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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 25 September 2011 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 194.

A benison of gravel

Having disposed of a couple of dumpy bags of sand acquired from our local hardware merchants over the last month or so (to fill the plunges in the alpine house), I have become dumpy bag happy, particularly when Sheila became fed up with the way that the 'grass' path up the side of the house had become very worn, compacted, and, lets face it, without grass. We resolved to sort the problem with gravel and pavers, so off I went to Charltons (adv.) again. Our local gravel is mostly sourced from a gravel pit in the Tyne haughlands (local name for water meadows) at Styford, about five miles east of here, and is mostly derived from sandstone, so it fits in well with the local stone. In comes in three sizes, and for these jobs I choose the intermediate one, that passes the 2 cm riddle.

The dumpy bags are two tonnes (I think) and are delivered by a lorry with a crane. While being delivered the lane is blocked to other vehicles which does not make me overpopular at school or commuting time, but the driver is very skilled and can complete the whole job in less than five minutes. Also, he has learnt to position the bag so that we can drive in and out of the gate, by gently pruning the overhanging hawthorn! Here is a bag delivered together with a barrow ready to shift the contents.

 

A benison of gravel

Sadly, I haven't got a picture of the side passage before I started to excavate, but, take it from me, it was just compacted mud, a bit of moss, and occasional daisies and annual meadow-grass. I sliced about 2 cm depth off this, pretending it was turf, and dumped it in an out of the way corner, as it is good-for-nothing. It was surprisingly dry, full of tree roots and stones, and iron hard. When it was disposed of, I barrowed in enough depth of gravel to give a bed of uniform depth, on which I laid the 11 30 cm square bradstone pavers. Here they are in position.

Yes, you are right, there are only eight pavers in the above photo. I decided the path was not long enough and added another three pavers. I then barrowed in enough gravel to 'bed in' the pavers, using a stiff yard brush to level the gravel with the paver tops, and into the interstices of the surrounds. I am sure that weeds will invade next spring, but having a clear area such as this makes it easy to control weeds with glyphosate. Here are two views of the finished path. The raised bed (using old telegraph poles) is largely a spring garden, full of snowdrops, hellebores, trilliums, erythroniums and so on. The whole area is much smarter and you can walk to the back door without slipping and getting your feet muddy.

This used up rather less than half of a dumpy bag, but I had already decided that I need a good deal of new gravel to brighten up an old scree. This area had become seriously overgrown with weeds, more vetch than anything, so several good plants were transplanted in July (when the cyclamens there were dormant) and was treated with glyphosate, and after a  month when everything was thoroughly dead, forked through. The resultant scree was surprisingly muddy; its amazing how much subsoil the worms work through into the scree.

Here is the same area (perhaps taking in a little more) after it had been topped with another 3 cm of gravel.

Surrounding areas were also cheered up with a light top-dressing of fresh gravel, taking care that most was tucked under the skirts if established plants. This is a good autumn activity as part of a general tidying-up, and covers a multitude of sins, at least until weeds start to grow again in the late spring!

Meconopsis superba

Elsewhere in the garden I have been very impressed how well seedlings of Meconopsis superba have grown in the second half of the summer. This is a species I have generally struggled with in recent years, but two young plants bought at a meeting of the Meconopsis Group last October were overwintered planted out in a new 'woodsy' raised bed under a pane of glass, and have not looked back since, having grown to over a metre in diameter.

Meconopsis superba

Crinodendron

A final note on Crinodendron hookerianum. This is one of my favourite shrubs and we acquired a young plant shortly after moving here 22 years ago. Despite being cut to the ground by hard weather in 2001, it has generally thrived in our sheltered, humid garden, and had grown to such a massive size two years ago that we were driven to reducing its size by half, (width-ways) in order to make space for other plants. Less than a year after that, the desperately early storm last November and the intense cold that followed killed the remaining above-ground growth completely, so we were forced to chop it to the ground in April. By June, it was clear that it would regenerate from the stump, and during the last week I contemplated the nearly 50 shoots that had arisen, some of which were now nearly two metres high, and resolved to reduce the thicket to nearer 20 shoots, in the hope that more resource could be put into these which would cause a more constrained plant to gain height more quickly. This last illustration shows where it has got to now.

Crinodendron
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