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Plants in the Garden: April

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Started by: Tim Ingram

Go to latest contribution by Jon Evans, 29 April 2013, 15:46. Go to bottom of this page.

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Contribution from Tim Ingram 01 April 2013, 09:26top / bottom of page
The evolution of a garden

The Chelsea Flower Show and glossy gardening magazines give the impression that a garden is a 'set piece'. In an artistic sense it is, but in a practical sense it is the result of knowledge, ambition and skill, mixed with not a little hard work. Our front garden has been evolving over 30 years and has plants in it, like this enormous Pampas Grass (probably ten years older than that), and in the far background a fine specimen of Cedrus atlantica glauca.

The evolution of a garden

But a garden never stands still and making a 'sand bed', in the middle of the second picture, has led to changes in the surrounding parts of the garden, which contain quite a diverse range of plants but generally adapted to our relatively low rainfall and hot summers.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 01 April 2013, 09:47top / bottom of page

Unlike the Chelsea Show gardens the result is a compromise, hence the term 'evolution of a garden', because it is built on what came before. In the absence of any particular return from it you might question 'why do it?', and the only answer is that the world of plants is so interesting and fresh air invigorating. There are always parts of a garden which need replanting or areas that are unprepossessing where plants need to be used to distract and hide eyesores. The manhole covers unfortunately belong to our neighbours, so a little diplomacy may be necessary to suggest they need covering with lightweight alpine troughs! In this picture the hope is that as the various shrubs and heathers mature they will begin to meld with other parts of the garden - in the background is the excellent Buddleja 'Lochinch' which will be left to grow quite tall and dominate the scene. A garden is not a set piece, it is a place where you learn to tune into plants and use them to your advantage. But individual parts of it every now and again have something of the look of a 'Show garden'.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 06 April 2013, 18:20top / bottom of page

Surely one of the greatest aspects of gardening is anticipation: anticipation of seed germinating, of cuttings rooting and for those who show especially, of plants reaching their epitome for exhibition. Even more is this true in the garden where the vageries of weather, varmints and the occasional light handed, or heavy booted, visitor can frustrate and annoy. But this is more than made up for when you take the trouble to look closely at the garden, and even the long cold spring this year can no longer hold plants back.

The dark, almost black, buds of Adonis vernalis are bursting through the scree; this is one of the most stunning plants in the garden when in flower and has the same cachet as choice small species of peony, requiring very much the same conditions. Trilliums hold that same promise even more, especially because they can often take decades to form strong established clumps, and they invariably catch the eye of garden visitors (who of course want something similar in their gardens instantly). We also have several forms of Fritillaria affinis in different parts of the garden, and these have proved reliable and increased well, though not by seed.


Contribution from Tim Ingram 06 April 2013, 18:32top / bottom of page

The plantsman might find interest in plants few others would even notice. The leaves of Thalictrum orientale are hardly visible on a raised bed but this is a tremendous little plant that runs around gently and before long carries showy, large (for a Thalictrum) purlpe flowers. Only the eternal optimist would see anything at all in the second picture; this is a minute plant of the N. American crucifer Lepidium nanum, planted in tufa: I had given this up to slugs last year, so am surprised to see it still growing now - what chance a cushion of this studded with its yellow-green flowers in the future? I think quite low! The eriogonums, another valuable and interesting N. American genus, are proving excellent plants for the sand bed. In the winter the leaves often turn strong red like this little plant of E. umbellatum var. porteri. However, most gardeners would simply see this as a weed, and it is related to our native 'Slender Sheep's Sorrel' which is such an annoyance in acid soils, with spreading adventitous shoots.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 06 April 2013, 18:43top / bottom of page

Ferns are amongst the most astonishing of all plants in the spring garden as their new fronds expand, and it can be easy to leave cutting back the old fronds until too late. In our dry garden I have been surprised how many species grow well, notably very many polystichums and dryopteris, and several small xerophytic species on the sand bed. Here the little Woodsia obtusa is just beginning to expand its new fronds, whereas Asplenium ceterach, which I have shown earlier, is evergreen and effective right through winter. Many of the larger ferns are planted under rows of dwarf apple trees in combination with woodlanders and snowdrops. To obtain faster increase of the latter I have taken to 'sowing' ripe seedpods directly in the ground in summer. The third photo shows seedlings of 'Gerard Parker' germinating this spring. So the promise from these is further down the line and they will take at least three years before flowering. Repeating this annually and with different varieties ('Trym' is another that sets good seed), should have a marked effect in years to come.

Many winter and spring flowering plants have a very long season, the result of the of cool weather and limited pollinators. Hacquetia epipactis (this is 'Thor') has sometimes flowered with us in late February, more normally in March, and this year only just now into April. Whichever it can continue looking good right into summer as the leaves expand and cover the green-bracted 'flowers'. Have snowdrops ever had a better year? 'Cicely Hall' is robust and naturally a late cultivar but amazingly is looking at its best now - and in general the snowdrop season must have been extended by a month or more. Ever since buying a plant of Synthyris stellata in February I have been waiting for its flower-spikes to open, and the recent sunny days we have had show what a beautiful plant it is (I am now highly tempted to try the related genus Wulfenia, which I have written about elsewhere).

It has taken a long time to begin and get greater success with erythroniums in the garden - like many 'bulbous' plants they take quite a time to flower from seed and build strong clumps. They can be extraordinary in leaf and the first picture shows E. californicum (grown from seed), planted beneath a row of crab-apples. Even more exciting though is that elsewhere in the garden they are beginning to self-sow, perhaps benefiting in part from last year's cooler and wetter summer. It never seems possible to find pots deep enough for erythroniums, so the method of choice may well be to sow seed in situ like this, even if obtained from the exchanges or collectors.

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