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Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 24 September 2016 by Tim Ingram

'A Room with View'.

'A Room with a View'

An early morning tour around a cottage garden in Oxfordshire...

These are some pictures taken in Sue Bedwell's garden, just outside Oxford, one of the most delightful and interesting gardens I have seen anywhere. Sue was a kind host to Gillian and myself when we travelled up the M40 to give a talk to the Oxford AGS Group (on the 'Rock Gardens of the Czech Republic'). Her garden is a treasure trove of fascinating plants, of which this is only a glimpse; she grows over 150 different snowdrops, when the garden will look very different, and has opened her garden for the National Gardens Scheme for many years. On the whole I can only let the pictures speak for themselves!

Half past seven in the morning on an early September day, the low light grazing a beautiful specimen of Cornus controversa 'Variegata' in the far corner of the garden. In flower in the foreground is the shrubby Eupatorium ligustrinum, from Mexico southwards into Gautemala and Costa Rica; this is valuable for its late flowers and seems reasonably hardy considering its origins - certainly to -10°C and possibly a little lower.

And again...

Near to the 'plant room' and library is that intimate area that all plantspeople have next to their back door, where new plants sit waiting for a place to be planted and smaller and more choice plants grow in troughs and frames and sheltered corners.

Corokia cotoneaster and Trachelospermum jasminoides. The latter is very vigorous and may need some control! We grow the variegated form in a similar place but it is not as good a flowering plant. The combination of form here is very good, which you will see runs through the whole garden.

A genus of the moment, Colchicum.

One of the defining features of a truly satisfying garden is where the small detail is as seductive as the wider picture and this is an example, with plants just seeding alongside a path.

Here is growing the rather lovely small willowherb, Epilobium dodonaei, a species I've always wanted to grow for its neat and delicate habit (by comparison with its well known cogener), and there are beautiful and intractable high alpine species in the genus from N. America, as well as the close 'Zauschnerias'. Here is a good description of E. dodonaei from Jelitto and Schact ('Hardy Herbaceous Perennials', Vol. 1): 'Central  and S. Europe to Central France and W. Ukraine, Caucasus, Asia Minor. Grows from hilly terrain to the alpine elevations; on gravelly or sandy sites, along streams and rivers, rocky slopes and rock crevices etc... Flowers from July to September.'

Epilobium dodonaei

South African Melianthus major and the S. American Myrtaceous shrub Acca (Feijoa) sellowiana, which create huge interest when it is in flower. Just stepping out of the back door and you are immediately captivated!

Further on round the autumn fruits of Euonymus planipes catch the eye with a fine clump of Miscanthus coming into flower.

And a neat cool corner nearby with begonias and tenderish plants tucked in close to the house walls. A nice place to sit and have a slice of Earl Grey Tea cake!

Aster (now Eurybia, but it will take some time to assimilate the new name!) macrophyllus, lighting up this corner rather effectively, moving on into the garden.

Sue was trained at Waterperry Garden, and also taught there - spending twenty years immersed in gardening excellence and collaboration - and doesn't that show! Since then she has worked in gardens, run a perennial nursery and held workshops with groups of friends and for other gardeners, based around her experience of growing plants. A renaissance lady if ever there was one. These two pictures say something about how plants play off each other in a garden, especially in the more effusive days of autumn. 

And finally two plants of great interest to the plantsman. The first is - very early - a fine large flowered form of Schizostylis (Hesperantha) coccinea, which Sue obtained originally from the great Alpine Nursery, W.E.Th. Ingwersen. I could wish our garden had more moisture so that this plant would thrive, along with other late flowerers such as Saxifraga fortunei. It can be in flower late into November when few plants will grace the garden in the same way. 

And the Mexican abutilon Phymosia umbellata, which Nick Macer (Pan Global Plants) says has been untouched by frost in a polytunnel so should certainly be hardy in the mildest of gardens or a cold greenhouse. Strikingly rich colouring.

Sue was a very kind host and stimulating lady to meet and finished our tour off with an intriguing little plant of a Cirsium species with fine foliage which she says flowers to two metres or more in height, plus a little white annual Erigeron which seeds around the garden. Our most grateful thanks to both her and to the Oxfordshire Group of the Alpine Garden Society for the invitation to speak to them and to meet so many interesting gardeners.

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