry climate, and interestingly you will notice the large leaves of Cardiocrinum in the first picture; this too grows reasonably well and has even self-sown, with no supplementary irrigation.
Also making a wonderful specimen this autumn is Selinum wallichianum (syn. tenuifolium), the umbel dubbed by E. A. Bowles as the 'queen of umbellifers', and reasonably so. This is a family of plants of enduring ornamental interest, as well as of great horticultural and commercial value.