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Cultivation (growing techniques): Czech Interlude - Trough Demonstrations

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Started by: Tim Ingram

Go to latest contribution by Tim Ingram, 20 March 2015, 08:20. Go to bottom of this page.

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Contribution from Tim Ingram 08 July 2013, 08:13top / bottom of page

The finished article is then left to 'cure' for a good period before planting up (the next exciting project). Initially we didn't cover the finished troughs, but warm weather meant they were drying out too fast, so the surface has been kept moist and the troughs covered with (actually) old capillary matting damped down. A friend who mentioned he hadn't done this, found that the covering was prone to flake off. It is easy though to make running repairs with fresh mixes of hypertufa and PVA, and the finished article can carry on looking good for very many years.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 08 July 2013, 08:28top / bottom of page

The AGS leaflet also describes casting 'Hypertufa' sinks (and I did make one of these when I first joined the AGS in the late 1970's, which lasted for 15 or 20 years - but was VERY heavy). Unfortunately real stone sinks are even rarer than tufa, and the value put on them is probably rarely also displayed in the quality of plantings made in them. So I thought I would just finish with this wonderful picture from Jiri Balatka's garden, which was started in the 1960's and has the most extraordinary and appealing collection of alpines and dwarf conifers (and some not so dwarf), and very imaginative plantings of troughs.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 14 July 2013, 07:03top / bottom of page

The first trough that I described, inspired by Vojtech Holubec's demonstration in Tabor, has now been planted for just over a month and it is interesting to compare between some of the plants. This is an overall view...


Most plants have established and grown away well, particularly Salvia caespitosa and next to it, Gypsophila petraea.

Penstemon hallii, not so happy when planted, now looks in robust health, and behind it I have high hopes for Veronica bombycina, one of the most beautiful of the genus when flowering.

The two plants in the next photograph show that not all necessarily 'take off' well; Acantholimon venustum on the left certainly looks well suited, but the rare Androsace flavescens on the right shows signs of chlorosis. Androsace villosa ssp. glabrata shows this even more clearly.

These particular plants could well do with a dose of sequestrene (yellowing of the young leaves is generally a sign of iron deficiency). However, another plant, Gentiana stipitata ssp. tizuensis, which showed similar symptoms after planting, has now greened up well, and it is likely that the physiology of the plants has to adapt and adjust to the new growing conditions in the trough, and in particular to the poor sandy soil. Essentially this will occur by a more wide ranging root system which can tap moisture and nutrients from a wider volume than the much richer soil of a pot.

A trough like this with such rare and unusual plants is always something of an experiment and doesn't seem too different to an exposed place in the mountains being colonised by new plants! Some find their feet and some do not. The advantage of looking so closely as this is that you can begin to define more clearly the requirements for different types of plant, and the results may sometimes be surprising. What is nice is when a very rare plant looks to be growing away well, viz: Callianthemum farreri, but the real proof will come a year or more down the line - so far I am quite encouraged, and if the trough wasn't so damned heavy I might even bring it along to a Show when in it's full glory!

Contribution from Tim Ingram 15 July 2013, 07:16top / bottom of page
'Frenchman's Cap'

In the west of Tasmania there is the most wonderful and distinctive mountain called Frenchman's Cap, around which the Franklin River winds its way. This very large piece of Kentish ragstone rather resembles it and so this second trough will be known to me under that moniker, even though the plants growing in it have nothing to do with Tassie.

'Frenchman's Cap'

The hypertufa covering looks very fresh at the moment, although looked at closely it does have a lot more texture. I wonder if it would be possible to establish those inordinately slow 'plants', lichens, by scraping them off from rocks, mixing them with an adhesive and brushing them onto a trough like this? However, the plants are what interests most...

A simple look at the construction of 'Frenchman's Cap'... The drainage hole is covered by a wire mesh (what we used for making a mouse-proof seed frame originally), and then by finer plastic mesh (we actually used a couple of layers of this), and the trough then partially filled with a mix of John Innes No. 3 compost (Arthur Bowers) and 6mm grit (ca. 2/1). This is a much deeper trough than the first I described which naturally improves drainage, as in a deep pot, and allows for a richer compost at the base.

The large rock in the centre perhaps dominates too much, but as they say 'nothing is set in stone'. The most interesting thing about troughs is that they are individual miniature landscapes and utilising different rocks and plants make them so fascinating and artistic. Generally much too little rock is used in troughs, and the plants dominate too much; the opposite way of looking at them makes for something far more interesting.

This little sedum (a gift from Fiona Wymess who I have mentioned elsewhere) is ideal in a high crevice between rocks. But how to prevent all the sand from being washed out? Some stiff loam, mixed with water to a clay-like consistancy, is useful to fill cracks, and into this small chockstones can be squeezed. The majority of the rooting medium remains sharp river sand.

This picture shows one end of the trough at different stages of completion. The two plants on the right were brought back from the Czech Republic bare-rooted and quickly repotted in sand, so the soil placed around them is just to hold them in place and give initial sustenance. The coarse topdressing on the left ('Solent Gold' from B & Q), although not the same as Kentish rag, is similar, and coarse and variable in size, which gives a much better appearance than uniform gravel. Later on a mix of smaller particles were added.

This dianthus, high in a crevice on the other side of the trough was definitely in need of anchorage. Below it was planted a small potentilla.

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