Alpine Garden Society

01386 554790
Back to List of Entries for A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary

Go to bottom

You can add your comments on the content of this diary entry by starting a discussion, but you need to login first

A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: September 2016 - Entry 49

This is going to be a short entry, partly because we have been away for most of the month, first in Dorset, then Cornwall, partly because not a lot has been happening here at Bod Hyfryd and there are not a lot of plants, let alone alpines, that are worth showing you. 

In Dorset we visited a very interesting, Grade 1 listed mainly 17thC property, Athelhampton House, near Dorchester. The garden, which is large and full of unusual structural features, not to mention many rare trees and shrubs, including tender species, is Grade i listed in  the Historic Parks and Gardens Register, and well worth seeing, although alpines were conspicuous by their absence, and the house is a gem too. I include a couple of pictures to give you a feel for the place.

Athelhampton House gardens

Athelhampton gardens 2

Athelhampton house gardens 2

Lost gardens of Helighan

Moving on to Cornwall, we visited Helighan after an absence of 12 years and it was notable how much the newer plantings had matured and additional ones, particularly near the entrance, added to, with many sub-tropical plants, including several different cannas, hedychiums in various shades of red, yellow and orange, various echiums, which love Cornwall (and the N. Wales coast too as I have shown before!), and a number of ferns and palms, some of which were new to me and as they were not labelled remain 'unknown' as far as I am concerned. One management innovation (I had not seen it before, anyway) that really interested me was the use of pigs, coralled within electric fences, to clear and cultivate overgrown areas beneath mature trees prior to future establishment of native ground flora and understorey.  With their typical commercial awareness the managers of Helighan had added to the interest of this feature as far as the general public, who make up most of the visitors, are concerned, by using several rare breeds of pig, including Tamworth, Large black and  British lop - many visitors, especially children, were clearly more interested in the pigs than the garden! Another feature that attracted them and which I ventured across, albeit somewhat tremulously, was the new rope bridge across the valley, Again I show you a few pictures as I know that many of you will have visited the gardens and may like to be reminded of their unusual and special quality.

Helighan 1

Pigs used as cultivators at Helighan Helighan, rope bridge

Pencarrow, nr Bodmin

Pencarrow is a very interesting house which has been in the same family for nearly five centuries, set within what must have been quite spectacular gardens, but which are somewhat neglected now, apart from the borders arround the house. What would have been a very large rock garden/fernery, probably covering a quarter of an acre, is now covered in overgrown trees and shrubs, including a number of rhododendrons, pieris and the like. The very large size of many of the boulders used in its construction is impressive and the potential to recreate something special is there, given the will to do so and the money to fund the restoration. At the entrance to the house yard, through which visitors pass on the way to the ticket office is a group of Clerodendron trichostomum var.fargesii which were in full flower, releasing their heady perfume into the moist Cornish air.  

Clerodendron trichostomum var. fargesii


Another lovely Cornish mansion that was in the Arundell family for several centuries before being gifted to the National Trust in the 1950s. The most interesting horticultural feature is a newly designed knot garden the design of which is based on the plasterwork ceiling in the Great Hall of the manor, and the fact that due to the fear of the havoc caused elsewhere by Box blight, yew has been used in its place for the containing hedges. This feature was only planted in 2013 and already looks good, but with the relatively fast growth of yew compared to box I'm glad that I do not have the task of keeping the hedges in order! One lovely touch here was the use of drifts of Cyclamen hederifolium beneath the lime trees in the upper garden, which happened to be at their very best at the time of our visit.

Trerice, the new Knot garden

Trerice, Cyclamen hederifolium

Back home

Continuing the 'off-piste' theme of this posting, I have only a couple of alpines, or at least occupants of the rock gardens, to show you. First though, another plug for a rarely-seen shrub which I grew from seed and which gives increasing pleasure every autumn, Euonymus latifolius. At the moment it is the fruits that are the focus of attention but in a week or two these will be gone and it will be its foliage that lights up its place in the garden, which it shares with two species of echium, Euphorbia mellifera, Rhododendron vaseyi (which is not far behind it in the splendour of its autumn colour), and Anemone hupehensis in its striking dark-flowered form, 'Hadspen Abundance'  . I have grown a climbing Aconitum hemsleyanum (from AGS seed) up through the spindle and in its third year this has begun to make an impact.

Euonymus latifolius

Euonymus latifolius, close-up of fruits Aconitum hemsleyanum Anemone hupehensis 'Hadspen Abundance'

Nerine bowdenii

My dark unnamed form of Nerine bowdenii continues to multiply and excite this year; what a splendid plant this is, one of the very best autumn flowers, let alone bulbs.

Nerine bowdenii Nerine bowdenii close-up


Colchicums mostly don't seem to like the conditions here and I have lost quite a few over the years. However, the ever reliable C. agrippinum continues to produce lots of flowers even though the clumps have long been in need of division. If only the flower tubes were a little more robust it would be a really good plant, but in this windy and wet garden, as the picture shows, the flowers tend to get blown over.C. bivonae (I hope that is the right name) does do well, although it doesn't increase much, and the flower tubes are much stronger.

Colchicum agrippinum Colchicum bivonae

Antirrhinum sempervirens

This humble snapdragon in white and pink is one of the most long-flowering plants in this garden, starting in April and finishing in November. It seeds about a lot but unwanted seedlings are easily removed. It looks particularly nice against our grey granite (dolerite actually, but who but a geologist can tell the difference!),

Antirrhinum sempervirens

Celmisia hectori

Finally, various celmisias are looking good at present but the best is the lovely bright silver C. hectori. This thrives in one of my raised crevice beds kept constantly damp by moisture percolating into it from the lawn above. While I let most celmisias flower I always take them off this one as it makes a much better cushion if forced to be celibate.

Celmisia hectori
Go to top
Back to List of Entries for A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary

You can add your comments on the content of this diary entry by starting a discussion, but you need to login first